From the Mitcham News & Mercury, 24th November, 1944
BATH ROAD CONDEMNED BUT STILL INHABITED
When Will The Huts Come?
The Job is Urgent in Mitcham
Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, K.C., is Lord Woolton’s Chief of Staff in connection with the repair of bombed houses in the London area. Recently he paid a visit to the Town Hall.
Where he ought to have gone was Bath-road, Mitcham.
A member of our editorial staff – most appropriately, perhaps a young woman member – has been there, and her description of what she saw may be a spur to Sir Malcolm, the Mitcham Council, and all concerned.
When I visited Bath-road I asked the people there if they would prefer to live in the Baths Hall, which the Housing Committee, on the suggestion of the Housing Manager (Miss B. Thrupp) recommended should be turned into a hostel.
Their “No” was unanimous.
They do not want a glorified shelter life.
Many were under the impression that they could not remain there during the day, and said that night shelter alone was no use to them. I understand that the people were to be allowed to remain there if they wished.
Now, owing to lack of support, it seems unlikely that the hall will be opened as a hostel, though at the time of writing the committee’s decision is not public.
What are the conditions in Bath-road?
All the houses there are condemned. And rightly so. For even in its best days Bath-road was never a health resort. Now it is utterly desolate.
Like War Derelict Area.
It is like a deserted battlefield, grey, derelict, and very quiet; an apparently uninhabited place. There was no sign of life as I entered it. Ruined houses, most of them open to wind and rain lay on either side. Here and there attempts had been made to board up doors and windows, but most gaped open to disclose broken walls and piled-up rubble. Yet amid the ruins of these houses I estimate that over sixty men, women and children are living in conditions that can be best described as mediaeval. Often the only way of telling if a house is occupied is by a thin column of smoke that rises from the ruins.
I had thought the place deserted, and then I counted nine columns of smoke.
It came as rather a shock to know that behind these grey, silent walls so many families were living. Few have any lighting apart from lamps and candles.
Drains have been blocked by rubble, so that there is no proper sanitation.
There is not one room in the road that is wind- and water-proof. These conditions have existed since July.
Suddenly, at the far end of the road, a child appeared. She went to the door of a broken house, and as she called a woman appeared and sold her potatoes. It was Mrs Gibbs. She told me she lived there with her daughter. She showed me a room lighted by a fire and a little light from a boarded window. The walls were wet and laths showed in the ceiling.
“We sleep in an Anderson, but about 3 a.m. are usually so cold that we get up and come into the house,” she said.
“A lot of people live in the houses opposite,” she told me. I knocked on the loose door of one of them, and as there was no answer, walked into a narrow, damp passage. The stairs were broken, the front room a mass of rubble and broken rafters, but from the back of the house came children’s voices.
There, living in one room, with only the barest furniture, was Mrs Smith and her four children. Last week her husband went overseas. He is very unhappy about his family, especially as his wife is expecting another child in February. At present they sleep in the Tube.
“I want a place near so that my sister can look after me when the baby is born. I cannot go on much longer in these conditions and feel sure that if the Council officials could see what conditions are like here they would do something about it,” she said. She said she was one of the first on the list for huts.
The Universal Question
“When do the huts arrive?” she asked, a question I was asked by every family to whom I spoke. I was unable to give an encouragng reply, for only the day before the Borough Surveyor (Mr Riley Schofield) had said that it was unlikely that any huts would be available in Mitcham before Christmas!
Next door to Mrs Smith live Mrs Clark and her son, the latter home on sick leave from the Merchant Navy. Next to them is her son, Charles Clark. He, with his wife and five children, all sleep in an Anderson and live in a small draughty room. He, too, asked, “When do the huts arrive?” And with reason, for his wife is expecting another child.
Later, as I passed an apparently derelict house, a woman in a red coat appeared from a broken doorway. “Do you want to see us?” she asked, and going in, I found her 72-year old mother, Mrs Rachel Smith, having tea by candlelight. The room was dark, for all the windows were boarded up and furniture salvaged from other rooms was stacked round the walls. The front room was piled with rubble, the stairs were unsafe. The habited room is probably unsafe. “I cannot sleep here, for there is no bed, and so I go down the Tube. We cannot lock the room, and one night things were stoeln. I have lived here all my married life, and my thirteen children were born here,” she said.
Her daughter, Mrs Penfold, is expecting her husband, who is serving overseas, home at Christmas. “I have no home to offer him. What shall I do?” she asked.
Further down the road lives Mr Honey with six others, two of them are sick, in a tiny kitchen. They sleep in Andersons in what used to be their garden.
People living in similar conditions in Chapel-road and Century-road. They know that hundreds are in like plight, though I doubt if any borough can show a worse area than Bath-road. The people there seemed glad that someone, even if only a newspaper reporter, was taking an interest in them, though many of them showed disappointment when they found that it was “only a reporter” and not “someone from the Council.”
Several families said they felt that more would have been done if members of the Council had seen conditions for themselves.
When Mrs Smith learnt that Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve had been down to the Town Hall she said : “I wish he had come down here, then he would have known how badly we need those huts.”