A Husband Killed in Action: Walter Edwin Hunt

In September 1917 Private Walter Edwin Hunt was killed in action in Belgium a day after his second wedding anniversary.  On his casualty form his wife, Mary Ellen, is recorded as living at 64, Prince Rupert Road.

Walter’s address on attestation in May 1915 was in Balham where he was a butcher living with his father.  He married Mary in Clapham on 1st September that year when he was living in Barracks in Kent.  The address on his casualty form in September 1917 was the Prince Rupert Rd one. So with a husband who was a soldier, she was perhaps a lodger on the estate.  Mary Ellen was thirty-two years old when she married, the daughter of a chemical worker but I haven’t been able to establish conclusively where she was born or whether she and Walter had a child.

In 1924 his widow received a letter from the London Infantry Record Officer:

‘I have to inform you that the Plaque and Scroll in respect of your late gallant husband, No 701285 Pte. Walter Edwin Hunt, 23rd London regiment, are held pending verification of       address’

She was by that time living at 106A Granby Road.

Walter’s name is listed the Menin Gate memorial – he was killed in action on 2nd September and buried at Ypres.  What a terrible tragedy for the young wife.

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Blog Written By: June

Blog Maintained By: Megan

Silent Film and the Cinema

Had I attended the cinema in the borough of Greenwich in September 1916, I could have seen films starring two of the best remembered stars in the history of silent cinema, and for such different reasons.

Mary Miles Minter, appearing in Emmy of Stork’s Nest at the Globe Cinema Plumstead, lived fast and loose and was later involved in sex scandals and murder, making front page headlines and confirming, in the eyes of its detractors, film, film stars and Hollywood as the decadent centre of depravity. Such notoriety, however, did ensure her place in the history of the Hollywood story and she is much better remembered than many of her contemporaries.

Mary Pickford, to be seen in The Foundling also at the Globe, is remembered very differently. Entering films in 1909, she was a headline star for more than twenty years, was the second actress ever to win the best actress Oscar, and was a founder of United Artists, a company still going strong today. A business woman of immense intellect and fortitude, she became a star and remained one, playing young children and girls, all golden curls, dirty faces and full of what Americans call ‘pluck’. She appeared as Little Lord Fauntleroy at the age of 29, and as a wronged orphan leading an uprising on a baby farm in America’s Deep South at the age of 34. Married to Douglas Fairbanks Snr (think Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley rolled into one power couple) she was a star all over the world, easier to do when film was silent and accompanied either by a full orchestra or a lone fiddle.

Both these women, their loves, trials and life in Hollywood must have seemed a world away from the factory floor and the rain sodden streets of Woolwich.

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Blog Written By: Rhiannon Cain

Blog Maintained By: Megan

The Well Hall Estate: Mrs Slark’s Story

It is wonderful to have a resident’s story from the early days of the estate.  Thanks to a story told to Pat Slark as a child, we have such a tale.

It took place in about 1917 when Mrs Slark’s mother was a young child living in the area, in a cottage off Kidbrooke Lane – one of the hutments in Elderberry Rd.  One morning as she was playing in front of the house, the artillery hunt galloped into the area chasing a fox.  The fox spotted the family’s cat which promptly leapt over the front wall of the garden followed by the fox and the hounds!  In the kerfuffle that followed Mrs Slark’s mother was scratched on the cheek, a scar she had all her life.  It seems that the hunt used the route formed by the open area of Boughton Road which was being reserved for the future Rochester Way

The fact that a hunt was coming through the area indicates how rural it still was at that point.  But it is difficult to find out more about the artillery hunt, presumably enjoyed by officers from Woolwich.  How long had it been going?  Was this their traditional route?  Did it stop in a few years time when the area became more built up?  There is evidence of a drag hunt which took place along a pre-determined route between Woolwich and Blackheath however and I wonder if this could be a clue.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoIr0HbzB1c

The Slark family were a local Plumstead one and Mrs Slark’s grandfather was a gas stoker at the Arsenal in 1911 so this must be how they came to have one of the hutments.  Mrs Slark has lived on the estate since her birth and through the stories told to her by her mother we are taken us right back to that time a hundred years ago.

 

Blog Written By: Lynne

Blog Maintained By: Megan

The Well Hall Estate: Well Hall as a Rural Area

Local resident, Mrs Slark, recalls a time when the area was still at least partly rural. This story is probably from the period just after the war.

