With Charles Booth’s damning critique of Summerstown ringing in his ears, Reverend John Robinson’s ministery at St Mary’s Church did not get off to the best of starts, ‘A region of mists, low-lying on heavy clay soil, exceedingly depressing one should suppose to health as it undoubtedly is to the imagination.’ With no church and a disgruntled congregation he must have wondered what he had let himself in for in a parish ‘serving as a refuge for the rejected from elsewhere’. It would appear that Reverend Robinson was appointed ahead of a popular temporary incumbent. He was also faced with a debt of £700 over the building of an iron church would had replaced the original version, demolished in 1894. He took the decision to close this structure and laid plans for the building of a new one. A local newspaper sternly intoned ‘To close a church is to incur a grave responsibility, it is hoped that the present unfortunate state of things will not be of long continuance’.
They need not have worried. On 4th April 1903 Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Christian laid the foundation stone and a year later the new St Mary’s Church was opened for business. Alongside it, a new street was constructed. On our Friends of Summerstown182 visit to the London Metropolitan Archives a few months ago we looked at drawings and plans for ‘the new road’. It cut a swathe through a triangle of land known as Drunken Bridge Field, connecting Garratt Lane with Wimbledon Road. The old church had sat at the northern tip of this, built through the generosity of a retired merchant called Joshua Stanger in 1840 and enlarged in 1865 to accomodate 500 worshippers. Unfortunately its foundations were inadequate and a dry summer in 1893 caused severe subsidence. After much debate it was demolished a year later. Also built adjacent to the church by Joshua Stanger was a school, which after the demise of the tin church was for a while used for services.
This new road which was given the name Keble Street was first populated in 1904. The electoral roll of 1905 gives a fascinating glimpse into its first residents, though not all the houses seem to have been filled. Albert William Iles living at No44 was the builder, so no surprise then that he got the biggest end house. Its interesting to see the name of Edward (E.W.) Mountford on the drawings. He was a renowned ecclesiastical architect who most famously designed The Old Bailey and Sheffield and Battersea Town Halls. He was also responsible for St Andrew’s Church in Earlsfield which dates from 1890. Moving in to No16 Keble Street was a James Henry Moorhouse and family. A painter and paperhanger, he may very well have decorated the houses in his new street or perhaps even worked on the church. He lived here with his wife Caroline and their six children, the eldest of which was fourteen year old William. William Moorhouse was killed at the Battle of Passchendaele, one hundred years ago this summer. His family would have an extraordinary connection with the road that lasted almost forty years. James died in 1919 but his mother lived on at 16 Keble Street with daughter Louie for another twenty years. She passed away in March 1939 aged 79.
James Henry Moorhouse was born in Holborn in 1860. His father was also a painter and decorator and had the same name. He was intruigingly ‘born at sea on a voyage to Dublin.’ James Junior was the eldest of nine children living at 62 Blondel Street, Battersea in 1881. He was married on 4th November 1889 at St Saviour’s Church, Battersea Park Road to Caroline Annie Victoria Paget. They were both aged 30 and apparently set up home at 69 Blondel Street. William Henry was born on 22nd Sepember 1890 and baptised at St Saviour’s on 16th November. In 1891 Caroline’s Mother, May Alma Paget, a laundry washer woman also appeared to be living with them. William started at Holden Street School in October 1895 when it would appear they had moved to No27. Some time around the turn of the century the family relocated to Earlsfield and in 1901 were living at 12 Thorndean Street with additional offspring; Frank, Louie, Grace and Ada. Another very good location for The Sea Horse chippy. From here it was a short hop down Garratt Lane to the newly constructed Keble Street. By 1911 James and Caroline and their family of six children were well settled at No16. William now 20 was a general labourer, Frank 18 was a restaurant liftman, Louie 17 worked in a cardboard box factory, 15 year old Grace was a domestic, Ada and Eric were still at school. There would have been plenty of work for James with all the building going on around at the time but their existence was soon to be shattered by the outbreak of war in August 1914.
We can’t be certain when William Moorhouse joined the 19th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment but by the summer of 1917 he was with the 16th. Following the highly successful attack on the Messines Ridge in June 1917 – the occasion when unionist and nationalist soldiers from the island of Ireland famously fought together for the first time, attention turned to Passchendaele. The main battle commenced on 31st July 1917 and stretched on until 10th November. The failure of the French Offensive in May, followed by mutiny spreading throughout the French army, persuaded Haig to press ahead with plans for a major British attack in late summer. Following a warning that the current level of shipping losses would prevent the British from sustaining the war into 1918, the aim of the campaign was to be the destruction of German submarine bases on the Belgian coast. Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres would result in half a million casualties.
William was killed on 18th August 1917, one of 3,240 burials in Dozinghem Military Cemetery, north-west of Poperinghe. He is in good company. Here lies fellow Summerstown182, Fred Jewell from Hazelhurst Road who was killed less than a month earlier. Dozinghem was outside the front held by Commonwealth forces in Belgium during the First World War, but in July 1917, in readiness for the forthcoming offensive, groups of casualty clearing stations were placed at three positions. The names were popularly recited by troops, Mendinghem, Dozinghem and Bandaghem.
The War Diary of the 16th Middlesex indicates that they were camped at Elverdinghe on 5th July 1917. This location and date are highly significant to me. At dawn on this day, close to this location, a young soldier from Sunderland called Robert Hope of 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was executed for desertion. I discovered that my Great Uncle, Captain Alan Lendrum had been tasked with organising the firng party. He declined, a decision that lead to him being courtmartialed and forfeiting rank. It is a moving and complicated story that involved Robert’s young widow from Derry and ten children from her second marriage that were never told. To add to the confusion, Robert was serving under his Grandmother’s maiden name of Hepple. A Belgian organisation called VIFF (Friends of Flanders Field Museum) heard about it and organised a ‘Remembrance’ in 2013. In a few weeks time we will be commemorating this soldier again on the centenary of his death. Over three hundred other soldiers suffered a similar fate but all were officially pardoned in 2006. One of the saddest stories is perhaps that of a young Jamaican called Herbert Morris of the British West Indies Regiment.. One of 15,440 soldiers who volunteered to serve with the battalions raised in the British Caribbean. Undoubtedly traumatised and shellshocked, he was shot on 20th September 1917. It was not long after his seventeenth birthday. He is buried in Poperinghe.
William Moorhouse would have been aware of the heightened discipline in the British Army in the summer of 1917 due to the French mutiny and a growing sense that there was no end in sight of this conflict. A number of soldiers from his own regiment suffered the same fate as Robert Hope and Herbert Morris. On 6th August the 16th Middlesex moved into a reserve trench relieving the 1st Dublin Fusiliers. A few days later they were in the front line attack on Passerelle Farm, Langemarck. 32 men were killed on these days and 87 wounded. The heaviest rain in 30 years had churned the Flanders lowland soil into a thick muddy swamp and the artillery bombardment had ripped up the ground making it barely impassable for advancing troops. An improvement in the weather from 16th August lead to four days of fierce fighting but minimal gain. On that day the 16th Middlesex were in action again and their Commanding Officer, Lt Colonel Frank Morris DSO was killed. He had only taken command two days earlier. On 18th they relieved the 1st Inniskilling Fusiliers and attacked with the French on one side, the 1st Dublin Fusiliers on the other. William may well have been alongside Alan Lendrum who in the wake of his courtmartial had cross-transfered to the Dublins on 8th. In the diary of that day, it was recorded that 16 men were killed and 67 wounded. Among these was 26 year old William Moorhouse from 16 Keble Street. ‘He is not dead, such spirits never die, he only sleeps’.
Thanks to Bart Seynaeve who visited William Moorhouse’s grave in Dozinghem a few years ago and took these photographs.