Friday, 14 February 2020

White House Farm and the Kilburn Connection

ITV has just finished showing a dramatization of the horrific murders at White House Farm in Essex. In August 1985 the police were called to the remote farm near Tolleshunt D’Arcy and found that Nevill and June Bamber, their adopted daughter Sheila Bamber and her six-years old twin boys Daniel and Nicholas Cafell, had all been shot and killed. At first it was believed to be a case of murder-suicide: that Sheila who was suffering from schizophrenia, had killed her parents and children and then shot herself. But latter suspicion turned to Jeremy Bamber, the adopted son, and in October 1986 he was convicted of the murders. He is currently serving a life sentence in Wakefield Prison and still protesting his innocence.

The excellent TV series is based on two books: In Search of the Rainbow’s End by Colin Caffell, and The Murders at White House Farm by Carol Ann Lee.

Here we concentrate on the Kilburn, West Hampstead and other local links to the story.

Unable to have their own children, Nevill and June Bamber adopted two newborn babies: Sheila in 1958, and Jeremy in 1961, and they were brought up as a family.

In 1974 Sheila Bamber enrolled for a secretarial course at St Godric’s College (now Devonshire House Preparatory School), at the top of Arkwright Road in Hampstead. She lived in shared accommodation in nearby Wedderburn Road. She was 17-years old when she met 21-years old Colin Caffell at the Three Horseshoes pub in Hampstead. He was studying ceramics at the Camberwell Art School and they quickly formed a relationship. 

Sheila abandoned her secretarial course and got work as a trainee hairdresser at the Robert Fielding School of Hairdressing in Regent Street. June Bamber also paid for Sheila to do a modelling course at the Lucie Clayton School in South Kensington and she got some work as a model. While Colin was at Camberwell, they had a room overlooking Peckham Rye Park. Colin finished his course and got a job in advertising. In 1977 Sheila became pregnant and June Bamber offered to buy them a flat at 12a Carlingford Road in Hampstead if they got married. They married in May 1977 but sadly Sheila lost the baby.

To supplement his income, Colin was writing for Billboard, the music magazine. In May 1979 during a reception at the Royal Albert Hall, he met Herbie Flowers, the bass player who had formed the band Sky with classical guitarist John Williams. Herbie’s daughter Jan Flowers was at the reception.
Sheila and the twins
Sheila gave birth to their twins on 22 June 1979. But Colin who was now in love with Jan, left in November and by February 1980 they were living together in a flat in Well Road, Hampstead. Having lost his advertising job soon after the twins were born, Colin began making pottery in the garage space of Herbie Flowers at Number 6 West Hampstead Mews. Colin and Sheila divorced in May 1982 but remained friends, and Colin and Jan saw the twins frequently. The following month June Bamber gave Sheila a loan to get a flat at Number 2 Morshead Mansions in Maida Vale.

Sheila suffered severe mental problems and in August 1983 she entered St Andrew’s psychiatric hospital in Northampton. At the beginning of 1984 Jan Flowers ended her relationship with Colin, and he briefly moved to a rented room in Ulysses Road, West Hampstead. He later met his new girlfriend Heather Amos, and in early August 1985 he rented a flat in Maygrove Road in Kilburn. 

Shelia who was hearing voices, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She was seeing Dr Hugh Ferguson, who worked at St Andrew’s Hospital but also had a practice at Devonshire Place in London, and he prescribed anti-psychotic drugs for her. At this time, the twins had been living with their father for five months.
Colin Caffell in 1985
On 3 August Colin held a housewarming party which Sheila and Heather, Jeremy Bamber and his girlfriend Julie Mugford attended. Sheila, who was taking the prescribed injections, looked vacant and confused. The next day Colin drove Sheila and the twins to White House Farm to stay with Nevill and June Bamber. This was the last time he saw them alive. On 7 August the police were contacted by Jeremy Bamber who said he had been phoned by Nevill who said that Sheila had gone berserk. When the police arrived at the farm, they found everyone had been killed and a hunting rifle lay next to Sheila’s body.
Julie Mugford and Jeremy Bamber at the funeral of his parents
Colin was devastated by the traumatic events. But he organized the funeral service for Daniel and Nicholas Cafell at St James Church in West Hampstead on 19 August, and they were buried at Highgate Cemetery with Sheila’s ashes.

In September Julie Mugford told the police that she thought Jeremy had carried out the killings in order to inherit the farm. On the 8 September 1985 Jeremy was arrested while he was at Morshead Mansions and taken to Chelmsford police station. His trial was held at Chelmsford Crown Court and on the 28 October, after nine and a half hours, the jury found him guilty on all five counts of murder. Despite several appeals, Jeremy Bamber is still serving a life sentence.
Jeremy Bamber today
Colin Caffell later worked in the field of bereavement and psychotherapy (both in Britain and the USA) with one of the world’s leading psychiatrists, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. As part of the way of coming to terms with the disaster, in 1994 he wrote In Search of the Rainbow’s End which has been republished to coincide with the TV probramme.

