Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Notable Women of Lavender Hill

I led a Notable Women of Lavender Hill Tour on 15th April and will be leading another on 10th June 2018 for the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. This all came about because I had suggested to the Battersea Society that we ought to be commemorating the centenary of Votes for Women. So, I gave a talk on Significant Women of Battersea on 8th March – International Women’s Day at St. Mary’s Church and offered to do a walk on those women who  were associated with or lived near Lavender Hill as part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. The tour starts at Battersea Town Hall and finishes at 53 Battersea Rise which was home to Pamela Hansford Johnson which is now Farrago restaurant and Santo is very welcoming. I was impressed with my tour guide gizmo!

Notable tour15IMG_1788-1

Notable Women of Lavender Hill Tour led by Jeanne Rathbone Battersea Society Heritage. The tour starts outside Battersea Town Hall which was the site of Elm House the home to Jeanie bookJeanie Nassau Senior 1828-1877, the first female civil servant.  She was born Jane Hughes brother of Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Friends included George Eliot, painters Millais and Watts, Jenny Lind sang with her, Tennyson, Florence Nightingale, Octavia Hill and Tom Taylor playwright and his composer wife Laura Barker were near neighbours in Lavender Sweep. She had a welcoming home but had a week and workshy husband.  She was appointed by Stansfield, President of the Local Government Board as Inspector of Workhouses reporting on the education of “pauper girls” which was critical of the existing arrangements causing a public furore. She died in 1877 aged 48. George Watts wrote : when you read the biography of “That Woman”, for it is one that will be written, you will find she had very few equals. It took 130 years for it to be written!

Char small photo

Charlotte Despard nee French 1844-1939 funded Battersea Labour Party HQ at 177 Lavender Hill. Her biographer entitled his biography of ‘An Unhusbanded  Life’- Suffragette Socialist and Sinn Feiner. Born into a wealthy Anglo Irish family, she married Max Despard and wrote ten novels. She was widowed in 1890 and dedicated her life to helping the poor  moving to Nine Elms Battersea to 95 Wandsworth Road and 2 Currie Street. They  became Despard Clubs with a health clinic, youth and working men’s clubs, a soup kitchen for the local unemployed. She had joined the WSPU but left with 70 others to set up the Women’s Freedom League a non-violent organisation and edited its magazine The Vote. She was the Labour candidate for Battersea North in 1918 after which she left to live in Dublin to campaign for Irish Independence. She died in Belfast aged 95. There is a campaign to have a statue of her in Nine Elms on the site of the US Embassy.


Caroline Ganley 1879-1966 came to Battersea in 1901 with her tailor husband was a pacifist and active in suffrage campaigns. In 1919 she was one of three women elected as councillors, was appointed JP, represented Battersea on LCC, first woman president of the London Co-op Society, elected  MP for Battersea South 1945-51 the first working class women with elementary education. She was still a Battersea Cllr when Battersea was absorbed into Wandsworth in 1965 and died the following year aged 86. She is to have a plaque on her home at 5 Thirsk Road on 20th October 2018.


Deaconess Isabella Gilmore 1842-1923, sister of William Morris married Lieutenant Gilmore. When widowed she trained as a nurse in Guys Hospital where Bishop Thorold asked her to start a deaconate in south London. Deaconesses were women who were to be “a curiously effective combination of nurse, social worker and amateur policemen”. They found a large house on Clapham Common, now known as Gilmore House. She tried to address the needs of the poor through working with girls and women. Her brother William observed admiringly that whilst he preached socialism, she practised it. The women she trained were paid, she was not. There is a sculpted plaque to her in Southwark Cathedral.


Marie Spartali 1844 -1923 was British Pre-Raphaelite painter, arguably the greatest female artist of that movement. During a sixty-year career, she produced 170 works, contributing regularly to exhibitions in Great Britain and the US. She studied drawing and painting under Ford Madox Brown. She painted images of active, empowered women that challenged the male gaze. She lived at the Shrubbery Lavender Gardens where her father, a wealthy Greek businessman was Consul. Marie was 6.3, beautiful and very elegant. She sat for numerous paintings by Ford Madox Brown, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and for photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron and was a close friend of William Morris. She married an American widow William Stillman who had three children, in 1871. His job as foreign correspondent for The Times resulted in the couple dividing their time between London, Florence, Rome and US. She was described as “austere, virtuous and fearless, she was not lacking in a caustic wit and a sharp tongue.

