Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea June 2021, Newsletter (# 144)

  1. I am having a season of anniversaries! What with tonybreaching the dreaded 80 in April, on 13th May I notched up 50 years as a Labour councillor – it must be a drug – or certainly an addiction. The Town Hall put out a press release, which was nice of them. They dredged up a picture of yours truly in 1971. Here it is; as shown in my election leaflet, would you believe? I won Northcote ward that year and subsequently Graveney before settling down in Latchmere in 1982 – but enough of me.
  2. On 2nd May, I went canvassing in Bedford ward, just near Tooting Bec station with the Labour candidate in the Bedford ward by-election, which was held along with the GLA election on 6th May. It was a Labour area and it was an enjoyable occasion – canvassing is always much more fun when you do NOT get doors slammed in your face and have no abuse to deal with (I am not suggesting, by the way, that Tory canvassers don’t get the same treatment in reverse). I was impressed with Labour’s candidate, Hannah Stanislaus. Whatever else she brings to the Council – she has a good, bold, confident doorstep manner.
  3. On 6th May itself, Labour did well in London in general and in Bedford and Wandsworth in particular. The by-election result was strikingly similar to the Bedford result in the 2018 Borough election. The turn-out at just over 51.4% was very slightly higher this year than the 48% turn-out in the Borough election and the Labour and Tory votes were very similar, with Labour on 50% as opposed to 49% and Tories on 24% as opposed to 23%. Interestingly, the Green candidate gained 50% more votes than in 2018 – admittedly from a far lower base but the Greens must feel that they are on the move.
  4. On the same day, of course, Sadiq Khan was khansadiqre-elected Mayor of London and Leonie Cooper re-elected as the Assembly Member for Merton and Wandsworth. Congratulations to both of them, who I know well having been a fellow Wandsworth councillor for more than a dozen years. They are part of the story that London has become an overwhelmingly Labour city. But I think that both, Sadiq and Leonie, have questions to answer. In Sadiq’s case, his first term has been defined by disaster, with the Grenfell Tower disaster of 2017, being followed by the Covid crisis of 2019-21 (22, 23?). And in this election he had an admittedly small (1.6%) swing against him achieved by someone universally perceived as one of the weakest Mayoral candidates ever, the Tory Shaun Bailey. The opening of the Elizabeth Line Crossrail might have given him a completely undeserved triumph, but in fact, it has left him with an equally undeserved calamity – “undeserved” in both cases because the decisions, the planning, the construction mostly pre-dated his time as Mayor and triumph or calamity they “merely” happened on his watch. Can he realistically achieve much in the three years left to him, given that Covid remains the significant factor that it is? Does he decide to go for a third term? Does he like Johnson before him, plan to return to the Commons? He will still only be 54 years old, so he still has time to achieve yet more. But if I know Sadiq, and I think I do, then he will have a pretty shrewd idea now of what he is going to do and he will not let on about it to anyone.
  5. I think Leonie’s questions are easier, at least to pose. Does she decidePicture2 to be primarily the first Labour Leader of Wandsworth Council since 1978 or the deputy leader of Labour in the London Assembly? I know which I would consider the more important (what after all does being an Assembly member mean apart from getting a massive salary?). But on the other hand, being on the Assembly is arguably a better stepping stone to the Mayoralty (how about being London’s first female Mayor?) or a seat in the Commons. But either way, Leonie does not need to decide, nor will she, until after the May, 2022, Borough election, when she will discover whether she is, or is not, Leader of Wandsworth Council.
  6. On the 11th May, Penny and I went for a walk in Nunhead Picture4Cemetery. It’s well worth a visit in spring, or I guess in autumn for the falling leaves. Wildflowers and generally rampant undergrowth climb over magnificent late 19th and early 20th century statuary, spread across a very large site. A quick rule of thumb comparison on Google Maps suggests that it is about half the size of Battersea Park and almost completely empty – at least of live bodies! It also commands magnificent views of the city, with one view, in particular, focused on St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is actually a “protected” view (in planning terms, i.e. new buildings are not allowed to obstruct the view) as indeed is a similar distant view of the Cathedral from Richmond Park.
  7. Talking of which, did you happen to see a recent list produced, by a Wandsworth news blog, of 10 special open-places to visit in South London? Strikingly we, in Wandsworth, are right in the epi-centre, with Richmond Park top of the list and others included Wimbledon Common, Battersea Park, Wandsworth Common (a mistake there I think as the write-up didn’t sound like the common I know), the Crystal Palace dinosaur Park, Nunhead Cemetery, Greenwich Park and a couple of complete strangers near Sidcup, south-east London. With all the travel restrictions we face today, perhaps we will bump into each other at one of these London beauty spots!
  8. On 25th May I had the Planning Applications Committee. In Picture5the last couple of months, I have rather down-played the interest in this committee but May was different. As always there were a number of small and locally important applications but only two of major significance and they were both in Nine Elms. I voted against both, though the first vote was almost a gesture of frustration as I knew that it was really a box-ticking exercise at the “details” level of the process. Nonetheless, despite the poor re-production I hope you can see why I should be against such a monolithic construct! The second was a giant hotel next to, and destroying the view of, the American Embassy.
  9. You might have seen coverage in the press of the new Nine Elms “Sky Pool”, which was opened in May. My Labour colleague, Aydin Dickerdem, who represents the areaPicture6 of Nine Elms where the Sky Pool is situated, reminded me of my August 2015 Newsletter when I asked whether people had seen  “the fantasy proposal for a swimming pool in the sky?  Captioned in the Daily Telegraph as the “Glass-bottomed floating ‘sky pool’ to be unveiled in London”. Now, it is completed, it confirms my worst fears. It is a display of conspicuous consumption by an arrogant affluent class of developers, which reminds me of Marie Antoinette quipping that the starving Parisians of pre-revolutionary France should eat cake. No wonder she was soon to lose her head: I wouldn’t wish quite that on the planning committee and the developers responsible, but with the homeless walking the streets and foodbanks doing a roaring trade, they deserve some telling punishment.
  10. On 26th May we had the Council’s Annual Meeting. All 60 of us in the Civic Suite were spaced out like candidates in a major public examination but instead of preventing us from cheating this lay-out was: so that we could socially distance. Of course, the effect was precisely the opposite, as it was clear we were meant to be unsocially distanced. This procedure was rather strange as these annual meetings are meant to be for the new Mayor’s family and friends to share a drink and a chat with everyone who attends. So we had a Mayor-Making when not one person talked to the Mayor. A new experience for all and especially for the Mayor, Richard Field, a councillor in Nightingale ward, Tooting.
  11. On 30th May Penny and I stayed with Mary Jay in Oxford. Picture7Some of you, but not many I guess, will know Mary, the widow of Douglas Jay, Battersea’s Labour MP from 1946 to 1983. We were also there to introduce a Brazilian friend to both the city and the Bodleian Library. We took Antonio round Oxford and, in particular, round Magdalen College. Both looked magnificent in the early summer sun and, whilst we were in the Cloisters, this feathered friend popped by for a chat.
  12. On 22nd April, I had the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) and, if I said that the March PAC, was uneventful, then the April version made it seem positively momentous. The interest in individual planning applications was still sufficient, however, to inspire the virtual attendance by 52 people – it was very rare for pre-Covid, pre-online PAC ever to have an audience of 50 – so perhaps there will be some benefits from the new post-Covid regime. But councillors and officers will have to learn a few more broadcasting related presentational skills if they expect to be taken seriously!

My Programme for June

  1. On June 7th I look forward to hearing Diane Hayter talking about the first 29 Labour MPs, who started the PLP, the Parliamentary Labour Party, in 1906.
  2. On June 10th, I am talking to a group of Croydon trade unionists about the rights and wrongs of having elected Mayors. Croydon is planning to have a referendum on the matter in the autumn and clearly many are undecided about which way to vote. I am very much opposed.
  3. On June 11th, I am going to give my knees a trial run on an 18-hole golf course for the first time in several years! Fortunately, my partner’s knees are worse than mine so we will be using buggies! Too much football for too many years did for our knees!
  4. The Planning Applications Committee (PAC) is on the 22nd

Did you Know: Last month I asked, “What was the connection between the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and Battersea?”Sidney Harbour Bridge

And the answer was simply that the British company, Dorman Long, which won the contract to build the bridge, had a significant part of its London operation in Queenstown ward, Battersea.  

