The Szlumper Cuttings
Sir James Szlumper
Sir James Szlumper, 3 times mayor of Richmond (1893/1900/1904) and president of the Victoria Working Men’s Club collected 11 volumes of cuttings from local and national newspapers from 1867-1919. He was a larger-than-life character who was well known in Richmond from the 1880s until his death in 1926. He was involved with civic affairs and some of these cuttings cover events that reflect his work as a member of the council and a magistrate. Szlumper was also the president of Victoria Working Men’s Club for many years and there are many articles covering events and meetings. Local events and celebrations, usually attended by Szlumper, are included and are a delight to read.
The cuttings range from reports of town council meetings (who can forget the great sewage scandal of 1891), to wonderful descriptions of mayoral dinners at the Star and Garter and royal visits, Christmas at the workhouse and celebrations in 1890 when Richmond becomes a borough. As the Great War looms, Szlumper includes cuttings about recruitment drives in the town and the setting up of the Boys’ Naval Brigade.
Although he spent many years as a railway engineer in Wales, as reflected in part of Volume 1 and all of Volume 2, the cuttings mostly reflect his time in Richmond. The cuttings from his days in Wales come from various newspapers including The Welshman and Cambrian News and cover railway and water schemes such as the extension of the Manchester-Milford Railway and the Melindwr Water Scheme. Not only do these cover engineering aspects and finances but disputes, local events, dinners and celebrations. Volume 2 covers the Cardiganshire Quarter Sessions and reports on subjects as varied as a proposed bridge at Aberystwyth, turnpike roads, thefts, distressed cows and dirty water.
From 1890, in Volumes 3 and 4 there are cuttings from the Richmond and Twickenham Times, Thames Valley Times and the Richmond Herald covering town council meetings and here you will find detailed accounts of the minutiae of Richmond life. If you want very local news such as Terrace Garden improvements, unfit habitation in Perseverance Place and Twenty Row, cesspits in Kew Gardens, allotments in Old Deer Park or steam rollers damaging pipes in Lancaster Road, this is where to look. The proposed siting of the Isolation Hospital on Petersham Meadows caused great consternation and the first electric street lights caused great excitement.
Local news continues to be the theme in Volumes 5 and 6 and there are reports of the seamier side of Victorian life like the necessity of removing offal from the streets and the seizure of rotten meat from a shop in Albert Road. Rabid dogs in the town and pigs with swine fever at The Star and Garter Farm add more colour! Development of houses and estates such as Bottens Place and Stafford Mews are reported, as are road improvements in Sheen Road, Friar Stile Road, Battenberg and Evelyn Roads. A new tramway arrives in Kew and there are celebrations and banquets on Charter Day.
Volumes 7,8 and 9 cover the period of Szlumper’s second and third terms as mayor and there are detailed descriptions of the many dinners and banquets he attends at The Star and Garter, The Greyhound Hotel and Castle Assembly rooms to mention just a few. There is news about the Richmond Charities and local almshouses, endless problems with the Petersham Well, the purchase of Glover Island (aka Petersham Ait) and the sale of Christmas trees at Mission Hall in Sandycombe Road. Queen Victoria’s death is covered with official announcements, a proclamation and description of houses and shops draped in black.
World War One
The Great War is the general theme of volumes 10 and 11 with the efforts and effects of war on the residents of Richmond. Fundraising, particularly by the members of Victoria Working Men’s Club, and recruiting are mentioned in many of the cuttings. Cigarette Fund and parcels for Richmond prisoners of war in the Doberitz Soldiers’ Camp are covered in detail with names and gifts recorded. The Working Men’s Club hosts a number of fundraising talks by MPs such as John Hodge and G.N. Barnes and royal visits from King George V and Queen Mary as well as the Prince of Wales make for fascinating reading.
The volumes are a wonderful collection that shows life in detail in Richmond from the late Victorian era to the beginning of the House of Windsor and this project has taken 18 months to complete, the project was undertaken by a volunteer at the Local Studies Library and Archive and comprised of indexing each of the 967 cuttings. It has been a fascinating project and each cutting has been interesting, funny, sad, informative… but never dull!
If you would like to take a look through the cuttings yourself you are welcome to visit Local Studies, and you are welcome to contact Local Studies if you would like to search the index in advance of your visit.
Library members can use their library card to log in to the links to biographical entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.