Most of the ‘lost houses’ in the Journal series have been destroyed by natural causes but one notable building near Dulwich College was among the very first victims of the Luftwaffe’s bombing of the village during the Second World War, the 80th anniversary of whose outbreak is marked this year. By a strange irony this house was the family home for more than a decade of William Joyce (1906-46), better known later as the notorious Nazi radio propagandist ‘Lord Haw-Haw’. The history of the Joyce family and Dulwich has been written about before in this journal and elsewhere, but the exact details of where and when they lived in Allison Grove, just off Dulwich Common, has remained unclear. Most accounts say that in 1923 they moved into No.7 Allison Grove and remained there until 1940. They had arrived after a circuitous journey which began in 1909 when the Irishman Michael Joyce (1866-1941), together with his English wife Gertrude (‘Queenie’, 1878-1944) and their first child, William (then aged three) moved from New York to Ireland where they spent the next 13 years. Then, in 1922, they moved to Oldham, Lancashire (near Queenie’s family) and then took up residence at No.7 Allison Grove.
These accounts also state that William had left Ireland earlier, in December 1921 (aged 15) and had joined the Royal Worcester Regiment at its barracks in Worcestershire, but was discharged in March 1922 when his true age was revealed (he had said he was 18). He then had also stayed briefly in Oldham (until August 1922) before coming to London where he had taken up lodgings near Clapham Junction while studying science at the Battersea Polytechnic Institute from September 1922. Then when his parents and the rest of his family had arrived in Dulwich from Oldham in the summer of 1923, he had joined them at No.7 Allison Grove.
This, then, is the currently accepted version. However, No.7 was not the first house in Allison Grove in which the Joyce family lived. The electoral roll records for 1925 and 1926 have them dwelling at No.3 and a letter from the Principal’s Office of the University of London in 1945, says that William left the Battersea Polytechnic Institute in the summer of 1923 (having failed his science exams) and ‘In October 1923 he registered as an Internal student of the University in the Faculty of Arts at Birkbeck College, giving as his address 3 Allison Grove, Dulwich Common, S.E.21.’
In fact the Joyce family are not recorded in the electoral roll records as living at No.7 Allison Grove until 1927. The records also state that the occupants of No.7 from at least 1925 until 1927 were a Scotsman, David Hay Peffers (1866-1941) and his wife.
So why did the Joyces come to Dulwich at all? Perhaps it was because of the opportunity of sending William’s younger brothers to Dulwich College or Alleyn’s, and his younger sister to JAGS? In 1923 Frank (1912-91) was 11 years old, Quentin (1917-89) was six, Joan (1920-78) was three and Robert (1922-86) was just one. Perhaps it was also seen as a useful base for William (then still only 17), thereby saving them the cost of his digs in Battersea if he continued his studies there.
Dulwich was also a genteel suburb, which would suit Michael Joyce, a formerly prosperous domestic-property landlord who had also been manager of the Galway Omnibus Company. As Rebecca West says in The New Meaning of Treason (1964):
Allison Grove is a short road of small houses which has been hacked out from the corner of the gardens of a white Regency villa in the greenest part of Dulwich. Not far off is Mill Pond, still a clear mirror of leaves and sky, and beyond it Dulwich College amidst its groves and playing fields. One side of Allison Grove had been built in Victorian times; the harsh red brick had been piled up in shapes as graceless as outhouses and to heights obviously inconvenient for the housewife. But the houses were amply planned for their price...’
Also No.3 appears to have been a bit run-down and might thus have been cheaper than its neighbours. This seems to be borne out by Ian McInnes’ article (‘On the Street Where You Live: Allison Grove’, Dulwich Society Journal, 2012) in which he describes the purchase in January 1925 by the Dulwich Estate of the freeholds of all the buildings in the road: ‘The old houses had not been properly maintained and, shortly afterwards, in April, the tenants of Nos. 1, 3, 9, 13, 14 & 15 requested external decoration and repairs to be carried out.’ (The houses were all part of a Victorian terrace, Nos 1-21, built by Abraham Tyler c.1875 on the west side of the road - the east side was then undeveloped.)
