Saturday, 16 January 2010

The [Not Very] Long And [Only Slightly] Winding Road - Sutton to Carshalton

A few weeks ago I was a man on a mission - and that mission was to obtain a decent picture of a Nuttman Brothers ghost sign I'd seen in Sutton. I'd featured it on the blog some time back but only had a poor quality snap on my daughter's mobile phone to illustrate it and as it was to be deposited in Sam Robert's new national Ghost Signs archive I thought I'd better get a decent image for him.

Taking the photo was just a matter of minutes though, and with a bit of time before a planned rendezvous I was tempted to have 'just a look' down the road. Actually I've done this often enough to realise that deep down I've no intention of stopping after 'just a look' but will keep on going until guilt, shame and embarrassment  finally get the better of me and I beat a hasty retreat to wherever it was I supposed to be in the first place.

As it turned out the road I was travelling was the old route connecting two old Surrey villages that now form part of the London suburbs - Sutton & Carshalton. Sutton is the senior partner presumably because of it's position on a crossroads on a main route into London meant it grew into a small town whilst Carshalton retained a very strong village character with its ponds and attractive High Street. They're not all that far apart which was just as well as time was in short supply

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Setting off the first thing that caught my eye was some very neat tile-work on the front of a corner shop. I always expect shops like this to have been either butchers or dairies, presumably because of the need to have a hygienic, washable surface, but I don't think it's very usual to be advertising the name of the building rather than the business

These were quite elaborate tiles as well with raised three-dimensional lettering. They actually reminded me a bit of the sort of tile-work you see at Underground stations on the Bakerloo line. I think the Poole Pottery had a hand in lots of that sort of work and I wonder if they might have produced this as well?

Carrying on down the road I came across the first of the houses with elaborate construction dates on them. Sutton became an Urban District in 1894 so this house looks as though it was part of that suburban growth spurt sparked by the arrival of the railways 40 years earlier.                                                                                     There was a fair number of interesting villa-style houses along what must have been an important and busy street and another plaque soon caught my eye on the other side of the road
The house itself was of a decent size but it looked fairly plain and a bit austere to me and from a distance it was a bit tricky trying to make out the motto. Of course with a bit of zoom it was easy enough to make out St Mary's Presbytery and what I assume is a picture of St Mary herself in the middle. I was quite interested by this. Although I'd heard the term Presbytery I couldn't hand on heart tell you exactly what it was, or how it related to Presbyterian - as I assumed it did. According to this site  though
Presbyterianism is the form of church government in which elders, both lay people and ministers, govern. The name derives from the Greek word presbuteros, or "elder."
Wikipedia defines a presbytery (as opposed to a Presbyterian) as being  'the name for an area in a church building which is reserved for the clergy' so I assume that the term has evolved from being part of a church reserved for the elders to being another name for a sort of vicarage - although I'm sure there must be some technical differences between them (like being used by different religions or not being for the use of a vicar or something)

It was at about this point that I spotted the interesting old stink-pipe that had it's own posting a few weeks ago. That in itself made the walk worthwhile but there were also few more date plaques down the road. This one was the oldest I spotted at 1870

but there were some more recent ones as well, including this one with the initials of either the builder, architect or first owner I suppose, 'CP' from 1905. I often wonder what the rationale was behind the naming of these sorts of buildings. I've seen some Alma Villas and suchlike which are obviously inspired by notable battles, but I'm sure there were many interesting stories behind the more obscure ones that were probably personal but now lost forever.

This was an interesting door to find though, leading straight out onto a busy road. It looks as though it was last used in a more leisurely age and the ivy creeping through suggests that it's rarely, if ever, used these days.

Honeywood Cottage is presumably related in some way to the larger Honeywood House, a very attractive building next to the ponds which is now Sutton's local museum.

There's a short windy bit in the road as it approaches Carshalton and it takes you past what is now the front gates of St Philomena's Catholic Girls School, reknowned locally for the quality for its car-boot sale and the outcry a few years ago when an 'adult' shop (now gone) opened oppposite the gate.

