Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Battersea Rise literary connections

Posted in Battersea Rise literary connections EM Forster by sheelanagigcomedienne on November 25, 2015

Battersea Rise runs from the corner of Clapham Common Northside up to  the Roundhouse pub and forms part of the south circular road. The literary connections are associated with the section from the junction at the bottom of the Hill which is slightly more salubrious. This is alluded to by Pamela Hansford Johnson one of our three authors who lived here as did John Walsh -journalist and author – whereas EM Forster once visited the house called Battersea Rise in which his paternal great grandparents had lived and which he commemorated in the book Marianne Thornton who was his patron and great aunt. image

In the Survey of London Battersea,which has become somewhat of a bible for those researching the area, dubiously states: No doubt for snobbish reasons residents usually gave their addresses as being in Clapham, Clapham Common or Wandsworth, but Battersea very seldom, unless Battersea Rise, a name with cachet. 

Battersea Rise Crossroads from my window by leonora Green

Leonora Green Crossroad from my window

I think that remark about Battersea residents, even the more recent ones,  about their address is wrong and subjective. It has been businesses that have often used Clapham in their title. Google is to blame! I know that the naming of Clapham Junction in Battersea has caused confusion. This was noted at the time of the disturbances in 2011 when reporters referred to riots in in Clapham High Street opposite Clapham Junction station. The is a campaign about getting the name right.Battersea Junction – the ‘SW11tch’ campaign continues …

Battersea Rise


Battersea Rise House was bought in 1792 by Henry Thornton who was a banker and one of the celebrated Clapham Sect.  Much of this information has come from the Survey of London. Battersea – The Bartlett


Battersea Rise/Lavender Sweep

Henry Thornton (1760-1815) was a philanthropist and economist. In 1780 he entered his father’s counting-house, and two or three years later became a partner, then he joined the bank of Downe, Free & Thornton, of which he was an active member until his death. In 1782 Thornton was elected MP for Southwark, and he held the seat until the end of his life. He was an influential member of the ‘Clapham Sect’, and a friend, supporter and cousin of William Wilberforce. In 1792 he bought a house at Battersea Rise on Clapham Common and lived there initially with Wilberforce.   In 1796 Thornton married Marianne Sykes.  Wilberforce went to live at Broomfield (later Broomwood) House on his marriage in 1797.

Henry and Marianne had nine children including Marianne, who didn’t marry and was great aunt to EM Forster. Her sister Laura married  the Rev. Charles Forster. The marriage of Charles and Laura Forster produced Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster, an architect, who married Lily and their only son was Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970), novelist and man of letters. There was a mix up with the names at EMs christening who came to be known as Morgan. His  great aunt Marianne, known as Monie left him £8,000, which enabled him to go to Cambridge and be financially independent enough to exist as a writer. He repaid his debt by writing her biography in 1956.

Marianne Thornton

Two of Thornton’s brothers, Samuel and Robert, owned villas on Clapham Common Southside and Thornton’s aim in buying Battersea Rise House and the land surrounding it was to create a community of like-minded and high-minded friends. Two substantial houses, Glenelg and Broomfield later renamed Broowoood were built in the grounds, with Wilberforce moving into Broomfield House when he married in 1797.

Battersea Rise House became the centre of, and meeting place, for the Clapham Sect dedicated to, in Wilberforce’s words “the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners”. Thornton was the prime organiser and financier of the campaign and Wilberforce provided its heart and charismatic leadership. God and Mammon easily went hand in hand.

Battersea Rise House became hallowed as the shrine of the ‘Clapham saints’. They used to attend The Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common which is close to Trinity Hospice.

The Thornton house’s pièce de résistance was the library in the south-west position. Part of the 1790s additions ,it was higher and longer than the front rooms. It was latterly called the Pitt Room because of the Thornton family tradition that William Pitt designed it. The story is plausible, as Pitt was close to Wilberforce when the room was created, and interested in architecture.
As Battersea Rise evolved, it became an amalgam of cherished rooms,

possessions and Thornton family memories. The house has often been described as‘Queen Anne’.


