The Bandmaster of Bonnie Blink

Drawing of proposed new portico for Bonnie Blink
Drawing of proposed new portico for Bonnie Blink

With the departure on Sunday of the Royal Artillery Band from Woolwich , their home since 1762, it was strangely fortuitous that I came across a file last week in the London Metropolitan Archives which led me to the story of possibly the band’s greatest bandmaster, Cavaliere Ladislao Zavertal.

It was my first visit to the archives, and after being issued with my History Card, I checked through the catalogue for local information. I was immediately intrigued by an entry about Bonnie Blink at 67 Eglinton Hill, and it was the first file I ordered from the archive. Who was Bonnie Blink, I wondered? An actress, perhaps, or a lady of ill repute? It turned out to be the name of a large house at 67 Eglinton Hill (also then known as 255 Eglinton Road), the home of Cavaliere Zavertal, and the file contained the documents for his planning application in 1897 to build a portico onto the front of his house.

Side view of proposed new portico for Bonnie Blink
Side view of proposed new portico for Bonnie Blink

Amongst the contents of the file are a large sheet of drawings and plans detailing the proposed new portico, including the side and front views of how Bonnie Blink would look after the work was complete, shown above. This sheet also has a map showing the surrounding properties at that time: most of today’s houses hadn’t been built. Further down the hill were just the three houses that are now 53 – 57 Eglinton Hill, next door to a nursery – Dallin Road had not yet been created. Next door up the hill,  labelled 257 Eglinton Road, was a large house on a wide plot set well back on Mayplace Lane. Interestingly the next houses further up the hill are labelled Portland Terrace, and make up the handsome Victorian terrace that now starts at number 79 Eglinton Hill.

The file also contains a delicate, decaying plan entitled “Freehold Land at Shooters Hill Kent for sale by auction by Mr Whittingham at the Town Hall Woolwich on Friday 7th April 1865 at 6 for 7 O’Clock.” This shows the boundaries of the numbered plots of land in Eglinton Hill, Brent Road and Cantwell Road to be auctioned, together with a set of “Stipulations”: for example: minimum vales of properties to be built on the plots; prohibition on carrying out the trade of innkeeper or victualler or retailers of wines, spirits or beer; and, unfortunately for Cavaliere Zavertal, a ban on any part of a property being erected within 20ft of the road. His proposed portico fell foul of this covenant and his application was rejected.

Ladislao  Zavertal was born in 1849  in Milan into a musical family: his parents and uncle were musicians of repute. He started his career as a composer and conductor in Milan, and then moved to Glasgow where he conducted the Glasgow Orchestral Society, Hillhead Musical Association and the Pollokshields Musical Association and was Special Instructor to the Glasgow-based Band of the North Devon Regiment. Perhaps it was while living in Glasgow that he came across the house name Bonnie Blink, meaning Beautiful View. In 1881 he applied for the vacant position of Bandmaster of the Royal Artillery Band and was appointed to the position on 10th December that year.

Wikimedia Commons image of Ladislao Zavertal by Jan Vilímek

Zavertal moved to Woolwich, where he presided over the “halcyon days” of the Royal Artillery band according to wikipedia:

The halcyon days of the Band, and particularly of the Orchestra, began in 1881 under the baton of the eminent Moravian conductor, and composer, Ladislao Zavertal. His reputation had preceded him, and audiences swelled quickly at his Woolwich concerts, which included appearances by many distinguished guests, leading to frequent state banquet performances, by royal command of Queen Victoria. The audiences often included such devoted luminaries as Sir Edward German, Antonín Dvo?ák, and Sir Edward Elgar – the latter drawing inspiration from the Orchestra in some of his own compositions. Dvorak, a personal friend of Zavertal’s visited him at his home in London on many occasions, and sought his advice on scoring for orchestra. His Symphony No. 9 (‘From The New World’) was rehearsed by the Royal Artillery Orchestra at Woolwich under the observation of the composer. Zavertal recommended he re-score the chromatic scale passages, originally designated to the strings, instead, for woodwind … The result impressed Dvorak greatly. The symphony was first performed privately in 1893 to an invited audience in the Royal Artillery Theatre. Zavertal introduced to Britain, music by Smetana (overtures and incidental music from ‘Prodana Nevesta’, and ‘Vitava’). On hearing the band for the first time (at a church parade), Dvorak commented “It sounds like a beautiful organ.”

