Bob Sadler’s Cottage

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is a lot of talk at the moment about redevelopment and it is likely that in the next few years the site of Wimbledon Dog Track and the area bounding it will be altered beyond all recognition. The winds of change will once again blow through Summerstown. But it will be nothing to those that have aleady whistled through this extraordinary historical artery, the original main road of the hamlet of Summerstown, the backbone of the settlement which established itself on the fertile plain at the edge of the Wandle and which rightly bears its name. Look at a map from 1870 to see how significant this road was. The original St Mary’s Church paid for by Joshua Stanger stood at its northerly end on the ground behind the strip of stores which includes the Wimbledon Kitchen chinese takeaway. Wending its way south of here, it was originally known as Church Street. Not long before that the horse-drawn Surrey Iron Railway would have passed across it. This ran from Wandsworth to Croydon from 1801 to 1846 crossing Garratt Lane where Tesco now stands and running down along the back of where Lambeth Cemetery would be built. On the side of what is now the dog stadium car-park were extensive watercress beds and on the 1870 map a winding river twists its way through. But as the redevelopers will well be aware, it was all built on shaky ground, prone to flooding. After the clay foundations shrank in a very dry summer in 1893, the church was declared unsafe and had to be demolished. It took ten years before a new one was built. At the north end of this road, next to the Corner Pin pub, behind a small white tumbledown picket fence and sheltered beneath an enormous conifer tree are two small cottages which date from 1820, pre-dating when the first church was built. They are very likely the oldest dwelling in this area and with one other building at the southern end of the road near what used to be the White Lion pub, the only surviving constructions from the 1914 period. The one on the right with its dark green wooden shutters and a front door on the end has a quaint charm, at odds with the neglect all around it. No6 was once the home of the incredible Robert Sadler who founded the Copenhagen Running Ground at the end of Burmester Road. In the 1841 census he was squeezed into this tiny cottage with nine other people; his parents, two sisters, two brothers, his wife, his son and an aunt. It was also once the home of Henry James Wright one of the Summerstown182 and befitting his name, a man with flying connectons. His baptism record indicates he was very likely born at the address on 19th August 1890. An only child, his father, Henry Richard Wright was a cabinet maker. His mother, Francis Elizabeth was 39 when Henry was born. In the 1911 census Henry was twenty years old and working as a tinsmith. Three years later, and now a sheet metal worker, on Christmas Day 1914, in St Anne’s Church, he married a girl from Wandsworth called Ethel Marks. The absent voters list of 1918 shows the couple were still living at 6 Summerstown with Henry’s parents. After his death Ethel moved in to live with her mother at 10 Vanderbilt Road on the other side of Earlsfield Station. It would appear that Henry joined the Royal Navy on 7th March 1917 but on 1st April 1918 he transfered to the Royal Naval Air Service and was based in Redcar as an Air Mechanic. A Royal Navy Air Station had been established at Ramshaw’s Farm here between 1915 and 1919. Thankfully Henry missed the zeppelin raid of 1916 but he was killed on 29th June 1918 and is buried at nearby Christ Church in Coatham. He is one of 21 war graves in a dramatic location on the edge of the North Sea, not far from the mouth of the Tees. In the August issue of the St Mary’s parish magazine, Reverend Robinson wrote that ‘we have heard this month that Henry James Wright, RNAS was killed in an accident at Redcar on June 29th’. In the same short paragraph he announced the death of 14 other members of the Summerstown182, the grim toll was mounting as the war drew to its climax.

