Friday, 4 October 2013

WEST BARNES LANE, MOTSPUR PARK in THE LONDON BOROUGH of MERTON

Where I am sitting now, in my kitchen, this very spot, just a little over eighty years ago, a cow could have been standing ripping grass up with its teeth and gently chewing away, ruminating. There could have been a haystack or perhaps just a muddy patch in the middle of a field where the fridge freezer is. Up to the late 1920’s this, here, where I live, was farmland. A family called the Raynes had their large farmhouse,  about seven hundred meters from where my house stands just to the north west of me. A little over to the east is Blakes Lane, named after Farmer Blake who owned the land  where Motspur Park Railway Station is now. And, the name of the road I live in,  West Barnes Lane, recalls some large barns that stood along this road when indeed it was a country lane.

West Barnes lane, just outside my house.Notice the preponderance of trees in a garden suburb.

To be precise,my house is 83 years old. It was built in 1930 and was first owned just before the 6th June 1930. The pond in my back garden has a rough, pebbled concrete border around it and in the concrete is marked, “6th June 1930.” All the houses round here were built in the 1930’s. It is a time warp. We live here in a time gone past. We don’t actually think we are living in a museum, but I suppose if you stop to think, we are custodians of this bit of built British history. The thing is, the houses are good and solid, made of brick and hefty timbers and good weatherproof clay tiles cover them. They have been loved and cared for and extended and improved over the decades and the generations. They are almost the perfect house for the British. We have been born, brought up in them and continue to live in them. 

The bureaux on the left of the fireplace was bought by my great grandmother, in Southampton, in the 1930's.

The 1930’s in Britain were not a good time. We were not recovering well from the First World War. We had, The Depression, a time of unemployment and poverty for many.The traditional industries, coal mining, shipbuilding, iron and textiles were struggling. The infrastructure was old and needed replacing. We were not competing in the world markets as well as we used to. There were hunger marches coming down to London from Tyneside, the traditional shipbuilding areas. Oswald Moseley’s fascist party was vociferous but didn't ultimately gain significant support. Communist groups were popular too but again they didn’t make headway either. What people wanted were jobs. Many of the industrial cities and major conurbations were blighted by old Victorian terraces, back to back housing with no lighting, and poor sanitation. The toilet facilities for one of these slum terraces would have been in a small shed at the bottom of the garden. Flush toilets did not exist for the working class. The toilet was a bucket with some soil in it which ,once full, was emptied into a cess tank. The tank was emptied, every now and then, by the local council. Clean water for the house was provided by a tap in the backyard. Hot water had to be heated over a fire, using precious coal,  and bath time would have happened in a zinc tub placed in the middle of the kitchen floor.
The Art Nouveayu style glass next to my front door.

Eventually new industries began to flourish in the south east and in the Midlands, such as car manufacture, synthetic textiles, chemicals and light engineering and so people began to get money. They also wanted better housing conditions. The dream for everybody was to live in an idealised rural setting, so the garden suburb was invented. This was a mixture of new housing with modern facilities, gardens and parks. A significant feature of these suburbs were trees. People who bought these new houses and moved to the suburbs felt they owned a piece of the countryside. Each suburb had its infrastructure to enable good comfortable enjoyable lifestyles. These modern new houses were a world away from the dirty grimy slums that many had been brought up in. They had electric lighting. They had modern kitchens with cookers and fridges. They had inside plumbing with gas boilers that provided hot water and not just to the downstairs kitchen but to a proper bathroom with bath, sink and a decent flush toilet up stairs. They mostly were built with three bedrooms, two double rooms and single room. The single room, as in my house, were invariably over the front door. Theses house all had front gardens where people grew shrubs and plants and had their little patch of grass. What is more they were all provided with back gardens where they could create their own little cottage garden or their own piece of luxurious parkland. Cooking new things became popular and pamphlets and cookery books were published. In their gardens many people planted fruit trees and dug over a small vegetable patch. My own back garden still has two apple trees, quite old now, but still producing fruit in abundance each year.


