Charles Booth, pictured above, made some rather disparaging remarks about Summerstown which always raise a smile if I choose to recite them at the start of a Walk. He published a massive seventeen volume study called Life and Labour of the People in London between 1889 and 1903 to accompany his famous ‘Poverty Map.’ The Summerstown observations come in the series covering ‘Religious Influences’. When he came here at the turn of the twentieth century he really wasn’t that impressed with either the inhabitants or their homes. ‘The older parts are plainly deteriorating and even new streets show signs of squalor. There has not been much building in the last ten years, but it is now proceeding rapidly with, in many cases, houses of the worst character that can possibly be passed by the most lenient inspector. The people who occupy these houses are largely the off-scourings of the stream of population noted in describing the south-west. Locally they are credited with coming from Battersea; really, they come (perhaps at two or three removes) from the central parts of London’. Our research has indicated so many Summerstown182 families relocating from such areas as Lambeth, Camberwell and Bermondsey. Very few made the trek over from the East End until we looked into the background of a soldier who lived on Headworth Road and Burtop Road, two of the lost streets of Earlsfield.
James Coffield and Rosetta Curtis were both living in West Ham when their respective spouses died in the mid-1870s, each of them being left with three young children. They married in 1876 and their first child together, James was born there in 1878. James Senior like his eldest son Henry worked as a matchmaker and may have been employed by Bryant and May at their factory in nearby Bow. By the time of the famous London matchgirls strike of 1888 they had moved to pastures new. The largely green fields of Summerstown on the banks of the Wandle, to be precise. In 1881 they were living at Alton Terrace with six children including four from the earlier marriages. By 1891 the family had settled at 17 Burtop Road, James Senior was dead but not before fathering another three children. Rosetta with two marriages and nine children behind her was still only 44 and working as a laundress. James Junior, now 13, was a printers boy.
The turn of the century proved eventful for the Coffield family, with numerous marriages and baptisms. Fortunate then that they were well served by churches and living roughly half-way between St Andrew’s in Earlsfield and St Mary’s, Summerstown, they had split allegiances. James Coffield married Alice Howard on Christmas Day 1898 at St.Andrew’s. The day before, on Christmas Eve, his half sister Eliza Jane Craddock married Frederick Smith in St Mary’s. Alice was the daughter of a scaffolder and working as a domestic servant. In 1901 they were at 2 Burtop Road and part of quite a clan in this street. The Howard family were at No18 and James’ mother Rosetta and three of his siblings, including younger brother Ernest were at No13. Rosetta’s other daughter from her first marriage, Alice Craddock wed the fantastically named, Speed Squire Fox at St Mary’s on Christmas Day 1902. This was just one of five weddings at St Mary’s that day, the old tin tabernacle was in big demand. Two of the other children, Selina and Frederick were baptised at the temporary St Mary’s Church by the new vicar, John Robinson. Curiously they were both young adults and just six years later Selina was married to George Chandler at the new present St Mary’s on Keble Street. She was 23 but the short gap between baptism and marriage must be some sort of record. The above photo shows the 1914-1918 Roll of Honour book in St Andrew’s Church. It contains 367 names, 17 of them also appear on the St Mary’s memorial.
James and Alice’s first child, James George was baptised in June 1900 and as Queen Victoria passed on and a new Edwardian age dawned, three more children John, William and Alice were dipped in the St Andrew’s font. Around 1902 the family moved into the next street and settled at 14 Headworth Road. Perhaps they wanted to escape from the encroaching relatives. No chance. His younger brother Frederick married at St Mary’s in 1906, to Alice Hatwin from 18 Headworth Road so the clan was getting even thicker. Ernest meanwhile had spread his wings and was living at Noyna Road in Upper Tooting. He wed Alice Hance at Holy Trinity just a few months after Ernest. James had now progressed to be a fully fledged lithographic printer. According to Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History, by 1914, Hugh Stevenson’s Corruganza Works on Riverside Road were said to have an amazing 2,610 employees and as they did printing and lithographing, its quite likely that James Coffield, living so close was employed there. In 1908 the company were of course in the news when 44 young female box-makers went on strike and Mary Macarthur and John Galsworthy stepped in to lend a hand. It was a row over piecework in the ‘rolling, cutting and glueing’ department and culminated in a demonstration at Trafalgar Square on Saturday August 22nd.