And for this month can you tell me:

How many pubs are there in Latchmere ward? Their names? And how many have closed to your knowledge in the recent past and their names? And whilst I will be open to rational debate, I will be the final arbiter on what is, or is not, a pub, etc.

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea May 2021, Newsletter (# 143)

  1. Why is this newsletter so late in the month? Well, would you believe it? To keep well out of the way of breaking electoral law! The law says that anything, which could be construed as party political, and which is distributed in the build up to an election, MUST be counted as electoral expenditure and reported to the authorities. Now I wouldn’t actually go as far as to say that my newsletters are very party political but, unlike our Prime Minister, I am concerned about the legal niceties – hence the late publication of the newsletter. By the time you read this, of course, the election will be all over, which is why I am sending it now.

  2. I woke up on 6th April to the realisation that I am now 80 years old! I was not sure what I was going to do to mark the occasion. I had talked about parties for friends, family and politico friends, but that was before I realised how long Covid’s shadow was going to be. Actually, I did have a few phone calls and a number of Zoom parties with friends and family in various parts of London, Leamington, Winchester and Billericay. The big surprise, though, was a Zoom party organised for me by Labour colleagues in Battersea. I guess there were about 60 people there – a new and very, very pleasurable experience.

  3. Some of you will know that I am trying to find energy and time (or is it enthusiasm and drive?), to write a book about politics in Wandsworth, since 1964. The text is currently some 65,000 words long but I am only halfway through. Whilst researching for it, I have interviewed one or two of the main players and on 8th April I had a long chat with Martin Johnson, a Tory councillor for Northcote FORTY 198from 1974-2018. During his long career, Martin was the number one (either as Chair or Cabinet Member), at various times, in charge of Wandsworth’s council houses, planning and roads, amongst a host of other council services. As we spoke, I was reminded of the important role he played, at quite some personal cost, in stopping the march of the urban motorway through much of the Borough and especially through, around, under and over Clapham Junction. The London Motorway Box was a threat to inner London posed by government-based traffic engineers, which was defeated locally by the Labour Council in the 70s and by the Tories, actually mainly Martin, in the 80s. If the engineers had won, London would have been turned into a mega-Spaghetti Junction. Martin took a correct and bold stance but, because he had defied the party machine, and most particularly Mrs. Thatcher, he lost popularity with his party colleagues and was effectively ignored by his party, ever afterwards. The picture shows Martin on an occasion marking his 40 years as a councillor.

  4. On 16th April, I had lunch in a pub garden with three friends. In what other year would one record that as an event? My first pub lunch for over a year! Then I had a hair cut, like millions of us – an event to record! And a few days later I went for a “surge test” – lots of strange, new experiences in a strange.

  5. I attended an XR (Extinction Rebellion) Wandsworth virtual meeting on 20th There were 50 or 60 people there and the meeting started off with five opening speeches about traffic calming, trees and the Council’s record in planting and growing trees, disinvesting the Council’s pension fund from fossil fuel companies and targeting its investment strategy towards “green” companies. XR’s objective was (and is) to make half a dozen demands of the Council. Their tactics, stated quite publicly, included any obstruction of the Council short of violence. I was not the only councillor attending, as I counted half a dozen others from both Labour and Tory parties. I later discussed it with some councillors from each side and was struck by the fact that I was rather more sympathetic to XR and its demands than many other councillors.

  6. The trouble is that some of XR’s demands were put in such intemperate terms that they were either impractical or border-line illegal and, in addition, a few of their assertions were inaccurate. Combined with the uncompromising tone of the demands, XR Wandsworth seemed more interested in bullying the Council into submission than in persuading the Council of the need to adopt totally “green” policies. I am afraid that the Council is more constrained by the law than is dreamed of in XR’s philosophy. The Council could not resolve, for example, to refuse any and all planning applications, which included the felling of trees at all – such a “pre-determination” would certainly result in refusals being reversed on appeal. The climate crisis is indeed a crisis but that doesn’t mean that XR have a monopoly of wisdom or the right policies, or that the Council can ignore political or legal realities. Acting together would provide faster and better solutions to what is a real crisis.

  7. On 22nd April, I had the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) and, if I said that the March PAC, was uneventful, then the April version made it seem positively momentous. The interest in individual planning applications was still sufficient, however, to inspire the virtual attendance by 52 people – it was very rare for pre-Covid, pre-online PAC ever to have an audience of 50.

  8. However, much to the horror of some councillors and lobbyists, the Government has decided that, as from 6th May, all meetings will have to take place – old-style. Personally, I don’t really believe that a diet of 100% online meetings is sustainable in the long-term. Our current online PAC works well enough, but I think that is because we know each other, and our relative strengths and weaknesses. Somehow, I doubt whether that would be the same with a new committee, a committee, which by definition would have a membership of strangers. But clearly some elements of the new online world will (or rather should) remain; having proved the viability of online committees. How can the Council in future deny the public the right to watch? How could the Council insist on the physical presence of a committee member, suffering from, say, flu when we all now know that an online presence would be perfectly possible? Wandsworth Council should lobby the Government and persuade the relevant Ministers that we cannot, or more properly should not, simply turn back the clock.

  9. I gave a talk, called “A brief history of Battersea 1800-2021”, Bielbyfor the Battersea Society on 27th It was done on Zoom and there was an audience of about 70 or 80. Judging by the audience response after the talk, it went quite well. I certainly enjoyed doing it, but it is a strange experience talking to an audience, when you can’t see anyone’s reactions. Are they rolling around laughing or amazed by one’s stupidity or one’s brilliance? Is it going well or are they bored? This picture, by the way, is called “A view in the lanes near Battersea Fields” and was painted by William Bielby in 1788. It was my opening slide and, as you can see, there have been quite a few changes since! The talk can be seen at : 

Access Passcode: #%L&&T7A

My Programme for May

  1. Political activity in May will be dominated by the London Mayoral and London Assembly elections on May 6th and inevitably everything that follows from those elections. This year, Sadiq Khan is the overwhelming favourite to continue as Mayor and the issue is just how are he and the Prime Minister going to get on working terms, because for the good of our city, they need to work together for the next three years.
  2. On 11th May I have a Wandsworth Conservation Area Advisory Committee.
  3. The 13th May is exactly 50 years after the first election, which I won as a councillor, then, believe it or not, for Northcote ward, which now, and then, was the safest Tory ward in Battersea! Just maybe that is something of an achievement. I know that there has never been any other councillor, who has “done” 50 years on Wandsworth Council, though I guess there might be one or two elsewhere in the country!
  4. The Planning Applications Committee is on 25th May and on the following day the Annual Meeting of the Council when we will be electing a new Mayor.

Did you Know: Last month I asked, “Where would you have had to go in 1886 to visit Battersea’s Little Hell?”

The answer was the area between Battersea Church Road and the Thames, which was the home of rapidly growing, very dirty, heavy industry such as Morgan Crucible’s Sidney Harbour Bridgeand of many of its workers living in very squalid slum conditions, unimaginable today.

And for this month can you tell me:

The connection between the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, shown here, and Battersea?

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea April 2021, Newsletter (# 142)

  1. I was taking my daily exercise across the Common when I saw the very large, slow and apparently lazy wing beat of a heron making for one of the local ponds. And then it disappeared. I searched around the reeds without success. But something caused me to look up and there was my heron, the silent killer of the reeds. Not of course, unknown on the banks of the ponds but always a surprise to me when seen high in the trees. That sighting was a good start to a turbulent month.

  2. On 8 March, I attended an event, organised by my partner, Penny to mark International Women’s Day. Our MP, Marsha de Cordova initiated and hosted the well-attended (virtual) public meeting. Marsha also chaired the five presentations of individual Battersea women’s lives. They were chosen to show a range of pioneering female endeavour in politics and protest; aviation and technology; sports; literature; entertainment. The point, for these women, was either to open new doors – or to push further through doors that were already opened. The five women were Charlotte Despard, Hilda Hewlett, Violet Piercy, Penelope Fitzgerald and Elsa Lanchester. A wide-ranging discussion followed, with notable contributions from an international panel – Judy McKnight, former General Secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) and Prof Beverley Bryan, from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica.

