Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Lady in the Long Silk Gloves

Margaret Cooper was a very popular music hall entertainer at the piano in the early part of the 20th Century. She and her husband lived in Dartmouth Road Brondesbury.

Writing in ‘The Melody Lingers On’ his book about the music hall, Walter Macqueen-Pope described Margaret;

Beautifully dressed, she would sail on to the stage …. Then she would seat herself, take off her elbow length gloves with great care and in the most leisurely manner, and then proceed to remove her numerous rings and bracelets, which she placed one at a time on the top of the piano. The audience watched spell bound. And then she would begin. … Although her voice was neither strong nor powerful, she had the knack of making every syllable heard, every word tell, even in the largest building; and that without a microphone, which she would have scorned.

Margaret Gernon Cooper was born on 28 June 1877, the daughter of James Cooper, a baker, and his wife Isabella Catherine Gernon. When she was baptised they were living at 403 Walnut Road, Newington, Peckham. In the 1881 census the family were still at this address and James was a baker employing four men. By the 1891 census he was still a baker but they had moved to 16 Chilworth Street in Paddington. James died 27 March 1909 and he had obviously done well, as the London Gazette for 1 June shows he had three shops at 16, 17 and 19 Chilworth Street. Margaret was left £4,827, worth about £420,000 today.

The following year, Margaret married Arthur Maughan Humble-Crofts. Arthur was born on 18 November 1883 in Waldron Sussex, the fourth son of the wealthy Reverend William John Humble-Crofts. Seemingly it came as a surprise for the Waldron community. One paper noted Margaret was ‘married as quietly as possible’ with only a few family members present. Margaret wore a grey satin dress, her father-in-law performed the ceremony and her mother-in-law played the organ. All the bell ringers were given a signed photograph of the bride. The couple met at a concert at a school where Arthur was teaching. They married soon after and Arthur gave up his work to support his wife’s career.  

They moved to ‘Framba’ 103 Dartmouth Road and he is shown there in the phone books from 1911 to 1918. They didn’t have any children and in the 1911 census, Arthur described himself as ‘private secretary and agent to wife.’

Margaret was a very talented musician and composer, playing the piano, violin and organ. After attending the Royal Academy of Music, she worked as an accompanist and sang at concerts and dinners. But there were an awful lot of good performers. Her lucky break came when she was spotted playing at a charity concert by theatre manager Sir Alfred Butt. In the early years of the 20th Century most theatre managers saw songs at the piano as predominately a male act. But Sir Alfred realised here was the potential to attract a new audience to the Palace Theatre and approached Margaret. At first rather dubious about appearing on the variety stage, she took the plunge in October 1906 - and never looked back, ‘she was an instant and overwhelming success.’ When she appeared later that month in Bristol, she was billed as ‘The Latest London Sensation, in her Inimitable “Songs at the Piano”. Her largest fee was £100 for a single performance, which is equivalent to about £8,000 today.

1906 Folkestone
At first her songs were sentimental, but gradually she introduced some tasteful light humour. She played all over the country and in 1912 she successfully toured Australia and New Zealand. Equally at home at the Coliseum or the Queen’s Hall, she was also in great demand for private parties, where she sang before King George V and Queen Mary and visiting royal dignitaries.

There is sheet music online, including ‘Catch Me!’ (1915), with lyrics by Arthur and music by Margaret.  ‘Waltz me around again, Willie’ was one of her best known songs.

Margaret’s career was helped by the parodies of her by H.G. Pelissier and his ‘Follies’. Pelissier impersonated her by exaggerating her preparations before starting to play: carefully placing a handkerchief and the book of words on the top of the piano, then meticulously adjusting the music stool.  

HG Pelissier performing

World War One
During WWI Margaret entertained wounded soldiers in hospitals. All four Humble-Croft brothers joined up. Her husband Arthur joined the Royal Naval Air Service in 1916 as an Able Seaman and worked in the Admiralty Offices. He made Lieutenant in May 1917 and was sent to Dover that August, where he worked in joint charge of the Naval Exchange for the R.A.F. He died in the Military Hospital, Castle Mount, Dover the day after his 35th birthday, on 19 November 1918, from pneumonia following influenza. He is buried at All Saints Churchyard, Waldron, East Sussex.

What happened to Margaret?
The death of her husband Arthur in 1918 was a severe blow to Margaret and her appearances in the London variety theatres became less frequent. She died four years later from heart failure at 103 Dartmouth Road on 27 December 1922. Although she’d not been in the best of health after suffering breakdown a few months earlier and more recent asthma attacks, Margaret’s death was unexpected. She hadn’t made a will and her brother Alexander David Cooper inherited her £5,032 estate.

