Blackmore's Grove

From The Teddington Society Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

This page is part of the Directory of Buildings of Townscape Merit (BTMs) and Listed Buildings in Teddington assembled by the Planning and History Groups of The Teddington Society. You can view Blackmore's Grove on Google Maps.

This road was originally known as Field Lane. "It was an ancient trackway leading to the South field and the bronze age barrow." It was re-named Blackmore's Grove presumably after the death of R.D. Blackmore (1825-1900), known mainly as the author of "Lorna Doone" and other writings, who owned a large plot of land between the railway, Bridgeman Road and possibly as far as Udney Park Road where he grew pears and other fruit.

The Teddington Society History Group 1970s Survey wrote that Blackmore had built and lived in a house he called Gomer House and "After his death his two nieces, who cared for him after the death of his wife, continued to live in his house but sold some of the land and orchards." A public pathway (the ancient trackway) had run through Blackmore's land from Bridgeman Road towards Bushy Park. After the coming of the railway a pedestrian footbridge was built as a continuation of Field Lane. Soon after Blackmore's death the pathway was developed into Blackmore's Grove. These properties lie within the Blackmore's Grove Conservation Area No. 39.

The properties in this road designated by the Council on their website as Buildings of Townscape Merit are:

Who was Blackmore? See below from Ken Howe:-

R.D. BLACKMORE (1825 – 1900)

"Who wrote Lorna Doone ?" asked the keen young teacher. "R.D. Blackmore !" replied the class as one. "What else did he write ?" asked the teacher, capitalising on the former question. Deafening sound of silence from the class.

This sums up the average knowledge of Blackmore. Most people know of him as the author of Lorna Doone but few people can name another of his fourteen novels, let alone that he ran a market garden in the centre of Teddington for forty plus years. Most impressions of him are of an anti-social humourless recluse, locked into his own estate and dealing with outsiders in a fairly grumpy manner.

Whilst there is some truth in this, he did not receive a kind deal of the cards when he was born. His elder brother had died two years before his birth and his mother and her twin sister were taken off in an outbreak of typhoid when he was only four months old. He moved around the family until his father remarried and he moved back home in 1831. This only lasted a couple of years before he and his brother went to boarding school in Bruton, Somerset and after that to Blundell's School in Tiverton. Here he fell foul of the fagging system and was badly bullied by Frederick Temple, a future Archbishop of Canterbury. This took the form of striking Blackmore around the head with a brass-headed hammer, a treatment that was to bring about epilepsy and upset the balance of his life.

Despite all this, he went on to Exeter College, Oxford, where he gained a Second Class degree in Classics and joined the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple to pursue a career in law. However the deterioration in his health, which had already denied him a First Class degree, struck again in 1854. He wrote to a friend "ill health drove me from chamber practice; my once excellent health has become impaired. My medical advisor said I would have to give up my profession, seek an outdoor employment or die young. As I was unwilling to depart just then, I took his advice."

Blackmore was twenty-nine, recently married to Miss Lucy Maguire and unemployed. He answered the advertisement for a Classics Master at Wellesley House Grammar School in Twickenham and set up home in a "comfortable villa" at 25 Lower Teddington Road, Hampton Wick. He did not take to teaching particularly well but the walk to and from Twickenham every day gave him the exercise his doctor recommended. He also published his first book of poems Poems by Melanter and made a lifelong friend of the headmaster, Thomas J Scale.

After two years, he received some life changing news that his favourite uncle, Rev Henry Hey Knight, had died and left Blackmore a considerable legacy. This would enable him to fulfil a lifelong ambition to "become a gardener and horticulturist" specialising in the growing of pears. By coincidence, he became aware of a 16 acre site in the Southfield of nearby Teddington that was for sale. Having satisfied himself that the soil was suitable for his purposes, he acquired the land and set about building a house for Lucy and himself. This was to be Gomer House, named after his favourite dog.

Unfortunately what he did not know was that the London and South Western Railway were planning their rail route from Richmond to Kingston through Teddington. They required a strip of land for this purpose and this would cut through Blackmore's 16 acres, separating a 5 acre plot to the south west from the remaining 11 acres to the north and east. What is not clear is whether LSWR beat Blackmore to the purchase of this strip as they had acquired other lands from the Manor Estate at the same time; or whether there was some sort of compulsory purchase involved taking the strip off Blackmore. Either way, he lost out and decided to dispose of the 5 acres that would be below the railway line.

This was the start of his long running feud with LSWR. He wrote to his father on 5th August 1858. "My building goes on slowly but satisfactorily. The engineer of the Menacing Railway Company was with me on Tuesday. I pointed out to him how easily they could give me the go-by which was all I wished. He paid much attention to my remarks and promised to clear me if possible." The "go-by" required was access to his garden from the south of the proposed station yard, as this was the corner to which a path led from the house. He did not get the "go-by."

Then, to his horror, he saw that the railway station was being built almost opposite to Gomer House, although on the far side of the railway track, possibly as a fob to his anticipated protests. Various court cases followed over the years with the verdicts going mainly in Blackmore's favour but even in 1898, he was still grumbling about them. One would have thought that Blackmore would have seen the railway as an asset and easy means of getting his produce to the London Markets but such was his dislike of them, he continued to use his horse and cart, often driving it himself.

He does not appear to have been a very good man manager and his biography is littered with stories of sacked employees. In 1889 he had to prosecute his head gardener, Tooley, for stealing £5 worth of pears. Another employee had stated that he had seen a well-known greengrocer, Alfred Woodward, drive to Tooley's cottage and receive two large boxes of pears which he then took to his shop ion Teddington, concealed under some hay. Blackmore had then gone to the shop, purchased some of the pears and with his expert knowledge, he was able to identify the variety, which could only have come from his orchard. Tooley was given three months hard labour and Woodward was sent for trial.

It is amazing that the market garden lasted for so long as in the forty odd years he worked it, it only turned in a profit in two. "All I make with the pen, I cast away with the spade." When asked why he continued with the garden when his books were doing so well, he replied "Any ass can write novels; but to make a vine needs intellect."

He was devoted to his wife and despite his own ailments, nursed her to her last days at the end of January in 1888. On her death, his nieces, Eva and Dolly Pinto-Leite came to Teddington to keep house and look after him.

A Canadian visitor said that "I felt I was in the house of a friend" when visiting him and that the majority of people in the neighbourhood knew nothing of him. Charles Deayton, the grocer of the Broad Street said "He has dealt with me for thirty-four years but I have never been inside his garden walls." The ticket collector at the station knew him as the man who grew pears. The Coward family were close friends although declined to become Noel's godfather after the death of his godson, Russell, (Noel's brother) from meningitis. Alexander Smith had good cause to remember him as he received a public flogging at Teddington School after being caught scrumping in Blackmore's orchard.

Many other stories exist showing both sides of the man but he seems to have a troubled soul for most of his life. In January 1900 he was struck down with an attack of influenza and passed away on 20th whilst his nieces were reading him a story.

Unfortunately his will dictated that all letters, journals, diaries and personal correspondence were to be destroyed and this has meant that we will never know anything about the man other than being the author of Lorna Doone and operating a market garden in Teddington.

Ken Howe 10.12.13.