Charlotte Sulivan (1824 - 1911)

The Family
Charlotte Antonia Sulivan was the youngest of the five children born to Laurence and Elizabeth Sulivan of Broom House, Fulham. Elizabeth Sulivan (nee Temple) was the younger sister of Harry Temple, third Viscount Palmerston. Palmerston served in various British government in the first half of the nineteenth century. He was Foreign Secretary in the 1830's and Prime Minister in the 1860's. 

Charlotte was born in 1824 and died unmarried in 1911 living during the reigns of five monarchs'. By the time of her death she was a very rich woman. She inherited Broom House and lived there alone (apart from her servants) for more than half her lifetime. She was, however, not a recluse but spent her time pursuing her interests: travelling and painting, natural history and gardening, as well as philanthropic projects in the area. She was a committed Christian and so took a great interest in the local churches. She was also concerned with the welfare of the poor and founded the Parson's Green Club for working men. She was held in awe by the people of Fulham and remembered with affection by her family.

Concern for Local Churches - St Dionis' 

Charlotte gave generously to many local causes, principally the churches in the area. The family had always attended All Saints' Church, but by the 1870s there was urgent need for a church on Parson's Green for the rapidly increasing number of houses being built. There had long been a Rectory on the west side of the Green; it was also known as a Parsonage, hence the name. This belonged to the Rector of All Saints', Fulham, whose position was a 

sinecure, which involved no duties beyond appointing the vicar to do the work and providing a bull and a boar for increasing the livestock of the parish! The Rector did not live there but leased the house to someone else. 

In 1876 Charlotte built the St Dionis' Mission Hall in memory of her father on land that she owned close to the Parsonage The building cost £4,000 and could seat 300 people. The 'most substantial building .... well lit with gas' was a 'present to the neighbourhood'. The Rev. F.H. Fisher the Vicar of Fulham, told everyone who had crammed in for the opening service that they were 'going to have a regular service ... a hearty one'. However the preacher, the Rev. W.L. Bames, spoke on 'the wages of sin is death'! Mr Fisher asked a blessing on the Mission Hall and 'the lady who gave it' - the 52-year-old Charlotte was present. The proceedings were spoiled for some by the boys at the back who made 'coarse remarks ... much to the annoyance of all near them'.

Services were held in the Hall until the Church was built on the site of the Rectory, and consecrated in 1885.

The Hall was used in 1889 by kind permission of Charlotte who still owned it, to raise money for 'the Tower Fund', presumably the Church tower. The event was an evening with Charles Pond who recited the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice, The Ancient Mariner and two humorous selections with the help of three ladies! 

The Vicarage next door to the Church was completed in 1898. At the laying of the foundation stone, the Reverend John Sinc1air, the first Vicar, said that 'when he first came Miss Sulivan took a great interest in the spiritual welfare of the parish'." He commented that the population of the Parish was 1,300 and rapidly increasing (by 1923 it was 10,000). When Mr Sinclair left in 1898 and Dr William Carter succeeded him, Charlotte gave £55 to wipe off all deficits on church funds church funds.

She not only gave money, but managed a soup kitchen when Mr Sinclair was Vicar. It served soup, plain puddings, beef tea, meat and vegetables on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from l0am to 1 pm. In 1902 she offered the use of the Hall for a Bazaar, which had never been done before. She then opened the Bazaar which raised £70. This was disappointing, as they had had hoped to make £100. An anonymous gift made the total up to £100 guineas which the Vicar, Dr Carter, invested in Midland Railway Stock 'to form a substantial reserve fund".

In her will she left £3,000 for the upkeep of the Mission Hall and the house which was annexed to it; this was to be used for church purposes or a curate. After her death, it was also revealed that she had been the anonymous donor of £3,000 in 1903 to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, which gave the Vicar a stipend of £100 per year.

Obituaries 

We learn more about Charlotte after her death on 3rd April, 1911. The Bishop of London, a neighbour at Fulham Palace, said in a sermon that he had visited her every Christmas Day for ten years and 'he always found her quite by herself ... She would speak of nothing about her property or her money but always of her relation to God.' 

Dr Carter, Vicar of St Dionis', told how she had said, hearing of another's death, I am envious of him; but I suppose God wants me to live a little longer'. He added 'many a poor home in Fulham had been saved through her handsome gifts, and a great many tradesmen, who would have been left unpaid by dishonest and unfortunate customers, had to thank God for the intervention of her generosity, but only in a secret way did they know from whom that came'. He also said, 'he scarcely ever visited her without she inquired about the names of the people who lived in some of the streets of the parish' .

The Legacy 

In addition to Sulivan Hall, the Sulivan name is also remembered today in Sulivan Road (laid out in 1913 although the houses were not built till the 1920s), and in Sulivan Court and Sulivan School, which were built in the 1950s on the No 2 Polo Ground. The Elizabethan Schools have been well used by the young until 2007. St Dionis' and St Matthew's continue to flourish, though St Matthew's Church was rebuilt in modem style in 2000. The Broom House gardens are a greatly valued part of the Hurlingham Club, and the name of Broom Farm is commemorated in a row of houses in Clancarty Road. Carnwath House is remembered in Carnwath Road, and in the present Carnwath House, a Council block built in 1936, though not on the same site. The Parson's Green Club is still using the original billiard tables. South Park celebrated its centenary in 2004, and is still enjoyed as a much needed green space in the city, with welcome rejuvenation of its facilities promised in 2008. 

In 1935 St Dionis' marked its jubilee. As part of the celebrations, a plaque was dedicated to Charlotte's memory, and can still be seen there today: 

In thanksgiving to God

for the life and example of

Charlotte Sulivan

Benefactress of this parish,

born April 14th 1824,

departed this life April 3rd 1911.

She lived in an age when rich single women had much more freedom than their married sisters, and when charitable work was considered the ideal occupation for the older single woman. She was motivated by her Christian faith and the example set by her parents in philanthropic projects. She was a formidable lady with a heart of gold. 

We residents of South Fulham have much to be grateful for in the generosity of Miss Charlotte Sulivan - 'the best friend we have'. 

Taken, with thanks, from 'Charlotte Sulivan (1824-1911): 'The best friend we have'', by Sue Pierson and published by the Fulham and Hammersmith Historical Society

Book is called:
"Charlotte Sulivan (1824-1911):'The best friend we have'.
By Sue Pierson
It was published in2008 by
The Fulham and Hammersmith Historical Society
Flat 12
43 Peterborough Road
London SW6 3BT
ISBN 978-0-901643-04-9 ]

Charity Number 1158311 Company Number 09182690
Registered Address 18A Parsons Green, London SW6 4UH
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