Our Pennington Road house was built in the 1850s and one of the many charms of owning an old house is being able to speculate about what the people who lived here before were really like.
At night – on their way up to bed – they slid their hands on the same stair banisters as us. And on warm spring days they pushed open the same sticky wood sash windows to let in air.
But how have the attitudes, customs and clothes changed over 170 years of life in Southborough?
Our hunt for house history led us first to ask our friendly neighbours whether they were still in contact with any of our home’s former owners.
As a result, Southborough’s former G.P., Dr Alick or “Sandy” Cameron, paid us a visit. In the 1980s, he shifted some huge rocks to the front garden and planted some “dwarf” trees on the former lawn. Those trees now tower over the house, as you can see from the picture above taken on the VE Day 75th anniversary in May 2020!
And then Mr and Mrs Rose came for tea – they had found the house lying empty in the 1960s. They told us they clambered in through a window at the back and liked what they saw and made it their family home. One of their old pictures (above) shows Pennington Road’s former number 38 still standing before it was demolished to make way for the Dennington Court retirement flats.
The Rose family even imported an unwanted lamp post from Rusthall and stuck it in the front garden to create a makeshift climbing frame! (Picture below)
The standard research tools for house histories are the national Census records up to 1911 and the Kelly’s street directories that list “head of household” names from the 1880s to the 1970s. Remarkably, these researches revealed that our home was the residence of the Gallard family for 61 of its 170 years.
There were Gallards in Pennington Road from 1891 to 1952. Shown below is the 1911 census return where you see the signature of the 50 year old unmarried Isabella Clara Gallard, who went on to live at number 36 for a further 40 years.
We thought we had struck gold by finding the Gallard connection. Given that the Gallard’s Almshouses are one of Southborough’s most prominent landmarks, surely we thought a contact there would be able to provide lots of pictures and prose about the life of the family and maybe even a photo of them sitting in front of a roaring coal fire in our cosy front living room.
We contacted the Gallard’s Almshouses for any history or contacts….but sadly there was almost nothing. The researches they carried out for their centenary in 2011 had concluded that the Gallard descendants had moved away or simply died out.
One curiosity of that 1911 Census (shown above) was that a six year old was living there with Esther Gallard (the widowed second wife of Charles Gallard) and her 4 very grown up “children.”
The six-year old child was Esther’s grandson, Cyril Henry Pearson, curiously living apart from his mother Edith who had married and was living at 7 Sheffield Road with 3 other children and her husband, Cleveland Pearson.
This was a puzzle but we still only had names. We were even more eager for pictures, personalities and stories. The trail went cold until I began wondering around the St Peter’s Church graveyard on a dull December day in 2015.
There I found the headstone marking the resting place of Charles Gallard (the father of the four siblings living in our house in 1911). Also named on the same headstone was Charles Gallard’s first wife and a much more recent individual. This was Beatrice Hull née Pearson who died only in 1987 (picture below).
The Kelly’s directories had shown the Hull family arriving when the Gallards left in 1952, but we had assumed there was no family connection. The gravestone was proof that the families were connected, and so the Hull/Pearsons were going to be the key to unlocking the secrets of the Gallards.
Birth and Marriage records showed Beatrice Hull’s daughter Monica was married to one Brian Farrier. And this is where we really struck lucky. An internet search yielded a page from the Southborough Cricket Club site (below) with a message from Brian Farrier that he was still closely following Southborough cricket from his home in Cornwall.
Needless to say I rang all the Farriers in Cornwall in the phone book. After a few dead ends, a lady picked up the phone.
I asked the lady politely if it was Monica Farrier who used to live in Southborough. Slightly wary at first, she quickly gushed forth with a flood of information and history.
She revealed that she had herself lived in our home as a child when her mother Beatrice and the rest of the Hull family moved in to help care for her eccentric great aunt Isabella Clara, who was the last survivor of the many Gallards in Pennington Road.
In following months we obtained more stories and photographs about the Gallards than we could have ever imagined existed. We even got sent a picture apparently from 1906 of young Cyril Pearson with a cricket bat posing in one of Southborough Common’s many amazing settings where almost nothing has changed in the past 120 years.
Armed with Monica’s almost photographic memory of her days in Pennington Road, many details became clearer.
We found that the Gallard surname derived from the first Charles Gallard did indeed die out in the next generation. That was certainly no fault of the original Charles Gallard, who we believe built many of Pennington Road’s houses and lived from 1823 to 1885. He married twice and had a total of 11 children.
These Gallard siblings clearly had money, as most apparently never worked. So you might have expected them to attract a choice of suitors. But all those 11 children only produced four marriages and 7 children between them in the next generation.
With no evidence at all, we can speculate that maybe they were stuck in the middle of the rigid class system of the time. Perhaps they were unwilling to marry “beneath themselves” to the poor commoners of Southborough, but also not accepted enough as a match by the families of the retired generals and other middle class professionals that inhabited the better villas of the town.
