Twenty one is supposed to be the age when life begins, the threshold of adulthood, a proper grown-up, the key of the door and all that. Charles Jeffries from Thurso Street never quite made it. He died in a Birmingham hospital the day before his twenty first birthday. There’s no record of him donning a cassock and stretching his vocal chords in the church choir, but in the parish magazine of 1924, there is a photograph of the clergy, staff and choir of St Mary’s Summerstown. Four of the six surviving Jeffries boys are in the photo, their oldest brother’s name very sadly on the war memorial at the other end of the church. By the greatest coincidence, I am writing this up in the week that a member of my own family who passed away very recently was buried. Like Charles, Barbara Abbott didn’t quite make the big milestone, she died just two days before her 99th birthday. It was only at her funeral though that I noticed that the day she was born was the day Charles Jeffries died, 13th November 1917. Barbara’s own father, my great uncle, Captain George Waller Vesey MC died of his wounds in France on 26th March 1918 when she was four months old.
One of the highlights of the first season of Summerstown182 Walks in the summer of 2014, was when a pair of cousins rolled up. They were Reg and Joy Jeffries, nephew and niece of Charles and both very familiar with Thurso Street where the family resided until the sixties. I seem to remember them telling me they hadn’t seen each other for a long time and their delight in each others company was really sweet. Reg had come from Cheam and Joy all the way over from that ‘Queen of the Suburbs’ they call Ealing. They enjoyed it so much they even came on another walk later that year and on that occasion Reg brought over a photograph of his Uncle. He was probably aged about twelve or thirteen at the time and looking very smart and serious. With his jacket, tie and waistcoat, a flower in his lapel and a watch dangling on a chain, he really looks like a young man going places. He appears to be leaning on what looks like some sort of stone plinth but the smokey backdrop suggests this was some kind of photographic studio.
It may have been taken around the time of the 1911 census which shows the eleven of the twelve Jeffries children living in the five roomed house with their parents and their uncle. Charles was fourteen then and perhaps this was some kind of formal portrait to mark the start of adult life. The photo would suggest the subject came from a much wealthier background than was probably the case and its unlikely Mr and Mrs Jeffries could have afforded this for all their children. As for the choir photo, back row fourth from the left is Sidney, Joy’s father (twin brother of Thomas) Seventh from the left is Horace (known as Jim) Third from the right is Reginald, Reg’s godfather. Front row fourth from the left is John (Jack) the baby of the family. Horace was the last of the twelve Jeffries children to pass away aged 90 in Salisbury in 2001.
Thurso Street, as noted elsewhere on this blog and on numerous Summerstown182 Walks paid a heavy price in the First World War. Its a short often-overlooked road connecting Smallwood and Khartoum Road. There are only about 25 addresses but it accounts for 9 of the names on the war memorial, proportionally a far higher amount of casualties than any other road. Summerstown may have more names than anyone else but its 90 addresses only amount for 14 fatalities. A 15% chance of being killed in the war compared to 36% in Thurso Street. Out of interest, other percentages are Maskell Road 18%, Hazelhurst Road 18%, Wimbledon Road 11%, Keble Street 9%. We haven’t found a single one on Aldren Road which is very much in the church’s orbit and appears to be the safest place for anyone in uniform to have lived in Summerstown in 1914-18. Back to Thurso Street, on the west side of the road, there are three Tibbenhams, the three Seager brothers and Arthur and William Mace. They have captured a lot of attention and across the road Charles Jeffries at Number 13 has been a little bit neglected.
The son of Ebenezer Jeffries, a ‘paper toy maker’, Charles John Jeffries was born intruigingly in Russell Square. A railway porter by trade, he married Harriet Anne Maud Byrch in 1892. For a considerable period of time they lived in the Peckham area which was where the first three of their children were born. There were two daughters, Margaret and Beatrice, then on 14th November 1896, a son. Following his mother’s fashion, he had three forenames; Charles Thomas Walter. In June 1900 it is recorded that he started attending Springfield School in Crimsworth Road, Lambeth. In 1899 Doris Jeffries was born and a year later along came Martha. Two years after that Winifred was born. Charles was now surrounded on all sides by five sisters. It would seem that sometime around the turn of the century the family moved to Kennington. In the 1901 census they are at 37 Conroy Road and they later returned to Peckham to live at 2 McKerrell Road. From 1903 the battle of the sexes started to redress itself when Edmund was born and five other brothers promptly followed him. Twins Thomas and Sidney were born on 11th February 1906 at McKerrell Road. Sidney is the father of Joy and Reg’s Dad was called Thomas. In 1908 Reginald Jeffries was born and in 1911 Horace, just two months old in the 1911 census. John Gilbert, the twelfth and last of the Jeffries children was born on 11th November 1914. In that 1911 census sixteen year old Beatrice was the only child working. She was in domestic service but appeared to still be living at home. The Jeffries, along with the Matchams are the largest of all the Summerstown182 families.
In June 1915 Reverend Robinson first gave notice that Charles Jeffries had joined the war effort. He was 18 and in the Territorial section of the Royal Field Artillery with the rank of gunner. His medal card indicates that he entered France on 12th December 1915. At some stage, for whatever reason he transfered to the 33rd Signal Company of the Royal Engineers and would appear to have been based in Bedford, perhaps as part of his training. The Royal Engineers’ Signal Service Training Centre H.Q. was moved to Bedford in October 1917 with a number of Depots being established there. In any case he got sick and died on 13th November 1917 in Dudley Road Military Hospital in Birmingham which became 2/1st Southern General Hospital. Once a workhouse infirmary, in May 1917, the hospital was taken over as a military hospital, with the first casualties arriving on the 10th May. The wounded were transported to Winson Green Railway Station and then transferred by ambulance to the hospital. A total of 53,896 patients were treated over the course of the war with only 268 deaths, it would suggest that the majority of patients had passed the acute stages before being transferred to the hospital.
Unlike some other Summerstown182 who died in similar circumstances, Charles Jeffries’ body was returned to his home area for burial in Streatham Cemetery. Mention of his death is given in the November issue of the St Mary’s parish magazine in the same paragraph that announces the death of James Luke Tugwell in Gaza. His funeral was on 19th November 1917 must have been a sad occasion with his brothers and sisters making the short journey across Garratt Lane from Thurso Street. He is buried in a public grave with 23 other people. His name is on the memorial screen which still awaits the addition of his Thurso Street neighbour, Arthur Mace. Oddly enough a third Thurso Street resident Albert Seager who also died in hospital on 20th November 1915 is also on the screen. Three lads from the same road just doors away from each other, all went to war and ended buried in the local cemetery.
Both Reg and Joy recall visits to the Jeffries house at 13 Thurso Street. Its recently had a bit of a facelift and was on the market a few weeks ago for £775,000. While it was on offer Barnard Marcus very kindly provided an online photographic tour for any Jeffries descendants out there wanting to have a look around the old family homestead. Sadly they’ve now taken it down. Spoilsports.