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.