On Sunday there was a lovely little ceremony in a corner of Streatham Cemetery. Broadwater Gate, spectacularly garlanded in wildflowers for the occasion, was officially opened again for business after twenty years of closure. Now, if you are heading from Tooting to Summerstown or beyond, you can avoid a noisy tract of Garratt Lane by dipping into the cemetery and enjoying a slice of rustic tranquility that is one of SW17’s best kept secrets. The event was a great opportunity to sip elderflower cordial, admire the honey bees and chat with the Friends of Streatham Cemetery who made it all happen. All that was needed to complete the perfect summer idyll was a little bit of music and resting nearby was a man who could have provided it. I first came across Edgar John Brown when I was looking for the Maces in April. It was the day I walked into the cemetery and immediately spotted two green woodpeckers – straight off the cider bottle. I took that as a sign that I would find the wooden peg which the gravedigger had put down for me to identify the location of William Mace’s unmarked grave. Indeed there was one in Plot D, right under a pink cherry blossom tree in full bloom. But it wasn’t him. I went over to check on Arthur Mace’s grassy mound and noticed for the first time that three CWGC graves were right in front of him, almost as if standing in protection. One of them, on the left, intruiged me for a number of reasons. The service number was the lowest I’ve ever come across. Number 38. Was Edgar John Brown really the 38th person to join-up after the outbreak of war? Secondly his age, sixty four. I knew there was a shortage of manpower, but could a man of that age feasibly have been fighting the Germans in 1915? Thirdly his regiment, the 3rd County of London Yeomanry, known as The Sharpshooters. Who on earth were they? Sergeant Edgar John Brown died on 14th October 1915, apparently ‘at home’. Home would appear to have been 2 Berwick Street, Victoria where he lived with his wife Ellen. A soldier’s son, his father was in the 1st Regiment of Life Guards, one of the oldest and most prestigious regiments in the British Army. Edgar was born in St Pancras in 1851, the year of The Great Exhibition. It would appear that he followed his Dad into the same regiment and joined the Guards shortly after his fifteenth birthday as a ‘boy musician’ and trumpet-player. By the age of 20 he was stationed at Hyde Park Barracks. On 21st February 1880 he married Ellen Elizabeth Lovell at St Mark’s Church, Regent’s Park. His address was 2, Alma Terrace, near Wandsworth Prison, in fact so close, that had Ronnie Biggs come bounding over the wall, he might very well have made his escape through Edgar’s back garden. This is the nearest he would seem to come to Summerstown. By the 1881 census he was living in Windsor, seemingly with relatives of his wife. His occupation was army bandsman but whether Edgar was engaged in any of the Victorian conflicts in Egypt, Sudan or Afghanistan isn’t clear. He was discharged from the army after 22 years and 306 days service in 1889 and his character was noted as exemplary. By 1891 there were three children, Margaret, Mildred and a son Edgar and the family were back in London in the area of Regent’s Park. In 1901 Edgar Brown and family were continuing their tour of grand London localities and had moved to Belgravia where he was a Professor of Music at Hanover Square. By 1911 they were in Victoria and Edgar’s occupation was now noted as ‘Army Pensioner Musician’. Edgar’s later regiment, the 3rd County of London Yeomanry, The Sharpshooters’ was formed in 1899 by a well-known hunter, explorer and ‘damn good rifle-shot’ Sir Henry Seton-Karr MP. He suggested a force of volunteers who could ride and shoot well to take on the Boers. Another big-noise was Lord Dunraven who was once in the 1st Life Guards. Given his military pedigree its easy to see that Edgar may have got involved. Age appeared to be no barrier, indeed Colonel Alexander Weston Jarvis commanding The Sharpshooters at Gallipoli was in his sixties. Edgar almost certainly re-enlisted voluntarily because of the war but it seems likely that he only served on the home front. It was not unusual for older retired soldiers to do this and he would have been useful for such tasks as recruiting, drilling and showing new soldiers the ropes. A clue to his character is in the inscription at the bottom of the grave ‘The work he loved was done, you called him to his rest’. Clearly an enthusiast and a man with a mission. His death at home suggests illness or natural causes, but as a serving soldier he would be automatically entitled to CWGC commemoration. There is an E Brown on the war memorial and he remains one of the nine who we can’t be certain about. Could it be Edgar? I’m not so sure. He doesn’t quite fit the profile and apart from him being buried in Streatham Cemetery and once residing in Alma Terrace, there seems to be no other local connection. There were 4271 ‘E Browns’ on the CWGC database when I last checked and until someone more definite comes along, we are proud to welcome Edgar John Brown into the Summerstown182. We look forward to paying respects to him again on the occasion of the Friends’ Bat Walk on 17th July.
Many thanks to Sheila Hill, Marion Gower and members of the Great War Forum for their research, wisdom and advice on Edgar Brown.