As Michael and his family were then still at No.3, he must have been one of those tenants who had asked for ‘repairs to be carried out’. The 1925 electoral roll shows that Nos. 1-15 were then still occupied. However, as No.7 is not included in McInnes’ list, presumably it was in reasonably good repair in 1925. (The Post Office Directory for 1878 states that its occupant that year had been the builder Abraham Tyler, so it may have been the best house in the terrace.)
However, the road was far from being a slum. The electoral roll for 1925 records that at No.9 lived the Newson-Smith family (presumably relatives of Frank Newson-Smith who would become Lord Mayor of London in 1943 and 1st Baronet Newson-Smith in 1944). Kelly’s Directory of Dulwich for 1928 also lists, at No.2 (one of the houses built opposite Tyler’s terrace in1927), Hugo Antona-Traversi (one of a famous Italian literary family), who worked as a translator for the BBC (in the 1939 census he is described as being in ‘Consular Service’). At the same address in 1939 was his son Derek Antona-Traversi (1912-2005), who went to Alleyn’s and later became a famous literary critic. In 1943 Derek’s sister Diana married Dr David Cushing FSA, the distinguished marine scientist, at St Barnabas’ Church, Dulwich, and in 1947 they themselves moved into No.2 (Hugo died in Dulwich Hospital in 1948).
It thus appears that a significant part of Lord Haw-Haw’s personal early history (1923-27) actually took place while he was living at No.3 Allison Grove, not at No.7 as generally recorded. This would include his final months at the Battersea Polytechnic Institute and the whole period of his degree studies at Birkbeck College together with all the dramatic events of his life that happened during these four years.
Amongst these was his brutal facial injury in a brawl. In 1923 he had become involved with the British Fascists (BF) group which canvassed for the Conservative and Unionist parties and acted as stewards for their meetings. In the run-up to the General Election of October 1924, Joyce was a BF steward at a rally at Lambeth Baths hall near the Imperial War Museum (now the site of Lambeth Towers) for the Unionist candidate for Lambeth North, Jack Lazarus. However, a fight broke out with Communist hecklers and Joyce was slashed by a razor (the wound to his right cheek required 26 stitches). The Evening Standard reported the incident on its front page on 23 October 1924, quoting Lazarus as saying: ‘The man Joyce, one of our supporters, fell down, his face covered in blood.’ The article continued: ‘Mr Lazarus vowed to have the Public Order Act enforced after these scenes of disorder, as a result of which Mr William Joyce, of Allison Grove, Dulwich, had had to be confined to hospital.’
While at Birkbeck William also joined the London University Officer Training Corps, contributed to the college magazine, acted in student drama productions, and became (after giving up the BF in 1925) Chairman of the Conservative Student Society (he had ambitions to become a Tory MP and by coincidence his home was almost opposite the future site of Hambledon Place where former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would live briefly nearly 70 years later.)
On 30 April 1927, six days after his 21st birthday (and still living at home in Dulwich) he married a fellow Birkbeck student, Hazel Barr. After the ceremony he returned to live at his parents’ house until, in June 1927, he received a First Class honours degree in English. Soon afterwards he began a postgraduate course in philology at Birkbeck.
He and his wife then moved to a flat in Jubilee Gardens, Chelsea. By 1932 he and his family (which then included two daughters) had moved south of the river again and settled in a flat in Farquhar Road, Norwood. (Ironically, two doors away a Blue Plaque marks the childhood home of the actor and wartime anti-Nazi propagandist, Leslie Howard, who had attended Alleyn’s school while living there.)
While in Farqhuar Road Joyce worked as a tutor and, having given up his philology course, began to study part-time for a PhD in Educational Psychology at King’s College, London. Meanwhile, he joined Oswald Mosley’s newly founded British Union of Fascists (the Blackshirts) in August 1933 and when he was offered a well-paid job working for the BUF in November, he gave up his PhD and within two years became the BUF’s Director of Propaganda and deputy leader.
