Laundryland

Alice Creeke

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It has been described as the Queen of Laundries and there’s no doubt that the Anglo American Laundry on Burmester Road occupies a very special space in the Summerstown182 story. Just a couple of weeks ago I made a trip to Honiton in Devon to meet Julia Creeke. Julia’s Grandmother Alice was in charge of the Anglo American Laundry for over three decades and lived in a house on the edge of Garratt Green called The Chestnuts. She was once President of the Institute of British Laundries but there was very little information about this remarkable woman who took command on Burmester Road with her husband Walter whilst still in her twenties. Despite frequent mentions in the parish magazine of her role in Laundry initiatives in the twenties and thirties, she drifted out of the picture after Reverend William Galpin left the church and there is not even any mention of her passing. Walter died in 1928 and apparently after a falling-out with the laundry ownership, Alice decided to move on to new pastures. In 1935 she set up her own laundry business in Hounslow. She died on Christmas Day 1955 and is buried at the top end of Wandsworth Cemetery, next to the graves of a number of relatives and close to that of Alderman Samuel Cresswell, a former Mayor of Wandsworth and great friend of St Mary’s Church whom she very likely knew.

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southside
Anyway, back to Burmester Road where No31, home of the Pelling family would have afforded an excellent view of the comings-and-goings in laundryland, not just the Anglo but the one next door. Before they ended up there, the Pelling story begins a bit further up Garratt Lane in deepest Wandsworth. George Pelling was a plumber from Putney and he married Georgina Rough from Wardley Street in 1884. By 1891 they were living in 29 Malva Road, Wandsworth and were still there 20 years later. Who knows, they may well have had a nuptual knees-up in The Grosvenor at the end of Wardley Street, on the corner of Garratt Lane. Recently refurbished by new owner Brendan, its in particularly fine shape at the moment. This neighbourhood was poor as Charles Booth noted but it would have been teeming with life. The Wandsworth and Clapham Union Workhouse, built to cater for up to 3,000 people opened on Swaffield Road in 1885 and with the Harrison and Barber horse slaughtering yard in full swing with horses and carts coming and going all day and all night, it must have been an extraordinary area. As mentioned previously these roads hold a deep fascination and it was a real privilege to take a large group of people there very recently on the ‘Historic Earlsfield’ Walk. As for Malva Road itself, this street is now submerged beneath the Sainsbury’s store at Wandsworth Southside. Funnily enough a mural of local significant historic buildings has emerged there quite recently, and you guessed it, the Anglo American laundry rightly takes centre stage. In 1901, seven year old Ernest was the second youngest of six children, born on 28th November 1896. By 1911 there was a seventh chid and Ernest was working as an errand boy. The two oldest children, George and Ethel were each married that year. Second eldest brother Henry was an engine fitter at the mantle factory, which surely must have been the nearby Voelker Works. A few years later this company had to put out advertisements declaring their loyalty to the crown, no doubt because of their German-sounding name and with one eye on what happened to Peter Jung at his bakery in Tooting.

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Ernest Pelling volunteered just after Christmas on 28th December 1914, declaring his age as 18 years and 1 month. He was working in a biscuit factory at the time. He wouldn’t be the first Biscuit Boy in the Summerstown182, following in the footsteps of Sidney Cullimore and Ernest Hayter with their Berkshire connections. Just across the river, on the other side of Wandsworth Bridge was the enormous MacFarlane, Lang and Co Imperial Biscuit Works in Sands End. Its very likely that this is where Ernest worked, churning out custard creams in the shadow of The Chelsea Monster. Two addresses appear in his records, 29 Malva Road, Wandsworth, and later, 31 Burmester Road, in Summerstown. Ernest was initially at the Royal Marine Light Infantry depot in Deal and after training transfered to the Chatham Division on 23rd June 1915. He was bound for Gallipoli and would move from there to Egypt and then to the Western Front. He was fortunate to miss the worst fighting on the turkish peninsula but would have taken part in the dangerous evacuation in December 1915. The Royal Marines were the last to leave Gallipoli, a carefully planned deception in which some of them donned French uniforms.

