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.

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