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Friends of Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery and Walpole Park

Local History 2

So Who was Walpole, Anyway?

Walpole Ward, Walpole House, Walpole Court, Walpole Cinema, Walpole Restaurant... Walpole Residents Association. The name is synonymous with our part of Ealing, but who was Walpole? Not, as some might suppose, Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister or Horace Walpole, the man of letters of Strawberry Hill nor yet Sir Hugh Walpole, author of the Herries Chronicles.
“Our” Walpole, was Spencer Horatio Walpole (1806 - 1898). He was three times Home Secretary in the mid-nineteenth century (by all accounts not a particularly distinguished one) and later took up a number of national and local positions, including chairman of the Great Western Railway. Lots of people wrote to him in connection with the construction of the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition Hall, but we don’t know whether he wrote back.
Walpole’s claim to posterity lies more in his association with Ealing’s most famous politician, Spencer Perceval, the only prime minister of England to have been assassinated. He was shot in the House of Commons in 1812 by a failed businessman, John Bellingham, who was aggrieved that the British government had refused to bail him out when he was thrown into jail in Russia for bankruptcy. Perceval was living in Elm Grove by Ealing Common at the time of his death; his noted energies were paralleled in his home life – he left a widow and 12 children.
Spencer Walpole married Isabella, one of Perceval’s daughters to whom he was distantly related, hence the family name ‘Spencer’. He was also related to Admiral Nelson, hence also the ‘Horatio’. They lived at the Hall, a rather splendid building next to Pitzhanger Manor, where the West London College now stands (or does in a manner of speaking). Walpole was a trustee of the fund
Parliament had established for Perceval’s children and later arranged for Isabella’s four unmarried sisters to move next door to them at Pitzhanger Manor.
The four Perceval sisters remained unmarried, living a life of ‘quiet retirement and good works’and like Walpole they all lived to a considerable age. The two families were regarded as royalty by the citizens of Ealing for whom they must have seemed as from another age – the manor house was furnished with memorabilia from Spencer Perceval, including a rather macabre blood-stained rug on which Perceval had been laid when he was fatally shot.
When Walpole died in 1898 the Council put in train one of his cherished ideas – that after the death of the last of the Perceval sisters (Frederika, who was to die in 1900 aged 94) the manor house and park should be transferred to the Council for public use. Walpole’s eldest son (more confusion with names here, also ‘Spencer Walpole’) led the negotiations in a most genteel manner, and the house and park were sold to the Council for the princely sum of £10,000.
The only hiccup came when the Council were choosing a name for the park: they settled on ‘Perceval’ or ‘Manor’ Park. On hearing this, Spencer Walpole put his foot down: it was to be ‘Walpole’ in memory of his father. Anxious not to upset the vendor, the Council quickly agreed, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Walpole Park opened to the public in 1902 and the Public Library in the manor house the following year, leaving us just to ponder that, but for a small spat and the loyalty of Walpole’s son to his father’s memory, we might have been the ‘Perceval Residents Association’.

 “Where it will end, Heaven only knows! I tremble for the future.”: This is our man worrying about the Repeal of the Corn Laws, not about Ealing. His most famous quote. He represented the interests of the landed gentry and the protectionist conservatives. But don’t scoff – he later willed his estates to the people of Ealing, not something that one can recall happening too often in recent years.

The Early Years of Lammas Park

Although Lammas Park is regarded very much as a junior park to Walpole Park it does nevertheless have an interesting history and is in fact Ealing’s first public park. As with just about everything in Victorian Ealing the park was the brainchild of Charles Jones, the well known borough surveyor. Jones foresaw the very rapid development of the southern part of Ealing particularly with the sale of the large Ealing Park estate and the coming of the Metropolitan District Railway to South Ealing in 1883. Jones was already anticipating that the private parkland for Pitzhanger Manor could in due course be purchased and by purchasing the open space to the south a linked ‘green lung’ could be created to counter the speculative and uncontrolled building development occurring in the area.
Lammas Park was opened on 1 August 1883. The fields comprising the park were either bought from or exchanged with six different landowners – some of which occurred after the park was opened. The total cost of buying the lands was £5,100. The largest area of some 17 acres (out of about 25 acres) was bought for the princely sum of £1,775 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners who had responsibility for the old manorial lands owned by the Bishop of London in Ealing. However this land was sold ‘subject to lammas rights of ratepayers and all rights of common or past useage’.Lammas rights are the rights to graze livestock on the land between Lammas Day (1st August) and Candlemas Day (1st February). The survival of this ancient right presented a problem for the Ealing Local Board and was probably not helped by the fact that in the early years the park was not fenced in. Thus local people were free if they wished to bring their cattle and sheep into the park. In the first week of the opening the Middlesex County Times reported ‘A Serious Occurrence!’ when a Mr Godfrey of Ranelagh Road in taking his first walk in the park was attacked by a cow.
The problem of extinguishing the lammas rights went on for a number of years; a committee was formed to represent the rights of the lammas users and eventually a declaration was sought from a Chancery court judge who in 1892 determined that the Local Board could extinguish the lammas rights by paying a sum of £2,156 divided amongst all freeholders, copyholders and ‘certain’ leaseholders in the parish. The Local Board duly paid this and the park then became free of the lammas rights. The property prices seem astonishing today but the fact of the council rebating money to the ratepayers now seems positively bizarre!

One of the early attractions of the park was the bandstand shown here in an old postcard. Newspaper reports indicate the band concerts in the evening were not of particularly high musical quality but this was more than compensated for by the setting. This was before Northfields had been built upon, so attendees were able to view the setting sun in the west over open country towards the Brent Valley and what was quaintly called ‘the Osterley Heights’. In due course the view was lost and the band no longer played but the bandstand remained as a public shelter right until 1975 when it was finally demolished. Can anyone work out where it was?

Paul Fitzmaurice

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