CATFORD – Sportsbank Street 1911 – 1914

The whole family moved to Catford when my Great Aunt was born. She was called Mabel after her mother, but was known as Girlie. Girlie wrote a huge memoir ‘My Lucky Life’ leaving behind detailed historical writing and beautiful descriptions of her families’ life and  adventures. The 1911 census records them all living in Sportsbank Street. My grandfather John was 4, his father Sydney 33 was a ‘Commercial Clerk, his mother was 30 and Girlie was 1 year old. She left the house when she was 5 or 6. So her vivid memories of life there are incredible. Girlie writes:

Sid (Sydney) found this nice little Victorian villa at Catford in a terrace only ten shillings a week with a tiny front garden and a fairly decent back garden. He could hardly wait to get going on it, never having had a garden before. He laid it out most fancifully with a winding gravel path with narrow grass borders, flower beds and little lawns and two summer houses.

The parlour had a rather bright green carpet with large cabbage roses on it, an upright piano and a horse-hair sofa, two rather hard arm chairs, all with very decorative antimacassars. On a large plant stand was a big aspidistra, and a huge black marble clock stood on the rather small mantle piece with two large bronze horses one each end. A white bear rug in front of the fire.

Our house was lit by gas and the roads had gas lamps and I loved to peep out of the window at dusk and watch the lamplighter walk up the road from lamp to lamp with his long wand and pull the little pilot chain and slowly the golden glow bloomed with a kind of halo in the gloom. On a Sunday afternoon we used to listen for the bell of the Muffin Man who came round carrying the muffins in a deep tray on his head and calling out ‘Muffino’ while he rang his hand bell. We toasted them in front of the fire with a long iron toasting fork which hung on the wall beside the fire place and mother piled on thick butter and set a big dish on the hearth for them to keep hot, until all the butter-dripping, finger-licking muffins were done. On Wednesdays the organ grinder played in our road, he a was a little Italian humpback with a perpetual smile and a small monkey on his shoulder. The organ was not very big, and supported by a single leg, and the monkey was dressed in a little suit and always looked rather sad. The children gathered to listen and the monkey held out a little cup for the pennies.

At that time Catford was almost out in the country and our favourite haunt within walking distance was the ‘Seven fields’. I suppose it was part of a farm but to a little girl it was a haven of buttercups and daisies, hawthorn hedges and real cows grazing in one field. As I remember we walked along Ladyship Lane to get there. There were lots of cow parsley on the verges and we called them Lords and Ladies and I quite thought that was the origin of the name of the lane. We were allowed to collect sticks and make a fire and boil the kettle for tea.”


One of the ‘villas’ in Sportsbank Street

The areas known as ‘Seven Fields’ was part of a rural estate owned by the Earl of Northbrook and the Rt. Hon Henry William Forster and contained two farms. The people of Lewisham visited it for weekend outings. This became the Downham Estate a huge housing estate built after the first world war designed to include gardens and space for working families.

farmland seven feilds downland estate 1880

The farmland of Seven Feilds 1880

Sportsbank Street is named for the cycle track that was built by The Catford Cycling Club. The club was founded in 1886, and in 1894 they built their own cycle racing track south of Brownhill Road. It had a magnificent pagoda like grandstand for watching the races. The popularity of the club and the use of the track waned. And in the early 1900’s the track was sold to property developers. By the 1950’s the majority of the track had been built over. But the pagoda remained at the end of Sportsbank Street until the 1960’s. So Sydney and his family must have moved into the house just after it had been built. Exactly as they had done in Caithness Road in Mitcham, they were the ‘workers’ that the houses were built for. They did not stay long though, as Sydney went to France when war was declared, and when bombs started to fall on London, Mabel took the children out of London to the countryside.