This 1930's house has bow windows. A Georgian feature.

The council provided what we term, allotments, for people with smaller gardens who wanted to grow crops. They are still very popular today. Allotments first developed at the end of the 19th century to provide the urban poor with a piece of land where they could grow good healthy food. Growth of allotments intensified during the first and second world wars when rationing reduced the amount of food people could buy. My mother always says that rationing created a healthier population than we have today. People got a balanced diet and received what they needed and no more. Gluttony didn’t exist!!! After the Second World War interest in allotments declined but they are on the increase again because of green issues and people are becoming more aware of healthy living. It is also a great way to exercise.. Allotments do produce a healthier population. They also can help towards sustainable development. One of the initial benefits seen for allotments was that if somebody was unemployed they could still grow their own food. Some kept chickens for eggs and would be able to provide the occasional roast dinner.

Some Merton Council allotments near where I live. Not only are allotments places to grow produce but the people working on them form societies and hold meetings. They have produce shows in the Summer. A community feel is created. Cultivating an allotment is a life changing experience. 

Motspur Park, where I live, in the Borough of Merton South London was and is one of these ideal semi rural suburban living areas. Within a few hundred yards of my front door, there is a parade of shops that even now, even for the dominance of  hypermarkets such as TESCOS nearby, still has a butchers shop, a green grocers, a pub ,a couple of restaurants, two newsagents and a fish and chip shop. On the corner by the railway station, which allows me to get to central London and be standing next to the Royal Festival Hall looking at the Houses of Parliament within twenty minutes, is The Earl Beaty, my local pub and next to that is Motspur Park Library. Just behind the shopping parade is the Sir Joseph Hood playing fields. It has all weather tennis courts, artificial climbing walls, a zip wire and basketball courts. The grassy area is big enough for four football pitches in the winter and a couple of cricket squares in the summer. Motspur Park is truly a garden suburb, a little bit of British heaven.
My house in West Barnes Lane. The white is pebble dashing plastered over London Stock Bricks, which helps prevent weathering. An old Roman recipe.

These 1930 style houses have claimed a deep and close relationship with us British. They feel part of us. There is something quintessentially English or British about them which is different from all other styles throughout the world. They draw very much from the Arts and Crafts Movement that developed at the end of the 19th century, from 1870 onwards, and was pioneered by John Ruskin the writer and art critic and William Morris the Pre-Raphaelite designer and entrepreneur. Ruskin examined the relationship between art, society and labour. Morris put Ruskin’s philosophy into practice placing great value on work, the joy of craftsmanship and beautiful materials. Incidentally Morris’s workshops were situated at Merton Abbey mills and many people in The London Borough of Merton learned the crafts of printing materials, dyeing, furniture making and tile making when they worked for Morris & CO.They learned the skills of the medieavl craftsman.

This house in grand drive, which adjoins West Barnes Lane, has many Arts and Crafts features, the medieval timber frame look, the clay tiled farmhouse roof style, the leaded windows, the white plaster facing which recalls medieval wattle and daub , the front door set centrally is a farmhouse feature too and the door has a certain art nouveau look to it with its flowing curved shape. The dormer window and sharply pointed eaves over the front door , are all Tudor features.

If you were to stand outside my front door and look up and down the road, all the houses are not exactly the same. They differ in some architectural details. Some are a little bigger than others and perhaps have an added bedroom. Some are detached and some, like mine, are semi-detached. However, essentially they all fit a certain style and have something English about them. If you know your British history it might begin to dawn on you. Many houses have bay windows, a key Georgian feature. Many have peaked eves which essentially hasn’t changed since Tudor and medieval times. Some even, to make it more obvious, look as though they might be timber framed. They are not. A closer inspection will reveal that the timbers are thin wooden cladding attached to the wall surface to make the house look timber framed. Others have oriel windows , which you find in Elizabethan mansions.

