The History of Wandsworth Common

PB, May 2022

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of Wandsworth Common

MAY 2022

Farmers fear unkindly May,
Frost by night and hail by day."

Flanders and Swann, A Song of the Weather.

THERE'S ALWAYS A REASON why I'm late with these Chronicles. Last month I gave two talks on "Maps and the Making of Wandsworth Common", which involved quite a lot of preparation. The first talk was for the Friends, and the second (slightly reworked) for the Wandsworth Historical Society. I greatly enjoyed working on them, but it didn't leave much time for anything else. Still, I hope you enjoy what there is.

The second half of both map talks was devoted to interpreting an extraordinary map, from the early seventeenth century. At first sight, it's pretty unpromising. But the more you look at the map in higher resolutions, the more fascinating it becomes.

"An exact Plott and Discription of the Mannor of Allfarthinge lienge and being within the Towneshipps of Wandelesworth and Battersey... An Dom 1640"

(Click on image to enlarge)

The map or plan was made for the new owner of Allfarthing Manor, Endymion Porter — one of Charles I's Grooms of the Bedchamber. Here he is in a painting by the marvellous William Dobson. I shoudn't think that's Wandsworth Common in the background, but let's say it is.

William Dobson, Endymion Porter, early 1640s (Tate Britain)

Is that Wandsworth Common in the background?
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Incidentally, it has the first reference (that I know of) to Wandsworth Common — well, to "Wandelesworth Common":

"An exact Plott and Discription of the Mannor of Allfarthinge lienge and being within the Towneshipps of Wandelesworth and Battersey... An Dom 1640"

(Click on image to enlarge)

A video of the first talk (which was filmed by John Crossland — thanks, John) will probably be posted on the Friends of Wandsworth Common website sometime soon. But in the meanwhile, you can view it here.

This month I'll be working on a video for the Wandsworth Heritage Fortnight on Sporting Wandsworth, to include stories from several centuries of the Common — bare-knuckle fighting, hare-and-hounds chases, stag-hunting, pedestrianism (walking and running races), velocipede racing, rugby netball, ice skating, hockey and a lot more besides.

Here is an aerial view of part of the Common. Any idea where it is? Notice the signs of many different sports endlessly erased and reinstated:

(Click on image to enlarge)

This month's stories

— Wandsworth Lodge cleared

— The Princess Royal lays a foundation stone at the Bolingbroke Pay Hospital

— The Common's Conservators sue milkman George Rough for pound-breach.

— Donations to the fund to preserve Wandsworth Common mount. Concern for fence-breaker Samuel Sullings, languishing in gaol.

— Thomas Hardy sees "a monster whose body had four million heads and eight million eyes".

— John Buckmaster in court for fence breaking.

— The "sagacious collie" Grissel saves a child from drowning in a Wandsworth Common pond   . . . 

and more  . . . 

South London Press — Saturday 9 May 1885

A massive clearance sale at Wandsworth Lodge — one of the oldest and grandest of the houses on the edge of the Common, just prior to its demolition. Everything must go: horse-drawn carriages, cows, pig, peacock, lavatory and urinal. Soon three new streets of terraced houses will be built on the site.

Wandsworth Lodge on an Ordnance Survey map of 1869-1874.

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Clearance Sale — Wandsworth Lodge, Trinity-road, Wandsworth Common.

Messrs, J. Mclachlan & sons have been favoured with instructions from C. De Selincourt, Esq., to SELL by AUCTION, on the premises as above, on Wednesday, 13th May, 1885, at 2 o'clock precisely, the BEDDING-OUT PLANTS, lawn mower, garden engine, hose and reel, hand and wheelbarrows, vase, garden seats, iron hurdling, striking frames, staging, lavatory and urinal, handsome brougham, waggonette by Perry of Bristol, a four-wheel chaise, boat, a shorthorn cow calving this month, an Alderney cow in milk a young black Berkshire sow, a magnificent peacock, a quantity of poultry, and sundry outdoor items and other effects.

May be viewed the morning of sale, and catalogues had of the Auctioneers, Clapham Common. S.W.

Wandsworth Lodge was owned for about a decade by Charles Alexandre De Selincourt, who describes himself in the 1881 Census as "Mantle and Cloak manufacturer" (the last word crossed out by the Enumerator and "Dressmaker" added).

He had many children, a number of whom were born in Wandsworth Lodge.

His daughter, Dorothy (aka "Daphne"), married A.A Milne — so Winnie the Pooh's "Christopher Robin" was his grandson. It seems likely (to me) that Eeyore was modelled on a Wandsworth Common donkey — our Common was famous for its donkeys. But that's a story for another time.

Did Eeyore graze on Wandsworth Common?

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A few years after the sale, the house, gardens and had gone, and several new streets of terraced houses built in their place — Crockerton, Dalebury, and Hendham Roads.

The De Selincourts had moved here from Leigham Court Road, Streatham [date?]. The pater familias was Charles Alexandre De Selincourt, born in Paris to an English dressmaker, Adriana Arundell, and Amedee de Selincourt — purportedly an aristocrat who could not marry a commoner. The couple appear never to have married, but Charles adopted his father's surname. He became a naturalised British citizen, and, as a "Mantle and Cloak Manufacturer", employed 350 people.

I have read in descendants' rseaerches that it was his mother, Adriana, who designed the clothes that made the family's fortune. I have found her living in Wandsworth or Battersea in a number of Censuses. For example in 1861 she is living in Chesterfield Villas, St Anne's Road, and in 1881 in Heath Villa, on St James's Road (now Drive).

Soon after the 1885 sale, grounds of Wandsworth Lodge were built over.

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Here is a remarkably evocative advert, in The Field, The Gentleman's Newspaper for 12 June 1875, describing the Wandsworth Lodge that so attracted the De Selincourts:

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Upper Tooting.

A very valuable Freehold Property, situate within about eight minutes' walk of Wandsworth common station (whence there are frequent trains to Victoria and London Bridge), and consisting of a comfortable Family Residence, with stabling, farmery, and other outbuildings, charming old pleasure grounds, extensive orchards and kitchen gardens, with ornamental avenues of trained and standard fruit trees and two excellent meadows; in all upwards of 16 acres.

The property possesses residential attractions seldom to be met with so near to London, and equally valuable for building purposes.

MESSRS DEBENHAM, TEWSON, and FARMER will SELL, at the Mart, on Tuesday, July 18 at Two, in One Lot (with possession (the important Freehold Property, known as WANDSWORTH LODGE, Upper Tooting, comprising a commodious family residence, containing a prospect room, commanding splendid views, fourteen bed and dressing rooms, and lumber rooms, drawing and dining rooms each about 27ft by 16ft 6in, including bow (the letter room communicating with a spacious and lofty conservatory), bath room, morning room about long including bow, large kitchen, butler's pantry, and ample offices; an excellent detached billiard room or ball room about 46ft 6in by 20ft 6in

[I]nclosed yards with stabling for eight horses, double coach house, harness and men's rooms, capital laundry, coal and coke houses, cow houses and sheds, piggeries, pigeon and poultry houses, large cart shed, barn, granary, &c.

There are three entrance lodges, a bailiff's cottage, an extensive series of glass houses, including vineries, strawberry, peach, fig, orchid, rhododendrons, and plant houses, ranges of melon, pine, and forcing pits, tool and potting houses, mushroom house, two prolific orchards, two very large walled kitchen gardens abundantly stocked with wall, standard, and espalier fruit trees, including over 160 varieties of pears, likewise a potato ground.

An adequate description of the beautiful grounds cannot be given within the limits of an advertisement. Suffice it to say, they embrace a handsome wide-spreading lawn, with fountain, two other lawns, charming shrubbery walks, an island &c; the whole entirely screened from the road by shady plantations of many years' growth, and profusely adorned with fine old ornamental timber (in which is a rookery), and splendid specimens of the choicest conifers, including cedrus deodars, araucaria imbricata, cryptomeria, &c; also two capital grass paddocks, skirted by plantation walk; the total quantity being about 18a 1r 13p [i.e. 18 acres 1 rood 13 perches].

The property has a frontage of nearly 1000 feet to Trinity road (the main road from Wandsworth to Tooting), and a long frontage to a road at the rear [today's Beechcroft Rd]; with these facilities for development the greater portion could be advantageously laid out for building leaving the present house and part of the grounds intact.