  3. Two days later, March 5th, I took our MP, Marsha de Cordova, for a tour of the brand new Mitchell House. I must say Marsha is an excellent companion on such visits. She enthused over the new flats and their fantastic facilities. One particular flat, designed for a tenant with severe disabilities, has a kitchen work-top, which rises or falls at a touch of a switch, depending upon whether the user is in a wheel-chair or not. As the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (what an acronym SSSWE!), she was very keen on the adjustable work-top! The first tenants are moving into Mitchell House in early April so that at last the first council tenants will be moving into the regenerated estate!

  4. On 8 March, I attended an event, organised by my partner, Penny to mark International Women’s Day. Our MP, Marsha de Cordova initiated and hosted the well-attended (virtual) public meeting. Marsha also chaired the five presentations of individual Battersea women’s lives. They were chosen to show a range of pioneering female endeavour in politics and protest; aviation and technology; sports; literature; entertainment. The point, for these women, was either to open new doors – or to push further through doors that were already opened. The five women were Charlotte Despard, Hilda Hewlett, Violet Piercy, Penelope Fitzgerald and Elsa Lanchester. A wide-ranging discussion followed, with notable contributions from an international panel – Judy McKnight, former General Secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) and Prof Beverley Bryan, from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica.

  5. On the 9th March, I had a meeting of the Wandsworth Conservation Area Advisory Committee. I would like to say that there was something of massive significance but there was not – bar ONE, which means a lot to me. Do you know the old St. Mark’s Vestry School on Battersea Rise? You have possibly ignored it, because of its ramshackle state. You may even have said, “Why haven’t they knocked it down and widened the road junction?” Well, they nearly did except that the late Gordon Passmore, a venerable, Tory councillor, and I joined in an alliance in about 1995 to save the school from demolition. It is in fact an historic building of some local (and even national) significance. It was one of the very first schools built at the advent of free and compulsory education in 1870. Well, I am now delighted to say that, after all these years, the relatively wealthy Southwark diocese is bringing plans to give it a future. I will broadcast that future as soon as I know it.

  6. In the early afternoon of 10th March, there was a meeting of the Wandsworth Design Panel. The panel consists of architects, planners and developers, whose main purpose is to advise the Council on planning and design issues relating to significant developments in the Borough. The panel does not consider the value or utility of any one development – that is clearly a decision for others to take. It is interesting, however, to see and hear the views of practitioners. In my view, they are rather too concerned with design values and too little with social values – but they are advising us on design, so they are doing their job. For example, they tend to love what some might call iconic buildings that make a statement; whereas others might be more concerned about the fit within the community.

  7. I went directly, almost at the flick of a switch, to a meeting with Grassroots For Europe, which is a Labour-oriented group talking about when and how to encourage and lobby the powers that be to think about rejoining the European Union. Anyone who has read my newsletters will know, that I think, leaving the EU was an unmitigated disaster. We will see as events unfold, whether it has or has not been. Either way, it is clearly a live issue. Brexit has definitely not been done yet!

  8. On 11th March, in the morning, I took part in a group set up to commemorate John Archer, who in 1913 became the first black Mayor of any large local authority in Britain. (interestingly a small town in East Anglia had had a black mayor in the nineteenth century) The general assumption is that the memorial is likely to be a statue in some prominent spot in Battersea. Judging by this picture, to do Archer proud it will need to be a grand statue! The working group included the Leader of Wandsworth Council, Councillor Maurice McLoud and myself.

  9. On 12th March, Sarah Everard was kidnapped, apparently on the A205, a well-lit section of the South Circular Road, and subsequently murdered. Her murder will always, however inaccurately, be associated with Clapham Common. The local outpouring of grief was unprecedented. I went up on to the Common on both the following days, in a somewhat vain gesture of solidarity. The only thing that I can think of to say is that we do have to do something pretty drastic about men. We need to rethink the education and status of boys, relative not only to girls but to the whole of society. Men are, after all, guilty of most violence whether to young or old, child or adult, female or male.

  10. Within a couple of days, the tree was cut down. I have made no bones about my support for the regeneration of the York Road estate, commonly (but wrongly) referred to as the Winstanley. I (and more to the point, most of the tenants) do not consider that the living conditions suffered by many who live in Scholey,  Pennethorne, and Holcroft Houses to be acceptable in 21st century Britain. And when what follows from that belief are difficult decisions, then I certainly accept the consequences. I have taken some criticism for the cutting down of the tree, for not providing a massive increase in social housing and for not arguing for the perfect solution. As it happens, it is Wandsworth Council with its Tory majority control, which makes the decisions in a context where a Tory Government has set the funding rules. I believe that, in that context, I and my fellow Labour councillors in Latchmere – Wendy Speck (now retired), Kate Stock and Simon Hogg – have negotiated and lobbied for a far better outcome than most regeneration schemes across the capital have achieved. And remember, the plan is to have 40 more trees after the scheme is completed than before!

  11. A week later, on 19th March, I went to a lecture on Degas at the National Gallery. In pre-Covid days, I loved going to the exhibitions to see great paintings, by Hockney as much as by Leonardo. However, I am disappointed with the lectures that the National Gallery has put on during Covid, which I have attended virtually. Personally, I am not all that interested in Degas’ personal circumstances. He seems to have had a very comfortable and happy life – none of your mythical tales of starving, love-lorn student in a freezing attic. For my taste, the lecture put too much emphasis on the artist and not enough on the techniques or the brilliance of his art. So, very high marks to the Gallery for the idea of publicly accessible lectures, even at a high price, but the Gallery needs to think further about the delivery of the lectures. Perhaps, they need to take advice from the  BBC or similar experts.

  12. On 24th March I had the Planning Applications Committee (PAC). It was, however, one of the most uneventful PAC meetings of recent times. Nevertheless, 80 people joined the virtual public gallery. And, although government permission to hold such meetings in virtual mode runs out at the end of June, there is no doubt that there will be long-term effects on the way that Councils hold their public meetings.

  13. On 30th March, I went for a virtual walk along Bolingbroke Grove, led and described by Sue Demont of the Battersea Society and organised by the Friends of Wandsworth Common. It was well researched, as Sue’s work always is, but one of her comments, I found especially interesting, related to Bolingbroke School. It was of course, for most of its life, Bolingbroke Hospital, and you can possibly tell that where the large windows dominate the west face of the school, there used to be balconies. They were there so that patients, mostly from the then densely packed industrial slums, north of the railway lines, could recuperate in the fresh air and the sunshine. In a strange way that geographic exchange between the harsher realities of North Battersea and the softer environment of Wandsworth Common is echoed by the daily flow of school-kids from one to the other.

  14. And finally, I and my partner have just had our second jabs. It obviously does not mean that one can go mad and go to the pub, a restaurant and the cinema. However, it is a weight off the mind. I fully recommend it to anyone having doubts about vaccination. Forget your doubts. Vaccination works – all the evidence proves it – and what is more, it is a collective good, potentially releasing us all from endlessly repeated lockdowns.

My Programme for April

  1. All normal political activity comes to a halt in April, as the rules forbid meetings, council publicity, etc., etc. in the run-up to the London Mayoral and London Assembly elections on May 6th.
  2. Life will not exactly stop but, what with Covid, it will seem pretty close to it, except that on April 26th, I am due to give a presentation to the Battersea Society on Battersea History, 1800-2020. That will be a new challenge that I am looking forward to.

Did you Know: Last month I asked about the person, whose name adorns the new Duval House?


The answer is Emily Duval (1861-1924), who campaigned strongly for women’s rights, as did all her Battersea-based family. She was twice imprisoned for her role in suffragette protests; and in 1919, once women had got the vote, she became a Labour Councillor in Battersea – one of the first women to be elected to such a position. Tragically, Duval’s three suffragette daughters died in the 1918 flu pandemic and never got to vote.

And for this month can you tell me:

Where you would have to go in 1886 to visit Battersea’s Little Hell? And what is there now?

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea March 2021, Newsletter (# 141)

  1. In January, it was politics, which were so strange, but in February it was the weather! Starting with one of the longest, coldest hard spells in recent history, the month ended in almost balmy, spring warmth. Dogs and kids of all ages enjoyed the start. I am afraid that I have reached the stage of very much preferring the warmth of the last few days!

