The Lost Cornershops

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One of the names on the Summerstown war memorial really caused us a few problems but he’s been worth the wait. For three years we thought ‘F Townsend’ was a Canadian soldier with an Earlsfield connection called Frederic Beckles Townsend. Then Chris Burge came up with the much more likely candidate in the shape of Frank Townsend, the greengrocer’s son from 49 Alston Road. There were seven children, four boys Frank, Jack, Jim and Harry. Three girls, Grace, Nellie and Cissie. Frank was 29 when he died of his wounds on the last day of March in 1918. He is buried at Doullens, not far from Arras.

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For many years the Townsends ran this shop on the corner of Bertal Road, just across from the home of gallantry medal winning stretcher bearer William Warman. It would appear Frank also worked at William Watson’s fruit and veg shop at No65 Smallwood Road. There is really only one cornershop in the Fairlight area now. The last place standing is Kamal’s Local Express at No24 Pevensey Road at the junction of Rostella Road. The family took on the Alston Mini-Mart about seven years ago when it was in a very run down state. You could also include H’s Cafe on Blackshaw Road, and any number on Garratt Lane, but they are on the perimeter with a lot of traffic, I’m talking strictly Island of Fairlight. This is across the road from where future star of stage and screen and St Mary’s Church Sunday School Teacher, Veronica Hurst used to help out in the family sweetshop and grocery. Although the windows are blocked up, its bright and cheerful and seems to be crying out to be reopened as something.

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In the short time I was in Local Express having a chat, about a dozen people came in to stock up on their provisions or buy a newspaper, so it would appear to be thriving. In 1916 it was William Stickley’s grocery shop, next door was John Lane’s butcher and across the road on the corner of Worslade Road, were Thomas Buree’s grocers and Thomas Henry Ragg the tobacconist, which considering his name and the nature of his business, fittingly looks rather shabby and nicotine-stained.

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Ernest Hope ran a sweet shop at No1 Alston Road. On Smallwood Road, David Powell was in charge of the grocery store on the corner. This particular shop at No101, facing Smallwood School and looking down Hazelhurst Road only closed about five years ago but its understated ‘Smallwood Stores’ signage remains an evocative indicator of the past. A few doors along was Charles Palmer’s dairy and at No93 was another sweetshop owned by Albert Manley.

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No65 Smallwood Road was demolished in a compulsory purchase order in the early seventies. There’s now an open space with a couple of trees to commemorate where once was William Watson’s greengrocers store. I spoke to a resident of the block next door and by an amazing coincidence she told me that someone had visited this spot only a few weeks previously making enquiries about the premises. At No67 the shop on the other corner of Thurso Street once run by William Cocks only closed about ten years ago. So many other corner premises look slightly misshapen, have odd doors or bricked-up entrances and over-size windows that betray their former existence. In many cases it lends them a rather covert appearance making them look like a bit like mini-fortresses or surveillance units.

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It was once so different and the street indexes of one hundred years ago show a lot of commercial activity in this area which would seem to contradict Alfred Hurley’s description of the poverty stricken ‘Fairlight’ in his book ‘Days That Are Gone’. There clearly seemed to be enough money around to sustain several shops offering basic foodstuffs to the local residents, possibly at prices that undercut those elsewhere.

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The Townsend family roots were very much, like so many other Summerstown families, in Battersea. James Townsend was born in Kelvedon, Essex in 1860, the son of a gardener. He married Ellen Ann Grace, a dressmaker from Marylebone at the parish church of St Marylebone on 19th August 1883. He was 23 and working as a milk carrier and they lived in 3 Paradise Street, Stockwell. She was the daughter of William Grace, the house painter, not the cricketer. By 1891 they lived in Ethelburga Street, the road and the estate near Battersea Park still bear the name.

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He was still a milkman then and there were three children, Grace, Frank and Jack. Frank was born in Castle Street, Battersea in 1889. A few years later with the family address now 69 Sterndale Road, Nine Elms they appear on the register for New Road School in the Wandsworth Road. In 1901 they were still at this address. The street is gone, but given James and his eldest son’s future calling, it was appropriately very close to what is now the New Covent Garden Fruit and Vegetable market. The site of this was then home to a ‘London and South Western Railway Works’ yard where James, now a railway carman possibly earned his living. It is also close to the Patmore Estate where Wandsworth Council have announced ‘Edward Foster Close’ will emerge as a tribute to our illustrious Dustman VC, Tiny Ted.

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All the children are listed in the 1901 census and 16 year old Grace was working as a dressmaker. As some stage over the next few years they took the well-trodden step to the open spaces of Summerstown. James needed more room for his growing family and perhaps hankered to run his own business. The Townsend family were first in Summerstown by 1908 when Grace, then aged 24, married Henry Paget at St Mary’s Church. They were living at 25 Worslade Road and Henry, a commercial traveller was just around the corner at 69 Pevensey Road. By 1911 the Townsends were at 49 Alston Road where James was running a greengrocers shop. The photo with the horses below dates from 1905-07 and was taken on the other side of Alston Road from the junction of Rostella Road, just outside Local Express. The door with the ‘Glass Cut’ sign is No33, the white house with the sunflowers in the front garden. James Townsend’s greengrocery is a few doors down on the left, just out of the picture. Frank, now 22 was working as a gas stoker and there were five children still at home. The Townsends would remain here until 1936. James died in 1937, Ellen in 1922.