As well as his achievements as a bandmaster and conductor, Cavaliere Zavertal was a prolific composer, and his skills were recognised with titles and medals from around Europe. He merits a whole chapter of the book Memoirs of the Royal Artillery Band by Henry Farmer who was a Royal Artillery bandsman under Zavertal’s mastership. This book lists Cavaliere Zavertal’s many honours:

Cavaliere Zavertal is now a naturalised British subject, and the senior bandmaster in the service. He received his commission as honorary second lieutenant on the 28th December, 1898, which was followed on the 15th November, 1899, by the full rank.
For his services during the Diamond Jubilee Celebration, Queen Victoria bestowed on him the Jubilee Medal, and in March, 1901, His Majesty King Edward VII. decorated him at Marlborough House with the Royal Victorian Order, appointing him a member of the fifth class. He has also received official recognition from several European monarchs. For doing credit to the Italian art in a foreign country, King Humbert nominated him Cavaliere of the Crown of Italy. His Majesty the King of Greece conferred on him the high honour of the Order of the Redeemer. The late King of Servia appointed him a Knight Companion of the Royal Order of Takova, and the Sultan of Turkey bestowed on him the Commander’s Star of the Osmanieh. Some years ago a further distinction, valuable because of its extreme rarity, was conferred on him when the Society of St. Cecilia of Rome elected him one of its members.
On the 26th June, 1896, the Duke of Cambridge, Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Artillery, visited Woolwich, and decorated Cavaliere Zavertal with the Saxe-Coburg- Ernestine Order of Art and Science, conferred on him by His Royal Highness the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. There was a full parade of the Royal Artillery in garrison in honour of the event, when the Duke of Cambridge read the letter which had been received from the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

Cavaliere Zavertal retired as Bandmaster in 1906.

Picture from Memoirs of the Royal Artillery Band by Henry George Farmer
Picture from Memoirs of the Royal Artillery Band by Henry George Farmer

The departure of the Royal Artillery Band from Woolwich after 252 years will be marked by events this weekend

In February the Royal Artillery Band is departing Woolwich to take up permanent residence in Tidworth.  Their departure will be marked with a Farewell Weekend of events.
The outline programme so far is:
8 Feb    Charity Band Concert in aid of local charities. Concert will be in the afternoon in the Woolwich Hall
9 Feb    1345    Band depart RA Barracks and march to General Gordon’s Square
1400    Band performs to guests & public
1420    Presentation of OP Herrick medals to some members of the band by the Mayor of Greenwich
1425    Speeches & presentations to Greenwich Council on behalf of the Regiment.
1430    Band march to Firepower
1435    Band play on No1 Square
1445    Move into Firepower to unveil RA Band display.

And what has become of Bonnie Blink now, more than a century after Cavaliere Zavertal’s proposal for a portico was turned down? As the picture below shows the planning process has not been kind to the house. Gone are the beautiful bays and the elegant arched windows, replaced with small, square UPVC framed double glazing. The only architectural adornment remaining, and common to the house now and the drawing at the top, seems to be the stone finials at each end of the roof. I wonder what Cavaliere Ladislao Zavertal would have thought of how his grand house ended up?

67 Eglinton Hill
67 Eglinton Hill
Rooftop finial at 67 Eglinton Hill
Rooftop finial at 67 Eglinton Hill

House Stories

100 Eglinton Hill - Cheviot Lodge
100 Eglinton Hill – Cheviot Lodge

On my tour of the buildings of interest in Shooters Hill the group of houses at the top of Eglinton Hill proved to be of particular interest, not least because of the links they provided into aspects of local and national history. I had been walking around the area guided by a scrunched up photocopy of some pages from “Buildings of Local Architectural or Historic Importance” by Councillor N.R. Adams and Borough Planning Officer C.H.J. Pollard-Britten, found in Woolwich Library. (Incidentally I have since found an updated version  online on the Royal Borough of Greenwich web site). The document had this to say about number 100 Eglinton Hill, pictured above:

Eglinton Hill No. 100 ‘Cheviot Lodge’

2-storey mid-Victorian building in yellow stock brick with red dressings and stucco dressings. Slate roof with weather boards and decorative finials to gable ends in projecting eaves; attic dormers. Single storey extension to side and glazed extension to front, conservatory to flank facing Shrewsbury Lane. Seven steps up to front door in recessed porch supported on black columns with decorated capitals in the Gothic foliated style. Built by British Land Co. who set out most of Herbert Road area in 1868. Sold to Robert Brownlow Dale who owned Brownlow Dale Drapers 6 – 12 Hare Street, Woolwich and sold again in 1882 to Joseph Randall of builders Kirk and Randall who built Tilbury Docks, Greenock Barracks and many other government buildings. Randall added a billiard room and the Conservatory but building has remained little altered since then.

The British Land Company played a significant part in developing the Herbert Estate, as this part of Shooters Hill   between Plumstead Common Road and the Dover Road was known, and built many of the properties hereabouts. They were established in the mid nineteenth century  to extend the vote to more people by allowing them to own small plots of land – at that time only landowners were eligible to vote – though they later became a development company which still exists today.

Robert Brownlow Dale must have liked the area as he moved to Clavering Lodge in Wrottesley Road where he died in 1892. The Woolwich-based company Kirk and Randall were major builders in Victorian London. They are mentioned a number of times in English Heritage’s Woolwich Survey, their local buildings including the Tramshed and the Church of St Michael and All Angels down near Woolwich Dockyard. They built all across the city: as well as the government buildings mentioned, they were responsible for the  Comedy Theatre in Panton Street, Shops in Duke Street, the Greek cathedral of Aghia Sophia in Bayswater, the Wandsworth & Clapham Workhouse, Southwark’s St Saviour’s Union Infirmary …. and many more.