  2. The public political world has been rather quiet, with the one exception of the tree, variously described as a black poplar, a horse chestnut, and a London Plane and photographed the day before it became a cause celebre, a day before it was “occupied” by Extinction Rebellion and other good, worthy causes. You will not be surprised to know that I, and my fellow councillors, have received emails aplenty in defense of the tree claiming that it had stood there a hundred plus years and seen two World Wars and that to bring its life to an end was an act of needless vandalism, which we should resist at all costs. It is undeniably a grand tree and it will be undeniably a sad day when and if the tree does go, but no one should imagine that its loss was an act of needless vandalism, done almost for the fun of it.

  1. Just look at Pennethorne House, the grey, concrete slab block close behind on the right of the tree. It is one of three slab blocks, the other two being Scholey and Holcroft Houses, which are the main feature of the York Road estate, so often lumped together as part of the Winstanley Estate. They are also the core of a community, which suffers from one of the highest deprivation levels in the UK. An hour or two spent delivering leaflets, something I have done for many years on that estate, will introduce you to a brutalist concrete physical environment. It is no surprise to me that the social problems found here are the greatest in Wandsworth, nor that, most regrettably, it has been the scene of murders and domestic abuse. The 2012 Council plan to regenerate, ok let’s be honest about it, to demolish and rebuild the estate was agreed unanimously. And frankly, I do not see too many of the worthy, green protesters wishing to live in these three blocks.

  2. Agreed that demolition of the worst blocks does not of itself demand loss of the tree, but government no longer subsidises council house building and hence the council has to pay for the work. To do that it has to raise taxes, i.e. Council Tax, which is not actually a viable option thanks to government legislation, or to borrow money or to sell assets. Indeed, selling assets was and is considered the only feasible option. The assets to be sold are the private flats constructed in the new tall, white Duval House, built opposite the Grant Road entrance to Clapham Junction station, and in the other for sale blocks, yet to be built. These considerations have meant reconfiguring the development programme. In fact, there will be some 40 more new trees after the programme is finished than there are now although, of course, to start with they will be semi-mature trees or saplings and not mature, or aging, trees.

  3. We, three Latchmere councillors, have asked for a review of the build programme, but just for the record, the high capacity cable that is planned for where the tree now stands is not like your average domestic electric cable that you can wind round the furniture. Nor is the timing a matter of a day or two here and there. Any delay now is holding up the provision of some 150 new council homes and judging by the quality of the newly built Mitchell House, shown here, that would be a grossly unfair penalty to impose on the current inhabitants of the estate.

  4. I had the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) on 24th None of the applications was of note to anyone but the immediate neighbours. Unusually, however, people might be interested in an enforcement action that we agreed. It was about this building that you may have noticed at the corner of Prince of Wales Drive and Battersea Park Road, where they meet near the Dogs’ Home. This building, called Creative House, was built with permission for 16 flats and a ground floor shop, but has been used for some time as a “luxury AirBNB” base for London. The Committee decided, on the officers’ recommendation to start enforcement action to have it converted back to residential accommodation.

  5. I am frankly a little concerned about this decision. As a planning authority, Wandsworth has decided that we need more hotel space so as to accommodate the ever-growing tourist trade, which we recognise is of massve importance to the London economy. As a local authority we must also try to ensure that AirBNB is not simply a cheap, unregulated scam designed to exploit the advantages of the internet and avoid the health and safety controls operataed by hotels and yet we have to acknowledge that it is a “new, cheaper product” designed for the internet age and is enormously popular with younger, less affluent tourists – and frankly this corner site is not that ideal for permanent housing. What do you reckon?

  6. On 11th February, I went, with Carol Rahn leading, on a virtual walk round historical buildings in Battersea. Carol has been advising the Council on various buildings, sites and gardens that should be given some level of historic preservation. None of the buildings were famous – if they were then they would already be preserved but this was a fun tour of Victorian post-boxes, of stink pipes, boundary markers like the two parish boundary markers shown here in Wix Lane, and of oddities and unusual designs. Carol’s walk, given under the auspices of the Battersea Society, was as ever well researched and masterfully presented – very enjoyable.

My Programme for March

  1. On 3rd March I have a full Council Meeting.
  2. On 9th March we have a meeting of the Wandsworth Conservation Area Advisory Committee.
  3. The Planning Applications Committee is due to meet on 24th March – if the traditional purdah for the Mayoral Election on 3rd May does not cause its cancellation.
  4. Look out at @MarshadeCordova for Marsha de Cordova’s tweets on notable women with connections to Battersea. There will be one each day in March and a special display on 8th March, International Women’s Day. Marsha says log in here:- and you will receive a Zoom link on the day of the event.

 Did you Know:

Last month I asked where John Wesley’s bust can be found?

Not very surprisingly, stalwarts of the Battersea Society, such as Carol and Jenny, knew the answer but not many others did. It is in Mallinson Road, on the south side, east of Northcote Road. The neighbour’s house has a bust of Mallinson, of whom I know nothing. But the road name suggests to me that he was the builder responsible for many of these late nineteenth-century terraced houses.

This month’s Question relates to the large Duval House, referred to in paragraph 4 above and pictured here. It stands opposite the Grant Road exit from Clapham Junction station and is the “cash cow” of the redevelopment which makes much of the regeneration economically viable. Do you have any idea about which local personage it was named after and what she did that made her noteworthy?

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea February 2021, Newsletter (# 140)

1. The strangeness of the times continues to bemuse. The year began with what looked like an attempted coup in the United States, organised by the President himself and yet everybody (?) expects him to get away with a  not-guilty verdict in the Senate. We used to lock up people in the Tower before beheading them for lesser crimes than plotting to bring down the state! What is more, the very same President is generally recognised to have been a tool of the KGB and he is still not going to get beheaded, unlike Charles I, shown here. And the ex-President, is the man that our very own Prime Minister wanted so much to befriend both for trade deals and reflected glory. (Not, you understand, that I am arguing for the return of capital punishment, but merely wishing to emphasise the gravity of the charges).

2. And then, of course, Brexit really started to get underway with all the ironies that encompassed. The appearance of a virtual trade barrier in the middle of the Irish Sea, despite PM Johnson declaring only months beforehand that no UK Prime Minister could ever agree to that. The ironies continued with fishing interests, previously one of the most vocal pro-Brexit groupings in the country, complaining that they have been betrayed. And then there were all the stories of just how much red tape was involved with Brexit when the story had been that we would be getting rid of annoying EU red tape. And now it is slowly dawning that many of us will need visas and green cards, and special health insurance and, no doubt, other red tape for any trips that we might make to the mainland!

3. Meanwhile back here in “dear old Blighty” global warming appears to place England in danger of becoming completely water-logged – there are more than just scenic advantages to Scottish and Welsh mountains! What with the Thames barrier and raised river walls one would guess that we, in Battersea, are largely safe but there must be hundreds of flooded basements. I usually do my daily exercise on Clapham Common and, to put it mildly, I think the Common is under stress from both the constant downpours and from the very heavy traffic of walkers, joggers and cyclists. Will the grass and the two small woods ever recover? Probably, but how long before they recover properly?

4. At the same time, the UK registers over 100,000 deaths from Covid with general expectation that we might register 150,000 in three months time. Given the general reaction, when at least in theory we understand about disease, it is easy to imagine the fear that the Black Death struck in the medieval world. Then, the population loss was as much as 30% – the equivalent today of about 18 million! Interestingly enough, the mythical golden years of “Merrie England” followed the Black Death, at a time when England’s growing wealth was shared amongst a much smaller population.

5. But at last some relief, at least for me and mine. We both had our vaccinations, first phase in mid-January. Just in case there are any cynics reading this, which of course there aren’t, we are both genuinely in the priority groups and the appointments came completely out of the blue! The experience was great: so many older people all showing delight to have got through to a vaccination; very helpful volunteers shepherding us through the process in such a friendly fashion; so punctual, so social and so efficient. Well done NHS and thank goodness this process was not out-sourced, like “Test and Trace”, to a Tory Party crony.

6. Back at the Town Hall, things seem to have slowed down. The only formal meeting I had all month was the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) on 27th January. Even that had a relatively light agenda, by recent standards, which might explain why only 46 residents logged in to view the discussion on-line. In recent months the audience has averaged over 100. Interestingly enough, the two most significant applications were to change the “mix” of recently approved applications – the mix, that is, of permitted uses. Developers were looking to scale down the amount of retail space in their applications; and also to change the balance of residential to slightly more family-sized units (3 and 4 bedroom flats) and fewer single-person units. I rather suspect that this is not the last time that we will see the impact of Covid on developers and new developments.

