Monthly Archives: March 2011

Clarendon Park Lending Library

I have been having a run of good luck on Ebay this week.  My favourite item, which arrived in the post this morning, is a copy of Ernest Thompson Seton’s Old Silver Grizzle The Badger.  What makes this slightly battered edition interesting to me is that on the front is a stained, green label printed with the words CLARENDON PARK LENDING LIBRARY.  Which got me thinking about libraries in Clarendon Park.

Apologies for the terrible photo!

Knighton branch library opened on Clarendon Park Road on 9th April 1896.  In 1912 it contained upwards of 4,300 books (according to Kelly’s Directory), rising to 5,900 by 1928.  Opening hours were then 6 – 9.30pm on weeknights and 3 - 9.30pm on Saturdays, reflecting the leisure hours of Clarendon Park working folk.  The Chronicle reported in 1897 that Knighton library readers were more inclined to read “serious” books, especially theology and philosophy, and there were more adult readers than at other branches.  It was abundantly supplied with daily papers and periodicals.  18,000 books were issued in the first year, making it a great success.  A separate table was kept for ladies, and another for boys.  Very sensible.  Ladies and boys just don’t mix, do they?

Many towns and villages had private lending libraries, often operating from small shops.  In Victorian times the cost of books was so high in proportion to incomes, that most people could not afford to buy them and so used a private lending library, at least until the municipal ones were established.  Quite a few were organised by churches, such as St Philips in Evington, where the vicar “put by” 300 or so books and started one for the poor of his parish (no doubt of an improving nature).  Some were established in village halls and schools.  Some of these were free, and some were paid for by subscription or by individual book borrowed.  Both kinds could have flourished in Clarendon Park, with its mix of wealthier middle class and very humble working class people.

None of which brings me much closer to finding out about Clarendon Park Lending Library.  I’m pretty sure I came across a reference to it in a city directory at the county archive…..but I won’t get a chance to check until next week.  Oh, and Catherine Hayes, of The Pebbles, Burmarsh circa 1982 with the red felt tip pen – you are a naughty girl for writing in your books!  Regards, Elizabeth.

Furiously driving three horses and an omnibus on the London Road

A theme is developing as I look at old newspapers to find criminal and delinquent Clarendon Park dwellers.  That theme is Avenue Road Extension.  Now I realise that it’s a long road…but the former inhabitants take up more than their fair share of column inches.

Take this case of a speeding driver on the London Road in 1893.  Benjamin Garner, aged 45, who lived at 67 Avenue Road Extension, was summoned for ” furiously driving three horses and an omnibus on the London-road”  on the 31st of January.  Benjamin was a bus proprietor.  He had a wife (Fanny) and children Walter, Benjamin, Annie, Harry and shortly afterwards Ernest  to support.  Perhaps that was why he was speeding; to get as much work as possible.

Benjamin had started off as a plasterer, but sometime between 1881 and 1887 he started a shop at Edward Road (off Montague Road).  He also kept a wagonette.  By 1891 he and his family had moved to Avenue Road Extension and Benjamin concentrated solely on his omnibus and wagonette driving business.  As they got older children Walter and Benjamin worked for their father as bus conductors.  Walter went on to start a hardware shop in Twycross Street, later joined by his brother Harry.

Benjamin retired late in the 1910s, not before having branched out to give riding lessons.  I wonder if any of his pupils knew that he had been up in court for reckless driving?  As for the punishment, he was ordered to pay costs.  Furiously driving up the London Road these days would more likely land you with points on your driving license, if indeed it was possible to drive faster than 9mph due to traffic.  Regards, Elizabeth.

The First Baptisms at St John the Baptist, Clarendon Park

Last week I began transcribing the baptisms that have taken place at St John the Baptist church from the very first one until some unspecified time (until I go mad and blind from microfiche reader overuse, probably).  It’s going to take me a long time.  In its first year of active service (geddit, service…) the font – designed and donated by the architect who designed the church - was used in 30 baptisms.  Soon after there were well over 50 christenings a year, as Clarendon Park built up and more and more people moved in.

The imposing font

I have only managed the first five years so far (over 270 baptisms) but it has been interesting to look at the database.  One thing that has particularly fascinated me is the way that neighbours seemed to get their children baptised all at the same time.  So no one in Montague Road, for instance, would be christened for several months…and then all of a sudden three or four families would appear within a week or so.  This happened so many times that it can’t be a coincidence.  I did wonder whether the curate was doing his rounds and telling off the residents for not having their children baptised quickly enough!

There are many occasions where entire families were baptised together, adults included.  It was certainly common for all the children to be baptised on one day – from teenagers to new babies.  On 6th July 1885 Ellen (10), John William (5), Annie (3) and Ethel Elizabeth (1) Stapleford, of Queens Road, were baptised together.  I wonder whether it was the excitement of being amongst the first to be baptised at the new church that encouraged so many?

The very first baptisms took place on 5th October 1885.  The children were William Harper, Beatrice Onion and Alice Muddimer, all of Avenue Road Extension and all just two or three months old.  One of these days I plan to write a little biography of each - if indeed any of them survived to adulthood.  Sadly I recognise many, many names in my baptisms database who went on the appear shortly afterwards in my database of the burials at St Mary Magdalene, Knighton.  Such was the reality of childhood in Victorian times.  Both my boys were baptised in the same beautiful font and I am so grateful that their life chances are better in every sense.

If you would like me to look up a baptism in my database then please let me know.  I have only reached 1890 so far but I will keep your request on record until I get there.  I am also happy to look up Clarendon Park burials at St Mary Magdalene – my database is complete from 1887 – 1951.  Regards, Elizabeth.