Alfred and Elizabeth’s house in Morrison Street

Have you seen the recent advertisements from Nationwide UK with fabulous poet, Jo Bell, telling the story of Alfred and Elizabeth Idle? Working with Nationwide, I researched the full history of the former home of Alfred and Elizabeth Idle – No.29 Morrison Street – where Alfred took out the first mortgage with Nationwide in 1884.

The history was compiled to tell the story of the first mortgage, but also because they are offering a chance to win an illustrated house history (researched by me!) If you’re interested – more details can be found here (with full terms and conditions): Competition – Does your home have a secret history?

A short history of the house appears on the Nationwide website, but I wanted to reveal a little more of the story from when the house was first completed in 1876. Although the first mortgage was taken out by Alfred Idle, rent books reveal the very first occupant of the house was a Mr J.R. Cook in May 1876.

Rent book 1876

However, within a few months Alfred Owen Idle, librarian assistant at Mudie’s Library, moved into the house with his wife Elizabeth and nine children. Alfred Idle first bought the house from the ‘Artizans’, Labourers’, & General Dwelling Company Ltd’, for £210 in 1876.

A few years later, when the census was taken in 1881, a full picture of the Idle family is revealed, with Alfred and Elizabeth and their nine children, living in a house with three bedrooms, a parlour, kitchen, scullery, and an outside toilet.

1881 census – Idle family
Example layouts of Morrison Street houses

In 1884, Alfred Idle acquired a new mortgage for No.29 Morrison Street from the Southern Co-operative Permanent Building Society, now part of today’s Nationwide Building Society. At this time the house was valued at £220 and Alfred was advanced £120 from the building society, with repayments of 6 shillings and 1 penny a week for ten years. Mr Alfred Owen Idle was the first person to take out a mortgage with Nationwide. However, after acquiring the mortgage, he moved from Morrison Street and by 1887 the new occupants were the Kedge family.

A few years later, the 1891 census reveals head of the house, Bruce Kedge, a ‘porter – messenger’, along with his wife, Mary and their seven children, aged between one and sixteen. However, this is a classic example of needing to dig a little further when researching the history of a house, as it is revealed that prior to becoming a messenger, Bruce Kedge was a Sergeant of the Rifle Brigade. He had first enlisted in the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade when he was 20 years old, and served in many places across the country, including Winchester, Woolwich, and Dover, as well as in Canada for eight years, in 1861-1869.


1891 census – Kedge family

Three of Bruce and Mary’s sons followed Bruce into the military, with their eldest son, William enlisting in the Scottish Highlanders (The Black Watch) as a musician, when only 16 years old, in 1890. William Kedge went on to serve in the Second Boer War, in 1901-1902, receiving a Queen’s Medal with four clasps.

Early battalions of The Black Watch

Another of Bruce and Mary’s sons, Thomas, enlisted in the Rifle Brigade when only 15 years old, in 1892, but like his brother William was serving as a musician. He gained the rank of Corporal in 1898, but in 1901 he reverted to Private due to misconduct. The details of his ‘misconduct’ are not certain, but it is clear it did not affect his service to the military as he went on to serve in Hong Kong and Singapore, and he served in The Boer War twice between 1899 and 1902, when he received the Queen’s Medal and King’s Medal. Thomas Kedge transferred to The Black Watch, but by 1905 he had been discharged. He served again in 1906-1907 but left the army again by June 1907. However, at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Thomas Kedge re-enlisted (nine days after the declaration of war) and despite being sent to France in August 1914, he returned to England only 18 days later and spent the remainder of the war years stationed in England.

The last of Bruce and Mary’s sons to serve in the army was Albert, who enlisted in the Royal Highlanders when he was 19 years old, in 1906. Albert only served for eight years, and was discharged in March 1914. Like his brother Thomas, he re-enlisted at the outbreak of the First World War and served throughout the war. By 1918 he was serving with The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) as Acting Company Sergeant Major.

Morrison Street in the Shaftesbury Park Estate, Battersea, 1893

Meanwhile, back at No.29 Morrison Street, Bruce and Mary Kedge continued as the occupants throughout the final years of the 19th century through to the early 1900s. Alfred Owen Idle continued as the leaseholder (which later passed to his children after his death in 1918), while the Kedge family continued to rent the house. Bruce Kedge passed away on 14 February 1911, while Mary Kedge continued in Morrison Street until she passed away in January 1915.

Prior to this time, Bruce and Mary’s second eldest daughter, Mabel, had married motor bus driver, Edward John Gaitt, in the spring of 1902. The young couple spent the first years of their marriage living with Mabel’s parents in Morrison Street, but they later moved to Islington and Fulham. In 1903, Edward Gaitt was recorded as a ‘bus conductor’ but by 1904 he had become a bus driver. This is a significant profession at this time when horses were still the dominant power for transport, but Edward Gaitt was one of the early drivers of motorised buses in London.

