Help us save the playing fields from development by writing to your local councillors and to our local MP Sir Vince Cable saying how important it is that the playing fields are preserved and that any development on this site would be extremely unwelcome.
Please follow us on Twitter on @UPPFFriends and RT anything you find of interest. Our approach on Twitter is to focus on the major public policy issues surrounding playing fields. Teddington is famous for being the home of the global phenomenon that is ‘parkrun’; we don't want to be infamous as the place where private equity successfully built on community playing fields. Please also follow us on Facebook on our Community Page "Friends of Udney Park Playing Fields" Please invite your friends to follow us. If you or your children have any connection to the fields through playing at Udney ask then to invite their friends.
Please also continue to write to your local councillors and our MP in support of saving the Udney site from development. It is the small, individual actions that matter, they all roll up up together into a major pressure point on the decision-makers.Thank you for your continuing interest and commitment, especially to those of you who have volunteered to actively participate in this campaign.
This History of the Playing Fields was written by local historian Ken Howe and published in TW11 Magazine in July 2015.
When Robert Fullerton Udney died in 1802, he was the owner of 70 acres of Teddington, quite an accumulation in 12 years. These were in different plots in Teddington and mostly unconnected with each other. For the purposes of this discourse, we are only concerned with the 11 acres that stemmed from his house in the High Street and was contained by Udney Park Road to the east, Kingston Lane to the west and the Southfield later to become Cromwell Road, to the south. This land had been awarded to him under the Teddington Enclosure Act of 1801 and had not been developed.
His house and estate were inherited by his daughter, Mary and her husband, Sir William Cunygham and on his death in 1834 everything passed to their son, Capt. George Augustus Frederick Cunygham. Further sales took place with the lands passing to Henry Gouger, Charles Mackenzie, John Chamberlain and W H Hubbard. William Niven the architect of St Albans and uncle of screen actor David Niven, acquired Udney House in 1880 although he only remained there until I890. The house had been demolished by 1900.
The 1 1 acres still pretty much intact and undeveloped was acquired by the Belgravia Land Co Ltd in 1906. Strangely no attempt seems to have been made to develop the land for the next two decades.
In the early 1920s the Old Merchant Taylors’ Sports Club (the old boys association of the Merchant Taylors’ School founded 1561) raised a Memorial Fund, partly to provide for the education of sons of the fallen OMTs in the First World War and partly to establish a war memorial. They had been looking for playing fields as they had outgrown the facilities shared with Rosslyn Park RFC in Old Deer Park. As their Dr Cove Smith reported ‘... eventually owing to the zeal of H M Wyatt the site of Udney Park Road, Teddington was selected – a tumbled heap of allotments some fifteen acres in extant, necessitating much levelling and turfing but on a good gravel bed’. The Old Merchant Taylors’ War Memorial Sports Ground opened for business in October 1922 and the following year, The Old Merchant Taylors’ Sports Club was formed.
The School moved from the City of London to Hertfordshire in 1937 and the Sports Club followed shortly afterwards to a new location at Croxley Green leaving the Teddington site vacant.
Local legend has it that Lord Beaverbrook underwent some serious surgery at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington and after his successful treatment, he asked the hospital if he could do anything for them. Dr Charles Moran, personal physician to Winston Churchill, told Beaverbrook that the Hospital could do with a Medical School. Lord Beaverbrook duly obliged with a donation of £63,000. The Medical School was built but out of this bequest, the playing fields at Teddington were also purchased. Dr Moran considered it necessary to have good rugby facilities to attract the best students from Oxbridge. This created something of an atmosphere in the Rugby Union circles as scholarships were being offered to talented rugby playing would-be medical students and this smacked of professionalism to some of them.
The 1938 local directory shows that the site was renamed St Mary's Hospital Medical School Athletic Ground. For some unknown reason, there were already a series of restrictive covenants applying to the sale of this and from 26 March 1908, which of themselves do not appear to be too onerous for any potential buyer. The conveyance of this land in the agreement of 30 April 1937 is between (1) the Vendors (2) the Rugby Union Trustees and (3) St Mary's Hospital Sports Ground Ltd.
Further covenants were added to the new games including conveyance: - ‘THE Purchasers hereby COVENANT with the Rugby Union Trustees AND IT IS HEREBY AGREED AND DECLARED as follows: - THAT the Purchasers shall not without the consent of the Rugby Union Trustees use the property hereby assured or any part thereof for any other purpose during the appropriate season than as a sports ground for the playing of games by Amateurs the chief game to be played thereon being Amateur Rugby Football and will not during any part of the year other than the appropriate season use the property or any part thereof for any other purpose than the playing of games by Amateurs.’
The next covenant is a confusing jumble of words which states what would happen in the event of in a breach of covenant 1. In some circumstances, the Rugby Union Trustees would have the right to repurchase the ground from the Purchasers i.e. St Mary’s for a fee simple of £24,900. This all seems to be relevant to any such breach occurring ‘... at any time before the expiration of Twenty years from the death of the last survivor of all the children now living of His late Majesty King George the Fifty (sic).’ I have no doubt whatsoever that a good (or even a bad) lawyer could make something legible out of that - for a fee but I can only feel that the intention is not to alter the basic purpose of the original conveyance.
Covenant 3 provides for a situation if the Rugby Union Trustees do not arrange a sale within nine months of the breach and Covenant 4 defines that ‘an appropriate season’ shall be between the First Day of September in any year to the Thirtieth Day of April the following year.
Notwithstanding these covenants the conveyance was completed and this commenced a long and fruitful association between St Mary’s Teddington. Their prowess as a rugby football club was enormous and they certainly became the most successful club in the hospital circuit and with such superior facilities, St Mary’s hosted many other cup finals and other representative games including a fund raiser for Teddington Memorial Hospital on January 19th 1986 where Peter Yarrington’s Golden Oldies (a scratch team of internationals) captained by Roger Uttley took on a select Teddington XV picked from five or six Teddington area clubs. The score has been lost in the mists of time but over£5,000 was raised for Teddington Hospital on the day.
In the years following, St Mary’s became a constituent school of Imperial College London in 1988. ICL acquired a new sports ground in Heston in 2014 and the Teddington ground has been put up for sale. The Teddington Society have asked ICL to honour the intentions behind the original Beaverbrook gift and leave the playing fields as they found them. The ICL Trustees for their part do say that they ’have a legal responsibility to ensure that all its assets are managed as effectively as possible.’
I understand that the bids are under consideration and it is a shame that the views of the students do not seem to have been considered. One Imperial Medic has said ’Teddington is steeped in history and has been part of our club for decades and from when we were St Mary's Medical School. Many traditions were born there and it would be a shame to lose its history and worth to our medical school for purely profitable means.’
Watch this space.
I am indebted to Paddy Ching and Dr Christopher French for use of their unpublished manuscripts.
Ken Howe is a historian and author of several local history books.