With thanks to Marion Gower and Kevin Kelly whose research has helped put this item together. Like to know more about Robert Sadler? Hear Kevin Kelly’s talk about the history of the Copenhagen Running Ground at The Streatham Society, Monday, 7th July at 8pm. http://www.streathamsociety.org.uk/

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Common People

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe longest day of the year and the weekend before the start of another Wimbledon. After the night of the twilight walk, this was undoubtedly the second most gorgeous evening of the summer. It found me on Wimbledon Common, accidentally stumbling across the old war memorial stone, deep in the heart of this great expanse, somewhere between the Windmill and the Fox and Grapes. ‘TO THE MEMORY OF ALL RANKS OF THE RESERVE BATTALION OF THE KING’S ROYAL RIFLE CORPS. WHO TRAINED HERE AND AFTERWARDS GAVE THEIR LIVES FOR KING AND COUNTRY. 1916 – 1918’. A block of stone about three foot high, it is emblazoned with a maltese cross on which are inscribed the names of some far-off places. Presumably where the regiment performed heroic deeds; Kandahar, Ladysmith, Quebec and Martinique, to name a few. I’ve clocked it a few times on elderflower or blackberry gathering missions but I’d never really taken much notice of what was written on it. But of course now everything is different. The King’s Royal Rifle Corps struck a chord because just a few days earlier, Christine, who has been helping with researching some of the names on the St Mary’s war memorial, drew my attention back to the Passingham brothers. Cecil Passingham served with this regiment and is one of the Summerstown182, but mystifyingly an older brother, William Alfred, also in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and killed in the First World War is not. A third brother, John Bruce Passingham of the 7th Battalion, East Kent Regiment, was killed on the 24th March 1918 in the German Spring Offensive. He is also not included on the St Mary’s war memorial. Wimbledon Common has long had an association with men bearing arms. The National Rifle Association set themselves up here in 1860 under the enthusiastic patronage of Queen Victoria. Too many stray bullets forced them to re-locate to Bisley. It was a popular place for military parades and drilling and in 1891 no lesser person than Kaiser Wilhelm inspected a gathering of 22,000 troops here. In the 1911 census the Passinghams were at 41 Summerstown. William James Passingham was a cycle maker originally from Tunbridge Wells and his wife Mary Maud worked as a dressmaker. There were six children, four boys and two girls. William and Cecil were the oldest. Before coming to Summerstown they had been living in Stockwell and Brixton, which was where the two older boys were born. At 41 Summerstown, they lived half-way down the road, very close to the families of William Norris and Thomas Carrigan. The above photo shows a cart outside No47, so the Passingham home was just a few houses to the left. William, then 18 was now working as a stock keeper for a silk merchants. Cecil Edward Passingham, a year younger, was a grocer’s porter. He joined the 1st Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and was killed on 10th March 1915. Cecil was twenty years old and his name is on the Le Touret memorial, near Bethune in northern France. Alongside him on here are his Summerstown neighbours from the other side of Garratt Lane, William Mace and George Boast.

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His battalion was ordered to attack German positions at Givenchy on this date. It was a diversionary assault to stop German reinforcements being moved north to Neuve Chapelle but ended up costing the lives of 141 men from the battalion including Cecil. Killed in action, he has no known grave. William, who was with the 4th Battalion died precisely one week before the end of the war on 4th November 1918. He was 27 and is buried at Preux-au-Bois Communal Cemetery. The village of Preux-au-Bois was captured on the 4th November, 1918, after a severe struggle, by units of the 18th Division and involved extensive use of tanks. John Bruce Passingham was 19 years old and in the 7th Battlion, East Kent Regiment. His date of death, 24th March 1918 indicates that he lost his life in the German Spring Offensive. In the July 1915 parish magazine, Reverend Robinson mentions William Passingham. ‘About three weeks ago William Passingham of the Rifle Brigade had a wonderful escape in the trenches. A Jack Johnson burst in the trench where he was, and all the men in it except himself were killed. The stretcher-bearers found him later and carried him back to the Field Hospital. After a rest of two weeks he was able to fight again. A younger brother writes that he has been nine days in the trenches without a rest away.’ This younger brother can surely only have been Cecil and by the time this was published he would have been dead, though its very likely that he would have been ‘missing’ and his death not yet confirmed. It is very odd that William, known by name wasn’t included on the war memorial but Cecil who wasn’t was. William’s CWGC record of 1918 indicates that the family had moved to 38 Headington Road, not far from Earlsfield Station. Its just possible that the parents of these lads, having moved further way from the church and no doubt consumed with grief, simply lost contact with the parish and never notified the vicar that two other Passinghams were lost. The tragic death of William, so close to the armistice would have been particularly hard to take. As for Jack Johnson, he was an American boxer, world heavyweight champion, no less. His name was the nickname of the heavy duty German shell which on impact, burst in a cloud of thick black smoke.

