Thursday, 26 November 2009

'The Look Out' - Kingston Road, South Wimbledon

There's a sadly derelict  (or at least semi-decrepit) building in South Wimbledon that looks as though it has an interesting story to tell. The trouble is I'm having some problems pinpointing exactly what that story might be!

The building in question sits on the corner of Kingston Road and Wilton Crescent in South Wimbledon and at first glance looks like a fairly impressive, but fairly typical Victorian house

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As you can see from the Google view, the house is boarded up and doesn't seem to have had anyone involved with it for some time

It's only when you go round the side of the building into Wilton Crescent that you can see what it was that caught my eye - two rather large, gleaming white plaques on the chimney stack. They were so bright that at first I thought they might have been added at a later date or that they might have been infills of old windows, but of course being built into the chimney would make the chances of them being anything else than what they are remote indeed.

 It was the size and the  - let's face it - slightly ostentatious look of these plaques that made me think that whoever built or commissioned such a building must have had a bit swagger and self-confidence about them and might just have a bit of a tale to tell. What was also apparent from the side view was that in a heavily residential area, this building had somehow acquired what looked like a small factory unit tagged on at the rear, best seen from the Google satellite view of the area. When had that been built and for what reason?

All very intriguing then and definitely worth  a bit of a scratch around on the internet to see if anything interesting came up.

As a start, the date on the top plaque was quite interesting as it shows the building was constructed about ten or more years before the building boom really took off in this particular area. Due to its position this was not really surprising as it was built facing  the main road  to Kingston whereas much of the later development took place in the newly laid out streets behind the building

  The larger sign beneath the date plaque is even more interesting as it depicts the name of the building in the form of a three -part scroll in front of a flowering plant.

The building was evidently called The Look Out but I have to say finding any evidence that it was ever actually referred to or called by the name is proving a little difficult. I was also wondering if there was any particular reason why it should be connected with a flowering plant and an unusual two-handled, three legged flower pot - other than for decorative purposes?

Probably not but I couldn't help but be reminded of the three-legged pot famously connected with ironmongers, as depicted in this particular coal hole cover depicting the dog and the three-legged pot

A casual enquiry of a local historian didn't throw up any suggestion as to any great history or famous owners but there is a strong link with Christian organizations and charities up until almost the present day, and the thought did cross my mind as to whether The Look Out might have a similar origin to the Jehovah's Witness magazine The Watchtower . 

On reflection I don't believe this to be the case as it's more likely to be down to the design of the building itself, as it has large flat balconies both to the front and the rear. These balconies are on the roof and at the time of construction would have had commanding views over the surrounding fields

You can see the balustrades on the front view and these were duplicated to the rear of the roof. Lots of room up there for a barbecue or a small tea party!

I haven't as yet found out much about the buildings early years but it does seem to have been owned by an organization called the St Christopher's Fellowship for some considerable time, possibly going back to the Second World War. The Fellowship was originally a Victorian charity and the the work of three friends who sought to improve the lot of young working boys. Their website has a nice potted history and mentions that one of the three founders, Arthur Kinnaird, was an early footballing 'superstar'! A quick look on Google shows that he was a little more than that and amongst many other fascinating remarks I particularly enjoyed the fact that he celebrated his fifth Cup Final victory by standing on his head in front of the pavilion as well as his enthusiasm for a bit of 'manly' shin-hacking!

Kinnaird played for both the Wanderers - a highly influential early team based in Battersea Park - and the Old Etonians but what the potted history misses was the fact that one of the other founders Quintin Hogg - was not only a merchant, philanthropist and grandparent of our own Lord Hailsham, but was also a player for the Wanderers himself and actually bettered Kinnaird in representing Scotland twice to Kinnaird's single appearance (although I'm sure the fact he was one of those responsible for organizing the first ever match had no bearing on the matter!) The third member of the triumverate, Thomas Pelham, doesn't seem to have played himself but was certainly influential in establishing youth clubs for boys and was a university friend of the others.
Lord Kinnaird ready for a game. Watch out shins!

As an aside, Kinnaird and Hogg are also discussed in a fascinate book on the Victorian origins of football called Those Feet - A Sensual History of English Football by David Winner who notes how they were both heavily involved in the social purity movement including being vice-president of the National Vigilance Association, a fairly extreme and aggressive group involved in '...campaigns and prosecutions against 'indecency' and 'immorality' wherever they imagined it... which was almost everywhere'. All three of these gentlemen seem to be perfect examples of 'muscular Christians' who advocated sport - and lots of it - as a means of keeping energies and attentions away from less 'wasteful' pursuits.

