Wednesday, 5 July 2017

A little bit of Tudor History in Well Hall on a summer's day in 1964

Well Hall Pleasaunce, August 1964
This is one of those photographs we all have in the collection.

It was taken in the summer of 1964 and there amongst the smiling children and their parents is one of my sisters.

And it is one of those odd things that I not only remember the event, but also my mother cutting the photograph out of the local paper and sending a copy to our grandmother.

The event was “Junior Showtime” one of a series of summer time events put on by Greenwich Council at Well Hall Pleasaunce.

The moat and Tudor Barn, 2013 © Scott McDonald 
I doubt that our Jill even remembers the show and I am pretty sure it will be almost impossible to track down the performers on that Saturday in the August of 1964 but it is a reminder of the extent to which local councils put on all sorts of cultural activities.

I still remember a magic summer of fun put on during that long six weeks holidays at my Junior school in south east London in the July of 1961.

And round about the same time the Corporation Parks Committee issued a “Guide to Leisure and Pleasure in the Open Air” with everything from the big events like the Manchester Show down to “Jerko the Clown, Versatile Children’s’ entertainer presenting Magic and Mirth in various parks.” 

Of course it was not all positive.  Many of the bandstands which for over fifty years had been places to listen to live music were slowly being left to rust and the attention of vandals while the paddling pools were closed and filled in.

The moat and Tudor Barn, 2013 © Scott McDonald
All of which takes me back to the Well Hall Pleasaunce on that warm summers day in 1964 and the Tudor barn which had been built by John and Margaret Roper in 1525.

She was the daughter of Thomas More, Lord Chancellor to Henry V111.

They had married in 1521 in Eltham and lived on a moated island to the south of the barn.

The barn was used for storage but may also have been occupied by servants because at the western end there there are two huge chimney and is all that is left of the buildings they would have known..

Maragret Roper 1539
Margaret and Thomas were the very embodiment of the Renaissance.

She was an accomplished writer and translator while he wrote a much praised biography of his father in law.

The Roper’s home was demolished in the 1730s and a new house called Well Hall House was built between the moat and Well Hall Road.

Its most famous occupant was the children’s author Edith Nesbit, who wrote The Railway Children, and lived here from 1899 until 1922.

After its demolition in the early 1930s Woolwich Council decided to use the renovated Barn as the centrepiece of a new park, the Well Hall Pleasaunce.

Well Hall House, date unknown
"The park was opened in 1933 and the Tudor Barn as a restaurant in 1936.

Although it was intended that a library should be situated there, this never happened and for many years after the War, the Barn was run by the council as a restaurant and upstairs an art gallery and function room for weddings and events.""**

And that brings me back to that summers day in 1964 and the concert area.

It was a popular venue where I attended a mix of blues and folk nights while Brian Norbury remembers “seeing the Strawbs there when Rick Wakeman was making one of his first appearances, about 1970.”

So a nice mix of personal memories a bit of Civic enterprise and a link with Tudor history.  Not bad for a small piece of south east London

Pictures, Well Hall Pleasuance, August 15 1964 from the collection of Andrew Simpson, the moat and Tudor Barn, 2013 ©Scott McDonaldcourtesy of Bernard Skinner, Estate Agents, Maragret Roper, from a 1593 copy of a now lost painting by Hans Holbein,, Well Hall House, courtesy of the Edith Nesbit Society,

* Leisure and Pleasure in the Open Air  Parks Committee, Manchester Corporation, 1963

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