Margaret was cremated at Golders Green on 2 January 1923. The ‘vast congregation’ crowded into the chapel. There were many floral tributes from the musical world, including one from Henry Wood dedicated ‘to a great artist’ and the theatre tributes included those from Sir Oswald Stoll and Ellen Terry.

Margaret’s obituary in the Times 29 Dec 1922, says she established a reputation, ‘almost in a night’, for eminently ‘clean’ entertainment and succeeded in retaining this to the last. The many obituaries lamented the loss of a great performer with only a few mild criticisms. One reporter wrote, ‘her erratic behaviour off the stage led to some curious results on occasion’ but he gave no details, and ‘Miss Cooper never sang a song twice in the same way’, but the latter may have been part of her appeal.

Several obituaries agreed her death evoked a ‘peculiar pathos’ as Margaret was planning a new life, having agreed to marry actor and singer Harry Welchman in February 1923. But the related scandal that could have damaged Margaret’s image was something the papers chose to ignore, presumably out of respect for the lady.

Harry Welchman
Born in Devon in 1886, he went onto the stage immediately after leaving school. He was spotted at a pantomime in 1906 by Robert Courtneidge who went on to manage Harry and helped establish a successful career for the actor/singer.

At the time of Margaret’s death Harry was appearing to good reviews in The Lady of the Rose. Up to then, their engagement hadn’t been made public and there was a good reason for this. Margaret’s obituaries fail to mention the fact Harry was going through a divorce. In July 1922 his actress wife Joan, (professional name Joan Challoner), had been granted a decree nisi, on the grounds of Harry’s ‘statutory desertion and adultery’. This was made final in January 1923, a month after Margaret’s death. Her role is open to speculation, as she is never named in the newspaper reports as the ‘other woman.’ Harry later married the actress Sylvia Forde. He enjoyed a long stage and film career, was featured in the BBC’s series ‘This is Your Life’ (1960) and died in 1966, aged 79.

There are clips of him performing on YouTube – including in The Lady of the Rose.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The History of Netherwood Street, Kilburn

Netherwood Street was a poor street running off Kilburn High Road, as shown at the top of this 1935 Map. The Mission Hall and the Board School can be clearly seen on the right hand side. Today, most of it has disappeared and is covered by Webheath, a large block of council flats.

1935 Map of Kilburn

The United Land Company auctioned off plots of land to various small builders and Netherwood Street was constructed between 1871 and 1880.  There were at least thirteen different builders at work in the street. Some were based in Kilburn, but addresses of others range from Holloway and Notting Hill to Berkeley Square.

The properties in Netherwood Street were for the most part three-storey terraced houses, some with a basement. A few had shops at street level. They were generally owned and rented out by absentee landlords, who regarded the properties as an investment but often lacked the funds to manage them properly. As soon as they were built, the houses were multi-occupied by poor families and disease and deaths were common in the area. Frequently four families shared a house so there were 20-30 people in each. As was the case elsewhere in Hampstead, until enough houses were built, the roadway remained a dirt track, which caused more problems for the residents and owners.

The Vestry Minutes of Hampstead (the precursor of the Council), show examples of disease and poor housing in Netherwood Street

1874 November
The ‘new buildings’ in Netherwood Street are in bad sanitary condition. There are many complaints to the Medical Officer of Health about illness in the street.

1877 October
There are three deaths from scarlet fever in one house.

1879 May
Owners and occupiers press the Vestry to pave the road, ‘also stating it would be a great improvement if the name were altered to ‘Netherwood Grove’, trees having been planted on both sides.’ (The use of such descriptions as ‘Grove’ or ‘Avenue’ put people in mind of more rural and upmarket properties).

1881 August
The house owners had to pay the cost of paving and kerbing the road in front of their properties. Francis Holmes was a newsagent with premises in Chapel Street near Cavendish Square. He owned several properties in Netherwood Street and was being taken to court for failing to pay his share of the paving and kerbing costs. 

1882 August
Two deaths from measles.

1884 June
The London smallpox epidemic. There are seven cases at 29 Netherwood Street, one adult and six children. The 1881 census shows 25 people living in this house.

1884 October
Rent collector G. H. Cooper was summonsed for failing to carry out repairs on four tenement houses in Netherwood Street, owned by a Mr Holmes who did not appear in court. But no further action was taken, as work was being carried out. Cooper went on to describe the ‘serious state of things’ in the road, notably the main sewer, which was the responsibility of the Parish. He said that one of Mr Holmes’s tenants had complained several times of a flow of sewage into his basement, and this had also happened in other houses.

