Montpelier Row, Twickenham

Montpelier Row Twickenham – Georgian Architecture at its best!

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Twickenham has been the much loved home to many writers over the centuries; Alexander Pope, R C Sheriff, Horace Walpole, Elizabeth Twining, Walter De La Mare and Alfred Lord Tennyson.  On the banks of the River Thames this once quiet, village location has been swallowed up into the metropolis of Greater London, but still retains some of its charm.  While many of the beautiful riverside mansions of the 18th and 19th centuries have long since been demolished, there is one perfect row of Georgian homes which have remained.

Both Alfred Lord Tennyson and Walter De La mare lived at some point in this row.  Walter De La Mare moved into Southend House in 1940 and became a tenant of the Sedgwick Family.  Although he spent much of the war time years away from the house, he loved the house and kept his collection of antiques here, as well as his books on crime.  Many of his closest friends and literary friends came to visit him here including Joyce Grenfell, Leonard Clark and Richard Church.  De La Mare died at Southend on 22 June 1956.[1]

Tennyson moved into Chapel House on Montpelier Row in 1851 and stayed there with his wife until 1853.  This was at the time that he had been made Poet Laureate. His son Hallam was born at Chapel House and baptised in the local St Mary’s Church.  However, Tennyson soon found that Twickenham was too close to the ever expanding London.  The railway had recently arrived in Richmond and Twickenham and with it brought a ;large number of visitors.  Although he cherished his visits from his fellow literary friends, W M Thackeray and Edward Fitzgerald he decided to leave Montpelier Row and leave it to his widowed mother, Elizabeth Tennyson while he moved to the Isle of Wight.

Over the years Chapel house became known by other names including Holyrood House and now it is simply number 15.  When first built it was also listed as number 17, and appears to have changed to 16 sometime around the mid nineteenth century and certainly by 1871 when Captain Phillip Antrobus lived there from 1871 with his wife and children.

Yet Tennyson is not the lonely famous artist to have lived there.  Peter Townsend of the band, The Who, lived in the property for a number of years, and his wife continued to live there after their divorce from 1987 to 2004, converting the coach house at the end of the garden into a recording studio.

Montpelier Row, which borders Marble Hill Park was built in 1723 by Captain John Gray. It is situated in East Twickenham, off the Richmond Road and runs alongside the western boundary of Marble Hill Park.  Halfway down is Chapel Road which connects with Orleans Road and this is the site of the old Montpelier Chapel which was demolished in the 1940’s.  Number 15 is on the corner of Montpelier Row and Chapel Road.  The property is Grade II listed and it has a blue plaque for Alfred Lord Tennyson.  The properties were built around 1720-1721 and a plague on number one states ‘Montpelier Row’ 1720.  Gray moved into the Row soon after it was built, and appears to have had a number of financial difficulties.  Many of the properties wouldn’t sell or could be let and as a result many of the builders initially lived in the beautiful Georgian town houses.  Gray in fact continued to live in the row until his death in 1751 and in 1748, was living at number 14.

Chapel House/Holyrood House is a three storey Georgia townhouse with a basement and also has a separate two storey building in the garden. Many of the houses in the street are of similar structure although the mid terraced ones tend to be single fronted.  As Chapel House stands at the end it would most likely have reflected North end House which stood at the far end where the entrance from Richmond Road is now, and which was demolished some years ago.  As is customary these days, many of the houses have also extended upwards into the loft spaces.

Prior to the development by Gray, the whole area of land which ran along the riverside was a part of Eastfield, a name derivative from the medieval period where the area of Twickenham was divided into Eastfield, Westfield, Southfield and Northfield.  Moses Glover’s Map of 1635 lists the area has arable with neighbouring M. Craftons Nursery and orchard.[2]  Also in the locality are the Butts which were targets for archery practice and was situated at the edge of East Field and the village, where Montpelier Row feeds of which is now Richmond Road. Captain Gray became a prominent landowner in Twickenham in the early eighteenth century.  Following the end of his service in 1713 he received a substantial payout which helped him to become a property developer and he leased two plots of land from the Sion Estate, owned by the Duke of Northumberland.