Bricks and Mortar

pops com cemOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf Fred Barnes was looking out of his window at No7 Keble Street right now, he would surely be shaking his head in disbelief at the madness happening just across the road. A little end-of-terrace house has just been valued at £800,000 and next door to it, a nice primrose-coloured coat of paint has been applied to an equally modest property whose price will probably exceed that. What would the folks of 1914 have thought of the obscenity of these homes being beyond the reach of the vast majority of people round here? They would have been astounded at a society which allows those on all but the highest incomes to be forced to the fringes of the city and beyond. So much for progress. The chances of a family headed by a warehouseman, a plasterer or a laundry-worker moving in are non-existent, never mind the chances of a family moving in at all. There were even two householders in the 1911 census who gave their professions as a ‘hawker’ and a ‘road scavenger’. Dear me, talk about lowering the tone of the neighbourhood, imagine the effect on property prices. In the forty houses in this street at the moment, there are just three school-age children. There is a sprinkling of tots who are most likely to move on before they get much bigger. The effect this housing insanity will have on society will, in a slow creeping way, be almost as devastating as that of the First World War. In 1914 Fred had seven siblings at No7 and the street would have been alive with the laughter of young children. The Barnes family were part of the wave of people who were moved from central London slums to new ‘homes-for-workers’ built on the green spaces of Earlsfield, Summerstown and Tooting, around the turn of the last century. In 1901 James Barnes, a bookbinder, was living with his wife Alice and seven children at 10 Skelbrook Street. Born in 1893, Fred was the second oldest boy, his brothers were William, Albert and Victor. By the time of the 1911 census they were in Burtop Road and another boy, 8 year old Arthur had arrived. Alice appeared to be on her own and was working as a charwoman. Sometime soon after, the family continued their move southwards towards St Mary’s Church and were at 7 Keble Street. Fred must have had some musical talent because he joined the army as a bandsman. Why he chose the Royal Scots Fusiliers is hard to explain as there doesn’t appear to be any scottish family connection. In October 1914, the Kaiser’s Army were on the rampage in Belgium and the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers were sent out to Ypres to hold them back. Fred Barnes died in the First Battle of Ypres on 24th October 1914, during an extremely bad week for the Battalion. The Glasgow Daily Record & Mail in November noted that ‘The battalion commenced the weeks operations roughly 1,200 strong and on the following Sunday when they were relieved, they marched off less than 500 strong’. Ypres was of of immense strategic importance and would be captured by the British and held throughout the war, though effectively razed to the ground. Incredibly it was rebuilt in all its medieval glory and at its centre, on the site of a crossing through which thousands of soldiers passed on their way to the front, was built the imposing Menin Gate memorial. Upon this the names of 54,000 soldiers with no known grave are written. The young bandsman from Keble Street would have appreciated the nightly ceremony beneath it. The road is closed to traffic, wreaths are laid and trumpets and bugles ring out. Fred’s name is not on the memorial. He died of his wounds on 24th October and was buried at Poperinghe Communal Cemetery, about six miles outside Ypres. He is here with 21 other soldiers who were all killed around the same time. The war graves are tightly packed together, almost like a row of teeth standing out in contrast to the grey Victorian memorials all around them. Many thanks to Bart from Gulleghem who visited the cemetery a few months ago and got some pictures. ‘Pops’ as it was known was a safe enough distance from the front line to be a major base for soldiers to relax and unwind away from the battlefield. It was, and still is, a relatively small town, but in 1917, a quarter of a million soldiers were billeted in the area. Poperinghe was the home of the Reverend Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton’s Talbot House, the ‘Toc H Club’ and also the scene of the execution of a number of Britsh soldiers notoriously ‘Shot at Dawn’. The 1918 ‘absent voters list’ indicates that Fred’s three eldest brothers were all in service at the end of the war and seemingly came home to Keble Street.

