The ‘Idle’ Women

The work was arduous and unpleasant – drowned bodies and cargoes of weapons and gold bars concealed as more innocent freight.

By A. Butler

In 1943, aged 19, Olga Kevelos saw an advertisement inviting women to train for work on the canals. “She spent the next two years with all-female volunteer crews which ran the barges carrying vital war materials along the Grand Union Canal between London and the Midlands.”

She and her fellow crew members were nicknamed The Idle Women after the initials IW on their badges. Officially, IW stood for Inland Waterways, but the traditional boat people, alongside whom they worked, were jealous of the newcomers and gave them the name which stuck.

Olga Kevelos made it clear that life had been far from idle for this exceptional group of women.- “hard work with no respite at all… We worked an 18- to 20-hour day, and nobody ever stopped.” …“In all some 45 women took charge of the canal boats, which were worked in pairs, each pair crewed by three women. The volunteers would take the helm of massive barges transferring Spitfires or machine parts from the London Docks to Birmingham; on the return trip they would haul coal from Warwickshire to London.

The work was arduous and unpleasant – drowned bodies and cargoes of weapons and gold bars concealed as more innocent freight.  Living conditions were rough and the girls were often cold and wet, as well as hungry (not for them the extra rations given to the Land Girls). The weather could be appalling and their craft were frequently ice bound.”. 

Olga was just one of about 30 Idle Women working on the boats during the war.  Many joined following a recruitment drive, in 1944, by the Ministry of War Transport who advertised in the press and women’s magazines.  However, before 1942 the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company (GUCCC) at Southall gave the scheme a trial. 

Girls were given 6 weeks’ training before being let loose on the canals.  One of these, Eily Gayford, became a trainer of future recruits.  She was older than the new girls, and known as Kitty.  Her book, The Amateur Boatwomen chronicles her experiences.

Other women recruits, who have written of their time on the boats, are Emma Smith in her book Maidens’ Trip, Margaret Cornish in Troubled Waters and Susan Woolfitt in Idle Women.  Unusually, Susan was a married woman.  She had been married for 10 years to ‘Donald Wolfit’, as he liked to be called, when she joined up in 1944 as a result of the advert.  For her, it was an escape from a marriage that was turning sour.  The children were at boarding school and she wrote them many letters of her experiences.  Hers was the first book published in 1947.  However, many idle women remained interested in the canals. 

Susan was an early member of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA). Others idle woman have attended Waterway events until recently.  The scheme ended in 1946 with the return of the men after the war. Books mentioned are now published in paperback in the Working Waterways series and are available in London in the Canal Museum, near King’s Cross.

The Women Put Underground

By J Wilson

Word War One caused significant staff shortages on the London’s transport network as 17,000 tube, bus, tram employees enlisted for military service. With men fighting away from the country, it became essential for women to take on these roles, [1].

Maida Vale station opened on 6th of June 1915, (as part of the Bakerloo line extension from Paddington to Queen’s Park), and was the first station on the entire London network to be staffed entirely by women. As such, it was soon renamed the ‘Ladies Tube Station‘.

Women took over many roles which had previously been the sole domain of male workers, such as ticket collectors, lift guards, porters, painters and depot cleaners. The only position not filled by a woman was that of tube driver, a situation which remained until 1978, when Hannah Dadds became the first female to take the job, [2].

It was indeed a shock in 1915 to see women wearing a uniform and proving themselves so quickly in new roles. At that time there was still a common belief that women were incapable and did not have physical strength to conduct work outside the domestic walls. 

The fame of the underground ladies became even greater when a bomb exploded a couple of yards from Maida Vale station. As the trains stopped, women escorted passengers outside the station to a nearby shelter, with calm and professionalism, without showing signs of panic or hysteria.

The role of women at such a difficult time was fundamental to keep the transport network running. Workers could not have reached factories if they did not have a tube to get on.

The female workforce continued until about 1919 when many servicemen returned to London. Two decades later, following the outbreak of the Second World War, a similar shortage of labour opened up jobs for women again and this time they took on virtually every role, including manual labour and heavy engineering.

In 2015, to mark the centenary of the opening of the station, a number of celebrations were held. These included an exhibition chronicling the history of women in transport, with staff volunteers on hand to speak with customers about the history of the station and the role of women in transport, [3].





Maida Ladies of the Night

By Alice Sinclair

1930s post war liberation was a time where the possibility of employment was starkly unrealistic for many women. The ladies of the underground were returned back above ground to their places in the household.