As well as the influence of Georgian bay windows in these terrace houses , you can also see small oriel windows positioned above the front doors. This is a feature reminiscent of windows found in Elizabethan mansions.

They all have clay tile roofs which give a mellow warm feel to them. You will find clay tiled roofs in every country village throughout the land. Many of the shops in the parade down the road, in the centre of Motspur Park, are built in brick with a herring bone pattern to their construction, a Tudor feature. I have stained glass set within a frosted oval at the top part of my front door. It has Art Nouveau design features. Many of the front doors in my road, indeed my front door is just such a one, are constructed from heavy timbers like a farmhouse door. Although there is a preponderance of brickwork, many of the houses in my road are pebble dashed on top of the basic brick construction of London stock bricks. Pebble dashing is something the Romans used to weather proof the surface of some of their buildings. Some houses, and these are fewer than the arts and crafts style  houses, are art deco,with clean smooth white walls, austere flat roofs and curved glass windows framed in thin steal frames.


An art deco house near the A3, the main duel carriageway out of London just to the north of Motspur Park. It's clean efficient lines appealed to a few.

The appeal is that these garden suburbs are really a mixture,a coming together, of all the great architectural features that England has produced. They are distilled Englishness. They are, what is more, set within a garden, trees and shrubs and beautifully mown lawns. The garden suburbs, Motspur Park and all the others put together, comprise four million homes built in the 1930’’s


Tudor timber frame exteriors, or not!?Notice that the top floor appears to overhang the ground floor. This is a feature of Tudor town houses designed to create more floor space in cramped conditions within  a walled city's confines. 

We do not live in the past in these 1930’s homes. We change with the times. My own house has had a double story extension added to it in the 1970’s. The extension doubled the size of the kitchen and added a fourth bedroom. This year Marilyn and I have been lucky enough to save enough money to extend and renovate the house further. We will add a fifth bedroom with en suit bathroom, and create an open plan living, eating and kitchen area along the back of the house. We will create a modern patio where we can have barbeques if the weather allows, next summer. Bifold doors will open up the back of the house and make the garden into an extra room on balmy summers evenings. The chimney pots on the roof now vent the central heating. We still have our old analogue TV aerial attached to the roof. We do have broadband and television cabled into the house so the aerial is just one of those historical features from the past. The walls and roof have been insulated so the house is more energy efficient. However, on the outside it still looks as though we are in the 1930’s and we are proud to retain some of the 1930’s features inside the house too.


The 1930's fireplace in my living room.It is constructed with tiles and creates a farm house feel.

In some ways we are very lucky our house is still here. Mr Hitler tried to remove it from the face of the earth. Between the 7th October 1940 and the 6th June 1941 the Luftwaffe bombed London,all the major ports in Britain and the industrial areas of the Midlands. It was called the Blitz. The history department at University College London have produced a map documenting where all the bombs during this period, landed on London.


West Barnes Lane is my address. You can see how close the high explosive bombs got. Often houses that were not apparently affected by a bomb blast later formed cracks in walls and inside their roofs. Local builders had a boom time during and especially after the war reapiring the damage.

 Looking at the part of the map that shows West Barnes Lane, one bomb landed at the far end of West Barnes lane near the station. Another landed in Station Road, it seems they were trying to obliterate the station. Others destroyed the Church of England Church round the corner in Adela Avenue, a bomb landed in Arthur Road a mere few hundred yards from my house, another landed in Marina Avenue and one in Byron Avenue. These were high explosive bombs that took out half dozen houses in one blast. My house survived.!!! In Motspur Park there were a lot of small manufacturing units and it was these, as well as the station, they were trying to destroy. Half a mile from me in Raynes Park there was a  film unit that produced training films for the military. A couple of other factories produced the new radar equipment.

After a night of bombing.You cannot imagine the emotions and feelings of that man walking along at the bottom of the picture.

