Local Victoriana: The Fat Berg

London 1858, The Big Stink and it was a whopper. The introduction of the flushing toilet replacing the chamber-pots that most had traditionally used.

These increased the volume of water and waste that went existing cesspit’s, these in turn overflowed into street drains, these in turn over because they also carried sewage from the factories, the slaughterhouses thus contaminating the London before plopping into the River Thames.

It was such a hot summer and summer a repulsive stench that it was decided sewers needed to be built!

Skip forward 160 years and locally (Kingston Upon Thames) near where I live Thames Water have created another Great Stink when they found a fatberg as big as a bus. The mega fatberg weighs in at 15 Tonnes, a huge ball of congealed fat and It took 10 days to remove the double-decker bus-sized lump of festering food fat mixed with sanitary wipes which formed in drains under a major road in Kingston upon Thames, London.

It does make you gag a bit, and makes me wonder what 1858 was really like!!


Local Victoriana: Kingston Slums

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was born in Kingston, it is a modern metropolis draped in many layers of British culture and history, however during the 19th Century Kingston upon Thames has an expanding population. The railway arrived in 1863 and so did the people, it population started to grow out hand.

As the population expanded which put a lot of pressure on the old medieval streets and buildings. The Horsefair in central area of Kingston became slums with multiple families  living in a single building.

There were no sewers or healthy water supplies to speak of and many of the drains were uncovered ditches (unbelievable!), these ran off into the Thames.

The Sewage from toilets or privies often drained into local cesspools,but these may well overflow polluting the surrounding area causing disease. Summer diarrhoea was common in the slums as were other deadly diseases including cholera which hit 1849, 1855 and again in 1866. Young children, the elderly or infirm could easily die which led to an outcry as the well to do clearly did not want to become infected as well.

There were two Kingston upon Thames Improvement Acts in 1855 and 1888 these started a long process of improving the public health of my birth place.

Local Victoriana: Kingston Hill

Well here’s a bit of a puzzle. I spied this recently on Kingston Hill at the Kingston Hill University, Kingston Surrey.

It looks Victorian to my eye but being no expert I wondered if anyone could shed any light upon it.

It’s a beautiful carving and too me looks like it is on the side of former stables that is now the Kingston University Law School.

The sites main building is Kenry House which was built by Earl of Dunraven, part of the Garden, a wall infact is grade II listed.

Late C18/early C19. Massive brick retaining wall originally supporting the garden
in front of Kenry House. 

Kenry was also Kenry House Hospital,

the residence of the late Lady Dunraven, was lent to the British Red Cross Society by Lord Dunraven.  It opened in January 1917 as an auxiliary military hospital to the Third London (T.F.) General Hospital, receiving a capitation rate of 6 shillings (30p) a day.  All other expenses were met by the administrator, Mrs Alexander Mackenzie. 

So clearly Kenry house above has been there since the turn of the 20th century and I would guess before by looking at the architecture of this image.

But what about the stables, any thought?

Local Victoriana: what’s a word worth?

I happened to be in my local parish church this week, it’s a good one to look around.

It’s very old and parts dating back to the 12th century.OK it is somewhat before our Victorian era but what it does have are plaques and monuments on the walls to the great and good (and wealthy probably).

Being a Christian myself I am fascinated to see how the Victorians lived out their faith, indeed some seemed to draw such deep strength from it and lived with such assuredness.

The Christian church in the Victorian Era changed, the middle classes who had become both wealthy and powerful through the industrial revolution and they like the landed gentry before them had their own value system of morals and conduct.

Catholicism was whilst generally accepted was very small and The Church of England was part of the old guard putting forward an aristocratic set of values which left this new class wanting more.

Of course nowadays some 40,000 denominations has grown from the protestant church but at the time a small stream of nonconformist denominations grew up. There was Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, Unitarian, and Quaker, all of which survive in one shape or another today.

So buildings by these denominations were being erected in order to meet the demands of the now the quickly growing populations. All these new churches and in truth they pews were probably never all filled, but there was a revival of the Christian faith which can be seen in much of the literature of the time.

“But so far was this city church languishing for the company of other churches, that spires were clustered round it . . . It would have been hard to count them fromfrom its steeple-top, they were so many. In almost every yard and blind-place near, there was a church . . . ” Charles Dickens ‘Dombey and Son.

And these Church erected remembrances with many of these denominations. The one above I spied is in memory one Rev Alfred Williams M.A former Vicar of All Saints Church who ‘entered rest on April 26th 1877 aged 58 years’, it reads:

He was preeminently a man of strong faith, fervent prayer, spirituality of mind and indefatigable zeal. Endowed with a sterling manliness of character. Free from all fear of man, singleminded in his objects and aims, of an unflinching integrity of purpose and inspired with the constraining love of Christ and a desire for The Glory of God and the salvation of souls. He was ever most unremitting and loving in His self sacrificing labours for the good of all. 

What a wonderful thing to write about someone, if someone were to write half of that about me I would be well pleased!


Local Victoriana: Surrey County Hall









It has occurred to me recently that one of the towns I live near too, Kingston-upon-Thames has some wonderful Victorian gems. So it seems like a good idea to include some of this that I can see, experience and photograph first hand!

Back in 1889 things were a changing and the Surrey County Council was in need a home. The council itself was new as South London had now become part of London proper (Surrey used to stretch up to the banks of the Thames) and it was no longer feasable for the Surrey Court of Quarter Sessions to be held at the Elephant and Castle at Sessions House as they had done for the last fifty years or so.

The question was where to relocate to. A link railway was now essential and on 15 April 1890 Kingston won the selection outflanking Guildford, Wimbledon, Epsom and Redhill.

The County Hall was built on a two acre site on what was called the Woodbines estate, Woodbines road now being the only reminder. It faced the main thoroughfare between central Kingston and Surbiton station. It was designed by Charles Henry Howel, came in at the cost £41,964 and was built by Higgs and Hill.

It is a beautiful building and has been extended to the left brilliantly and around the back to the right hideously.