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Jack Townsend wasn’t with them because in 1909, aged 18, he had joined the East Surreys as a reservist and would have served in India pre-war. He was a milk carrier and gave the address of his employer as 49 Selkirk Road. He served in France and Flanders from 19th January 1915 alongside many thousands of South Asian soldiers. After ten gruelling months in the Ypres Salient he was invalided out of the army with sickness on 24th November 1915 and awarded a Silver War Badge. Like Frank, Jack was a reasonably tall man, at five foot nine, the presence of all that fruit and veg must have done them a power of good.

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On 28th July 1912 Frank Townsend married Ethel Jane Smith from 125 Smallwood Road at St Mary’s Church. Coincidentally Abraham Hake from Headworth Road, who we’ve come across before married Eliza Bilyard the previous day. His daughter was the wife of James Luke Tugwell, killed at the Third Battle of Gaza. Frank described himself as a labourer and gave his father’s occupation as a greengrocer. His appeared to have been living at 136 Smallwood Road in which case he was next door to yet another grocery shop run by a Miss Alice Broad. Frank and Ethel had two children, Ronald born 1913 and Grace in 1915. With the family business thriving and plenty of work in the area for a fit strong lad, life must have seemed filled with promise. All would soon change as the lights started to go out in the summer of 1914. As a married man with a young family, working with his father or on his own as a greengrocer, Frank would surely have been in no hurry to volunteer. When he signed up he gave the address of William Watson’s corner shop at 65 Smallwood Road.

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Like his near-neighbour Arthur Hutton, Frank would join the Coldstream Guards. He attested in Tooting under the Derby Scheme on 12th December 1915. Looking at the service papers of others, would imply he actually mobilised around March 1917, more than a year after he first signed up. The hold-up suggests he may very likely have appealed against his conscription on the basis of his occupation and gained one or more short exemptions delaying his arrival in France. It may have been because he was married and of a certain age, or he was granted special exemption for grocery and provision shop workers. The small shop owner was still subject to the vagaries of the decisions of local tribunals and accounts of their hearings were published in the local newspapers. Some of them make heartbreaking reading. Ironically Frank would have been mobilised at precisely the time that food shortages were at their most acute in Britain and a greengrocers skills might have been very useful as allotments began to pepper the home front.

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In any case, come February 1918, Frank and the 3rd Battalion Coldsream Guards were in France, in the trenches near Ballieul, blissfuly unaware of the storm that would be soon unleashed around them. March started pleasantly with musketry training, football tournaments and good billets. The great German ‘Kaiserschlacht’ attack came on 21st March and the battalion’s first casualties were reported in the war diary at Ervillers on 23rd. The situation became increasingly desperate over the next week as they retreated to high ground but came under fierce attack, especially on 30th when ‘the enemy pushed snipers into Ayette’. Three officers and six men were killed that day, 28 were reported wounded or missing. On 31st the diary recounts that they were relieved by the Lancashire Fusiliers and returned to Bienvillers. Frank’s ‘soldiers effects’ form indicates that he died in the care of The No3 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Doullens. The diary for this establishment noted on 26th ‘this has been the heaviest day so far and has kept everyone busy from morning till night.’ There were nearly 2000 admissions that day and even more on each of the next three days. On 29th March King George paid an unexpected visit and ‘was pleased with the manner in which the wounded are being cared for’. He may well have passed by Frank Townsend’s sick bed.

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Frank died of his wounds on 31st March and is buried at Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No1. This was Marshal Foch’s headquarters early in the First World War and the scene of the conference in March 1918, after which he assumed command of the Allied armies on the Western Front. Doullens was a junction between the French and British and Commonwealth armies and used as a railhead by both. The citadelle overlooking the town was a French military hospital, which became The 3rd Canadian Stationary Hospital in 1916. The German Spring advance placed it under the most severe strain. To add to the family’s worries, youngest brother Harry had also now been conscripted to the East Surreys and was in uniform.

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Frank’s widow Ethel, Ronald and Grace went to live at 109 Charlmont Road, Tooting, after the war. Grace Ethel Townsend married in 1939 at Christ Church in Mitcham, but passed away aged 59 in 1974, in Lambeth. Ethel herself died in Merton in 1973. Ronald married in 1941 in Wandsworth, but we can find no trace of him after that. We are glad to finally be able to tell your story, Frank and the light its shed on the history of the corner shops of Alston and Smallwood Road. Funny also that in the end there was a Canadian connection, through the hospital in Doullens that looked after him in his last hours. And what about all those lost cornershops? I like to think of them as a tribute to the hardworking people of the Fairlight who worked long hours in difficult conditions to establish their family businesses, only to see their sons whisked off to the front in spite of their protestations at the tribunal.

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With thanks to Chris Burge for his research on Frank Townsend and his family.

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Mark Archer’s Cabbage

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A field of splendid king-size red cabbages adjoins Pont du Hem Cemetery on the long straight road between Estaires and Neuve Chapelle. When we visited Mark Archer and Andrew Meikle in October 2015 they were in their full glory and we couldn’t resist liberating a few leaves from one. It was obviously a particularly bountiful autumn as there were a few handsome mushrooms ripe for plucking, growing in the cemetery itself and whilst it was tempting, we really didn’t want to take a chance. We tucked our find away in the back of the car thinking it would be a nice addition to a salad or a stir-fry. Of course it subsequently got completely forgotten about and over the next few months we wondered what the nasty lingering smell of decay was. Its an unfortunate fact, but our Summerstown182 duo here will forever be associated with rotting red cabbage.