After the death of her mother, Mabel and her husband Edward moved back to No.29 Morrison Street. Earlier records reveal Edward Gaitt’s father, also named Edward, was a ‘firework artist’ and ‘pyrotechnical artist’, a most unusual profession.

As a motor bus driver, Edward Gaitt was at the forefront of London transport and its transformation during the early 20th century. The motorised bus first came to the streets of London during the early 1900s and by 1908 there were over 1100 motor buses. The last horse bus service ran in London in October 1911. It is most likely Edward John Gaitt would have driven the LGOC B-type bus, introduced in 1910, which became famous for its use during the First World War.

By the end of the First World War, Edward and Mabel were at No.29 Morrison Street with their eight children. They continued at the house throughout the 1920s and 30s, but by March 1937 they had moved to a slightly larger house nearby and the new occupants in Morrison Street were George and Hilda Gannon. When the 1939 Register was taken in the first month of the Second World War, it revealed George Gannon was 32 years old and working as a general labourer for Southern Rail, and Hilda, also 32 years old, was working in ‘unpaid domestic duties’ (a ‘house wife’). The couple also had a lodger, a cook, 32 years old, Veronica Rose Barker, who later went to serve with the Women’s Royal Naval Service – the Wrens.

1939 Register

The risk of bombing in Morrison Street was very real (with close proximity to the River Thames, Clapham Junction station, and Battersea Power Station!) and the area suffered many attacks during the war. Morrison Street received a direct hit by a V1 rocket on the morning of 17 July 1944, which completely destroyed Nos.37-49 Morrison Street (just a few doors down from No.29).

By the end of the war, George and Hilda Gannon were no longer at the house and they were renting it to a new family, George and Daisy Farrall. George and Daisy lived at No.29 for a little over ten years, but records reveal the house was then sold in 1958. Drainage plans reveal that it was at this time, over 80 years after the house was first built, that a bathroom was fitted inside the house.

This typical London house in the streets of Battersea has certainly seen a lot of history over the years. With its connection to Nationwide and the first mortgage granted to Alfred Idle in 1884, as well as the military connections of the Kedge family, and several other stories of owners and occupants who have all played their part in the history of London, but also the history of this house.

Don’t forget, you can enter the Nationwide house history competition here – Nationwide: Does your home have a secret history? 

Spring adventures of a house historian

It has been an exciting few months in the life of this house historian! The spring months have largely involved speaking engagements and interviews, including the Ideal Home Show and a television programme on the history of household inventions! It is certainly the fun side in the life of a house historian.

One of the most exciting events was speaking at the Ideal Home Show at Olympia London!


Speaking over several days, I told audiences stories I had uncovered researching the history of houses, which included houses with links to Jane Austen, Winston Churchill, and Lord Byron, as well as stories of houses linked with murder, spies, and scandal!


I have also recently been taking part in more filming and television, which included a new programme – ‘Wicked Inventions’ [Definition Media]! Now in its second series, it was broadcast in parts of Europe, but sadly has not been shown in the UK (yet!). However, a short clip of my sections featured throughout the series have been put together here:

In April this year, I was also privileged to be guest speaker at the glorious Peterborough Cathedral for the Peterborough Local History Society [visit their new website]! In the surroundings of the recently restored 13th century Knights’ Chamber, I spoke about my work researching the history of houses, plus stories I’d uncovered, and tips for the audience about researching the history of their own home.



Most recently, I have also taken part in an interview for GlamUK discussing the unique aspects of my role as a house historian, as well as one of my favourite houses in London – 18 Stafford Terrace, the former home of Edward Linley Sambourne. The full story can be seen on the GlamUK website: “Discovering London with House Historian Melanie Backe-Hansen” and the full filmed interview is also online here:

It is always fun speaking at events and taking part in interviews, but it has also been fantastic to get back to the research. Following all this, I can largely be found going through rolls of microfilm or transcribing pages of deeds and documents for the latest house history project! :-)

Military heroes in Rosary Gardens

A short time ago, I was asked to research the history of a small family estate – The Day Estate – in South Kensington in London, which covers a number of streets, including Rosary Gardens. However, I never would have guessed that over several years Rosary Gardens was home to such an extraordinary collection of former residents from the military.

Rosary Gardens, London
Rosary Gardens, London

Rosary Gardens was named after Rosary Lodge, an 18th century house that was situated on the site prior to the building of the street and new houses in 1882. Situated off Old Brompton Road, tucked away behind Hereford Square, the houses were built by famous London builder, William Willett.

Herbert Beerbohm Tree (image courtesy of Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea archives)
Herbert Beerbohm Tree (image courtesy of Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea archives)

By 1885 almost all the houses were occupied, which included Anne Thackeray, daughter of author, William  Makepeace Thackeray, and her husband, Richard Thackeray Ritchie (second cousin of William Makepeace Thackeray). It was also the home of celebrated actor-manager, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who had a long and successful career in theatre, and was the founder of the now world-renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).

