Tag Archives: local history

Memorial Art to be Unveiled for Twickenham’s Belgian Village

Noticed the Belgian flags in East Twickenham recently? If you haven’t we can reassure you that yes, they are actually there. And they’re there for a good reason.  On Saturday 1st April a memorial artwork is going to be unveiled by the Belgian Ambassador to celebrate East Twickenham’s Belgian connection.  Many of you will know the backstory to this but just in case….

 

Belgian Flag, East Twickenham

During the First World War this part of London became home to around 6,000  Belgians who had fled their home country after the German invasion in 1914. A real community developed earning the area the moniker, “the Belgian village on the Thames”.  Many of these refugees worked in the munitions factory established by Charles Pelabon in what had previously been a roller skating rink.  Pelabon, a Frenchman who had previously operated factories in Belgium, supplied munitions to the Belgian army from January 1915 and throughout the war. At its peak his East Twickenham works employed 2,000 people.

During the war years French and Flemish could be heard on the streets of East Twickenham, Belgians established shops and businesses to serve their community, while the children attended a special ‘Belgian department’ at Orleans School in St Margarets.

 

Belgian munitions workers at the Pelabon factory

After the war the community dispersed with most returning to Belgium. The Pelabon factory continued for a few more years as a general engineering  company before Monsieur Pelabon eventually sold up and returned to France. Some of the buildings remained in industrial use and part of the  site became the famous Richmond Ice Rink but that, of course, is another story.

A great deal of work has been done to uncover and publicise this hidden history especially by Helen Baker and others.  On Saturday April 1st, to celebrate East Twickenham’s Belgian connection, a public work of art will be unveiled by the Belgian Ambassador H.E Guy Trouveroy as a memorial to this unique community of Belgian refugees . It’s being organised by the East Twickenham Centennial Group. As Helen says, “We see this as not so much a celebration of war as of two communities cooperating towards a common goal and of friendship for refugees.”

 

Pelabon works, East Twickenham


The unveiling will take place on Saturday 1st April from 12.00-2.30pm at Warren Gardens, Clevedon Road, TW1 2HZ.  And of course the project team are always keen to hear from anyone with information about the time, one hundred years ago, when East Twickenham became little Belgium.

 

LINK:

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Orleans House Discovery ‘Out of this World’

Extraordinary evidence has come to light about the original function of the famous Octagon Room, part of Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham as a primitive device for celestial communications.

During research for the Heritage Lottery-funded £1.8m renovation project, in which original drawings and documents have been sourced in an effort to revert the décor to its true 1720s state, artists and technicians were stunned to discover a previously undiscovered stash of diagrams by its architect James Gibbs showing the unique, cylindrical building as a vast acoustic earpiece with various ingenious sound enhancers and transcribing machinery, all beneath a giant retractable roof.

gibbs_octagon_1

James Gibbs (1682-1754) has long been known for his interest in extra-terrestrial activity having witnessed as a young man “many curious fire globes o’er Thames at Richmond”.  Several of his other building designs have alluded to astronomy but this is the only known example of his obsession being put directly into practice, most likely with the generous financial assistance of wealthy Twickenham resident James Johnson (1655-1737), notable for sharing Gibbs’ fascination having “experienc’d a divinely sensuous other-worldly abduction”.

gibbs_vision

Richmond Council officers have long been mystified since discovering that the original footprint of the house and gardens, of which the Octagon Room is the only section remaining intact, mimics exactly the constellation of Orion with the Octagon sitting in place of dominating star, de Mairan’s Nebula. Most remarkably reams of transcripts discovered within the documents appear to depict abstract wave patterns with a stunning similarity to those of NASA’s Keppler spacecraft purporting to show unusual, unexplained activity way beyond our own solar system. These have now been passed on to the British Astronomical Society for deciphering.

There is now evidence that much of the machinery stayed in place relaying “an abundance of communications” until the arrival of King Louis Philippe, Duc d’Orleans in the early 1800s who, as a deeply religious man and a representative of the Catholic Church, saw it as a “dark art”, ordering its immediate removal and destruction. It is assumed that the documents were somehow rescued by Louis Philippe’s wife Maria Amalia after her husband’s death as they have been in the possession of her family, ancestors of King Ferdinand IV of Naples, stored in an impenetrable safebox, ever since. There they would have stayed had the safe’s mechanism not inexplicably given out last month revealing the contents for the first time in over 200 years.

