Swinburne walks in living memory
From Jean Overton Fuller, Swinburne: A Critical Biography, Chatto & Windus, 1968, p.287
In Putney he became a familiar figure. Dr. H. Gordon Smith, who lived as a child on the Upper Richmond Road, about a hundred yards from The Pines,had constant occasion to observe him, as ‘every morning he emerged from The Pines to go up Putney Hill… He had gingerish whiskers. His suit was plain black and he wore a pork-pie hat similar to those worn by parsons of that day. His gait was peculiar; he strutted like a robot with his arms hanging rigidly at full length. He looked straight in front, appearing to notice nothing or nobody’.
Mr. William Reader, as a boy, used to help the milkman with his deliveries, and it was on what was called the ‘pudding-round’, between 10 and 11, that he always saw Swinburne as he walked across Putney Heath and Wimbledon - in the same black suit and hat, needless to say- ‘with his hands in his jacket pockets and his head thrust forward’, on the way to his favourite pub.
Nearer to his destination, he was witnessed by Mr. W. J. S. Neale, whose father was a coachman at Richmond House,* Parkside, ‘with fully extended arms and fingers slightly swinging on either side of his body. …My elders used to state that, because of his regular movements, it was safe to set one’s watch by his appearances’. On one occasion, as this child and his mother were walking down Putney Hill, they met Swinburne, and ‘He suddenly stepped in front of myself, placed one hand on each of my cheeks and held my face, for what seemed to be some minutes. Then, stepping aside, he raised his dark coloured, large trilby hat, and proceeded on his journey in silence’.
(Overton-Fuller writes of a Mrs Yglesias, who was still living on Putney Hill at the time the biography was being written. It was published in 1968.)
(Amongst other comments, Mrs Yglesias told Overton-Fuller about how Swinburne) had long conversations with her husband’s mother, sitting on a bench by the windmills, on Wimbledon Common, where he would rest for a while his morning journey to the Rose and Crown.
She (Mrs Yglesias) sometimes heard his visits to the Rose and Crown referred to in an odd tone; yet she never saw him drunk. He appeared to be in good health; as indeed, he must have been to walk right up Putney Hill and across the Heath and Common, and then back, every day. It was a very considerable walk for anybody, let alone a man of over seventy.
*(Richmond House was the second house north of Inner Park Road on Parkside.)
(Now replaced by flats.)
Posted by John Dunn.