Around Ealing Spring 2014 - Page 45

LOOKING BACK WITH DR JONATHAN OATES Ealing and the First World War writing: ‘It is a great satisfaction to live in your own house, but more especially when the place is one of your own making, and has existed in your mind as regards its principal characteristics many years before it actually came into being.’ They held an annual garden party each summer. Harris enjoyed showing off his collection of Rembrandts and other illustrations and rare books to his visitors. In 1871 he wrote: ‘They seemed much pleased with my books and prints, and there was no lack of talking or of life.’ Being comfortably off, he was able to devote his time to his interests, which were chiefly historical and legal. His chief claim to fame was his unsuccessful attempt to establish the Historic Manuscripts Commission. It was a small household; in 1881 the couple had only a cook and a housemaid living with them. His grandson remembered him as ‘a good raconteur, a bon-vivant and an excellent host’ and his wife was recalled as ‘a woman of strong character, held the purse strings tightly all her life.’ Harris died in 1890 and the property reverted to his wife’s family. It was let to various tenants over the subsequent decades, usually army officers and doctors. In 1927 the house had two floors, six bedrooms, two bathrooms and three reception rooms. The grounds, of 12 acres, included a tennis lawn, an orchard, a paddock, ponds, a greenhouse and a kitchen garden. It was described as ‘placed well back from the road, with long carriage approach and lodge entrance.’ However, its days as a private house were numbered. In 1929 it was bought for £4,000 by Ealing Council. The house then became a health centre in a district with a growing population and the grounds became a park. This year marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and there have been many events to mark it, including a recent talk at Ealing Central Library. It had a local impact as well as national and international dimensions. Did you know that Ealing was home to several hundred Belgian refugees? Or that support for war, at least in the opening months, was supported by all shades of political and religious opinion, in contrast to the Second World War? Yet much remained the same in the first few months; there was no conscription of men or women taking over men’s jobs or rationing or bombing. Ho Chi Minh: True or false? Islip Park Four decades ago it was revealed that Ho Chi Minh, the late president of North Vietnam, and Communist revolutionary, had worked in Ealing prior to the First World War. A delegation from Vietnam played homage to their former master at the Drayton Court Hotel, where he had been employed in the kitchens. This interesting fact gained credence by repetition. However, no one at the hotel had been aware of it hitherto, there were no records of the time which survived and even members of the great man’s family could not verify the story. Was the tale true or false? Find out at a talk at Ealing Central Library later this year – keep your eyes open for more details in future editions of Around Ealing. around ealing Summer 2014 45