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The Archer story spans the length of England, from Cumbria to the south coast. George Valentine Archer was born in Carlisle in 1846, the son of John Archer, a booksellers clerk. In 1851 John and his wife Agnes had uprooted and were living in Hoxton, east London. By 1871 they had moved across the metropolis to 3 Waterloo Place and George and his brother Arthur had both followed their father into the book trade, George as a bookbinder. A few years later he pops up in Sussex where on 27th March 1875, George married Margaret Ford in Brighton. By the time of the 1881 census they were living at 13 Somerset Street, Brighton, Kemptown with two small children, Margaret five and Arthur three. Mark Albert Archer soon followed, christened on 19th February 1882. They were not too far from the Palace Pier though work on that only started in 1891 by which time the family were back in London.

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The census of that year indicates that the Archers were now living in the rapidly developing new streets of Summerstown, in the beginning of the process of changing from a rural community to how we know the area today. George was still a bookbinder and finisher and there were four children. They lived at 2 Smallwood Road and a map of around the same time shows a cluster of houses on this road. They were very probably the first ever residents at this address. They would have seen the new Streatham Cemetery being created and opening for business in 1892 and also the emergence of the Fountain Fever Hospital, hastily erected in 1893 following a resurgence of scarlet fever. Soon the area between these would fill with streets and people. Charles Booth would arrive and make his scathing comments; ‘Damp air, unhealthy soil and houses ill-built and uncared for serving as a refuge for the rejected from elsewhere’. Next door on Smallwood Road lived the Brigden family, whose son William Henry then 15 would also be one of the Summerstown182 who lost their life in 1918. Round the corner in Hazelhurst Road were three ‘dealers in horse flesh’.

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Possibly to escape the smells eminating from this enterprise, by at least 1898 the Archers had moved across Garratt Lane to 4 Aboyne Road. This house, currently on the market, sits facing the entrance to Garratt Green with a lovely view across the park to Burntwood School, then Springfield Farm. The children were all now adults but unusually all still living at home. Margaret aged 25 was a postal order sorter, Arthur 23 a solicitors clerk and 19 year old Mark a commercial clerk. Their office jobs and shift to the east side of Garratt Lane definitely marked them down as an upwardly mobile family. They were at 4 Aboyne Road until 1910 before moving to a larger house at 83 Burntwood Lane. Oddly enough this stands opposite the other entrance to Garratt Green.

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George died aged 65 on 7th March 1911 at Bolingbroke Hospital, just a month before the next census. He would however have lived to see Mark married at St Mary’s Church on 6th August 1910. Aged 28, and now working as a clerk for a tea merchants, he married Emily Blanche Couldrey from Thornton Heath. His address on the certificate is 25 Burmester Road, one of the homes that got a reprieve when the Anglo American Laundry’s expansion plans were thwarted. They may have lived there for a while but the following year it appears they had set up home at 71 Torridge Road in Thornton Heath. In the April 1911 census another Summerstown182 soldier Robert Lake was living at 25 Burmester Road. Margaret Archer continued to live at 83 Burntwood lane, moving to No 159 from 1918 to 1921. This house is just the other side of the zebra crossing in front of Burntwood School. On the Commonwealth War Graves Commission next-of-kin details her address is given as ‘Old Wandsworth Common’. It would appear that Emily never remarried and died in Guildford in 1959.

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Mark Archer was initially with the 70th Provisional Battalion (East Surreys) which became the 15th Royal Sussex Regiment. This appears to have been some kind of coastal defence unit, not unlike the Home Guard. Mark was 35 in 1917 so whilst not exactly Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army he wasn’t exactly in the first flush of youth. On 29th August 1917 at the height of the Battle of Passchendaele, it appears he joined the 2nd Battalion of the London Regiment, Royal Fusiliers. He would be killed whilst serving with them on 11th April 1918.

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The Battle of the Lys in which Mark Archer died was also known as the Fourth Battle of Ypres or Operation Georgette, the second part of the 1918 German ‘Spring Offensive’ in Flanders. Their objective was the capturing of Ypres, forcing the British forces back to the channel ports and out of the war. On 21st the first phase of the attack between the Oise and the Scarpe was launched with unexpected force and speed.

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‘The Royal Fusiliers in The Great War’ by H.C. O’Neill published in 1922 gives a good account of the whereabouts of Mark Archer’s battalion at this time. The 2nd Londons remained in the Ypres area until the Battle of the Lys began. On April 10th they arrived by bus at Vieux Berquin at 630am. That evening they took up positions in support of the troops holding Estaires, and at 4am withdrew, handing over to the 5th Durham Light Infantry, who had evacuated Estaires. At noon on 11th they took over the defences of Doulieu. Within a few hours the village was the centre of fierce fighting with the Germans making rapid headway. The battalion held on until 2am on the 12th, when they were ordered to retire, falling back two miles and becoming heavily attacked in an isolated position at the village of Bleu. Defences which had been held for three and a half years had been swept away. ‘In the fifty-two hours they had spent in the Lys battle area the 2nd Royal Fusiliers had 15 officers and 324 other ranks casualties. They were true to their fate in finding the hottest part in the battlefield’.