1885 March
The rent collector again appeared in court on behalf of his employer. The sanitary inspector had investigated Cooper’s allegations. Unfortunately for Mr Holmes, the main sewer was fine. The overflow was down to a defective drain at Number 31, one of the houses he owned in the street, and the landlord’s responsibility to repair.
The sanitary inspector described visiting Number 31, home to four families, on 5 February. He found ‘the drain stopped up and sewage floating about in the front area’ and despite issuing an immediate order for repairs, the drain remained partly blocked. The road and pavement had to be dug up at the cost of the landlord, which probably explains why the work hadn’t been done.

1886 January
Two measles and one scarlet fever death.

1886 March
A measles death.

1886 July
Infant deaths from diarrhoea.

In 1896 the Hampstead Medical Officer of Health reported that an epidemic of measles had attacked the streets in the vicinity of the new Netherwood Board School. Eleven fatal cases occurred between 25 December 1895 and 8 January 1896. Most of the children were under two years of age, the eldest was five. The deaths were caused by secondary infections of bronchitis and pneumonia. ‘The disease was only fatal to the children of labouring classes, a fact which points to a want of either care or of means in its treatment.’ At the time there was very little free medical care.

1898 June
The late Victorian standards of what constituted adequate housing were far less exacting than today’s. This is shown in a report by Hampstead’s Medical Officer of Health on conditions in Netherwood Street and neighbouring Kelson Street and Palmerston Road. He concluded most were in ‘fair sanitary condition and not overcrowded.’ The houses were almost all in multiple occupation with sanitation largely dating from the day they were built. The water supply was now judged ample as was the number of toilets, (no figures per house were given). ‘The best kept houses were those which had a responsible landlord, that is one who rents the house and carefully sub-let it. The worst kept were those where the owner did not reside on the premises, but called to collect the rents weekly by self or agent.’
A total of 160 houses were examined, home to 2,264 people of whom 668 were children under 10 years of age.

In May 1910, during a campaign to purchase the grounds of ‘The Grange’ as a much needed open space for Kilburn, the following appeared in the Times.

The death rate in Hampstead generally is the lowest of any borough in London, 9.5 (per 1,000) but the death-rate in the Netherwood Street area just adjoining The Grange, with a population of 3,049, is 16.8. The phthisis (TB) death rate in Hampstead  generally is 0.74, while in the Netherwood-street area it is 2.09.

The 1881 census
Most people in Netherwood Street were working class. In the 1881 census the men worked as; tailors, cab and omnibus drivers, gas fitters, or in the building trade as plumbers, bricklayers and carpenters; others worked for the railway as porters, signalmen, or platelayers. The women had jobs such as; laundress, barmaid, domestic servants, charwomen, and dressmaker. Many families rented space to lodgers or boarders.

But there were a few people with more unusual occupations such as the following:

The Honourable Francis Henry Needham was sharing Number 2 Netherwood Street. He was the son of 2nd Earl of Kilmorey. The Earl went by the nick-name of ‘Black Jack’ and sensationally ran off with his ward and had a child by her. Francis married Fanny Amelia Hubbard in 1840 and they had six children. She died in 1884. It is not clear why Francis Needham was living in Kilburn in 1881 and 1891. By the 1901 census he had moved to Paddington, now aged 82 and shown as ‘feeble minded’. He died the following year.

At Number 10 was Kate Middleton, an actress listed as ‘retired tragedian’.

Henri d’Archimbaud, a Professor of French Literature, was sharing Number 49.

William Wallace Leitch, watercolour artist, was at Number 67. He was the son of a famous Royal Academy artist, William Leighton Leitch, who lived at 124 Alexandra Road.

Two Nottinghamshire born men, Charles Boot and Tom Gregory, were lodging at Number 81. Both gave their occupations as bootmakers – which was their original trade - but they were also talented cricketers, employed as groundsmen at Hampstead Cricket Club.
Child Neglect
We found two sad newspaper reports of child neglect due to poverty, and one case which legally involved neglect but had a positive outcome.

In 1880 Thomas Gregory, a commission agent, was accused of deserting his three children and jailed. They’d been pupils at what was described as a ‘boarding school’ run by Emily Mayes at 49 Netherwood Street, (where Henri d’Archimbaud above, also lived). The fees were a guinea a week and Thomas failed to pay. He didn’t answer any of Emily’s letters so when he was ten weeks in arrears, she asked the parish authorities to have the children taken to the Workhouse. A warrant was issued for Thomas’ arrest. He told the magistrate it was all a mistake, he’d been travelling and not received any letters. ‘Upon the children being brought into court there was an affectionate greeting.’ They left the court together, after Gregory’s debts were settled – by his friends.

