Monday, December 21, 2020

'Run down' to Putney (Walking with Swinburne)

Donald Thomas, Swinburne: The Poet in his World, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979, P.201 (1879)

Watts-Dunton had suggested to Swinburne a ‘run down’ to Putney for the sake of his health, and had carried him off to his sister’s house, Ivy Lodge, WerterRoad*, off the High Street… There followed the invigorating morning drives to the windmill** on Wimbledon Common, until the poet’s strength had returned sufficiently for him to accomplish the journey on foot. At the same time, Watts-Dunton, with the eye of a born businessman, had noticed a number of handsome villas, large and semi-detached, being built in the neighbourhood. He took a twenty-one-year lease on a spacious new house of this type at the foot of Putney Hill - No. 2 The Pines. Swinburne was to be his sub-tenant.

**(The Windmill has been a distinctive landmark since it was built in 1817 to serve the local community. However it only operated until 1864, when the machinery was removed and it was converted to residential accommodation. In 1976 the first floor was opened as a museum, and this was extended to the whole building in 1998.)

*Ivy Lodge Werter Road Putney. See p23 The Pines by Mollie Panter Downes.

Posted by John Dunn.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Swinburne walks in living memory (Walking with Swinburne)

From Jean Overton Fuller, Swinburne: A Critical Biography, Chatto & Windus, 1968, p.287

In Putney he became a familiar figure. Dr. H. Gordon Smith, who lived as achild on the Upper Richmond Road, about a hundred yards from The Pines, had constant occasion to observe him, as ‘every morning he emerged from The Pines to go up Putney Hill… He had gingerish whiskers. His suit was plain black and he wore a pork-pie hat similar to those worn by parsons of that day. His gait was peculiar; he strutted like a robot with his arms hanging rigidly at full length. He looked straight in front, appearing to notice nothing or nobody’.

Mr. William Reader, as a boy, used to help the milkman with his deliveries, and it was on what was called the ‘pudding-round’, between 10 and 11, that he always saw Swinburne as he walked across Putney Heath and Wimbledon - in the same black suit and hat, needless to say- ‘with his hands in his jacket pockets and his head thrust forward’, on the way to his favourite pub.

Nearer to his destination, he was witnessed by Mr. W. J. S. Neale, whose father was a coachman at Richmond House,* Parkside, ‘with fully extendedarms and fingers slightly swinging on either side of his body. …My elders used to state that, because of his regular movements, it was safe to set one’s watch by his appearances’. On one occasion, as this child and his mother were walking down Putney Hill, they met Swinburne, and ‘He suddenly stepped in front of myself, placed one hand on each of my cheeks and held my face, for what seemed to be some minutes. Then, stepping aside, he raised his dark coloured, large trilby hat, and proceeded on his journey in silence’.

P. 291

(Overton-Fuller writes of a Mrs Yglesias, who was still living on Putney Hill at the time the biography was being written. It was published in 1968.)

(Amongst other comments, Mrs Yglesias told Overton-Fuller about how Swinburne) had long conversations with her husband’s mother, sitting on a bench by the windmills, on Wimbledon Common, where he would rest for a while his morning journey to the Rose and Crown.

She (Mrs Yglesias) sometimes heard his visits to the Rose and Crown referred to in an odd tone; yet she never saw him drunk. He appeared to be in good health; as indeed, he must have been to walk right up Putney Hill and across the Heath and Common, and then back, every day. It was a very considerable walk for anybody, let alone a man of over seventy.

*(Richmond House was the second house north of Inner Park Road on Parkside.)
(Now replaced by flats.)

Posted by John Dunn.

Longer Swinburne walks (Walking with Swinburne)

St Mary's Barnes 1888 engraving

 Philip Henderson, Swinburne: The Portrait of a Poet, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974, P.237

But every day now, wet or fine, he left The Pines at eleven o’ clock for his morning’s walk across Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common, his destination The Rose and Crown Tavern - ‘Pelting along as fast as I can go’ with his quick, springy steps, he became a well-known figure in his wide-brimmed black felt hat and frock coat. There was something a little odd and mechanical in his movements. If he met anyone he knew on his walks, he would not appear to recognise them. At the Rose and Crown in Wimbledon High Street he was equally anxious to preserve his privacy and took his beer alone in the coffee Rome. Should anyone come in while he was there, he immediately escaped to the landlord’s private room or, if he had nearly finished his bottle, he would get up and bolt into the High Street, where he stopped at the Misses Frost’s stationers’ and book-sellers’ shop at the corner of the Ridgeway to buy a daily paper or a further supply of the blue foolscap he always used for writing. Sometimes a celebrity-hunter would recognise him and try to engage him in conversation. When this occurred, after a freezing glance at the intruder, he would escape into the Misses Frost’s private room until the coast was clear. He had extra large pockets made in his coat, which he called ‘poacher’s pockets, to hold any books he had ordered, and these had to be made to balance equally on each side of him before he set off on his return journey.

… Sometimes Swinburne would vary his walk by going along the Richmond Road to the Mortlake Arms and then across Barnes Common as far as Barnes Green and the church - a considerable walk. In those days, of course, this area was almost rural. Barnes was a village - as it is still to some extent - and there was practically no traffic, except for an occasional cart and horse, carriage or pony-trap, and the odd rider on his or her way to Richmond Park. Walking there could still be a pleasure, and Priory Lane, leading to the park from the Richmond Road, was still a country lane, bordered on the one side by the Beverley Brook and on the other by a few large houses and extensive market-gardens.