However, though as Mary Kenny says in her biography of Joyce (Germany Calling, 2003), the flat in Farquhar Road was ‘within walking distance of William’s parents in Dulwich’, this brings to a close William Joyce’s life at Allison Grove. Though he would come back to his parents’ house while organising rallies in Dulwich for the BUF and later his own breakaway group the National Socialist League, once he and his second wife, former BUF member Margaret Cairns White, moved to Nazi Germany in 1939 (his first marriage was dissolved in 1936) he only returned to London for his trial and execution in 1946.
None the less, though William had moved away, his family continued to live in Dulwich for some years. Most sources say that Michael Joyce ran a grocer’s shop in East Dulwich to make ends meet, but none of these say where it was. A quick scan through Kelly’s Directory of Dulwich (1928) reveals a ‘Joyce Michael F., grocer’ with a shop at No. 79 Whateley Road, East Dulwich (near the junction with Landcroft Rd), between a baker and a boot repairer. (Nos 77-85 were later demolished and became the site of the East Dulwich Police Station, now the Harris Primary School.) By coincidence, No. 211 Lordship Lane (now The Lordship pub), at the opposite corner of the block to Michael’s shop, was formerly The Magdala and was run for many years by Harry Weeks, whose daughter Lilian married Frank Joyce in 1938.
It is not clear where Frank or the fourth son Robert (1922-86) went to school but both had become engineers for the BBC at Broadcasting House in London by 1939. Their sister Joan (1920-78) attended Dulwich Hamlet School and Sydenham School for Girls before becoming a dressmaker. By March 1940 she was still living with her parents in Dulwich and working as ‘an assistant in department stores’. She was later employed at the Regional Food Office of the Ministry of Food and was then a tram conductor. In 1946 she married Ted Barker, a policeman.
The Joyces’ third son, Quentin (1917-89), went to the Mercers’ School (a charitable grammar school run by the Worshipful Company of Mercers) in Barnard’s Inn, Holborn, where he would have been a younger near contemporary of the composer and organist William Lloyd Webber CBE [1914-82] - father of Andrew and Julian. In 1935 he joined the signals section of the Air Ministry based in Bristol but was staying with his parents in Dulwich in 1939 according to that year’s census.
William’s enthusiasm for fascist politics is well known. However, his family’s involvement has not been so well documented. After William joined the BUF his brother Frank (then living at No.7 Allison Grove) also became a member and spoke at party meetings in Dulwich, as recorded in The Blackshirt: ‘Dulwich. Good meetings at Dulwich Library and Triangle. Frank Joyce spoke’ (20 September 1936) and ‘Dulwich. Good meeting outside Library. Frank Joyce spoke’ (24 October 1936).
Then, when William left the BUF in 1937 to form the National Socialist League, Frank followed him and became a District Leader of the new party, and in 1939 Quentin would become its Treasurer. The NSL held a number of meetings in Dulwich on the corner of Calton Avenue and Dulwich Village, and outside Dulwich Library in Lordship Lane (and sometimes inside when permission for the use of St Barnabas’ Parish Hall in Dulwich Village was refused). Demonstrations were also held outside Camberwell (now Southwark) Town Hall in Peckham Road. As Mary Kenny notes: ‘William seems to have roped in his whole family. He even had his teenage sister, Joan, hand out Fascist propaganda leaflets at Sydenham School for Girls. He also dressed little Robert up in a black shirt. “Poor Mrs Joyce!” the neighbours in Dulwich used to exclaim. “With all those terrible children in their black shirts!” ’
By 1939 it seems that Michael Joyce’s grocer’s shop had folded. The electoral roll for that year records him as being a ‘vacuum cleaner salesman’ and a police report for March 1940 confirms this. By that time he would have been 73 years old. Queenie would herself have been in her sixties and, to help make ends meet, used to work as a domestic. Amongst her clients were the artists James Fitton RA (who by coincidence was born in Oldham, Queenie’s home town) and his wife Margaret. The Fittons had lived on the opposite side of Dulwich Common, at Nos. 10 and 11 Pond Cottages, since about 1928 (James was later a Governor of Dulwich College, and Honorary Surveyor to the Dulwich Picture Gallery). Both left wingers, in the 1930s they were active founder members of the anti-fascist Artists’ International Association (AIA). As their daughter Judy Fitton later recalled (‘Artists in Residence: The Fittons of Pond Cottages’, Dulwich Society Journal, 2012):
Against this background of the fight against fascism and mounting fear of Hitler and Germany, it is ironic that my parents should employ Mrs Joyce, a gentle Irishwoman who lived on the other side of the Millpond in Allison Grove, to help with their new baby. [Timothy, born in July 1939, five weeks before the outbreak of war.] Often Mrs Joyce would arrive with two of her teenage [sic] sons, Quentin and Robert [Quentin would then have been 22 and Robert 17], who would entertain the baby while she did household tasks. My parents thought the boys were extremely well mannered and pleasant and very good with the baby. Sadly, after the outbreak of war, it transpired that the boys were the younger brothers of William Joyce aka Lord Haw Haw and Quentin who by then was working for the Air Ministry was interned for the rest of the war. Mrs Joyce, who knew nothing about politics, and her daughter Joan, continued to live in Dulwich and to the credit of the local people, they were treated with the respect they had always received. Joan later married the policeman appointed to guard their house.