In May 1884 a tragic case was reported, when nine month old Jane Shepherd, who lived with her family at 16 Netherwood Street, died. She was a twin, one of five children. Her father was in regular employment as a bricklayer and did all he could to feed them but her mother ‘was in the habit of giving way to drinking bouts lasting four or five days at a time, and during those periods the children were very much neglected’. As a result Shepherd kept his eldest child (a boy aged only 8 years), at home to look after the others.

When baby Jane developed bronchitis, her mother applied a poultice and got some medicine from a doctor. But then she disappeared for three days on another drinking binge. Even though her father continued giving her medicine, Jane died. She only weighed 7lbs 6oz, roughly the weight of a new born infant. At the inquest the mother said she hadn’t gone home because she’d lost her purse and was afraid of her husband. The jury decided the baby had died of exhaustion and wasting following congestion of the lungs, and that Jane’s death was accelerated by the neglect of her mother, for which she was answerable. The coroner told her she’d had a narrow escape from being committed for trial. The father put all the other children into the workhouse.

In October 1887 James Crawley, 35, a coal porter living in Cambridge Mews was charged with deserting his four children aged 2-15. They were found ‘in a very neglected and dirty condition’ in a house in Netherwood Street, where they had been living on their own for 10 days. Neighbours had been feeding them and told the magistrate the mother had run off with a man, no one knew his name. The children had been removed to the Workhouse, where now only one remained. The oldest girl Catherine, said to be ‘rather simple’ had been found a job and two of her siblings had been sent away to school. So far the children had cost the parish £5 15s 3d. Sergeant Forde 43S, said he apprehended the prisoner, James Crawley, on Rosslyn Hill.

Crawley said he hadn’t deserted the children, but left them in Catherine’s care with a 1s or 1s 6d a day to pay for their food. He promised to pay back all the money owed to the parish, if the magistrate allowed him time to do so, and his parents were willing to look after the children. Crawley was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. No record of what happened to the children survives, but the 1891 census has a Catherine Crawley of the right age, working as a laundress in St Michael’s Convent near Southampton. This could well be James’ daughter.

Netherwood Street Board School
This opened in November 1881 and was built by the London School Board, a body established to make certain even the poorest children got an education. There were 18 classrooms, for about 1,000 girls, boys and infants. The first headmistress was Mrs Adams, whose husband was the headmaster of Fleet Road School, Hampstead’s first Board School. Netherwood was the second Board School to open. Inspector’s reports on Netherwood School were good. In 1883 The London School Board Inspector said, ‘the school was in excellent order’, having passed ‘a very creditable examination’. After two years Mrs Adams left to become headmistress of the newly formed Junior Mixed Department at Fleet Road School, where her husband became head of the senior school.

In 1891, Emma Brennan was in court, accused of assaulting the headmistress, Harriet McGregor. Emma lived nearby at 1a Hemstal Road, (where the six members of the Brennan family occupied just two rooms). The headmistress said Emma had come to the school and abused her daughter’s teacher, Mrs Rowland. When asked to leave, Emma had twisted Mrs McGregor’s arm so badly she had to wear a sling for several days. She left but returned later in the day, saying this time, ‘20 gentlemen would not put her out’. Why was Emma so angry? She told the court her daughter had gone to school as usual but been sent back to collect her school fees. Emma decided to keep the child at home until it was time for afternoon classes. Meantime another pupil from the school arrived at the Hemstal Road house, with a message demanding Emma’s daughter return immediately, bringing the fees she owed, otherwise Mrs Rowland would, ‘cane her until she could not see.’ Emma, indignant at receiving this message, said she went to Netherwood Street to confront Mrs Rowland, but she denied the assault. The court was told the message was incorrect and the magistrate ordered Emma to find a surety of £5 to keep the peace for three months, with 21 shillings costs. He further remarked ‘that teachers required protection against some mothers, but (he recognised the irritating nature of the message Emma had received.

Warwick Edwards attended the school in the years before WWI. He wrote:

We were a very mixed but pretty happy lot there. The Headmaster Mr Lembleby, was short and stocky but of considerable dignity. He was assisted by an able, hard-working staff. I had the good fortune to be for several years in Alfred Oakley’s class. He was one of the most outstanding men I have ever known. In addition to the basic three ‘R’s he told us much about English history, Bible history and even Church history, He also taught us geography, singing and a smattering of science. He was in his forties, well-built and was a good swimmer, a good footballer and a wonderful bat. The schoolmaster was there to do a job – to teach us the elements of knowledge, and by heaven, he did it well. Wrongdoers were dealt with in a firm manner, of course, but there was much less recourse to the rod than some people believe. I had the cane on two occasions only; first, when with perspiring hand and a rubber that went berserk, I made a ghastly mess and rubbed a hole in my drawing book; and second, when I persisted in talking to the boy sitting next to me, I do not disagree with the judgment of the court in either case.