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Mark Albert Archer is commemorated in Pont du Hem Cemetery, La Gorgue, near Neuve Chapelle. A ‘grave registration report form’ attached to his Commonwealth War Graves Commission record indicates that he was one of three soldiers who were originally buried by the Germans, but whose graves were subsequently lost in further fighting. A ‘Special Kipling Memorial Cross No23’ stands ‘to the memory, of these three British soldiers, who were buried by the enemy in 1918 in Laventie North German Cemetery, but whose graves are now lost’. The last line on it reads ‘Their glory shall not be blotted out’. They are Mark Archer from Summerstown, Herbert Kerr from Ashton-under-Lyne and William Davies from Sunderland. Their headstones stand, side by side. It is dated 31st August 1926. The stone indicates that there were twenty two other similar cases, all their headstones now in a line against the back wall of the cemetery, in front of the cabbages. Also buried in this cemetery is Andrew Meikle, another of the Summerstown182, killed with his brother Thomas at the Somme in 1916. His grave is really not far away from Mark Archer’s headstone, in fact you can get them in the same photo. Although much younger than Mark Archer, Andrew Meikle also lived on Burmester Road.

 

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In the July 1918 issue of the St Mary’s Church parish magazine, the deaths of Albert Ball and Frank Tutty were announced – in the same paragraph notice was given ‘that Lance Corporal Mark Archer of the Royal Fusiliers is reported as wounded and missing. Our sympathy goes out to their relatives’. The sad inscription on his headstone reads ‘Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away’. Just another young promising life snuffed out in a conflict that must now have seemed like it would never end.

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The Gilbey Road 137

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Since getting my hands on those 1918 ‘Absent Voters’ lists, Gilbey Road in Tooting has fascinated me. Arrowing directly down to Sainsburys and Tooting Broadway from Gambole Road, it looks pretty much the same now as it did then. Its got 99 doors and what captured my imagination is that from behind those 99 doors stepped 137 serving soldiers, sailors and airmen in 1918. That’s a proportionally far higher headcount than any other road around here and it just blows my mind as I try to imagine all of them in uniform, coming out of the houses at the same time. That one single impression demonstrates the astounding contribution of ordinary working people in this area to the conflict of 1914-1918. No other street has quite this level of participation and I’m not sure why. Obviously many of the houses had two families living in them but even so. Maybe there were more young men living here? Perhaps it was close to the rabble-rousing centre of Tooting and more susceptible to the war propagandists’ message? In any case, behind one of those doors, No24, was 24 year old Arthur Frank Hutton and his wife of just over two years, Lucy. Very sadly, within a few months, the Coldstream Guardsman was dead and he probably isn’t the only one of the 137 who never had the chance to cast their vote.

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The Huttons moved around a bit and covered more of a geographic spread of this area than most families. One very big connection was with an establishment which then referred to itself as the Middlesex County Asylum, now Springfield University Hospital where the family lived and worked for a number of years. Arthur may even have been born there. His father, Frank Hutton certainly had a rustic upbringing in Dorchester, Oxfordshire where he was born in 1862. He was still living there in 1881 and working as a live-in groom at the local Manor House. The lure of the big city lead him to London and saw him swap outdoor life for the harsh world of looking after the sick and the insane. Now 28, he was an attendant at the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum. Its possible that this was where he met Annie Edwards from Staffordshire, but in April 1892 they were married in Wolverhampton. Arthur was born in Wandsworth in July 1894.

 

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It would seem that for a period the family lived outside the asylum and in 1899 they were at 25 Huntspill Street. The 1901 census finds them resident close by, at No2 Squarey Street, the house on the corner with Huntspill Street. By the way, if you are talking to an older resident, pronounce that any other way than ‘Skwarry’ at your peril. Frank’s profession is listed as ‘coachman and groom’ so he may have done some form of retraining in the wake of his new family responsibilities. Arthur, aged six appears to have been their only child and attended Smallwood Road School. From about 1910 their address was ‘The Asylum, Beechcroft Road’.

 

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This would suggest Frank had once again secured a job with accomodation included. The rather frighteningly titled ‘Surrey County Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ had opened on a 100 acre site in 1840. The original 18th century mansion house contained stables and a coachman’s house. A permanent position there working as a coachman would have been quite a feather in Frank’s cap. The Huttons were among 124 people on the census records working at the hospital who were also provided with accomodation. In most cases these were employed as attendants or nurses in the infirmary, but many did work relating to the farm. ‘Head Cowman’, ‘Pigman’ and ‘Farm Baliff’ were some of the roles. A lot of the old buildings are still on the Springfield site, pending its never-ending redevelopment proposals and it may well be that the Hutton family quarters still stand. Certainly its very likely that they attended this chapel.

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Sixteen year old Arthur worked as a messenger. Frank and Annie were still there in 1915 and a year later part of the asylum was renamed Springfield War Hospital and used to care for soldiers suffering from neurasthenia or loss of mental balance. By 1918 the Huttons were living at 85 Smallwood Road, the house is directly opposite the schoolkeeper’s cottage, once the home of Francis Halliday, drowned on HMS Clan McNaughton in 1915. The loss of his only son having broken his heart, Frank died in 1920 aged 58 but Annie lived on here until at least 1939.

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On 3rd January 1916 at the beautiful Holy Trinity Church in Upper Tooting, Arthur Hutton now aged 21 married Lucy Alice Russell from 43 Noyna Road, the daughter of a fireman. They set up home at 24 Gilbey Road Tooting. Its quite possible she also worked at the Asylum as Noyna Road is very much in the Springfield orbit. She might even have been there to see them painting Tooting’s premier ‘ghost sign’ advertising Meggezones above the chemists on the corner of Noyna Road and Upper Tooting Road. Arthur gave his profession as soldier so was clearly already in uniform. After his death it would appear Lucy moved to 85 Smallwood Road to live with Arthur’s parents.

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Arthur Hutton was in the 2nd Battalion, The Coldstream Guards, a prestigious regiment first formed in 1650 at Berwick, Northumberland during the English Civil War as part of the Parliamentarian forces. In August 1914 there were three Coldstream Battalions deployed to France. We can’t be sure when Arthur joined up though its very likely that after his wedding he returned to see action at Delville Wood alongside Sidney Lewis. On the 8th August 1918 the Allied forces launched their surprise ‘Black Day’ attack that heralded the end of the First World War. The Battle of Amiens, saw 21 Divisions supported by 500 tanks and 1000 aircraft breach the German lines.

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By the 25th August, the Battalion were part of the Guards Division on front line trench duty at St Leger about three miles north of Bapaume. At 0700 on 27th August an attack was launched. The enemy were expecting it and immediately opened very heavy fire on the Coldstreams from the village of Croiselles. One company reached the final objective, but without sufficient support they had to withdraw. German machine-guns under cover of their trenches, swept the ground and brought the attack to a standstill. The losses in the Battalion were 3 officers killed in action, 7 officers wounded and 111 other ranks killed in action, 192 wounded. One of those who died was Private Arthur Hutton, another 2nd Lieutenant Gerard Charles Brassey. Aged 19, his father Sir Leonard Brassey was the MP for Northamptonshire and the 1911 census indicated that he lived with his parents and 14 servants in Apethorpe Hall. A stained glass window in the local church commemorates him.

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The road to the east of Arras heading towards Cambrai, as if to mirror Gilbey Road in Tooting, is extremely long and straight. It is peppered with cemeteries and memorials in which many of the Summerstown182 rest or have their names inscribed. There are two of them on the impressive Vis-en-Artois Memorial just a few miles along it. John Burke of the Welsh Fusiliers who lived, just round the corner from Arthur Hutton in Pevensey Road was killed just nine days later. We’ve been there twice and on each occasion the sun has blazed. The Memorial bears the names of over 9,000 men who fell in the period from 8 August 1918 to the date of the Armistice in the Advance to Victory in Picardy and Artois, and who have no known grave.

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Last summer’s Somme centenary in towns and cities across the UK saw men in First World War uniform materialise from nowhere in public spaces. When approached they silented handed over a card bearing the name of a 1st July 1916 victim. ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ was a shocking and very pertinent reminder of the events of one hundred years ago. It was the brainchild of artist Jeremy Deller who was approached by 14-18 NOW, the organisation responsible for art commissions commemorating the war, and tasked with coming up with something to mark the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. I would love to have 137 people stand on those 99 Gilbey Road doorsteps one day, and all march off down the road together. What a striking way to show the level of contribution to the war in this area and a great way to finish our Summerstown182 project next year. Any volunteers?

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https://becausewearehere.co.uk/

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It feels like a very long time ago when we were last on Fountain Road and it was all about Ted Foster and his exploits at Villers-Plouich. Just a few doors away from him was a house where darkness had already descended as a result of the First World War, even before Ted Foster was in uniform. On 6th May 1915 Charles Smith succumbed to his wounds and died in hospital in Alexandria. He would have been taken there as a consequence of injuries caused in the Gallipoli landing at Cape Helles on 25th April. ANZAC Day. He was in the 2nd London Regiment, The Royal Fusiliers and we know very little about him. He is buried at the Chatby Military and War Memorial Cemetery in the company of Phillip George Chapman, of the Australian Infantry. They are the only members of the Summerstown182 to rest on African soil. Once of Franche Court Road, Phillip died in August from wounds at the Battle of Lone Pine.

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The address on Charles Smith’s grave registration document is given as Clyde Terrace, 80a Fountain Road. The house still stands at a pivotal position on the junction of Fountain Road and Pevensey Road, looking down Cranmer Terrace to St George’s Hospital. This would have been Tooting Grove, home to the Fosters for some time and developing into one of the worst slums in Wandsworth. It was eventually cleared in the early 30s thanks to the efforts of the Chairman of the Council’s Housing Committee, Henry Prince who deservedly had a new estate a few miles up the road named after him. There is no sign now of ‘Clyde Terrace’ – occasionally stretches of housing had these add-on names on obscure plinths that you might pass thousands of times without ever noticing. There is a ‘Bath Terrace’ on Garratt Lane that I had walked past for twenty years without it ever catching my eye.

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Charles was born in Chelsea and joined the army in Kingston. His parents were Charles Stephen Smith and Emma Smith and he had a brother Albert who survived the war and in 1918 is documented in the absent voters list as serving in the Royal Marine Light Infantry. They had been living at 80a Fountain Road from 1914 but were possibly in the area before that. Certainly they were still all there two years later so would have been around for Tiny Ted’s triumphant return to Fountain Road in the summer of 1917 when hundreds of residents turned out to greet the Victoria Cross winning hero. A Kate Smith was present at the address until at least the beginning of the Second World War. Just two doors away at No76 lived 22 year old Moses Caulfield who was lost in the Battle of Jutland on HMS Black Prince.

