Did a very young Charlie Chaplin perform in the yard behind the Walcot Gardens mansion block?
This footnote is found in ‘The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion’ by Dan Kamin.
Below it is an extract from Chaplin's Music Hall: The Chaplins and their Circle in the Limelight by Barry Anthony and Michael Chaplin
The following is taken from Maud Zimmermann's 1996 history of the Walcot Estate (now out of print)
The Walcot Estate was extensively damaged in relation to its size, and thus mirrored the effects of the blitz throughout London. Wherever comparatively new buildings can be seen - in three sections of the even-numbered side of Walcot Square, in Bishop's Terrace, in Kennington Road and across Kennington Road next door to Walcot Gardens - the original buildings either received a direct hit or were rendered irreparable. Many more of the houses were uninhabitable because of damage from blast, and families had to be moved out of one house into another so that makeshift repairs could be carried out. Repairs were necessarily makeshift - it was impossible to get building materials and labour during the war; as late as the 1960s the damaged walls of the odd numbers in Walcot Square were being repaired. Considering the age of the houses, it is astonishing that they withstood so much.
Of two features in wartime St Mary's Gardens and Walcot Square there is now no sign: there were underground air raid shelters under the triangles [Greens] which were to be used by the residents night after night and, during the daylight raids, day after day. Joan Knott remembers: My earliest recollection of war on the estate was the converting of the greens which consisted of trees and shrubs into air raid shelters. St. Mary's had individual Anderson shelters, while Walcot was made into a communal shelter. The first few nights of the blitz were pretty uncomfortable down in the Walcot shelter, with only slatted narrow wooden seating, no heating and unmentionable toilet facilities I remember trying to sleep sitting up and then waking in the morning stiff and tired. However, things improved and bunks and heating were installed. As it became such a regular thing we all chose our bunks and kept them during the time we sheltered down there, taking blankets and pillows over early and going ourselves as it began to get dark. It became like a social club and in a way, despite the terrible battering London experienced, we almost looked forward to seeing friends and neighbours down there. Of course there were sad occasions when houses were damaged and destroyed. My mother and I were lucky: a bomb hit St. Mary's Walk, demolishing nos. 9 and 10 and turning no.8 into a shell; but no. 7 where we lived was intact, though knocked about a bit. I also recall one of the houses at the end of Walcot Square having the complete front from roof to basement destroyed and looking exactly like a child's doll's house with the front removed so that you could view the rooms and contents. Also, one of our neighbours was killed instantly when he had just gone outside the shelter to have a cigarette.
Doris Williams's father was an air raid warden, and a nerve-racking time he must have had. Like hundreds of others, this was a part-time job - he worked at his own job during the day. Doris and her family lived in 24 Walcot Square and she says: One evening we were rehearsing for a concert we were to be putting on in the shelter when the warning sounded. We were all for going on with the rehearsal, but Dad said 'shelter', so we all went. A bomb fell, killing the people next door in no.22 who were in an Anderson shelter they had had built in their garden. Dad usually stood just outside the entrance of the shelter: one evening a bomb fell on the spot where he usually stood. Mother went to the entrance to see him, but he wasn't there. A search finally found him in Kennington Road: a bomb had fallen there just before the Walcot Square one, and he was on top of a pile of rubble, helping to get people out.
Bombs were usually dropped in 'strings' - not just one bomb and then a gap of a couple of miles or so. Joan goes on: People were happy to help each other and took the difficulties in their stride - clearing up rubble and soot day after day, before being able to boil a kettle of water and cook breakfast on an open fire. Gas and water mains were often blown up or were damaged, so we had neither gas nor water on tap, and frequently no electricity. Margaret Beecroft remembers that from 1939 to 1945 the dangers uppermost in parents' minds were of their children being caught in a bomb blast, buried alive, burnt by an incendiary - as indeed happened.
There are no longer any shops in Walcot Square. In the past there was a grocery shop (corner of Sullivan Road and Walcot Square) and backing on to it a hardware shop which also sold oil (and coal in small quantities when the old-fashioned delivery carts and vans vanished). Next door was a little haberdashery and shoe-repairer: the shoe-repairer's sister ran the haberdashery. Next came a shop selling sweets, cigarettes, newspapers and stationery etc. On the other side of the road was a greengrocery. Further along at 89 Walcot Square was a dairy. Just around the corner in Brook Drive there was a fish shop and a butcher's. Near the Kennington Road end, on the corner of Bishop's Terrace, there was another shop - a general store which was destroyed in the WW2 bombing.
[Source: Maud Zimmermann's social history of the Walcot Estate 1996]
Charles Dickens must have known this area well. He has Mr Guppy in 'Bleak House', in renewing his proposal to Esther, saying: 'I have some connection and it lays in the direction of Walcot Square, Lambeth. 1 have therefore taken a 'ouse, which. in the opinion of my friends. is a hollow bargain (taxes ridiculous, and use of fixtures included in rent) .... It's a six-roomer. exclusive of kitchens and in the opinion of my friends a commodious tenement'
Thanks to JL for investigating this and identifying its origins. It was built in 1898 as a factory for Hollis & Son, furniture polish manufacturers. Grade II listed. Architectural description from the English Heritage site may be found below the fold (follow the 'read more' link).
We often find there is interest in specific local properties, some still owned by the Foundation others which have been sold. We are grateful when we are given new historical data. We shall start posting them here, in blog format so that you may post comments. Note that any posting must not contain any confidential data, such as names of current occupants.
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