The school was reorganised and renamed ‘Harben Secondary School’ in 1931. In 1961 it became the lower school of St George’s Roman Catholic Comprehensive, Lanark Road, Paddington. After St George’s left, the building was damaged by an arson attack and in 1996 was sold to developers by Westminster Council. It is now ‘Oppidan Apartments’, but plaques on the exterior remain, reading ‘School Board for London’ and ‘Netherwood Street School’.

The St James Mission Hall
As early as 1869 the London City Mission had appointed a man to work in the poor Kilburn streets of St Mary’s parish which later formed part of St James’s parish. In 1875 St Mary’s opened a mission room in a house at 7 Palmerston Road. The 1881 census shows Annie Elizabeth Beattie, a 55 year old ‘mission woman,’ was living there. That year St Mary’s commissioned a mission hall, designed by Arthur Blomfield, which was built at the corner of Netherwood Street and Kelson Street by the firm of Samuel Parmenter of Braintree, Essex. The cost was £4,531, which is equivalent to about £360,000 today.

The mission hall was taken over by St James Church in 1888 when the new parish in the rapidly growing area was created from St Mary’s. It was called ‘The Mission Rooms and Institute’ and the manager was Rev. James William Hoste, a curate from St James.

In 1890 at a meeting in the Mission Rooms, local MP Bodie Hoare said the object of the Institute was to,
 get hold of the strength and vigour of the youths, and to train them into leading wholesome, proper and useful lives. 

The Hon Alfred Lyttleton who was the President of the Federation of Working Boy’s Clubs, said that boys,
were not to be discouraged if in connection with other clubs they were beaten, but to win victories without swagger, and to take their ‘lickings’ with generosity.’

The 1891 census shows husband and wife Clifford and Isabella Nairn, as the caretakers of both the Netherwood Board School and the Mission Rooms.

The Mission was also active in the Temperance Movement, as the following article from the Middlesex Courier of 27 January 1893 shows. At the time, the ‘demon drink’ was a major problem among the poor and working classes, and the Church encouraged ‘temperance’ or abstention from all alcohol.

Perhaps one of the most, if not the most successful branch of the Church of  England Temperance  Society (CETS) is that held in St. James’ Mission Hall, Netherwood Street, Kilburn. In this large hall entertainments for members and their friends are held every Monday evening and are well patronised and thoroughly appreciated by the neighbouring residents. Situated as this hall is, in the very midst of a densely populated portion of Kilburn, that includes many of the very poor, it is no wonder that these entertainments are so thoroughly appreciated by every one. Concerts, lectures and dioramic views are all given and all form a source of great pleasure to many. It was our privilege last Monday to be present at one of these entertainments. We found the large hall crowded to its utmost, many having to stand, but all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. The audience was composed almost entirely of the poorer working men and their families. The entertainment on this occasion was a series of dioramic views, illustrating life in East and Central Africa. The views were explained very graphically by the Rev. J. Hayes who succeeded in combining instruction with amusement. Illustrated by another series of views, an admirable object lesson on the value of Temperance was read by Mr Carrodus.

Warwick Edwards remembered the neighbourhood in the years leading up to WWI.

Netherwood Street and Palmerston Road were distinctly plebeian, even tough, in the 1900s. One could not help feeling that those who had built the Mission Hall did so in the spirit of those earnest Victorians who sought to bring enlightenment to darkest Africa. If so, their success was limited. Beer was cheap and the shortest if only temporary escape from a drab existence was, for many, through the door of the public bar. Street brawls, particularly on a Saturday night, were a regular feature. Domestic squabbles were not always carried out in the seclusion of the home but sometimes in the street, to the amusement (or embarrassment) of passers-by. The police did not intervene unless grievous bodily harm seemed imminent. A sad feature of the time was the occasional unceremonious dumping, by the broker’s men, regardless of season or weather, of the pitifully scanty household effects of the feckless or unfortunate families that would not or could not pay their rent.

During the 1950s, the Mission Hall housed a popular youth club and local resident Dan Shackell said he played table tennis there with the ‘Tennyson Club’. In February 1958 he vividly remembers hearing over the Tannoy about the Manchester United disaster at Munich airport. 