In 1999 he married again, and he and his wife Sally have a daughter. Colin has continued with his ceramics and sculpture work, and with his wife runs a studio in West Cornwall. In 2016 his sculpture, Memorial to Cornish Hard Rock Miners, was unveiled at the entrance to the last working tin mine in the area, the Geevor Mine, in Pendeen, near St Just.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Interactive Music Maps of North West London

After several years of research, and with the technical expertise of Adrian Hindle-Briscall, we have published two unique and free online maps.

One map covers the studios, record companies, record shops and clubs in North West London from Finchley Road, through West Hampstead, Kilburn, Willesden and Harlesden. The other looks at the musicians, producers and managers who lived the area. 

Screen shot of Map 1
Map 1 includes the well-known Decca Studios in West Hampstead as well as the now unknown site of the Edison National Phonographic Company. Did you know about Master Rock studios in Kilburn High Road where many famous bands made records? This area also had Island, Trojan and Zomba Record companies. There were Irish clubs like the Banba in Kilburn, the Purple Pussycat disco in Finchley Road, and music venues such as the popular Gaumont State, The National, the Mean Fidler and today’s The Fiddler.

Map 2 shows the homes of three of the Rolling Stones; Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones. As many people are aware Dusty Springfield was born in West Hampstead, but you will also find Billy Idol, Joan Armatrading, Lulu, Bob Marley, Johnny Kidd, Joe Strummer, Dudley Moore, Screaming Lord Sutch, Brian Epstein and over 200 others. You will be surprised by the musicians who have lived here.

You can click on the map pins or the index and information will appear in a popup. 

By scrolling, you can zoom down to individual houses.

The maps are hosted on ‘Not Just Camden’ the website produced by Adrian for a group of guides who organize walks in Camden, Brent and other parts of London.

Explore and enjoy.

Here is the link to the maps home page.
It works best on a desktop or laptop and there may be problems looking at the maps on a mobile phone.

Please pass on the link to other people to spread knowledge about this rich musical area.

Thanks to everyone who provided information.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

You are no hero! The 1908 Kilburn Fire

This was the Coroner’s opinion of David Miller, who had failed to help his lodger rescue two of her young children from a fierce fire that gutted 90 Willesden Lane. The blaze was discovered shortly before 2pm on Friday 19 June 1908. No. 90 still stands, in a parade of three-storey shops with flats above, between Torbay Road and Callcott Road. In 1908 it was occupied by David who ran his tailoring business on the ground floor. He occupied the basement and first floor, while Annie and Alfred Reid paid Miller a weekly rent of 6 shillings and 6d for the rooms on the second floor.

90 Willesden Lane today (Dick Weindling, 2020)
David Miller’s father Abraham was born in Poland and came to England in the 1870s. He was a tailor living in Mile End in 1881 with his wife and five children; David was the youngest, just four months old, born in or near Spitalfields. Abraham Miller had moved to 90 Willesden Lane by 1899, when he advertised his business in the local paper, offering a variety of tailoring services, at remarkably low prices.  Four of his nine children then living at home were employed in the family business. After Abraham died in 1906 and was buried in the Plashet Jewish Cemetery in East Ham, David took over the business.

Annie Cross and Alfred Reid were married in 1903 and at the time of the fire, they had three young children: Frederick John born in 1904, Charles Edward (1905) and Florence Mary, (November 1907). Formerly employed as a labourer, Alfred had then been working for several years as a draper’s porter in premises on Kilburn High Road.

The Fire
Annie was washing her children when she first saw smoke coming up the staircase and billowing outside in the back yard. Rushing downstairs, she met David Miller, his mother and sister Fanny. She told them the house was on fire, but they did not seem to believe her; later Annie said the Millers made no effort to help her. She ran back upstairs, gathered up her three children and shouted for help from the front windows. Some of the crowd of onlookers who had gathered outside in the street, advised her to go to the rear of the house. Annie rushed with her children into the back kitchen and tried to put Frederick out of the window, but it was too hot. In the confusion she lost hold of both Frederick and Charles. 

Despite flames and the intense heat, Annie managed climb out of a window and haul herself up onto the roof, holding Florence in her arms. Seeing the Millers in the back garden she threw Florence down to Fanny, who caught the baby in her outstretched skirt. Someone on a neighbouring roof attempted to rescue her but was beaten back by the flames. Annie tried but failed to get back into the house to save her sons and in her desperation, she jumped from the roof – about twenty-five feet - into the back yard. Onlookers helped break her fall; she hurt her leg and her burned hands and arms were cut by an iron fence. But it could have been much worse.

Dramatic picture from the Illustrated Police News
The smoke was first seen by John Barnard, the son of a fishmonger with a shop at 39 Willesden Lane. He got no answer when he knocked at the door; the Millers were eating dinner in the basement and the door was locked, a preventive measure taken since the shop had been previously burgled during the lunch break. He forced the door open with a pole. At the inquest John said he thought there might have been time to save Annie and her children, but admitted the flames were like a furnace.