The Library Battersea Rise House

The one unifying factor was the garden. In his essay of 1844,‘The Clapham Sect’, Sir James Stephen recalled it as the meeting point for the community of Clapham adherents and their children in debate or play, and depicted the key members issuing forth into it from their surrounding houses.
Battersea Rise House garden with flowers by bursill

Battersea Rise House by FN Bursill Wandsworth Museum

The fullest description of the Battersea Rise grounds comes from Dorothy Pym (1934), another descendant who visited often in the 1890s. She names many flowers and shrubs, and underlines the high standards of horticulture and maintenance: ‘the paths at Battersea Rise were as speckless and spotless as the carpets themselves’
The eldest son, Henry Sykes Thornton, became titular head of the clan, and continued the family’s evangelical connections, participating invarious religious initiatives in Battersea. But the guardianship of the family’s intellectual and moral traditions passed to his older sister, Marianne Thornton. In 1852 a rift occurred when Henry Sykes Thornton elected to marry his deceased wife’s sister, Emily Dealtry—technically still an illegality. It was this which led Marianne Thornton to leave Battersea Rise for Clapham village. He died in 1881, and his will allowed for his widow to retain a life-interest in the House, which was to be sold after her death, which happened in 1907.
When we bought our house in 1968 there were two local estate agents -Reginald Harris and Edwin Evans. Edwin Evans only closed down in 2014.  A consortium headed by Edwin Evans who was both developer and estate agent bought the twenty-two acres that were auctioned and plans were approved for the building of houses, a church and a school. It seems that it was only at this point that the importance of Battersea Rise House was realised as the focus of the anti-slavery movement and a campaign was got up to save the house as a memorial.
Evans offered to sell at ‘cost price’ the house and two acres of land to Battersea Council, but because he was a prominent Conservative and the Council was in ‘Progressive’ hands, the offer was rejected and the demolition went ahead. Oh dear!
NPG 4698; E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington

by Dora Carrington

This is the background to the Battersea Rise House that EM wrote about. He understood the significance of home and house which is reflected in Howards End and in his attachment to his own home Rooksnest.

His book is based ‘almost entirely upon family papers’. Parts of Forster’s narrative call into question the family values. His decision to focus upon her rather than one of his more publicly famous ancestors enabled him to emphasise the private implications of public life and give pride of place to the inner life. She had lived there most of her life with her brother and his family till the rift occurred.

Christopher Tolley has written an account of this book. Marianne Thornton: E. M. Forster and Clapham Domestic Biography: The Legacy of Evangelicalism in Four ..

EM did not share his predecessor’s particular religious views and this is why he identified more with Marianne and her more down-to-earth attitudes. He also questioned inherited wealth, the wealth that he felt produced the imaginative poverty of Henry Thornton and his spiritual materialism. EM was an avowed Humanist which is, of course, one reason why he would appeal to me. E M Forster – British Humanist Association

Forster wrote about his Humanism in a famous essay entitled What I Believe. He was President of the National Council for Civil Liberties, now Liberty. Forster called himself a humanist, and was President of the Cambridge Humanists from 1959 to his death. He was a Vice-President of the Ethical Union in the 1950s, and a member of the Advisory Council of the British Humanist Association from its foundation in 1963.
His work and viewpoint were summed up in a series on British Authors (Cambridge University Press) as:“the voice of the humanist – one seriously committed to human values while refusing to take himself too seriously. Its tone is inquiring, not dogmatic. It reflects a mind aware of the complexities confronting those who wish to live spiritually satisfying, morally responsible lives in a world that increasingly militates against individual’s needs. Sensitively and often profoundly, Forster’s fiction explores the problems such people encounter.” He shared many ideas with, and was friendly with, members of the Bloomsbury Group.
John Walsh, journalist and author of The Falling Angels – a memoir of growing up second generation Irish on Battersea Rise refers to EM Forster when talking of Battersea Rise and contrasting it with his own view of it growing up there in the sixties. Sin sceal eile – it is another story in this trilogy of literary connection and Battersea Rise.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: