South London Memories: Book is tribute to ‘ultimate local historian’ say The Clapham Society

A group of community academics have banded together to publish their departed colleague’s final masterpiece, writes Jay Burguess.

Three members of a community charity, The Clapham Society, have finished a decades-long project begun by an amateur historian.

Peter Jefferson Smith had virtually completed the text chronicling the life of the I’Ansons – a family of successful Victorian architects – when he died in December 2018.

Peter gained a degree in history at Trinity College before living in Clapham for the rest of his life, working as a senior civil servant.

The I’Ansons – A Dynasty of London Architects & Surveyors

He was devoted to community life, and in the 1970s successfully opposed Lambeth council’s plans to demolish and redevelop significant areas of local housing.

Alyson Wilson, a long-time friend and collaborator, called Peter “the ultimate local historian”.

She said: “I just couldn’t bare the thought of it not being finished. I was determined it would be done. He was a good friend.”

She recruited two colleagues from the Clapham Society – architectural historian Andrew Saint and historic author Timothy Walker.

It took the trio a year to finish the work, which required an index and illustrations.

Alyson said: “For South Londoners, the book shows you the evolution of architecture in the 19th century.

The I’Anson family were surveyors, developers and managers, in Clapham, Streatham and Wandsworth. There’s quite a wide range. They’ll find it very interesting.”

Anna Jefferson Smith, Peter’s wife, still lives in Clapham.

Her and Peter were two of the earliest members of the Clapham Society, which started in 1963.

Upon hearing the news that her late husband’s work was to be completed, Anna said: “I was absolutely thrilled. Delighted.

“I just cheered.

“I’m sure had he [Peter] been at the book launch he’d have been a very, very happy bunny.

“It was so friendly and open, it was a wonderful occasion.”

Andrew Saint, one of Alyson’s team, said: “His [Peter’s] great achievement is to explain, as no one has so richly done before, how the world of construction in Victorian and pre-Victorian London really worked and hung together.

“It can only be regretted that he did not live to enjoy the admiration his study deserves.”

The I’Ansons – A Dynasty of London Architects & Surveyors by Peter Jefferson Smith,
is available now, price £20, at Clapham Books, 26 The Pavement, SW4 0JA,
or on the Clapham Society website at

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