7. Could it be that the frantic pace of development in the Nine Elms Lane area will come to, perhaps not a halt, but a slowdown? Could this mark the end of the growth of high-rise London? I hope so, as despite some of the obvious advantages, I don’t come across very many residents who actually want to live high in the sky – especially families with kids.

8. There were other informal Council-centred meetings such as:-

  • the Conservation Area Advisory Committee which discussed amongst other things the planning application about the future for the Arding & Hobbs building
  • a couple of meetings with my ward colleagues, Kate Stock and Simon Hogg
  • the Labour Group of councillors to discuss our approach to the 3 February Council Meeting and items of group business.

9. So, it has been a quiet month for most of the councillors, at least in formal political terms but many of the younger members are volunteering at the vaccination centres, or working to get IT facilities out to schools, or helping voluntary groups to deliver food to the more vulnerable residents. The Town Hall, itself, is a very curious place right now. I have been there a few times but it is like the Mary, or if you prefer Marie, Celeste (an American sloop found, in 1872, in mid-Atlantic in perfect working order but with no crew). So just as on the Celeste some things are operating normally but, with most staff working from home, telephone contact can be difficult where communications problems have not been resolved.

10. On 6th January, I attended (Zoom, of course) a Battersea Society Twelfth Night Poetry meeting, starring poems written and read by Hilaire. I found some of the poems very moving and the whole evening very innovative. And on 21st the Society organised a talk, by Jeanne Rathbone on the Battersea industrial riverside. As ever, Jeanne had researched every site and every nook and cranny of each site’s history. She included lots of pictures and material, which were new to me. I hope that Battersea Society will support efforts to get more notices and photographs along the river of both its historical and industrial past, such as this picture of Price’s Candle Factory.

11. Simon Hogg, Kate Stock and I also attended a few meetings to discuss the plans for the Regeneration of the Winstanley/York Road estates. All was going well until on the 29th January we were warned that the Council’s partner in the Joint Venture project, Taylor Wimpey, is having difficulties raising the necessary finance. As a result, there will need to be a quick review of the project and of the timing of fundamental phases of the building work. The Covid crisis has struck again. Fortunately, I understand that the Council’s element of the project, including the delivery of new council houses and other types of affordable housing, look to be unaffected. I will update on the position next month.

My Programme for February

  1. On February 3rd we have a full Council Meeting, but it is really a rubber-stamping exercise, as we are simply approving the 2020/21 accounts. This is a preparatory step towards defining the Council’s budget and our Council Tax, which will be a month later on 3rd March.
  2. On 9th February we have a Safer Neighbourhood Team meeting between the community and the Met Police. I know that the Met, and the Council, would welcome more community involvement so, if you would like to attend, then, please, send me your email address at
  3. The Planning Applications Committee is on 24th February.

Did you Know:Fossil tree
Last month I asked what is the oldest object in Wandsworth?

Many of you knew the answer to this one though one reply made me think it was a great piece of inspired detective work. The plaque says “Fossilized remains of a tree trunk from the lower Purbeck Bed, Portland. Moved from Bedford Hill Park by the Balham Antiquarian and Natural History Society and placed here by the permission of London County Council.” The trunk itself is not spectacularly attractive or striking but at an age of 145 million years, I guess it deserves our appreciation.

John WesleyAnd for this month’s question: the great eighteenth-century evangelist, John Wesley’s, bust adorns the front of a not very distinguished house in an otherwise unremarkable terrace in South Battersea. Do you know where he is and whose statues is on the neighbouring house?

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea January 2021, Newsletter (# 139)

  1. This year (or more accurately “last year”), we can all use the same clichés and understand exactly what we all mean, such as “I have never known a Christmas like this one”, “the world will never be the same again”, “working life/the high street/the entertainment world will never be the same” and my own current, personal favourite it is what it is. But the fact that we all know the clichés doesn’t stop them from being true. Covid-19 is a disaster and nothing ever will be quite the same again, though chances are they will not be quite as different as some think.

  2. No doubt as more and more of us are vaccinated, there will be a return to some semblance of normality, whatever that may be. But that might not be as simple as it may appear thanks to the growth of the “anti-vaxxers” lunacy. It beggars belief that otherwise apparently rational people can campaign against vaccination. That this triumph of immunology, originally of Chinese medicine, brought to Europe through Turkey and developed by the eighteenth-century Englishman, Edward Jenner, and successfully used to conquer smallpox, polio, diptheria and many other diseases, should be challenged by such “know-nothings” is a tragedy of modern life. We all have a duty to deride and defeat such irrationality, even if it is not quite the threat here that it appears to be in the USA.

  3. If the anti-vaccination movement becomes a genuine threat to public health, then politicians will have to face questions about compulsion or “liberty”; individual rights and duties; communal values. As we don’t allow people to choose which side of the road they want to drive on, right or left, I don’t really see why we should allow people to choose whether to be vaccinated or not; after all compulsory vaccination against smallpox has been standard since 1853. If compulsion seems harsh to some, then perhaps we should use extreme “nudge theory” like charging an NHS premium on all, who refuse vaccination.

  4. On 8th December, we had our second monthly Battersea Labour Party meeting. The mechanics of it worked quite well – clearly, a high proportion of members are well used to operating Zoom or Teams in their working lives and virtual meetings are becoming an inevitable, even desirable feature of daily life. Amazing, that an almost unknown technology should become a mundane, everyday event in no more than 10 months: in that sense, 2020 has certainly been different.

  5. On Wednesday 16th December, we had the Wandsworth Council Meeting – very strange! Council meetings are, in my view, meant to be about policy-making and review, about debating current issues and opinions, and holding the administration, whether political or practical, to account. But Covid has put a stop to all that. What we are left with, rather like in Parliament, is a Tory-controlled administration informing us of what is happening and how well they are handling everything – could they have done anything else? And a Labour opposition replying that the Tories are not doing well – but could Labour have done anything else? It leaves us with a form of politics, a confrontational politics, that gives parties a bad name.

  6. Personally, I would have liked the Council to have demanded of Government that local authorities should take over the national Covid test-and-trace programmeThe Government itself has made “a Horlicks” of the programme, in a display of incredible incompetence, whilst simultaneously playing fast and loose with recognised procurement procedures. The fact that local authorities and the NHS have well-tried, successful test-and-trace programmes for other contagious illnesses seems to have escaped the Government’s notice. This Government’s contempt for local authorities has cost some innocent lives. I trust that the post mortem on this crisis considers all the evidence and really holds those responsible to account!

  7. The following day 17th December, I was back to the very practical discussions  of the Planning Applications Committee (PAC). Unusually, this PAC meeting  was dominated by relatively small applications, mainly in Tooting. The one  exception was an application for 480 residential units in 8-17 storey blocks  between Wandsworth Town Station and Swandon Way. The buck had already  been effectively sold on this, because it had “prior approval” from Sadiq  Khan,  Mayor of London. Nonetheless, I and one other councillor voted  against  the scheme, because of its mass and density, which we thought  inappropriate for the location.  The proposed development also made no concession to the possible or probable post-Covid environment of decreased demand for office space and more particularly for office commuters. Apologies for the poor reproduction but here are graphics of the Swandon Way development from Swandon Way and from Old York Road.

  8. The run-up to Christmas was, you will recall, exceptionally wet. That did,  however, have its occasional compensations. On December 23rd, for example,  this spectacular rainbow could be seen over Battersea. Meanwhile, on a  personal basis it was a challenging month. My partner and I have had Garry  installing a new kitchen, at the same time as we have struggled with an ailing  boiler and an extremely temperamental shower. But on Christmas Eve the  kitchen was superbly finished and a new boiler installed, and everything is  now wonderful. We spent Christmas Day cooking and having hot showers!

  9. Meanwhile, I have been reading a book by my friend, Liam Kennedy, called Who was Responsible for the Troubles? Liam is a historian based in Queen’s Belfast and happens to be from a rural, Catholic, Irish background (Tipperary). He has one thing in common with me. He was for a period a Belfast city councillor – but there the similarity ends. I recall that we were once having dinner with him and his wife when the phone rang. Liam excused himself to return a couple of hours later. He had been called out on that Saturday evening to attend to one of his constituents, who had been the victim of a “knee-capping”. Thankfully being a Latchmere councillor has not, so far, produced such drama.