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Before all hell broke loose that spring, Charles would have had a fairly pleasant few weeks. On March 16th the 2nd Royal Fusiliers embarked on SS Alaunia at Avonmouth and steamed through beautiful weather to the Eastern Mediterranean. When she was still some distance from Gibraltar the navy began its attack on the Narrows at Gallipoli. They would have had little idea of the inferno they were sailing into. After a few days on Malta they arrived in Alexandria on Palm Sunday, March 28th. They were here for almost a month, training for the task in hand. On the evening of the 24th April the 2nd Royal Fusiliers left Lemnos for Gallipoli. The Royal Fusiliers in The Great War’ by H C O’Neill OBE describes it vividly ‘The night was calm and clear, and the short journey was made under a brilliant moon. The two companies on Implacable had a hot breakfast about 3.30am (April 25th), and the men were then put into boats. The moon had already set, and the night had become dark and still. At 4.45 the fleet bombardment began’.

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The landing place of the 2nd Battalion was ‘X’ Beach, a small natural amphitheatre with a narrow floor of sand about 200 yards long, on the north-west face of the peninsula. The cliff was some 100 feet high, rising somewhat steeply from the beach, and there was no natural way up. Half the battalion were in boats provided by HMS Implacable, the other half in boats from other ships. The men rowed in as rapidly as possible until the boats grounded, when they jumped into the water, in many cases chest-deep and waded ashore to begin their scramble up the crumbling cliff. The landing itself did not meet any heavy opposition, but going further inland everything changed. At the end of the day the 2nd Royal Fusiliers had lost half their strength. This included the Commanding Officer, the Second-in-Command, and all the Company Commanders. The 2nd Royal Fusiliers were among the first to land at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915. Also there on that day, following the Royal Fusiliers onto X Beach were the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. They would also suffer terrible losses.

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Charles Smith from Fountain Road would have been taken from here by hospital ship to Alexandria where he died eleven days later. The first ship to arrive with wounded from Gallipoli was the ‘Gascon’ on 29 April 1915. Not all the hospitals were ready to receive wounded, some were at least three weeks from completion. Many of the injured had to be moved on to Cairo – a train ride from Alexandria and then further by ambulance. Some idea of the rapid increase arrivals of wounded in Egypt can be seen in that on 17th April (before the landing), 183 sick arrived in Egypt and on 28th April, 257. On 29th April, the hospital ship ‘Gascon’ arrived and within the following 48 hours another five troopships brought 2,849 casualties from Gallipoli. By 29th April, all the available accommodation in Alexandria was filled.

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News was swiftly relayed home and Charles death was reported in the August 1915 edition of the St Mary’s Church parish magazine. ‘We much regret to hear that Charles Smith, of the Royal Fusiliers, who was wounded about April 25th, died in hospital at Alexandria on May 7th, and that Harold Smith has been wounded and is in a base hospital’. Its possible given the inclusion of both in this notification that they were brothers. We may never know if Harold made it or who he was. On the streets of Wandsworth and Tooting the recruiting drive was in full swing. Mayor Dawnay was rounding up a Wandsworth Battalion and whether Ted Foster knew about his near neighbour’s demise or not that summer – himself, twelve year old Sidney Lewis and hundreds of others were marching down Garratt Lane in answer to the Mayor’s call.

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Chatby is a district on the east side of the city of Alexandria, between the main dual carriageway to Aboukir (Al Horaya) and the sea. Chatby Military and War Memorial Cemetery was used for burials until April 1916. During the Second World War, Alexandria was again an important hospital centre, taking casualties from campaigns in the Western Desert, Greece, Crete and the Mediterranean. Both my parents passed through at various stages, Dad on his way to Libya and then Greece in 1940, Mum as a WAAF based in Cairo from 1946. The Chatby Memorial stands at the eastern end of the cemetery and commemorates almost 1,000 Commonwealth servicemen who died during the First World War and have no other grave but the sea. Many of them were lost when hospital ships or transports were sunk in the Mediterranean, sailing to or from Alexandria. Others died of wounds or sickness while aboard such vessels and were buried at sea. There are 2,259 First World War burials in the cemetery and 503 from the Second World War.

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We don’t know how old Charles Smith was, if he was married or what job he did. All we have is an address in Tooting and from the many accounts of what happened at those Gallipoli landings, a vague idea of the circumstances that lead to his death. He is ‘C Smith’ on our war memorial and but for Reverend Robinson writing a simple sentence announcing his death in the parish magazine, we would have been denied even these clues to who he was. 761 C Smiths were killed in the First World War.

 

A Swiss Mystery

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One of the abiding mysteries of the St Mary’s Church war memorial is the addition of two names in the early thirties, R Wyler and A F Brown. 180 became 182. There is no indication in the parish magazine or church records as to why this should have happened. Mention is made of Reverend William Galpin, Vicar of St Mary’s from 1923 until 1934, deciding to change the colouring of the lettering on the memorial from black to blue and adding a decorative ceiling representing The Flanders Sky’. In the January 1934 issue, a short account states ‘At the bottom of the list of names cut in the beautiful Stone War Memorial in the Church, the Vicar has had engraved in gold lettering the following words – 182 of the 1,000,000 men of the British Empire who gave their lives’. Nothing about why two new names were added in the corners. The below extract from 1929 shows the memorial with its 180 names – hey presto, overnight two more appeared. A F Brown’ is almost certainly Albert Brown from Maskell Road who died in September 1920, almost a year after the memorial was unveiled. But ‘R Wyler’ is harder to explain. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database, the only Wyler killed in the First World War was a Joseph Max Wyler from Balham. Of Swiss and German parentage, this must surely be our man. But given he was clearly a special case, how did they get the initial wrong? This happened in half a dozen other instances which is understandable amidst the turmoil of war and the strain of trying to get the memorial completed, but it seems odd to have not got this one right. Balham is a few miles away but still not really in the St Mary’s orbit. The name does not appear in the parish magazine, either before or after the war, so what was the connection?