Edith Lanchester

Edith aka Biddy Lanchester

Edith, known as Biddy Lanchester 1871-1966 came from a middle class family of architects and engineers. She studied botany and zoology at Birkbeck Institution. She had joined the Social Democratic Federation, was a teacher lodging in Este Road Battersea when she announced to her family that she was going to live with her lover Shamus Sullivan, a railway clerk. The next day her father, two brothers and psychiatrist Blandford hauled her off  to the Priory Asylum. With the help of John Burns MP, the Legitimation League and socialist friends including Eleanor Marx she was released. The supposed cause of her insanity was ‘over education’

Elsa glamourous

Elsa Lanchester 1902-1986, Biddy’s daughter went to a small socialist boy’s school near Clapham Common, trained as a dancer aged ten in Paris with Isadora Duncan, taught dance aged twelve in a boarding school to pay for her education. She set up her own theatre. It was in a play that she met Charles Laughton and they married 1929. She discovered he was homosexual but they remained married until his death in 1962 and  moved to the US as his career took off and gained citizenship in 1950

Her role as the title character in Bride of Frankenstein(1935) brought her recognition. She played supporting roles through the 1940s and 1950s. After his death she resumed with  Mary Poppins, That Darn Cat and Blackbeard’s Ghost  The horror film Willard was highly successful, and one of her last roles was in Murder by Death (1976). Elsa  remained humorously reflective in regard to her film career: “…large parts in lousy pictures and small parts in big pictures.”

Laura Barker composer

Laura Barker 1819-1905, composer and violinist, was born in Thirkleby Yorkshire was a finely gifted and highly accomplished player of the piano as well as the violin.  She received her first music lessons from her parents, attracted the attention of Paganini when she was 12 years old, studied with Cipriani Potter. She played with Paganini and with Louis as Spohr. She taught music at the York School for the Blind.

She married Tom Taylor playwright and critic. They lived at Lavender Sweep House. He had inherited a Stradivari 1732 which Laura played and it remained in her possession after he died until her death at Coleshill, Buckinghamshire. They held Sunday Musical Soirees, at which Joachim, Jeanie Senior and Clara Schumann took part.  Published works contains ten songs, seven duets, a glee, and a few pianoforte pieces.


Pamela Hansford Johnson, 1912-1934 wrote 27 novels lived at 53 Battersea  Rise and attended Clapham County Girls School.First girlfriend of Dylan Thomas she later married writer CP Snow making them a literary ‘power couple’ Anthony Burgess said: witty, satirical and deftly malicious – some of her books characterized by a sort of grave levity, others by a sort of light gravity. This bed thy Centre, her a coming-of-age first novel was based in Battersea.

Here are some temporary plaques commemorating these inspiring women which I had made while we are awaiting to have the Battersea Society plaques! There is an application to English heritage for one to Marie Spartali.

Battersea will be hosting an EqualiTea as part of the Vote100 celebrations on 23rd June at 3.00-5.00 The Venue in Park Court on the Doddington Estate off Battersea Park Road. This was organised by Lesley from Wandsworth Radio as they are based in Charlotte Despard Avenue.  Marsha, our MP, has been invited.

EqualiTeasYour opportunity to share, debate and celebrate our right to vote, over a cup of tea and slice of cake! It’s a UK-wide celebration of our democratic equality, with tea parties taking place all over the country.

Also, on 15th June we will be celebrating Charlotte Despard on her birthday which became an annual reunion event for the WFL and  we will be holding that close by the US Embassy which was the site of Despard House 2 Currie Street which was bequeathed to Battersea Council with a plaque unveiled in 1922. We intend to have a group photo taken of those attending in the iconic raised-fist pose of Charlotte in Trafalgar Square when she was almost 90. It will be titled  Je suis Charlotte.

charlotte at rally

Charlotte at Trafalgar Square rally

All invited to these events but letting us know would be appreciated.                          Anyone interested in the walk in June will need to book.

I will do a walk on request for groups but will be charging £4.00 per person.









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