Catford Cyclung Club racetrack 1899

Catford Cycle Club race track 1880 with it pagoda grandstand which was still at the end of Sportsbank Street when the family lived there

Mitcham – Caithness Road 1906

Sydney Lloyd Allisstone married Mabel Barbara Colegate in 1905 Camberwell. In 1906 my Grandfather John Lloyd Allisstone was born in Caithness Road, Mitcham. This house was Sydney and Mabel’s first married home together. It is quite a big house. They did not own it, and as they hardly had any money, I  wonder if  they lived in the whole house, perhaps they rented one or two rooms?

The house my Grandfather was born in 1906

The house my Grandfather was born in – 1906

Caithness Road had been built just a few years before they moved in. The road was part of the huge expanse of estates in the area. The road was lined with trees, and the houses had been partially covered with pebble-dash render, covering the more beautiful bricks. I wondered if this was how they would have looked when my Great-Grandparents lived there. Searching Merton Memories Photographic Archives I found a note about the actual render in this street! “The developers were anxious to represent ‘respectability’ for the new neighbourhood, and so placed rolled gravel on the surfaces.” What looks drab and dreery to me was considered to be modern and tasteful!

Pebble-dash render used widely in 1900's and considered to be very respectable!

Pebble-dash render, used widely in the 1900’s – was considered to be modern and respectable!

Render originated in the early 1900’s, giving weather protection and a uniform visual appearance to the often poor quality bricks or blocks that were being used in the massive house building that was taking place throughout the UK. It was thought to be modern and respectable. And still covers so many of the houses built during this time.  “Roughcast and pebbledash enabled solid, brick-thick walls to be constructed of common bricks, relying on the hard, impervious render to keep out the damp.” Edwardian Pebbledash and Roughcast, Jonathan Taylor

Here is a link to a wonderful photograph from the Merton Archive of what Caithness Road would have looked like in the early 1900’s, exactly when my Great-Grandparents lived there.

Do you have any stories about Caithness Road

Temperance and sanctuary in Peckham

My Great-Grand parents Sydney and Mabel met as teenagers, at a Band of Hope Sunday school in Peckham.

The Band of Hope Sunday School

The Band of Hope Sunday School

During the 1870’s – 1900’s there was a huge upsurge of public houses, beer shops, wine houses, gin palaces, and grocers selling alcohol. By 1900 Camberwell had some 307 pubs and 134 off-licenses! The Temperance Movement was a response to this, and members practised total abstinence. The Band of Hope was for children, and despite its serious aims, it allowed working-class children to have fun, go on outings, and take part in cultural events. Music, singing and games were an important part of the meetings. Mabel was heart-broken when she  had to go to work and could no longer attend meetings – and see Sydney.
Mabel writes: ‘we were parted when I moved from the district. I was thirteen then, but couldn’t forget him, and would not have anyone else. I decided I  would never marry.’  But fate intervened, and at the age of 20, Mabel met Sydney again. Mabel writes: ‘I met him accidentally in Church Street, Camberwell.’

Camberwell Church Street and horse bus

Camberwell Church Street and horse bus

I will be performing Night Visit at Asylum, the Caroline Gardens Chapel, originally known as the licenced Victuallers’
Benevolent Institution. Asylum was a sanctuary for retired pub landlords to escape the wild nights of drinking going on in Camberwell and Peckham! This will be a site-specific version and we will use the beautiful crumbling walls to project images on, bringing to life a period of history from 1877 – 1918 when my Great-Grandparents lived in Peckham.

Asylum, Caroline Gardens Chapel - a sanctuary for Peckham pub landlords!

Asylum, Caroline Gardens Chapel – a sanctuary for Peckham pub landlords!

Camberwell – Paulet Road 1877 – 1905

By the census of 1901, my Great-Grandmother Mabel was 21 and the  family were living in Paulet Road Road, Camberwell. Although Mabel only came home on Saturday nights – by the age of 13 she had been apprenticed as milliner at Harvey Nicolls in Knightsbridge:
“She had to live with about twenty other girls up in the attics above the shop and provide her own black skirt and blouses.” (Mabel’s daughter, Girlie).

paulet rd

Paulet Road

The census records two more brothers – Leonard and Percy – who were  both clerks. But there is no mention of little Walter. They also had a lodger (called a ‘boarder’ on the census) his name was Charles B Waiting who was in the Civil Service. Altogether seven people lived in the house. But, once again, the house had been knocked down. A long row of hideous flats built in its place. One side of the road remains and the tall houses show there would have been space for all.

