It makes me wryly smile
Looking upon a sundial
For, if clouds the sky fill
Then time must stand still
It makes me wryly smile
Looking upon a sundial
For, if clouds the sky fill
Then time must stand still
WE ASKED FIVE PEOPLE within less than five minutes and not one of them could supply an answer. Like us, the people whom we asked were walking along a stretch of path beside the River Thames at Isleworth in west London. We were all passing a large white painted building set in its own extensive grounds. Clearly 19th century in architectural style and a building of some significance, not one of the locals we met had the slightest idea what the building is or was once upon a time. The edifice is located a few yards upstream from Isleworth’s London Apprentice pub and The Church of All Saints with its mediaeval tower. Returning home, I consulted an old map and discovered that the house that nobody could tell us about was once Nazareth House, which was home to a convent.
Nazareth House, the former Isleworth House, was largely rebuilt to the designs of Edward Blore (1787-1879) in 1832 (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1261093). The work was commissioned by Sir William Cooper, Chaplain to King George III. Sir William had married into the Anglo-Jewish Franks family, who had previously (during the 18th Century) owned the estate on which the house stands. Aaron Franks purchased it in 1748 (www.jtrails.org.uk/trails/richmond-and-south-west-london/places-of-interest#). The land owned by the Franks in Isleworth was next to that owned by another Jewish family, that of Moses Hart. Sir William married Isabella, daughter of Moses Franks (from America), who was closely related to his father-in-law, Aaron Franks, who had acquired the estate at Isleworth (see: Transactions [Jewish Historical Society of England] , 1953-55, Vol. 18 [1953-55],pp. 143-169). Aaron was son of Abraham Franks, a wealthy broker in the City of London and one of the first wardens of The Great Synagogue, founded in the late 1720s.
The presence of Jewish people in Isleworth during the early 19th century was not universally appreciated. James Picciotto in his “Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History” noted:
“We have read a letter written by a gentleman at Isleworth to a friend in town, in which he says that he would have found the country very pleasant had he not had the mortification of seeing the finest seats in possession of the Jews. Since the last Act – the Naturalization Bill – they had grown very familiar. The Jews had become between the wind and his nobility, and he did not like it. Let us give the concluding paragraph of his missive in his own words – ‘M-s H-t (Moses Hart) and A-n F-s (Aaron Franks) at the last vestry held here, mingled with the rest without opposition, though two clergymen and Justice B- were present. No less than a coachload of them (Jews) last Thursday assembled at a clergyman’s house near us to play cards.’”
The above-mentioned Act became law in 1753.
In contrast, the writer Sir Horace Walpole (1717-1797), who had enjoyed the family’s renowned hospitality, wrote:
“This morning I was at a very fine concert at old Franks’ at Isleworth, and heard Leoni, who pleased me more than anything I have heard these hundred years.”
Sir William (or the previous owner of his house) had had Isleworth’s Richmond Road diverted to its present location in order that it did not run between his grounds and the river. I have not yet been able to trace the story of Isleworth House between 1832 and 1892, except that it was in the possession of the Franks/Cooper family until 1862 (www.jtrails.org.uk/trails/richmond-and-south-west-london/places-of-interest#). In 1892, its name was changed to Nazareth House when it was acquired by the Poor Sisters of Nazareth and it became a convent. The Order of The Poor Sisters of Nazareth was founded in Hammersmith in the mid-19th century to care for the poor and infirm (https://londongardenstrust.org/conservation/inventory/site-record/?ID=HOU036&sitename=Nazareth+House+Convent+and+Grounds). In 1899, they built the Nazareth House Industrial School for Roman Catholic Girls and added a large red brick gothic revival chapel in 1901. The school closed in 1922 and was then used as a home for disadvantaged children, which closed in 1985. Between that year and 2002, the estate, still owned by the nuns, housed a home for elderly people.
In 2013, the disused Nazareth House estate was sold to a property developing firm, St James (https://www.mylondon.news/news/west-london-news/work-begins-homes-site-former-8887358). The house, the chapel, and several new buildings form a private gated residential community. The new development was called ‘Fitzroy Gate’ (www.berkeleygroup.co.uk/developments/london/isleworth/fitzroy-gate).
So, there you have it. I have gone some way to answering the question we asked several locals taking their daily exercise outside the large building that was formerly Nazareth House and before that Isleworth House. It might be a good thing if the local council or local history group put up an information board to describe the impressive house’s history in addition to the one, already present and close to the house that describes the former Isleworth Pottery.
