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Persistent rumours have abounded in SW17 circles over the past few years that Bob Marley spent some time in Tooting. He laid down some grooves at the recording studio above the Mixed Blessings Bakery on Mitcham Lane. He courted a nurse from St George’s Hospital. He was spotted on a bus in Blackshaw Road. As much as we would love it all to be true, our investigations, including conversations with those who would surely know, have failed so far to come up with conclusive proof. It is though well documented that Bob spent quality time just a few stops up the Northern Line in Kennington. Playing football in the park, hanging out at the Rastafarian temple on St Agnes Place and recording Exodus. This was released by Island Records on 3rd June 1977. St Agnes Place was London’s longest running squat from 1969 to 2007.

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We’ve already established one fabulous Bob Marley connection with the Summerstown182. His father Norval spent some time at a convalescent camp in Shropshire in 1918 where William Caudle from Garratt Lane was also a patient. Now we have another. Kennington was very much the orbit of William James Wood. The lad lived in nearby Smith Street and inspired by tales of FA Cup Finals at the nearby Kennington Oval, he probably kicked a ball on the same patch of grass as Bob, Bunny and the rest of the Wailers. I’ve also got fond memories of playing football in Kennington Park, most especially scoring a 30 yard screamer against the Wandsworth Warriors on my fortieth birthday match. Its not far from the imposing St Mark’s Church where the war memorial has over 400 names. This was once a place of execution where 21 Jacobite rebels captured at Culloden were hung drawn and quartered in 1745.

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Frederick William Wood, a labourer and his wife Mary Ann had their roots firmly in this Lambeth area. They had nine children, five boys and four girls. Frederick their eldest was born in 1881 and John two years later. At least three of their boys served in the First World War and two of them, William and Robert were killed and are on our war memorial in Summerstown. Their third child, Elizabeth Jane was born in August 1884 when the family lived at 9 Clark’s Row, part of a small enclave of streets between Brixton Road and Clapham Road, near St Michael’s Church on Stockwell Park Road. Lilian Baylis who famously managed the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells theatres lived here. Van Gogh also spent a year just round the corner and has a plaque and a road named after him. Its all very close to the elusive Type Archive which I never seem to be able to locate.

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The Woods were still there when William James was born on 2nd May 1886. His father is listed then as working as a general dealer. By the 1830’s Stockwell Park was an exclusive early Victorian neighbourhood with many imposing villas. The coming of the railways, and the opening of Stockwell Underground station in 1890, attracted more working people and smaller terraced houses and mansion blocks sprang up. Stockwell Gardens Estate was built in the 1930s, and the Studley Estate in the 1950s. In 1944 a V1 destroyed a number of houses on the corner of Stockwell Park Road and Lorn Road, killing 11 people. Clark’s Row and Halstead Street were demolished in the fifties and are now submerged beneath the Slade Gardens Adventure Playground. By the way, that’s Slade as in the Art School, nothing to do with Noddy Holder. St Michael’s Church dating from 1841, survived extensive damage from this bomb and is still going strong. There are some lovely houses in the area with decorative ornamentation seemingly matching the pinnacles on the church.

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This area does have some ‘purple’ on the Charles Booth map. He visited in 1899 and despite its suburban pretensions, described this location as ‘very poor and rough; children dirty’. In 1893 when Fanny was born the Wood family were at 44 Halstead Street. Robert is noted as having been born in Kennington in 1897 so they were probably still in this area. They would most certainly have been around in 1896 to see Reverend Begbie replace the pinnacles on the church and repair the tower.

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The 1901 census indicates they had moved a little bit further north and were at 70 Smith Street, off Camberwell Road, not too far from the Oval Cricket Ground. There were nine children at this point, ranging from 20 year old Frederick to two and a half year old Charlie. William was sixteen and working as an errand boy. This venue had been hosting the FA Cup Final until just a few years before. The 1893 final saw West Brom beat Aston Villa 3-1 in front of 33,000 people. Close to Kennington Park this was a crowded area but probably a bit more pleasant. Booth noted nearby Kennington Terrace as being ‘very respectable, all with servants’. Interesting then to note that St Agnes Place where Bob later hung out, was also a road of 22 houses purpose built for the families of servants who worked at Buckingham Palace. Since the 2007 evictions its been completely reshaped into a row of oddly characterless Georgian-style townhouses, contrasting so sharply with its former existence.