Then and Now:

paulet road now and then

Paulet Road – then and now

I wanted to know why both Mabel’s houses had been torn down. I visited The Lambeth Archives and looked at some old maps of Paulet Road. In 1968 the house was still there, but by 1977 it had been demolished. Just as these houses had been built to accommodate workers, they were destroyed to build flats to houses even more workers. The destruction of both houses was part of a huge national building programme between 1950’s and 1970’s. New laws in 1950’s required properties to have internal bathrooms and toilets. Many of the landowners who rented out properties were unable to afford this modernisation and sold up, properties were bought en-masse by councils, and then destroyed. The ‘modernisation’ went on and on, hundreds of good houses pulled down, and the long established communities destroyed with them.

Paulet Road was mentioned by Charles Booth, the social historian, in a walk he made during November 1899, so the family would have been living there then. He says that it was: “reckoned to be a poor corner” and that he passed “some loafers, rather a rough drinking lot.” At the end of Paulet Road is a famous pub The Paulet Arms, a piece of history, now closed.

The Paulet Arms

The Paulet Arms

Perhaps Mabel’s daughter, Girlie, was describing the Paulet Arms when she wrote:
“Mabel came home on every Saturday taking the horse bus ‘after ten at night and her father met her as it was time for the pubs to turn out and a pretty girl was far from safe. The horse buses were cold and draughty in the winter, loose straw on the floor, and large notices requesting the travellers to refrain from spitting, which were largely ineffective. Then, of course, after tea on Sunday she had to be off back again.”

Do you have any stories of Paulet Road?

Peckham – Lanvanor Road 1877 – 1905

My great-grandmother Mabel was born in 1880 in Lanvanor Rd, Peckham, SE15. The census of 1881 calls the road: ‘Lauvanor Road’, was the road recorded incorrectly? Do you know if the name has changed?

According to the census Mabel, who was one year old, lived with her: father Frederik who was a ‘Commercial Clark’; mother Elizabeth; Aunt Emma (her mother’s sister) who was single, 22 years old, and a ‘Stationers Assistant’; and her brother Walter who was six years old – I think from the stories that Mabel told later in her life, Walter died as a young boy.

I visited Lanvanor Road and found the house they lived in had been knocked down and replaced with a low rise block of flats. Although houses on the other side of the road remained as they would have been in Mabel’s time. This was just one of many old houses destroyed in the name of progress, I will come back to this issue later on.

lanvanor road peckham

Lanvanor Road, Peckham

The houses were originally built in the name of progress! The area was part of huge suburban growth facilitated by new mass transportation: bridges across the Thames; train lines; new roads; horse-drawn buses, and a tram line – workers could get to their jobs in ‘London’ easily. The area was populated by clerks and shop workers who serviced all the new businesses, keeping them running. This was exactly what my Great-Grandmother’s family did, and also what the next generation of the family went on to be. This is what the area would have looked like when Mabel was about 14 years old.

Rye Lane and Peckham High Street 1894

Rye Lane and Peckham High Street, 1894

Peckham – Victoria Road 1877 – 1905

Victoria Road, Peckham
My great-grandfather Sydney was born in Camberwell in 1877. In the census of 1901 he was living in Victoria Road, Camberwell. The census records him as a ‘Stockbroker’s Clerk’. His daughter wrote in detail about her parents’ lives, and says that from the age of 13 Sydney was: ‘out to work as an errand boy for a large stock broking firm in London. It hardly seems possible to believe that he wore a tail coat and a top hat, but he assured me that this was so. Infact he had two toppers, one went to his hatters to be streamed and brushed and exchanged twice a week for the other one!”

At first I could find no evidence of Victoria Road, but then discovered that is now part of Bellenden Road. The Victoria Inn on Bellenden Road retains the old name of the road. Sydney would not recognize the road now, transformed by cafes, restaurants and independent shops.