Gray’s concept was urban in style and copied the prestigious homes of the new London squares.  This was a departure from the local style where there were several grand estates, but also large detached properties which stood in their own land along the riverside in Twickenham.  It was the first local urban terrace and they were built to be leased, a speculation perhaps in response to the growth of Twickenham due to agriculture and commercial gardens.[3]  But also to the popularity of the riverside area and the lure of the Thames for the upper classes and when Horace Walpole died here in 1797, large houses and immaculate gardens lined the riverside stretch from Cross Deep to Richmond, incorporating Montpelier Row.

This new style might have surprised the locals and be seen as an intrusion on the style of Twickenham. The other Queen Anne and early Georgian properties adopted a more classical style, which had been made popular by Inigo Jones in the seventeenth century.

Montpelier Row was built on its own, away from the centre of Twickenham which may suggest the clientele that Gray was trying to attract.  They remained for some time as the only properties in the area of what is now East Twickenham.  The map below shows Montpelier Row and the surrounding area in 1741.  We can see that surrounding the property were gardens and open space, and Orleans Road was at this time called Folly Lane.  Although its neighbouring Marble Hill House is indicated, it is not listed until the later map of 1786.

[4] and [5]

[6]

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The enclosure plans of 1819 show the detail of the properties in much greater depth and also include the chapel which is not shown specifically on earlier maps.  The next map shows the area in 1846, and we can see that a number of properties have been built on the land surrounding Montpelier Row, although the area off of Orleans Road or Folly Lane is still gardens.  However, this indicates that the area is beginning to develop further and where Montpelier was once rural, the area was becoming increasingly suburban which may link with the establishment of the railway in Twickenham in 1848. [7]

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The image above shows Montpelier Row to the left of Marble Hill Park in 1749 and this clearly shows, that the properties stood alone at this time, surrounded by land.[8]

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 [9]

The illustration below is taken from a lithograph by Thomas Way in 1900 and shows extension already made to the upper floors of several properties.

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 [10]

A number of people have lived in this house over the years, most of which were not notable writers and artists. Details of the occupiers can be found in the Poor rates records, census returns from 1841-1911, local directories and electoral rolls all of which can be found in the Richmond Local Studies Library.

There is no question that Montpelier Row is one of the finest surviving examples of Georgian architecture in London.  Nearby Sion Road, which runs down to the River Thames was built at the same time, and although is a much shorter row, is as beautiful as Montpelier and well worth a look if you are in Twickenham.

Montpelier Row was no doubt the home of poems, prose and pop songs and fine Georgian houses.

 

Bibliography and Notes

[1] Twickenham Museum Website , http://www.twickenham-museum.org.uk/detail.php?aid=26&ctid=1&cid=7, Wlater De La Mare.

[2] Simpson, D., Twickenham Past (Historical Publications: London 1993) pp16-17

[3] Simpson, D., Twickenham Past (Historical Publications: London 1993) pp116-118

[4] Map of Richmond 1741-45 by John Rocque.

[5] Map of the Manor of Isleworth and Sion 1786.  Duke of Northumberland.  Surveyed and draw by C J Sauthier.  This is a photo of the section surrounding Montpelier Row, Marble Hill and the local area.

[6] Enclosure Wards Plans 1819, held at the Richmond Local Studies Library.

[7] Warrens Plan of the Parish of Twickenham 1846, held at the Richmond Local Studies Library.

[8] Gascoigne, B & Ditchburn J., Images of Twickenham, (Saint Helena Press: Richmond, 1981)

[9] Gascoigne, B & Ditchburn J., Images of Twickenham, (Saint Helena Press: Richmond, 1981)

[10] Gascoigne, B & Ditchburn J., Images of Twickenham, (Saint Helena Press: Richmond, 1981)

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William Wordsworth – Daffodils

Spring has to be one of my favourite seasons of the year.  I always feel a little like Mole, from the Wind in The Willows as he comes out of the ground and into the spring sunshine for the first time.  That wonderful fresh new smell of flowers bursting open, grass growing, the damp soil springing to life and the soft fragrance of early spring flowers that float on the breeze.

For me the first sign of spring is seeing the great swathes of golden headed stems adorn roadsides and riverbanks.  Driving round the windy roads of the Lake District in April, Daffodils popped up everywhere; in fields, beside lakes and in craggy rocks.  It is easy to see why William Wordsworth was so inspired by the landscape and county he grew up in to become one of the English languages most famous poets.  In fact, it is not difficult to see why the Lake District has inspired and nurtured so many artists and writers who have used the beauty and drama of the landscape to develop their art.  Wordsworth’s poetry is wholly encompassed by the landscapes that surrounded him and Dorothy’s journals give us a great insight into the flora and fauna of the area.