The Anarchist

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When the late John Sullivan was developing the character of Wolfie Smith, leader of the Tooting Popular Front, for his TV comedy show, Citizen Smith in the 1970s, I wonder if he was aware of a local revolutionary whose cry would definitely have been Up the Workers and Freedom for Tooting. Step forward the extraordinary Francis Kitz, the Summerstown anarchist. The son of a prussian watchmaker called Johann Louis Kitz, he was born in College Terrace, Camden in 1849. He appears to have had to fend for himself at an early age and learned to live on his wits, working as an errand boy and porter. But he was quickly aware of the injustices and inequalities around him, ‘Brought up in the neighbourhood of the West End with the evidence of wealth and luxury confronting me – wealth unearned, comfort undeserved – and with my own undeserved hardships, I needed no lectures upon surplus value or dissertations upon economics to cause me to challenge the justice of a system which confers wealth upon the parasites of society and clouds the lives of thousands as it had already clouded mine with care and poverty’. Frank soon became politicised, attending meetings and demonstrations all over London and decorating the walls of his room with pictures of the French Revolution. As a young man he became apprenticed as a dyer, which was to be his trade for the rest of his life. But he refused to be tied to convention or the routine of the daily grind and chose instead to travel across the north of England getting work when he could, all the time observing the terrible conditions endured by the average working man. He lived with some German-speakers in Liverpool and became fluent in the language, he also appears to have visited New York. It seemed his horizons were as broad as his shoulders – his appearance described as ‘a fine burly figure, with a mass of light brown curly hair, blue eyes, a pleasant jolly smile always hovering around his countenance, the very antithesis of the person with a grievance and grudge against society’. He returned to London and started a family in 1872 with a woman called Mary Ann (Annie) Dick with whom he was to have ten children. They settled in Soho in 1874 and in the 1881 census were living at 16 Denmark Street. Kitz soon began mixing in radical circles, his avowed mission ‘to preach to the thieves, the prostitutes and the paupers. The first act of the Revolution should be to open the prison doors’. He developed strong ties with German exiles including Johann Most and came to prominence as a founder of the Socialist League in 1885. Around this time he came into contact with Charles Mowbray who was living in Bethnal Green, in an area of intense poverty called the Nichol. Kitz had a small printing press on which he produced pamphlets and leaflets for distribution to the masses. He had been under police surveillance and hoped the Nicol would provide sanctuary. It was at this time that Frank Kitz’ extraordinary talents as a street orator were put into practice, he and his accomplices put up bill posters by night and preached the gospel of socialism by day. He was very much in demand as a humorous and witty speaker whose charismatic presence and understanding of their condition could light up a crowd of slum-dwellers. Kitz and Mowbray agitated against sweated labour and called on the very poorest workers to organise themselves. They started a no-rent campaign and their Anti-Broker Brigade was an attempt to counter forced evictions. In February 1886, as unemployment surged in an economic downturn, an