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Friendships forged at Fulham Palace

Written by community archaeologist Alexis Haslam.

Freemasons Hospital No. 2

Today marks the International Day of Friendship, a date which aims to celebrate and promote friendships of all backgrounds. Placing Fulham Palace into this context at first appeared somewhat demanding. I could perhaps have written a piece on Bishop Porteus and his circle of friends, or maybe a short essay on Bishops and their tea parties. Yet these suggestions didn’t really embrace this year’s themes of race, language and culture. So it was back to the drawing board as I tried to come up with another idea.

Breaking the barriers of class and culture is a difficult theme when looking at the long history of the Palace, with the Bishop of London traditionally enjoying his retreat within the tranquil grounds by the River Thames. But there have been occasions when the Palace has witnessed rather extraordinary events. A case in point occurred in 1918 when Bishop Winnington-Ingram offered up the Palace as a hospital for recuperating troops towards the end of World War I. The Freemasons Hospital No. 2 was opened on the 31 May 1918, with the great hall used as a dining room, and the café and Bishop Howley’s dining room used as wards for the patients. Our knowledge of this very brief period in the Palace’s history would be all but lost if it hadn’t been for the kind donation of scrapbook kept by Sister Mary Latchmore. Through this book and the efforts of our archive team we have been able to trace the lives of the soldiers who recovered here and the nurses and staff who worked at the hospital during its single year of operation.

Perhaps the most striking results of the research has been the discovery of the class differences between the patients and the nurses. Whilst Mary Latchmore came from a very working class background (the daughter of a blacksmith from Tyne Dock in South Shields), the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses were generally from far more well off families. Audrey Frere had grown up in a 25 room house in Wimbledon Park with five servants, whilst Lucy Doris Lees had attended a private girls’ school called ‘Blencathra’ in Rhyl, north Wales. This was in stark contrast to the soldiers, with Arnold Angell Jenkins and Edwin Brabham both having worked in the coal mines of South Wales before joining up. Jack Low was the son of a fish curer from Stepney whilst Leslie Arthur Condren was the son of a porter from Lambeth. The impact of Florence Nightingale had made nursing a worthy profession, with many young women inspired to volunteer as part of the war effort. Sister Latchmore’s book is full of poems and drawings by the patients, all of whom expressed a great deal of admiration and respect for her:   

Gentle, Loving, Patient & Kind,

A more skilful sister we’ll never find

Always happy when the boys are singing

Her sweet voice now in my ear is ringing

Jack Low, 11th Essex Regiment, 5.4.19   

It is clear that the soldiers found recuperating at the Palace a pleasant occurrence following the injuries and experiences they had endured. Yet perhaps more telling are the scrapbook photographs from which close friendship groups can be identified. Frustratingly not all of the soldiers have been easy to trace, yet Smith and Bowen almost always appear side by side in every image they are in. Smith was in the Machine Gun Corps, yet it has been very difficult to find out anything else about either of them.

Another three that appear regularly together are Sergeant Blackburn, Private J. Brown of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and Private James ‘Jimmie’ Morris. Unfortunately there are rather of a lot of J. Browns in that particular regiment, and as James Morris failed to disclose his regiment anywhere in the scrapbook, his common name makes it almost impossible to find out anything about him. He appears to have been a real character though, writing and performing in ‘A Mysterious Visitor’ which was presented by the Patients at the hospital’s closing concert.

The period of rehabilitation for the soldiers at Fulham Palace thus crossed class divides with the nurses, and kindled new friendship groups within the patients who came from a variety of regiments. Whether these friendships lasted beyond the closure of the hospital is almost impossible to say, but the tranquility of the grounds and gardens along with the care they received appears to have played a significant part in their recuperation.

The WAAF

Fast forward some 25 years and Britain was at war again. The Palace was no stranger to the bombing raids over London and a barrage balloon was established on the site in the Paddock area on the southern side of the main path. In 1991 the museum received a letter from a lady named Maureen Dolphin. She had been stationed at the Palace as a Leading Aircraftwoman (LACW) under her maiden name of Knapp in 1944. Born in Sunderland in 1925 Maureen was assigned to the Fulham Palace Balloon Site No. 24 as part of 904/5 Squadron. Her letter was accompanied by several photographs of Maureen and her colleagues outside Gothic Lodge and in an unidentified area which may have been the former farmyard. She seemed to have enjoyed her time at the Palace, recollecting that the barrage balloon sleeping quarters were above the main arch in the Tudor Courtyard and that they ate in Gothic Lodge. Intriguingly she states that she wanted the photos returned as soon as possible as they reminded her of the happy time she experienced during the war.

The photographs certainly suggest that the WAAFs (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) stationed at the Palace were a close knit group and it seems that the war offered young women like herself both companionship and a degree of freedom as well as responsibility. She lamented the direct hit that the dance hall at the bottom of Putney High Street at the end of Putney Bridge received with the hall being completely destroyed. It would be wonderful to find out more about the WAAFs stationed at the Palace, as other than Maureen’s letter and a few photographs we know very little about their time here. It would be amazing to know if those friendships continued and if they stayed in contact with one another once the War was over.

Maureen married Arthur W. Dolphin in Sunderland in April 1946 and they were residing in Birmingham in 1991. Maureen passed away on the 22nd of April 2007.

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