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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.