organised protest in London degenerated into a riot, windows of fancy shops and clubs in Pall Mall and Piccadilly were broken and carriages wrecked. There was much concern at this sight of the poor organising themselves, marching behind banners and questioning the fabric of society. At future demonstrations large bodies of police were prepared for trouble and at another huge protest which became known as Bloody Sunday on 13th November 1887, soldiers with bayonets charged a crowd on Whitehall and at least three people died of their injuries. This was followed by the Chicago Martyrs case when seven American anarchist agitators were executed. Not long after this, Charles Mowbray who had gone to Norwich to organise a labour rally was sent to prison for nine months for incitement. There was widespread use of agent provocateurs and such incidents as the Walsall infiltration spread mistrust and a climate of fear and suspicion. Anarchism had became a dirty word and Kitz needed to lie low. Around 1888 he had hooked up with William Morris and relocated to Summerstown. Nearby Merton was where Morris & Co’s fabrics, carpets, tapestries and leatherworks were produced at Merton Abbey. He worked here as a dyer and for a while edited ‘Commonweal’ the popular socialist newsletter. He was active in organising carmen, labourers and laundry women into a small Surrey Labourers Union. A hand-bill issued in October 1889 advertised its intentions ‘to obtain shorter hours and advance the wages of the working men of Surrey’. Morris wrote of him, ‘Like most of our East-enders he is certainly tinged with anarchism or perhaps one might say destructivism: but I like him very much: I called on the poor chap at the place where he lived, it fairly gave me the horrors to see how wretchedly off he was; so it isn’t much wonder that he takes the line he does’. When he got fed up of working with Morris, Kitz took to the street hawking second hand gloves in places like Leather Lane. A bit like Wolfie Smith in later years, his attempts to fire-up the workers fell largely on deaf years and he later famously remarked ‘It was said that that there was only one Socialist in London, and he, myself.’ In the 1891 census he was living at an address in Merton Road with eight of the children and by 1901 in Angel Court. This was behind the famous Angel public house very close to Tooting Broadway, roughly where Iceland now stands. He also lived for a while on Vant Road, a bit further down Mitcham Lane near St Nicholas’ Church. Annie was at 36 Hazelhurst Road having seemingly had enough of his antics. By 1911 she told the census she was a widow but Frank was in fact still around and living at Trollope Road in Battersea. In 1914 his son’s marriage certificate even pronounced him as deceased. In fact he lived on for another eleven years, passing away in Balham in 1923 from tuberculosis. I like the sound of Frank Kitz, he would undoubtedly have been very sceptical about the Summerstown182 laying down their lives in a struggle between two capitalist empires. But consider the plight of Caroline Danzanvilliers, bent double from a life of hard grind in the laundry, Elizabeth Brown the soldier’s wife from Foss Road, impoverished and imprisoned for child neglect, the Mace brothers, their bodies wasted by war, crushed into four tiny rooms on Thurso Street with eleven other people. Francis Kitz was on their side and prepared to stick his neck out and try to do something about it. I took the above photo of Vant Road, no sign of any Angels but a bird appears to be taking wing – undoubtedly symbolic of the free-spirited and elusive Mr Kitz.

