Commonwealth Links to Leamington: Part Two

Randolph Turpin and the Mayor on the Town Hall balcony, Leamington Spa. 1951
IMAGE LOCATION: (Warwickshire County Record Office) PEOPLE IN PHOTO: Turpin, Randolph, Turpin as a surname, Davidson, Ald O R, Davidson as a surname
Reference: PH(N), 600/291/11, img: 1143

(Continued from part one)

No. 6 Willes Road

During the 1920s the basement flat in 6 Willes Road was home to the Turpin family. The father, Lionel Turpin, was born in British Guiana (now Guyana) and served in the British Army in World War I. He came to Warwickshire to convalesce after suffering a serious gas shell wound and here met his future wife, Beatrice Whitehouse. In 1929 Lionel died as a result of his war injuries, leaving Beatrice as a single mother to five children. Despite the hardship and prejudice they faced, all three sons became renowned boxers: Dick was the first Black boxer to win a British title after the colour bar was repealed in 1948; Jackie had a ten-year professional career before running the Warwick Racing Boxing Club; and Randy became the first British boxer of any colour to win a modern world middleweight title.

No. 31 Parade

31 Parade was formerly a lavish residential town house that was rented by the wealthy businessman John Gladstone. He was a regular visitor to Leamington between 1828 and 1837, accompanying family members who were receiving medical treatment from Dr Jephson. During this period Gladstone was heavily invested in Caribbean sugar plantations and owned 2,500 slaves. He successfully lobbied the British government to pay an unprecedented amount of compensation to slave-owners when slavery was abolished in 1833, and was also the prime mover to replace the freed slaves with indentured workers from British India to ensure a continued supply of cheap labour on the plantations.

Salisbury Hall

At Salisbury Hall in 1928, a pioneering female lawyer from India called Cornelia Sorabji gave a public address to the Leamington branch of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society. Zenana refers to the women’s quarters in a Hindu home and the aim of the Society was to reach into this domestic sphere and help convert Indian and other Asian women to Christianity. The Leamington branch of the Zenana Missionary Society met continually from 1880 to 1948, the year after India gained independence from Britain, and was one of the largest contributors to the Society’s central fund.

No. 57 Avenue Road

In 1968, representatives of twenty different immigrant organisations from around the country met at 57 Avenue Road to form the Black People’s Alliance (BPA). Three years earlier Avenue Road was the target of high-profile racist attacks against Indians in Leamington when burning crosses were placed outside the front doors of two houses. Although the BPA was ultimately short-lived, by taking a militant stance against racism and bringing people of colour together around the idea of ‘political blackness’ it had a lasting legacy in shaping the British Black Power movement.

Gloucester Street

From April 1831 to March 1834, the newspaper proprietor John Fairfax lived at 10 Gloucester Street. Fairfax founded The Leamington Spa Courier and The Leamington Chronicle and Warwickshire Reporter, but after he was bankrupted by a vexatious libel action he sought a new life in Australia, emigrating to New South Wales in 1838. Three years later he took over a local newspaper and transformed it into The Sydney Morning Herald. Thanks in part to the gold rush, by the 1860s the Herald’s circulation had risen to 6,600 copies daily; a figure only exceeded in the British Empire by the Times and Telegraph of London. Control of The Sydney Morning Herald remained in the Fairfax family until 1990 and it is still one of Australia’s leading news outlets.

No. 3 Church Street

From 1964 to 1994, the building at 3 Church Street was home to the Commonwealth Club. The club was founded by Shree Nath Rohilla, a resident of Leamington who had moved to the town in the mid-1950s from India. The Commonwealth Club was intended to provide a welcoming space for migrants and help them integrate into English society at a time when some clubs in Leamington operated a colour bar that denied entry to people on the basis of their race.

The information above has been written in conjunction with a walking tour that Leamington History Group will be running. The walks will take place on five Tuesday afternoons, 19th & 26 July, 2nd, 9th & 16th August at 2:30 pm. Further details on the Leamington History Group’s website.

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