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Child mortality was of course rife in the early years of the century but all nine Wood children appear to have survived. Only the four youngest were still at home in 1911 when the family pitched up in Summerstown, at 56 Smallwood Road. Fred and Mary had now been married for 32 years. Phoebe and Frances, aged 21 and 19 were working as domestic servants, 15 year old Robert was an errand boy for a chemist and the youngest George was 12. We don’t know where William now 26 could have been and with his army records also unattainable, the rest of his life is speculation. A note in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine from August 1917 states ‘We have heard this month that Robert Wood of the Northamptonshire Regiment and his brother William Wood of the Royal Fusiliers have been killed in action’. This was certainly a long time to wait for confirmation of his death. Identifying him as the person on our memorial took some time but we are almost certain that he was killed on 7th November 1915 and is buried at Fricourt, near Albert. Indications are that he lived in Brixton and a William Wood is one of forty names listed as being on the lost St Michael’s Church ‘War Shrine’.

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Raised in Hounslow, the 11th (Service) Battalion (London Regiment) of the Royal Fusiliers were part of the 18th (Eastern) Division of General Kitchener’s Second New Army. Their early days were rather shambolic with few officers to train the new volunteers and no organised accomodation or equipment. They were initially located in the Colchester area but moved in May 1915 to Salisbury Plain where King George V inspected them on 24 June. They were fortunate to avoid Gallipoli and went to France in July 1915 and moved to Flesselles, near Amiens. There are no indications of them being involved in a major attack until the Somme the following year so it appears likely that William died in some isolated action whilst both sides were settling down to the prospect of trench warfare.

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A few miles outside Albert, Fricourt was attacked on the first day of the Somme offensive, by then William Wood was already dead. Point 110 Old and New Military Cemeteries are either side of a track to the south of it and named after the contour on the map. Point 110 Old Military Cemetery contains 100 Commonwealth burials of the First World War including William Wood. A small wood on a ridge, the Bois Francais is just beyond these cemeteries, the enemy lines relatively close together as neither wanted to concede the high ground. The trenches near here had London names like Park Lane, Old Kent Road, Duke Street and Shooters Hill.

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William Wood may have been settled into his own life by the time the rest of his family came to Summerstown. Certainly he appears more connected to the Stockwell and Kennington area. But his family now living in Smallwood Road placed his name on the war memorial alongside his brother Robert and thats how we’ve come to know about him. When I went to have a look at St Agnes Place I chatted to a very nice lady who told me that her father had worked with Bob Marley during his time in the area and should be able to confirm or deny the Tooting rumour. I’m hoping very much to hear from her. Whenever I go past there in future I’ll certainly think of William Wood along with the movement of jah people.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/when-bob-marley-joined-the-bloomsbury-set-6230422.html

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A Cleaner Tooting

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Joseph Frederick Thomas Lucas was born in Willesden at the dawn of the twentieth century into an age of optimism. A few years later his family came to live in Tooting in the early years of the reign of Edward VII. There’s a good reason why the King’s statue is outside Tooting Broadway. Related to most of its royalty he was known as the ‘Uncle of Europe’. As people flooded into the area and new streets and amenities emerged almost overnight, this was the birth of the bustling, hustling Tooting we know today. The trams came in 1903 and with them three future kings to inspect the progress of the emerging Totterdown Estate. A library was built and great well-intentioned public meeting places like Fairlight Hall and the Central Methodist Hall would soon emerge, followed by the cinemas. There was even a new St Mary’s Church in Summerstown. Public baths were constructed, then a great ‘bathing lake’, now the world famous Lido. Not only was Tooting getting bigger, it was getting cleaner.

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The Lucas family had a strong military pedigree. Joseph’s grandfather Hugh was a Chelsea pensioner from Belfast, his parents worked in military tailoring and his brothers Albert and Hugh served alongside him in the First World War. Albert was killed at Cambrai and less than five months later eighteen year old Joseph, serving in the 8th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment also lost his life in the wake of the German Spring Offensive. His name is on the great memorial at Tyne Cot in Flanders. The Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing is the largest cemetery for commonwealth forces in the world. The Memorial bears the names of almost 35,000 officers and men whose graves are not known.