  10. The book documents the detail of much of the Troubles; Liam’s personal knowledge of many of the players in Northern Ireland’s troubles gives his book depth and granularity. His conclusions about the events are not conventional but deserve consideration. It has taken courage to write and to have it published. It will be an essential and sombre reference work about the Troubles.

  11. On December 30thParliament voted to accept the deal the Prime Minister made with the European Union on Christmas Eve. In my view, the deal joins the short-list of the greatest self-imposed disasters that any country has ever made – it will be a year or two before that is proved right or wrong but nonetheless on the 30th December Labour had to decide whether to vote for or against the deal, or to abstain. Clearly, this decision was a difficult one for Labour MPs and, I know well, it has pre-occupied Battersea’s MP, Marsha de Cordova.

  12. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with the real world of politics will know that voting for a poor “Tory” deal, negotiated by a despised Prime Minister, is, as they say, a “big ask”. However, voting against it was never going to be more than a gesture, which would have left Labour open to the accusation that, in effect, it had supported leaving the EU with no deal. I am pleased that Keir Starmer supported the deal, even a bad Tory engineered deal is a better choice than no deal at all.

My Programme for January

  1. On 4th January I have a Wandsworth Conservation Advisory Committee.
  2. On Twelfth Night, the Battersea Society is running a Zoom Poetry Reading event – what an inspiration for the depths of this, particularly grim winter.
  3. The Planning Applications Committee is on 27th January and NOT on 19th as advertised in the Council diary – unsurprisingly, it looks like a quiet month.

Did you Know:
Last month I asked two easy questions but did not get one response!

They were Q1:     Can you date the two occasions since WWII, when one party won the UK’s popular vote but lost the election and name the two lucky men who subsequently walked into 10 Downing Street?

Answer 1:            The first occasion was 1951 when Labour won the popular vote but not the majority of constituencies and Tory Winston Churchill became Prime Minister for the second time. The other occasion was February 1974, when the Tories won the popular vote but ended up with fewer MPs than Labour. Labour’s Harold Wilson subsequently became PM.

Q2      What is the hidden physical connection between Streatham Hill and Battersea Reach?

Answer 2:            The Falconbrook River, which has its source on Streatham Hill and eventually flows under Northcote Road and Falcon Road, and ends in the Thames at Battersea Reach. It is nowadays culverted all, or nearly all, the way.

And for this month:

In December, I went for a walk on Tooting Common, which I don’t know very well. And there I came across what I suggest is the oldest object in Wandsworth – and I mean seriously old, millions of years old. Do you know what it is?

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea December, 2020, Newsletter (# 138)

  1. Like everyone else, my partner and I are getting a tad bored with lockdowns and their implications, so on 1st November, we escaped for a beautiful walk in Richmond Park. As often before we headed for Pen Ponds but instead of our normal walks to the ponds, and then south or west we went north, where we came across my rather tragic tree of the month – majestic and doleful and rather appropriate for “Lockdown November”. We also discovered the Royal Ballet School and its beautiful home. It isn’t (I don’t think) the same building as in the film, Billy Elliott (2000), but it obviously inspired the set for the film.

  2. On the 3rd November, the Boundary Commissioners produced their latest and last report on the proposed ward boundaries from 2022, which will apply for the next 20 or 30 years. The report was published coincidentally and ironically on the day of the American Presidential election. In the Biden:Trump election, the distribution of the popular vote and the Electoral College vote was so different that Biden’s popular majority of over six million was by no means certain to deliver him victory in the Electoral College. The British Boundary Commissioners’ job is to distribute the vote between constituencies so as to ensure that confusion like that does not happen in the UK.

  3. On the whole, over the years, the Commission has been fairly successful in that aim BUT not always. (There have been two occasions since the Second World War, when the party that won the most votes lost the Election, once with the Tories losing out and once when Labour did.) Here, in Wandsworth, the Tories have won the last 12 Council elections but not always the popular vote. In both 1986 and 2018, Labour won more votes. The 1986 win gifted the Tories with control for the year of the Zero Council Tax, which created favourable conditions for them for several subsequent elections. It is arguable that their “accidental” victory in 1986 secured for the Tories control of Wandsworth for many years.

  4. On a day-to-day basis, the ward boundaries make little practical difference, but some old ward names will disappear (Latchmere, Fairfield) and some new ones will appear (Lavender, Battersea Park, Falconbrook). Some will be familiar but in a different format as in Mary’s and not St. Mary Park or the “combined” ward of Shaftesbury and Queenstown. But, from my experience, the worst feature of the review is the change from 20 wards with 3 councillors each making a total Council of 60 councillors to a mix of 14 three-councillor wards and 8 two-councillor wards, making a Council of 58. From my experience, when the Borough last had two-councillor wards prior to 2002, the smaller wards packed less clout than the larger wards and, when it came to the inevitable horse-trading of priorities and budgets, the smaller wards suffered. That problem was solved by making the wards a standard size.

  5. On 10th November, Battersea Labour Party had a Zoom meeting, where the major item under discussion was Jeremy Corbyn’s position in the party. The debate was calm and considered, which, given the feelings of some members, was in itself quite a good result. Nevertheless, honesty compels me to admit that I was disappointed in our failure to move on to the important issues facing the country as we draw nearer to Brexit, whilst struggling with the consequences of the pandemic!

  6. On 18th November the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced the good news that he has agreed to the Winstanley Regeneration plan. We can now get on with replacing the old, worn-out stock of Council homes, with super, high-quality new homes as well as adding some 150 extra bedrooms for all those families suffering over-crowding on the estate. But in addition, we will add hundreds of new homes, a new library and swimming pool and a re-designed York Gardens. These changes will, of course, take time but at least the decks are now clear. Some tenants will be moving into their new homes in the next couple of months and all will have the promise of better living conditions.

  7. The Planning Applications Committee (PAC) was on 25th November; on this occasion, it was watched live by 274 viewers, most of whom I guess were watching progress with the Arding & Hobbs I rather liked the design solution proposed by the architects; it retains the early twentieth century features of the original and adds a slightly Arabic, but restrained roof extension. The contentious element, however, is that the developer obviously does not think that the future of retail in the modern, online world is bright enough to utilise a building the size of the old department store. Instead, he has gone for small, quality office units, arguing essentially that in the post-Covid world, more offices will be located in significant hubs around the city centre – and what hub could be better situated for Gatwick and Heathrow and the UK’s rail system than Clapham Junction? Note that there is no longer a link with Debenham’s or a vulnerability to its bankruptcy.

  8. There were several other major applications of real interest to Battersea, most of which were approved. One was the development in Battersea Square of Thomas’s Preparatory School with a substantial secondary school addition. Thomas’s is likely to become one of the most expensive and exclusive public schools in Britain – with all that entails. Another was the development of three tower blocks, up to 16 storeys, on the Palmerston Court site, opposite the entrance to the Dogs’ Home. This complex is designed for more than 850 student residents, from King’s College London, along with a substantial volume of offices and a new pub to replace the current Flanagan’s. And a third development is for 50+ flats on the Patmore estate, attached to and very much in tune with Marsh House.

  9. The fourth application I would like to highlight is on a totally different scale but perhaps just as significant for residents of the Borough. It was an application to build a small bar, ancillary to what is now Clapham Common Westside’s Bowling Green. The intention is to provide a commercial refreshment facility to complement a new Putt in the Park complex in place of the bowling green. There are similar facilities in both Battersea and Wandsworth Parks. Incredibly, to me, there is no “statutory” protection for bowling greens (and I dare say neither crown bowling greens nor croquet lawns). There is protection for other sports pitches, such as soccer, hockey and rugby, which attract younger client groups. So the omission of greens seems discriminatory on both age and gender grounds. Bowls and croquet are energetic, inclusive games, which deserve support and not oblivion. I am pleased to say that the committee rejected this application! It would be such a shame to lose the quiet and gentle sight of the local bowling green on a summer’s afternoon.