Bellenden Road, Peckham in 1890, where my Great-Grandfather lived.

Bellenden Road, Peckham in 1890, where my Great-Grandfather lived.

 Do you know any stories about Victoria Road?

Light up the windows

Night Visit tells the stories of my great-grandparents – Sydney and Mabel. Visiting all the houses they lived in has been part of my research, lighting up not just their story, but the houses themselves.

Sydney and Mabel were both born in Peckham. They came from working-class families, who did not own property and scraped-by with little money.  Despite this, they ended up living on the Isle of Wight, owning three houses, two of which they turned into a hotel! They were able to change their situation in a way that is not possible for  many people right now.

Sydney and Mabel lived through two wars, which forced them to move and re-locate themselves, but also allowed them more flexibility, chance, and social mobility, enabling them to transform their lives. But they also had incredible charisma, energy, and faith in life. They worked hard with an amazing sense of fun and joy about everything. And Mabel believed in spirits! The spirits guided her, she listened and trusted them, and this contributed to them taking risks.

All my family are storytellers of some kind or another and lots of bits of writing have been left behind for the next generation. Mabel wrote a strange and magical document which she entitled ‘The life and love story of Sydney and Mabel’. She wrote it when she was 87 and this document has a starring role in Night Visit. Mabel writes:

‘We’ve done all sorts of mad things, on the impulse of the moment, always something helped us.’

'The Life and Love story of  Sydney and Mabel'

‘The Life and Love story of Sydney and Mabel’

Making Night Visit

Night Visit was created by me (Sally Pomme Clayton) during my year long residency at The Swedenborg Society (2011 – 2012).

night visit - spirits - CopyEmmanuel Swedenborg (1688 -1772) was a scientist, inventor, traveller, philosopher, and visionary. The Swedenborg Society explore his ideas by hosting inspiring lectures, exhibitions, performances and screenings. My ancestors were interested in spiritualism, mysticism, and the ideas of Swedenborg. They passed on these ideas through strange stories. These stories haunted my imagination. In the end, I recorded my grandfather telling the stories. And knew that one day I would use them, but did not know how.

During my residency at The Swedenborg Society I researched the cultural history of spiritualism, discovering how it grew alongside the development of technology and photography, and increased in the aftermath of the two World wars. My mother showed me some writing that had been left by my great-grandmother Mabel, about Mabel’s experiences of spiritualism and her faith in love. I delved into the library and archives at the Society, exploring ideas about: ghosts; dreams; journeys to other worlds; images of heaven and hell; conversations with spirits, and ideas about an after life.

Night Visit brings all these strands together. The recordings became part of the performance, and my live voice interweaves with the voice of my grandfather. The beautiful words left by my great-grandmother have been incorporated into the story. The audience are taken into a layered narrative, a summoning of memories and ghosts, where biography and myth, merge with history and dream. I collaborate with composer and musician Panos Ghikas, and digital film-maker Fotios Begklis. Panos combines quadraphonic sound with live improvisation, surrounding the audience with dark and vibrant sounds. Multimedia artist Fotios uses archive footage, film and photographs to conjure other worlds. The audience can choose to join in at the end, by playing wine glasses and making them ‘ring’ and conjuring up the spirits — the final sound of the performance.

Night Visit 4 Sally Pomme Clayton - the mirror moonNight Visit might make you shiver, and question if the tales being told are really true! But this performance is about remembering and honouring our ancestors and the stories they told, so they will never be forgotten.

To continue the story and research I am visiting the three locations where the stories actually happened: Peckham; Ventnor on the Isle of Wight; and Newport, South Wales. Night Visit will be performed in each location. Prior to each performance I will lead a workshop and collect stories from each community: local memories; tales of ancestors; local histories, legends ghost stories; memories and stories of the two wars. I will blog about my visits and the stories I find, sharing them with a wider audience. If you have a story you would like to add to the Night Visit blog please contact me: sallypommeclayton@hotmailcom