For many women, the bleak reality of husbands not returning from the war efforts meant they had to be resourceful in order to survive. The houses in Maida Vale and Warwick Avenue were huge, spacious and expensive to run. This birthed the idea of renting out individual rooms.

Gradually the streets of Maida Vale and Little Venice were becoming just the right temperature for the red light scene.

Maida Vale and Warwick Avenue, for all their affluence, were never as popular, or as fashionable, as Hyde Park. It was, however, desirable, for exactly this reason.

It was a place of discretion. Gentlemen could walk down Formosa Street, or Randolph Avenue and, if a lady were to swing her keys casually by her side, it was an invitation to ‘tea’ – Mind you the tea may only last an hour (or even ten minutes).

The issue of prostitution was under scrutiny during this post-war period, yet public opinion was weighted against heavy-handed policing. The ambivalent attitude, however, did not mean that prostitution was acceptable in public. In fact, it remained a topic of opprobrium. The section of public concern focused, however, not on the policing of prostitution but upon police encroachment on the liberty of the subject. Due to this, there was a window for women to continue their work, and gain some independence by earning, and support their war-affected families.

Post-war liberation turned a little darker as it crept towards the 1960s. It was a time where the tentacles of London gangs crept into a multitude of places – including our leafy streets of Maida Vale and Warwick Avenue.

Gangs run by the likes of the Kray Brothers saw opportunity for financial gain. They rented hundreds of properties all across West London and the casual industry of independent women turned murky. It was a business run by men, and became a death sentence for women. The women would be overworked, exposed to disease, beatings and unwanted pregnancies, significantly shortening their lives.

However, things were (arguably) balanced by a London gang called  ‘The Forty Elephants’. This was a gang made up by a few dozen women who, equipped with a flair for entrapment and a sense of social purpose, managed to terrorise London’s rich and metropolitan elite for the best part of a century.

The Forty Elephants were based in Elephant and Castle. There is no evidence in the Archives suggesting that they used houses specifically in our area of W9W2. However, they did hire rooms all over London to lure powerful and high profile men. This enabled them to penetrate powerful social circles whom they bribed heavily. The gang was run by Alice Diamond, she stood at 5 foot 10 and wore diamond knuckle dusters. We rather like her!






Maida Vale Parents, an online community.

Article by Alice Sinclair.

Maida Vale Parents is an (online) group for Parents and Carers in the W9 area. ..’with bumps, babies, toddlers, tweens, teens and even grandchildren’.

Counting 4.4k members, the group was originally formed in 2007 by six new mums far from their families who used to gather in the rose garden of Paddington Recreation Ground.

I met up with one of the group’s founders Eugenia Mandrali, and the current head of admin Anne-Sophie Erlandsen Olesen. We had coffee at Toast on Formosa street and they kindly lead me through the journey of MVPs.

How did the Idea came about?

Eugenia had migrated far from her hometown in Greece, away from the impending finical crisis, her family and friends, and was feeling the pressure of new parenthood.

One day, she saw a sign in the GP surgery advertising a weekly group of migrant mothers. She decided to join and thus met the ladies who were to be the founding tribe members of Maida Vale Mums…

The Mums comforted and supported each other, shared advice and soothed the wicked parental guilt we seem to all be afflicted with in one way or another. Soon, they found that that regular meeting was invaluable to their lives.

It was very organic at the time, a sort of self help project” says Eugenia.

Maida Vale Mums Website

In 2007, the group decided to be more structured and branch out. With the help of Meghan, an American mum and owner of a successful business in the U.S. selling CDs, they created a webpage “”. The page was mainly used to organise parties, meet ups and share ideas of what to do in the local area.

From Maida Vale Mums to Maida Vale Parents

In 2013, for various reasons, the group had to close down abruptly and faced with 2000+ members’ impending ‘uprooting’. This is where Anne-Sophie, a forward thinking mum, stepped in and re-launched the group as Maida Vale Parents.

What makes Maida Vale Parents so special?

The famous child focused psychoanalyst Donald Winnecott spent much of his working life just down the road from us at St Mary’s hospital. He famously believed that the ‘Mother’ in the archetypal sense had to be ‘good enough’, providing the environment was contained and safe and transition was gently facilitated.

This is exactly why MVP’s as a group is so successful. It is a welcoming environment for all Parents. What sets it apart from other groups is the safe container created by the admins. Much like kids need a safe container and boundaries to thrive, as do online groups. The key to its success lies behind closed doors with the admin.

It is a tightly run ship with only a handful of moderators who make sure that the group rules are always respectfully enforced: for parents but not just about parenting; let’s be kind and civil; no ads whatsoever; no hate speech, bullying or discrimination; no Fake News; no Justice by Social Media; and What Happens on MVP Stays in MVP. 

