The other week I was wandering down the back streets of Putney, parallel to the High Street, when I noticed a house with slightly more elaborate decoration than its neighbours. It was at the end of Werter Road, Putney and one of the most striking things about it was the florid bust of a military looking gentleman above the door arch.
One of the reasons I noticed it was because I had once picked up an interesting painted plaster cast of what seemed to be the same individual in a junk shop on a small island off of Istambul (stay with me on this one...). The cast seemed to be of a high ranking German officer of WWI-ish vintage, but there was no indication as to who it could have been. It probably wasn't all that surprising to find such a bust in Turkey as the two countries were close allies up to and during the First World War, but to find what appeared to be the same individual in Putney was a bit odd. Could this be a bust of Kaiser Wilhelm II ('Kaiser Bill')?
Then there was the name Werter Road, which is distictly German in tone, for example comprising part of the title of a book by Goethe called The Sorrows of Werter. Could the bust and the naming of the road be connected?
All a little coincidental possibly but then I began to wonder how a house with such a prominent bust of the Kaiser have fared during the war? I recall reading somewhere that Gerhold the Bakers on the Upper Richmond Road had their windows broken more than once just for having a name that sounded germanic so having the bust of the evil Kaiser above your door seems to be more than a little foolish. Why wasn't it smashed or defaced?
Then I thought I'd cracked it. I vaguely recalled hearing that the Kaiser had once visited Wimbledon Common to review the troops. He must have travelled through Chelsea and Fulham before crossing Putney Bridge and making his way up Putney Hill to Wimbledon Common. Had his visit, the visit of Queen Victoria's grandson, provided enough goodwill and excitement to cause someone to comission a bust to remember it by? A look on the Putney Conservators website confirmed the trip
When I thought about it a little further I also recalled that for many years the Railway Pub on the corner of Putney High Street and the Upper Richmond Road (is it now called Flannegan's?) used to feature a large painted bust of a be-whiskered German in a picklehaube helmet, high up in a niche by the roof. More evidence of the Kaiser's visit?(Update: I found this picture in an old book of architectural detailing. The head itself is no longer there)
In 1891 the Emperor of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II, inspected 22,000 troops on
Wimbledon Common of whom 16,000 were volunteers
Another avenue of enquiry occured to me as my father in law has a large collection of old photos of Putney, taken off of the original plate-glass negatives and given to him many years ago. I went through them and found this picture of the approach to the bridge
It's a nice atmospheric shot, but there's bunting out and the bridge seems to have been turned into a triumphal archway with ivy, flags and a sign. All very intriguing and when you zoom in on the sign it gets even more interesting...
The 'VELKOMMEN' (I think a bit of the 'E' has been obscured to make it look like an 'O') could only be a welcome to a visiting German dignitary of high rank and affection. An 1891 visit by the Queen's grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany which caused so much excitement that pubs and private houses both marked the visit with busts of the man himself.
Except there's a rather large fly in that ointment. It turns out that the whiskery chap isn't Kaiser Wilhelm II but his grandfather Kaiser Wilhelm I 'The Great' of Prussia and Germany as can be seen from this portrait
Well that's my neat theory blown out of the water. No busts for Kaiser Bill, but all of them for his grandad! Did he ever visit Putney? Not to my knowledge but there must be some link and I'd be
very interested if there are any possible suggestions out there.
And all this from spotting one small bust...