Nine years ago a book was posted through the letterbox of one of my neighbours. It was addressed ‘To the Residents of 24 Talbot Road, Twickenham’.
The title, ‘At All Events’ by Rose Mortleman, was an account of her early life growing up in this same cottage that her grandfather built in the 1880s. She lived there from when she was born in 1931 to when she left in 1952.
Rose wrote the manuscript in the 1980s and then left it in a drawer in her Suffolk home. In 2011 her husband Brian and her son James found it and had it published secretly as a surprise for her 80th birthday later that year.
I contacted Rose for a copy, and so began a friendship which helped me research the history of Talbot Road. She remembered all her neighbours, and her stories about them painted a vivid picture of life in the 1930s and 40s against a backdrop of war and austerity.
Rose Pickles, as she was then, attended Twickenham Art School in the 1940s and later became a successful commercial fashion artist, cartoonist and illustrator. Her work appeared in Vogue and Woman’s Own. She was creative with both brush and the pen, and had a very humorous and lively mind.
When she married Brian they moved to Suffolk, but Rose always had a strong emotional connection with Twickenham.
I eventually met them both in 2013 when Brian brought Rose to visit Talbot Road for the day. She was a very gracious lady and happily posed for a photo in front of her old home.
Sadly, in August 2020, Brian phoned to tell me that Rose had died. She was almost 89 years old. I posted the news on the Twickenham and Teddington History Facebook group with a link to her book. The reaction was astounding. Suddenly her autobiography was in high demand and the feedback from local residents was very touching.
David Luff, the son of her best friend Joan, has this memory “Rose was a beautiful woman who always lit up a room when she walked in”.
Ron, his father, has a painting Rose made for Joan in 1992. It shows the view from Marsh Farm footbridge. Back then there was a planning application to demolish all the cottages in the area to make way for a rail link to Heathrow. Rose wanted to capture this scene in case it disappeared for good. Fortunately, the plan was scrapped.
I saw this painting recently and it made me realise what a special part of Twickenham we could have lost forever. Rose not only immortalised it in oil paint but also in her wonderful book.
Cathy Cooper – local photographer and historian
Photography by Cathy Cooper