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William Wordsworth grew up in Cockermouth, the second of five children born to John Wordsworth and Ann Cookson.  His father was the legal representative for John Lowther, the 1st Earl of Lonsdale.  Due to the importance of his job, the family were granted a beautiful Georgia home in Cockermouth.  Wordsworth initially had an idyllic childhood, with days spent playing in the gardens of the family home with his brothers and sisters. Situated on the banks of the River Derwent, William developed his love of nature here as a young boy.   But the untimely death of first his mother, and then his father led to a dramatic change in the family’s circumstances and years of unhappiness.   A far cry from the happy days in Cockermouth as the much loved home was taken away, the family was split up and they left the house for good in 1784.  William and Dorothy, who had always been close as siblings were not reunited until 1795 having been sent to live with varying relations.

Wordsworth finally found solace and happiness once again with his sister Dorothy, when they purchased Dove Cottage in Grasmere in 1799, just weeks after William had walked past it with his brother.  From his cottage window he would have had an unadulterated view of the Lake at Grasmere and its beauty in all seasons with the mountains and hills beyond.  Both William and his sister, the diarist Dorothy, loved the outdoors and once again as adults they enjoyed each other’s company exploring the wilds of the mountain peaks and the pleasures of the lakeside walks.  She was for life, his mentor and confidante, and it was her journals and observations of the rugged terrain of Cumbria that often became a source of inspiration of Williams writing and a great passion for him.

Perhaps one of Wordsworth’s most famous poems, I wandered Lonely as a cloud was inspired by the daffodils of springtime in the Lakes.

‘I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffoldils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.’

William was inspired to write his famous ‘daffodils’ poem after a walk along Ullswater with Dorothy in 1804.  He actually wrote the poem, about two years after their walk and his inspiration came from Dorothy’s account in her journal from April 15th 1802.  She wrote that the daffodils ‘tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the Lake.’  Dorothy’s journals clearly depict the wonder of seasons amongst the Lakes and were often a source for inspiration for William.  His poem was first published in 1807 and his final edited version was published in 1815.

“ When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow Park we saw a few daffodils close to the waterside. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore, and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more; and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing.”

This beautiful, eloquent observation of the flowers in spring show her connection to nature and the powerful descriptions must have been wonderful for William to read upon his return from his travels.  Dorothy maintained her journal throughout her time at Dove Cottage.

As Wordsworths family expanded, Dove Cottage became too small and the family moved locally before settling finally at Rydal Mount, only a couple of miles down the road from Dove Cottage, facing Rydal Water.  Whilst there he purchased a piece of woodland beside the property, originally called Rashfield.  Initially this purchase was a defence mechanism, when he was faced with eviction from Rydal Mount.  He planned to build a house on the plot.  However, in the end this was not needed and instead he gave the land to his daughter Dora.  When she tragically died, Wordsworth’s wife and their gardener had the woodland planted with hundreds of daffodils in honour of her.  It is known as Dora’s Field, to this day.  There is a wonderful oasis of calm as you sit amongst the trees and daffodils, overlooking in the distance the hills behind Rydal Water and breathe in the damp smell of woodland moss.  The field was left to the National Trust in 1935 so that future generations could enjoy this haven.

‘Ten thousand saw I at a glance

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance’

Yet it wasn’t just the beautiful of the spring daffodils that inspired Wordsworth.  Throughout his works, we see references to other flora and fauna which surrounded him. His poem, ‘Lines Written In Early Spring’, mentions the smaller wildflowers which would have carpeted woodland paths, and roadsides;

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower, 

The periwinkle trailed its wreaths; 

And ’tis my faith that every flower 

Enjoys the air it breathes.’ 

For me Spring, is the long awaited breath of fresh air after the cold, dark winter.  A time to take stock of life, plan for the summer, look forward to warmer and lighter evenings and a sign of happy times to come.

‘And then my heart with pleasure fills

And dances with the daffodils.’