Rosetta, the matriarch of the Coffield family died at the age of 75 in 1911. Still at 14 Headworth Road James and Alice were aged 33 and apparently in their prime of life. There were five children and two more boys were born in the following years after a move to 600 Garratt Lane. Frederick, now living in Littleton Street like his brother was in the printing trade after eight years on the railway Ernest was now an insurance collector and canvasser. Selina and her bricklayer husband George were living at ‘Tregethew’ on Burntwood Lane. A substantial house, its still there, No 48 in fact. From No34 the houses on the southern side of the road all bear discreet stone tablets with picturesque place-names such as Tregenna, Tregadra and Knaresborough, oddly many in Cornwall. The Coffields truly were a clan with a spread on both sides of Garratt Lane and strong links to three churches. The world must have seemed their oyster.
But everything was suddenly to change. James Coffield probably volunteered at the begining of 1915 and was first in France on 30th July 1915. He wasn’t conscripted, this was his choice and quite why he made it when he was 37 years old, in a secure profession, had a large family network and was married with seven children, is a mystery. His CWGC record shows that he was in G Company of the Royal Engineers – this was a depot company at Chatham in Kent and James would have probably been posted there as a book-keeping exercise while he was sick in the UK before his final discharge as unfit on 20th June 1916. As he has a CWGC grave his death must be attributable to his army service.
James is buried in Wandsworth Cemetery on Magdalen Road, Earlsfield, one of 478 First World War casualties. Many of the 1914-1918 burials are from the 3rd London General Hospital, just up the hill and across Trinity Road. Approximately 62,000 patients from all over the world were treated in its wards; Newfoundlanders, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and Canadians. His name is picked out on the screen with three other Summerstown182 members, William Norris who was killed by a tram on Garratt Lane, George Batson and Thomas Knight. In an adjoining grave is Henry Angliss, one of the Cairo Gang shot dead in Dublin on 1920. Close by are the graves of the 17 Newfoundlanders whose story has been celebrated for the past 12 years by the pupils of Beatrix Potter School. Their annual observance is something that began by accident 12 years ago when on an outing to collect conkers in the cemetery, one of the spupilss wondered why the graves in one particular plot of graves had no poppies on them.
Although he was discharged eleven days before the start of the Battle of the Somme, given the date of his death, we’ve included James Coffield amongst the group of 26 soldiers we are currently writing about and who we will remember at the Thiepval Commemoration this summer. Brother Ernest was killed some eight months later on 3rd May 1917. He was in the same 6th Battalion of the East Kent Regiment as William Pitts from Hazelhurst Road. They died on the same day and their names are on the Arras Memorial. Ernest’s widow Alice was living at Noyna Road. After the war, James’s widow Alice and her three children moved to Cavendish Road, Colliers Wood. In 1919 their son John Robert Coffield volunteered for the Army, joining the Royal Field and Horse Artillery. Keeping the extraordinary family tradition, he was married on Christmas Day in 1928. The Coffields were close to another Church now and several of the children married at the famous Christ Church not far from the Sainsburys megastore. This Church sent the largest contingent of the Surrey Association of Bell Ringers to war, thirteen – all of whom survived. Its sad to look at the marriage register of daughter Ethel who wed a coalman from Wimbledon in 1935 and see her Dad’s name and profession written on it, though he died some 20 years earlier. Ethel was 26 and born in 1910 so she would very likely have an early memory of her father in uniform. James Coffield’s widow Alice passed away in 1952.
Once again, we are grateful to Chris Burge who has done an extraordinary amount of research on the Coffield family and allowed us to tell their story.