The soil is gravel and the neighbourhood remarkably healthy.

Particulars and cards to view of the Auctioneers, 80 Cheapside, where a series of photographs may be seen.

Notice the last line of the advert: "where a series of photographs may be seen".

Wouldn't it wonderful if we could find these photographs.

[Note, 1.6.2022: It would be good to work out when exactly the de Selincourts moved in/out. 1875—1885? And to date the roads. I believe Brodrick and Wandle Roads were laid out first (late 1870s?) and a number of houses built. At this time the back gardens of the southern side of Wandle Road would have backed onto the edge of the De Selincourt garden. Hendham etc were built later, presumably after Wandsworth Lodge was demolished. Check maps etc.]

Illustrated London News — Saturday 12 May 1906

A foundation stone is laid at the Bolingbroke Pay Hospital (1880—2008) on Bolingbroke Grove.

Bolingbroke Hospital seen in a postcard sent 1906, the year work began on enlarging and modernising the house.

The indefatigable John Erskine Clarke, whose brainchild the hospital was, also built several churches in Battersea, including St Luke's at the corner of Thurleigh and Ramsden Roads.
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THE PRINCESS ROYAL AT BOLINGBROKE HOSPITAL, WANDSWORTH. On May 5 the Princess Royal laid the foundation-stone of new wing at the Bolingbroke Hospital, Wandsworth Common. Her Royal Highness was received by the chairman, Canon Erskine Clarke. The Duke of Fife made a speech on behalf of the Princess Royal.

[BNA Link.]

To be frank, I really don't know who this "Princess Royal" was. No name is mentioned, the rules are complicated, and titles are in any case always subject to a monarch's will. Take a look at this list of princesses of the blood royal, and take your pick. But if you know the answer, let me know.

Ah, I've just discovered that it was Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1848—1939), sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Since I have seen references to her as "Louise of Fife", I imagine the person who delivered her speech on her behalf was her husband.

Images of Princess Louise 1901 and c.1911, around the time of the laying of the foundation stone.

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In spite of a string of re-models, the hospital closed in 2008, and is now a secondary school.

South London Press — Saturday 17 May 1873

The Conservators sue the milkman George Rough for pound-breach.

The "pound" marked on an OS map of 1894 — between the corner of Dorlcote/Baskerville Roads, and "Neal's Farm" (today's Skylark cafe etc). This is where stray or illegally grazed animals were "impounded".

Notice it sits astride the Wandsworth/Battersea boundary.
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The Conservators of Wandsworth Common sued one George Rough, a milkman, for pound-breach, the plaintiffs having impounded a mare belonging to the defendant, which he, as it was alleged, illegally turned out for pasturage on the Common. The result will be hailed with satisfaction by all well-wishers to this popular place of recreation, and the Conservators will carry with them the sympathy of all in their endeavour to retain the Common for the use and recreation of the people generally.

They, acting in the interests of the ratepayers, conceive it to be their duty, in which we decidedly acquiesce, as the stewards of the people, to contest and resist claims of an indefinite character calculated to prejudice public property on the Common.

They are a body of gentlemen whom we are convinced would press hardly on no one, urging a reasonable claim in a lawful and orderly manner; but, quite rightly, they will not submit quietly to the injury of their property, or to their officers being interfered with in the discharge of their duty. The verdict of the judge in the present case will no doubt have the salutary effect his Honour evidently intended it to produce.


The Surrey Comet of Saturday 17 May 1873 includes a more detailed account.

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A case of some local interest was heard at the Wandsworth County Court Tuesday, the plaintiffs being the Conservators of Wandsworth Common as a place of public recreation, and the defendant, Mr George Rough, a well known milkman.

It appeared from the evidence that defendant has for some time been in the habit of turning out a herd of cows and other animals on Wandsworth-common.

On the accession of the Conservators to office they made bye-laws forbidding, amongst other things, the depasturing of cattle on the common rised persons. A notice was then printed stating the reason which the Conservators were prepared to allow the turning out of cattle, and warning persons that the bye-law would be strictly enforced after a day specified.

Subsequently a second similar notice, containing a reduced scale of charges, was issued.