Many thanks to the descendants of Francis Kitz who have shared their research of him. The family’s connection with 36 Hazelhurst Road lasted over three decades. One of his sons Christopher, and two grandchildren; Nellie Biggs and Douglas Kitts were killed there in the V2 attack in 1944. Some of the family started spelling the name ‘Kitts’ around the time of the First World War. They are very keen to find more information about Francis Kitz and ideally locate a photograph of him. He may possibly be in the above group, taken in 1905 at the first Annual Conference of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, but we can’t be sure. If anyone can help us locate one we would be very grateful. There is a lot of mention of Kitz online, but for a detailed account of his time in the Nicol read ‘The Blackest Streets’ by Sarah Wise.

Sweet Sixteen

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Bellew Street 1912

The youngest boy soldier around here in the First World War, indeed in the whole of Great Britain, was the famous Sidney Lewis from 53 Defoe Road. He was only twelve when he joined the East Surrey regiment in the summer of 1915 and a year later he fought for six weeks on the Somme before his Mum hauled him back to Tooting. On 9th September 1914, about a month after the start of the war, an eager young lad called Henry Clarence (Harry) Ollive from 18 Bellew Street joined the 2nd East Surreys in Kingston. He gave his date of birth as 18th January 1896 but he had in fact only just turned fifteen. It is estimated that over the course of the war 250,000 of these boy soldiers served in the British army. Harry died the following year, wounded in Belgium, he survived as far as St Bartholemew’s Military Hospital in Rochester. At 940pm on 1st May he succumbed to the shrapnel wounds to his right side and is buried in Fort Pitt Military Cemetery in the same town. Henry lived all his life at Bellew Street, he may even be one of the children in the above photograph taken at the end of the road, licking a lollipop from Aslett’s sweet shop, he would have been about eleven then. Sidney would have been eight, so maybe he’s one of the little ones with his hand in a bag of mintballs.

1920px-Sargent,_John_Singer_(RA)_-_Gassed_-_Google_Art_ProjectOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe youngest boy soldier around here in the First World War, indeed in the whole of Great Britain, was the famous Sidney Lewis from 53 Defoe Road. He was only twelve when he joined the East Surrey regiment in the summer of 1915 and a year later he fought for six weeks on the Somme before his Mum hauled him back to Tooting. On 9th September 1914, about a month after the start of the war, an eager young lad called Henry Clarence (Harry) Ollive from 18 Bellew Street joined the 2nd East Surreys in Kingston. He gave his date of birth as 18th January 1896 but he had in fact only just turned fifteen. It is estimated that over the course of the war 250,000 of these boy soldiers served in the British army. Harry died the following year, wounded in Belgium, he survived as far as St Bartholemew’s Military Hospital in Rochester. At 940pm on 1st May he succumbed to the shrapnel wounds to his right side and is buried in Fort Pitt Military Cemetery in the same town. Henry lived all his life at Bellew Street, he may even be one of the children in this photograph taken at the end of the road, licking a lollipop from Aslett’s sweet shop, he would have been about eleven then. Sidney would have been eight, so maybe he’s one of the little ones with his hand in a bag of mintballs. Harry’s parents Henry and Edith were married at Holy Trinity Church but had moved to Bellew Street by the time he was born in 1899. They had six children who survived, two died as infants. His father had progressed from a labourer to a scaffolder. Henry was posted to Flanders on 24th March 1915 joining the regiment at Dickebusch, south of Ypres. Just a month before this, Henry Senior also joined up with the Royal Engineers. Curiously he listed all his other children but didn’t mention Henry, perhaps to preserve the fact that he was under-age. The 2nd East Surreys became embroiled in what was known as the Second Battle of Ypres, essentially a struggle to get control of the strategic Flemish town. Photos of its shattered skeletal ruins are symbolic of the destruction and annihilation of the First World War. At its centre now stands the enormous Menin Gate memorial on which are written the 54,000 names of those with no known grave. A lad from Burmester Road, not much younger than Sid or Henry is off to Ypres on a school trip at the end of the month and has been tasked with getting photos of the twelve Summerstown182 names on the Menin Gate. The dreadful fighting in which Harry was involved saw the Germans use poison gas on the western front for the first time. It drifted towards the trenches in a yellowish-green cloud and smelt of pineapple and pepper. To repell the gas, cotton pads soaked in urine held over the face apparently worked a treat. When the Imperial War Museum re-opens, go into the gallery and gaze, preferably alone, at the immense painting by John Singer Sargent called ‘Gassed’. Just try to imagine. The 2nd Battalion East Surrey War Diary records from near Zonnebeke, that on 25th April ‘at 5am enemy opened fire with shrapnel which continued until 9am when trenches were heavily bombarded. The fumes from the shells again affected men and in some cases rendered them unconscious. Casualties to noon, four dead and eighteen wounded.’ Later that day the Germans attacked and over the next two days there was fierce hand-to-hand fighting as the two sides battled to take control of the trenches. In those two days, there were over three hundred casualties and of the 1,000 men of 2nd Battalion East Surrey Regiment who went up the line in 1915, only 200 survived in just five days of action. Somewhere in the midst of this madness was the teenager from Bellew Street. His sixteenth birthday was on April 17th and a few weeks later he was dead. Harry’s loss was reported quite promptly in the parish magazine though Reverend Robinson uncharacteristically mispelt his name ‘With deep regret we have to announce that Harry Oliver of the East Surrey Regiment has died from wounds received in the battle of Hill 60, in the hospital at Chatham’. I suspect also that he has also confused Hill 60, this was the scene of some heroic fighting by the 1st East Surreys around the same time. In any case, one hundred summers on from the start of the First World War, we are proud to remember the three youngest members of the Summerstown182, all just sweet sixteen; Henry Ollive, Percy Newman and Horatio Nelson Smith.