And so to the final demise of the two Joyce family homes in Allison Grove. Their first house, at No.3, was occupied by the Holt family in 1929 but was no longer listed as being inhabited in the 1939 electoral roll. So presumably it was either standing vacant or had been demolished by then. This seems to be confirmed by Ian McInnes in his article mentioned earlier: ‘By December 1938 it appears that Nos. 3 & 5 and 11-21 were empty, leaving only Nos. 7, 9, 23, 25 and 29-35 still occupied. Austin Vernon [the Dulwich Estate Surveyor] recommended that the empty houses be demolished and the vacant site be offered for rebuilding.’
So much for No.3 Allison Grove. The fate of No.7 was rather more dramatic. Its demise took place in the early hours of 29 August 1940 - by coincidence almost exactly a year after William Joyce had left England (on 25 August 1939) for Nazi Germany to begin his infamous propaganda broadcasts. The story featured on the front page of the South London Press for Friday 30 August under the banner headline: ‘Haw-Haw’s London Home is Damaged by Nazi Bomb.’ The article continued:
The house in which Mr and Mrs Michael Joyce, parents of Haw-Haw, live is the only one on that side of the road. The neighbouring houses had been demolished by the landowners. Mr and Mrs Joyce, sheltering in the cellar, were unhurt, but part of the house was demolished when a bomb fell nearby. Mrs Joyce told the S.L.P.: ‘We heard the bombs exploding and we heard masonry falling but apart from a shower of dust and debris we were unscathed. My husband and I were sheltering in the cellar.’
Rebecca West later described the house in The New Meaning of Treason:
Nothing remained of it except a hole in the ground beside the remains of a neighbour’s basement. At the time of [Joyce’s] trial long grasses, and lilacs and syringas grown wild-branched for lack of pruning, gave the place a certain elegiac beauty. The family lost all their possessions except a trunk full of old papers and a few pieces of furniture, and they went to live at a rest centre until they were found another house.
Michael and Queenie eventually moved to a council flat at 86 Underhill Road, East Dulwich, close to the childhood home of Old Alleynian writer C.S. Forester (see Dulwich Society Journal, Autumn 2017), whose parents still lived there.
The flat in Underhill Road thus became the third and final family home for the Joyces in Dulwich, though William himself would never visit it. Joan and Robert later joined their parents, who both died there in the early 1940s, and Quentin moved in after his release from an internment camp in 1943. Joan and Quentin both left when they married - Joan in 1946 and Quentin in 1950 (he then lived nearby in Sydenham Hill). (Frank and Robert served in the British Army during the war, Frank remarried in 1947 and moved to Sidcup while Robert moved to Hastings.)
After the war William Joyce, ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, was put on trial and executed for treason in Wandsworth Prison on 3 January 1946. By a strange quirk of fate the Chief Prosecutor was Old Alleynian Sir Hartley Shawcross (later Chairman of the Board of Governors of Dulwich College).