Monday, 30 March 2009

Looking for "La Dolce Vita" in Sunny Surbiton

It could be that 'The Good Life' is one of the main reasons anyone not from the South West of London is aware of Surbiton. Like Woolfie Smith and Tooting or Hancock and East Cheam or even Monty Python and Balham, some sitcom's and their fictional settings just seem to stick in the mind. I suspected there might be a little more to Surbiton than that though. I knew the High Street was Victorian in character as I used to work for Wizard Wines who had branch in the town (now a Majestic Wine Warehouse) so I had it in my mind that it might be worth a visit if the opportunity arose...

The background - I may not have done Surbiton the justice it deserves. A Saturday or two ago AFC Wimbledon were taking on the dark powers of Welling United and for various reasons I found myself at the ground a few hours early. Not a problem, I remembered that Surbiton was only down the road from Kingston so I set off for a nice stroll in the sunshine. Unfortunately it was a little further than I thought, about a 5 mile round trip so by the time I got there I had to think about getting back again pretty quick! There was only time for a swift stroll down the High Street and down to Brighton Road before retracing my steps back to the game.

Victoria Road: This has the look of an old municipal library about it and it's easy to let the eye slide over its richly ornamented surface. It's well worth a closer look though. It's the sort of fascia we'd swoon over if it was in a French village but as it's in London I suspect we tend to devalue it.
Victoria Road: Some modern municipal art here which would have been better if I could have fitted both panels in their entirity. I didn't fancy trying to take a photo stepping off the pavement and backing into the traffic though so I opted for the more artistic 'random section of mural ' approach. Presumably it's a celebration of all things Surbiton, although most of it seems to consist of trains and trams...
Seething Wells gets a mention though. I always thought it was the name of a ranting punk dub-poet but actually seems to be a water treatment works by the Thames.
Brighton Road: Right at the end of my stroll was an intriguing remnant of a corner sign. A single letter 'D' is all that remains of ....something. A close look might reveal some clues from the shading left.
Corner of Brighton Road & Victoria Avenue: There's an interesting tower on the corner of these roads that has an elaborate piece of ironwork at its top. I've zoomed in as close as I could and it seems to have the worlds smallest weather vane on the top. I could hardly make it out with my little zoom lens so I can't imagine that it would have been of any use to the average passerby.
Victoria Road: I spotted this plate on the main road and it is obviously directions to a hydrant of some sort. These are usually water hydrants but I'm not sure what the SC refers to.Whatever it is it seems to be 3? ft away. I've also looked at the picture as closely as I can and I still can't make out what the ? is!
Brighton Road: This ghost sign is now almost illegible and on the side of a building that as you can see not at all shop-like.You can just make out the words LADIES TAILOR though...
"... And Fancy Goods" is also on the front of the same building. I can't see what's to the left of the window though.
Victoria Road: There's an attractive and large building on the junction of Brighton Road and Victoria Road. It's now divided into separate shops but it was obviously originally built as a single unit.Almost all of the columns are painted but one owner has taken the trouble to remove the paint to reveal some really intriguing and attractive green marble. As usual the original is so much more interesting than the current version that I find myself wondering how the painters felt covering it up for the first time.
Victoria Road: "Stuarts (?) Your 'Do it Yourself Flooring Centre" A great example of the need to always look over your shoulder.I hadn't seen this when going down Victoria Road but when you turn around and head for home you really can't miss it. I'm pretty sure it says 'Stuarts' and I'd assume it was originally in a lighter colour such as red which has faded over time much quicker than the black. It's also slightly strange to see 'Do it Yourself' rather than DIY. It almost comes across as a snapy retort or even an order rather than as a positive lifestyle suggestion.
Victoria Road: "Jones & Hommersham - London" Luckily I wasn't just looking up, I was also keeping my eyes on the ground (although not at the same time, obviously) My next little gem was a local coalhole with a name new to me and an attractive compass-point design. This and the Stuart ghost sign really made the trip worthwhile. (nb Some quick checks reveal that the more familiar use of company name was Homersham & Jones.That's with one 'M' in the Homersham and with Jones coming second.There are various leases the National Archive but this one seems pretty representative
Counterpart lease of numbers 28, 30, 32 Clarence Street for 25 years KX88/2/26 1897

