Patience – and Penelope*

*Queen of Ithaca (see Homer’s “Odyssey”).

Picture: Penelope and the Suitors, 1912, by John William Waterhouse. When King Odysseus was presumed dead in the Trojan Wars, Penelope was besieged by suitors. She swore she would not remarry until she had finished weaving her tapestry. Each night, she undid her day’s work, repeating the whole process the following day.

I’m exercising a modicum of patience as I wait for my train at Platform 9. As so often, I’ve obeyed the injunction to “change at Clapham Junction”, taking the flying concourse from Platform 3. If I had a half hour to kill and took the fancy, I could take a brisk walk as far as Patience Road, Battersea, and back.

When the London & Southampton Railway opened in May 1838, the London terminus lay at Nine Elms, on the Vauxhall side of Battersea. The Survey of London records:

“In 1843 the Duke of Wellington, “whose early habits are well known”, reached Nine Elms at twenty to six a.m. to take the seven o’clock train to Farnborough and accompany the Queen and the Prince Consort from there on to Southampton.”.

Clapham Junction Station was opened on 2nd March, 1863.

The Survey of London describes the 1880s boom and its last great phase of building activity in this locality, rich in brick earth:

“The leader in the area’s transformation was the big-scale yet shadowy South London developer-builder, Alfred Heaver.”

In 1862, Heaver married Isabella Luetchford, and after her death in 1874, married her sister Patience in 1875. Patience died in 1887, and Heaver married Fanny Tutt in 1888. In 1901, Heaver’s brother in law, James Young, delivered two fatal gunshots to Heaver before shooting himself dead.

Between 1879 and 1881, Heaver had efficiently built up the north west corner of the area between Falcon Road and Poyntz Road with small houses, as the major part of the Falcon Park Estate. Here lies Patience Road amongst Afghan, Cabul, Candahar, Kerrison, Khyber and Nepaul Roads. Zulu Crescent became Rowena Crescent. In 2009-10, however, a gated community, tucked in between the north side of Rowena Crescent and the railway tracks, and reached from Cabul Road, took the name Zulu Mews.

Major developments took place around Lavender Hill in the 1870s:

“A wider than usual house at 3 Taybridge Road (later Taybridge House) was from c1875 the frontage to the yard and Marmion Works of the builder James Holloway (d. 1889), entered via an archway alongside.”.

Walter Scott’s epic poem “Marmion: a tale of Flodden Field”, a historical romance, was published in 1808, and by 1825 had sold 36 000 copies.

Early in 1882 a development scheme was devised by Rowland Plumbe, consultant architect to the Artizans’ Company, and it was Holloway who won the contract to make up a new road adjoining the Marmion Works. Garfield Road, named after James A Garfield, the US President assassinated the previous year, was to be a curving residential street driven through the centre of the old houses on Lavender Hill to Wix’s Lane.

South of Nansen Road, the owners of the big houses and gardens on this stretch of Clapham Common held out to the developers until 1890, when Northfields House and its grounds were acquired by Scots born builder and brick maker John Cathles Hill. Fontarabia Road took its name from Sir Walter Scott’s “Marmion”. The LCC refused two other proposed street names taken from that poem, Scrivelbaye and Lutterward.

Jeanne Rathbone, a humanist celebrant in Battersea, wrote last year:

“Penelope Fitzgerald 1916-2000 is another name I suggested to Mr Jones at Wandsworth Council for the naming of streets and apartment blocks.”.

The writer she names was a scion of the brilliant and eminent Knox family. In his 2014 review of Hermione Lee’s biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, A N Wilson recounts:

“…Penelope…was at Somerville with a clever prewar generation, and achieved a congratulatory First in English….Then she met Desmond Fitzgerald, a brave young soldier, and married him. The reader, but not the author, of this biography, wonders whether his gallantry as an officer with the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, in North Africa and Italy, led to his later problems – his alcoholism and his inability to do much with his life….

…Penelope Fitzgerald poses a number of insuperable problems for a biographer. First, in life as in prose, she was the mistress of what was left unsaid. She carried discretion far beyond the point of impenetrability. Her fiction are stories of unspoken, misunderstood, unrequited love, of unsatisfactory marriages which are never – as they might be in a modern therapy session- talked through, of ironies which depend for their effect on semi-silences. Her life, too, was apparently lived on the principle of diffidence…

…Her drunken barrister husband was disbarred for fraudulently cashing cheques that belonged to the Clerk of his Chambers; the family drifted into Micawberish poverty; and the family home, a shabby Thames barge, sank at Chelsea wharf…

…After the houseboat sank, Fitzgerald took her husband and children to live in a council flat on the edge of Clapham Common.”.

James Wood’s review for the New Yorker comments:

“Fitzgerald’s public, literary life looks much like patience on a monument…”.

Reviewing the same biography in late 2013, Jenny Turner writes:

“(Fitzgerald) was 62 when she won the Booker, a widow and the mother of three grownup children, and although no longer in straits as desperate as those she had drawn on for the novel (“Offshore”), she was accustomed to making do on very little. She lived on the ground floor of her married daughter’s house in Battersea.”.

Arthur Lubow interviewed Penelope Fitzgerald in 1999, and referred to the publication of her first novel:

“Even then, she undertook fiction as another service for her family. She wrote “The Golden Child” in 1976 to entertain Desmond, her husband, who was dying of cancer.”.

“Penelope”, by Dorothy Parker:

“In the pathway of the sun,

In the footsteps of the breeze,

Where the world and sky are one,

He shall ride the silver seas,

He shall cut the glittering wave.

I shall sit at home and rock;

Rise, to heed a neighbor’s knock;

Brew my tea and snip my thread;

Bleach the linen for my bed.

They will call him brave.”.

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