This has made the group a very supportive, non-judgmental and extremely dynamic community. The saying goes that ‘Even if you leave Maida Vale, you never leave Maida Vale Parents 2 Parents’, which is why members hail as far as Australia, US and Asia by now. And out of 4400+ members, more than 3800 are Active Members, meaning they have Viewed, Commented, Posted or Reacted in the last month alone. 

Since Anne-Sophie took over, MVP2P has doubled in size. Its members, like an ever changing team of volunteers, have also organised many IRL (In Real Life) events such as Family Mini-Festivals in Pad Rec, Xmas Drinks, Mid-Week Drinks and even their first MV Dads’ Drinks. 

But its core offering is still online support and advice to the many very diverse members, who represent quite accurately an area of London where high wealth and poverty exist side by side, but where all are local parents. And while there are no MVP Weddings (that we know of) there are certainly a plethora of true MVP Friendships.

The history of Little Venice

By Julia Wilson

Little Venice is described by visitors or locals as ‘a hidden gem of London’. Dating back to the early 1800’s, the area has seen changes and modernisation whilst preserving most of its original features and a picturesque identity.

Origins of the Name

The name ‘Little Venice’ has been in frequent use since the second half of the last century. Its origin is sometimes attributed to the Victorian poet and playwright Robert Browning who lived at Beauchamp Lodge, 19 Warwick Crescent in the period 1862-1887. Browning spent part of his life in Italy and died near Venice in 1889. The small island in the middle of the Little Venice Pool at the meeting point of the Regent’s and Grand Union’s Canals is named after him.

In a letter dated 1966, Lord Kinross stated that “It was not Robert Browning who first compared ‘Little Venice’ as we call it now to Venice. It was instead Lord Byron who wrote that there would be nothing to make the canal of Venice more poetical than that of Paddington were it not for its artificial adjuncts”. Lord Byron (1788-1824) is regarded as of one of the greatest poets and leading figure in the Romantic movement.

Little Venice forms the southern part of Maida Vale. Maida (Vale) takes its name from the Italian town of Maida in Calabria where, in 1806, the British won a victory over Napoleon. A pub called ‘The Maida’ used to be located along Edgeware Road until the early 2000’s whose hanging board used to show a likeness of General Sir John Stuart, who was made Count of Maida by King Ferdinand IV of Naples and III of Sicily, after the victory at the same battle. In 2018, the former The Truscott Arms, has been renamed The Hero of Maida, [3].

Architectural Influences

The area started to flourish after completion of the Regent’s Canal in the early 1800’s. In 1811 John Nash (one of the foremost British architects of the Regency and Georgian eras) produced a masterplan for the Prince Regent to redevelop a large area of central north London. As a result, the Regent’s Canal was included in the scheme, running for part of its distance along the northern edge of Regent’s Park, [1]. The canal was completed in 1816. At that time Paddington was just a village on the outskirts of London.

The character of the neighbourhood is defined by the Regency style with white stucco buildings. Delightful examples of these can be found on Blomfield Road facing the Regent’s Canal, Warrington Crescent or Randolph Road.

Rembrandt Gardens

On the eastern banks of Regent’s Canal at Little Venice is Rembrandt Gardens, also known as Warwick Avenue Gardens. These pretty gardens feature plenty of fauna and in spring countless hyacinths and tulips bloom, originally planted in the 1970s on the 700th anniversary of the founding of Amsterdam, the ‘Venice of the North’.

Notable Residents of the Past.

The late Michael Bond used to live on Maida Avenue overlooking the Canal.

Sigmund Freud lived at the Colonnade Hotel with his wife and his youngest daughter Anna for the summer whilst their house in Hampstead was renovated. In honour of his stay, the hotel renamed the best suite the “Sigmund Freud Suite.”. On the 23rd June 1912, Alan Turing was born in the same building. Turing was an English Mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and scientist best-known for helping decipher the code created by German Enigma machines in the Second World War, and for being one of the founders of computer science and artificial intelligence.

Katherine Mansfield stayed as a music student at Beauchamp Lodge (no. 2 Warwick Crescent) 1908-9.





Calling all local Photographers and Artists!!

Your local magazine Maida Unveiled is hosting a competition for all local Artists and Photographers.

We’re asking entrants to get up close and personal with the area of Little Venice and Maida Vale… The theme is “a seasonal reflection of the area” This is for our Spring/summer edition.

Our Magazine is distributed all over the local area reaching a wide audience and the winner gets to feature on the front cover!