It could also just be that they enjoyed their own company and their own comforts too much to want to marry.
Above is possibly the most charming of the photos that Monica sent us, showing three of the Gallard sisters, when they were in their younger days probably in their late teens in the 1880s, a few years before they moved in to our home. But they weren’t far away. They lived then at the current number 24 Pennington Road.
We believe that it is Florence standing up, looking the happiest. Kate is the oldest of the them in the plainest dress on the right. And the youngest on the left is Edith, probably 19.
Here is another picture of Edith:
Edith did marry. And remarkably we have a picture of her wedding day, taken clearly in the back garden of our home on 3rd October 1900.
In the picture above from 1900, you can make out the back porch and two first floor sash windows, which all still look just the same today. By the time Edith married, she was 33, according to the record. Her groom was the dashing and handsome Cleveland Pearson, who was 8 years younger, aged only 25.
Here is the record of the wedding at St.Peter’s Church:
Over the next 13 years they produced five children. But sadly all did not go well with their relationship. After Beatrice was born in 1913, Cleveland moved out to live with another woman.
Either difficulties in the marriage or the small size of their home in Sheffield Road could help explain why their second child, Cyril, was farmed out to his aunts at the more spacious residence of 36 Pennington Road, where Cyril was living in 1911 according to that census record shown earlier in the blog.
If it helps, below is a not entirely exhaustive version of the Gallard family tree.
The two sisters Irene and Beatrice Pearson were apparently very close. And they seemed to be involved in the happy community events of Southborough.
The picture below is taken with both sisters dressed up to perform in the Royal Victoria Hall in 1920. Irene was 14 years-old and Beatrice (seated and Monica Farrier’s mother) was seven. No doubt their aunts helped them rehearse in the spacious living rooms of 36 Pennington Road.
Here are two more charming pictures – very possibly of Cleveland and Edith’s first child, Winifred Pearson, who was born in 1902. It is guesswork from the placement of pictures in an album handed down through Irene’s family to a lady now living in New Zealand who paid us a visit only last week (February 2021).
The same album contains this magnificent picture of a man, possibly Cleveland himself, taken in the early 1900s when he was in his late twenties.
One more wonderful picture for us to be given by Monica was that of her mum’s “Aunt Flo” in our back garden (shown below) The garden wall is just the same although the rose bush is sadly now gone.
This picture must be from the 1930s. It is 50 years after the first photo of the three sisters, in the 1880s.
We believe Florence was the longest serving resident of our home. One of the four Gallard photo albums that are now in various Gallard descendants’ hands has a dedication written inside the front cover, showing that it was a gift to Florence on her 21st birthday. That note is shown below next to Florence’s image from the 1880s.
We don’t have much of what Florence wrote in her life. Just one postcard written in 1913 to her half-sister known as Ellen or Miss E.E. Gallard at 10, York Gate, Regents Park.
The card reads: “I hope you will have a very happy new year. I trust you found Margie brighter today. I can see the colour of my blouse today – was quite ashamed of it. Issie and I sat talking till 12.30pm Tuesday and I was not ready to get up next morning. Love and best wishes, Flo.”
There’s also an earlier postcard sent in the other direction to Flo by her half-sister Ellen.
Dated 11th January 1909 it says: “I was surprised as received your letter this morning. Many thanks for it. Delighted to hear the news. Hope mother is no worse for going out on Monday. Did not have rain on Sunday. Mr W said it was very wet and rough at Brighton. I did enjoy my stay with your self.”
Here is another photo below with the Gallards and Cyril again in a very familiar Southborough Common setting with the school next to St Peter’s Church behind them. Black dresses seemed to have given way to white dresses and hats with flowers in them:
The back of this photo above states that the picture is of Margery (the youngest sibling in the wheelchair), Edith (Monica’s grandmother who is standing), Kate, Issie, the boy Cyril and finally on the bench is Frank Gallard (although Frank looks rather old for someone in their fifties, asssuming this was another picture taken roughly in 1906).
Isabella was the last Gallard in our home, but unlike Flo who never left home, Isabella did spend some time living away from Southborough. The picture below is Issie on horseback on a holiday in Ireland.
Monica describes Issie as “very prim and proper” but she did apparently work closely with a Mr Wolf who ran an antiques shop in the Laines in Brighton, taking the role of his personal assistant for some years.
Issie was clearly a stubborn woman as she refused to have electricity in the house, arguing that it was too dangerous. Instead she felt the system of gas lighting was much safer. A pulley attached to the sitting room ceiling turned on the gas tap which was lit manually by a taper lifted to the ceiling. At bedtime, the light was extinguished by pulling a second rope to cut the gas supply.
Below is a photo of Issie with the lady who looked after her before the Hulls moved in. Eva Pratt and her daughter Margery are standing with Issie in our back garden. The Pratts apparently moved to Devizes.
