14 October 2020

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In 1587, Emmanuel College received a bequest of £440 in the will of Joyce Frankland, a friend of the college’s Founder, Sir Walter Mildmay. The college invested the money in agricultural land in Surrey, including a property then called Hyde Field Farm, near Balham.

By 1900, the farm was almost completely surrounded by housing (with the exception of its southern boundary, which adjoined Tooting Common) and shortly afterwards was itself leased by the college to builders, who developed it as a residential neighbourhood. Although the new estate contained several shops and a school, it was not furnished with a public house or an off–licence, and there appears to be a widely–held belief that the college insisted the estate be ‘dry’, because of its Puritan ethos. Given that Emmanuel had shed its last vestiges of Puritanism well before the nineteenth century, this explanation might seem somewhat improbable—but could there be any truth in the story?

To find out, we must turn to the Bursary correspondence files. (Above L: Hyde Farm in 1860s, with annotations 1900) In 1900, when the development of Hyde Farm was in the early stages of planning, Emmanuel was approached by a company of brewers who wished to erect a public house on the land. The brewers’ solicitor assured the college that ‘a respectable fully licensed house…would be a great boon to pleasure seekers and others using Tooting Bec common’. The proposed site for the pub was on Emmanuel Road, facing the north–eastern corner of the common. The college cautiously agreed that it was indeed ‘desirable that some provision of the kind should be made having regard to the large number of houses which will ultimately be built’; nevertheless, the Bursar, J B Peace, was mindful of the college’s responsibilities and reputation as freeholder, and was anxious to avoid the premises getting ‘a bad name through improper control’. He therefore stipulated that the brewers’ lease should contain a clause prohibiting gaming and rioting, and an agreement that the tenancy would be forfeit if a complaint of any nature were made to the police. The brewers’ solicitor, in high dudgeon, replied: ‘Anything more unreasonable we cannot conceive and of course no Builder or Brewer could dream of entering into such a covenant’. Since neither side was prepared to give ground the matter dragged on fitfully for several years, ending with a final burst of acrimony in 1905, when the brewers’ solicitor accused Emmanuel of behaving like a ‘bargaining butterman and not a historical college’. The Bursar retorted that he much regretted having been ‘misled by your personal assurance into urging the College to reopen the matter’.

No further negotiations were possible after this exchange, but all was not lost as far as local would–be tipplers were concerned, for in 1907 the college agreed that one of the shops that had been built near the junction of Emmanuel Road and Radbourne Road could be converted to an off–licence. This plan never came to fruition, though, because the tenant got cold feet when he learned that the promised temperance legislation in the next Sessions of Parliament made it likely that ‘no fresh licenses will be granted whatever’. So that was that, as far as the sale of alcohol on the Hyde Farm Estate (as it is still known) was concerned. Although the surviving correspondence makes it clear that the college had no objection to a public house per se, its insistence on strict conditions meant that the idea never got off the ground, and to that extent there is a kernel of truth in the story of Emmanuel’s ‘dry’ estate.

Amanda Goode, College Archivist

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