  10. One other “minor” piece of news may have escaped your attention. Because of the state of Hammersmith Bridge (seen here in the distance), and NOT because of Covid, the decision has been taken to move The 2021 Boat Race from the Thames to Cambridge. Because there is no sign yet that Hammersmith Bridge will ever be repaired and best estimates are that it would take seven years anyway, one wonders whether this traditional race, now over 160 years old, will ever be seen again. There are all kinds of things that are anachronistic about it – it excludes hundreds of other colleges; it is an oddity, rather like the marathon only not even an Olympic event; it is not metric; it’s very long; it’s on the tideway when almost all other rowing events are on lakes. We may have seen our last ever Boat Race!

My Programme for December

  1. On 8th December we have a Zoom meeting of Battersea Labour Party members.
  1. On 10th December there is a virtual meeting of the Labour councillors, the first for what seems like months.
  2. The Council Meeting is on 16th December, but what exactly that will be like is difficult to say at the moment!
  1. That is followed the next day by the Planning Applications Committee.

 Last month I asked, “Where is the Battersea Welsh Presbyterian Chapel?”

On this occasion, I was surprised at just how many people did know that the Chapel, pictured here, stands in Beauchamp Road on the right-hand corner halfway along the road. But readers also told me that David Lloyd George worshipped there, when he lived in Routh Road, and that Huw Edwards, the newscaster, is a key figure in the chapel’s life.

The Eglwys Bresbyteraidd Cymru Or the Presbyterian Church of Wales

And this month two easy questions and one notice:

Q1                       In Paragraph 3 above I mentioned that, on two occasions since WWII, one party won the UK’s popular vote but lost the election. Can you date these occasions and name the two lucky men who subsequently walked into 10 Downing Street?

Q2.                        What is the hidden physical connection between Streatham Hill and Battersea Reach?

On December 2nd Clare Graham’s booklet Discovering Battersea’s Open Spaces goes on sale at Waterstones or via the Battersea Society website. The booklet takes you on six delightful walks across and around the old Battersea parish.

Festive Midwinter Greetings

from Tony and Penny

Sails on the Markermeer, the Netherlands, Photograph, Tony, 2013

The 1918 “Spanish flu” and my grandparents: Lessons from a pandemic

I am probably one of the very few nowadays to have a “direct connection” with the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic, in that I had quite long conversations about it with my grandmother. Her husband, Ernest Belton, died of the disease in November, 1918. She was then seven months pregnant with Rose, my aunt. This picture shows my grandparents, with Nen their eldest daughter, in 1911 or 1912.

Gran told me that her husband had woken up one day feeling a bit worse for wear and died in her lap the very same evening – that was how virulent the 1918 pandemic was. At the time of his death, Nen was 7 years old, Ernest 6, and my father Stanley just 4. Rose was born two months later in January, 1919.

The Beltons were a working-class family with no private resources and no Welfare State to support them. My grandfather was a tram driver. They lived in tenement blocks in, variously, the East End and Islington. I don’t recall whether my grandmother had needed to work before Ernest’s death (our chats were in the late 1940s and 1950s), but, after his death, she certainly had to work daytimes as a seamstress in the big Regent Street store Dickins & Jones and in her spare time (with 4 children, aged 0-7!) as a domestic cleaner.

There was no widow’s allowance, indeed the Widows’, Orphans’ and Old Age Contributory Benefits Act did not come into force until 1925, but even then widows had to be over 45 to qualify for ten shillings (50P) per week. But gran was in her late twenties. She used to tell me that she regularly had to pawn her wedding ring for a shilling (literal but meaningless modern comparison is 5P), and, as I recall, redeemed it for a shilling and one farthing (quarter of an old penny, which in modern terms would be an interest rate of just less than 2% per week or 100% p.a.). As a sparky 10 year-old, I recall arguing with her that if only she scrimped and scraped for a week she would save farthing after farthing, but she told me that things didn’t work out like that – I never quite understood that argument then but perhaps I am getting old enough to work it out now!

Clearly, this kind of life was impossible without very strong, informal, community bonds. Women in particular must have shared endless family tasks and, most particularly, childcare duties. The early scenes of working-class life in the East End in Sarah Gavron’s film Suffragette (2015) struck me as having very much the same flavour as my grandmother’s stories. If you’ve not seen the film, I highly recommend it. The leaflet pictured below was produced by Wandsworth Labour Parties, two years ago, to commemorate the first centenary of the women’s suffrage. You can see it includes the picture of my grandparents.

Gran couldn’t afford the farthing bus fare from Islington to Oxford Circus and so walked every day, come rain come shine. The 20s might have been the “Roaring Twenties” for some but not for the British working class. In 1926 came the General Strike and three years later, in 1929, the Wall Street Crash. Just when my grandmother might have expected my aunts and uncles to contribute to the family income, they were finding it difficult to get any job at all.

My father turned out to be a bright lad and in 1929 won a scholarship to Christ’s Hospital, which according to Wikipedia was, and is, unique amongst British “public schools” in that “School fees are paid on a means-tested basis, with substantial subsidies paid by the school or their benefactors, so that pupils from all walks of life are able to have private education that would otherwise be beyond the means of their parents”. But, even with the subsidies, the fees were too much for Nan and so, Stan, aged 14, got a job as a post office messenger boy.

It is no wonder that, for the working-classes, solidarity was, and still is, such an article of faith; it is also no wonder that trade union solidarity, perhaps most explicitly the closed shop, was so important to the labour movement. (The “closed shop” was the name used to describe the practice of enforcing trade union membership on to a workforce; it was “organised labour’s” chief weapon against “the bosses”. The effective abolition of the closed shop was one of the main Thatcher “reforms”, and look, how weak organised labour has been since then!)

My father did quite well for himself and so, thirty plus years later, he could afford to contribute his element of the major county award, which I got when going to Oxford University from a state school. Just enough of Home Counties patina and Oxford rubbed off on me, for me at times to be accused by Tory councillors, of being a class ‘traitor’. They thought me to be sufficient of a toff to have “let the side down” by supporting the Labour Party.  How wrong they were and are; and how much I loathe what the Tories collectively have done to working-class life in this country.

To a considerable extent led by Wandsworth Council’s 1978 and 1982 intake of Tories, the Tories, nationally, have systematically coarsened and debased the working classes. Council house sales and the “right to buy” were part of the relentless Tory attacks on subsidised, community-owned housing – attacks which undermined the security and stability of many working-class communities. They followed that up with a policy of compulsory competitive tendering for manual labour; a policy, which cruelly and viciously squeezed the dignity out of so many jobs and coarsened our culture with crude ‘value for money’ measures, usually resulting in worsening pay and conditions, and eventually leading to the gig economy.

What very few people understood, however, was that the systemic changes introduced by the Tories could not be neatly controlled so as to affect only working-class communities and values. The digital revolution has helped to undermine very much more than simply manual jobs; the “loads-of-money” crudities of city slickers began to undermine all kinds of societal and communal values.

At the height of Wandsworth’s service privatisation, I quoted the great seventeenth century Norfolk protest song to Wandsworth’s Chief Executive, Albert Newman,

“The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.”

He only half-jokingly responded that Wandsworth Council needed to become more like the man who stole the common. What Albert Newman was doing, however half-heartedly, was recognising the Council’s part in undermining the social and communal solidarity of our society.

If nothing else, this ghastly pandemic could restore our faith in well-funded, community focused services; undermine the status, privilege and arrogance of the super-rich; restore belief in a redistributive tax and social system; re-invigorate community; and provide a springboard for voluntary action.

In the twenty years after the 1918 “flu epidemic”, Europe’s real political battle became one between social democracy and the two very different forms of totalitarianism, Stalinism and Nazism. Today, a hundred years later, we must fight for the victory of a diverse and democratic polity exercised in most of Europe (and elsewhere) against the nationalistic autocracies we see in Moscow, Beijing, much of the Middle East and, frighteningly, maybe, until recently, even Washington. But equally we need to fight to ensure that we win a social democratic democracy, not the aggressive individualistic dog-eat-dog version resulting from neo-liberalism.

Tony Belton, 17th November, 2020

Councillor Tony Belton’s Battersea November, 2020, Newsletter (# 137)

  1. For me, all the days are merging into one amorphous whole. I work from home, I meet at home on Zoom, I eat at home, entertainment (TV, the internet and books) is at home. My partner and I get on well together so lockdown, or whatever we call the state we’re in now, is not particularly unpleasant as we both have protected incomes and own our house; but it’s not wildly exciting either. It must be so tough for those, who are on piecework, or who are on their own and don’t like it; or for younger people who want to get out there and explore people, places and experiences, or perhaps worst of all for those dependent upon others for care and services. Covid is dividing our community in a way and on a scale that Britain has not seen since at least the end of World War Two.