One bizarre story from our local park is told of a German pilot baling out over Motspur Park and parachuting down to land on top of the  gasometers that stored and supplied gas for many of the households in South London. These gasometers are still there beside the Sir Joseph Hood playing fields although not used nowadays. He apparently landed on the top of these great cylinders and then promptly fell off to his death.

As an addenda to all of the above, and just in case you are interested, a house in West Barnes Lane cost between £500 and £600 when they were first built. In the year 2013,a kind of symmetry has been achieved. They are valued at between £500,000 and £600,000. 

17 comments:

  1. Interesting post, Tony. I enjoyed reading about the history of your neighbourhood. You've inspired me to investigate the history of my sub-division. There must be lots of material in the Main Library downtown. Good photos, as usual, to illustrate your text. Cheers!

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  2. Tony, I love this post! I'm always interested in learning about everyday life sort of things. Georgian architecture is my favourite, so it's good to see it was still appreciated and emulated in the 1930s.

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    1. Jean, I am sure you would be in your element if you got hold of some 1930's cookery books. All the best, Tony

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  3. Very interesting. I was born in West Barnes Lane - can remember Salvage Collections,
    the pig bins (brand new!) arriving, and finding a hand grenade as we played down by
    the railway line...............
    Margaret

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  4. Loved reading this blog on motspur park,As my grandparents lived there and both my parents till they married.Many a happy time i spent in and around motspur park when i stayed with them,Do you have any old photos of the area at all?one last question is the photo on here of bomb damage near the motspur park station?
    many thanks vicky.

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  5. Hi Tony. Really interesting blog. I am researching my ancestors and have found some that lived in West Barnes Terrace in around 1900. Would you have nay idea what happened to the terrace as I can find no records of it?
    Many thanks

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    1. dragons1250 Thank you for your interest. I think the best thing for you to do is find local maps from around 1900. The Ordnance Survey can supply you with historical maps and also the Merton Heritage Centre. Here is a link to Merton Heritage Centre. https://arena.yourlondonlibrary.net/web/merton/heritage

      The West Barnes area until the 1900's and almost right up to the early 1930's was rural and mostly farming. When the railways came, initially to support the farming community transport produce quickly around the country some terraced cottages were built at the West Barnes railway crossing. These were the earliest buildings in the area apart from the farm houses dotted here and there. The cottages may well have been called West Barnes Terrace at first. I am only guessing here though.I think getting hold of old maps of the area is your best bet. Good luck and all the best, Tony

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  6. Great info, I was born in 124 Byron Avenue in 1942 and lived there until I was 21 and got married. My grandparents originaly owned the house from new and then my parents bought it from them.
    I have little recollection of the later part of the war but my older brother has more memories, he was born in 1936. I do remember the building of houses in Claremont Avenue and had many friends from these houses.
    Execpt for a short period of evcuation we lived in Byron Avenue during the war.The images are great. I now live in Cornwall and havn't been back for 15 years.

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  7. We are looking for stories specifically of Sir Joseph Hood Memorial Playing Fields - please do join our Facebook Group - "Friends of Joseph Hood Memorial Playing Fields if you have any old photos or stories wed be so grateful of contributions! Thankyou!

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  8. What street is the Art Deco house on, please?

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    1. Here is a Google map link to the Art deco House in Church Road, Worcester Park, Conrad.
      https://goo.gl/maps/5BSHqVxTtPT2

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  9. Conrad, there is an art deco house in Church Road, right off Worcester Park Road, as you drive towards Worcester Park from the top of
    Motspur Park Road. There are a couple of Art deco houses in that area.

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  10. That photo is of bombing in Southampton rather than Motspur Park - http://ww2today.com/category/1941/june-1941

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    1. I am impressed.Yes it is Southampton. It actually shows Bridge Road, Woolston, Southampton. Bridge Road is close to where my family lived and I was brought up. I wanted to show the devastation a bombing raid could have when targeting a station. That is actually the site of Woolston Station in the background. I didn't think anybody would find me out!!! Ha! Ha!

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