The ‘St Margarets’ that appears on the 1884 Ordnance Survey map is to our modern eyes a half formed place. The railway station is there as is the Post Office opposite but none of the shops on St Margarets Road and few of the streets and houses that estate agents now like to call ‘The Village”.
If you had walked down Crown Road towards the Crown public house you would have found Kings, Baronsfield and Claremont Roads on your left, all fully developed - but to the right only orchards and nurseries surrounding a large brick built villa with twin bays called ‘High Shot House’. It was here, on 31st December 1887 that Harrison Branthwaite, Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, former Medical Officer of Willesden and all round ‘good egg’ was finishing his report.
‘High Shot House’ had in its time been the home of the good and the great. In 1768 the Dowager Lady Chedworth had lived there followed in 1776 by Baron d’Aguillar. In 1800 the former King of France, Louis Phillipe, Duc d’Orleans moved in, living there in genteel poverty with his two brothers until 1807. In 1885 ‘High Shot House’ was bought by Harrison Branthwaite, a life long ‘abstainer’ who turned it into a “Home for Inebriates”. This is how the building is marked on the 1884 Ordnance Survey Map.
The good Mr Branthwaite believed that “drunkenness was a disease amenable like other diseases to careful treatment.” To demonstrate his point, from 1st September 1885 to 31st December 1887, he kept a careful record of 50 of his patients. These men, whose average age was 38 years included 9 merchants, 7 Army officers, 4 Clergymen and 2 Doctors. 36 of them had a nervous temperament, 13 were sanguine and 1 was ‘passionate’. Their favourite tipple was “all kinds of liquor”! Causes of their alcoholism included bad company, business and domestic worries, sunstroke, loneliness and overwork. Side effects ranged from nothing at all to gout, syphilis, Brights Disease and alcoholic epilepsy.
Mr Branthwaite was pleased to note in his year’s end report that 26 of his patients had done well, 11 becoming total abstainers. As for the rest, while 14 were still undergoing treatment, only 9 relapsed! (The one patient unaccounted for had died.)
In 1888 a review of Mr Branthwaite’s report appeared in the New York Times of all places. The reviewer advised readers to avoid mixing their drinks - the “all kinds of liquor” apparently being the downfall of so many of Mr Branthwaite’s patients.
In 1905 the “Home for Inebriates” became a private nursing home but it fell empty in 1909. 6 years later Mr Belcher moved in, a fitting name perhaps considering the history of the place. The building was finally demolished in 1927. A smart block of flats in a style not dissimilar to High Shot House now stands on the site.
Harrison Branthwaite died in 1890, esteemed by both friends and former patients. Inspired by his success at ‘High Shot House’ he had subsequently opened a similar “Home for Female Inebriates” at Halesowen, near Birmingham which his wife continued to run after his death.
You can buy copies of the 1884 Ordnance Survey Map (London Sheet 110) showing Richmond and St Margarets from Alan Godfrey Maps. Their website is www.alangodfreymaps.co.uk/ or ring (01207) 583388.
– from Martyn Day