Architectural Walk -Townscape Awards

We are most grateful to our local Kingston Ramblers group for leading 28 hot but not (too) bothered locals around some of the area’s architectural highlights and also some of the previous winners and this year’s nominated entries for the Townscape Awards (TA)

(For brevity the following is presented partially in note form and not all points of interest are included). The walk began at Surbiton Station

“Surbiton used to be the butt of jokes, as a symbol of dowdy suburbia. That was silly. To anyone with half an eye it was – and still is – an interesting place, in which the original plan and later accretions can be discerned, much as they can in a medieval town like Boston or Carlisle. And Surbiton may fairly claim its place in history: for it is the oldest suburb in Europe, perhaps in the world, that was called into being by a railway.”

Jack Simmons, 1986, The railway in town and country, p.64, Newton Abbott, David & Charles.

The station is Art Deco design by James Robb Scott built in 1937, replacing earlier buildings. Original station (1838) was built in the railway cutting; it was moved at the instigation of Thomas Pooley in 1840.

Thomas Pooley – Born in Maidstone, Kent, Thomas Pooley and his family held various roles. He moved from Kent to Norwich in 1827, facing bankruptcy and engaging in businesses like corn and coal trading. Relocating to London by 1835, he later settled in Kingston upon Thames, acquiring an estate near a new railway station in Surbiton.

We heard how this somewhat unsung hero ‘s inspiring but sad story involved a great deal of skullduggery by Kingston officials desperate to undermine the success of this first commuter town. Thomas Pooley’s financial struggles led to further bankruptcy, legal disputes, and his eventual suicide in 1856.

(aside: In the film of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry reads about the attack on the Millennium Bridge in a little cafe inside a train station – it was filmed in Surbiton Station.)

From there to Hillcroft House: The National Residential College for Women was established here in 1920. It has always been a residential college solely for the education of adult women. The college was intended to be a female equivalent to Ruskin College in Oxford. Now it is part of Richmond Community College and its historical status may be in doubt.

We walked past a previous TA winner, the modern and attractive Surbiton Medical Centre the winner of KS Townscape Award 2015. Site of old Surbiton Cottage Hospital and with interesting history panels by Hillcroft College all around the grounds. we passed Langleys Restaurant which was Bell Musical Instruments founded in 1947. Sold accordions first, from Bell Accordions at no. 157-9; then Bell Music in 1961 in the shop opposite, sold lots more, including guitars, and where Eric Clapton bought his first guitar (actually his Granny bought it!)

Just before lunch we visited St. Matthew’s Parish School (Nominated for 2023 Award). Now restored to near its original glory the school closed and was left empty for several years in the early 1970s. Used as Met Police station from mid 70s to 2011 – resulting in considerable damage done to its interior and exterior. On the maket in 2011 with the prospect of partial demolition for development, but rescued in a purchase to make the London International Study Centre – Andrew Sutherland the “angel”, with support of neighbours. 2018 on the market again, with renewed prospect of partial demolition. The “angel” this time was Steve Hall, with the intervention of the same neighbours.

Just across the road is St. Matthews Church designed by Charles Lock Luck in 1879. Built at the instigation of congregations in Surbiton, especially Christchurch, to give the people of Tolworth sound evangelical CofE leadership. Funded by one donor, Willaim Coulthurst, to the tune of £24,000 (£11 million in today’s money). Very grand church – built in Surbiton, despite the fact that it was for Tolworth!

We took a small detour to look at ‘Uplands’ a modestly sized, unpretentious but determinedly modern house in Ditton Hill Road and a nominees for this year’s TA’s. We were slightly wilted by now but sauntered to the John Nash designed 1808 house Southborough Place in Ashcombe Avenue. When built it had uninterrupted views to the river, and was originally built for the wealthy merchant and banker William Moffatt. William Moffatt was a prominent figure in the early 19th century, and he commissioned Nash to create this neoclassical villa as his residence. Nash of course is best known for his Royal Pavilion at Brighton and for his unfinished work on Buckingham Palace and leaves a legacy to rival that of Sir Christopher Wren. We shouldn’t gossip of course but in 1775 he had married Jane Elizabeth Kerr but within a few years the marriage was in difficulties. Jane had run up huge debts, in particular a milliners bill for over £300. (£45,000 today!!)

(Aside: This house was also the location for the Queen (music band) film biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody’ standing in for Freddie Mercury’s famous Kensington home Garden Lodge.)

Not everyone was still on this long walk by now but next stop was the Filter Beds at Seething Wells a site of great industrial archeological value and under threat now of course. James Simpson, eminent, but little-known, Victorian engineer, who lived at Westfield House, Portsmouth Road (opposite the Fox and Hounds pub).If you let contaminated water pass through a bed of sand, without rushing it, then a magical thing happens. Microbes in the water establish a community attached to the sand granules, within a matter of a few days. The top layers of the sand become biologically active by the establishment of this microbial community on the top layer of the sand substrate. The fine sand and slow filtration rate facilitate the establishment of this microbial community. The majority of the community are predatory bacteria that feed on water-borne microbes passing through the filter.

This technique is known as “Slow Sand Filtration (SSF)”. Unlike “Rapid Sand Filtration (RSF)”, which relies on the physical properties of fine sand as a filter, James Simpson developed, in SSF, a method that is essentially biological, even though the biological processes were not understood when he exploited them. Simpson’s invention is still current good practice.

Very many thanks to David Cooper for guiding us and whose excellent notes for this walk can be found here: Kingston Society notes

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Last Updated on September 13, 2023 by Kingston Society