Saturday, 28 January 2017

Walking the High Street in 1918

I am on one of those walks which I could have taken just a century ago along the High Street.

Looking east, 2014
Now this is not so difficult given that by 1918 there were plenty of commercial and amateur photographers snapping away and plenty of their efforts have survived.

And armed with the census records and street directories it is possible to name the businesses which ran up from Well Hall Road east down towards Roper Street.

The street directories were issued annually and while they only record the business or house owner they are a good start.

But it will always be the information from the census which offers the stories of the people behind the doors, and when you put them together that walk becomes a fascinating trip into our collective past.

Merlewood House, 1909
So roughly on the site of the Nat West bank were the homes of Mrs Dobell and Mr Joseph Rosselli followed by the show rooms of South Metropolitan Gas Company, the London Parcels Delivery Co, and Arthur Blackney, blacksmith who will no doubt have passed the time of the day with Mr St John the physician and Henry Hallett his immediate neighbours.

On one of those walks I might well have stood outside Mrs Dobell’s fine 20 roomed house and wandered what she did in such a big house given that there was only her and three servants.

Not of course that I would ever have been invited in or for that matter into that equally big pile known as Merlewood which stood next door.

This was the home of Mr and Mrs Rosselli who sat comfortably inside their impressive house of 18 rooms shared with three grown up children and five servants.

Now given that he was a stockbroker I guess I might have seen him waiting at the railway station for a train into London.

But it is more likely that his journey to work would have started many hours after mine.
After all I come from a long line of agricultural workers, silk spinners and itinerant tradesmen and may well have been working for Mr Blackney assisting him with his magical enterprising of heating and hammering.

That said given the date of 1918 it is more likely that I was either in some trench in France or clocking off after a shift at the Arsenal.

And I suspect I am now  in danger of sliding into silly speculation so I shall close.

Picture; looking east up  the High Street, 2014, from the collection of Elizabeth and Colin Fitzpatrick and Merlewood House, 1909 from The Story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 

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