 

LINK:
* LBRuT: Celestial Communications at Orleans House

Gibbs had a strong interest in UFOs

Gibbs had a strong interest in the extra terrestrial

[Contributed by our special correspondent Avril de Furst]

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Turner’s House Launches Crowd Funding Appeal

Twelve months ago we reported how the Twickenham ‘country retreat’ of artist JMW Turner had received Heritage Lottery funding to carry out essential restoration work and put in facilities to open it up to the public. It was a good news story to kick off 2015.  However, it now seems that the funds raised so far aren’t going to be quite enough to finish the job so now the Turner’s House Trust is looking to make up the difference from crowdsourced funding. (That’s the like of you lot, btw). A £25,000 target has been set.

Turner's House, Twickenham

Turner’s House, Twickenham

The Grade II listed house, Sandycombe Lodge, was designed by Turner in 1813 and used by him until he sold it in 1826. Heritage Lottery funding and other grants and donations have contributed to the majority of the £2.4m project costs but a last push to close the funding gap is now running until early March.

According to a BBC News report ‘inflation and building costs’ have meant the original estimates for the work had to be revised upwards. Donors are being offered inducements such as preview tours ahead of public opening and a printmaking workshop led by artist Sasa Marinkov. Time to dig deep for this piece of local history?

In the meantime, if anyone has ever met a builder who’s looked at a half-finished job, folded their arms across their chest, nodded solemnly and said, “Great news, this project is actually going to come in under budget!” we suggest you put them in touch with Turners House Trust asap. In fact, why not tell all of us.

 

LINKS:

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David Bowie: A Music Legend with a Twickenham Link

Eel Pie Island’s rich music heritage includes many famous names. Some of them are greats, a few of them genuinely deserve the title ‘legend’. One such legend, David Bowie, died today at the age of 69. Michele Whitby is a Twickenham resident and curator of the Eel Pie Island Museum which ran as a pop up exhibition at Twickenham Library last year. In this short piece, Michele, a huge Bowie fan, gives her take on the passing of someone whose nascent creative genius touched this part of London many decades ago…

11th JAN 2016. ‘Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.’
Being woken to the words ‘Mum, David Bowie has died’ coming from my daughter’s mouth at 7am this morning was not what I had in mind to start the week. My first thought was ‘please let it be one of those hoaxes’, my second was ‘if it’s true, then he orchestrated the release of his final album in perfect Bowie style’. Then I cried.

My daughter understood my tears and hugged me. After all ‘Starman’ was the song I chose to sing her as a lullaby when she was little and she has grown up listening to his music. She loved the line from his song ‘Kooks’, written for his own son, ‘And if the homework brings you down then we’ll throw it on the fire and take the car downtown’ (we were actually able to do this when we moved to a boat with a wood-burning stove!). She was as mesmerised as I by the fabulous V&A Bowie exhibition and it is testament to his genius that he could effortlessly engage different generations through his output of brilliant music. Continue reading

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Plans for an Eel Pie Island Museum

Eel Pie Island Music LegendsYou might not know it today but Twickenham has a rich music heritage around jazz and rhythm n blues. Well, we say it’s Twickenham’s heritage but it’s fair to say that one small piece of this town is at the heart of it – Eel Pie Island. Perhaps you went along to the Eelpiland exhibition at Orleans House Gallery in 2013. If you didn’t, you should have. It gave a great insight into the Island’s music scene in the 1950’s and 60’s. But what if that exhibition could be made permanent for more people to enjoy? Michele Whitby is a Twickenham local,  Eel Pie islander and a champion of spreading the word about Twickenham’s place in music history. In this guest blog she takes up the story….

Eel Pie Island Museum
Michele Whitby

Plans are afoot to create a new museum in Twickenham dedicated to Eel Pie Island. World famous for its musical heritage, the island also has a fantastic riparian history, all of which really deserve to be celebrated and shared, not just with locals but also the many tourists that visit London.

Richmond-upon-Thames is steeped in history, stately homes and beautiful parks which all make it a great place to visit. But alongside the more traditional attractions, our borough is also sitting on a wealth of very significant musical heritage. Global superstars such as the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and many more, started out on their path to fame and fortune right on our doorsteps. Eel Pie Island played a pivotal part in the British RnB explosion and was a mecca for thousands of music fans in the 1950’s and 60’s; we really should be making more of this exciting aspect of our history.

