The Well Hall Estate: A Garden Party at the Old Manor House, Well Hall


The Pioneer Women held a garden party on Saturday July 8th 1916 in the grounds of the old Manor House, at that time the home of Mrs Hubert Bland – the author Edith Nesbit, whose best known children’s novel is ‘The Railway Children’.  The newspaper article refers to Mrs Hubert’s kindness in doing this for a second time – there had been a similar but smaller event in 1915.  People were encouraged to come with talk of a hearty welcome and entertainments and children’s sports.  Only 6d a ticket (2.5p)!  There is a list of over forty people, mainly women, from whom tickets can be obtained.  Several of the women lived on the Well Hall Estate:

Mrs Hider of 4, Boughton Rd (now Rochester Way) (Class 2)

Mrs Lewis of 13, Brome Road (Class 3)

Mrs Tompkins of 131, Congreve Rd (Class 2)

Mrs Mills of 290, (now 370) Well Hall Road (Class 2)

Mrs Morgan of 288, (now 368) Well Hall Road (Class 2)

Mrs Flack of 19 Congreve Road (Class 2)

Mrs Filder of 8, Ross Way (Class 1)

Mrs Baillie of 34, Prince Rupert (Class 2) – see separate blog entry

The Pioneer newspaper, which reported the event, referred to the larger than expected influx of people on the day and how the women coped with this with ‘valiant spirits’ in spite of the lack of men to help them setting up.  The grounds themselves – long rambling walkways through antiquated gardens and adjacent verdure and pastures – were described and then the activities: the launch of a refurbished boat which then gave trips to all and sundry; the children’s sports; tea and fortune-telling by the Queen of Sheba; competitions; a baby show; all followed by a concert and dancing in the twilight to the strains of the cinema orchestra.  What a day!

The prizes for the races were distributed by Mrs Hubert Bland (Edith Nesbit) herself and she expressed her pleasure at seeing them all there.  She called for cheers for the organisers.  I wonder if she had been around for the whole afternoon?  More about her in a later blog.

Two of the winners tell us a little more about the estate.  The children who came second and third in the baby competition – George William Aston aged 8 months and Irene Maud Wenbourn aged 17 months were both living with their respective parents at the same address – 40, Admiral Seymour Road.  Was this another example of houses were sublet or extended families living in them.  Other results that caught my eye were in the races where in the Girls (8 – 10) and Boys (6 – 8 and Under 6, three of the winners came from the same family.  W. Horsfield, C. Horsfield, F. Horsfield and C. Horsfield must have come from athletic stock!  But they were not an estate family.

The parents of these children were Walter and Mary Emily Spiers and Walter was active in organising events on the estate.  His wife Mary had been born into a humble family in Chiswick in 1870.  Her father, James, originally from Oxfordshire was a labourer who sometimes worked on roads and her mother, a laundress, had been born in Devon.  She married Walter Horsfield who was an army man, in 1891.  Life in the army resulted in several moves during their married life so that their children – seven living children at the time of the 1911 census (three had died) – were all born in different places. Berkshire, London, South Africa, and Gloucester.  At one point they were living in the army barracks at Hyde Park, but by 1911 however the family were in Elibank Road, Eltham and Walter was a government (army) store keeper.  Their youngest child, the one who had one the under sixes race in 1916 was Charles who was born in 1912.  The other three winners were Frank aged six Constance aged eight and Wilfred aged nine.


Blog Written By: Lynne.

Blog Maintained By: Megan.



The Battle of the Somme: Poetry


Of all the Arts, it is perhaps the poetry of the Great War that is best remembered today. We know of course about Owen, Sassoon and even our man Melbourne (see my previous blog), but one source reckons the number of published First World War poets to be ‘roughly 2,200” [1].

To these we might add the works of less celebrated poets, such as those whose lines appear in the cuttings, each dealing poignantly with their own experience of the war. It is striking too how often the local papers carry more pastoral offerings – such as Eventide and The Summer Beauty – the very antithesis of the carnage at the Front.