  2. One of the annoying features of this crisis, at least for me, is the complacency and self-satisfaction of the “fortunate”. It’s so easy to object to, say, the noisy activity of construction sites or refuse collection or even play-spaces; it’s so easy to disparage the “other”. It’s apparently not so easy to be a little tolerant, understanding and patient.

  3. And as for the news from the USA! I have been to both the East and West Coasts and quite a bit of the bit in the middle and love so much of it; I think it’s hard not to be swept away by some features of the States. But in the build-up to the Presidential election, thankfully over in a week’s time, bar legal challenges, it seems as though some Americans are intent on destroying their reputation, their primacy in the world and perhaps even the world, as we know it.

  4. Enough of this global moan! What has been going on in the Council? And what about my part in it? In formal terms the centre-piece was a Council Meeting on 14th October, which by the way was watched by 148 people online. But actually a “virtual Council Meeting” is a pretty tepid affair. The cut and thrust of debate, even at its best, loses so much flavour when delivered from one spare room to another. The reality during this pandemic is that the Council is, even more than usual, being run by the paid staff – the Council’s equivalent of the civil service, with very occasional steers from the Tory-controlled cabinet. As for the councillors, some are immersing themselves with volunteers, delivering vital domestic services, such as helping with food delivery through organisations like Kambala Cares and Waste Not Want Not, whilst others are helping set up “school streets”. And of course, depending upon personal and family circumstances all of us are, just like everyone else, pre-occupied with keeping alive and well.

  5. Meanwhile, I had a couple of meetings with fellow Latchmere councillors and officers about progress on the Winstanley Regeneration. The good news is that 50 or so residents will, by the New Year, be moving into the excellent new flats at Mitchell HouseIMG_5177 in the new block on Plough Road. The large block, Duval, next to Sendall Court and at the junction of Winstanley and Grant Roads, will also be occupied about then. Those units have been sold – not as a little maliciously rumoured to millionaires with vast incomes – but at prices ranging from £300,000 to £700,000. I know some of you hate the thought of Wandsworth Council, or any Council, building homes for sale at a time of great housing shortage BUT, with Government subsidies for housing construction a thing of the past, there is no other known way for the Council to pay for the modernisation or construction of houses available at Council rent levels. Frankly, the choice is to sell land, houses or other properties or not to build or re-furbish any new homes at all. As for raising the funds through Council Tax increases, in the first place even doubling Council Tax would not approach the sums required, and secondly, the Government wouldn’t allow it.

  6. I had a Planning Applications Committee (PAC) on 22nd Interestingly, it was watched live by 145 viewers, with another 58 later watching the recording. This total does not exactly match “Strictly” ratings, but indicates that this technology opens up the possibility for public involvement in a way that Town Hall meetings, as long as they are not broadcast, do not. The main reason for the audience interest was, I suspect, the great local (and political) interest in the planning application covering Roehampton’s giant Alton Estate.

  7. The main issue on the Alton regeneration, much as with the Winstanley, was the balance, taking into account the current formula for assessing financial viability, between the quantum of so-called affordable and private housing units. A majority of us, including me, thought that this application provided as much “Council housing” as the developer, the Council, could financially provide. Others argue that the Council could and should provide more Council housing. Either way, Mayor Sadiq Khan will now need to decide on the question of viability. If he presses further than the Council believes viable, then logically it will abandon the project. It’s a process of negotiation, where my guess is that the Council will be forced to concede a little. The question is how much.

  8. Most of the other important and large applications were, on this occasion, in either Putney or Tooting, the largest being one for more than 800 housing units, amongst other things, on the massive Springfield Hospital site. There was, however, one smallish application that will interest Battersea residents and that was for the site of Blacks store in St. John’s Road. As most Battersea people must have noticed Blacks has had a closing down sale there for what seems like years – it’s certainly more than 12 months. After the PAC meeting, the developers now have permission to concentrate the retail store on the ground floor and to convert the upper stories into six custom-built residential flats.

  9. On 24th October Radio 4 ran a Profile p08w0zqvof ex-councillor Edward Lister, now the Prime Minister’s No 10 adviser. The programme director interviewed a number of Wandsworth councillors, including me as I had been the Leader of the Opposition to Lister for 15 years. The interview lasted at least 30 minutes but, of course, my comments were drastically, but not unreasonably, cut to make the final 15 minute programme. If you are interested, you can hear it on iPlayer, Radio 4 at 19.00 on 24th October.

  10. Away from the Council I, like everyone else, have had a quiet month. My only memorable trip outside Battersea was to go to the National Gallery on October 5th to see the Titian I went with Marcy, wife of fellow councillor Peter Carpenter. She has recently completed a degree in Italian Renaissance Art. I was looking forward to being tutored through the visit, because I’d never really appreciated Italian religious art. That was my first mistake; these paintings were all about classical mythology. Gods yes, but capricious, malicious gods of the kind that the ancients seemed to revel in! Here, for example, the goddess, Venus, is pleading with the beautiful Adonis not to go hunting the wild boar, which inevitably turns on him and goars him to death. However, I am afraid that, despite Marcy’s fascinating tuition, I still don’t find Titian to my taste.

My Programme for November

  1. On 10th November we have a Zoom meeting of Battersea Labour Party members. That would have been interesting enough, just involving a membership of over 1,000, in a Zoom meeting, but after the 29th October decision about Jeremy Corbyn, it’s possible that “interesting” will prove to be an understatement!
  2. The November Planning Applications Committee (PAC) is on the 25th.
  3. As I said last month, with so few official meetings since Covid, it might appear as though we councillors have very little to do, but there are plenty of site meetings and discussions with officers as well as dealing with constituents’ queries and issues.
  4. On 26th November at 5.45, I have Latchmere Ward’s Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) SNTs were established across London some years ago in order to sustain and improve relations between the police and the local community. We (both police and Council) are keen to encourage broader community participation and just possibly the enforced migration onto an online platform will encourage YOU to join us. If you are interested (and I hope you are) then please email Roger Lyddon, at the Town Hall for details. Roger is at can join us by telephone or online.  PC Gavin Gilliam, Latchmere’s dedicated Ward Officer will be in attendance.  We look forward to welcoming you on Thursday 26 November but, even if you cannot attend, please let Roger know your details so that he can contact you about future meetings.  But do join us on Thursday 26 November at 5.45 and get involved.

 Last month I asked about this impressive building?

I must confess to a little disappointmentBattersea 22 Qtown Rd-Ingate Place P1010251 (3) that no one else either knew or appeared to be interested.  No matter: the answer is 220 Queenstown Road. It is about 20 yards/metres south of the main Waterloo lines and, when I first came to Battersea in 1966, it was black with soot. When the last steam train services stopped in 1967, its owner decided to give it a clean. For most locals its sudden yellow and redbrick appearance was a great surprise.

Hopefully this month’s Did You Know inspires rather more interest!

Anyone from the Valleys will know that Eglwys Bresbyteraidd Cymru translates literally into Church Presbyterian Wales. My question is simply “Where is the Battersea Welsh Presbyterian Chapel?”

PS about the picture of a boxing match in Culvert Road

Rita, who now lives in Wimbledon, wrote to me in October saying “if you went under the Arch on the left-hand sideculvert-road-1955 there used to be offices situated there, rented by Battersea Council, one of which was my Dad’s office. The Council offices were there, I think before World War II, my Dad worked there during the 40’s, and even possibly before the War, until his death in 1958.

“I come from a Family of fourth generation, who were born in Battersea and Wandsworth.  I was brought up in Battersea.  My late husband was also fourth generation from Battersea. There was also a permanent caravan sited there, where a disabled lady lived. The caravan was always spotlessly clean.

Rita, thank you for that personal history. I am pleased that it brought back happy memories. By the way, there is still a caravan encampment there, which can be seen from the Victoria line.

PPS. In the last moments of October, the Prime Minister announced the Lockdown starting on November 5th (Talk about the old rhyme “Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot” – it will be difficult to forget this one!) and hopefully ending on 2nd December. Wishing everyone a healthy November and I look forward to writing to you all again in December.