Amongst these early residents, Rosary Gardens was also home to many high-ranking military men. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were a great many serving and retired members of the Navy and Army, including Lieutenant-Colonel John Dremel, who fought in the Zulu War and in India, as well as Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Lindsay and Lieutenant-Colonel Warren Hastings, both from the Indian Army.

Colonel Ernest Harrold Fenn
Colonel Ernest Harrold Fenn

Another early resident was Colonel Ernest Harold Fenn, army surgeon who served in the Afghan War in 1878-80, as well as the Sudan in 1885, and later served with the Governor General of India, Lord Lansdowne, and the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. He received many awards for his service, including the Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) in 1893.

Sir James Digby Legard by Walter Stoneman, 1917 (courtesy of National Portrait Gallery Collection)
Sir James Digby Legard by Walter Stoneman, 1917 (courtesy of National Portrait Gallery Collection)

There were many others, including Colonel Whalley Wickham, Colonel Granville William Vernon, and Major William Boyd Shannon, who fought at Gallipoli in 1915 and whose memoirs of the fighting have become an important historical source of the events of the Gallipoli campaign.

During the early 1900s Rosary Gardens continued as a popular address for military men. This included Colonel Sir James Digby Legard, who served in the Royal Artillery in the Zulu War, when he was mentioned in Despatches. He became an Honorary Colonel in the Yorkshire (Duke of York’s Own) Royal Garrison Artillery and became a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the King’s Birthday Honours list in 1905.

Konstantine Dessino
Konstantine Dessino

At the same time, former Russian General, Constantine (also spelt Konstantine) Dessino, was living in Rosary Gardens. Dessino had a distinguished career in the Imperial Russian Forces prior to the Revolution in 1917, including the Russo-Japanese War and the early years of the First World War. In 1917 he was visiting Britain as a member of a Russian military delegation, which included a long audience with King George V. However, after his return to Russia everything changed as he was forced to flee his home after the outbreak of the Revolution. He managed to escape with his family and sought refuge in England.

One of the most distinguished military residents (although there were many!) in Rosary Gardens was Admiral Sir William Frederic Wake-Walker.

Admiral Sir William Frederic Wake-Walker
Admiral Sir William Frederic Wake-Walker

He served during both the First and Second World Wars, and in particular played a vital role in the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940. He was placed in charge of directing the evacuation from ships and boats at Dunkirk, where he was under almost constant attack. He “was chiefly responsible for the control of the ‘little ships'”, and for which service he was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). Admiral Wake-Walker continued to distinguish himself during the Second World War and he was directly involved in the sinking of the Bismark in May 1941. He was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and was promoted to Vice Admiral and Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy in 1942. He was also responsible for creating the huge fleet of landing craft that were used in North Africa and later in the D-Day landings. He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1943 and promoted to Admiral and Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean in May 1945. Sadly, despite this exceptional serving record, he did not live beyond the war as he died unexpectedly, at age 57, in September 1945.

This is just a glimpse into some of the fascinating stories I discovered by delving into the history of former residents of Rosary Gardens!

Theatrical links and war heroes in Bedford Park, Chiswick

I have been a little quiet on my blog in the last few months as the second half of 2016 was packed with exciting projects, which made blogging my adventures a little tricky! However, one of the projects in west London has inspired this first of my blog posts for 2017! 

Bedford Park, Chiswick
Bedford Park, Chiswick

Late last year, I was working with the Bedford Park Residents Association on a new house history project, engaging with the residents and local people in promoting the social history of this unique enclave in west London. For more details, you can read the announcement here – BPRA Launch House History Initiative. To launch the project, I spoke at an event in Chiswick talking about the fascinating historic stories you can uncover by researching the history of houses. This included a fabulous story about the residents of a house in Bath Road that I discovered in preparing for my talk at the event.

1891 census - Bath Road
1891 census – Marie Saker

In looking through the 1891 census for Bath Road, which runs along the boundary of Bedford Park, I found the widowed, Marie Saker, recorded as an actress. She was living in the house with her grandmother and four children, along with a governess and two live-in servants. Her eldest son, George, was a student at the Royal Academy of Music, while her middle son, only thirteen years old, was recorded as an ‘actor’. I admit, I had not heard of Marie Saker, but I was intrigued by the reference to her being an actress and began to delve a bit further.

Mrs Saker (left) in The Masqueraders, 1894 [image courtesy of]
Mrs Saker (left) in The Masqueraders, 1894 [image courtesy of]
It turns out, Marie Saker was a renowned actress of the time and before her marriage she performed as Marie O’Burne (also appeared as O’Beirne and O’Brien). In 1874, she married a theatre manager, Edward Saker, after they met at Alexandra Theatre in Liverpool, where he was manager, and she was performing. Edward Saker had many connections to celebrated names of the time, including being a close friend of Sir Henry Irving. However, Edward died after the couple had been married less than 10 years, in 1883.

