Posts Tagged ‘Old Etonians’

Hackney Wick Allotments

Saturday, January 2nd, 2021

Allotments, Waterden Rd, Hackney Wick, Hackney, 1983 36o-15_2400

One story is that some time in the late 1870s boys in the King’s College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor, the chapel of Eton School were visited by an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary which led them to set up a charitable settlement in Hackney Wick, then one of the most deprived areas of London. It was a time when other similar settlements were being set up elsewhere in the capital and the history of St Mary of Eton states that “In 1880, William How, Bishop of Bedford, persuaded the masters and boys of Eton College to establish a mission and support a priest in … Hackney Wick.”

The Grade II* listed church of St Mary of Eton with St Augustine, according to the listing text “was built 1890-2 to the designs of George Frederick Bodley, under the title Bodley and Garner. Enlarged 1910-12 at the west end, with vestries and tower added by Cecil Hare, Bodley’s successor.” This also calls William How “first Bishop of Wakefield”. The St Augustine was added to its title when parishes were combined in 1953.

Allotments, Waterden Rd, Hackney Wick, Hackney, 1982 32z-53_2400

As well as providing a church there were other buildings used for various clubs and actitivites, including a Boys Club was established by the mission in 1880 and various sporting activities including the Eton Mission Rowing Club founded in 1885. Many Old Etonians came to support the mission, including Gerald Wellesley, a grandson of the Duke of Wellington, who together with Alfred Ralph Wagg, Sir Edward Cadogan and Arthur George Child-Villiers, in 1909 set up an Old Boys’ Club independent of the Mission. Various other clubs were formed as subsidiaries to this, including a short-lived ‘Junior Bachelors’ Club’ which rewarded members with four trips a year for promising they would not ‘walk out with young ladies’. As most who joined failed to keep their promise the club was soon abandoned.

The Bridge over the River Lea to Manor Gardens allotments. 2007

During the First World War there were shortages of food due to the torpedoing of British merchant ships bringing provisions from the colonies, and the club made parts of 30 acres of land across the River Lea from Hackney Wick, in Leyton available to club members as allotments. By the 1920s the main figure in the Eton Manor clubs was Major Villiers, a director of Barings bank, and one of the allotment gates I photographed in 1982 has the notice ‘Major A Villiers Gardening Club Private’ on it. The second pleads ‘Please Leave The Old Age Pension Plots Along You May Get Old One Of Thes Days’ – the Old Boys had grown very old over the years. Major Villiers lived in a house on the Eton Manor Boys Club sports grounds, known as the Wilderness on Ruckholt Rd and Temple Mill Lane from 1913 until his death in 1969 but decided in 1967 to close the club.

One of the 80 plots at Manor Gaardens. 2007

One of these allotment areas, reached by a bridge on a road leading over the River Lea was the Manor Gardens Allotments, and this continued to be a thriving community there until it was evicted in 2008 when its land was taken for a path in the London 2012 Olympic site. The allotment holders put up a strong fight to be allowed to remain in situ, but although the land they were on was not a vital part of the site, they very much represented an activity which the promoters of elite sports felt was undesirable. They had to go, along with the pylons and Hackney Wicks vibrant graffiti in a tidying up of the area which left it sterile – and from which it is only now beginning to recover some atmosphere.

2007

Manor Gardens put up a strong fight to remain, enlisting the support of many celebrities (though unfortunately the links with Eton had long disappeared or they might have been more successful.) I paid a number of visits to the allotments and various events they organised. The colour pictures heres are from their New Year Feast in January 2007, which included a runner with a mock Olympic flame who lit the bonfire, several celebrity speeches, an exhibition and a party.

A runner stands ready with the ‘Olympic Flame’. 2007
and uses it to light the bonfire. 2007
And the party continues. 2007

For those of us concerned about the environment (and there are now rather more than when the 2012 Olympics were being planned) the failure to preserve the Manor Gardens allotments was a real missed opportunity. It could have been seen as a golden opportunity to give the games some green credibility behind the lip-service the bid gave to biodiversity and sustainability, and certainly as a commitment to the post-2012 legacy of the games – to leave sites such as Manor Gardens and the adjoining nature reserve as a green centrepiece to the site. Unfortunately the architects and developers seem hell-bent to create a brown Olympics, creating an irredeemably distressed site that will only be economically recoverable when all the concrete has crumbled.

It would be a great shame to lose this splendid facility for four weeks of use in 2012, when it could easily be built around. It isn’t in a critical area but will simply be under concrete as a footpath, and probably also the site of a huge advertising ‘scoreboard’ for the games sponsor.

What will it say about the 2012 Olympics for a site that is currently a beacon for healthy green eating to be used for selling big macs?

New Year Feast – Manor Garden Allotments

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.