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Joseph’s father, Max Joseph Wyler was a well-travelled and presumably well-educated man. He died in 1948 and it seems inconceivable to me that if he went to all the trouble to add his son’s name to the memorial that he could have presided over the incorrect initial being engraved. Particularly considering that the forenames of his son were a reversal of his own. But for the moment, there is no other option. To make things even stranger, ‘Rifleman J M Wyler’ appears in the UK, British Jewry Roll of Honour, 1914-1918.

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The Wylers first appear on the 1900 electoral roll when they were at 73 Cromwell Road in Wimbledon. Thats the other side of Haydons Road, about a twenty minute walk from Summerstown. A year later the 1901 census saw the family living at 9 Bonneville Gardens, off Abbeville Road on the Clapham-Balham borderland. Now its a leafy road dominated by Bonneville School built in 1905. Max was 34 and his wife Julia two years younger. The writing on the census record is hard to read, but it looks to me like he was working as a ‘merchant engaged in German embroidery trade, importing same from Switzerland’. Certainly one of the longest profession descriptions I’ve seen on such an item. Max was born in Switzerland, Julia in Germany. Seven year old Joseph was their only child, born in Clapham in 1894. There was a great demand for highly-skilled German and Swiss embroidery in the late nineteenth, early twentieth century. In such places as the St Gallen area, which produced over half the world’s lace in 1910, men and women from nearly every household worked in the manufacture or trade of embroidered goods. Growth was bolstered by the advances in industrialization at that time, but many manufacturers continued to employ traditional manual techniques well into the mid twentieth century. The industry declined sharply after the First World War. Its fortunes have improved slowly and Michelle Obama wore St Gallen embroidery at her husband’s inauguration ceremony in 2009.

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Max was a freemason and in 1910 he appears on a membership list indicating that he was now a resident of 42 Lavender Gardens. A lovely road on the other side of Clapham Common, it boasts some splendid individualised decorative stone reliefs above each front door. Its also close to the home of the founder of The Times, John Walter. Max refers to himself as a manufacturers agent – clearly he was involved in some kind of importing and there are numerous records relating to his travels including quite a few transatlantic jaunts. In the 1930s, various directories of manufacturers agents indicate that he kept an address at 13 Paternoster Row, EC4. He was a man of some substance, just the kind of person Reverend Galpin might have befriended. Could the embroidery be a clue? Was Max producing some kind of material for the Church? Some nice embroidered cloths for the communion table? If Joseph wasn’t on a war memorial anywhere else, perhaps Reverend Galpin could be persuaded to add him. This is all speculation of course until something or someone emerges to tell us what really did happen. After all this moving around, it would seem that from 1911 the Wylers found stability at 6 Brandreth Road, Balham, a quiet street on the Heaver Estate. This was an address they lived at until Max’s death in 1948 aged 81.

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Joseph would appear to have joined the 15th London Regiment, alternatively known rather grandly as The Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles at ‘New Court’. This was effectively a ‘pals’ battalion, not so much one made up of people living in the same area, but related to specific jobs. They were known as the Civil Service Rifles because they recruited Civil Servants living and working in London. Their headquarters were at Somerset House. Joseph served from 20th December 1916 with a five month lay-off between February and May 1917.

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In March 1918 his regiment were caught up in the German Spring Offensive. By the end of the first day of the attack, the day before the official date of Joseph’s death, 21,000 British soldiers had been taken prisoner and the Germans had made great advances. They were so pleased with themselves that the Kaiser declared March 24th to be a national holiday. Joseph’s body was never recovered and his name is inscribed on the Arras Memorial. The Civil Service Rifles Memorial is situated at Somerset House, London, just across Waterloo Bridge. By the close of the war more than 1240 officers and men of the Civil Service Rifles had died in the war, and among its many soldiers was the sculptor Henry Moore.

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Well, at the end of all that I really can’t be sure about Joseph Wyler being the name commemorated on our war memorial. Max sounds like a man who would not get the detail of his son’s name wrong. Reverend Galpin had a passion for Switzerland but surely it would have taken more than a tablecloth to twist his arm. My theory is that someone with an ‘R Wyler’ connection came along between 1923 and 1930 and somehow convinced Reverend Galpin to add this name to the memorial. He may have been someone like William Mace, Charles Moss or Joseph Hammond who served in the war with distinction but was discharged due to illness, subsequently died and is not on the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. If he wasn’t commemorated anywhere else then why not? So for the moment, we’ll acknowledge Joseph, celebrate Max and his embroidery and wait for somebody to come along and tell us who ‘R Wyler’ might have been.

