I know I said, “No more posts”; however, on reading the now penultimate post, Martyn Day asked if I would let him have the last word. I could not refuse. Thank you Martyn.
When Peter Mahnke¸ the esteemed publisher and editor of the St Margarets Community Website, recently announced the sad news that he was closing the site he mentioned my name and how I write about local history. Living in St Margarets that is an easy task. Take a simple walk from one end of our neighbourhood to the other and history is there for you, waiting to be noted and reported. So….
Let us start in Haliburton Road where I live. This gently curving avenue takes its name from Thomas Chandler Haliburton, a lawyer and novelist who was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia in Canada on December 17th 1796. In 1821, after having the good sense to marry Louisa, a girl from Henley-on-Thames, he established a successful law practice at Annapolis Royal. By 1841 he was a Judge of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. In his spare time, Thomas Haliburton wrote a series of folksy books following the adventures of Sam Slick, an itinerant clockmaker. The books were extremely popular both in the U.S and Europe. Part of their appeal rested on the witty and much quoted sayings that pepper the stories – “you can’t get blood out of a stone” , “six of one and half a dozen of the other” , “a stitch in time saves nine” and “truth is stranger than fiction”. The Sam Slick books are still in print.
In 1863 Thomas Haliburton took up the famous Banting Diet, the high protein forerunner of the Atkins Diet and managed to lose 10 inches around his waist. Unfortunately the Banting Diet had the same regrettable effect on Thomas Chandler Haliburton as the Atkins Diet is alleged to have had on its creator Robert Atkins…death! Haliburton died on August 27th 1865 and was buried in All Saints Churchyard in Old Isleworth. To the abiding gratitude of the pallbearers, he was a few stones lighter than his former self!
Walk from Haliburton Road up to the St Margarets Road and you will pass on your left hand side tucked away behind a brick wall the Egyptian style mausoleum of Francis Jack Needham, 2nd Earl of Kilmorey, (12 December 1787 - 20 June 1880), known to the locals as ‘Black Jack’ and his dearly beloved mistress Priscilla Anne Hoste, the daughter of naval hero Admiral Sir William Hoste. Although Black Jack was her legal guardian, a married grandfather and 35 years older than Priscilla they took to each other big time. In 1843, when she was only 20 they eloped, returning a later with a son!
In 1851 Priscilla, still only 28 years old, fell seriously ill with a terminal heart condition, exacerbated the scandal mongers said by the boisterous love rituals that she and ‘Black Jack’, an ‘aficionado’ of the occult, enjoyed together. She eventually died in October 1854, and was quietly interred in the mausoleum under the inscription “Priscilla, the beloved of Francis Jack, Earl of Kilmorey” . The mausoleum cost £30,000 to build, an enormous amount of money at the time and was large enough to accommodate the heartbroken Francis Jack when his time came. This came about on the 20th June 1880, when Francis Jack Needham, 2nd Earl of Kilmorey, aged 92 died and was interred next to his beloved Priscilla in marbled mausolistic mutuality. They lie there still…waiting for you to visit on the occasional open days.
I won’t bore you with details of how St Margarets took its name from a large house that once stood close to Richmond Lock or how the Beatles shot sequences of their second feature film ‘Help’ in Ailsa Avenue in 1965 but you should note as you proceed a little further down St Margarets Road a block of flats on your left called “Boundary House” . This once marked the division between the parish of ‘St Margarets upon Thames’ and what estate agents now like to call “the village”, that is the parish of ‘St Stephens’ on the other side of the A316. The term ‘village’ is wildly misleading. This so-called “village” didn’t exist until the railway station was financed and built by property speculators in October 1876. Even then they wanted to call the station “Ailsa Bridge” after the structure that carried the main Isleworth to Richmond road over the railway line. In reality the village is a “railway town” . The station did however turn this isolated riverside community described barely 50 years earlier by William Cobbett as “showy, tea-garden-like boxes, and shabby dwellings of labouring people who, in this part of the country, look to be dirty and have every appearance of drinking gin” …into an expanding London ‘dormitory’ with new streets and thousands of small neat villas housing a new breed of ‘labouring people’ - the daily commuters. They are still with us today…and probably still drinking gin!
Standing on that Ailsa Bridge you can see a little way off the main road a large white Victorian villa that was once the holiday home of a young man on a roll. In the spring of 1838 Charles Dickens’ first novel “The Pickwick Papers” , published two years earlier in serial form, was a smash hit. Now he was fourteen months into the publication of his second serialisation, “Oliver Twist” . All that was left to do was to tie up a few loose ends and find a satisfactory ending to the story. With that out of the way he could get on with his third serialised novel “Nicholas Nickleby” that was nearing publication. With publication deadlines pressing Dickens and his wife Kate decided to leave their house in Doughty Street in Bloomsbury for a month or two in the country. In June 1838 Mr and Mrs Dickens and their two young children, Charley and Mary, moved into 4 Ailsa Park Villas close to where St. Margarets Station now stands. (The house is now renumbered as 2 Ailsa Park Villas.) With so much to do the cottage was not the peaceful summer retreat that Dickens had imagined. It wasn’t just Kate and the children that accompanied him on his riverside walks. As Dickens was soon to discover one of the problems of publishing his work in serial form was his readers formed strong opinions about his characters and their possible fate before he had the chance to fix them in his own mind - and they weren’t afraid to tell him!
“Eminent public men wrote begging him to deal kindly with Fagin’s boys. Sergeant Talfourd pleaded for Charley Bates and the Artful Dodger as eloquently as ever counsel for the defense pleaded at the bar for a client’s life. Now Dickens was ready to set down on paper the end of Oliver Twist and the fate of the Artful Dodger and his sidekick Charley Bates!”
— THE STORY OF CHARLES DICKENS Eleanor Graham
Open your eyes a little wider and there are many other stories to be found in the district -
- The last survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade, Sergeant James Mustard of the 17th Lancers, lived in Winchester Road and died there in February 1916.
- The Beatles turned up unexpectedly to see the Rolling Stones play one of their very first gigs at the Railway Tavern in Richmond in 1965.
- The camp site for the very first Boy Scouts World Jamboree took place in the Old Deer Park in 1920.
- Hammer horror film star and noted screamer Ingrid Pitt lived in Kilmorey Gardens and died there in November 2010.
- The famous bop bandleader Cab Calloway who had a world-wide hit with “Minnie the Moocher” cut the ribbon on a new shirt shop in Richmond in December 1952. Copacetic!
- Large areas of East Twickenham and St Margarets including Moormead Park were extensively flooded in January 1928.
- In the weeks before the D Day landings on 6th June 1944 dual carriage sections of the A316 were used as vehicle parks and equipment and ammo dumps. Local kids were always nicking stuff some of it lethal!
- On the 18th July 1980 a commuter train travelling to Waterloo derailed as it was leaving St Margarets Station. None of the 60 passengers were seriously hurt.
- In the early 1950s a mash-up of American folk and blues, played on guitars and improvised instruments like washboards and tea chest basses was created on the River Crane at Cranford. Called “Skiffle” it was the birthplace of British beat music and groups like the Beatles, the Yardbirds, the Shadows and the Hollies.
- In 2004 Peter Mahnke launched the St Margarets Community Website, the first of 690 editions. Subjects covered range from the factual to the fantastic- community events, festival and fetes, ghosts and ley lines, things that go ‘Bump’ in the night and things that just exploded. Although the website is no longer in action its databank is still there. If you want to know who the Beatles “Billy Shears” really is or why they set Richmond Park on fire during the 2nd World War you know where to look!
Three cheers for Peter Mahnke… and St Margarets!
I couldn’t find any songs or music to celebrate our small slice of paradise but as a substitute here is a charmer about the Twickenham Ferry. Yo ho and Yo ho!
– from Martyn Day