[Article: The Summer Beauty, Eltham & District Times, 4 August 1916, p.2]

[Article: Eventide, Eltham & District Times, 11 August 1916, p.3]

[Article: Killed in Action, Kentish Mercury, 18 August 1916, p.1]

[Article: Killed in France, Kentish Independent & Kentish Mail, 18 August 1916, p.4]

[Article: Lest We Forget/Reply, Eltham & District Times, 25 August 1916, p.5]


Blog Written By: James

Blog Maintained By: Megan

[1] David Reynolds, Long Shadows of Old Wars, New Statesman, 12-18 August 2016.

The Battle of the Somme: Pioneer Man’s Experiences in the ‘Big Push’


Born in 1897 in Tottenham, Thomas Frederick Barnsby’s family had by 1911 settled in Plumstead.

Private Barnsby’s account of the ‘Big Push’ offers several clues from which to deduce his exact location in it; for example, he describes fighting alongside the Gordons and Borderers, suggesting he was in either the 8th or 9th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment. These four elements combined only in the 20th Brigade of the 7th Infantry Division and, on 1st July 1916, were collectively tasked with capturing the fortified village of Mametz and the hilltop wood just beyond. Whether Private Barnsby was in the 8th or 9th Battalion is more difficult to ascertain: his assertion that he was in the van of the attack suggests he was in the 9th ; on the other hand, he says his battalion did not get to rest until three days later, which suggests the 8th . Either way, both suffered heavy losses at the hands of the German machine-gun positioned at ‘The Shrine’ in Mametz cemetery.

Those who survived – Private Barnsby’s rag-tag group – certainly seem to have lived up to the near contemporary description of the 7th being “a happy Division”; those who fell, meanwhile, are buried in the regimental cemetery, occupying exactly the same position as the trench from which they sprang a hundred years ago. It is not far from the Dantzic Alley cemetery, bearing out the claim that the two armies’ trenches were very near one another – sometimes just forty yards apart.

Incidentally, a Devonshire casualty of 1st July was Lieutenant William Noel Hodgson, better known as the war poet Edward Melbourne; and it is poetry I hope to write about in a future blog.

[Article: “Pioneer Man’s Experiences in the “Big Push”, The Pioneer, 21 July 1916, p.1]

[Article: “Going Over the Top”, The Pioneer, 28 July 1916, p.1]


Blog Written By: James

Blog Maintained By: Megan

The Battle of the Somme and the Well Hall Estate: Another Son of the Estate Killed in France


George Thomas Jeffery was another soldier with local connections who died during the Battle of Somme.  He had enlisted at the age of 20 in November 1914 giving his father as Thomas and his mother as Alice.

The Jeffery family were living in 12, Admiral Seymour Road by June 1917 when Thomas wrote to the army regarding his son’s personal effects including a silver wrist watch and a gold ring.

Alice Emily his mother as well as George and two of his siblings were all helping with their father’s business as a seaman victuler in 1911 when they were living in Rochester.  There were four sons in all, all of them younger than George.   When George enlisted, joining the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, the family were living in Rochester, but the move to Well Hall would have happened within the following year or so.  How sad that within about eighteen months of that new beginning for the family, the eldest son was dead.  George died of wounds on 18th August 1916 and is commemorated on the memorial at Thiepval.

George’s brother Frederick William was also injured in the Battle of Somme, but survived and by the end of the war was no longer in the army although another brother, Arthur, was.  Arthur was living on the estate with his father in the 1920s. The eldest child, Grace, married in 1919 and had a son who was named George, perhaps after her brother.  Alice died in 1925.  I wonder if the wrist watch and the ring were ever found and returned, precious mementos of Alice’s son.



Blog Written By: Lynne.

Blog Maintained By: Megan.

Family Fun Day at Charlton house

Our latest fun day saw us turn Charlton house into a ww1 style hospital; fully equipped with beds, soldiers, nurses and lots of fun activities. The doors opened on the 28th July 2016 (or 1916, if were in war-talk) and had nearly 400 visitors in one day!

These were our wards, and we had lots of talks and performances from our nurses and soldiers throughout the day.

We also made a lot more recruits to help with the war effort. Ivy’s bandaging lessons also helped a lot of the new nurses get their certificates.

The fun days arts, crafts and sports were also a big hit with the visitors. Colouring, sewing, basket weaving, bowling, and making lemonade were all on the list of things to do.

Our next family fun day is on the 3rd September, at the Greenwich Heritage Centre, Royal Arsenal. Join us for performances, crafts, sports, pottery decorating, games and lots more fun. The countdown is on!

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