Other youth organisations also hired space. There wasn’t much for young people to do locally that didn’t cost money, and there were few outlets for their energy. Sometimes there were problems. On 22 October 1958 the vicar of St James reported that he was appalled by the damage (unspecified) caused by members of the ‘Achilles Club’. The parish church committee agreed the Club had to leave.

The ILEA Phoenix Youth Club took over the St James Mission Hall with a full-time leader on weekdays.  On 27 June 1960 the police were called when members of the ‘Phoenix Club’ were fighting and using bad language. Miss Shepard, the club manager, said the incident happened when a group of youths from outside the district were refused Club membership, but turned up at the Hall and weren’t allowed in. She denied that fighting took place. In June there were reports from neighbours about noise from the Club’s record player on summer evenings because the windows were open. On 7 September 1960, when members caused more damage, the Club was asked to pay for the repairs, (no figures are given).

In July 1966 the vicar reported the sad loss to the Mission Hall caused by the death of the caretaker, Kathleen Mann. It was also reported that the Council were negotiating to buy the site. Mrs McKenzie, who ran a nursery there, said she would leave at the end of July. The Church gave up the Hall on 15 May 1967 and it was demolished, its site absorbed into Camden’s redevelopment of Netherwood Street and the surrounding neighbourhood.

Murder or Manslaughter?
In 1961 Arthur Lewis Vincent Wells, aged 18 was charged with murdering his girlfriend, Josephine Holditch, also aged 18, a typist living locally with her family in Kelson Street. Vinnie Wells had grown up at Number 61 Netherwood Street and had become a merchant seaman. At the time he was sharing a flat with his friend Terry Phillips in Gascony Avenue.

Detective Chief Inspector McArthur told the magistrate’s court that on Thursday night 26 January, Josie had come to the flat and Vinnie had pointed a gun at her head. Josie had told him to put it down, but he pulled the trigger twice and she died from a bullet wound in the head. Vinnie, horrified at what he had done, went to the police station and gave himself up. As CI McArthur was giving evidence, Vinnie seated in the dock cried out, ‘Oh my Josie, my Josie’. He was sent to Brixton prison on remand. But that night Vinnie was found unconscious in a room in the prison hospital after trying to hang himself. He died three days later.

When his barrister, Edgar Duchin appeared at Marylebone Court four days later, he said, ‘Wells had taken his life out of remorse rather than fear. I was satisfied that, had he lived he would have had a full answer to the charge of murder’. The magistrate agreed that the murder charge be withdrawn.

Les Smith, who lived at Number 26 Netherwood Street, where his parents ran a general shop, and who knew Vinnie well said:

The accepted story was that Vinnie and Terry acquired the guns and ammo in order to rob a bank, Josie was unhappy about the guns and visited Vinnie to break off their relationship, quick to anger he shot her once in the head then gave himself up to the Police. He hanged himself in his cell while on remand and died shortly after. Terry went to gaol for possession of firearms and ammo.

Today Netherwood Street is covered by Webheath, the large council estate, which took many years to get approval. In August 1957 there was a heated debate between Labour and Conservative members of Hampstead Council, over the ‘damp and decaying houses’ in Netherwood Street, Kelson Street and Palmerston Road, home to more than 1,000 persons, 200 of them children under 5 years old. The properties were still in multiple, floor-by-floor occupation and persistent flooding had resulted in some basements being bricked up. ‘The slime used to get up to the mantelpieces in some places’ said Alderman Florence Cayford, a long-time campaigner for improving the living conditions of Kilburn residents. She asked the meeting,

I don’t know how many members of the Council have visited these houses. Can you imagine a tiny sink in the corner of the stairs that has to be used by two or more families? It’s all the water they’ve got. You wonder how these families can go out looking so neat and tidy and clean. There are still homes with only one lavatory for all the families to use.

Redevelopment didn’t get underway until May 1968, when Dame Florence (as she then was), watched the foundation stone being laid. Two years later, she opened the first stage named in her honour as the ‘Florence Cayford Estate’, later becoming ‘Webheath’.

Dave Unwin who worked as a Council surveyor remembers working on the redevelopment.

Dave Unwin’s memories of Netherwood Street
By 1966 I had qualified and left Brent to work for the London Borough of Camden as an Assistant Builder’s Surveyor. Around 1972 we were undertaking a redevelopment in Netherwood Street. The site boundary was the front garden walls of the houses on the north of Palmerston Road and the other side of the road was still occupied. The houses were three stories plus a basement with a 'flying' staircase up to the front door. They were built in what we called ‘cross wall construction’. The roof sloped from each of the side cross walls forming a V valley across the house

At the time we had had a long hot summer and one weekday in August around four o'clock we heard a terrible rumble which we immediately realised was the collapse of a building. We raced round to Palmerston Road to find that in the hot summer the cross walls had expanded and pushed the front parapet walls down. As they fell they landed on the front door staircase and took those out as well.