In an unusual move (or perhaps more likely forced due to financial need) Marie Saker continued the management of the Alexandra Theatre in the footsteps of her husband. She continued to manage the theatre for several years, certainly an unusual position for a woman in those times, but by 1888 she had moved on and by 1891 we find her living in Bedford Park in Chiswick.

Mrs Edward Saker
Mrs Edward Saker

I also found a fabulous piece of theatrical history previously owned by Mrs Edward Saker, which has survived and is now held in The National Archives [Ref: 920 MD 411]. It is the former autograph book of Marie Saker. It is inscribed with a note “This book belonged to Mrs. Saker of Liverpool and came into my possession in February 1895”; signed by Edgar Pemberton [playwright and theatrical historian]. The book is a ‘Who’s Who’ of the late 19th century theatre and includes notes and signatures from many famous names, including Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, Henry Irving, and former Prime Minister, William Gladstone.

In delving further into the story of Marie Saker and her children, I found a very sad turn of events with two of her sons dying during the First World War.

Frank Harrison Saker
Frank Harrison Saker




Marie and Edward’s youngest son, Frank, had first joined the military in 1901 so was one of the first to be fighting at the outbreak of the war. He was promoted to Captain in September 1914, but died the following month, on 30 October, on Flanders Fields.

Major Richard Saker
Major Richard Saker

Edward and Marie’s second son, Richard (who had been recorded as an actor in 1891) also joined the military early and served with distinction during the Boer War in South Africa and was awarded the Queen’s Medal with five clasps. At the outbreak of the First World War he was attached to the Australian Infantry as Major and took part in the landings at Gallipoli in 1915. He was wounded several times on the landing, but continued to fight until he was fatally wounded and died on 20 April 1915.

This is just one part of the life of one house and just goes to show the extraordinary stories that can be discovered by researching the history of a house!

Note: if you live in Chiswick and want to know more about the Bedford Park House History Initiative, get in touch with the BPRA – here.

You can also hear some more about the project by watching some recent films made by The Chiswick Calendar – Discover the history of your house with Melanie Backe-Hansen

The house historian’s summer

While many of you have been on summer holidays to far flung destinations (or in sunny Blighty!) the summer months have been rather busy for me (which explains the time since my last blog post)!

I have been completing a large project on the history of a house in the Cotswolds, which I was delighted to have traced back to Queen Elizabeth I in 1588 (which is currently being designed in preparation for being bound into a book), while also researching the fascinating stories in the history of a house in Soho in London – connected to a group of notorious gangsters during the 1930s and 40s!

Historic house in the Cotswolds
Historic house in the Cotswolds

I have been continuing work on the history of a house in a Hertfordshire, while also working on a new article for the Chelsea Society annual report. During August, I spoke to the Bromley branch of the North West Kent Family History Society about how to research the history of houses, and in October I will be speaking to the Dartford branch on the same subject!

I have also been branching out with a little television work and will soon feature on a programme (coming soon!) talking about the history of household objects and inventions!

Amongst all the reading and writing, I am also working with the Bedford Park Residents Association in Chiswick on an exciting new house history project. Here is the official announcement:

The BPRA commissions house-historian Melanie Backe-Hansen to help Residents discover the hidden stories of Bedford Park”

Bedford Park terraced cottages
Bedford Park terraced cottages

I will be speaking at the official project launch at High Road House in Chiswick on 8 September, which will feature details of a unique online resource for homeowners and researchers. Tickets for the free event can be booked here – Bedford Park House History launch event

To promote the new house history project, I spent a day with the team from The Chiswick Calendar to produce a couple of short films talking about house histories!

‘Discover the history of your house with Melanie Backe-Hansen’

Know the stories of the people who lived in your house before you?  
“Does it change your attitude towards a house to know the stories of the people who have lived there before you? Francis Cherry says it does.”

So, you see, it has been rather a busy summer for the house historian! More updates and stories uncovered researching the history of houses will be on the way soon!

The Suffragettes of Oakley Street

While researching the history of a house for a magazine column, I stumbled across a fascinating piece of history. It was the 1911 census return for No.93 Oakley Street in Chelsea, but instead of the usual list of former occupants, the enumerator was forced to note that ‘Suffragettes refused all information’.

Section of 1911 census for 93 Oakley Street
Section of 1911 census for 93 Oakley Street

The enumerator further notes that the lady of the house had written across the original census return  ‘no vote no census’. This one document (found by accident) brought to life a period of history from 100 years ago, which has had an extraordinary affect on history, but also on our lives today – the right for women to vote! It also raised a number of questions about who were these women of Oakley Street and what was their story?

1911 census return - 93 Oakley Street
1911 census return – 93 Oakley Street

You’ll also notice that the enumerator has stated that information was gained from the neighbour. This included the name of the woman of the house ‘Mrs Monck Mason’, along with her daughter and sister, as well as an ‘elderly domestic servant’ and a ‘younger domestic servant’.