The entrance is flanked by these two imposing lions, although it does look as though one of them has lost his crown. The school building is the old Carshalton House whose story was described in the 1912 History of the County of Surrey
It was the property of Dr. Radcliffe, physician and M.P., and after his death was bought by Sir John Fellowes, a director of the South Sea Company. It was confiscated after the South Sea catastrophe in 1721, although Fellowes still continued to reside in Carshalton. It subsequently came into the possession of Lord Chancellor Hardwick,  was afterwards used as a military college, and from 1859 to 1893 as a private school, kept by Mr. Bath and Dr. Barrett, who added a wing containing a dormitory. In 1893 it was taken over by the Daughters of the Cross, a Roman Catholic body founded in LiĆ©ge in 1833.
Dr Radcliffe was not only a Tory MP but a Royal physician but was apparently not always admired locally 
...founder of the Radcliffe Library and Observatory at Oxford, who during his residence at Carshalton made himself exceedingly unpopular with many patients by his candid speeches about their disorders.
Following the road along I soon came to the area of the ponds which I suppose is the heart of Carshalton. Just by a small but busy roandabout I saw an old village-style handpump railed off but obviously still revered. I haven't come across many hand-pumps on my meanderings although I'm sure there must be a few survivors around various old buildings in the City so I was keen to see if there were any makers marks or insignia. Well you can't get much clearer than a large manufacturer's plate slapped right on it's front, so I was happy to go away and see if I could find out anything about the pump-manufacturing firm of J. Tylor & Sons of Highgate Street, London. As usual the internet comes up trumps with an interesting site devoted to village hand-pumps which provided a wealth of information on the subject including an excellent distribution map of remaining hand pumps. (Why so many in Essex I wonder?) The Carshalton pump is mentioned and there's a little potted history of the company as well 
The company was founded in 1778 by John Tylor (b. 1756), who was a Quaker. It became J. Tylor and Sons Ltd in 1892, and in turn was renamed Tylors (Water & Sanitary) Ltd in 1920 and Tylors of London Ltd in 1947. They initially specialised in making tea urns, but by the end of the 19th Century had moved into manufacturing a wide range of hydraulic and sanitary equipment, including fire engines. They existed until 1974, when the company was sold and broken up.

That's all what I suppose you'd call 'quite interesting' but what I think is the really interesting bit about Tylor & Sons are the sons themselves, two very interesting characters with very interesting lives who both seem to have turned their backs on the family manufacturing business for a life in academia.

The first was Edward Burnett Tylor who started working with his father after leaving university early but who then suffered from a bout of tuberculosis. In an effort to restore his health he took a long recuperative break in sunnier climes and found himself in Central America in 1855. On the way he met an ethnologist by the name of Henry Chrisite and that was that as far as pump-manufacturing was concerned. He wrote several highly influential books and Wikipedia sums up the trajectory of his new career
In 1871 Tylor was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1875 received the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Laws from the University of Oxford. He was appointed Keeper of the University Museum at Oxford in 1883, and, as well as serving as a lecturer, held the title of the first “Reader in Anthropology” from 1884-1895. In 1896 he became the first Professor of Anthropology at Oxford and he was knighted in 1912.
Well that's quite impressive but his younger brother Alfred Tylor didn't do badly either. He was working on the foundry business from the age of 15 but was apparently fascinated with geology and a love of learning which he put to good use. He was soon a regular contributor to magazines and journals and also became a council member of the Geological Society.

He put this knowledge of geology to good financial use as well, buying the mineral rights to land in the Rhondda Valley in Wales where he created both a thriving colliery and a new settlement called (nodestly) Tylorstown!

I found most of this information about Alfred on a site of Rhondda Valley Place Names but one section really caught my eye.
Alfred Tylor spent the latter years of his life at Carshalton In Surrey where he died In 1884. His interest in the welfare of young people was reflected In his will in which he bequeathed a percentage of his estate to the founding of scholarships for boys and girls in the London area and for the purchase of land for a cricket ground for the use of the youth of Carshalton.
As there are only four surviving Tylor pumps recorded I think it's a fair assumption to make that resumably he was also the kind donor of the village pump!

Last item now and something that has often caught my eye on the way though Carshalton as being slightly incongrous- a mediaeval statue on the side of a fairly modern building.

Actually it turns out that it's a modern work by a sculpture called Dennis Huntley and it was created in 1987. Anne Boleyn was supposed to have stopped off at Carshalton on her way to various 'meetings' with King Henry VIII so I assume the statue was commissioned with that link in mind.

It's nice and definitely adds to the local colour but I find it a little bit on the spooky side and looks as though it would be more at home in an ancesteral tomb rather than on a modern building!

That was about all I had time for but I'd really hardly touched Carshalton proper, so I think I'll be making another trip in the not too distant future to see if there's any more nugets to pick up.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Halez Fax - Kingston

Christmas shopping in Kingston. Not so bad this year as I'd decided it was less of a shopping trip and more an opportunity to visit the German Market for some mulled wine, roast chestnuts and various Germanic treats involving sauerkraut, pork-related meats and fried potatoes with bacon. Only then was I in a suitable state to be gently propelled along the High Street and in an out of shops in search of that elusive 'perfect gift at the right price'. Whilst being led around in my anaesthetised haze one building did manage to catch my eye, namely the Halifax Bank on Eden Street.

It's really the two doorways that I found most interesting, with the sort of ornate decoration that you couldn't really see the modern company investing in. I think it's the use of the blue and gold that makes this stand out and when the colour catches your attention you then start to pick out the other details, like the figures and the bowls of fruit.

The two doorways are superficially very similar but there are a few differences. The doorway on the right has the head of a man on a blue and gold chequered table or altar. There are two neo-classical figures flanking this table reaching across and touching both the head and each other. Just above their hands is an unusual bowl with its centre filled with fruit.