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For the Adventure

Dove Cottage is run by the Wordsworth Trust is open is to the public.  I thoroughly recommend visiting the house and the museum as a fascinating insight into the life of William and his family.  The house operates on a timed ticket system, as it is very small.  but the museum, which houses a wonderful array of archives from the Wordsworth Family can be visited while you wait.

Visit https://wordsworth.org.uk/visit/dove-cottage.html

For details of Rydal Mount visit http://www.rydalmount.co.uk/

Dora’s Field is owned and looked after by the National Trust https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ambleside/features/daffodils-at-doras-field-

The Hum of The Bees

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Last May, in the week of the Chelsea Flower Show, I braved the crowds on the District Line and made my way to the Chelsea Physic Garden to attend a writers workshop with the Journalist and Author, Jackie Bennett.  I had been looking forward to this for months.  A day away from the toils and tribulations of everyday life and a day for me to just have the time to write.  I had never been to the Physic Gardens before, despite a lifetime of wanting too.  I remember as a child, every time we drove past the gardens my mum would point them out to me and tell me of the times she had been there when she was younger, when she lived in Chelsea.  I’d always had a picture in my head of this very small garden with neatly manicured flower borders and a few greenhouses.  How wrong I was!  These gardens are a truly wonderful little haven of peace amongst the busy throng of the London streets.  It instantly became my new favourite place.  I felt that I had  been transported into a little oasis of calm, with individual gardens, greenhouses full of geraniums, a woodland walk alive with blue tits and bees, a beautiful lawn glistening with the morning dew, a wall of apothecary’s bottles and jars to remind us of the history of the gardens.  I couldn’t have found a better spot to learn about Writers and their gardens and indeed do some writing myself.  I would therefore like to share my ‘Literary Landscapes’ story, The Hum Of The Bees inspired by the Chelsea Physic Gardens.

There was a moment of stillness as Elizabeth stood putting her ticket away.  The rush hour commuters heaved and squeezed their way through the gaps around her but today she would not be hurried.  The light was dingy inside the station but outside she could see the warm hazy brightness bouncing off windows and cars signalling that summer had finally come.  Elizabeth took a breath and walked towards the main road, her stick making a distinctive click on the pavement amongst the perpetual drone of the buses and cars.  It was busier than she remembered – and faster.  As if time sped up as the years increased.  She paused and glanced towards the central square.  Everywhere around her cars, bikes, taxis, buses seemed to be weaving at such a speed in and out of such small spaces.  It reminded her of the fear she had encountered trying to cross the Piazza Venizia in Rome.  Why was everyone in such a hurry.  Life passed so very quickly as it was, without trying to hurry it up even further.

She glanced at the familiar and not so familiar shop fronts and tutted at the inflated prices of simple luxuries.  Peter Jones still stood in pride of place at the corner of the square, but Woolworths and the Old Kentucky had been replaced by Georgio Armani and Radley.  At least The Worlds End was still there – although Elizabeth had imagined that it was probably some gastro restaurant now, rather than a traditional pub as it had been all those years ago.   It seemed not everything improved with age.

Presently she turned off the main drag of Kings Road and ambled down a residential street lined with red brick mansion houses. Perfectly manicured topiary and bay trees in slate grey tubs adorned the porches atop the black and white marble steps.  Elizabeth reflected as she walked, on her own crumbling steps and tubs crammed with fuchsias and erysiums, over-spilling onto the gravel pathway.  So many years ago she’d had her own marble steps and hallway, not far from here – but now the thought of her dilapidated cottage was far more appealing.

She turned a corner into Royal Hospital Road and presently Elizabeth spotted the hole in the wall, the black wrought iron gate firmly fixed in its frame. For a moment she could not move, for concern that the gate would not open.  Perhaps she’d written down the opening times wrong. Elizabeth began to fumble in her pink shopper bag that her daughter had given her last year for her birthday. It was a Radley bag with a white scotty dog on it.  Apparently it was all the rage in London last year.  Elizabeth liked it as it held all those things you needed when out and about, but couldn’t fit in your handbag.  She found the piece of paper, she had written down 10am to 5pm.  She checked her watched – it was only 9.55am.  She would wait.  Elizabeth leant against the old stone wall which surrounded the garden of one of the old Georgian houses on Swan Walk.  She looked up at the beautiful buildings.  As a child she had always imagined that one day she would be old enough and rich enough to buy one.  Elizabeth chuckled.