As far as I am aware the premises in Kingston Road might still be owned by the Fellowship as up until a few years ago the building was being used as self-contained hostel accomodation for young men. However it was also for many years the headquarters of the Trinitarian Bible Society as well as providing office space for a number of other organizations. DECO Consulting, SCF Services
      and the St Pancreas Foundation amongst others all seem to have operated from the address, although the name of the building seems to vary - Nelson House and St Christopher House being two favourites and The Look Out never being used!

The factory building out the back is the most intriguing though. There were rumours that the premises had suffered at the hands of German bombers and I suppose it could be that they inadvertently cleared some space at the rear of the building. What is certain though is that the space was occupied by another Victorian Christian organization The Trinitarian Bible Society whose 'primary function is to translate and disseminate worldwide Bibles in languages other than English' . Their aims would have matched perfectly with those of the St Christopher Fellowship and for many years they used The Look Out as a warehouse for the despatch of bibles and other religious tracts around the world. Whether it was their decision to leave The Look Out and move into larger premises in an old telephone exchange in Morden that finally led to the abandonment of the building or whether there were other factors at work I'm not sure, but it's a pity that what must once have been an imposing building and a beacon of hope to many individuals on hard times should find itself in such a poor state of repair and with a seemingly bleak future.

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Unknown said...

Wow, thanks for this! I recently moved to Colliers Wood and drove past this place many times while moving my possessions from Surrey. Every time I went past, I wondered who owned it and what the history was, because it truly is a gigantic building. Thank you, I love this blog.

Anonymous said...

The Watchtower is published by the Jehovah's Witnesses. I think the Sally Ann magazine is called War Cry.

(Sorry - this isn't meant as mindless nitpicking, it's just in case you decide to do any further investigation into the name... The building sounds a wonderful mystery, and I'd love to know more about it.)

Yelfy said...

Ah Venta - you've caught me out! I meant to check on that one when I'd finished but it slipped my mind. I'll correct it directly. Many thanks

Tortoiseshell said...

Blimey - this is into the realms of Dan Brown novels!

I enjoy your blog from afar - please keep it up.

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Yelfy said...

Some recent postings regarding the history of 'The Look Out', specifically those relating to previous owners and their family, have had the inadvertent effect of causing some distress. Although this was never the intention I would like to apologise to those affected and feel in the circumstances that it is best that the relevant postings are removed.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather lived in this house. His large family moved here in 1895 when it was called "The Lookout" and his sister describes it in her memoirs: "It was a very unusual house but very suitable for our large family. From top to bottom there were 57 stairs. The front door was approached by ten steps. The dining room, at ground level, went right throughout the house looking out on the small garden. The kitchen et. lat on the right side of the steps and also occupied the whole of the ground floor with sculler and out house to the garden There were two rooms on the front door level approached by stairs from the dining room door. More stairs to a room which ran over the whole of the dining room. That was the drawing room. Stairs again to the bathroom. Four more stairs. A little landing where the tack? room was more stairs. Two more bedrooms finally about 7 stairs spiralling up to a charming matched bordered room with wide verandas either side. This room was alternately a schoolroom for the younger members of the family. ... kept pigeons on one of the verandas. .. We used to have some very enjoyable lively parties later on, inviting our friends to sit up on the other veranda. We made ice creams and it was very pleasant sitting out in the summer evenings"
Hope this is useful

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PeterinScotland said...

This building was the HQ of the now nearly two centuries old Trinitarian Bible Society from 1967 to 1994 (TBS Quarterly Record No 540: Jul-Sep 1977). This organisation sent (and still sends) Bibles and sections from the Bible all over the world, and I seem to remember, around 1980 when I was a child, the Rev Terence Brown who led the society at the time speaking of a large warehouse having been developed at the back for this purpose. This would presumably be the "factory" building you mention, now replaced by flats, as seen on Google Street View; it is interesting to look at the different versions of Street View from 2008 to the present. Because they outgrew 217 Kingston Road, they moved to a building three times as big; as you mention these were former British Telecom premises (QR 529: Oct-Dec 1994). In recent years this larger building has been sold and is now a school, and the Society was able to build brand new premises with the proceeds, more suitable for its current needs.