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Their first residence in Tooting was 11 Gambole Road, the street that diverts sharply off Garratt Lane just before its last stretch and heads to St George’s Hospital before turning into Coverton Road. Not far down here, No88a was the childhood home of the legendary comic actor George Cole. This last stretch of Garratt Lane would at that time have been called Defoe Road and the hospital was the Fountain Fever Hospital. Just a short walk away Sidney Lewis was born in 1903, another young lad who ended up in uniform before he should have done. The pressure to join up in the early war years was intense and halfway down, Gambole Road is met by the extraordinary Gibey Road and its record-breaking Absent Voters List roll call of 137 out of 99 doors. There are only 40 doors on Gambole Road but still 37 names. They include a George Slaughter at No28 and someone at No5 who was on the quaintly named ‘HMS Inflexible’. At No40, next to the hospital were three members of the Henson family including one who was a Sergeant in the Chinese Labour Corps.

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No11 is now gone. The even-numbered houses on the north side are all preserved but the south side peters out at inflexible No5 before it meets Gilbey Road. For whatever reason, where it should have been appears to be a parking space. Around this point is surely one of the oddest doorways in Tooting, No98a Gilbey Road actually fronts onto Gambole Road and has a great big gaping windowless wall all to itself. At the Garratt Lane end of the road is a chiropracter and a shabby corner retail premises which should be a prime location but has been empty and boarded-up for as long as I can remember.

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The 1911 census saw them living at 29 Bertal Road in Summerstown. A delightful street of about 40 original houses, tucked in between the Hazelhurst estate and Lambeth Cemetery. Eleven year old Joseph was still at school with two younger sisters Daisy and Rose. His name does not appear on either the Smallwood or Fountain registers, though its hard to believe he didn’t go there given the proximity – he probably didn’t make the 1916 ‘Old Smalls’ booklet because he was not yet in the army. The Absent Voters list for here also makes interesting reading for Joseph you would think should be on it. His brother, 25 year old Hugh Lancelot Lucas of 21st London Regiment is. The reason is that Joseph was too young to vote – like thousands of others not captured on this register because they were under twenty one. Other familiar Bertal Road names are John Warman at No27, brother of William. George Quenzer at No2, brother of another underage soldier Alfred, who died with the East Surreys at Villers-Plouich. Walter Matthews at No11 was connected to the Kitz family and the maternal grandfather of our great friend Lynda Biggs. He survived the war but was badly gassed.

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Joseph was in the 8th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment, killed on 18th April 1918 when the battalion were retreating in the face of the great German Spring Offensive. No wonder the tone is a bit brisk and to the point, they must have been terrified. The Gloucesters war diary indicates that they ‘relieved the Australians in front of Messines’ at the start of the month and were now in front line trenches. There was an extensive enemy barrage on the 10th forcing them back to a place called Stinking Farm. On 14th they were at Rossignol and trenches near Beaver Corner. The diary note on 18th reads ‘Orders were received from Brigade to commence to withdraw the battalion back to a field near Wippenhoek Siding about two miles east of Abeele’. This was a place where the previous year a young Jamaican pilot called William Robinson Clarke became the first black airman to fly for Britain. They remained here for three days before moving to Proven. There is no mention of any attack or further shell barrage but the young man from Bertal Road was some how lost in this period. Heartbreak for his mother Annie who less than six months earlier had lost an older son Albert at Cambrai. Annie’s husband William died in 1921. She passed away in 1947 aged 81 having outlived five of her sons.

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We remembered Joseph Lucas this summer along with two of his Summerstown182 mates, Albert Dell and Eldred Henden whose names are all on the memorial at Tyne Cot. We were there to attend the Passchendaele centenary commemoration event, standing among the headstones precisely a century after the battle began on 31st July 1917. It was a curious oddity that none of our Summerstown threesome died in that battle but all the following year. We placed a little cross at the foot of screen wall where his name is inscribed, close to the top of the middle column of Gloucestershire Regiment names. There was quite a collection of tributes so there must have been plenty of people there that day with connections to the regiment.

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Later that evening we went to Artillery Wood Cemetery, just a few miles outside Ypres to remember someone who did die that day. Killed by a shell just a short walk from where he is buried, Francis Ledwidge was a poet and Irish patriot who served with the Royal Inniskiling Fusilers. The Friends of Flanders Field Museum in Ypres have done great work over the last twenty years to bring his legacy to public attention and this year his face was on an Irish postage stamp. All our Belgian pals were there; Bart and Sabien, Gilbert from VIFF, Tracey and Richard doing the music. Also present were members of the Ledwidge family, representatives of the Irish government and a coachload of people from the poet’s home town in Slane, County Meath. One of his best known poems ‘To One Who Comes Now and Then’ was written a week before his death on 22nd July 1917. That was the day Fred Jewell died so we made a trip to his grave the day before and recited it.

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Sadly we know very little else about young Joseph Lucas. We don’t know what job he had, can’t be sure about his school or when he joined ths army or any detail about how he was killed. We have so far not been able to contact anyone from the Lucas family. All we have is a little early family background. For more on that, read the story about his brother Albert. However, he is in our thoughts and if we are passing 29 Bertal Road on our Summerstown182 ‘Walk of Remembrance’ next month, we’ll be sure to leave him a candle.

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Bob Sadler’s Plaque

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Between 1853 and 1864 there was an extraordinary athletics venue just off Garratt Lane. This was still largely an area of fields and farms adjacent to the small mill communities of Garratt and Summerstown, but crowds in their thousands flocked regularly to attend sporting spectacles at Robert Sadler’s Copenhagen Running Grounds. A few drinks and a wager on some of the biggest sporting celebrities of the age played a large part in this and Bob slaked thirsts and ran his enterprise from Althorp Lodge, opposite Tesco on the site of what is now Burmester House. Once, a prominent location on the sporting history map of south London, there is now no trace of it and for many years local historians, although aware of its existence, could not pinpoint precisely where it was. The runners, known then as pedestrians, came from all over the country and much further afield, most famously the native North American known as ‘Deerfoot’ who ran in his traditional costume. As well as the elite runners of the era, there were all sorts of odd challenges and events to witness; a man running against a horse, barrel-rolling events, even competition between disabled athletes. The founder of this establishment, Robert Sadler, was a man of many hats, a Garratt Lane entrepreneur whose contribution to the area’s life, industry and development of Summerstown will hopefully now be more widely known and appreciated.

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Robert Sadler’s plaque unveiling, part of the Summerstown Celebration on 16th September was a joyous occasion that showed the presentation of community history at its best. The story of this ‘lost’ running ground, which was ‘found’ so splendidly in Kevin Kelly’s book, has always got a mention on our Summerstown182 Walks and people can scarcely believe the tale. The tranquil millenial housing estate which now occupies this site, between the Anglo American Laundry and Garratt Green, gives away no clues to its former existence but its possible to close your eyes and imagine this birthplace of the world of athletics ‘track and field’ that we know today.

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Remarkably in the summer of 2012, the Olympic Flame passed by the site on its way down Garratt Lane. Hundreds of people packed the streets that evening in a scene which would not have been dissimilar to that at one of Bob’s big events a century and a half before. As the sporting historian Simon Inglis put it so magnificently in his speech at the unveiling ceremony ‘Everytime you go past this spot, just imagine you can hear the roar of the crowd as Deerfoot comes round the bend and hundreds of your ancestors lose vast amounts of money’.

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Kevin Kelly is in regular contact with descendants of the Sadler family and it was no problem persuading his Great Great Grandson, Robin to come over from the Isle of Man to perform the unveiling. He was joined by his wife Margaret and daughter Ruth, herself once a keen athlete. Also there for the grand unveiling was local wordsmith John Byrne to read a few verses he had penned especially for the occasion. The Victorian pedestrian community was represented by the Great Great Grandaughter of Teddy Mills, once the most famous runner in England who had graced this circuit so many times.

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After the unveiling we trooped up Keble Street to St Mary’s Church to showcase some of the work we’ve done in our year of Heritage Lottery Funding. Much of this involved local schools and a short film made by students from Burntwood School featured The Corner Pin pub, once managed by Bob Sadler, his family living in the cottage next door. His legacy is everywhere. Anyone need to pop into Tesco? This was for one hundred and fifty years The Prince of Wales public house and the Sadlers were once in charge there. The day rounded off with a Beer Festival at By the Horns – yes, Bob was once there too as this was the site of the Sir Jeffrey Dunstan where post running ground, the great man dispensed local ales to thirsty Summerstowners.

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We identified this story as worthy of a plaque and funds to pay for it were raised via two Wandsworth Heritage Festival walks which attracted over one hundred people. One of these was called ‘The Industry of Garratt Lane’ and fitted the bill perfectly as few were more industrious in this area than the versatile Bob; a pugilist, printer, pedestrian promoter, publican, property developer – he did the lot and if one name deserves to be remembered for his part in the development of this Wandleside hamlet, then Robert Sadler is the man.

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We had a lot of fun promoting it and come the glorious day there must have been two hundred people outside Burmester House to witness a few short speeches followed by Robin and Ruth unveiling the plaque. The family really enjoyed themselves that weekend, running the full gamut of former Sadler locations; The Corner Pin, By the Horns, Tesco Express. They even followed up on his printing and dyeing career with trips to Merton Abbey, the site of the Garratt Printworks next to the Wandle and the Liberty shop in Regent Street. They also called in on his splendid grave in Wandsworth Cemetery. ‘Here lies a man who was loved by all and despised by none’.

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Its wonderful now that in an era when promoting physical activity is more relevant than ever and in an area where so many families live, that we now have this permanent reminder of our sporting heritage. The fact that we have chosen to celebrate and remember it sends out a powerful message to anyone who cares to look up and read it. A big thank you to all the councillors who supported this initiative, the residents and businesses who rallied round to promote it, the people who came on the Walks and some who didn’t but chipped in anyway to help pay for it. Once again we were blessed to have the support of Integral in Wallington who held cake sales and dress-down days to add their contribution. Thanks also to Tooting PRSS, Wandsworth Radio, Wandsworth Borough Council and Brightside who pumped out the publicity.

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Althorp Lodge was demolished around 1900 and Kevin Kelly and a possee of local historians have searched fruitlessly for some kind of image or impression of it. An artist’s interpretation on the back cover of the publication is as far as they’ve got, but it would be wonderful if we could locate an illustration or photo. There must be one out there, the building graced this site for nearly one hundred years and played such a significant role. In the mean time though, the plaque will do, informing many more people of the running ground’s existence and introducing a whole new generation to its remarkable story.  Simon Inglis had some advice to youngsters when they see such a reminder of the past ‘Stop! Read it, have a little think, because its plaques like these and stories like Kevin’s that bind us all to the past and help to give us greater appreciation of where we live.’ Most important of all then, thank you to Mr Kevin Kelly who through his dilligent research and extraordinary publication has given us all the priceless gift of this extraordinary piece of Wandsworth history. Go on… if you haven’t done so already, show your appreciation by buying a copy of his book, details below. 

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The Daily Grind

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Trying to envisage the world inhabited by the Summerstown182 families is sometimes very difficult. This was the late Victorian age of industry when polluted over-worked cities were choking many of their populace and life for many people was an almost intolerable daily grind of hardship and struggle. It has been heartening then to discover how one family found a way out of all this. From the mean streets of Southwark and Bermondsey via Lambeth they made their way to Summerstown. This was the journey of one family, a member of whom was a soldier called Sidney David Giddis of the Royal Field Artillery. He was killed aged 24, just over a month before the end of the war, on 3rd October 1918. He is buried in France, in a cemetery called Flesquieres Hill near Cambrai.

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David and Alice Giddis had eleven children in total, six boys and five girls, Sidney was the third child and oldest son born in 1892. They ended up at 865 Garratt Lane, not so far from St Mary’s Church but now lost beneath the block at the front of the Aboyne estate. They would have been pretty much directly opposite the Summerstown Dental Centre who have become great supporters of this project. My dentist always enjoys getting an update on whats going on before I lean back in the chair. They’ve also been great displaying our posters in the surgery. Reading about Bob Sadler’s plaque or a proposed trip to the Chattri sure takes the mind off gum hygiene technique.

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David William Giddis was born in 1864 in Bermondsey. On 20th March 1887 and working as a labourer, he married Alice Elizabeth Parker at St Luke’s Church. They were living at 10 Edward Street. A few years later the 1891 census finds the Giddis family living at 8 Leyton’s Buildings near Borough High Street. David was now working as a furrier’s machine grinder and they had two small girls, Alice and Clara. Their first son, Sidney David was born on 15th August 1892. He was baptised at St George the Martyr, Southwark in October 1894 along with his brother David George who very sadly died just two years later. Their residence was now 199 Leyton’s Buildings. Charles Booth’s map shows what a tough area this was. The dark blue refers to ‘very poor, casual, chronic want’, the black to ‘lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal’ and Leyton’s Buildings were encircled by plenty of these ominous hues.

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More children followed; Ernest in 1897, Violet in 1898, David in 1901. In that year’s census they were living at 79 Bermondsey Street, south of London Bridge Station. They were still surrounded by inner-city grime, with the leathermarket on one side and the workhouse on the other. A world of tanneries and glue factories. But something had happened and very excitingly David was now a coffee house keeper. Perhaps his previous grinding skills holding him in good stead. There were now six children and even someone listed as a servant, Annie Sunken who worked as a waitress. Things had really looked up. Located between the evocatively named Black Swan Lane and Gun Alley, the location is now the home of the Fashion and Textile Museum. A school register record picks up young Sidney at Webb Street School in 1899.

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In the late 17th century and throughout the 18th century a major impact on London life was made by the numerous coffee houses, which began to populate the city. The forerunner of the modern cafe, they were great places for a mostly male clientele to meet, chat and do business. The best known example was that owned by Edward Lloyd which evolved into the Lloyd’s of London insurance market. In the 1880s the temperance movement tried to revive the coffee house scene in an attempt to divert the working man from the demon drink. A good example of this in Tooting was the highly devout Eliza Jane Bell AKA ‘Lady Bountiful’ commandeering The Bell Public House on Upper Tooting Road (on the left in the above photograph) and turning it into the Bell Coffee Palace in 1888. Its likely that a coffee house in an area densely packed with trade and industry such as Southwark would be more of a workers cafe than a palace.

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Another of Sidney’s school register records a few years later finds him at Heber Road School and it would seem the family were now living at 43 Landells Road in leafy East Dulwich. They were still here when Alfred was born in 1903. This really was a dramatic contrast from Bermondsey but they were soon on the move again. From 1906 they appear to have been at 111 Wandsworth Road and would seem to have settled there for almost a decade. The 1911 census indicates David was still a coffee house keeper and Alice was helping to run the business. It may have been an extended family affair as oldest daughter Alice is listed as a waitress and second oldest Clara as a domestic, both working ‘at home’. Ten children are listed including rather oddly two who had died and have their names crossed out. One of these Doris died as an infant in 1909 and two years later Alice passed away aged only 24. Sidney was 18 and working as a railway porter. The family were still at 111 Wandsworth Road in 1915.

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Incredibly this address where the Giddis family lived for around ten years still stands, in the middle of the Nine Elms regeneration tangle of cranes and tower blocks. On the corner of Miles Street with St George’s Tower on one side and the new American Embassy sprouting on the other. Back in the early years of the twentieth century in spite of its proximity to the riverside industries, this was a location positively glowing with prosperous pinkness on the Booth map. The railway yards and wharves would have no doubt provided a regular stream of thirsty customers to swell the Giddis coffers.

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We can’t be sure why they were on the move again in the early years of the war. William was in his early fifties, so still a fair bit away from contemplating putting his feet up. Maybe they just wanted a gentler existence. Sometime between then and Sidney’s death, the Giddis family located to 865 Garratt Lane, Summerstown. Sidney and his younger brother Ernest are on the electoral roll at this address in 1918 and also the Absent Voters List. The house is gone but several adjoining four storey properties survive at the junction of Garratt Lane and Aboyne Road. This includes No857, the home of the Caudle family. They too had made good through business, in their case the bootmaking trade.

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A wonderful photo from 1900 gives a clue as to how this area looked. All you can really see are the gateposts and trees to the right of the carriage but these houses had a grandeur that dwarfed most of those in the surrounding streets. The houses in the background all still exist in their original form, the beer shop at No849 is now ‘Nibbles’ chicken shop and Garratt Green Supply Stores is a hairdressers. Across the road, the plot of land where the dentist is now located, has a ‘for sale’ sign. The Giddis family were here for at least twenty years, the versatile William, far from contemplating retirement was according to the marriage certificates of two of his daughters, now working as an interior decorator. Maybe he even advised on the decor for the house that became the dental surgery. Curiously just a few doors along, some years later, No734 was the headquarters of Albert Percy Weston, artificial teeth manufacturer.

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It is really hard to know exactly when Sidney joined the army but given his younger brother Ernest became a soldier in 1915, its quite likely he was involved from around the same time. Ernest who was a printers errand boy in 1911 survived the war and died in 1962. Sidney was a gunner in the 74th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. He is buried at Flesquieres Hill British Cemetery, near Cambrai, not too far from where Tiny Ted Foster performed his heroics a year earlier. It is famously close to where a recovered tank, ‘Deborah’, is located in a barn. It passed through the village of Flesquieres on the 20 November 1917 and was hit by mortar shells and put out of action close to where the cemetery is located. The tank was found buried there in 1998. Fierce fighting in this area started in mid-September 1918 through a series of very large scale offensive operations aimed to break the Hindenburg Line system. It was a very dangerous time and tragic that so many who had been through so much would lose their lives in these last weeks. It wasn’t until February 1919 that Sidney’s death was announced in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine. It was mentioned in the same paragraph as his neighbour William Caudle and the sailors Charles Moss and Harold Glassett.

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Three of Sidney’s siblings, Dora, Alfred and Violet lived on until the 1970s. In 1933 there were six Giddis family members resident at No865, Sidney’s parents and three of his brothers. They probably knew chiropodist Leonard Lumbers and his wife Aspasia living across the road at No742, now home of the Summerstown Dental Centre. Sidney’s father David died aged 75 in Kingston Hospital in 1939, Alice four years later. It was probably good that David and Alice did not live to see history repeat itself. On 20th August 1945 his younger brother Leonard, aged 34 and too young to have made it onto the 1911 census, died in Egypt whilst serving with the Hampshire Regiment. He is buried in a Commonwealth War Grave at Heliopolis just outside Cairo, close to the airport. Another Giddis killed so tragically at the tail end of a major conflict.

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The rather immodestly titled GREATEST TOOTING TOUR IN HISTORY, part of this year’s very successful Tootopia Festival had a lot of hype to live up to, but boy did it rise to the occasion. It always had the makings of a lively one, since that Lonely Planet story back in August, a lot of eyes have been cast on our little corner of south west London. Why is Tooting such a great place to live? What lies behind it? Many people are very curious and the GTTIH was an opportunity to explain how it had got to this point and to shine a light on some of the worthies who made it all happen. And that needed to mention some of the recent history – made by the children of migrants or those who weren’t even born here. That included the food, the markets, the Mauritians working in social care, the Filipinos at the hospital, the extraordinary community work of BATCA. The inspirational stories of Sadiq Khan and Naser Bokhari OBE, the first Muslim head teacher of a British secondary school – all as much a part of Tooting history as the Lido or a plate of pie and mash.

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What a joy it was to see so many turn up on a most glorious autumnal afternoon, keen to soak up some knowledge. They could have spent their Sunday chilling to some cool sounds or nibbling on an artisinal avocado sandwich but they were as hungry for history as they were for a Pooja samosa or a glass of Victor’s liberated cider. I was so proud at the end when someone told me they lived in Bevill Allen Close but had always wondered who they might be. Let me tell you, a man-of-the-people vicar naturally, and one who did many good things for those less fortunate than himself – a recurring theme perhaps that still resonates in this area today.

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I wasn’t quite prepared for the numbers though – as 2pm approached, I pulled myself up onto Edward VII and gazed anxiously down Mitcham Lane. They just kept on coming, pouring down Coverton Road in a never-ending stream, to have a look at George Cole’s childhood home. Someone did a head-count at the hospital and it was two hundred plus. My recently-acquired megaphone came in handy but how could I hold it and show my pictures? Step forward the brilliant Lisa who in a typical show of Tooting community-spirit, kept the visuals flowing for the next two and a half hours.

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There were almost too many highlights to mention. Hanging on to the railings in front of The Trafalgar, trying to imagine Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma passing by on their way to Merton Place was a good start. Traffic slowed and buses hooted, curious drinkers put down their pints and cocked an inquisitive ear. On Trevelyan Road we were all cast back to the dawn of the swinging sixties and the day Tooting was the centre of the pop universe. We gathered across the road from a house where The Beatles stayed before their Granada concert in 1963. Curious about what was going on, an elderly resident came out and told Sheila how she remembered Ringo dangling his legs from an upstairs window while George strummed his guitar on the pavement below. The Constitutional Club, Mary Millington and Olympic double gold medal hero Albert Hill are the oddest of bedfellows, but they all seemed as one on this glorious historical foray. As I explained, hopefully the GTTIH can be a taster for more serious discourse on long winter nights at the likes of the Tooting History Group.

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After a sobering moment recalling the Nutwell Street V2 rocket of 1945, we passed through Bickley Street into Sainsbury’s car-park. Here for a few minutes, we were transported to the mid 18th century when it was once again the grounds of Salvador House. People swooned over possibly the oldest brickwork in Tooting. As we trooped through Salvador Passage to the strains of a Cuban jazz band at the Graveney and Meadow, I felt almost evangelical in my desire to spread the historical word. We could have dallied on Mitcham Road for hours; the cinemas, the library, Joseph Rank and his Central Methodist Hall, the good works of Reverend John Anderson and even better bargains of Mr H A Smith, Tooting’s very own Mr Selfridge.

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Then it was into Broadway Market where I didn’t have to say too much as it just speaks for itself. From here we emerged onto our very own Desert Island in the middle of the madness of Tooting High Street, a world of Daniel Defoe and Alexander Selkirk, where the only food is Harrington’s eel pie and mash. Outside the Lahore Kahari we marvelled that this location was once the HQ of William Mellhuish, the sombrero wearing undertaker to whom we should all be thankful for the placement of the Edward VII statue outside the tube station. The King famously had a passion for showgirls and if they’d been contemporaries, one of them might have been the tragic Ruth Ellis who once lived on Franciscan Road. We passed the shimmering minarets of the Al-Muzzamil mosque, the oldest in Tooting and headed up Broadwater Road. This is ‘Lady Bountiful’ territory, though hard to envisage Miss Eliza Bell, the generous but extremely devout ‘old lady in the big house on the hill’ or imagine how she blocked the building of one of the first cinemas. Its also the location of one of the great Tooting manor houses and its ornamental fish ponds.

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We stopped at The Selkirk to give a mention to Chief Khama of the Bamangwato people in Botswana and wondered if its because of our Boer War ally that a nearby road got its name. We weren’t too far away from Streatham Cemetery so of course ‘Great Train Robber’ Charlie Wilson came up. Also there are ‘The Magnificent Seven’, the small number of almost 400 war graves that commemorate women. Back on Garratt Lane I ended up on a wall not far from Mr Drouett’s Asylum. Here I spoke about boy soldier, Sidney Lewis, also John Sullivan who created ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and the Tooting Popular Front. Was he aware that when Citizen Smith trooped out of the tube station he was just a few doors away from what was once the HQ of the Tooting Communist Party and the birth of British Trotskyism? I’d be a plonker to think otherwise.

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A big thank you to all who stepped out with me on a most memorable afternoon that I hope can be repeated before very long. There is just so much to mention we could never do it all justice on one outing. Thanks and respect to local historians who have done all the hard work and given me my ammunition; Janet Smith, Rex Osborn, John Brown, Kevin Kelly, Marion and Graham Gower to name a few. Get yourself down to the Tooting History Group, The Streatham Society or the Wandsworth Historical Society to hear some of their wisdom. Mention also to John and Sheila Hill for their knowledge and support, getting me prepared for the day, also Dipa Patel for unique foodie insights. Finally the indefatigable Loredana who gave me this fabulous platform and whose infectious enthusiasm swept everything and everybody involved in Tootopia along. There will very probably be a statue or a plaque commemorating her in Tooting one day.

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