THE TOWER CAN BE seen from far away. From a distance, the visitor to Old Isleworth on the River Thames might be fooled into believing that the 14th century stone square church tower topped with four pinnacles, one at each corner, is attached to an equally venerable church, but this is no longer the case. The mediaeval tower is almost all that remains of the mediaeval church of All Saints in Isleworth. It is attached to a twentieth century structure that now serves as the church. When I saw this, I wondered what disaster had befallen the rest of the original pre-20th century church.
The origin of the name Isleworth is unknown. In the Domesday Book, it is listed as ‘Gistelworde’ and Norden, writing in 1591, named it both ‘Thistleworth’ and ‘Istleworth’. Simon de Montfort (c1205-1265), who expelled the Jews from Leicester in 1231, and his barons are known to have camped in Isleworth Park in 1263. To digress, maybe, in view of his anti-Semitism, the authorities of De Montfort University in Leicester, ought to reconsider its name. Getting back to Isleworth, the Domesday Book records that there was Christian worship in Isleworth (https://allsaints-isleworth.org/about-us/church-history/) and a vicarage is mentioned in records compiled in 1290 (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol3/pp122-129). The church, whose tower is still standing, was dedicated to ‘All saints’ in 1485 and was connected to Syon Abbey, a Bridgettine establishment, founded in 1415 in Isleworth, which was disbanded by Henry VIII. Interestingly, it was in the Abbey’s chapel that the body of Henry VIII lay overnight on its journey from Westminster to St Georges Chapel in Windsor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syon_Abbey). The abbey stood where Syon House stands today.
The church is said to have been ‘very ancient’. Its chancel was rebuilt in 1398-99. By 1701, the church was in a poor condition and needed rebuilding. Christopher Wren, architect of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, was invited to redesign the church. His design was deemed to costly to be carried out and was discarded. Eventually, the churchwardens brought out Wren’s plans and modified them to make the construction of the church more economical. James Thorne, author of “Handbook to the Environs of London” (published 1876), wrote that:
“Apart from its ivy-covered tower, there could not well have been an uglier ch[urch] than that of Isleworth a few years ago…”
However, he added:
“…but it has been transformed, the windows altered, a new roof of higher pitch, and a lofty white-brick Dec. [i.e. gothic revival] chancel added, greatly to the benefit of the general effect.”
He also described many improvements to its interior and noted the existence of a fine organ built by Father Schmidt (Bernard Schmidt: c1630-1708). Alas, none of what Thorne described, apart from the tower, can ever be seen again.
Except for the tower, the church was destroyed by fire in 1943 during WW2. The fire was not the result of military activity but was caused by two young boys. These same two miscreants also set fire to Holy Trinity Church in Hounslow a few days later. This is what happened (https://stmargarets.london/archives/2013/05/fire_starter.html):
“In the early hours of Friday, 28th May 1943, All Saints Church, standing by the Thames in Old Isleworth, was destroyed by fire. The alarm was given at 2.30am by Miss Burrage who lived next door and again by Mr. McDonald, the publican of the “London Apprentice”. Against the darkness of the wartime black-out the glow of the huge fire could be seen for miles.
Three days later, on the afternoon of Tuesday 1st of June 1943, the Parish Church of Hounslow (Holy Trinity) was completely destroyed by fire. Shortly after 5.00pm smoke was reported to be issuing from the church … The police noted that an attempt had been made to open the church safe…”
Two boys, one aged 12 and the other 13, were arrested and tried at Brentford in the old courthouse, which is now home to a restaurant/café called The Verdict. These two youngsters had been in court several times before for crimes of petty theft. In court, they admitted:
“…that they only set fire to the churches out of spite and only if they found no money to steal. They told the chairman Mr. A. J. Chard J.P, how easy it was to break into churches and how easy it was to burn them down. At the Mission Hall they set fire to the curtains. At Broadway Baptist Church they set eight separate fires. At Holy Trinity it was five. The older boy also confessed to burning down a haystack in a coal yard a year earlier.”
The two arsonists were sent to approved schools. The Chairman of the Court recommended:
“…to the Home Office that the two lads should go to separate schools and that the schools should be of the strictest kind; further, that they should be kept there for the full period of three years.”
All Saints Church was rebuilt yet again in 1970 to the designs of architect Michael Blee (1931-1996), who built several churches. From the outside it is quite an attractive structure attached to the mediaeval tower.
While wandering around the church, two things caught my eye. One is a stone placed close to a large yew tree in the churchyard. The stone informs us that the yew tree is growing upon the site where 49 people, who died in the Great Plague of 1665, were buried. The other feature that interested me was a group of stones set in the wall surrounding the churchyard. Each of these records the level to which water reached when the Thames flooded on various years between 1774 and 1965. The building of The Thames Barrier, completed in 1984, brought an end to these flooding events.