The Willesden fire brigade responded very quickly. They got the call to attend at 2.09 and the fire engine, equipped with ladders, was sent from the station on Salusbury Road and arrived six minutes later. By then the building was well alight but the fire was brought under control by 2.27. Frederick was found in a back room and brought down to street level where a doctor tried to resuscitate him without success. A fireman found the body of poor little Charlie, badly burned, under his cot in a front room. The building was burnt out from floor to roof.

The Inquest
The Kilburn Times in a long report said: The terrible fire which unhappily involved the lives of two little boys cast quite a gloom over the neighbourhood, and much sympathy was felt for the parents. At the inquest, the Coroner was highly critical of David Miller. In his opinion the tailor’s action – or rather inaction - was in marked contrast to the bravery Annie had shown that afternoon. When she met her landlord at the foot of the stairs and he finally saw the flames, she told the Coroner he’d cried, Good God, the place is on fire! and bolted into the garden. Miller told the court he didn’t know where the children were. Coroner: You did not take much trouble to find out. Why didn’t you go to the poor woman’s assistance? Miller replied that he had felt powerless, he didn’t know what to do and admitted he panicked once he saw the stairs and bannisters were alight. He later said he’d known the children were upstairs but thought the boys could escape without help.

David’s sister Fanny said Mrs Reid told them her children were upstairs. The Coroner asked, could your brother not have helped? She replied; Perhaps he had not the presence of mind, to which the Coroner responded curtly, I am sorry if an Englishman had not presence of mind on an occasion like this.

What caused the fire?
The Millers kept a gas stove permanently alight to heat their irons, in their workroom which was at the rear of the ground floor. There was also a small quantity of benzene in a bottle purchased that day and used to clean fabrics. The Jury concluded that the stove had been the cause of the fire and did not mention the benzene, but it is highly flammable, and the bottle could have exploded if engulfed in flames. The Coroner did not mince his words when summing up: he reiterated that David Miller might have been able to help Mrs Reid if he had acted more quickly, that he panicked and made no effort to find out where the children were. A verdict of accidental death was passed on the two boys, who had been overcome by smoke.

The Funeral
The funeral procession left the mortuary hall in Salusbury Road on the afternoon of Wednesday 24 June.  Around 3,000 people lined the roads or waited at Willesden New Cemetery in Cobbold Road. The tiny, white velvet coffins were carried on an open car, and there were many wreaths and floral tributes from local tradesmen on the High Road and Willesden Lane. The funeral was carried out by James Crook, the undertaker at the corner of Buckley Road and Kilburn High Road.

The immediate aftermath
The inquest had been told a fund had been started to help the Reid family. This was formalised by appointing a committee and trustees to administer the money donated. On 10 July, a report in the local press said a total of just under £75 been received (worth about £7,700 today). The money would be deposited in a Post Office savings account, half in Mr Reid’s name and half in Mrs Reid’s. They could each draw out a maximum of 30sh per quarter. Donations were made by people and businesses in Willesden Lane, and employees of the large department stores Bon Marche and David Fearn, on Kilburn High Road, either of which may have employed Alfred as a drapers porter.

What happened to the Miller and Reid families?
The Reids stayed in the neighbourhood. They quickly found a new home at 2 Quex Mews, off Quex Road, where they rented four rooms over stables. Alfred and Annie had three more children, two born by the time of the 1911 census: Sidney Percy (1909) and John Stephen (1910). Alfred continued his work as a draper’s porter. The couple entered their dead sons on the census form, the names crossed through in red ink by the enumerator. Twenty-eight years later, in 1939, Annie and son John were still living at Quex Mews; John was working as a milk roundsman, in other words he delivered milk door to door. Alfred is listed in the local directory as the householder in 1940. He died in 1945 in Greenwich.

Florence who survived the fire, married Jack Godfrey Waldron in St Mary’s Church Abbey Road, on 26 December 1931. Jack gave his occupation as a ‘driver’ of 224 Belsize Road and Florence was renting in Kingsgate Road; her father was one of the witnesses. By 1939, Florence and her young son John were living at 8 Grange Road in Willesden.

Perhaps it’s not surprising to find David Miller left Willesden Lane after being severely criticised by the Coroner. After rebuilding, in 1910 the shop was still a tailor’s business, now run by Reuben Kitchenoff. In the months immediately preceding the fire, David had married Helen Alice Cross Slade. By 1911, the Millers were living in Watford and the family later moved to Bristol, where in 1939 David again gave his profession as that of a master tailor.

Kilburn, like other areas of London, had numerous fires in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. However, fatalities were rare, so the death of the two young children and the amazing escape of their mother, was widely felt by the people of Kilburn as shown by the large numbers who watched the funeral procession.