This competition is open to all ages and levels.

Please send a copy of your work with a short (100 word max) caption.

Entries (and queries) are to be emailed to the address below.

Deadline is the 1st of April.

Good luck !

[email protected]

Who Was John Aird?

Who was John Aird?

John Aird Court. One of many places in the W9W2 area we rush past running our day to day errands. Who is John Aird? and what did he do to deserve a whole Court named after him? I started to do some research….

Starting rather a long time ago in 1822, a gaelic-speaking family of very modest means arrived in London from Scotland. The father, Robert, became a ganger (foreman) of labourers until he was killed in an earth fall. Robert’s eldest son, John, – who grasped opportunity in both hands – was a natural leader, practical and hardworking. Said to be kind and good to work for, his mother, who could not speak English, was hidden away as the family’s social advancement became more certain. She was hidden away, because her language skills were limited to Gaelic. John’s eldest son, Charles, was quietly successful while the second son, also John, proved the more ambitious and intelligent and quickly becoming the main strength to his father and then company boss when the father retired. The younger John was physically robust and bearded and he allowed the beard to grow longer as the years went by; not much stood in his way.

He was the first Metropolitan Mayor of Paddington from 1900-02 and Member of Parliament for North Paddington from 1887 until 1905. In both offices he looked the part, an important feature of the Victorian and Edwardian worlds. From a Liberal family he was a staunch Conservative and some said that politics was his only sporting interest, although he spoke almost not at all at the House of Commons.John Aird’s adventure in life is a lesson in economic history.

As a Victorian he fits the mould of Samuel Smiles’ book ‘Self Help’ but he also applied ruthlessness and luck to all his enterprises. The key to his success lay in his vision of the provision of public services. For a while gas and water systems from London to Moscow, from Ottawa to Palermo and all places East to Calcutta knew the engineering influence of Aird’s company. As time went by his building projects grew in ambition and the list is frightening long and thoroughly memorable: the West Highland Railway, the Millwall, Royal Albert, East & West India and Tilbury Docks in London, the Avonmouth, Portsmouth and Southampton Docks. Ports in Scotland and in Singapore. His firm was essential to the building of Blackfriars Railway Bridge, the Manchester Ship Canal, the Hampton and Staines reservoirs and the Metropolitan and District underground lines. Arguably his greatest construction was the Aswan (Low) Dam in Egypt, completed around 1902 and his intellectual acuity, engineering judgement, audacious timing and skilful grasp of opportunity are worthy of a film…

At the time this dam was seen as the greatest single work ever conducted by British builders. Aird held NO engineering qualifications. Successful contractors had to learn how to ‘handle people’ at all levels and at its height his company employed 30,000 people. His skills were dependent on his experience of finance, knowledge of materials, the management of a very diverse labour force and a political capacity that had to persuade, communicate and lead the completion of a project to final profit. His innate judgement was second-to-none and it was cruel fortune that saw his life draw to a close when bad engineering advice made the Company’s completion of the commercial dock in Singapore unsuccessful and costly…

So, John Aird, the first mayor of Paddington, the MP for North Paddington and much much more… I wonder, who the other ghosts or imprints of people which once walked the streets of W9W2 are?

What is uniquely remarkable to this particular story, is while I was doing my research, I discovered, entirely by coincidence, that he was also my great, great, great, Grandfather.

A bizarre stroke of serendipity.

A. Sinclair


A historical walk though Little venice…

The late Hans Norton was the great local historian of Maida Vale and anywhere else that he took a sudden interest in. He produced a mass of work. And even now, in some of his posthumous papers, are we finding fascinating insights into the history of the area. This story is about the great fields that predated the naming of the area after the Battle Of Maida and the coming of the canals. Where Little Venice and the Grand Union Canal now provide only a hint of rural calm there used to be rolling fields, Great Church Field, Little Church Field and Parson’s Field, and the site of Warwick Avenue Tube station was originally the turning circle of the massive farm carts required. We have, myself, Robert Bruce, and the indefatigable (past) Chairman of the Society, Elizabeth Virgo, walked the route Hans suggested in his paper on the subject. It has taken time. As with many local historians Hans saw things to be clear which often are not nearly as clear to we plodders down the historic byways. So bear with me as I try to bring the past to life. Off on the journey.

Follow me…

Possibly the best place to start, because it gives you a clear view of the only part of the fields which still exists, is behind the Little Venice Sports Centre. You reach this via Crompton Street, just off Edgware Road on the south side of the canal. Walk into the park beyond. This is the old burial ground reaching down to the church of St Mary’s in the lee of the Westway flyover. But originally it was plain agricultural fields. In the north-west corner of this park there is a raised area which Hans thought was probably the site of the old Manor House, built possibly to replace a very much earlier one, in the early 18th century. Parkland, orchards and the kitchen garden would have stretched to the north, up to where the school is today.