Both notices were served on Mr. Rough. He however, alleged he had a right to turn out an unlimited number of cows and horses on the common, and refused to enter into any arrangement with the Conservators or even confine his claim within reasonable limits.

To bring matters to issue therefore, the Conservators, on the 26th March last, impounded a mare belonging to defendant, and on that act arose proceedings in County Court.

Mr. Rough, while the common-keeper had gone to get fodder for the horse, with five or six other men, broke open the pound and got out his horse. The Conservators thereupon summoned him for pound breach.

Mr Charles Crompton, instructed by Messrs. H[?] and Hunter, appeared for the Conservators, and Mr Steele for the defendant.

On behalf of the plaintiffs the above facts were proved by George Booker, the common-keeper, and Mr. Windsor Smith, gentleman who was walking over the common and saw the pound broken.

The Act of Parliament and the deposited plan common, signed Lord Redesdale, were put in and evidence was given that the pound was on the common as delineated on the map, and, with the soil of the common, had become vested in the Conservators.

Cases were then cited to show that by breaking the pound defendant had placed himself in the wrong, even supposing his cattle had been rightfully on the common, the proper course to raise the question being to pay the Conservators' demands under protest and bring action of replevin.

The Conservators were quite prepared to meet a claim of right in a fair and open way, but they wished persons to understand that they were not to take the law into their own hands and set at nought their authority and the duly provided machinery of the law.

On behalf of the defendant some attempt was made to deny the title of the Conservators to the common and pound, but these points were not seriously insisted on.

Evidence was then tendered that the defendant had some right of depasturing on the common, but the learned judge (H.J. Stonor, Esq.) held that it inadmissible, as the defendant had by his violent proceeding precluded himself from raising the question of right.

His Honor then stated, with regard to the whole case, that he considered the defendant had acted improperly, and that it was right he should express his disapprobation of such high-handed proceedings. He therefore adjudged him to pay £5 damages, and the costs of the summons, together with costs of counsel and attorney, within 14 days.


The result of the above case cannot but hailed with satisfaction all lovers of order, and well-wishers to Wandsworth-common.

The Conservators are a body popularly elected and managing the common for the benefit of the people. In the interests of the ratepayers it is their duty to see that claims of an indefinite character are not acquiesced in to the prejudice of the public property in the common, but we are sure that they would press hardly on no man making a reasonable demand and urging it in a lawful and orderly manner.

It is not be tolerated that their property should be injured and their officers interfered within the execution of their duty every person who may advance claims in their opinion inadmissible.


I'll probably return to this next month since in June 1872 the Conservators published an interesting detailed tariff for animals turned out on the Common. This included the line:

"For every Gelding, Mare, Pony, Mule, Donkey, Cow, Heifer, Steer or Bullock — £1 per annum."

(A handwritten note on my copy says "afterwards reduced to 12/-".)

South London Chronicle — Saturday 21 May 1870

Donations to the fund to preserve Wandsworth Common mount. Concern is expressed for fence-breaker Samuel Sullings, languishing in gaol.

Preservation Commons. The sum of £1,347 12s. 3d. has been subscribed to the fund now being raised for the preservation of Wandsworth and Clapham Commons, in addition to £1,000 given for the same object by Mr. H. W. Peek, M.P.

A memorial, numerously signed, has been presented to the Home Secretary, by Sir C. W. Dilke, M.P., praying for the release of Samuel Sullings, who was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, with hard labour, for breaking down fences which obstructed the use of an old footpath on Wandsworth common.

Thomas Hardy's Diary entry, 19 May 1880

Thomas is troubled by "a monster whose body had four million heads and eight million eyes".

The Hardy's house on Trinity Road, near the southern edge of Wandsworth Common, enjoyed prodigious views over a London that was rapidly doubling and re-doubling in numbers and area. The population at this time was roughly 4 million.

In upper back bedroom at daybreak: just past three. A golden light behind the horizon; within it are the Four Millions. The roofs are damp gray: the streets are still filled with night as with a dark stagnant flood whose surface brims to the tops of the houses. Above the air is light. A fire or two glares within the mass. Behind are the Highgate Hills.