We called the Emergency Services and barricaded off the street. God works in mysterious ways. Half an hour earlier there had been 12 - 15 kids playing in the street, but luckily they had all been called in for their tea, and the street was empty. When the Fire Brigade arrived one appliance parked in front of the damaged houses. The Fire Chief was on the opposite side of the road making notes. I noticed that where the parapet walls had broken away the parapet was leaning, and suggested to the Chief that he should move his appliance. He had just started writing in his book, 'At the suggestion of Mr Unwin, Surveyor for Camden Council...'  When I heard “Jesus Christ” and the driver ran down the road and shifted the vehicle.

If such an occurrence happens in most Boroughs it is the responsibility of the Council Building Surveyors to decide what has to be done to a house to make it safe. But this is not the case in the old London County Council area, where the District Surveyor (DS) is responsible. We phoned him and when he arrived he used our site office as his headquarters. We also supplied men and materials to carry out emergency works. That led to problems for me when we came to charge him - but that’s another story.

One of his jobs is to notify all the owners and tenants if a building is 'unfit for human habitation' and also what work, if any, he has had to do to it. That is when the fun started. The DS told us that this could take a long time because he had to trace owners, their agents, estate agents etc. But after four weeks everything had been sorted except the basement tenant of one property (I will call it number 48 for ease of telling the story). When the DS eventually got hold of the tenant of 48 he asked who his Landlord was. “I don't know” came the reply. Do you have a rent book, “Yes”. It must be on that. “No the landlord’s name is blank”. “Who do you pay the rent to?” “To Bill next door in No 46”. But when they went to No 46, Bill had no idea who the landlord was either.

It seemed that seven years earlier Bill’s mate was emigrating to Australia, he knew Bill was looking for accommodation so Bill moved in. He was told about the arrangement with the basement flat in No 48 and was given a Post Office Savings Bank Book in which to deposit the money which he had been doing for seven years. The Account was in the name of the man who emigrated, and from the amount in it he, too, had been paying money in regularly for years.

As a Brent councillor, I was sitting next to James Goudie (now QC), who was the Deputy Leader of the Council and I recounted the above story. 'Oh yes' said James, 'That is what we call a Tenancy At Will'.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Joseph Acworth, the Cricklewood factory, and Spirit Photographs

I was looking at the 1891 census for Shootup Hill and was intrigued to find someone who called himself an ‘experimental chemist’. This was Joseph Acworth who played an important part in the development of photographic dry plates.

Dry Plates
In 1871 Richard Maddox had coated a glass plate with a gelatine emulsion of silver bromide and found these could be stored until they were needed. After exposure in the camera, they were taken to the darkroom for development at leisure, unlike the existing wet plates which had to be processed straight away.

The Acworth family
Joseph Acworth was the son of Joseph William Acworth, a tallow chandler in Chatham High Street in the 1850s. The business was successful and Joseph senior retired to a large house in Shootup Hill called ‘Sheldmont’. This was one of several houses that were built on the hill out of Kilburn and down to Cricklewood in the 1880s. Joseph senior died there in 1885 and his widow Mary stayed in the house until her death in 1892.

Joseph Acworth junior was born in Chatham in 1853 and was interested from boyhood in the experimental sciences. He began working in the laboratories of the Royal College of Chemistry in South Kensington, (now part of Imperial College).
His first academic paper on the action of nitric acid was published in 1875. Then he worked with Professor Armstrong at the London Institution in Finsbury Circus and they published a joint paper two years later. From then on he became fascinated by the photographic dry plates which Maddox had invented, and he worked in the labs of the newly created Britannia Dry Plate Company at Ilford. He went to the University of Erlangen in Germany where he completed his PhD in 1890.

Acworth returned home and lived with his widowed mother at ‘Sheldmont’ this was later numbered as 14 Shootup Hill, near Garlinge Road.

The Imperial Dry Plate Works
Acworth built a private laboratory in Cricklewood to continue experimenting with dry plates. Seeing the commercial potential he set up the Imperial Dry Plate Company. The factory was built by George Furness at Ashford Road in Cricklewood in 1892. Furness was the major builder and developer in Cricklewood.

