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The Early Days

In 1897, when residents began moving their goods and chattels into the newly-completed Drive Mansions, designed by the architect William Hunt, later to become Mayor of Wandsworth, and described in the 2002 Conservation Area report as ‘imposing’, the world was going about its business as usual. Queen Victoria was celebrating her diamond jubilee, gold prospectors were rushing to the Klondike, Oscar Wilde was being released from Reading Jail, Mark Twain was reporting notices of his death greatly exaggerated, the Blackwall Tunnel was opening under the Thames and, outside, on the Fulham Road and elsewhere, the world’s first licensed taxi cabs began operation.

Early photographs of The Drive show it very much as it is today, a higher, more substantial wall surrounding it. Ornate tiling, similar to that inside on the landings, led to each of the front porches, but have since been covered over with bitumen by previous managing agent’s, presumably to stem ingress of rain water.

Fulham suffered its fair share of the London bombing during the second world war. In October, 1940, an incendiary bomb landed on the Drive Mansions and everybody had to be evacuated to the other end of the building for the night. It burned, but did not explode and was eventually made safe around three o’clock in the morning. The landing where it happened still bears the scorch marks. A number of shops across the road were destroyed, as bombs fell all around in Landridge Road, Burlington Road, the High Street and Fulham Park Gardens.

A heavy gun was stationed at Hurlingham and a few residents still remember the  frightening noise it made. It brought down an enemy aircraft one night, creating much damage to property, including a huge crater at the King’s Head roundabout, that greeted people the next morning. A map of the area was found in the wreckage with red dots marking targets such as power stations and railway lines. (Doris Wilkinson who died in 2015 at 100 year old) recalls that all the windows in the front of the building were broken by the blast.

In the early 1900s, waiting across the road for a No. 14 horse-drawn  omnibus, you would have seen an ice-cream parlour standing where the La Perla laundry now is, selling cornets at 2d, 4d and 6d. On a summer’s weekend afternoon you might have seen women with parasols and men in boaters strolling into the garden to watch the tennis in the courts behind. Our garden extended well beyond the present Romily Court flats to accommodate six full-sized tennis courts. Before the club in Baron’s Court opened, a pre-Wimbledon knock up often took place and it is said that the Duke of Windsor once played there. An ivy-clad clubhouse stood beside the courts, just beyond the gate to the garden, also a groundsman’s cottage. Many of the garden-facing flats were also covered in ivy. In fact, in the 18th century, a manor house stood where the Landridge Road end now is, called Ivy Lodge, set in its own field. Beyond the courts was open scrub land where children used to play. Still visible on the wall of the laundry is the sign that used to announce  The Drive Club.

Drive Mansions during World War 11

When the air raid warning sounded, people would decamp with sleeping bags to tube stations, or various public shelters dotted around the area, which had space for over 8000 souls. Residents would always keep a full bath of water in case of fire from incendiary bombs. Today, as you make our way to Putney Bridge Station, with whatever it is you have on your minds, you walk the same footsteps as those unsure whether their flats would still be standing on their return. When war ended, a party was held in The Drive, along with all the other street parties; trestle tables erected, bunting hung up, sandwiches cut, cakes baked. One resident, high on celebration, attempting to slide down the banisters, fell through all the way to basement and, having survived the war, was killed on impact.

Since the war things, thankfully, have been rather less eventful and dramatic. When the tennis courts became neglected and fell into disrepair during the mid-70s, part of the land was sold to build the existing Romily Court flats and our garden laid out, but not before a fair amount of hoo-ha as to what height the flats should be, residents having enjoyed an uninterrupted view for so many years.  During high winds in the early 80s, a chimney stack was sent crashing down into one of the top flats. Fortunately the main residents were away at the time, but a lodger was able to drag the furniture out of the room. Miraculously, two tons of masonry remained held back by the rafters, which could have fallen through the building, perhaps even down to the basement, causing considerably more havoc. Coal fires were quite common up until the late 70s. People could collect their coal from cellars in the basement and use the service lift to all floors. It was not unusual to pass people on the stairs, coal scuttle in hand, on a cold winter morning.

There are those still living in the Drive who remember these things, some for over sixty years. The bench in the garden is dedicated to the memory of Irene Wells who, herself, was able to hand on her experiences, during and long after the war. The shopping parade across the road has provided a bustle of various traditional local shops. At one time there were two butcher shops, two newsagents, a grocer, a fruit shop, hardware shop, a stationer, a florist, a fishmonger, a restaurant and a recently closed chemist, but with the changing complexion of the urban high streets, the variety has been somewhat reduced and the shops frequently change.

Listed Landmark

In 1985, the ‘Fulham Parish’ milepost attached to our street wall, announcing ‘London 3 1/2, Richmond 4 ½’, was declared a listed landmark. As such, it should not be changed or defaced in any way. Although previously yellow, and unknown hand recently painted in Black with White lettering. We do not know which was the original colour.

Life must have been fairly grand in its early days, servants’ quarters occupying

Coal fires were quite common up until the late 70s. People could collect their coal from cellars in the basement and use the service lift to all floors. It was not unusual to pass people on the stairs, coal scuttle in hand, on a cold winter morning.

Wardens ‘rescue’ a young boy from the rubble and debris next to a bomb-damaged house in Fulham