Elizabeth Sarah Jones of Lampeter, Mount Hermon Estate, Woking, widow, and Sophia Eleanor Homersham, wife of Alfred Wyeth Homersham of Ormsby House, Richmond Park Road, Kingston, ironmonger, to Alfred Wyeth Homersham
So can we put this one down as a mis-spelling on the part of the foundary worker?
Right next to the Jones and Hommersham coalhole was this unusual example of a grid coalhole. You might thing this looks more like a drain but it's position and size exactly mirrored the other coalhole and I've no doubt that's what it is. Very intriguing though.
Apart from a couple of bricked up doors that I'm saving for a future 'Ghost Doors' posting, that was all I had time to record. However I'm sure that such a cursory examination doesn't do Surbiton justice. Like Arnie and McArthur I'll have to promise that one day "I'll be back!"

And, just for the record, Wimbledon lost...


Tortoiseshell said...

Beautiful blog, will add to my list- cheers, a fellow Womble.

Sebastien Ardouin said...

Quite a lot of interesting finds for such a short stroll! The Stuarts sign is really nice. If anybody knows about telecommunication history, the phone number may give a rough indication about its age: ELM 1017 (originally it was 0641). ELM stands for Elmbridge.
If you go back to Surbiton one of these days, I think there is a mosaic doorstep on Claremont Rd, roughly in front of Waitrose. I have a look everytime I pass with the 465 to Dorking but never checked it. I missed it when I was there last April looking for ghost signs and taking some pictures of the place.
It isn't surprising that trains feature prominently on the modern art panels near Sainsbury's. After all Surbiton (or Kingston-upon-Railway as it is sometimes referred to) only developed after the good people of Kingston-upon-Thames rejected the railway company's plans to build the main line through their town and the London & Southampton Railway ended up erecting a little station in the middle of nowhere as close as possible to Kingston.
Of course with the traffic generated and the construction of new lines to Guildford and Hampton Court the station was enlarged and we are lucky now to have this amazing Art Deco building. Strangely enough the pub next to the station, The Surbiton Flyer, has on its sign not a Southern Railway engine flying through Surbiton station but an A4, a streamlined Pacific (4-6-2) steam locomotive built by Sir Nigel Gresley for express services on the London-York-Newcastle-Edimburgh line of the London & North Eastern Railway (4468 "Mallard" is the most famous of the class).

Enjoy your next stroll!

Wellwynder said...

Might that "D" have been part of a cigarette ad - Wild Woodbine?

alan said...

The "library" is the old Surbiton Post Office, restored as part of a new development. The second part of the missing words above the Red Rose is "cuisine"; twenty odd years ago it was a (very nice) Greek restaurant called the White Rose

Yelfy said...

Thanks for the info everyone - If I hadn't been galloping around I'd have taken time to have a decent look at the Post Office and noted it for what it was. Thanks also for the background about Surbiton and its transport links. It definitely deserves a bit more time and I'm sure there are some decent items that I missed. Still, as you say Sebastien, not bad for a short stroll (although 'trot' would be closer to the mark)

Ron said...

I like to think that the words above the Red Rose (38 Brighton Road) are "OLD EAGLE HA[LL]", see the item on "SURBITON AND LONG DITTON CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY Limited. (In Liquidation.)" at

Rin H-W said...

Regarding the "SC" sign in Victoria Road:
"SC" = "Stop Cock", i.e. shut-off valve.
The figure between the "3" and the "FT" MUST be a digit (or "½").
Given that, it must be a "1", so we have "31 FT".
Here's a "street view" link to another, in Park Road, along with a "FP" ("fire plug") one:,-0.2935192,3a,15y,134.79h,79.91t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sJeonW8DMiao3uVcKFkum0g!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

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