John Barbary came from a family whose roots were very firmly in the Battersea area, not very far away from the railway arches, somewhere that witnessed some of the fledgling activities of the aviation industry, pioneered by the Short brothers, Tommy Sopwith and Hilda Hewlett. Appropriately then, this young man ended up in the Royal Flying Corps, one of four of the Summerstown182 to bear their wings. The Short brothers’ association with Battersea began in June 1906 when they moved their premises from Tottenham Court Road to the railway arches, where the location of their workshop is marked with a blue plaque. With his Dad working as a fitter its very likely young John grew up knowing about these remarkable innovations that were taking place on his doorstep.
The family came from streets now submerged beneath the massive Doddington and Rollo estate, the building of which got Wandsworth Council leader Sidney Sporle into such hot water. With dubious links to T Dan Smith and John Poulson he spent some years at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in the early seventies for taking bribes from contractors. Sporle Court on the Winstanley estate is a 22 storey reminder of his folly. In the midst of all the concrete and glass, there are though still visible echoes of the past; the church, the school, the tabernacle, the building that was once one of the largest laundries in London.
Battersea in the last decade of the nineteenth century was a tough world of railway yards, steam laundries and great hulking riverside factories belching their filth into the Thames. John Burns had been elected to parliament in 1892 and was organising labour and flexing his political muscles to pave the way for the likes of John Archer, Shapurji Saklatvala and Charlotte Despard. There is a plaque a little further down Battersea Park Road where Archer lived and worked as a photographer. In 1913 he became Britain’s first black Mayor and one hundred years later he appeared on a commemorative postage stamp. Edward Barbary, John’s father worked with iron and engines – this was an environment fired by a combination of hot metal, grime and grease, long hours of hard manual work was demanded of a workforce who lived under a pall of coal smoke. The various Barbary addresses were close to the London & Provincial Steam Laundry Company Ltd in Battersea Park Road, also known as the Old Imperial and said to be the largest laundry of its type in the world. It was built in 1880 by Scrivener & Co. and a 400ft-deep well in the drying and bleaching yard provided it with 15,000 gallons of water a day. It closed in 1983.
In ‘Love and Shillings’ Reg Coote describes the London & Provincial in the inter-war years. ‘The dormitories were up on the top of the laundries where the little girls used to sleep and go down to work. They worked bloody hard. Most of them were orphans. Two rooms right at the top at Battersea were where they slept. On the wall was painted ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’. There were probably 20 girls staying at Battersea. The girls must have started at 13 or 14.’
Edward Charles Barbary, born in Lambeth in 1875 was the son of a coal porter. In 1891 the family were living in Sheepcote Lane and he was working as a fitter’s mate. He married Minnie Perry from Stratford on Christmas Day 1897 in All Saints Church, Battersea. This was located close to where the roundabout is now, on the south-east corner of Battersea Park. It was destroyed by fire in 1969. He gave his job as a checker and his address as 54 Longhedge Street. He was 22 and Minnie was five years older. Their three sons were all born in Battersea, John on 18th November 1898, Edward in 1900 and Henry in 1904. John was baptised at St Saviours Church, Battersea Park Road on 18th December, by which time the family were living at 13 Blondel Street. This road still exists but all the old houses are long gone. He attended Battersea Park Road School in 1902, the register indicates Edward was a blacksmith and the information that they now lived at 27 Kilton Street, just across the road from the school roughly where Battersea Park Library now stands. The school became Chesterton Primary School in 1951. A stunning Imperial War Museum photograph shows women and children attending a VE-Day street party in front of an air raid shelter in Kilton Street. On the school register there is another Barbary alongside John. Lily a month older, lived at Edward’s old 54 Longhedge Street address. This was just around the corner, up against the railway line and was still clearly a Barbary dwelling. Also living here was a Lucy Barbary, probably John’s Aunt who married Henry Earl and also ended up living in Summerstown. Henry’s brother Thomas was the double gallantry medal winning ‘Buffalo Soldier’ whose name is on our memorial. The family moved to Henley Street directly opposite the laundry in 1908 and around 1910 relocated in Summerstown at No35.
By 1911 the Barbarys were at No18 Summerstown, the old much-changed road that borders the dog track. The three boys were growing and it would appear that Minnie’s father was now with them in their four room cottage. Thomas Perry was aged 71 and listed his profession as ‘cowman on a farm’. Their home is just about visible on the extreme right of the above photo which looks up the road towards The Corner Pin. They were now of course just a few doors away from the formidable Henry Washington, the man in charge of the pub. Whether the little Barbary lads got to play in his summer house is very doubtful. Henry Washington was the grandfather of Daisy Harriet Drew. She married David Clarke who managed the pub for a while after being invalided out of the army in 1916. David was the older brother of Summerstown182 Albert. Henry Wright who lived at No6 just the other side of The Corner Pin had also joined the Royal Flying Corps as an Air Mechanic 2nd Class. ‘Balloon Man’ Thomas Milton was at No25. They may also have influenced young John’s choice of service.
The Royal Flying Corps was formed on the 13th April 1912 and comprised a Military Wing, Naval Wing, Central Flying School and the Royal Aircraft Factory. The Naval Wing split from the RFC on 1st July 1914 to become the Royal Naval Air Service (‘RNAS’), under the control of the Admiralty. On the 1st April 1918 the RFC merged with the RNAS to form the Royal Air Force (‘RAF’). John joined up on 9th February 1917 at South Farnborough, aged 18 years and three months and giving his occupation as a fitter. He attained the rank of Air Mechanic 2nd Class. Just over ten months later he was dead, a week before Christmas he died after an operation for appendicitus in the Grove Military Hospital in Tooting, just ten minutes walk down Blackshaw Road from his home. Francis Warrington also died in the Grove but was buried near his family’s home in Mortlake. I couldn’t help noticing that close to the site of his childhood home is a pub in Battersea is a pub called The Grove.
Its hard to say why John wasn’t buried locally but ended up thirty miles outside London, a considerable distance for any visits. His parents Edward and Minnie lived on at 18 Summerstown for another twenty years. Brookwood Cemetery near Woking was established by the London Necropolis Company in 1849 to house London’s deceased, at a time when the capital was finding it difficult to accommodate its increasing population, of living and dead. Brookwood Military Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the United Kingdom, covering approximately 37 acres. In 1917, an area of land there was set aside for the burial of men and women of the forces of the Commonwealth and Americans, who had died, many of battle wounds, in the London district. One of these was nineteen year old John Barbary from Battersea and Summerstown – ‘Here lies one beloved of all, who answered to his country’s call’.