…“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”
King James Bible – Matthew 12:25
As most regular readers of the St Margarets Community Website already know our little corner of Paradise, with its many delights and coffee shops, takes its name from a house that once stood on the river close to where Richmond lock and footbridge now stand. In 1830 Archibald Kennedy, the 1st Marquis of Ailsa, bought Lacy House in Twickenham Park. Despite the fact that many celebrated people like James Lacy, co-owner of the Drury Lane Theatre, the Hon. Sir Edward Walpole, Hon. Mrs Keppell – the widow of the Bishop of Exeter, the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan and the Earl of Warwick had all lived there Archibald Kennedy immediately pulled the house down and built a new one in its place, naming it “St Margarets” – which says a lot about planning permission 1830 style. It was an appropriate name however, what with Archibald Kennedy being Scottish – and St Margaret being the patron saint of Scotland1.
We should be grateful to Archibald Kennedy. In 1876 when local land owners and business people were raising funds to build a railway station in St Margarets they wanted to call it “Ailsa Bridge”. This is nowhere near as classy as “St Margarets” and positively shabby when compared with our full moniker – St Margarets upon Thames" which must be worth at least £25,000 on anyone’s property values.
Lacy House, and the new ‘St Margarets’ that replaced it, stood precisely on the boundary between two parishes as historian Edward Ironside noted in his 1797 history of the area…
“The house in Twickenham Park stands in the two parishes of Twickenham and Isleworth. In the hall fronting to the South-West, is laid in the Mosaic pavement, of black and white marble, a small iron cross which divides the two parishes.”
Fortunately at the time such boundary demarcations were of small concern. We didn’t have border raiders coming in from Isleworth rustling our cattle and we didn’t have smugglers from St Margarets crossing into Isleworth with kegs of brandy and cheap tobacco. What we did have however was a major problem for those good church people who every May walked the parish boundary ‘beating the bounds’ to remind everybody of where the parish boundary lay. When they got to Lacy House and later ‘St Margarets’ they had a problem…
“In their perambulation of the bounds, the parishioners of Twickenham direct a man to enter a window at the North-West end of the house, who proceeds to the centre, comes down stairs, and joins the company in the hall, where they sing the hundredth psalm. He then goes upstairs and proceeds to a South-West window, and comes down a ladder on the outside, joins the company again, and thus the ceremony ends.”
EDWARD IRONSIDE – The History and Antiquities of Twickenham 1797
The 100th Psalm has the line “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise” – but there is no mention of a ladder.
Refreshments were given to the assembled “Bounders” and the party would then proceed on its way rejoicing that an annoying part of their ecclesiastical journey was over. A similar problem however awaited them at Osterley Park where the parish boundary went through the middle of a pond, obliging some poor soul to swim across.
In 1948 another local historian, G.E Bate, noted…
“The custom of beating the bounds, although now of no use, is still followed in some places. The last record I have of the custom being observed in this neighbourhood, is dated August 1909, when some of the people of Isleworth beat the bounds of that parish.”
Unfortunately Mr. Bate, who died in 1955, missed a recent change. Surprisingly the children of North St Margarets still beat their local bounds and have been doing so every September since 2003. Escorted by a piper, accordionist or fiddler and wearing fancy dress, they walk around the neighbourhood, and at each corner beat the ground with willow wands to cries of “Whack it, children! Whack it!”. They even have their own magical spell…
At the rising of the sun -
And the running of the deer,
Let’s lay a ring around this place -
To keep us all safe here.
It’s very efficacious!
The Bible suggests that any house divided against itself shall not stand – and so it was with Lacy House, demolished in 1830 and rebuilt as ‘St Margarets’ by Archibald Kennedy, the 1st Marquis of Ailsa. In 1853 it too was pulled down by the 2nd Earl of Kilmorey and a new building, Kilmorey House, was built in its place. After spending some time as the Royal Naval School for Girls and then being twice damaged by the Luftwaffe in the 1940s it was finally demolished in 1950.
Nervous residents will be pleased to hear that the parish boundary in North St Margarets was recently moved southwards to the middle of the A316 – so if a bunch of ‘bound-beating’ clerics with a ladder start tapping on your bedroom window in the early hours of the morning you can safely tell them to cleric elsewhere.