Miss Winifred Mayo (Monck Mason)
Miss Winifred Mayo (Monck Mason)

With the help of Naomi Paxton, I discovered the lady of the house was Mrs Alice Monck Mason and her daughter, Winifred Alice Monck Mason, an actress who went by the name of Winifred Mayo (the image to the left courtesy of Mrs Monck Mason (nee Alice Portia Wolley) was actively involved in the Suffragette movement, but it was her daughter, Winifred Mayo, who took on a key role in the political and militant fight for ‘Votes for Women’. Delving into the story of Winifred Mayo it became clear that she played an extraordinary role in the right for women to vote, as well as other organisations that fought for equal rights for women and men.

Winifred Monck Mason (Mayo) was born in India in c.1869, but returned to England for her Education. In the late 19th and early 20th century, she was performing on the stage in a variety of plays and productions, including as Elizabeth Bennett in The Bennetts at the Court Theatre in 1901. But, it was a few years later she took on a more important role in the suffragette movement.

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst
Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

Winifred Mayo first became involved in the women’s suffrage movement in 1907 when she and her mother joined the Kensington branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Winifred became actively involved in the militant side of the Suffragette movement and was first sentenced  to imprisonment in 1908 for taking part in a demonstration at the House of Commons. She was arrested again in 1909 and 1910, but on these occasions was released without charge.

In 1908 Winifred Mayo founded the Actresses’ Franchise League (AFL) with other actresses, including Adeline Bourne. The AFL put on several performances to raise awareness of the women’s suffrage movement, and Winifred Mayo also assisted in training women in public speaking and performance. The AFL included a number of famous names, including Ellen Terry, Sybil Thorndike, Lilly Langtry, and many others. The AFL also advised fellow suffragettes in make-up and dressing-up “which enabled many women ‘on the run’ from the police to successfully disguise themselves and elude recapture.”

Her involvement in the suffrage movement brought Winifred Mayo in direct contact with Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel, along with a number of noted women. She later described her ‘tremendous admiration and affection for [Mrs Pankhurst]’.

Winifred Mayo was also involved in the window-smashing campaign and in November 1911 was imprisoned for three weeks for smashing the windows of the Guards Club in Pall Mall. She tells the story of the event in a radio interview with BBC many years later – it’s a short snippet but fantastic to hear the story in her own words! Listen here – ‘A smashing time in Pall Mall’

Suffragettes boycotting the 1911 census in Manchester
Suffragettes boycotting the 1911 census in Manchester

By the time the census was being taken on 2 April 1911, the campaign for ‘Votes for Women’ was growing and there was a specific campaign to boycott the census by many Suffragettes (although, interestingly there were many who disagreed with the boycott). Across the country there were a great many who planned events and parties to avoid completing the census return.

In London, there were a number of events, but the most well-known was a large gathering, estimated at around 500 women and 70 men. The event began with music in Trafalgar Square, but later the group spent the evening at the Aldwych ice skating rink (near to where London School of Economics is situated today). Winifred Mayo was known to be part of the Aldwych group and even provided some of the entertainment with members of the Actresses’ Franchise League performing recitals of Suffragist poems. At around 3.30am the group relocated to a restaurant towards Covent Garden for refreshment.

There is far more to the story of the ‘avoiders’ and ‘boycotters’ of the 1911 census, so if you want to know more, check the book ‘Vanishing for the Vote’ by Jill Liddington. More can be found from the blog by Elizabeth Crawford – Women and her sphere (including a fascinating lecture given at the House of Commons (although it is an hour long – House of Commons lecture) – as well as the website of Professor Jill Liddington – here.

Winifred Mayo went on to have an extraordinary life, involved in many campaigns for supporting women, as well as equal rights for all. She passed away at the age of 97 in February 1967.

This one discovery of an entry in the 1911 census reveals the extraordinary history, not only personal but national and international history, that can be uncovered when researching the history of houses.

The Baby Grand in Belgravia

This unique house tucked away in Belgravia was nicknamed The Baby Grand by none other than playwright, singer, and composer, Noel Coward.

The Baby Grand - Chesham Street (courtesy of Chestertons)
The Baby Grand – Chesham Street (courtesy of Chestertons)

A baby grand in both the sense of a baby grand house surrounded by its much larger Victorian stuccoed neighbours, as well as an affectionate name for a piano from a man noted for his wit and comedic song.

Joyce Carey
Joyce Carey

It was a short time ago, while working with Chestertons estate agents, that I was asked to research the former home of actress and great friend of Noel Coward’s, Joyce Carey. She was noted for a long acting career, but particularly remembered for her appearances in many of Coward’s films, including Brief Encounter (1945), In Which We Serve (1942), and Blithe Spirit (1945).

