A Knight’s Tale (26: Town Halls, Trams, And Trolley Buses)

We were dependent in those days on trolley buses to take us to school or the first leg of the journey to Auntie Gwen’s. From Merton’s splendid Art Deco Town Hall we would take a tram to Latimer Road, and occasionally continue along Wimbledon Broadway by tram.

Years later I was to discover that the hand carved fitted furniture for the above-mentioned building had been removed when its inside was gutted to accommodate the current Tesco supermarket. Only the facade remains. The solid oak curved fittings were transferred to the mayor’s rooms in the ’60s tower block that now houses council offices. Needless to say they fitted in neither sense of the word.

It is perhaps no coincidence that I watched the removal of a splendid wood panelled staircase and its circular landing smashed up and removed from what had been my Social Services Area Office to make way for the aluminium and laminate structures of the Westminster Council Leader, Tesco heiress, Dame Shirley Porter’s “One Stop Shop” in the 1980s. This had been a Victorian Town Hall.

Now to return to the trolley buses.

(Photo: David Bradley Online)

Trolley buses were a post tram invention, utilising overhead wires providing the current which was fed to the buses through long connecting rods.  These were much longer than the links used by today’s Intercity trains.  Much delight was taken by all us children when the rods became dislodged.  It was a major undertaking to reposition them, which was an entertainment in itself, and, of course, if it happened at the right time and in the right direction, the bus couldn’t take us to school.  In modern football parlance I’d say that was a result.

These buses ran along Worple Road, providing a transport link between Wimbledon and Raynes Park.  Until the early 1950s Wimbledon sported both trolley buses and trams.

(Photo by Norman Hurford, 1950, scanned by Peter Brabham on Flickr.)

I am proud of a story featuring my paternal grandfather, John Francis Cecil Knight, who was walking alongside one of these open-topped vehicles during the early 20th century. A man on the upstairs deck gobbed overboard. The phlegm landed on Grandpa’s sleeve. He jumped on the tram, ran upstairs, and made the offender wipe off his deposit.

These were the days when you could freely board public transport on the move.

Trams have been widely reintroduced in England. Those between Wimbledon and Croydon make use in part of disused railway tracks.  They do not glide down Wimbledon Broadway as did the early trams of my boyhood.

In May 2012, whilst waiting on a red light at the ungated level crossing being approached by a tram in each direction I sensed that a young oriental jogger was going to continue on through the path of the trams.  She didn’t look from side to side and ignored the light.  I held up my hand indicating that she should stop. She took no apparent notice of me, glanced to her left, and ran on.  The tram that was the most dangerous missed her.  She was wearing specs with very thick lenses.  Maybe she couldn’t see.  Maybe she had confidence in her speed.



Given that such matters are never completed until they are completed, I have not mentioned the sale of my French house before. Today, however, I must give voice to it. The first signings in the final process are due to take place on 12th. The solicitor is due to sign on my behalf. To this end a document was e-mailed to me by my agent a few days ago. This contained seven errors. A corrected version was promised. I have not received it. I e-mailed the agent yesterday. She replied that the solicitor says he sent it and receipt was confirmed by my son. I left the agent two voicemail messages and an e-mail explaining that this was rubbish (one son in Australia, one in New Zealand, and another elsewhere in England). I have heard no more.

Just to complete my morning, I received a letter from NHS saying that my appointment with an eye consultant has been cancelled. Patient readers will know that a date was first fixed in November. This would not be until April. In December this was cancelled and I was given another for later this month. Today’s letter (dated 4th) doesn’t specify which appointment has been cancelled, and invites me to make another. This I could do neither on the telephone nor on line without a password which I don’t have. I was advised to contact the person who referred me. This was my GP. There is no information in the surgery after November. I was promised a call back from the GP’s secretary. It hasn’t come.

So I did some ironing, accompanied Jackie to a dental appointment, and read a book.

The book in question, which I finished later, is James Branch Cabell‘s Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice.

Soon after its publication in 1919 this humorous romp through the mediaeval period with references to Arthurian legend, and the eponymous hero’s trips to Heaven and Hell was charged with obscenity and banned in 1920 by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. The publisher, Robert M McBride and Company, brought to trial in 1922, was acquitted.

Now, there is absolutely nothing at all graphic about the original publication, which relies purely on phallic symbolism in the form of swords and lances; and such innuendo as can be gleaned from, for example, ‘exchanging pleasantries’ in the dark.

When an edition was produced containing Ray F. Coyle’s rather more suggestive illustrations in 1923, I suspect this may have been the publisher’s sweet revenge.

Like our own Aubrey Beardsley, the American Coyle died young. Beardsley was in the avant-garde of the Art Nouveau movement. This was followed by Art Deco, of which Coyle was a splendid exponent. The artist died of appendicitis soon after this work was published.


The very last word of this edition, repeated under the final illustration, is capable of two interpretations. ‘Explicit’, from the Latin, was used to indicate the closure of early books and manuscripts; modern readers will be well aware of its use to describe graphic sexual activity. Was this the author’s ultimate joke?

This evening we dined on pork, chorizo, and Jamaican pepper sausages from Hockey’s Farm shop; creamy mashed potato and swede; crisp carrots, and manges touts. I finished the Malbec



The Good Soldier


Today I finished reading

The Good Soldier frontispiece

This frontispiece contains one of Philip Bannister’s excellent illustrations.

The Good Soldier cover

Although the term was not universally adopted until 1925, the Art Deco period had already begun in France by 1915, when Ford’s novel was first published. This, I imagine, is what inspired Bannister’s front cover design.

The author begins with ‘This is the saddest story I have ever heard’, but do not despair, the book is a perfectly constructed work demonstrating profoundly insightful characterisation, well-observed description and good story-telling written in flowing prose.

I will not reveal the story save to say that as a “tale of passion” it is of the suppressed kind, and is related by a close observer of humanity who has not, himself, experienced the “magnetism and passions” of such “splendid and tumultuous creatures” as the ill-fated protagonists of “the Ashburnum tragedy”. Dowell, the narrator, is convinced that in a world stifled by “conventions and traditions”, only the “normal” survive, and no-one, even they, gets what they want in life.

I found myself wishing that Henry James, an earlier American-born writer with an equally psychological bent, who died the year after this book’s publication, could have written rather less densely, and as apparently freely as Ford.

Julian Barnes has provided an interesting introduction to my Folio Society edition.

The Good Soldier illustration
The Good Soldier illustration

Here are a couple more of the illustrations.

This evening we dined at The Hare & Hounds in Sway. Jackie’s starter was prawn cocktail,


mine was whitebait in beer batter, served with brown bread and butter and salad.

Fish and chips

We both enjoyed fish and chips as a main course,

and neither of us could manage a dessert. Jackie drank Amstel, and I drank Ringwood’s best.


Shadows on lawn
As the morning stretched out, so did the shadows cast on the lawn by the climbing sun whilst we pottered about inside prior to a trip to Christchurch.
After lunch we drove to Curry’s/PC World just outside Christchurch to investigate the possibilities of buying a new laptop and giving my old one a good clean up. Yesterday I had discovered that I can exchange my NatWest Your Points for vouchers to be used in this store. I have more than enough for a Windows laptop, but nowhere near sufficient for a Mac Book. The vouchers are in the post, so I have deliberation time. The old laptop has been left for the clean. The reason I want a new one is that the old Toshiba dates from the days before built-in card readers, and I’d like to be able to simply slip the card from my camera into the device when I am not near my iMac.
We then wandered around the town.Crocuses On this fine springlike day crocuses brightened the Priory car park, where we must have secured the last available parking spot.Christchurch priory As we left our car, the view of the Priory Church was blocked by a vehicle from which two women and a child were being decanted, so I waited until the man with them had driven off, no doubt in search of the advertised Mayors Mead, to photograph the people and the building.
On leaving the church precinct, my attention was drawn to an ancient ruin peering above the sloping red-tiled rooftops of the town. This Jackie knew to be the castle, so we walked round to have a look at it. Sunlight through archCastle ruinsDazzling direct sunlight striated the sward covering the mound on which this small relic stood, so I walked further into the grounds to view the castle with the sun on its back. Whilst I was doing so, my lady appeared from behind the pile, waving her arms in delight at having ascended the steep steps to her goal. The red-legged little girl who shares the shot must have raced up and down the two sets of steps at least a dozen times before settling into the stocks to have her photograph taken in them.
Jackie atop Castle ruinsrooftopsCastle arch
From the top of the mound, through the vestigial castle arches, we enjoyed interesting views of the town, in particular a fascinating display of roofing through the ages.
The New Forest PerfumeryThe town centre juxtaposes the old and the new, with many buildings, such as The New Forest Perfumery, having changed their use, no doubt on numerous occasions over the years. The Perfumery, still bearing its original sign in old script looks to be a building from the sixteenth or seventeenth century. It now houses tea rooms, as indicated by the more modern board outside. Perhaps because our house in Sigoules was built in the eighteenth century and because Patrick Suskind’s 1985 novel entitled ‘Perfume: The story of a Murderer’, is set in the France of that era, I speculated that maybe Suskind’s perfumier worked in a similar setting. The novel focusses on the sense of smell and its relationship with the emotional meaning that scents may carry. Even if the tea rooms serve a vast array of teas and coffees, I doubt that their aromas are likely to match the variety of fragrances that once permeated the fabric of the building.
Regent Centre facade
Jackie and I were immediately transported to our youth at the sight of the Regent Centre, this picture house from the brief heyday of the cinema, sandwiched between a Subway and a Poundshop. The old Regent still shows films, but is now a much broader entertainment centre. Originally opening in 1931 it operated as a cinema for just over forty years, after which it spent a decade housing Bingo. A partnership between volunteers and Christchurch Borough Council has turned it into a theatre, cinema, concert hall, studio and art gallery. Regent CentreThis afternoon there were a number of stalls inside, displaying jewellery, models, CDs and DVDs among other articles for sale. Tables and chairs for takers of tea lined the entrance hall. The building is well maintained, and retains its Art Deco style.
This evening we dined on mushroom omelette also containing onions, garlic, and a dash of Worcester sauce; baked gammon; fried potatoes, and baked beans. Lemon and lime jelly floating in evaporated milk was a suitable dessert. I finished the Lidl Bordeaux and Jackie saw off the zinfandel rose.