‘My mother and her brother used to go over to Well Hall House which was a working farm and a barn. They used to ‘help’ haymaking time over in the corn fields of the Page Estate, riding back on the hay cart. The now Polytechnic Sport Grounds (next to Kidbrooke Lane) were strawberry fields and they used to go picking and were paid for what they picked. Kidbrooke Lane had a stream, ditches and tree-lined banks where they used to play. Most of her family went to the Gordon School as did I and some of my cousins in after years.’

Parts of the area clearly retained the rural feel of the whole area before the estate was built as captured by these images.

Blog Written By: Lynne

Blog Maintained By: Megan

The Progress Estate: The Rents

It was clear at the outset that the Council was concerned about the provision of housing for the working classes suggesting that housing let at quarterly rents of £30 per annum (just under £2 10s – £2 50p – per month) was unsuitable for working class occupation.  It seems odd then that the final rents on the estate were in the range 7/- to over 15/- (over £78 per annum at the most expensive):

Class 1 – 14/6 – 16/6 (77p – 82p)

Class 2 – 12/-  – 13/6 (60p – 67p)

Class 3 – 10/-  – 11/6 (50p – 57p)

Class 4 – 7/-  – 7/6 (35p – 37p)

It was estimated that each house would cost £450 to build but once the work went out to tender it was clear that the costs might be at least double this.  Since there was pressure to complete the work quickly it was not possible to make savings and this situation continued throughout the building with the necessity for overtime working, Sunday and night work.  The architects were criticised for their extravagant designs and there was pressure to adapt the scheme which was resisted by them at least partly on the grounds that modifications would add to costs through ‘disorganisation and delay’.  The architects themselves were working long hours  – seven days a week and 12 to 14 hours a day.  One estimate of the final cost per house was £622 but others put it even higher.

In late May 1915 a letter to the Treasury indicated that the houses were ‘a better class’ than those found elsewhere in London and they should therefore have a higher rent.  This would attract a better class of tenant from the Woolwich area leaving provision for others currently unable to find accommodation in Woolwich.  (In fact many of the residents of the new estate did not seem to come from Woolwich).

In contrast, in September a member of the Army Council, Mr B.B. Cubbitt wrote to the War Office indicating that he felt the rents were too high and asking to see less highly paid workmen able to rent the properties.  This cut no ice with the War Office who were able to report, based on figures from the London County Council (L.C.C.) who were by then collecting the rent, that there was a high demand for the housing and in fact those with the highest rent were letting most readily.

We do know that at least some of the tenants of the Well Hall Estate classed themselves as labourers. It also seems as if there was some sub-letting, with or without the required permission from the L.C.C. What is still unresolved is whether many of the women on the estate had to work in order to balance the household finances and if so whether many of them were also working at the Arsenal.

 

Blog Written By: Lynne

Blog Maintained By: Megan

The Well Hall Estate: Musical Talents

The first social event organised by the Tenants was held in Gordon School in December 1915 – how quickly the tenants were putting into practice their aims!  The newspaper accounts of this evening and the one the following year offer glimpses into the talents of the residents and the manner in which they enjoyed themselves.

Music, dance and game playing feature among the entertainments for the evening for adults (downstairs) and children (upstairs).  The latest dance was the two-step and we can imagine that being danced enthusiastically, but does anyone now know how to do it?  Perhaps someone can demonstrate!

Amongst a number of names, two stand out: Mrs Elizabeth Stollery sang and Miss Olive Stollery her daughter sang and ‘officiated at’ the piano.  Mrs Stollery was a sixty year old widow  who may have had links with the estate because her eldest son, Henry Alexander was living at 68 Arsenal Road with his wife Blanche.  (In 1911 Henry had been a clerk living in Plumstead working for the government and may have worked at the Arsenal in this role.)  Olive her daughter would have been about 20 and might still have been living with her mother.

With the musical background we can imagine a piano in their home, either rented for 1/6 a week from Redman’s of 27, Plumstead Road, or owned outright.  Perhaps there was a tradition of musical evenings in the family.  A family memory from her nephew recalls that Olive had her own piano when married and that there were family musical evenings.  In fact Olive also played the violin and the nephew also said that she was to the lead violinist at the Royal Artillery Theatre.  It would be wonderful to find Olive’s name on a programme for the Theatre.

 

Blog Written By: Lynne

Blog Maintained By: Megan