TWO STORIES OF HOUSE HISTORY

7 July, 2020

The first by kind permission of the Fulham Society.

AN ARTIST’S STUDIO HOUSE – 8 AVONMORE ROAD, W14

“You haven’t got an otter, then?” This surprising question came from the gasman who had come to fix the antiquated Ascot water heater in the studio flat I had just acquired in 1965. Further conversation revealed that a previous tenant had been Gavin Maxwell, the famous author of Ring of Bright Water. He had lived there from 1949-57 with his otter Mijbyl, feeding him live eels from Harrods in the shower tray of the primitive bathroom! I later learned from Douglas Botting’s biography of Maxwell that Princess Margaret had visited, and been entertained to tea and Scottish ballads in the studio. This was not the only royal connection with the house as it turned out.

At the time I bought the house, it was divided into five one-room apartments, which were all in a very poor state of repair. It seems that a Doodlebug had razed the entire west side of the street opposite no. 8 in 1944. The damage to the house with its huge studio windows must have been devastating. Work started immediately to upgrade the accommodation – the first of many alterations to the internal layout over the next twenty years. However it was not until we decided to sell the house a couple of years ago, that I had time to investigate something of its previous history.

My interest was sparked, soon after I moved in, by a chance meeting with an old man in the street. He told me that he was ninety years old, and he could remember that when he was a lad there were three fields of cows at the end of the road where the trading estate now stands. It seemed incredible that one person’s life could have spanned such a transformation – from fields of cows to the Cromwell Rd extension! Yet when I found the 1869 Ordnance Survey map, there are the three fields clearly marked, and no trace of Avonmore Road, which came into being ten years later. Leigh Court, the block of flats now at no 6, stands on the site of a large dairy where milk from the local farms was brought in churns on horse-drawn drays. My informant told me he used to be sent with a jug to fetch a pint of milk for his family.

The house dates from about 1880, and one of the earliest tenants was the artist William Lockhart (d.1900), who was in residence in 1891 according to the census. He was commissioned by Queen Victoria to paint her Jubilee celebrations, and the picture hangs in Windsor Castle. By 1895, another artist, Edward Fellowes Prynne, who also had the distinction of being presented to Her Majesty in 1900, appears on the Voter’s Register at no 8. They had some famous neighbours too, Sir Edward Elgar at no 51, Sir Compton McKenzie (no 54) and the sculptor H. R. Pinkes in the studio at no 22 where, until 2002, Ken Armitage lived and worked. Also, across the fields towards North End Road, The Grange was the home of Sir Edward Burne-Jones. My old informant also recalled seeing some of his large canvases being manhandled through a vertical slit in the studio wall, such as you can still see at Leighton House. Martin Chaffer.

Fulham Society Newsletter 72, June 2005.

The second more prosaic and recent. I wrote versions for the LBHF Library blog and for the Fulham Society and a talk at FHHS. Curious as to how a 60s block should be nestled amongst the Victorian Terraces of Fulham we searched the London Metropolitan Archives and our local LBHF archive to reveal the story. See this link.

Perhaps you can research the history of your home – noble or humble – or the people who have lived there when the archives open again or through their access to Ancestry online (see libraries website). Happy hunting.


SIR EDWARD ELGAR

28 May, 2020

How many members are aware that Elgar lived in Fulham and that there is a London County Council ‘blue plaque’ on his former home?

Sir Edward Elgar, one of England’s greatest composers, was born at Broadheath near Worcester in 1857. His father was a piano-tuner who also ran a music shop and was organist at St. George’s Roman Catholic Church. Elgar succeeded him as organist between 1885-89.

Growing up in a musical family, Elgar won praise as a child for piano improvisations but had no formal musical training apart from violin lessons he received from a local teacher. Later he played in the orchestra at the festivals of the Three Choirs. He left school at 15 and for a while was apprenticed to a solicitor’s office but soon decided to devote his life to composing, and thereafter worked as a teacher and freelance musician.

A turning point came in 1886 when Caroline Roberts, the daughter of the late Major-General Sir Henry Gee Roberts, became one of his piano pupils in Malvern. She became his wife in 1889. They decided to set up home in London and took as their residence 51 Avonmore Road in Fulham, a backwater off the North End Road near Olympia, where their only child, Carice, was born. Here in 1890 he wrote his popular ‘Froissart’ Overture for the Worcester Festival. However, in 1891 the couple decided to leave London, where his works had not had much success. They lived in Malvern, then moved to Hereford in 1904.

His wife’s belief in his genius was a great spur to Elgar and he spent most of his time composing. By 1899 with the publication of the ‘Enigma Variations’, one of his most popular works, he was being recognised by the public as a major composer. The following year he produced what is considered his masterpiece ‘The Dream of Gerontius’, the setting of part of a poem by Cardinal Newman. Elgar drew inspiration from the culture and landscape of England, working in all the major forms of music except opera.

There now followed a period of great musical activity, his finest works were composed over a time span that lasted two decades. The most well known of the period include the Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901-07) the first being known as ‘Land of Hope and Glory’; the overture ‘Cockaigne’ (1901); Introduction and Allegro (1905); the Symphonic Study – ‘Falstaff’ (1913); the Violin Concerto (1910) the first performance of which was given by the great violinist Fritz Kreisler; the 1st and 2nd Symphonies (1908 and 1911). His other famous work, the Cello Concerto (1919), immortalised in the public mind by the performances given by the late Jacqueline du Pré, was written as a reflection on the terrible catastrophe of the First World War. Elgar said it described ‘a man’s attitude to life’. The death of Elgar’s wife the following year had such a profound effect on him that no further major work ever again flowed from his pen.

Elgar’s climb to public recognition was slow but once he was seen as one of England’s greatest composers the honours flowed in. A Knighthood in 1904; Order of Merit 1911; appointed Master of the King’s Musick 1924; KCVO 1928, Baronetcy 1931, GCVO 1933, as well as numerous honorary Doctorates and Degrees from the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, London, Yale and many others. Edward Elgar died at Worcester on 23 February, 1934, aged 76, and was buried in his wife’s grave at St. Wulstan’s Church, Little Malvern.

This article first appeared in the Fulham Society newsletter no 77 in July 2007 and we are grateful for permission to use it

This is just one of the 450 Personalities of Fulham and Hammersmith that are briefly summarised in our publication of the same name by Keith Whitehouse.