john's receipt from Japan

So far we’ve resisted reading books in the library – except for those relating to local history. However today I decide to allow myself the pleasure of browsing the shelves and sitting in different places in the library to see what I see when I glance up from a page.  In this way I become part of the atmosphere of the library and I more easily catch another library user’s eye or a smile. When I do so, I tell them about Some Patterns of Current and give them a bookmark.

I speak to Amanda who says she’s in the library all the time and that she wouldn’t move anywhere that was more than five minutes from a library; and that this library is a fantastic one. We exchange words at one of the mantelpieces where new books are displayed.

By the computers I speak to Dave who is also a regular. Then I become involved – along with Soli – in trying to help an elderly gentleman in a distinctive blue cap change his Hotmail password. In one of those maddening online loops of daily life, he can’t seem to request a new password until 29 days from now – and he wants to change it today as he thinks his email may have been hacked. Afterwards I talk to Soli who says he’s in every day to update and register his job-seeking activities. Soli is intrigued when I tell him what we’ve begun to find out about the history of the building – he’s certain that this will be interesting to other library users as he himself had no idea about the names on the blue plaque outside the library.

This confirms what we have been thinking, and makes me ponder our conversation with local historian John Sheaf who very generously agreed that Becky and I might meet with him to ask both about the library, and more generally about the history of Hampton.

We went to meet him at his home, little expecting that we were visiting a place which was itself full of history.  John’s house, which dates from approximately 1548, is three bays of a five-bay, timber-post building, (from a time when a bay was a measurement based on the width of a horse and cart). Its early life was as a pub called The Feathers, and John tells us a story of how in the 18thCentury Dr Johnson, (who was friends with local writer and actor David Garrick), once borrowed some money from the landlord of The Feathers which he never repaid. This debt, which by association discredited Garrick, caused a rift between the two friends.

There were many other intriguing things that John recounted to us and which relate to our gathering of ideas – not least the fact that 40% of London’s water supply still comes out of the Thames at or around Hampton. This is because of an 1852 act that forbad the taking of tidal water from the Thames. The limit of the tidal Thames is at Teddington and the first bit of nearest land is Hampton. Because of this, three huge water works were built in Hampton during the 1850’s supplying hundreds of jobs as well as burning over a hundred tonnes of coal a day.  On our second day at the library, whilst taking a walk, we had glimpsed an incredibly elaborate, tiled interior of one of these  – the Southwark and Vauxhall waterworks  – which happens to be currently under re-development.

vauxhall water works

The flow of the river meandered its way through our conversation, which included:

Taggs Island and its lagoon

Fred Karno and his Karsino Hotel – built in 1913, ‘the most sumptuous hotel in Europe’! (More about that in another post…)

The Astoria, Fred Karno’s 90ft houseboat (now a sound studio owned by Dave Gilman from Pink Floyd)

Susanna Thomas (died 1731) a local wealthy woman whose fine marble monument caused the protagonist of Jerome K Jerome’s ‘Three Men In A Boat’ to break his journey at Hampton in order to see it.

The 1986 fire at Hampton Court

The 2008 fire at Garrick’s house

Becky asks John if he has a favourite story about Hampton and unexpectedly John relates how in 1993 he went to Japan on business. He was there for 12 days.

Since this was before the Internet, John went to the trouble of getting hold of a book describing where the second-hand bookshops were in Tokyo. On the weekend of his trip he went to this area and made his way from shop to shop. When he was in the very last bookshop he looked for the shelf labelled English books, as he had done in every other shop. There was one book on this shelf – a history of Newcastle.

Slightly disappointed, but satisfied that he had exhausted all possibilities, he was just on his way out of the shop when his attention was caught by a shelf labelled ‘Miscellaneous’. He noticed a book with black leather binding with gold tooling on it. John describes how he suddenly began to shake and immediately put his hand out to the book, which had ‘Hampton-upon-Thames’ written on its spine. As he opened the book he saw that it said ‘South View of Hampton-upon-Thames’.  Perhaps only John would know the significance of this because in fact the building in which he lives was first called South View and the book turned out to be a history and topography of Hampton, published in 1883, and written by a writer called Henry Ripley who himself used to live in John’s house. Moreover this was a copy of the book that Ripley presented to his son in John’s very house. John’s face lights up as he emphasizes the enormity of the coincidence: he found the book during his only trip to Japan, in the last bookshop he went into, placed on the wrong shelf!

We look at the book for a while and its receipt, which John has still kept. Enjoying this moment of serendipity, I tell John that for seven years as a teenager I used to live over the other side of Hampton – about two miles away in a street called Graham Road. And that in fact, the library project caused me to return to the area for the first time since I lived here. Ah, Graham Road next to Winifred Road, John says. I agree and then he tells us how Winifred Graham was a notorious local authoress.

John doesn’t rate her writing, but on getting back home both Becky and I search online and find that her full name was Matilda Winifred Muriel Graham and that she published rather a number of books in the early part of the 20th Century with intriguing titles such as Fame and Shame,Observations, Casual and Intimate, and More Letters from Heaven – Being Messages From The Unseen World Given In Automatic Writing to Winifred Graham. Prejudiced against both German nationals and Mormons, Graham’s 1911 novel, The Love Story of A Mormon was made into a silent film in 1922 re-named as Trapped by the Mormons. The film was directed by a Lancastrian director called HB Parkinson. He has fifty-four film credits to his name on IMDB.

Becky immediately orders a copy of More Letters from Heaven … …..