On the Crystal Palace hills in the other direction a lamp is still burning up in the daylight. The lamps are also still flickering in the street, and one policeman walks down it as if it were noon. >

The still-amazing view today from Friend of Wandsworth Common Sheila Palmer's flat, a couple of houses along Trinity Road from Hardy's former home.

[Photo: Sheila Palmer. Thanks, Sheila!]
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Illustrated London News — Saturday 22 May 1869

John Buckmaster in court again.

The rights of common were yesterday week vindicated at the Wandsworth Police Court. Mr. Buckmaster, one of the churchwardens, was summoned by a builder for having broken down a fence on Wandsworth-common. The complainant had purchased a piece of land from the directors of the Brighton Railway, and was in ignorance of its being a portion of the common. Mr. Buckmaster denied the right of the company either to inclose or sell the land, and mentioned that the inclosures Wandsworth-common now comprised 150 acres. The magistrate dismissed the summons.

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Fences had been erected on the Common in the angle between Battersea Rise and Bolingbroke Grove, in front of the New Wandsworth railway station. John Buckmaster, a passionate defender of the Common against encroachment, frequently broke them down. Since Buckmaster is declaring his actions to be a political demonstration rather than vandalism, the magistrate recognises it is not within his powers to pass judgment — hence he dismisses the summons.

However, when young Samuel Sullings came to court the following year, he seems to have had no legal representative to support him, and nobody had coached him about his best line of defence. (Buckmaster records in his autobiography that he was out of London at the time.) Hence SS was fined and — since he could not pay the fine — was imprisoned. (See above, May.)

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Building development on either side of Chivalry Road.

Buckmaster failed to halt encroachment in this part of the Common, but was instrumental in saving much of the rest.
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Daily Citizen (Manchester) — Friday 23 May 1913

A medal for the "sagacious collie" Grissel, who rescued a young child from drowning in a Wandsworth Common pond.

Grissel's medal at a Dix Noonan Webb auction in 2010.

It was expected to sell for less than £250 £ but in fact made £820.
[DNW: Link]
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Grissel's story has been retold several times since, but here are some early newspaper accounts.

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Dr St Vincent Ryan and his sagacious collie Grissel, which was presented yesterday with a silver medal by the National Canine defence League for saving a little boy, aged 3 1/2 years, from drowning in a pond on Wandsworth Common.

Grissel was out walking with her master when she refused to obey his command to return from the pod. She entered the water and partially dragged the boy, whose presence in the pond was not suspected, towards the side. He was in a semi-conscious state and would have undoubtedly been drowned but for the dog's timely rescue.

There may be a little more to this story.

This was at a time when Battersea was still rather notorious in relation to animal experimentation, after what became known as "The Brown Dog Affair" or "The Brown Dog Riots".

Some years earlier, in 1906, a statue of a brown dog had been erected in Latchmere Recreation Ground bearing an inscription that referred to the vivisection of 232 dogs in the Laboratories of University College, London. The memorial soon became the target of vandalism from medical students from all London schools.

The Brown Dog statue by Joseph Whitehead, erected in Battersea's Latchmere Recreation Ground 1906, removed 1910.

"In Memory of the Brown Terrier
Dog Done to Death in the Laboratories
of University College in February
1903 after having endured Vivisection
extending over more than Two Months
and having been handed over from
one Vivisector to Another
Til Death came to his Release.

Also in Memory of the 232 dogs
Vivisected at the same place during the
year 1902.

Men and Women of England
how long shall these Things be?"
(Click on image to enlarge)

Students were arrested and fined, but violent protest spread. Police mounted a 24-hour watch to protect Brown Dog from the so-called "anti-doggers". But eventually, in 1910, Battersea Council sent four workers (guarded by 120 police) to remove the statue under cover of darkness. The council's blacksmith is said to have melted it down.

(It's an amazing story. There's no time to go into much detail here, but the Wikipedia article Brown Dog Affair is good though. See also Joe Cain's lovely little book The Brown Dog in Battersea Park — currently out of print but available for download via Internet Archive or on this site.

