Talk: Jill Lamb on the oral history project Ham is Where the Heart is

Date(s) - Monday 11 March 2019
8:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Duke Street Church

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Jill Lamb retired in 2015 after 21 years working for the Heritage Service in Kingston, latterly as Heritage Team Leader and Borough Archivist.

Jill says: “As a resident of Ham for over 30 years I have long wanted to tap into the local knowledge in our special community and took the opportunity when I retired.  I was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of nearly £10,000 in July 2016. The project was launched as part of the Know Your Place festival arranged by Richmond Local  Studies and Archive that autumn and attracted an enthusiastic band of volunteers.  Visits to record offices and oral history training were arranged and during 2017 more than 40 people were interviewed by volunteers (with more in the pipeline to come).  Other volunteers have transcribed the interviews, undertaken local history research for the website, providing the context for the interviews, and scanned in documentary material loaned for the project.”

An exhibition resulting from the project was displayed at Ham Library in April and May 2018 and will be transferring to the Museum of Richmond from April to July 2019. It showcases a tiny sample of the stories and images which have been gathered so far, showing just how much has changed in the last 80 years but also how much has been remembered and cherished.  It tells the story of Ham and Petersham through the words and pictures of those who live there.

For more information about the project, visit the Ham is Where the Heart is website.

John Foley reports on Jill’s talk

Everyone has heard of Ham House. Some know of Ham Polo. But many people may not know of the sizable district lying to the south and west of Richmond, the historic villages of Petersham and its near neighbour Ham. As Jill Lamb explained in her excellent talk on 11 March these communities are presently the subject of an ongoing Heritage Lottery-backed oral history project.

Petersham Village lies down the hill and round the corner from Richmond, separated by a most beautiful stretch of riverside and woodland below the Park and Star and Garter Hill. It is still crammed with gracious old buildings, cowering behind thick brick walls from the constant tide of commuter traffic. Nearby flows Father Thames, across the frowning northern front of Ham House, before skirting southwards towards Teddington Lock. Between the river and Richmond Park shelters Ham, the southern neighbour of Petersham. Without a local tube or railway station residents are dependent for public transport upon round-the-houses bus services, and are therefore just slightly cut off. Nevertheless local residents and former villagers have over many years formed a strong community fellowship and feeling of identity.

Apart from the aristocratic Tollemaches and Lauderdales of Ham House this lovely area has known many distinguished visitors, from Horace Walpole and the Victorian Berry sisters to Charles Dickens (he chose the Ham riverside for his tragic duel scene in Nicholas Nickleby). But it is with ordinary people that Jill Lamb’s project is concerned. Many of the voices so far recorded recall the 1940s and the early years of the War, the crump of bombs and the drone of the doodlebugs overhead. Despite the privations growing up in Ham now seems a romantic adventure. There were still unspoiled fields to roam (horse-drawn carts and ploughs were still used), and some recall animals grazing on Ham Common where children played unsupervised. There were deserted houses and gardens to explore, the gravel pits to play in, and the nearby Thames to swim in. Teddington Lock was nicknamed the Riviera! Few families owned cars and many had no bicycles. So you had to walk to the bus stop and a trip up to London seemed a major expedition. Holidays away were rare, but some remember occasional day trips to Littlehampton or Clacton. A Mars chocolate bar cut into seven slices is one memory of the years of rationing.

Local schools were often tough, but there was sport (cricket on the Common, two football teams) and the golf and tennis clubs were looked upon as marriage markets! There was bonfire night on the Common and a great annual tug-of-war, as well as Ham Fair. The Horticultural Society held a big annual show. The Scouts and Guides and youth clubs were popular. And when you left school it was still possible to find work. Nearby, too: at the Hawker Siddeley factory in north Kingston, at the Star and Garter Home, at Latchmere House (once a famous wartime interrogation centre, later a young offenders’ remand home). Many became civil servants or teachers, and not forgetting the various butchers, bakers and grocery shops, fondly remembered by many. And, as always, there were the numerous (often old) local pubs to meet in.

Later in the post-war years came new residents, bombed-out refugees, and prefabs and Council houses were built. Later again appeared the Wates estate and other modern residential developments, all built on former agricultural or waste land. Ham had a reputation in Richmond as a rather rough area, to which Richmond children shouldn’t go, but in fact enjoyed a fairly crime-free existence. But rough and tough or not, Ham and Petersham residents, despite having differences, appear to have forged an identity and proud local community spirit. The oral history project is not yet complete, and continues (it can be explored in detail online). But what a pity, one feels, that sound voice recording was not around in the 19th century – so the spoken thoughts and memories of such as Charles Dickens can now never be captured.