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Now bound for France, the marines re-assembled under General Paris and landed in Marseilles in May 1916. Extensive training was needed, as a very different type of trench warfare now lay ahead and they avoided the main carnage of the summer. In early October they moved to the Somme sector and were told to prepare for an attack north of the River Ancre at Hamel. This was an area that had been much fought over and stoutly defended since 1st July. The weather was now appalling with most of the trenches destroyed by artillery fire. There was little shelter from either the elements or the enemy. The attack which involved some six divisions eventually came at 545am on the misty morning of 13th November. The well-defended German postions would ensures the marines paid a heavy price. Many of them fell in no man’s land, though some did fight their way through all three German trenches, engaging in severe hand to hand fighting. Whether Ernest Pelling made it through to a trench or was mown down we will never know – his bravery was not recorded. One officer whose courage was documented was Lt Colonel Bernard Freyberg, a New Zealander who famously 23 years later in another war, was Allied Commander in the Battle of Crete. At the end of May 1941, he would have been like my father, trying to get off the island in the wake of the German invasion. General Freyberg squeezed onto a Sunderland flying boat at the last minute whilst Dad spent the next four years as a Prisoner of War.

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Back at the Ancre in 1916, Freyberg led an attack at Beaucourt which resulted in the capture of 500 prisoners. He refused to leave his battalion in spite of being wounded four times over the course of 24 hours. He was awarded the Victoria Cross and collected four DSOs for his bravery in the First World War. The position which the Germans had held since 1st July was taken but at a terrible cost. At the start of the battle, 1st Royal Marine Light Infantry had a strength of 490 men. After the battle, only 138 were still fit for duty and out of 22 officers, only 2 were still standing. Two days later another Summerstown182 soldier, Edward Foley lost his life in the same battle. Another local boy killed the same day was Robert Henry Miller of Brightwell Crescent, Tooting. Just two weeks from full adulthood and the end of his teenage years, Ernest Pelling had been killed in France in the last of the twelve battles of the Somme.

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Meanwhile, his younger brother Albert Edward Pelling, aged 15, had volunteered to join the 13th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment on 27th July 1915 at Wandsworth Town Hall. He was working as a boiler stoker, and gave his age as 19 years and 2 months. It was 182 days before his deception was uncovered and he was discharged. Perhaps his mother produced a birth certificate to get him out. The signature of Lt Colonel Alfred Burton is on the form. This was the famous Wandsworth Pals Battalion rallied by Mayor Archibald Dawnay whose members included Tiny Ted Foster, Alfred Baseley and William Warman.

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Its not clear when the Pellings made the move up Garratt Lane to Burmester Road but when Ernest’s sister Ellen married boiler-maker Henry Rendell at St Mary’s on 30th December 1916 she gave her address as 31 Burmester Road. Ernest was killed on the Somme just six weeks previously, though as his body wasn’t recovered its possible that notification hadn’t been received. What a cloud that must have been hanging over the family on Ellen’s wedding day. The family remained at 31 Burmester Road until at least 1939. Younger brother Charles lived there with his parents until they died in 1932. After that he is registered there with his wife Annie Ellen. Older brother George lived at 5 Dawnay Road for thirty years until his death in 1959. Incidentally, we now think Burmester Road was named after a landowner called Susan Burmester – so much for earlier speculation about high-ranking military heroes killed in the Indian Mutiny. Why there is a rose motif on ‘Burmester House’ the 1950s block at the end of the road remains a mystery, though there is a story that the landlord of the houses presented all the tenants and residents with a rose to plant in their gardens. I let the the current residents of No31 know about Ernest Pelling’s connection with their house and they were delighted. They are long-time supporters of this project and in its early days I tasked their son with photographing Summerstown182 names on a school trip to the Menin Gate. Ernest Pelling is on the Thiepval Memorial and hopefully Tom will be inspired to also visit that one day.

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