Here is another contemporary report of Grissel's achievement that suggests a clear link. After briefly reviewing the act for which Grissel was awarded the medal, the Eastbourne Gazette (Wednesday 28 May 1913) expostulated:

It is a disgrace to so-called Christians that dogs like the one which rescued the child are fiendishly tortured in thousands by vivisectors and their deeds of torture sanctioned by the majority of the clergy of so-called Christian England and also by numbers of the laity, who are influenced by the clergy in many instances.


Grissel's story invited elaboration. Here is the popular author Rowland Johns (Dogs You'd Like to Meet") in 1907, with a vivid description of children's play on the Common at that time (notice the absence of adult supervision):


THE pond at Wandsworth Common is a favourite fishing-ground for the small children who live in South-west London, and the small boys are always excited and happy when the "tiddler" season begins. They wade gleefully through the water with "drags" — imitations of draw-nets, made of pieces of sacking or old clothing.

They are often helped by smaller children, who wade out behind them and anxiously peer at the "drag" as it is brought to the surface and discloses its treasure, which may be a "red-throat" (a very valued and superior kind of "tiddler") or only a small collection of water-weeds.

[PB: A "red-throat" is a male stickleback.]

No one ever knows what will be found in the pond. If a "red-throat" of unusual size is captured, the boys become so excited that they forget that their mothers commanded them to look after little "Bobby" and not to let him get too near the water. As a rule, the baby brother is as deep in the water as he can get. One spring evening a baby brother went so far into the pond that his companions could not see him and went home in the dusk without him.

That evening, Dr. St. Vincent-Ryan was walking with his son round the Common and with them was Grissel, a very handsome collie dog.

She left them rather hastily and darted in the direction of the pond, which lay in quite the opposite way to that in which her master was walking. He whistled for her to return, but she did not obey, and, as she was usually very quick to answer the call, Dr. Ryan concluded that something must be wrong.

There were very few people about and the pond seemed quite deserted. Darkness was coming on and it was difficult to see anything in the pond, but they could make out the head of Grissel moving along in the water. She was in the middle of the pond and appeared to be very busy in the deep water.

"I wonder what she's doing?" said Dr. Ryan. "Something is wrong, I'm sure."

They whistled again, yet Grissel still remained in the pond. But she was coming toward them, swimming with difficulty, as though she carried a heavy burden.

Then they saw something rise out of the water, something which looked like the branch of a tree.

"We'd better go in," said Dr. Ryan, and at once he and his son waded into the pond and met Grissel, who had been dragging toward them a heavy bundle.

Dr. Ryan bent down and picked up the body of a little boy. He took the child ashore and found that he was still alive, although he did not seem to know where he was, nor could he speak. Dr. Ryan gave medical aid, and before long the boy was well enough to be taken home.

If he had not been discovered by Grissel, he would have been dead very soon. The little fellow was only three and a half years old.

The question which puzzles Dr. Ryan is:

"How did Grissel know that the child was in the water?"

It is difficult to answer such a question, but dogs have very acute senses, and probably Grissel heard some noise which she did not understand and went to find out the reason for it. Or her eyes may have seen what was invisible to the human eye. Collies are wonderfully sharp-sighted, even in the dusk of evening.

But there is the other question which puzzles every one. It is this:

"How did Grissel know that it was more important to save the child than to obey her master's whistle to come to him?"

If dogs could write, or talk, we might learn the answer, but as yet we do not know enough of the minds of dogs to explain why, at a time of great importance, Grissel was disobedient and was right in not obeying the whistle.

I must say I've never heard of "dragging" in the pond. I'll keep my eyes open for other references.

Incidentally, I wondered who Dr St. Vincent Ryan might be, and it turns out he was an ophthalmic surgeon who lived for many years with his family on Bolingbroke Grove. Whether he was himself actively opposed to vivisection, I have no idea. But it would be good to know.

28 May 1864

Fatal Accidents on the Derby Day.

A pleasure van belonging to Mr Howlett, of Edgware road, was crossing Wandsworth Common from Epsom, when one of the party let fall the lighted end of a cigar among the loose straw at the bottom of the vehicle, which speedily blazed up, set the canvas curtains and awning on fire, and for a few minutes filled the van with flames and smoke.

Great difficulty was experienced in getting the women out, as some of their clothes had taken fire. Mrs Howlett and the Misses Liddiard, of Nutford-place, were severely injured.


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