Posted by John Dunn.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Swinburne's constitutional (Walking with Swinburne)



The Rose and Crown, Wimbledon

Clara Watts-Dunton, The Home Life of Swinburne, A. M. Philpott, London, 1922


pp. 93-5

Swinburne's daily walk across the Common to Wimbledon and back has been done to death. Every yard of the way has been described; and, indeed, stretches of the heath which were not included in his itinerary have been ‘written up' and photographed. Imaginative writers have boldly identified his favourite spots. But these enthusiasts have, as a rule, ended their narratives at the very point where cynics might suppose the human interest of the story to begin, namely, the village of Wimbledon itself. For the limit of Swinburne's walk was the old-fashioned inn known as ‘The Rose and Crown.': Elsewhere I have described one of my walks with the poet over his beloved common, with the remarks he made to me on his favourite trees. Here I follow him to his favourite inn, and to the shop at which he bought a daily paper and sometimes ordered, from a catalogue, some rare old book which the owner of the shop would procure for him. At both the inn and the shop Swinburne's memory is still cherished with affectionate reverence.

Visitors will find the exterior of ‘The Rose and Crown’ exactly as it was in the poet's day. The interior has, alas! been altered out of recognition. I shudder to think what the effect on Swinburne would have been had the architectural transformation been effected in his time. The cosy little ‘coffee room' which he entered from the street has disappeared, and with it has disappeared the chair in which he always sat. But it is in safe keeping; and I just loved the widow of the late landlord when she told me that she would not part with it for any sum that might be offered.

When once Swinburne had established himself as a daily customer at ‘The Rose and Crown’ he was spared the usual formality of ordering. From the bar his entry was noted. They had been keeping a look-out for him, and a waiter ‘entered from without’ bearing a bottle of Bass with a replica of the peculiarly thick tumbler which the Bard used at home. It is related, with a note of tragedy in the recital, how this sacred beaker, which was kept for his use, was smashed by a careless barmaid. Unfortunately there was not another such glass in the house. Swinburne was greatly ‘put out’ by the accident. He did not relish his Bass from any other vessel; was moody and silent during his stay, leaving the place abruptly after but a very short rest. Happily, on the same afternoon a stock of tumblers like that which had been broken was procured, and from the morrow until the end the poet was provided with the vessel that he preferred.

The cosy little apartment which he used was not much frequented during the time of his visit; but it was not, of course, a private room, and a stray visitor would sometimes enter it while the poet was in possession. Then one of two things happened. If Swinburne had nearly finished his bottle, he would get up and disappear into the village High Street. If, on the other hand, he had only just begun to refresh himself, he would seek sanctuary in the landlord's private room. As all his movements were watched by the host or his assistants with a really pious solicitude, he would immediately be followed to his retreat by a servant bringing with him the bottle and the glass which the poet had abandoned in the ‘Coffee Room…' 


…A little higher up the village High Street he came, during his first exploratory ramble, on the shop of a bookseller and stationer. Here he established himself on an excellent footing with the proprietress, and here, for thirty years, he repaired every week day of his life while he was living at Putney to buy newspapers. Books he also bought here, and, in December, Christmas


…Sometimes the Wimbledon purchases grew to a considerable bulk. Swinburne in a book-seller's was something like a schoolboy in a tuck-shop. Temptation was on all sides of him, and he found it irresistible. For the carriage of his treasures he had two very large pockets in his coat. We called them his " poacher-pockets." One of the self-imposed duties of the kindly bookseller at Wimbledon was to see that these poacher-pockets balanced nicely. The poet himself was not deft in stowing away his purchases ; and with one heavy pocket weighing down on one side and a light one on the other, the walk home across the Common would have been fatiguing even to such an excellent pedestrian.

I can fancy him now, impatient but tractable, as he stands while the adjustment of the parcels is proceeded with, his relief when the balance is decided to be "just so," his courtly bow on departure and his quick, springy walk home across the Common.

Posted by John Dunn.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Swinburne walking (Walking with Swinburne)

Algernon Charles Swinburne, in the last year of his life. Oil on canvas by Robert M.B. Paxton, 1909.

From E. Gosse, The life of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Macmillan, London, 1917, pp. 247-8

His days were divided with an almost mechanical precision. Swinburne was never an early riser, but towards the middle of every morning, no matter what the weather, he went out for a long walk, generally in the one direction up Putney Hill and over the Heath, but sometimes along the Richmond Road to the Mortlake Arms and then through Barnes Common as faras Barnes Green and the Church. For many years he was a constant visitor at the shop of the Misses Frost, at the corner of Ridgeway and High Street, going into Wimbledon ; from these ladies he regularly bought his newspapers and ordered his books, and their house was the bourne of his walk in a southerly direction. Very seldom he crossed the river northwards into London.

In storm and rain, always without an umbrella, the little erect figure, with damp red curls emerging from under a soft felt hat, might be seen walking, walking, “pelting along all the time as fast as I can go,” so that he became a portent and a legend throughout the confines of Wandsworth and Wimbledon. He always returned home a little while before the mid-day luncheon, or dinner; andat 2.30, with clock-work regularity, he “disappeared to enjoy a siesta,” which sometimes lasted until 4.30. Then he would work for a while, and Watts-Dunton reported to Mr. Wise that in the afternoon he often sat in his study on the ground floor, and “heard Swinburne in his own room overhead walking round and round the floor for ten minutes at a time, composing, and then silence would fall for five minutes while Swinburne was writing down the new stanza or sentence, and then the promenade would begin again as before.” The rest of the day was mostly spent among his books, which were not only numerous, but included many that were choice and rare.