She turned back to the garden and thought.  There was a fear that her memories maybe more beautiful than the reality.  Was this perhaps a very silly idea after all.  Maybe she should have listened to her daughter.

Elizabeth was on the verge of turning and finding a quite backstreet coffee shop when a young boy appeared with a wheelbarrow.

“We’re just opening, go in if you want.  You’ll have the garden to yourself for a bit, before the hoards arrive.”

Elizabeth smiled and mumbled an embarrassed thank you as if she knew he had been watching her debate this journey.  The young boy stood holding the gate open.  He smiled.  Now she would have to go in.

She made her way down the stone flagged steps, tinged with the delicate dew soaked heads of ladie’s mantle.  For a moment she couldn’t look up, partly because she was trying to negotiate an uneven floor with her stick and partly because everything was starting to ache from the walk.  But when she did, it was as if a great haze of confusion and pain had suddenly just disappeared.  She straightened up and saw the garden through the eyes of a curious 7-year-old once again.  Her stick was cumbersome and she lifted it, held it firm in her arthritic grip and walked with purpose down the main avenue to the fountain.

The tiny bubbles frothed and erupted on the water.  Lying on the moss coloured floor were hundreds of coins – pennies, two pence, five pence and even the odd fifty pence.  Thrown by children and maybe a few adults too who wished for something else, maybe wished for something better in their lives.  Elizabeth reached into her pocket and found a 20p, she tossed it and watched, as it sank out of sight and joined the sea of dusty silver. Yet she didn’t make a wish, what good were wishes at this time of life?  She might not be around to see if it came true and what a waste of a wish that would have been.  The bright emerald grass stretched out from either side of the quadrangle around the fountain, bordered on each side by borders fit to bursting with every colour imaginable.  The gentle hum of the bees was just starting to come to life, as they swooped on every bud they could find.  It was so much the same, yet there were small differences, which, except to the familiar eye would have passed unnoticed. Wooden carts with the history of past gardens and apothecaries could be found at the corner of footpaths as they meandered to a new part of the garden. Modern sculptures which represented elements of the garden and its medicinal usage were hidden amongst the borders and glasshouses.  Again Elizabeth chuckled to herself.  When she was a child it was her mother who taught her about the history of the gardens and the names of all the plants.  She had learnt it from books.  Now, it seemed everything had to be created and put in front of you.

Elizabeth sighed. She loved this part of the garden, but it was the woodland at the far end that she wanted to see.  She followed the path with its purple headed alliums and small button head daisies and presently found herself in the cool shade of the woodland, on the far side of the garden which bordered the main embankment road.  The dappled shade landed on the leaves of the hostas and the tips of the ferns with their uncurled tongues, glowed as if burning torches to light the way.  Elizabeth found a bench and sat down.  The drone of the cars disappeared. The woodland smelt of damp bark and a sweet scent came from a cluster of tiny pink flowers currently under attack from two busy blue tits.  Elizabeth looked around, nothing had changed.  For the first time in what seemed a lifetime, Elizabeth closed her eyes without thoughts of the present blocking the way.  She took a deep breath and slowly drifted away.

**********

Margaret placed the flower on the floor beside the bench, she fought hard not to let the tear roll down her cheek.  This was the right thing to do.  The man who stood solemnly a little way away, moved forward and slowly unpeeled the plastic coating of the brand new golden plaque at the top of the bench.  Elizabeth looked up at her mother and slipped her cold hand in hers.

“Don’t worry mother,” said Elizabeth “This is such a beautiful place, Grandma will always be here.”

“I know darling, and we can always come to this place when we need to talk to her or think about her.”

Elizabeth thought for a moment, “I can think about her anywhere, I just close my eyes and she’s there in front of me, but I think this would be a good place to talk.”  Margaret smiled, and hugged her daughter close.

“Can we go and play now?”

“Yes we can,” said Margaret, “and after we’ve played and explored the gardens then we can go up the Kings Road and get some chocolate in Woolworths, and if you’re really lucky then maybe we can go and do some window shopping in Peter Jones.”

Elizabeth’s eyes shone brightly.  This had been one of those days where she felt happy and sad all at the same time.  She hoped that one day when she was old, she’d be able to come and sit in these gardens all by herself and listen to the bees too.