Imperial Dry Plate Works, Cricklewood, 1894

With clever advertising and by sponsoring photographic competitions around the country, Imperial dry plates began selling in huge numbers and the factory had to be enlarged several times.

1901 Imperial Advert

Each year they produced a handbook which gave advice and tips about photographic techniques.

In 1893 Acworth married Marion Whiteford Stevenson in Kensington. She was also a scientist and had completed the Associateship course at the Royal College of Science and was the first woman to receive the diploma in physics in 1893. She and Joseph published joint papers at a time when it was unusual to see a woman’s name in a scientific journal.

After their marriage they moved to ‘Braeside’, later numbered 98 Shootup Hill. ‘Braeside’ had been put up for sale in March 1892 and the advertisement provides details of the house; Elegantly fitted by Liberty and Co. Five bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 3 reception rooms, conservatory, large gardens, electric lift.

About 1903 Joseph and Marion moved across the road to ‘Thornbank’ (Number 35 Shootup Hill). The 1911 census shows them there with two of their four children and four servants. They visited Egypt several times and became fascinated by the early civilisation. In 1939 Marion donated their collection of 600 pieces of Egyptian scarabs and bronzes to the British Museum. They are still there as the Acworth Collection. Joseph and Marion were leading figures in the founding and management of Dollis Hill House military convalescent hospital during WWI.

Their eldest daughter Winifred was a professional architect in Acworth and Montagu. They designed Neville’s Court in Dollis Hill Lane, opposite the corner of Gladstone Park. This is a large block of 60 flats which was built about 1935.

Imperial flourished and bought up two smaller companies so that it became one of the largest producers of dry plates. But Acworth’s health suffered badly from asthma and in 1917 he sold out to Ilford and retired.

Joseph John William Acworth died on 3 January 1927. The company had proved extremely profitable and he left £562,026 to his children, Angus and Winifred. Today this worth an astonishing £28 million. Marion stayed on at 35 Shootup Hill, which was on the corner with Mapesbury Road, and in the 1936 directory she is shown there as a JP. She died on 6 October 1964 and was buried at Hampstead. At the time she was living at 65 Frognal and she left £125,675 (worth £2 million today), to her son Angus.

Ilford took over the Cricklewood factory and continued with the famous Imperial Dry Plate name.

Spirit Photographs
Imperial Dry Plates played an important part in a famous case of spirit photography.
A former docker called William (Billy) Hope had been showing ‘spirit’ photographs since 1905 and he was supported by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a fervent advocate of spiritualism. The Illustrated London News rather snootily described Hope as, ‘a niggardly, coarse-mouthed man’, whose photos appeared to show ghostly apparitions with real people. To prove his case, in 1922 Hope surprisingly agreed to be tested by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Harry Price, the famous ‘psychic detective’ was asked to conduct the experiment.

Hope wrote to Harry Price asking him to bring a packet of dry plates - “Imperial or Wellington Wards are considered preferable”. Hope said he would have to use his own camera in the experiment. Price visited the Imperial Dry Plate factory in Cricklewood and discussed with them the best way of making an incontrovertible test.

Price wrote to the SPR:
I have spent the morning at the works of the Imperial Dry Plate Co Ltd Cricklewood, discussing and trying out various tests by which we can invisibly mark the plates which will be handed to Hope. We have decided as the best method that the plates shall be exposed to the X-Rays, with a leaden figure of lion rampant (the trade mark of the Imperial Co) intervening… Any plate developed will reveal a quarter of design, besides any photograph or ‘extra’ that may be on the plate. This will show us absolutely whether the plates have been substituted.

On 28 February 1922 Price and his assistant arrived at Billy Hope’s studio at 59 Holland Park where Price handed him one of the marked Imperial plates. After taking the photographs, in the darkroom Price saw Hope put the plate into his breast pocket and then apparently pull it out again. When they developed the plates one showed Harry Price with a ghostly woman looking over his shoulder, but without the Imperial trademark of the Lion.

Photograph of Harry Price with a ghostly figure by William Hope, 1922

After thanking Hope for the sitting, they left and later carefully examined the plates. They found these were not the same thickness as the Imperial plates and did not have the trademark which clearly showed when they developed their remaining plates. Hope had obviously switched the plates and had faked the spirit image with a double exposure. The results were published in the SPR journal in May. The report created a worldwide sensation and gave Harry Price his first experience of celebrity status. Billy Hope went into hiding and refused to answer the critics. The controversy raged on with Harry Price on one side and Conan Doyle on the other.

The Imperial factory in Cricklewood was again expanded in the 1940s to cope with the increased popularity of photography. But it no longer exists today and Ashford Court now covers the site.