Update from Dorset Hall Group founder Barbara Gorna:
“DHG after almost a year of negotiations have finally pushed Clarion to begin work on Dorset Hall. Part of the roof is in a parlous state and agreement for the works required significant input from Historic England and Merton.
“The future of the building is being discussed this week with Clarion and DHG to find a future use for the building and the site which takes into account its important heritage as a suffragette refuge.
“We will provide further updates as soon as we can. “
Many thanks to the correspondent below who got in touch via Facebook to tell of his memories of living at Dorset Hall:
Hi Barbara, It’s a long story but I will try to explain how I came to live at Dorset Hall for five years 1953 /59, I’m 85 years old now. Back in 1945, 9th MAY D DAY, I was living with with my Mum and Gran in Morden we had a lovely house opposite the Park. In the evening my Mother was taken ill and was taken to Epsom Hospital where she died at the age of 39. I was only 9 years old so don’t really know what happened but the house had to be sold and myself and Gran were moved to Morden Lodge as we were homeless. Later on we had to move to the Red House in south Wimbledon and then in 1953 we arrived at Dorset Hall. My Grandmother had a room on the 1st floor; I had a small room opposite, all paid for by Social services. In 1954 I was called up for National Service in the RAF but I could still use my room at 152 when on leave. I served 5 years and my Gran died in 1959 at Nelson Hospital. I then had to leave Dorset Hall and find other accommodation when I left the RAF one month later. I now live with my wife in Carshalton and we have been married over 60 years. So that’s how I know Dorset Hall in Kingston Road; I hope the old house can be saved.
Clarion has finally accepted that they must make Dorset Hall watertight, and work had been agreed between Merton Council and English Heritage. It has been frustratingly slow. On their watch the building has substantially deteriorated with water pouring in all year. We would like them to take responsibility for repairing the inside of the building at least to a sensible standard. Discussions are continuing.
Tom True an architectural historian and member of DHG (see below) said: “Historic friendships and alliances, breakthrough campaigns, and brave events behind securing the vote for women took wing beneath the ornamental ceiling of Dorset Hall. The ceiling decoration is a significant example of the patterns and festoons that brought grace and glamour to many London townhouses in the 18th and 19th centuries. The beautiful plasterwork is more than delicate surface embroidery. It defines and articulates the room, relating different elements within it. It is absolutely essential to the architecture and character of Dorset Hall. “
With the torrential rains, DHG has pointed out the likelihood of wet and / or dry rot causing further damage.
It is now mid-June and no repair works have commenced.
However, there has been a commitment by Clarion to make the building “weather proof and watertight ” as required under The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and Merton Council have initiated an “enforcement process” to this effect, with Historic England being kept in the picture. DHG has been told that various contractors have provided estimates and different repair materials are being considered.
DHG continues to press for a repair programme using materials that provide for some longevity and that the building should be registered “At Risk” by Historic England.
DHG will continue to press all parties to comply with their obligations.
Emily Wilding Davison centenary
The importance of the building as a Heritage Suffragette monument and a landmark of democracy for the Women’s Vote was highlighted by the unveiling on 8th June of a memorial to Emily Wilding Davison, who sadly died 100 years ago at the Epsom Derby whilst trying to throw the “Votes for Women” sash over the King’s Horse. Emily was a close friend of Rose Lamartine Yates, who owned Dorset Hall, which was a refuge for the suffragettes after force feeding by the Government. Rose was a leading organiser of Emily’s funeral procession attracting over 100,000 mourners and Rose’s husband Tom was their legal representative at the associated inquest. Recognising Dorset Hall’s national historic importance in the fight for women’s rights has an up to date meaning with the recent tragic murder of Sarah Everard.
Future role for Dorset Hall?
Merton Council held an Extraordinary Meeting on 21st April with a proposal to help tackle violence against women and girls in the Borough with proposals unanimously supported by all councillors present. DHG believes that once repairs have been undertaken Dorset Hall could resume its historic role by becoming a Women’s Drop-in Centre fulfilling a need exacerbated by Covid.
DHG would like to thank those individuals within all three political parties that have provided their support and local community groups especially Merton Citizens and the faith groups that support them as well as leading law firm Clifford Chance.
New chair for DHG
Our Chair Barbara Gorna has asked to step down from this role due to increased business responsibilities in Lancashire and will become Deputy Chair. Simon Hood takes on the role of Chair.
Welcome, Tom True
Tom True is an architectural historian and heritage professional, who was awarded his doctorate from the University of Cambridge in 2013. He is former Assistant Director of the British School at Rome, the UK’s leading overseas Humanities research institute and Fine Arts and Architecture academy. He has worked on the inauguration of Musée Narbo Via, a major new civic museum of Roman culture in Narbonne, designed by Foster + Partners.
Hall update: Scaffolding is still up, but as I write no works have started.
The Dorset Hall Group understands that quotes have been obtained; Historic England and Merton Council have to decide the best way forward.
In 1919, an application was made to put up a Blue Plaque but it was turned down. We have been talking with the managers of the Blue Plaque scheme as to why they refused a plaque for such an important historic site. I have asked for a full answer and will report back when I have some information.
There has been some discussion whether Emily Wilding Davison was a good friend of R L Yates. we have been contacted by historian Margaret Scott who offered us these letters as support.
One is from her half-brother Captain Davison who stayed at the house Dorset Hall after Emily‘s death and for the inquest.
Tom Yates represented the family at the inquest. The second letter is from Emily’s mother Mrs Davison to Rose.
Margaret Scott writes: “I’ve had a look through my notes and found a reference to EW Davison and Rose Lamartine Yates who were both due to speak at Wimbledon Common on Sunday 8 May 1910, as reported in the May 1910 issue of Votes for Women. I hope that helps to strengthen the connection between the two women.
“I’m attaching two letters from the EWD archive at the Women’s Library, LSE. One is from Margaret Davison to Rose Lamartine Yates written on 20 June 1914. The other is from Henry Davison, Emily’s step-brother, to Mr Lamartine Yates written on 20 June 1913. Hopefully these will prove a connection too.”
Scaffolding has been up on the outside of the building for a few weeks but as yet there are no signs of repair works. Our concern is that there is still heavy water penetration in the building as the roof can be seen from the outside window that the roof itself has cracks in it and is letting in water which will lead to further deterioration.
We are continuing to press Historic England, Clarion and Merton Council, whose duty it is to enforce the repair of a Grade II listed building.
The duty is to make the building watertight. But, given that Merton entered the building just before Christmas the speed of any enforcement has been slow. It is understood that there have been several options for repairs and that Clarion and Merton’s officers are in discussions.
On a positive note, we are being supported in our actions to save this building by leading City law firm Clifford Chance.
They are advising on the non-disclosure agreement that Clarion is seeking to bind the Dorset Hall Group to sign.
Commonly known as an NDA, they often seek apart from commercial secrecy, to bind the Signee from speaking publicly about any matters pertaining to the building.
We have made some progress on this last week and hope to have a limited agreement in place shortly.
As Clifford Chance believe this is such an important Heritage site they are acting for us without charge.
Many thanks to The Wimbledon Society for their support in our campaign to protect and preserve Dorset Hall as an Asset of Community Value.
Dorset Hall was left to Merton Council by suffragette activist Rose Lamartine Yates, with instruction that its grounds should be open and available for use by the people of the borough. It is a Grade II listed building yet has been allowed to fall into considerable disrepair.
We want to see the years of neglect halted, damage repaired and Dorset Hall restored for community use. Please get in touch to lend your support.
It is wonderful to report that Clarion have completed the build of a scaffolding frame around Dorset Hall. We hope this means that the roof is now on its way to being covered and protected, to avoid danger of further damage to the interior from water ingress.