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UPDATE (June 2016) Local sporting historian Kevin Kelly who has been such a great help to this project has a vast collection of programmes and material relating to school events in the borough of Wandsworth. Amongst these he  found a pamphlet containing a report on the Smallwood Road School football team of 1911-12 who were local ‘Junior Champions’. They are described as ‘perhaps the best team we have ever had – it was well-balanced and clever. Every boy knew the work he had to do and did it to the best of his ability.’ In the team photograph, back row, third from right is an ‘H Ollive’ picked out for a special mention as being one of three of the team chosen to represent the borough. Henry’s name is listed in the Smallwood Road School ‘Roll of Honour’ booklet produced in 1916. He is in the company of five other Summerstown182 including the schoolkeeper, Francis Halliday. The headmaster noted is Mr W. S. Tope who appears alongside Henry in the football team photo from just four years earlier.

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The photograph of Henry Ollive’s grave was kindly taken by Simon Dornan.

The Shepherd of Fairlight

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It is odd that none of the Summerstown182 have so far been found to have lived on Fairlight Road, especially as so many nearby roads suffered extensive casualties. Perhaps it is the Summerstown street equivalent of one of the ‘Blessed Villages’, the fifty or so communities in England and Wales which were spared loss of life in the First World War. Aldren Road also appears to be in this category. The more likely reason for this is that although it would seem to be reasonably close to St Mary’s Church, the parish did not extend into this area until 1930, so it was a little far-removed from its orbit. It was a separate world and yet very much connected. The main religious and social presence was the enormous Fairlight Hall Mission and its driving force for almost half a century was a man called Leonard Shepherd, known as ‘The Shepherd of Fairlight’. The Mayor of Wandsworth, Archibald Dawnay recalled that the population of Tooting which was 5,784 in 1891, had grown to 38,000 by 1914. The area was undergoing, according to local councillor Alfred Hurley ‘an invasion of tiny houses upon its fields and pasture lands’. The Fairlight area sandwiched between the two huge cemeteries of Streatham, on Garratt Lane and Lambeth on Blackshaw Road, rapidly became the centre of the very poorest people in this infux, many being emigrants from central parts of London. There was building work but it was irregular and badly paid, consequently food was in short supply and infant mortality was high. The area comprising Fairlight, Khartoum, Pevensey, Rostella and Alston Roads was poorly lit and unsurfaced. In winter the roads became quagmires. There was a reputation for crime and drunkeness, and it was considered unwise for policemen to patrol some of the streets alone. Raggedly-dressed half-starved chldren swarmed to the Smallwood Road School on a Sunday to get their breakfast. Into the midst of all this came Fairlight Hall. Leonard Shepherd was part of a group of enthusiastic young men from Trinity Road Baptist Church who had established smaller missions on Beechcroft Road and Broadwater Road. At one open-air meeting in the Fairlight area, young boys threw stones at them and an urgent need for some sort of endeavour in the area was identified. It was the nineteen year old Shepherd who persuaded the philanthropist Sir John Kirk of the Shaftesbury Society and Ragged School Union to support this venture. Fairlight Hall opened officially on 1st July 1905. This was not without controversy as the area was labelled by some as ‘drink-sodden’ and ‘poverty-stricken’. Any doubts were soon alleviated by the good works that were done including the establishment of a Sunday School for 500 children and an adult school. A soup kitchen was set up and daily meals provided. The work amongst disabled children was probably the most astounding feature at a time when such children got no assistance from the state. They were encouraged to read and write and learn a trade and the work here acted as a springboard for other similar endeavours in the area. In the 63rd Annual Report of the Ragged School Union in 1907, the great impact of Fairlight Hall is specifically mentioned. ‘Is there continued need for the Ragged School Union? The answer to this enquiry will be to give a description of one of the latest local centres of the Society. A very few years ago there were open fields for grazing and vegetable products all around Tooting. These are being rapidly covered with houses and a dense populaton is already on the ground. The clearances of unsanitary property in the region of the Strand and other quarters have driven slum dwellers to the suburban districts, with little or no provision for religious and other elevating influences. In the centre of this area a sort of institutional Children’s Church has been planted, which has already become a most powerful auxiliary of the Churches. Over seventy voluntary workers, most of them with a life’s work in front of them, and led by an enthusiastic Superintendent have developed into good working order every kind of agency for body, mind and heart. These comprise Sunday Schools, Bible Classes, Girls’ Clubs, Boys’ Brigade, Cricket Club, Mothers’ Meetings, Children’s Services, Domiciliary Visitation, Penny Dinners, Boot Club, Cripples’ Parlour, Visitation of the Sick, provision of Surgical Instruments, Spinal Carriages etc. These and kindred operations are largely maintained from local sources and the whole constitutes a warm house where young plants may be shielded from the cold blasts of temptation and nurtured until they are strong enough to be planted out in the garden of the Churches.’