Detail of 145/147 Eglinton Hill
Detail of 145/147 Eglinton Hill
145/147 Eglinton Hill
145/147 Eglinton Hill














On the opposite side of the road there is a row of imposing houses, which Adams and  Pollard-Britten describe as follows:

No. 133

Large detached late Victorian villa with basement. Projecting bay windows to basement and ground floors. Front rendered. Hipped slate roof.

Nos. 135 and 137

Pair of 3-storey plus basement semi-detached late Victorian houses with centred front doors and projecting bays to basement, ground and first  floors. No. 135 in yellow/cream Gault brick; No. 137 has brickwork painted. Hipped slate roofs. Modern front doors and modern windows to No. 137.

No. 141 and 143

Pair of mid-Victorian 2-storey semi-detached houses with cornices and parapet roofs. Projecting bat windows. Walls rendered. Modern windows to No. 141.

Nos. 145 and 147.

Pair of substantial Edwardian houses with centred pediment containing two attic windows and centred terra-cotta medallion in circular red brick. Nos. 122 to 147 form a group.

There are photographs of these houses in the Shooters Hill Interesting Buildings Flickr set. I’m aiming to include photographs of all the buildings in the list.  Number 145 is now the home of the Shooters Hill Practice for Acupuncture and Complementary Medicine, and Lesley the Acupuncturist.

153 Eglinton Hill Front Elevation by G.J. Paszkowski
153 Eglinton Hill Front Elevation
153 Eglinton Hill
153 Eglinton Hill










I don’t know why 153/155 Eglinton Hill, directly opposite Cheviot Lodge,  isn’t one of the locally listed buildings: it looks just as important as its neighbours down the hill. It was certainly of interest to G.J. Paszkowski, a student at Thames Polytechnic School of Architecture and Landscape whose 1984 project report about number 153 Eglinton Hill is in the Greenwich Heritage Centre. The report gives the history of the house from 1896 when Joseph Randall of Randall and Kirk purchased the plot of land from the British Land Company, and includes some excellent drawings of the architecture of the house, including the drawing of the front elevation above (you may need to enlarge it by clicking on the image).

The house was built at the turn of the century and started out as number 303 Eglinton Road. It changed to number 353 Eglinton Road on 4th March 1913 when new houses were built lower down the road, and then became 153 Eglinton Hill on 16th March 1920.

G.J. Paszkowski lists the occupants and owners of number 153 in his report. Houses in Eglinton Hill were popular with officers from the different regiments based in Woolwich, and the report mentions several servicemen. One was Major F.H.G. Stanton RA who moved there in 1908. Major Stanton seems to have been a cricketer at the end of the nineteenth century, who saw action  in the Second Boer War. He is listed in Creswicke’s South Africa & the Transvaal War as being one of the prisoners freed after the British forces captured Pretoria in June 1900, and  he was mentioned in dispatches for rendering special and meritorious service in 1901. Major Stanton later served in the British Salonika Army which fought on the Macedonian Front in the First World War.

Captain Alfred Herbert MacIlwaine bought the house in 1922 for £1350. He sounds very highly accomplished if the various references I have found are the same person, and they fit together from a date point of view and with the most complete biography on the Militarian Military History forum. The son of the founder of the Hull Oil Manufacturing Company, he won five England rugby caps in 1912, England winning four out of his  five games. He served in the Royal Artillery in WWI, and his courage was recognised with the MC, DSO and Croix de Guerre. After the war he was at the Royal Military Academy, and helped set up a Central Army Rugby Referees Society. He moved to what was then Rhodesia and became a farmer, but was again active in WWII when he was the primary force behind the formation of the Southern Rhodesia Artillery. Back in Rhodesia after the war  he created Troutbeck, a lakeside inn in the Nyanga mountains of Zimbabwe, where “a portrait of him sitting on his boat with a fly rod at his side and a net in his hand hangs above the eternal hearthside fire”.

Intriguingly MacIlwaine gets caught up in Rhodesia’s unilateral declaration of independence, when in 1967 he is mentioned in Hansard because his Rhodesia passport was impounded when he visited Britain: an incident that gave a footnote to a book about Rhodesian UDI: A Matter of Weeks Rather Than Months by J.R.T. Wood.

So, some interesting stories prompted by local buildings. There’s just one thing I need to follow up on, a paragraph in G.J. Paszkowski’s report:

From the Barrow in Shrewsbury Lane is a long green lane still to be found at the back of the houses in Eglinton Hill. It followed the edge of steep slopes till it reached the levels of Woolwich marshes near Woolwich Arsenal station site.  Cows still came down from grazed fields on Shooters Hill to be milked at the dairy in Ripon Road.

This is a reference to Mayplace Lane, which I had noticed appears on the earliest old OS maps, before any development. I’d love to know its history.