Talk by Charles Pineles (joint event with the Museum of Richmond) on the social history of Queen’s Road, Richmond

Date(s) - Monday 9 March 2020
8:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Duke Street Church

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Charles Pineles, a trustee of the Museum of Richmond, talked to us about the historic residents of Queen’s Road, Richmond and what their lives can tell us about social change in the local area. His talk was developed in connection with an exhibition by the Museum of Richmond.

The Museum of Richmond Is closed during the pandemic lockdown but you can tour its current exhibition on Queen’s Road  “virtually” on your computer, and for further and fuller information we heartily encourage you to do so!

John Foley reports on Charles’ talk  

For centuries, It was just a country track meandering over a hill of rolling fields, notorious for its marshy bogs, in which cattle were known to sink, with barely a habitation in sight. Some called it The road over Pesthouse Common. After Queen Victoria came to the throne it was named Queen’s Road, and it acquired its genteel modern appearance in the High Victorian age of prosperous middle-class residential development

Charles Pineles began his story back in the 14th century and explained the reasons why the social scene in England changed so much from that time. In relatively quick succession there was climate change, when Europe steadily became colder, requiring more food, fuel and clothing at a time of famine when crop yields fell. The feudal system of land ownership came under increasing pressure, a situation made worse by the start of the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453) with France. The English king, Edward III (1327–1377) needed soldiers and funds to pay his armies, in turn resulting in tenants of land being required to pay cash rent rather than supply labour services as before. Then in 1348 the feared bubonic plague struck, causing widespread death. In Shene (today’s Richmond), half the population died from it,. There was thus a shortage of labour, but there were also huge opportunities for those who survived in this new money-rent economy.

One of the newer established landowners on Richmond Hill was the Guildford family, and its most successful and influential member was Sir Henry Guildford, a contemporary and confidante of Henry VIII (1509–1547). Having inherited from his father a virgate of land adjoining the track (20 acres), Guildford retained the king’s favour to the end, being successively Master of the Horse, Controller of the Household and a Knight of the Garter.

The seventeenth century records the existence of a windmill and of taverns, “The Punchbowl” and “The Star and Garter”. More sinister was the  allocation of land  to comply with royal decree for reception of  plague victims (remember 1665!),known as Pesthouse Common, A century later, in 1787, Richmond Workhouse was built  on land nearby, once visited informally by George III, and still a feature to be spotted today (but now exclusive residential accommodation).

The Queen’s Road we would recognise started to appear with the building in 1850 of Park Villas by the architect T N  Reeve – in Dutch style, with very handsome and commodious accommodation for wealthy  middle-class and upper-class families, with up to eight bedrooms, internal WC (!) and ample room for servants. The Dowager Lady Pottinger moved into numbers 35/37 with her granddaughter Ethel who was eventually to marry a baronet. Meanwhile the middle classes, encouraged by the availability of (new) railway travel, encouraged development of  the remainder of the Hill.

Some may not know of the existence of the handsome late Victorian Neo-Gothic-style Wesleyan Institution (now used by the American University in London), nor the remarkable recent late twentieth-century ground-breaking Queen’s Road Estate built  on former derelict land. They may not know either that In the Second World War a remarkable foreign refugee from Hitler living in Queen’s Road was Raimund Pretzel, a Berlin lawyer and  journalist  for The (London) Observer, whose  writing  under the penname Sebastian Haffner  provided  a  devastating  commentary on Nazi Germany..