Tony Lord: Fragment of history under old moth-eaten carpets

My number two son, John, who has spent the past 20 years working on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, decided to retire and buy a house close to his old dad in Blackheath.

During that time he had managed to save himself a nice wad of American dollars, enough to buy an old wreck of a house near Plumstead Common.

This was why I spent a lot of time during that cold spell after Christmas helping John and the two tradesmen he hired to get the place habitable with a fitted kitchen and a modern bathroom.

When I say helping, all they let me do was make the tea.

Anyway, to get to the point, when they were ripping up a couple of layers of moth-eaten carpet, they discovered a lot of sheets of old newspaper underneath.

Most of these crumbled when we picked them up because they had lain there for nearly 119 years since the house was built.

However, I managed to retrieve the fragment you see on this page.

This is The Kentish Independent published early on Saturday morning in November 1899.

The heading under the title tells us that it was intensively circulated over a wide area of South-east London and as far afield as Gravesend and Chatham.

Why it has the Royal Coat of Arms with the lion and the unicorn at the top I do not know.

Possibly Queen Victoria had it delivered at Osborne House every week so that she could be kept informed as to the movements of the Soldiers of the Queen in the RA Barracks up the hill from Woolwich.

The autumn of 1899 was a bad time for the army.

The Boer War in South Africa was not going well and hundreds of our soldiers were hemmed in at Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking.

Many more were dying of malaria, enteric fever and typhus.

Looking at the newspaper we see that a Soldiers and Sailors War Fund had been set up, and that on the following Monday, a great public meeting would be held in the Drill Hall in Beresford Street to raise money for comforts for our boys in a far-away place.

I am puzzled as to why sailors were included as the Boers didn’t have a navy but never mind. Doors were opened at 7.30pm and all were heartily invited to attend this good cause.

Moving across the page we discover that Miss S F Mascall is giving a Diamond Jubilee Concert in the Royal Assembly Rooms in the Coffee Tavern, Woolwich.

The good Miss Mascall gave lessons in piano, harmony and composition. Queen Victoria had been on the throne 62 years so Miss M was a bit late with her Diamond Jubilee event.

In the next column we see that Furlong and Sons, auctioneers in Powis Street were offering a first class residence at a low rental.

The property in Nightingale Place contained six bedrooms, two dressing-rooms, a fitted bathroom, two box rooms, a study, drawing and two dining rooms, an ante room and three lavatories.

There was a large garden and back entrance and had just be vacated by an officer of the Royal Horse Artillery. I’d love to know what the rent was.

I notice that the Woolwich Equitable Building Society (established 1847) was paying three-and-a-half per cent interest on deposits of £50 upwards, payable half-yearly.

I remember, like most of you, when savers were paid 10 per cent by the Woolwich until the 2008 crash. I have to get my magnifying glass out to read some of the adverts.

Somebody, calling themselves Alpha, was offering a very quiet home to a gentleman of refined and homely habits – (Sounds like me).

House healthily and pleasantly situated overlooking Plumstead Common.

Convenient for train, tram or bus. How ‘convenient’ is that?

The common was a good 20 minute walk down the hill to the horse tram and the station, even longer coming back for the refined gentleman who very likely was a bit overweight.

Mr Freeman, apparently a man with a big brain box, who lived in Parkdale Road, was ready to give private tuition in mathematics, theoretical mechanics, the classics, French and general subjects.

Just the man to have on my quiz team.

Finally, trying to end my column on a cheerful note, I read that Mr Messant and Sons at 8, Church Lane, Charlton, were prepared to undertake funerals and cremations to and from all parts of Great Britain and perform embalming for conveyance abroad.

The Messants informed us that they owned lots of modern carriages and only charged strictly moderate fees.

I think the practice of embalming has almost died out now.

I can’t imagine what Mr Chanter, the careers master at my school would have said to me if I had told him I wanted to be an embalmer.

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