FairlightHall1914

Girls Brigade with MrShepherd

Leonard Shepherd wanted to embrace all ages and the hall was used every night for concerts. A month before the outbreak of WW1, Princess Christian, daughter of Queen Victoria opened an extension to the hall and it could now cater for gatherings of over 1,000 people. There were talks, recitals, sports, day-trips, community involvement at all levels. During the First World War, over 200 of the social workers attached to the mission joined up, Leonard Shepherd was one of them, serving with the YMCA in France. The work went on, more necessary and vital than ever with so many men away. In 1915 an Infant Welfare Centre was opened. Many influential locals supported the organisation and benefactors ensured that development and improvements continued, such as a ‘sunlight department’ for disabled children. In 1920 Queen Mary visited Fairlight Hall, a grand occasion when the whole area was decorated with flags and bunting and thousands lined the route. The publicity from this helped launch yet more initiatives which over time considerably improved the character and reputation of the area. In 1942 Leonard Shepherd stepped back into an advisory role, he had made Fairlight Hall his life’s work and most certainly left the area a better place. The photo of a party leaving Fairlight Hall on some sort of day-out is dated 1924 and was kindly lent to me by a resident of Fountain Road. I’m not sure why the captions were added to cover up the advertisements on the side of the bus – could it be because they were promoting the demon drink? Note the 153 foot high Dust Destructor chimney poking out from behind the rooftops, now the site of the Fountain Recreation Ground. The original hall was demolished in the seventies and the main new building is currently the headquarters of the Fairlight Christian Centre. Adjoining this is a block containing a sheltered housing scheme for elderly people. A day centre on the premises was closed in 2005 but with local residents using the building to cast their votes in the elections a few weeks ago, over a century later, the spirit of The Shepherd of Fairlight continues to touch all ages and resonates to this day. Unfortunately there were no open-top buses going to the seaside when I took my picture. Instead there was an ambulance picking up an elderly lady, who given any other circumstances, I would have loved to have shown the old Fairlight Hall photograph to. I hope she gets home soon.