The house is situated along Chesham Street on the southern tip of Belgravia and was first laid out for new houses during the 1830s. Located on the Lowndes Estate, the name ‘Chesham’ originated from the home of the Lowndes family in Chesham, Buckinghamshire. However, this house, with an appearance distinctly unusual next to the tall early Victorian terraced houses, was built much later, during the 1920s.

The first residents were William and Beryl Riley-Smith, who moved into the house in 1922-23. Mr Riley-Smith later became High Sheriff of Yorkshire, but was particularly noted as an avid polo player. The couple lived in the house until 1925, the same year Beryl sat for a painting by the celebrated artist, Alfred Munnings, most known for his paintings of horses. In fact, the painting, which became known simply as ‘Beryl Riley-Smith riding Snowflake’, features Beryl riding side-saddle on the horse, Snowflake. The painting was sold at Christie’s in 2002 for £1.35 million.

Beryl Riley-Smith on Snowflake by Alfred Munnings, 1925
Beryl Riley-Smith on Snowflake by Alfred Munnings, 1925

Several years later, in 1954, after the turmoil of the Second World War, the actress, Joyce Carey moved into the house in Chesham Street.

Joyce Carey as Myrtle in Brief Encounter, 1945
Joyce Carey as Myrtle in Brief Encounter, 1945

Joyce Carey was born into an acting family, the daughter of actor, Gerald Lawrence, described as a ‘Matinee Idol’, and Lilian Braithwaite, successful star of stage and screen. With such parenting it was no surprise that Joyce followed in her parents footsteps and became an actress, first appearing on stage in 1916 at 18 years old.

Noel Coward
Noel Coward

Joyce Carey met Noel Coward in 1924, when her mother was starring in Coward’s play, The Vortex, and from that time they became firm friends. Joyce appeared in several of Coward’s plays and films, perhaps the most noted was her role as the manageress, Myrtle, in the film Brief Encounter with Celia Johnson and Trever Howard.

Joyce Carey became one of Noel Coward’s close friends and at the centre of Coward’s coterie, known as ‘the family’. After moving to ‘The Baby Grand’ in 1954, Joyce hosted many parties and gatherings with Noel Coward and their circle of friends. Joyce continued to live at No.12 Chesham Street until the late 1970s, while she continued to appear on stage and screen. She went on to appear in London Belongs to Me (1948) with Richard Attenborough and Alastair Sim and The End of The Affair (1955) with Deborah Kerr and John Mills. Her last stage appearance was alongside Peter O’Toole as Mrs Higgins in Pygmalion in 1984, but she was still acting at the age of 90 when she appeared in Michael Palin’s, No.27, in 1988.

Joyce Carey and Stanley Holloway in Brief Encounter, 1945
Joyce Carey and Stanley Holloway in Brief Encounter, 1945

To ‘live well but unostentatiously’ …in Chatsworth Court

In 1936, when Chatsworth Court was completed, you can just imagine Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot admiring the ‘fine flats in an exceptionally distinguished area’. Still highly sought after today, Chatsworth Court may not have been home to Poirot, but they were home to the children of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, including geographer and politician, Edward, Baron Shackleton, along with world-famous actress and star of Dynasty, Joan Collins.


Prior to the building of Chatsworth Court, this part of Pembroke Road was covered by a row of paired villas, built in the 1840s by local builder, Stephen Bird. Pembroke Road was named for the connection with former landowners, the Edwardes family, and their estate in Pembrokeshire in Wales. The street was laid out over farmland in the 1820s, but the houses were only completed later during the 1840s.


1871 Ordnance Survey map showing Victorian villas



The Ordnance Survey map also reveals that to the west, past the paired villas, was a ‘Pianoforte Manufactory’. This was the former factory of celebrated French piano and harp manufacturers, Messrs Erard. It was built in the early 1850s and by 1855 the factory was producing over 1,000 pianos and harps with around 300 workers. However, by 1891 the factory had closed and the site was taken for residential flats, Warwick Mansions, along with warehouses (also later replaced with flats).

The new century also brought change to the eastern end of Pembroke Road, with the demolition of the Victorian villas and the building of two new blocks of flats – Chatsworth Court and Marlborough Court. On the corner of Earl’s Court Road was the larger Chatsworth Court, designed by H.F. Murrell and R.M. Pigott and completed in 1935. Murrell and Piggott were responsible for several other blocks in London, including neighbouring Marlborough Court and Ovington Court in Knightsbridge.

The new flats were promoted as ‘a country club in a garden’ with modern fitted kitchens and bathrooms (a key selling point in a day when this was not necessarily the norm) and a range of luxury facilities, including tennis and squash courts, swimming pool, restaurant, internal telephones, optional maid services, electric clocks and heated towel rails. The brochure promoted the flats ‘near the centre of things, but surrounded by trees [where] one can live well but unostentatiously: quietly but socially’. When first advertised in 1936 there were six different types of flats ranging from £130-£350 p.a. inclusive.


The first residents began to move in during late 1936 and 1937 and by 1938 occupants included Lady Ellen Palmer and Lady Raeburn, along with Lieutenant-Colonel Gaskell and Colonel Langstaff.