All Saints Church stands a few yards away from the riverbank from where there are wonderful views of the Thames and Isleworth Ait and a rich selection of waterfowl swimming in the river. Given how close the old part of Isleworth is to suburban west London, it has a remarkably rustic feeling, and is a peaceful place, providing you ignore the low-flying aircraft that pass above every few minutes.
ISLEWORTH IN WEST London was until this month, March 2021, a place where I had never before set foot. A road direction sign with the words “Historic Isleworth Waterfront” tempted us to investigate the place and we found it to be a delightful location despite it being under a flight path for aeroplanes coming into land at nearby Heathrow Airport. After enjoying the view across the River Thames from Old Isleworth, my eye alighted on a house with a circular memorial plaque placed to remember someone significant of whom I had never heard.
Arthur Joseph Penty (1875-1937) lived at 59 Church Street in Isleworth between 1926 and his death. The commemorative plaque bears the words:
“Architect and pioneer of Guild Socialism”
Penty was born in York, eldest of the two sons of the architect Walter Green Penty (1852-1902) of York. Arthur first worked in his father’s architectural practice before moving to London in 1902, where he increased his involvement in the Arts and Crafts Movement. Shortly before his move, he met Alfred Richard Orage (1873-1934). He was an influential British socialist and a Theosophist. He edited a journal called “The New Age”, which was inspired by Fabian Socialism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Age).
In London, Penty collaborated with the architect Raymond Unwin, who was responsible for much of the planning and design of Hampstead Garden Suburb, whose construction began in about 1904. Penty, working in Unwin’s office, is believed to have designed some of the details of two large buildings, Temple Fortune House and Arcade House, in Temple Fortune, as well as aspects of the so-called ‘Great Wall’ that separates part of the Suburb from the northern edge of Hampstead Heath Extension (www.hgs.org.uk/tour/tour00045000.html).
Apart from architecture, Penty was an important exponent of Guild Socialism. Many of his thoughts on the subject were published in Orage’s “The New Age”. I had never heard of Guild Socialism before seeing Penty’s house in Isleworth. Let me see if I can make any sense of this now long-outdated form of socialism, whose ideas were influenced by the great designer William Morris (1834-1896) and his associates. Guild Socialism opposed capitalism. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica (www.britannica.com/event/Guild-Socialism), Guild Socialism is:
“…a movement that called for workers’ control of industry through a system of national guilds operating in an implied contractual relationship with the public.”
It began in 1906 with the publication of “The Restoration of the Gild System”, written by Penty. The Guild Socialists believed that industry should be owned by the state but controlled by workers through national guilds organised by their members democratically. The system proposed was a kind of nostalgic revival of the mediaeval guild system. During WW1, Guild Socialism was enhanced by the actions of left-wing shop stewards demanding ‘workers’ control’ of the war industries. The movement declined with the onset of the economic slump of 1921 and the subsequent policies of both the Labour and Socialist Parties in Great Britain.
As Penty neared the end of his life, he became attracted to the ideas of Fascism that were prevalent in the Europe of the 1930s. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-53509?rskey=IABIgM&result=1) reveals that by the early 1930s, Penty:
“… was attracted to the anti-modernism of the far right. He admired the corporatist* economic organization of Mussolini’s Italy, supported the nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, and interested himself in the ideas of Oswald Mosley. At the same time he denounced Italian imperialism in Abyssinia and rejected Nazism for its racial doctrines and its statism.”
Penty, who dedicated his life to the revival of mediaeval craftsmanship and guilds, died at 59 Church Street in Old Isleworth on the 19th of January 1937. This late 18th century building bears the name “Manor House”. According to one source (http://edithsstreets.blogspot.com/2016/10/riverside-north-of-river-and-west-of_12.html), this is neither the manor house nor is it on the site of the real manor house. It was bought by Michael Penty, who also bought the manor of Isleworth. Michael’s father was Arthur Penty (http://www.panoramaofthethames.com/pott/isleworth-2006/59-church-street-isleworth). His name is on the front door, along with a brass plate bearing the words:
“MICHAEL PENTY Solicitor & Commissioner for Oaths
LORD OF THE MANOR OF ISLEWORTH RECTORY”
Had it been open, we would have enjoyed a drink at the riverside pub, “The London Apprentice”, which is a few steps away from the house where Arthur Penty once lived, but it was closed. However, a short walk away across the Duke of Northumberland’s River, we found a small café called South Street that served beverages and locally made ice-cream to take away.
“Corporatism is a political ideology which advocates the organization of society by corporate groups, such as agricultural, labour, military, scientific, or guild associations, on the basis of their common interests.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatism).