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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?