Streatham’s Forgotten People
Ask anyone in the street to name three well-known people associated with Streatham. I can guarantee one of two names will roll off their tongue in a flash: Cynthia Payne (the brothel owner from 32 Ambelside Ave) and Naomi Campbell (the supermodel who was born, raised and went to School at Dunraven).
The good people of Streatham in their response may possibly include two other names, as Blue plaques adorn the houses where they once lived in the streets of Streatham.
Tommy Trinder was born in 1909 in Streatham and lived at 54 Wellfield Road – a pre and post war comedic entertainer who once had 14 million people tune in to watch him. Sir Arnold Bax the composer, born in 1883 in Streatham and lived at 13 Pendennis Road – he produced a wide variety of music which was incredibly popular at the time.
So why are there so few Blue plaques around Streatham, when the Royal Borough of Kensington Chelsea has 177; is the area historically devoid of suitable candidates? To the contrary. The once very prosperous Streatham in Victorian times and then very middle-class pre and post war London suburb, has an abundance of individuals who have not hit the spotlight as contenders.
The aim of my series of blog articles is to highlight these individuals who should have greater prominence as Streatham residents and where their residence is known, to have a plaque from English Heritage, Streatham Society or other organisations erected. in some cases and when the opportunity arises they could have a street or building named after them too.
The criteria for blue plaques is that the person should have been dead for at least 20 years and the building associated with them should still be standing- these strict criteria do not apply to plaques of other organisations.
Here are just a few of the options
Sir Henry Tate, Baron (1819-1899)
Henry lived with his family at Park Hill, a large mansion by Streatham Common. He was a sugar merchant and philanthropist. Park Hill housed his artwork, much of which was then transferred to the Tate Gallery, which he established. He gave generously to charities and funded libraries in Lambeth including the Tate Library in Streatham and many other organisations. The house is still in existence and the grounds are gated – there is no plaque on the street wall or gates except the name of the new development “Henry Tate Mews” So he is recognized to some extent, but no plaque detailing his residence in Streatham is present.
Sir Norman Bishop Hartnell KCVO (1901-1979)
Norman was born in Streatham and grew up above The Crown and Sceptre public house where Hartnell’s parents were publicans. He was a fashion designer, who had the Royal Warrant as dressmaker to the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 1940. He also held the warrant as dressmaker to the Queen in 1957. He designed the Queen’s Coronation dress in 1953 and a blue plaque is commemorated at his work address at 26 Bruton Street, but no commemorative plaque of any description is present at the home where he was born and grew up in Streatham.
Winifred Margaret Knights (1899-1947)
Winifred was a British painter who was born in Streatham and lived at 22 Madeira Road. Amongst her most notable works are The Marriage at Cana produced for the British School at Rome, which is now in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and her winning Rome Scholarship entry The Deluge which is now held by the Tate Britain – founded by our other fellow Streathamite, Sir Henry Tate. Her work is inspired by the masterpieces of Italian Early Renaissance and was considered the most original, pioneering British artist of the first half of the 20th century.
Charles William Alcock (1842-1907)
Charles William ″C.W.″ Alcock was an influential English sportsman and administrator. He was a major instigator in the development of both international football and cricket, as well as being the creator of the FA Cup. He lived at 16 Stanthorpe Road, Streatham 1887-88. Alcock formed the Forest club with his elder brother, John, in 1859 and was a prime mover in the 1863 foundation of its famous successor Wanderers F.C. As a player, he was renowned as a hard-working centre-forward with an accurate shot. On 6 March 1875, he captained England against Scotland, scoring a goal in a 2–2 draw. Alcock played football for England 1870-1875 making 5 appearances.
Rupert Leo Scott Bruce-Mitford (1914–1994)
Rupert was a British archaeologist and scholar, best known for his multi-volume publication on the Sutton Hoo ship burial and was born at 1 Deerhurst Road, Streatham. He was also a noted academic as the Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge University from 1978 to 1979, in addition to appointments at All Souls College, Oxford and Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He worked for the British Museum from 1938 and following the bequest of the Sutton Hoo Treasure to the nation, was charged with leading the project to study and publish the finds. Excavated in 1939, the Anglo-Saxon ship-burial was to become the defining moment of Rupert’s life, his greatest challenge and finest achievement.
George Pratt (1828-1904)
At the age of 13 George started an apprenticeship with William Reynolds, owner of a drapery store on the High Road in Streatham Village and then purchased the business in 1850. With the expansion of the railway in 1858 the area thrived, the drapery store grew and he bought two new shops opposite. His son’s Henry and Charles followed him into the business, eventually taking over. Now trading as Pratt Brothers, by the end of the 19th century the shop had extended into some of the neighbouring premises as well. In 1920 the business was sold to Brixton department store Bon Marche which was then bought by the Selfridge Provincial Stores group. This was a short lived change, however, as the group collapsed and was purchased by the expanding John Lewis Partnership in 1940. The store remained a profitable branch of the Partnership right up until closure on 28 July 1990 when Lambeth Council refused them planning permission to expand. The building itself was demolished in 1996, and was replaced by retail units occupied by Argos, Lidl and Peacocks.
Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad “Vidia” Naipaul ( born 1932)
Vidia is a British writer of Indian descent who was born in Trinidad and lived in Streatham Hill when writing ‘A House for Mrs Biswas’, which won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. He said: “Often, out in the Streatham Hill streets, momentarily away from the book, shopping perhaps, I thought: ‘If someone were to offer me a million pounds on condition that I leave the book unfinished, I would turn the money down.’… The two years spent on this novel in Streatham Hill remain the most consuming, the most fulfilled, the happiest years of my life. They were my Eden.” For two and half years Naipaul lodged in the upper rooms at 81a Wyatt Park Road, from mid 1958 to the end of 1961. Most of his book, ‘A House of Mrs Biswas’, as well as his first travel book ‘The Middle passage’ was written while living in Streatham. Recalling his tenancy of the house he said it was a happy productive time for him and he has never stopped thinking kindly of the house and his landlady, Mrs Nurse who lived in Nuthurst Avenue. He was also a Booker Prize winner for ‘In a Free State’ in 1971.
Graham Vivian Sutherland (1903 – 1980)
Graham was an English artist who was born in Streatham and lived with his family in Pendle Road. He is notable for his work in glass, fabrics, prints and portraits, much inspired by landscape and religion. Printmaking, mostly of romantic landscapes, dominated Sutherland’s work during the 1920s. He developed his art by working in watercolours before switching to using oil paints in the 1940s. It is these oil paintings, often of surreal, organic landscapes of the Pembrokeshire coast, that secured his reputation as a leading British modern artist. He served as an official war artist in WW2 drawing industrial scenes on the British home front and also designed the tapestry for the re-built Coventry Cathedral.
Have your say in the comments below!
Written by contributor: Mark Bery (Streatham resident of over 32 years)