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Camberwell Beauty

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So entwined are fizzy-drink making and Camberwell, that when this part of south London was heavily bombed in the Second World War, there are accounts of R. Whites lemonade being used to put out incendiary bomb fires, when water wasn’t so easy to get hold of. R. Whites began in 1845, as a one horse, one cart operation with Robert and Mary White walking the streets selling ginger beer in stone bottles from a barrow. Growing largely as a result of the low cost of sugar, the business prospered as a rapidly expanding population swelled the area providing a workforce and plenty of customers. In 1890 R. White’s sold 46.8 million bottles of soft drinks, over 410,000 gallons of soft drinks in casks and over 31,000 gallons of cordials. William Copeman worked at one of their factories and in 1897, the year that his eldest son was born, an advertisement claimed that the company was ‘the largest manufacturer of soft drinks in the world’. Over the next 100 years they built more local factories and depots, two on Albany Road, two on Neate Street, Harling Street, New Church Road, and the last at Glengall Road in the 1990s. The time William Copeman worked there would have been a period of great expansion, ginger beer was still the main seller but Jubilee Tangerine (in honour of Queen Victoria’s 50 years on the throne), Jubilee Lemonade, Champagne Cider, and Seltzer Water were all popular.

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William Copeman had ten children, the oldest of whom, William Albert joined the 7th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment and was killed on 5th March 1916. He probably came to live in Summerstown when he was about seven or eight years old and attended Smallwood Road School where his name is listed in the booklet ‘Old Smalls, who have died for their Country’. His name is one of 20,693 commemorated on the Loos Memorial to the Missing at Loos-en-Gohelle. Whether it was just the grey misty day we were there but my abiding impression of this place is of the particularly bleak almost lunar landscape, overlooked in a rather sinister way by the ‘crassier’ slag heaps. Kipling was here for the opening in 1930, his son John was one of those lost until 2015. Here with William Copeman are his Summerstown mates, James Crozier and Percy Randall.

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William’s grandfather William came from Shropham, a small village in Norfolk. His grandmother Thirza hailed from Prittlewell near Southend. His father, also William was born in 1864 in Rochford, Essex. In 1881 the Copemans were at Camden Grove, Camberwell and both William Senior and his 17 year old son were firewood dealers. Ten years later they were living at 25 Dragon Road and William was now a bricklayer’s labourer. William junior married Rose Lafount at St John’s Church, Newington on 30th March 1896. He was 32 and a ‘mineral water maker’ and she worked as a barmaid. Their first child, William Albert Copeman was baptised on 27th January 1897 at St George’s Church in Camberwell. The family were still at 25 Dragon Road. Curiously on the opposite page of the register I noticed a familiar name – ten days earlier Sidney Seager, later of Thurso Street was also baptised here. Three of Sidney’s brothers are on our Summerstown memorial. The mention of mineral water points to William’s father almost certainly being employed at one of the R. White lemonade and ginger beer factories where hundreds of local people would have worked at this time.

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The 1901 census shows William living with his grandparents, William and Thirza Copeman, at 51 Dragon Road, Camberwell. Eleanor, one of William’s Aunts was a neck-tie maker. The road is still there though in name only, very close to Burgess Park, famous for its butterfly association. The Camberwell Beauty is named after its first ever reported sighting in Britain in 1748 near Camberwell. The park was created as part of a massive rebuilding and slum clearance after the Second World War by which time the Copemans had long moved on. It is named after Jessie Burgess, Camberwell’s first female mayor.

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St George’s Church dating from 1824 is also still there, though now converted into housing. It was one of many ‘Waterloo Churches’ built to celebrate the Duke of Wellington’s 1815 victory over Napoleon. In 1885, Trinity College Chapel in Cambridge decided to set up a mission in a poor part of London and chose the area around St George’s Camberwell as the vicar at that time and his long-standing predecessor were alumni. Camberwell was heavily bombed during the Second World War and in the following decades large areas of bomb damaged houses and industrial premises, together with slum areas, were cleared to make way for large housing estates. While St George’s Church survived all this, it was declared structurally unsound in 1970 and moved into temporary accommodation. A devastating fire followed in 1980 gutting the building, leaving only the external walls and tower standing. The building was sold again in the 1990s and converted into flats.

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For whatever reason the lure of lemonade and mineral water could not hold the Copemans forever and by 1911 they were at 10 Bertal Road, Tooting. 14 year old William junior, now working as a shop boy, lived with his family in five rooms in one of the most pleasant smaller roads in the Fairlight area, connecting Blacksaw and Pevensey Road. The Copeman’s third youngest child Esther was born in Camberwell in 1907 and the second youngest Dorothy in Tooting in 1908. There were now ten children, aged between 14 and ten months. William Senior now worked as a carman and builder. The key to their relocation much surely have been space and the size of this expanding family.

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The 7th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment were raised in Kingston and sailed to France on 3nd June 1915 landing at Boulogne. We can’t be sure if William was involved but hey had a bad time at the Battle of Loos. He was killed on 5th March 1916. The 7th Battalion were at Bethune at the start of the month, resting at their billets in the Tobacco Factory. They were just north of the Hulluch Road and there was not much activity on the front. On the 4th they were moved to Sailly Labourse to relieve the Royal Sussex Regiment who were coming under attack on the Hohenzollern front and had taken heavy casualties. On the 5th the East Surreys went into the front line. There is no mention in the diary of any casualties on the date given as William’s death, but a rather ominous reference described that ‘the battalion has been reminded that there is plenty of life still left in the Bosch, all the crates sap and trenches being heavily bombarded.’ On the same trip that we went to Loos, we also visited the Le Touret Memorial and a beautiful butterfly found its way into many of my photographs. I had wondered why but now we’ve worked out the Camberwell connection, I can see what was going on.

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The Friends of Burgess Park have a brilliant heritage blog called The Bridge to Nowhere exploring the history and unusual development of Burgess Park in Southwark.
http://www.bridgetonowhere.friendsofburgesspark.org.uk/about-the-project/