Guns of Brixton





Smallwood Road is one of the main arteries of the Fairlight area, traversing east to west, it joins up Streatham and Lambeth cemeteries, but has none of the congestion of Wimbledon Road or the transience of Fountain Road. Its still pretty busy, but the presence of the school knits it together and stabilises things, giving it more of a community feel. It is though an odd mix of old and new. There is one ‘shop’ with an unknowingly retro sign that was picked up recently by the BBC in its ‘Further back in Time for Dinner’ series. It hasn’t done any business for about ten years. The original houses on the northern side, in which many of the Summerstown once lived are all gone. Francis Halliday’s Schoolkeeper’s Cottage being the exception. Many of the older houses on the southern side still stand. The sixties saw quite a bit of redevelopment, and more if Sid Sporle had had his way. The western end seems to be the one we know most about thanks to Iris and Neil and their photos of street parties, the Higgs and Johnson families. This section connecting to Foss and Hazelhurst Roads was definitely a hub of many of the families connected to St Mary’s Church. The other end facing Streatham Cemetery is more elusive. On the southern side the original houses disappear between numbers 27 and 65 and the street dips into a close of new build. Opposite this stretch lived a number of 182 families and at No56 were the Woods. Two brothers, part of a family of nine have their names on our memorial. At this time we remember Robert, of the 7th Northamptonshire Regiment who died almost one hundred years ago on the 28th March 1917 in the buld up to the great Battle of Arras.



Along the same stretch were Francis Baker at No66 and Henry Brigden at No98 next to the school. Across the road were Sunday School Three member, James Jenner Crozier at No37, Frank Townsend at No65 and Arthur Hutton at No85, opposite the Schoolkeeper’s Cottage. Quite a gathering really. Frederick William Wood, a labourer and his wife Mary Ann had their roots in the Lambeth area, most specifically Kennington and Brixton. They had nine children, five boys and four girls. Frederick their eldest was born in 1881 and John two years later. Three of their boys were definitely in uniform and its very likely that all five were. Their third child, Elizabeth Jane was born in August 1884 when the family lived at 9 Clark’s Row, north Brixton, part of a small enclave of streets off the Brixton Road near St Michael’s Church. They were still there when William was born in May 1886. Their fifth child, Phoebe Martha was born on 1st November 1891 when they lived at 43 Halstead Street, just two roads along. In 1944 a V1 destroyed a number of houses on the corner of Stockwell Park Road and Lorn Road, killing 11 people. Clark’s Row and Halstead Street were demolished in the fifties and are now submerged beneath the Slade Gardens Adventure Playground.


This area does have some ‘purple’ on the Charles Booth map. He visited in 1899 and described this location as ‘very poor and rough; children dirty’. In 1893 when Fanny was born they were at 44 Halstead Street. Robert is noted as having been born in Kennington in 1897 so they were probably still in this area. He was the second youngest child. The 1901 census indicates they had moved a little bit further north and were at 70 Smith Street, off Camberwell Road, not too far from the Oval Cricket Ground. This venue had been hosting the FA Cup Final until just a few years before. The 1892 final saw West Bromwich Albion beat Aston Villa 3-1 in front of 33,000 people. Close to Kennington Park this was a crowded area but probably a bit more pleasant, Booth noted nearby Kennington Terrace as being ‘very respectable, all with servants’.



Child mortality was of course rife at this time but all nine Wood children appear to have survived. Only the four youngest were still at home in 1911 when the family pitched up in Summerstown, at 56 Smallwood Road. Fred and Mary had now been married for 32 years. Phoebe and Frances, aged 21 and 19 were working as domestic servants, 15 year old Robert was an errand boy for a chemist and the youngest George was 12 and still at school. William Wood was the fourth oldest child born in 1886. It would seem that he was also killed in the First World War and is on the St Mary’s memorial. A note in the parish magazine from August 1917 states ‘We have heard this month that Robert Wood of the Northamptonshire Regiment and his brother William Wood of the Royal Fusiliers have been killed in action’. With no date to go on, identifying William was not easy but we are almost certain that he was killed on 7th November 1915 and is buried at Fricourt, near Albert. Indications are that he lived in Brixton and there is a William Wood on the lost St Michael’s Church ‘War Shrine’ in Stockwell Park Road. We’ll come back to him later.

Robert was first with the Suffolk Regiment before joining the 7th Battalion of the Northamptonshires. They were based in the Souchez sector near Vimy Ridge and Arras in late March 1917 and Robert was killed in preliminary skirmishes before the main battle. One of the most famous landmarks in this area and after which the cemetery is named, was a popular cafe called Cabaret Rouge. It was destroyed by shellfire about two years before Robert Wood got here. Another of the 182, David Baldwin, who was killed in April 1916 is buried in the Cabaret Rouge Cemetery which we visited the day before the Somme Commemoration last year. It was a beautiful golden evening. Robert is buried in the nearby Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery Extension, close to Lens. We’ll be over to visit him sometime this year.


The 7th Northamptonshire’s war diary seems unusally keen on its weather reports. The 20th March finds them at Sains-en-Gohelle, a cold day with snow showers. There is though a concert in the canteen and ‘bathing in the brewery’ which hopefully raised spirits. On the 22nd they relieved the 2nd Leinster Regiment in the trenches and mention is made of Robert’s ‘A Company’ being in the front line. Over the next few days there was sporadic shelling and the rain and snow continued to fall. On 27th the diary reports showers and hail and that the enemy shelled ‘Headquarters Trench’ at intervals during the day but did no damage. This was where ‘A Company’ were. On 28th it states ‘Bright at first, changing to dull and rain later. About 530 pm a heavy bombardment on our lines and on Vimy Ridge opened and our Artillery retaliated. This lasted about an hour. The enemy opened again about 915pm but all went quiet again by 10pm. 2nd Lieutenant G P Rathbone was wounded. Casualties, O.R. killed 3, wounded 13 (including 2 slightly, still at duty)’. One of these was 21 year old Robert Wood. The following day the diary reported that ‘a whizz bang knocked out seven men at Souchez Post, 2 being killed’. It was very wet.


The youngest of the Woods, George Charles Wood, a Lance Corporal in the Hertfordshire Regiment is on the absent voters list at 56 Smallwood Road in 1918. He would appear to have joined the Bedfordshire Regiment in September 1916 when he was working as a carman. It seems like he survived the war unlike his two brothers. The last trace of the Woods appears to have been sister Phoebe who was living at 58 Smallwood Road in 1946.

Many thanks to Friends of Slade Gardens many of whose photos are used in this story


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