For today’s sixty-somethings, who were actually ‘there’ when it all happened, the chance to revisit their youth and show their children and grandchildren just how cool they really were is something that is missing from the attractions we currently have on offer. At present we only have the Heritage Board outside the Barmy Arms dedicated to arguably one of the most exciting aspects of the area’s history – Eel Pie Island. The board attracts much attention and almost daily tourists amble over the bridge to the Island seeking a taste of the musical history, but of course the hotel is long gone and there is nothing left to see.

Eel Pie Island Hotel

Eel Pie Island Hotel

So, I want to set up and run an Eel Pie Island Museum in Twickenham, as close as possible to the Island itself. Continue reading

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Vote to Support the Duke’s River. Now.

River Crane

River Crane at Kneller Gdns

Hurry along now! Yes right now. The Greater London Authority is stumping up some cash from the Mayor’s Big Green Fund to improve local green spaces across the capital. You get to vote on which projects are worthy of attention. The catch is that the 2nd March is the deadline to vote. So, who are you going to vote for? Why, you’re going to vote for ‘The Duke’s River Link’ of course.

The Duke of Northumberland’s River is an artificial waterway that comprises two sections, with the eastern part taking water from the River Crane at Kneller Gardens, up past The Stoop and Twickenham Stadium and on to the Thames at Isleworth and to the ornamental ponds at Syon Park. It was built about 500 years ago during the time of Syon Abbey.

What will happen if the project secures funding through the Big Green Poll? The intention is to make this short stretch of river into a haven for wildlife and also to improve the accessibility, signs and paths. After a couple of highly damaging pollution spills into the River Crane in recent years, this sounds like a plan that’s well worthy of your support.

LINKS:
* Info & voting (deadline 2nd March)
* Duke of Northumberland’s River

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Turner’s Twickenham House ‘Saved’

Sandycombe Lodge, the house designed by the painter JMW Turner and used as his ‘country retreat’ between 1813 and 1826 will be saved thanks to a £1.4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The villa in Sandycoombe Road, Twickenham (yeah, so what if it’s really St Margarets, deal with it!) can now be restored and opened to the public.  Although the house does currently allow for some visitors, it’s on English Heritage’s ‘at risk’ list and in need of significant restoration. Turner designed the house himself although the original structure has been modified since Turner sold it in 1826. These modifications will be removed as part of the work. After the completion of the project it is expected that the house will be open for 46 weeks of the year from 2016 and will include state of the art visitor information and offer an expanded range of educational programmes.

Good news, and well done to all those Turner in Twickenham fans who worked hard to make this happen.

 

Turner's House, Twickenham

Turner’s House, Twickenham

 

Next stop: Rebuild the Temeraire!

LINKS:
*  Turner’s House
*  BBC News

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Ghost Signs of Twickenham

Twickenham’s glory days. Are they behind us, do they still lie ahead? Or are they actually right now? Whatever the answer, we predict that in years to come, with the benefit of hindsight, we’ll look back with a sense of nostalgia at how we imagined the future would turn out. But before we do that, we thought a quick tour of Twickenham’s past would be in order. We don’t mean the obvious signs such as historic buildings but rather the ones that got away – old adverts, road signs referring to a long dead borough and even fire hydrant covers. Below is a selection. It’s almost certainly not complete but feel free to point us to more of Twickenham’s ‘ghost signs’ and we’ll add them in.

Lipton sign - York Street

Lipton sign – York Street

Twickenham Borough Council - fire hydrant

Twickenham Borough Council – fire hydrant

Changing signs, changing times. Staines Road

Changing signs, changing times. Beef tea & chicken broth on Staines Road

Continue reading

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70 years ago, D-Day plans made at Camp Griffiss put into action

The 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings seemed like an appropriate time to highlight the role that Camp Griffiss, located in Bushy Park, played in the build up to the invasion. The Teddington Town website has a given a potted history of the camp. We liked it and so we decided to ‘re-blog’ it.

Teddington, Middlesex, UK

HistoryToday the world honoured those that fought 70 years ago during the allied D-Day landings in Normandy, but did you know how Bushy Park played an important part in the invasion plans?

In 1942 construction began on Camp Griffiss, a 60 acre site created on requisitioned land in Bushy Park to house the Eighth Air Force, a strategic bombing force. This base was later was chosen by General Dwight Eisenhower as the location for Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), deliberately away from central London to minimise the risk from air attacks.

In addition to anti-aircraft batteries being placed in the park, Diana Fountain, Leg of Mutton pond and Heron ponds were drained and covered with camouflage netting so as to not aid enemy bombers with navigation and bomb-sighting of the base.


Camp Griffiss from the air, along Sandy Lane, looking North. Click for larger version.

For three…

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