Locals Could Get Role In Future Of Historic Dorset Hall

Merton Park Ward Councillors and residents discuss future of Grade II building

Dorset Hall on Kingston Road
Dorset Hall on Kingston Road

The future of historic Dorset Hall in South Wimbledon, the former home of suffragette pioneer Rose Lamartine Yates, is now heading in a new direction.

More than two years of work by a coalition to stop the Grade II-listed Georgian building in Kingston Road from falling into dereliction and to make it sound has come to an end with its objectives met.

The Dorset Hall Group (DHG) had raised more than £730,000 for the essential work - around 50% of which was the cost of the roof repair and partial replacement, borne by building owners Clarion.

In 2020 Barbara Gorna recognised the building as being home to Rose Lamartine Yates, who played a significant role in the suffragette movement. She formed the DHG to focus on securing a sustainable future for the building, which was then not even weather-proof and had been empty for several years after the failure of a project to turn it into flats.

After a meeting of Merton Park Ward Resident’s Association & Councillors earlier this week, DHG said the responsibility for Dorset Hall was being handed over to the local councillors and residents.

Their statement followed an “Options Appraisal” commissioned by DHG during 2022, and project managed by the National Trust, which provided a springboard for a business plan.

During a survey of the building, a rare plaster ceiling built around 1743 was discovered and that now has a Historic England listing. The ceiling is in need of restoration, as it was divided in two when Merton Council allocated the building as single men’s housing.

Following the Options Appraisal, DHG said in a statement this week that Clarion has promised to “find a sympathetic new owner, who will respect both its political and historic past”.

Barbara Gorna said: “Dorset Hall is now firmly on the political map“, as she thanked her team “for their hard work and dedication in rescuing the building from dereliction”.

Merton Park Ward Independent Resident Councillor Stephen Mercer said: "While we are grateful to the Dorset Hall Group (DHG) for all the work they have done, and there was a lot of interest in the options appraisal which was outlined at the Merton Park Ward Residents Association meeting on Tuesday night, the information contained in it has not been fully released to our Committee for reasons of commercial confidentiality.

"MPWRA are willing to play a constructive role in ensuring plans for the future of Dorset Hall reflect the aspirations of the Merton Park community, however, it is too early for the Association to assume any responsibility. Unfortunately it is premature to say that I, Councillor Edward Foley or the Association have taken charge of the building or the campaign.

"Dorset Hall is owned by Clarion who remain responsible for it until it is sold and at the meeting they made clear the time pressure they are under when deciding on next steps. The Association will therefore be considering the information available as a matter of urgency."


Rose Lamartine Yates factfile:

Described at her funeral as “every inch a fighter”, Rose Lamartine Yates played a significant public role in Wimbledon and Lambeth and as a suffragette on the national and international stage.

Rose received an unusually comprehensive education by the standards of the day, passing Oxford finals. She was unable to graduate due to the rules at the time and later educated herself in law so she could support her husband in his law practice. A love of cycling had brought her and her husband together and they were both members of the Cyclist’s Touring Club – a 40,000 strong membership organisation and forerunner of today’s Cycling UK. In 1907 she made history by becoming its first female councillor.

In 1908 Rose joined the Wimbledon branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) of which she later became Secretary and Treasurer. In 1909 she spent a month in prison following a march on Westminster for which she was roundly criticised in the press for abandoning her baby.

Rose used Dorset Hall as a command centre for WSPU operations, hosting regular meetings and fundraisers, and providing a place for recuperation for suffragettes just released from prison. She was a gifted public speaker and regularly addressed crowds numbering thousands on Wimbledon Common.

Among her close suffragette associates was Emily Wilding Davison and following the latter’s death at the Epsom Derby, Rose was the main organiser of the funeral.

After the outbreak of the First World War, Rose helped to set up the ‘Suffragettes of the WSPU’ to keep the suffrage campaign in the public eye. She was also instrumental in helping set up a suffragette archive.

Following the partial granting of the vote to women in 1918, Rose won a seat as the only independent member on the London County Council. As a councillor, she continued to champion women’s and children’s rights, opening a new welfare clinic in Lambeth.

Rose also championed women’s rights on the international stage, becoming involved in the Women’s Consultative Committee of the League of Nations in the early 1930s. She sold Dorset Hall to Merton and Morden Urban District Council before her death.

Dorset Hall garden event in 1912

Dorset Hall garden event in June 1912

Dorset Hall from the back
Dorset Hall from the back

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April 6, 2023