The other doorway, as pictured below, has the same head and chequered table with two different figures in a very similar pose. This time though their hands rest on a depiction of a lamb and flag. The Lamb and Flag might actually be best known to some as a common pub name but is actually a religious icon as noted in Wikipedia
Lamb and Flag: From the Gospel of John (1:29): "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world." The Lamb is seen carrying a flag (usually of St. George) and is the symbol of the Knights Templar, the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors, and St John's College, Oxford.
Picked out in a sort of mediaeval gothic typeface and placed just above the head is the legend halez.fax which contrasts with the modern Halifax logo to the side. Both doorways are surmounted by a tall window with a further neo-classical head looking down.

I found all of this quite intriguing. Why Halez-Fax? What was the significance of the face and the chequered patterns? Was this common decoration on Halifax Building Society premises or a one off?

Before I went I checked the rest of the building and soon spotted a very large and clear stone giving the name of the builders and the architects. I thought that this might give me a nice starting point as it could possibly show whether or not the architects specialised in this sort of work and whether there might be some other examples listed. And after all with a name like Gale Heath and Sneath how difficult could it be to find anything out about them? Well quite difficult as it turned out...

Googling the company didn't really turn up anything of much interest - a couple of minor buildings and the a legal mention in respect of reclaiming fees, so whatever they were, they don't seem to have been a company of much note or reputation.

The same can't be said about the builders though. F C Minter Ltd seem to have been a significant company in the inter and post war years. According to the Minter family history society's web page  The Minters of North Suffolk
One of William Flood Minter's grandsons was Frederick George Minter who founded the once well-known building company, F G Minter Ltd.
The company seems to have thrived in Putney, SW London and eventually grew into a sizeable concern with contracts all over the UK. Apart from the reams of no-doubt perfectly serviceable buildings, airfields and other civil construction projects they were involved with, their main claim to fame seems to have been based on a couple of significant items of case law that arose as a result of disputed payments, namely F G Minter -v- Welsh Health Technical Services Organisation (1980) and Dawnays Ltd. v FG Minter & Trollope & Colls Ltd. (1971). I have no idea what these disputes were about but they seem to have been very significant and quoted all over the place. On a slightly lighter and more human level F. G. Minter also get a mention in the showbiz autobiography of the great Max Bygraves, 'Stars In My Eyes'
"Because I could make pipe-racks and pastry boards I became a carpenters apprentice...for F. G. Minter... One of my first jobs was helping to put up air-raid shelters at the Crosse and Blackwell's soup factory in Bermondsey, so if anyone remembers taking refuge in those shelters yours truly had a hand in them."
In effect I drew a blank with the dedication stone. The architects seem to have been local and not particularly well known and the builders  were probably treating the job as just one small drop in their construction empire.  On then to the mysterious symbolism and the 'Halez Fax' itself.

I thought I was onto something here almost straight away when I discovered the existence of Halez Fax masonic lodge. One quick look at the masonic arms of the lodge and all the elements were there - the head, lamb and flag, chequered blue and gold, and 'Halez Fax' itself! The lodge came into existence in 1920 and it's tempting to think that there may be a significant masonic connection between the founding of the lodge in Halifax, it's choice of name and of the subsequent building of a Halifax branch in Kingston, especially as it turns out that the head that looks suspiciously like that of Christ is, actually, that of St John the Baptist who also just happens to be on of the patron saints of the masonic order, according to this particular sermon.

But it could be I'm in danger of leaping to exciting but unfounded conclusions. A little further exploration and searching into the history of Halifax itself may have provided an alternative explanation -

This picture is of the old coat of arms of the city of Halifax. Apparently a local legend has it that the head of St John the Baptist, cut off at the request of Salome, somehow ended up buried in the town. The name Halifax itself was supposed to have come from Halez Fax or 'Holy Face', a reflection of which was seen by someone in the local river. The local minster cathedral is also dedicated to St John the Baptist and the lamb and flag are also traditional references to 'the lamb of God' whom John was so reluctant to baptise.  The lamb reference also led St John to eventually become patron of the Guild of Wool Weavers, who were very big in the area in the Middle Ages! The blue and gold chequer however was not a religious symbol but a heraldic device of the Norman Earl de Warren who was a significant landowner in the area.

Of course this might well explain the origins of the symbols and the decoration, but it doesn't really explain why this particular branch was decorated in this way. Could there have been a masonic link with the opening of the new lodge of the same name in Halifax itself? I'm sure many of the senior Halifax Building Society Head Office staff must have been connected with the masons at the time and might even have been members of the new Halifax daughter lodge, created due to the burgeoning interest in masonry in the 1920s. Could it be possible that the decoration of this branch was some sort of low-key commemoration of the founding of this new lodge? Probably not but then again..... you never know. No conclusions on this one then, just some idle speculation and a very attractive shop front.