The main area of the park you are in was what would have been Little Church Field. When you reach the point where you are roughly on a line with the entrance to the primary school in Park Place Villas on your right you are on the southern boundary hedgerow of both Little Church Field and what across to the west was Great Church Field. The north-south boundary of the fields ran just to the east of Park Place Villas. Go down to the church, turn right and walk round into St Mary’s Terrace, pausing to doff your hat to the statue of our Emeritus Chairman/President, Christopher Bond and his creation, Paddington Bear.

When you arrive at Fulham Place, the road to John Aird Court, on your left, you have reached the same dividing hedgerow that you had crossed in the park. And to the south of the road and extending westwards would have been Parson’s Field. Walk down Park Place Villas and turn left onto Maida Avenue and stand and look northwards to Warwick Avenue Tube station. This is the site of the great and ancient farming route. The old Harrow Road, which still runs past behind you, was the main trading artery. Farmers needed to get their produce to market. So a road was needed to get to the fields from Harrow Road, and back again. This is why Warwick Avenue is so wide at the bottom where the tube station and the church now are. Farmers needed to be able to turn their carts, once laden and pulled by four horses, around to head back to the Harrow Road. 

With this vision of bucolic bliss and hard, hard work in your mind retrace your steps along the canal, all the time reminding yourself that it didn’t exist when the fields were in full production. The north-south boundary between Little Church Field and Great Church Field ran down the west side of what is now the Catholic Apostolic Church.

On the other side of the canal the boundary runs between 23 and 22 Blomfield Road. No 23 would have been in Great Church Field and No 22 would have been in Little Church Field. The northern boundary of the field ran westwards along the line of Randolph Mews and, continuing on the other side of Warwick Avenue, along what is now Warwick Place. In fact you could happily stand with a pint of beer outside the Warwick Castle pub and imagine yourself looking over the hedge into the field. 

It was the building of the Grand Union Canal, Paddington Basin and the Regent’s Canal that sounded the death knell for the fields. The canal went straight through them. Paddington Basin was established as an industrial trading hub in 1801. The Paddington to Camden Town section of the Regent’s Canal was opened in 1816. In 1824 the Bishop Of London allowed the building of houses in the area. The farmers, raging against change, refused to pay rent on the fields that had effectively been cut in two. 

Into Paddington Basin came slates from Llangollen, cement from Rugby, gypsum from Surrey, wood from Scandinavia and Portland stone from London Docks. This is why there is still the old builders’ merchants, Travis Perkins, by the canal. And it is also why a building boom took off in Paddington in the early to mid-nineteenth century.

But it is still possible to stop, stand by a tree, and imagine the rural landscape with its fields and its hedgerows, horses and carts. You just need to know where to look.

We owe an enormous thanks to the late Hans Norton for providing the research from which this article is derived.

Take a walk through women’s history with a side dish of home made cake!

Walk 100! A historical walk through women’s history, with home made cake, yum.

Following up the very successful Vote 100 talk in January on the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave the majority of women over 30 the vote, we are excited to share with you the series of Vote 100 walks led by our trusty friends, the City of Westminster tour guides.

The walk’s start at St James’s Park Tube (Palmer Street exit) at midday, 13.00hrs and 14.00hrs on Saturday the 30th of June and Monday the 2nd of July. I heard a rumour there will also be home baked cakes… so be sure to come along with your families and participate in a journey through history.

Or come for the cake, yum!

Hold the boat! The little Venice canal cavalcade is coming to town!

Make way! make way! Canal voyaging vessels shall be collecting together on the 5th of May! For three days a whole heap of fun is to be had on the shores of Little Venice..

On the May Bank Holiday weekend (5th-7th) the tranquil waters of Little Venice pool will spring to life via the ‘Canal cavalcade’.The event has been running since 1983 and has attracted people from far and wide, and is an annual delight for local residents. There will be activities for all the family with a pageant of boats, live music, kids activities, competitions, Morris Dancers, a real ale bar, a wide selection of food! Not to mention one of the highlights being the dusk ‘Boat illumination parade’

Admission is Free, the event is run by IWA volunteers.

A link to the programme-

*This year’s explosion of ducklings will be bobbing about amidst the fun. Please do remember to bring peas if you want to feed them- bread is not their natural diet and causes difficulties.