Burntwood Lane marks the northern perimeter of the St Mary’s parish boundary. The country road that the poet Edward Thomas took his bicycle down in his ‘Pursuit of Spring’ in 1913, may be shorn of its rustic demeanour, but is still a route of some distinction. For three quarters of a mile, it arrows its way downhill from the heights of Wandsworth Common to the Wandle Valley and Summerstown. In the 15th century this area was densely wooded and a popular hunting ground of Henry VII. During his reign the woods were destroyed by fire and henceforth the passage acquired its name, though another theory points to a local charcoal burning enterprise in the middle ages. Along its way it passes the soon-to-be-developed Springfield Hospital site, the sporty pastures of the Spencer Club and Battersea Ironsides and the site of the famous 18th century mock elections on Garratt Green. Its current jewel is the magnificent Burntwood School, once the location of a number of farms scattered on this road, now deserved recipient of a clutch of internationally acclaimed architectural awards, most notably the Stirling Prize. As it levels out and prepares to meet Garratt Lane and the Burtop estate, on the right hand side, in an address now used as a Chapel of Rest by the Cooperative Funeralcare company, is No9, once home of one of the 182 names on our war memorial, Henry Wilberforce Trotman.
In 1901 the Trotman family lived at 5 Lambourne Road in Clapham, a few minutes walk from the famous Holy Trinity Church. This was a focal point for the activities of a group which became known as The Clapham Sect and one of their most famous members very likely bequeathed his name to six year old Henry Wilberforce Trotman. One hundred years earlier William Wilberforce had relocated from Hull to London to fight against slavery. He worshipped at Holy Trinity where the vicar, Reverend Henry Venn had founded a group of vociferous social reformers. Their main aim was the abolition of the slave trade and reform of the penal system. They were also very keen on spreading their brand of evangelical christianity in India and Africa and due to their efforts, Freetown in Sierra Leone was founded. An act of 1807 banned slavery in the British Empire but total emancipation wasn’t achieved until 1833, shortly before Wilberforce’s death. Another of the leading members was his cousin, a banker called Henry Thornton whose home, Battersea Rise House on Canford Road, demolished in 1907, was The Clapham Sect’s main meeting place. The site is commemorated with one of Wandsworth Borough Council’s nine Green Plaques. Henry Thornton had a local school named after him which was once attended by the recently deceased Jimmy Hill. The school relocated to Balham and is now Chestnut Grove Academy.
The Trotmans had an interesting background with an ancestry steeped in curious vocations. His Great Grandfather, also Henry was a master hairdresser from Kensington and his Grandfather, the quaintly-named Sanders Trotman was an ‘inventor and manufacturer’ who appeared to specialise in indoor fountains ‘for drawing rooms and boudoirs, with mechanical pressure forcing water through a jet and the addition of a musical arrangement’ which he showcased at The Great Exhibition of 1851. Who would not want to have such a device in their home? Another document indicates him giving a talk in Ipswich in 1870 on ‘Tunneling the Channel, the practicality of connecting England and France’. Clearly a man ahead of his time. His son, also Sanders was a foreman in a tea grocers. Sanders had at least seven children, two boys, William Havelock and Frederick were much older than Henry and had followed their father into the grocery business. Henry also had four elder sisters. Other relatives had gone to Australia and a 2nd Lieutenant George Leopold Sanders Trotman, a school teacher from Melbourne was killed on 17th April 1918 and is buried at Hazebrouck. His photograph and records have been preserved courtesy of the Australian War Memorial Archive https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P05248.139
By 1901 the older boys had probably moved on and there were five children listed, Henry aged six and his four older sisters; Esther 21, Edith 19, Gertrude 12 and Eleanor 10. Its not hard to imagine how they must have doted on their little brother. Sanders passed away in 1907 aged 52 and the family were now living at No9 Burntwood Lane, Earlsfield in 1911. They were close to where the road meets Garratt Lane, the intersection of two vital Summerstown arteries and not far from Garratt Green and Burntwood School. Only one of the girls was present, Eleanor was now twenty and working as a clerk, but his Aunt was on the scene, so Henry, now a grocer’s assistant was still surrounded by female company. The address is now part of the entrance to the Cooperative Funeralcare company’s Chapel of Rest. Their main premises are round the corner on Garratt Lane. No9 is the first number on the left hand side and the building is a newer build, adjacent to a number of substantial houses with decorative architectural features. Many of the pathways are beautifully tiled with their own coal holes. Some of the houses have extended porches, elegantly supported by collonades trimmed with lattice ironwork. Others bear small rectangular stone tablets inscribed with picturesque place-names such as Tregenna, Tregadra and Knaresborough. They are older and more substantial than most of the terraced houses in the surrounding area and would most certainly have been lived in by people of note. One of these houses was at one stage owned by St Mary’s Church. Susan Trotman lived on in Burntwood Lane for a number of years before moving to Bassingham Road in Wandsworth. She died aged 95 in 1950.
On 25th November 1915, Henry Wilberforce Trotman married Winifred Alice Fleming in St Mary’s Church. Just five days later there was a commemoration service there for Sunday School teacher James Crozier of the 23rd London Regiment, one of the soldiers we refer to as ‘The Sunday School Three’ who had been killed at Loos. Henry was 20 and his wife, aged 22. It may have been a consideration that with an acute shortage of manpower, conscription was looming and Henry would very likely soon be needed in the army. His wife had been living in Sandmere Road, Clapham and working as a book folder and clerk. Their married address was now 3 Headworth Road, the other side of Garratt Lane and one of the ‘lost streets’ damaged beyond repair by the floods of 1968 and now submerged beneath the Burtop Estate. After Henry’s death she lived on here until 1922 before moving to 15 Vanderbilt Road, the other side of Earlsfield railway station, where she was until at least 1928. She died in 1931 aged 36. Just across the road, she would have witnessed the last years existence of Summerstown Football Club’s ground before it made way for the Henry Prince Estate.
Henry Trotman served as a gunner in ‘B Battery’ of the 189th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. Lost in the German Spring offensive, his date of death was given as 21st March 1918, though its likely his sisters and wife probably waited weeks, months, perhaps even years to get confirmation. On that day Genetal Erich Ludendorff lead an attack bolstered by half a million troops relieved from the Russian front in a bid to win the war. In the space of five hours the Germans blitzed the British line firing one million shells and following it up with an attack spearheaded by flame-throwing stormtroopers.
By the end of that day 21,000 British soldiers had been taken prisoner and the Somme battlefield, fought over in 1916 was surrendered. This furious advance could not be sustained by the German army, casualties were crippling and American forces were now pouring into the Western Front and soon the tide turned again. Henry’s name is one of 35,000 British and Commonwealth servicemen who died in the Arras sector between 1916 and 1918 and have no known grave.
There is a 1914-1918 ‘Roll of Honour’ in a bound book, kept in St Andrew’s Church, Earlsfield. There are 367 names in it, painstaking written out in script, four entries to a page. All done quite recently because the original was stolen in 1987. Sixteen of the names are also on the St Mary’s war memorial and one of them is ‘Harry W Trotman’. Its our man all right, and assuming the information was provided by his family, I felt a little bit of a warm glow to find out that this was how his nearest and dearest referred to him.