Monica’s first hand accounts of Issie in her final few years up to 1952 were wonderful. Issie lived and slept in the front downstairs room on the right as you went up the drive.
At Christmas, Monica remembers opening the windows to hear the local Salvation Army choir singing carols to her from our front lawn. Issie – with her long white flowing hair – dressed up in a Father Christmas suit and gave out presents from a tea chest.
One of the issues with the old Gallard photo albums we’ve been shown, is the complete lack of name labels. Everyone at the time knew who all the people were, so they clearly thought labels just weren’t needed.
But from the place in the albums and the frequency they appear, we can be pretty sure that the images below are of Esther (née Esther Ann Martin), who was Charles Gallard’s second wife (and so Flo and Issie’s mother), who opened the Gallard’s Almshouses in 1911.
And these below are almost certainly images of her husband, the first Charles Gallard. He died six years before the family moved down the road from 24 to 36 Pennington Road.
Charles Gallard’s first son was his namesake Charles J. Gallard, who was an even more successful builder than his father, as he moved out of Southborough and constructed much fancier red brick homes in Boyne Park in Tunbridge Wells.
Charles J. Gallard had no children – which prompted him to donate his fortune to the construction of the Gallard Almshouses in 1911 after his own and his wife’s death. Hence, the Almshouses were opened by his stepmother, Esther.
Below is the rather indistinct photo of Charles J Gallard from the report in the Courier of the Almshouse opening on 25th October 1912 and next to it a photo from a Gallard album that may perhaps be Charles J. too but 30 years earlier.
But back now to more modern times and the tales of Monica living in our home in the 1950s. One of Monica’s stories was going up to bed with her sister Cynthia in the days before any electricity, let alone central heating.
In winter, they would get into their night clothes downstairs where it was warm in front of the coal fire and hurry upstairs carrying their candles to their bedroom on the top floor. Monica remembers: “It was a white enamel candlestick. Probably quite dangerous. It was jolly cold in those days…you could see your breath…it almost froze.”
Issie died in 1952 and there was a very short notice in the Courier, shown below:
After that Monica’s father, Bill (who was actually an electrician working for the GPO) was able to finally install electricity in our home.
Monica remembers her sister Cynthia thriving in her studies at Tonbridge Grammar School, despite doing her homework in front of the television in the front room. It must have been a shock for the home that was without even the ability to plug in a radio in 1952 to be plunged into the television age just a few years later.
Another big change after Issie died was that the narrow pathway that snaked from the entrance gate to the front door was widened into a drive for a car. The old pedestrian gate was clearly left lying around the back garden for some time after that as you can see from the photo below from the late 1950s which is of Cynthia and Barrie.
The “San Remo” name for our house on that gate was in use for at least 50 years. Sadly why the resort in the Italian Riviera should have such significance for the home is lost in the mists of time. The gate was “green and solid” according to Monica and is very similar to one still surviving at 28 Pennington Road.
The tradition of having a “tradesman’s entrance” was maintained at number 36 in Issie’s time, even though it was a rather odd arrangement.
Having walked in through that old gate to 36 in its original position, you took the path to the right of the bushes if you were a friend of the family. But if you were a “tradesman” then you took a different path to the left of the bushes. Bizarrely both paths started and ended in the same places.
Here are some more glimpses of the back garden of our house in the 1950s, with the back of the house unpainted and showing the washing on the line and an open route around the house where a garage now stands. It’s the same view as that of the wedding photo from 1900. It shows Beatrice, Barrie and Monica’s sister in law Annie Hull.
Monica and Brian and their son David, plus Monica’s brother Barrie all came to visit in 2016. It meant Monica and Brian could stand on the steps outside San Remo’s front door just as they did 60 years before when Brian came on his visits courting Monica and they said their farewells late at night. It was a wonderful few moments of nostalga for them both.
Sadly Brian died a few months ago in Cornwall. But at least our home history hunt had meant Brian and Monica had had another chance to relive their happy first days together.
We found far more than we could have expected about our house, but we still lack information before the Gallards.
One mystery was that we were told that our pair of semis (34 and 36 now – we think formerly “Stanley Villas”) was built for two sisters and they had a connecting door between them. When plaster was removed during recent renovation work, brickwork was found suggesting such a door was indeed filled in – but we have no other evidence of that story of the sisters, so our search continues.
After such a great response to this blog with hundreds of reads, I have decided (with Monica’s permission) to post here a youtube link to a film of Monica’s return to Pennington Road.
If it brings back any memories or you’d like to add any more to the treasure trove of Gallard history, do please email me at:
In particular if you have any contacts with the Still or Harmer family, I’d like to know. The Gallards builders became Still and Harmer at some point. Is there any proof that it was Charles Gallard’s firm which built the first 1850s homes in what was then still Pennington Lane?