However, one of the most noted early families to move into Chatsworth Court were the children of Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. At flat No.38 in 1938 was his eldest son, Raymond Shackleton, while at flat No.118 was Raymond’s sister, Cecily. Sir Ernest Shackleton’s youngest son, Edward, later Baron Shackleton, was also recorded living in Chatsworth Court with his wife Betty in 1940.


Chatsworth Court brochure, 1936


In 1934 Edward Shackleton organised and took part in the Oxford University expedition to Ellesmere Island and during the Second World War served as Wing Commander in the RAF. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1945 and from 1946 to 1955 he served as a Labour MP. He was created Baron Shackleton in 1955 and later went on to serve as Minister of Defence for the RAF, Leader of the House of Lords, and also President of the Royal Geographical Society.

Other notable residents of Chatsworth Court have included screenwriter, H. Fowler Mear, who wrote many screenplays, including Lord Edgeware Dies (1934) and Scrooge (1935).  It was also home to Nixon Hilton of Nixa Records, later Pye Nixa, who distributed records for Petula Clark, The Searchers and The Kinks.

However, one of the most famous former occupants was actress and author, Dame

Joan Collins, who lived  at Chatsworth Court during the 1960s with her second husband, actor and songwriter, Anthony Newley.


Joan Collins and Anthony Newley

Shakespeare and The Clink: The history of Horseshoe Wharf

Today, Bankside is a popular destination for a night out or a saunter on the weekend, with Borough Market around the corner, as well as the many cafes, pubs, and restaurants. It is also often used in television and film, including Dr Who and Bridget Jones’s Diary! However, Bankside is also one of the most historic parts of London and has been through an extraordinary transformation over the centuries, from fields, to a Tudor and Stuart red-light district and theatre land, through to a busy Victorian industrial enclave. It may be a cliché, but Bankside really is ‘jam-packed’ with history!

Section of 'Long View of London from Bankside' by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1647
Section of ‘Long View of London from Bankside’ by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1647

The lower part of this drawing by Wenceslaus Hollar shows Bankside at the time of the Civil War, with the Bishop’s house and gardens to the bottom left and the theatres and entertainment venues behind, along with the old London Bridge to the right.

A short time ago, while I was with Chestertons estate agents, I was asked to research one of the more recent apartment buildings that had been built on the site of an old warehouse called Horseshoe Wharf. It is situated across from the remains of the Bishop of Winchester’s 14th century palace, and despite the young age of the current building, the site has a history going back to the 12th century.

Remains of the Bishop of Winchester's Palace
Remains of the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace

Bankside has been occupied from as far back as the Romans in the 1st century, but an archaeological study of the site of Horseshoe Wharf revealed it was occupied from the 12th century – at exactly the same time that the Bishop of Winchester was establishing his home here by the banks of the Thames.

The Bishop of Winchester was the lord of the manor, separated from The City across the river, which meant he had his own court, and even his own prison – the infamous ‘Clink’. It formerly sat to the west of Stoney Street and eventually gave its name to the area, so it became known as the manor of the Clink. The Clink was one of the worst prisons in London, where prisoners were left to starve or even literally left to rot or drown in the rising tide. The name of ‘The Clink’ is believed to have originated from the word for keyhole, but it is also commonly thought to originate from the ‘clinking’ of keys. Whatever the origins, the name is now synonymous with the name for prison.

Theatre and Bear baiting, 1647
Theatre and Bear baiting, 1647

A closer look at the drawing by Wenceslaus Hollar also reveals Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and a Beere Bayting [sic] ring. During the 16th and 17th century, this part of London was notorious for its entertainments, with taverns, theatres, and brothels. Being outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, many came to the south side of the river, which became known as the ‘playground of the City of London’. It was also the original red-light district when Soho was just fields.

Clink Street
Clink Street

A revetment was first built along The Thames at Bankside in the 14th century, but it was in the late 16th and early 17th century that a stone wall was built (which corresponds with the time that a great many people were coming across the river to visit the taverns and theatres). The new wall also allowed for sturdier construction of houses and tenements, which were built around the time of Hollar’s drawing in the 1640s. The name of Clink Street also first appeared at this time. However, within 150 years most of these early houses were demolished and a new brick river wall constructed, which led the way for the tall warehouses and wharf buildings we recognise today.

It was at this time, in the late 18th and 19th centuries that industry took over the riverside. The first building named Horseshoe Wharf was built in 1837 and by 1838 was occupied by lighterman, John Raymond. Lightermen operated the small flat-bottomed boats known as ‘lighters’ that transported goods from the ships in The Thames to the quays. John Raymond & Son were recorded at Horseshoe Wharf for almost 40 years until the 1870s.

