Putney to Mortlake



I combined a recent visit to the extraordinary tomb of the Victorian explorer and translator of The Kama Sutra, Sir Richard Burton, with the slightly more modest final resting place of one of our Summerstown182, Francis Warrington. They are both buried in Mortlake, separated by the Putney to Richmond railway line. This slices through a nest of tight-knit streets filled with beautifully preserved workmen’s cottages, the current value of which would undoubtedly prohibit any workmen from living there today. Someone tending a grave in Old Mortlake Burial Ground commented that his white van was not a common sight in this locality.


There are only a few of the Summerstown182 whose final resting place is close to home. One of those is Francis George Warrington who lies in this lovely old cemetery, just a short walk from the address given to the Imperial War Graves Commission by his widow Ellen. On the next-of-kin documentation she gave her residence as 17 Trehern Road. She lived there with baby daughter Ellen when Frank died in the Grove Military Hospital in Tooting on 24th April 1918. His grave is on the western side of the cemetery and in 1928 his father Edward was also buried in it. A gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery who had been seconded to the Army Veterinary Corps, Francis Warrington’s death was announced in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine in August 1918 ‘Francis George Warrington of the Army Veterinary Corps died in hospital last April from the effects of gas poisoning’. The fact that this happened four months after the event and that there is no mention of his service in the parish magazines throughout the course of the war indicates that his name is on the war memorial because of a family connection to the church, possibly via one of his sisters.


Born in 1859, Edward Albert Warrington came from Worksop in Nottinghamshire. He married Rachel Thatcher in Bethnal Green on 28th August 1880. He was then working as a butcher. In 1881 the couple were living in Wimbledon where Edward is listed as a soldier. Given what was happening in the world at the time, its quite likely that he saw overseas service in Africa or India. Their first child Beatrice was born in 1883 in Wandsworth and Francis George arrived three years later. That was also the year they moved across London to West Ham where Edward joined the police service. In 1891 they were resident at 46 Plaistow Grove, West Ham and now had two other daughters, Alice and Florence.

From at least 1896 the family were back in Wandsworth living at 34 Burr Road in Southfields. The 1901 census is the closest we can get Francis to St Mary’s Church and even then its a good 20 minute walk away. Burr Road is an odd industrial connection between Kimber Road and Merton Road on the edge of King George’s Park – you’d use it if you were going to the Leisure Centre behind Southfields Academy. It was presumably turned upside down in the thirties when Coleman Court was built and that now dominates the road alongside Jack Barclay’s gargantuan Bentley service centre. There is no residential housing there and part of the school stands where once was No34. Here lived Police Constable Edward Warrington, his wife Rachel and their four children. Beatrice 18, Francis 15, Alice 13 and Florence 11. Francis was working as a builder’s labourer. Very sadly in the autumn quarter that year Rachel passed away at the age of 41. They were here until 1903 before going to 157 Norroy Road, Putney and moving two years later to nearby Lifford Street.


A Francis Warrington joined the 4th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment on 4th December 1902. He gave his age as 18 years and three months and it was indicated that he had been working for the West Hill Dairy in East Putney. Was this a reaction to the death of his mother? He just missed the Boer War but perhaps his military involvement explains why we can’t find him in the 1911 census. Francis’ widowed father Edward and sister Beatrice, now married with one child were still at 39 Lifford Street in Putney at this stage. This road nestles gently in the quiet conservation area to the west of Putney High Street. The area has a genuine rustic charm and many of the houses appear to have changed little in a hundred years or more. His pension register shows that Edward retired from the police force in 1911 with a healthy pension of £53 a year after his 25 years service. He died in 1928 and is buried in the same grave as his only son. Aged 29, Francis married Ellen Shepherd in Fulham in the June quarter of 1915. They had very little time together as his medal index card shows that he entered France on 16th October that year with the Royal Garrison Artillery.


The Royal Army Veterinary Corps were responsible for the medical care of animals used by the army, predominantly horses, mules and pigeons. The above photo in the Imperial War Museum collection shows one of their number on the Western Front, bandaging a wounded horse at No5 Veterinary Hospital at Abbeville, dated 22 April 1918. Two days before, another of them died in a hospital back in Tooting. Its likely that Francis Warrington, having survived most of the war, was caught up in the German Spring Offensive of March 1918 and hospitalised back to England after that. The figures are astounding, in a few weeks the allied forces lost over a quarter of a million men. Advancing over forty miles, the Spring Offensive delivered stunning success for the German Army and almost turned the course of the war.


Francis died in the Grove Military Hospital in Tooting on 24th April 1918, now part of the world famous St George’s Hospital. During the First World War the fever hospital was requisitioned in 1916 by the War Office and became the Grove Military Hospital with 550 beds, treating both officers and other ranks. Under the command of Colonel Goodall, sections of the Hospital were designated for infectious diseases, TB of the lung, and dermatology – scabies and venereal disease. The military hospital opened in November 1916 and closed in September 1919. During its operational lifetime, it treated 2,499 officers and 13,459 enlisted men. The specialist venereal disease section of the hospital catered for 144 officers and 100 men. During the First World War, VD caused 416,891 hospital admissions among British and Dominion troops, roughly 5% of all the men who enlisted in Britain’s armies during the war became infected. That figure can be judged alongside a total of 74,711 cases of ‘Trench Foot’ treated by hospitals in France and Flanders during the whole of the war. Trench Foot came to symbolise the squalor of the conflict but the reality was that a man was more than five times as likely to end up in hospital suffering from syphilis or gonorrhoea.


Old Mortlake Burial Ground is a small classic Victorian cemetery not far from the tip of the great bend of the River Thames negotiated each year in the University Boat Race, a course followed in some way by the Warrington family in their journey from Putney to Mortlake. Charles Dickens’ eldest son is buried here and also his housekeeper. We visited Francis for the first time few years ago just as the daffodils were emerging. Now in high summer, the headstone is almost submerged behind a tangle of weeds and in need of a little loving. Francis is one of 21 Commonwealth War Commission graves there, 19 of them from the First World War.


Back across that railway line is the St Mary Magdalen churchyard and the breathtaking mausoleum in the shape of an Arab tent containing the coffins of Sir Richard Burton and his wife Isabel Arundell. They can actually be viewed by climbing an iron ladder at the back and peering through a window. Explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat, Burton was famed for his travels and explorations in Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. He possessed a curiosity about life in the little known Arab world and persuaded the Royal Geographical Society to fund a series of adventures including one for the source of the Nile.


Francis’ soldiers effects record indicates that he had a child called Ellen, born in the spring quarter of 1917. This is very likely the Ellen Frances Warrington who married a Frank Craig in Fulham in 1937, born on 13th May 1917. She passed away in Crawley in 1995 but her sons, Brian, Peter and David Craig may well still be living, the three grandsons of Frances George Warrington.



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