Section of map of London by John Rocque, 1746
Section of map of London by John Rocque, 1746

From the 1880s through to the 1930s, Horseshoe Wharf was occupied by a variety of businesses, including Doo Brothers lightermen, John Muir & Company, corn merchants, and Coombe Gordon & Co., granary keepers. It continued as a warehouse building after the Second World War, but by the 1990s the site of Horseshoe Wharf was chosen for a new apartment building. After the demolition of the old building, English Heritage had the unique opportunity to undertake an archaeological study before the foundations for the new building were put in place, revealing the fascinating details about the early settlements, as well as the evolution of the riverside walls and the story of one of the most historic parts of London.

Horseshoe Wharf from riverside
Horseshoe Wharf (in the centre) from riverside

The artists studios of Talgarth Road

If you’ve ever driven into (or out of) London along the A4 in west London, you will have spotted an unusual row of houses as you drive through Barons Court and perhaps have wondered, ‘what on earth are they?’ as you drive by. Well, for years I did, until I had the chance to research the artists studios of Talgarth Road.

143 Talgarth Road - Ext

Many of you may have guessed that they were built as artists houses with the large windows along the top floor to allow maximum natural light to flood into the house. The row of eight houses were first known as St Paul’s Studios and completed in 1891 along Colet Gardens – which later became Talgarth Road – looking out over the large grounds of St Paul’s School. The houses were designed by Frederick Wheeler for ‘fine art publisher’, James Fairless, and particularly designed for the ‘bachelor artist’.

St Paul's Studios 1891
St Paul’s Studios 1891

They were built in the popular style of the time, with brick and terracotta, along with decorative wrought iron and lead light windows. The basement accommodation was particularly designed for a housekeeper, while the ground floor was the living accommodation for the resident artist and the top floor was completely dedicated to studio space with the large round-headed window.

A few years ago, while working with Chestertons estate agents, I was asked to research the history of the former No.5 St Paul’s Studios. I had such fun delving into the stories of the former artists and discovering that for much of the history of the house it was home to a long list of noted artists, sculptors, and writers.

The Sea Urchin by Ruby Levick
The Sea Urchin by Ruby Levick Courtesy of The Victorian Web

The first occupant to move in to the studio was Ruby Levick, who at the time was studying as a sculptor at the National Art Training School (later the Royal College of Art) in South Kensington. She later achieved great success, including exhibiting at the Royal Academy, and was much admired by Queen Alexandria. As an aside, Ruby’s brother, George Levick, was the surgeon and zoologist on Scott’s last expedition to Antarctica in 1910.

In 1901-03, No.5 St Paul’s Studios was the home of artist, Inglis Sheldon-Williams, an illustrator and a forerunner of today’s photo-journalist. He worked as an artist in the field during the Boer War and became an official war artist during the First World War.

St Martin-in-the-Fields by William Logsdail, 1888
St Martin in the Fields by William Logsdail, 1888



In 1903 the studio along Talgarth Road became the home of prominent English artist, William Logsdail. He had already exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of 18 in 1877 and went on to have a highly successful career, with many popular paintings of familiar scenes in London, including St Martin-in-the-Fields and Bank and Royal Exchange. Queen Victoria purchased his work The Antwerp Fish Market after it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880, which is still part of the Royal Collection today. William Logsdail continued at No.5 St Paul’s Studios until 1922 during which time he worked on his portrait painting, including Lord and Lady Halifax and Lord Curzon.

St Paul's Studios in the London Post Office Directory, 1922
St Paul’s Studios in the London Post Office Directory, 1922

In 1923 through to 1938 the studio was the home of George Kruger Gray, who was particularly noted for his stained glass windows, but also his coin designs for British and Commonwealth nations. 1939 Aus half penny

His designs appeared on coins in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as the British shilling, florin, half crown and six pence, between 1927 and 1952.

George Kruger Gray also served with the Artists Rifles during the First World War and was created C.B.E. in 1938.  He had several official commissions, including creating the Great Seal of King George VI and the collar of the Order of the British Empire.

After the Second World War, in 1949-50, No.5 St Paul’s Studios was the home of author and playwright,  Ernest Gébler, husband of the Irish author, Edna O’Brien and father of author, Carlo Gébler. Ernest Gébler wrote several books, including The Voyage of the Mayflower, which sold five million copies and was made into a film with Spencer Tracy. Later, his play Call Me Daddy was made into a television drama and earned him an Academy Award in 1968, and his play Hoffman was made into a film in 1970 with Peter Sellers and Sinead Cusack.

By the 1950s a number of the studios were being converted into business space and No.5 became a dance school for the ‘Margaret Morris Movement’, a unique system of dance and physical education created by dancer Margaret Morris. The house continued to be used as a dance school through to the 1980s, when it once again became a residential home. The new owner, interior designer Allan Day, then set about restoring the house and studio back to its former glory, much as it had been when first completed in 1891.

Former No.5 St Paul's Studio - image courtesy of Chestertons
Former No.5 St Paul’s Studio – image courtesy of Chestertons