One of the saddest deaths of all of the Summerstown182 must surely be that of Henry William Ward He passed away at the Grove Military Hospital, Tooting just five days before the Armistice, on 6th November 1918. Not only that, but the fact this happened at home seems to make it even harder to bear, just half a mile up the road from his family home – so close yet so far. He is buried just another half mile or so, in the other direction, in Wandsworth Cemetery on Magdalen Road, Earlsfield.
Henry lived at 74 Summerstown, at the Plough Lane end, on the other side of the road from The White Lion, Sadler’s Cottages and Gothic Lodge. He would have been very familiar with the Hammonds, the Bakers and the Woods, living on the last stretch of this pivotal road, a location long favoured by those with Romany roots and a fondness for caravans and horses. He worked as a blacksmith and served as a farrier-sergeant in the Royal Field Artillery. They were in charge of smaller mobile field guns, positioned close to the front line and moving frequently using teams of horses. Henry would have been making and fitting shoes, attending to the majority of the veterinary and husbandry needs of a horse and inspecting every horse in his charge twice a day.
This corner of the Wimbledon Stadium complex, still the home of a beautiful willow, sadly earmarked for the chop, was until just under a year ago, the location of Simon’s Diner, providing sustenance to the greyhound racing fraternity, market and car boot sale shoppers. Now its enclosed with Galliard hoarding awaiting the coming of luxury homes and AFC Wimbledon. I just had to smile a few weeks ago when as if some giant cheeky mouse had visited, a hole suddenly appeared opposite Lidl and there were police reports of a caravan being impounded. Very naughty of course, but it seemed a bit like tradition was being upheld.
What changes would take place here in the following decades as the traces of calico ditches and watercress beds were replaced in 1928 by a greyhound racing stadium. Then came speedway, bangers, monster trucks and on a bizarre day in 1978, sixty five naked women riding bicycles in Freddie Mercury’s video. Now we eagerly await the return of the football club who Henry Ward may well have watched when they came to the other end of Plough Lane in 1913.
Henry was born around 1885 into a part of Surrey with long-standing military connections. His parents were Thomas Henry Ward from Ash, near Aldershot and his wife Mary Keen, a native of Farnham. They married on 14th November 1880 at a place called Tongham, just off the famous A31 Hog’s Back road. In the 1891 census the family lived at 7 Pembury Place, on the High Street in Aldershot and Thomas worked as a grocer’s assistant. There appear to have been only two children, William and his sister Emily, born in 1890.
A decade later, presumably having decided that London provided a better future, they were at 32 Selkirk Road in Tooting, one of the great historic roads in the area, overlooked protectively by the famous old Defoe Chapel. Legendary Tooting worthies, Joshua Oldfield and Bevill Allen are connected to this building though Daniel Defoe’s involvement remains unconfirmed. At No3 is one of Tooting’s most long-established businesses, Harrington’s famous Pie and Mash Shop. Bertie and Clara set up there in 1908 and its still going strong. Henry was now a blacksmith’s mate and his father a labourer. Five other people lived at the address including George Squire, indicated as an assistant barber. He quite possibly worked at one of three nearby barbers shops, assuming they were in operation at the time. Another extraordinary tonsorial connection was forged a few years ago when Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop was dramatically transformed into a theatrical venue. In the winter of 2014, Tooting Arts Club decided to stage Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical Sweeney Todd there. Eight actors, three musicians and an audience of thirty two people squeezed into the tiny shop. Exceptional reviews followed and on the last night a visit from Sondheim himself. Sir Cameron Mackintosh took it to the West End and the show is currently playing on Broadway with the existing cafe set at 3 Selkirk Road re-created for its Big Apple audience. Whatever would Henry Ward have thought of that?
The following ten years saw dramatic events which took the family up Garratt Lane to Summerstown and allow us to identify Henry as the H W Ward on our war memorial. In April 1907 Thomas, still resident at Selkirk Road died at the age of 44. In December Mary re-married to Cornelius William Walker and moved to 74 Summerstown. They certainly didn’t hang around getting hitched as Cornelius’ first wife Elizabeth only passed away in September of that year, leaving him with six children.
One small episode which happened in 1908 was found in the online records of a trial of one William Sheldrake at the Old Bailey. It would appear that Cornelius Walker described as a ‘tar traveller’ had supplied materials to the defendant ‘whom I knew, and had arranged to make the end carriage of a van for me’. The Walkers had previously lived at 11 Summerstown, another house with 182 connections. Sheldrake was acquitted of the forgery and deception charge but the extract gives a tiny glimpse into the world of horses, trading and travelling life that Henry now orbited. A world remarkably of which there are still traces, over one hundred years later. On the 1911 census, Henry indicated as ‘Harry’ is 26 and listed as a stepson, working as a carman. Ernest Walker a nineteen year old son from Cornelius’ first marriage was also a tar traveller. In June 1910 Emily had married George Figgest a gardener in the cemetery and they now lived at the same address. There were Figgest family living round the corner at No8 Keble Street where William and John may well have been George’s brothers.
It’s not possible to say too much about Henry Ward’s military service other than that he was a farrier-sergeant in the 179th Royal Field Artillery at the time of his death and that he also served with the Royal Horse Artillery. He enlisted in Camberwell and it would seem from other similar service number records relating to 179th Royal Field Artillery that he volunteered in June 1915 at Deptford, so possibly he was living at this time in south east London. The only other thing we know is that he died on 6th November 1918 and his name is on the screen in Wandsworth Cemetery. In January 1919 his death was noted in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine, ‘We regret to hear that Henry William Ward of the Royal Field Artillery, died in hospital on November 6th 1918’.
A key fact in tracing the family of Henry William Ward was in his Soldier’s Effects record which shows his mother as his sole legatee. Mary Walker was left nine pounds, eighteen shillings and sixpence. This fact enabled us to trace his parents and find out that his mother had re-married. It also stated that he died in the Grove Military Hospital, now the site of St George’s Hospital.
The Absent Voters List of 1918 makes interesting reading with two Walker brothers, Henry Ward and George Figgest all listed as serving soldiers at 74 Summerstown. Ernest Walker was in 1/5th East Surreys, Alfred Walker in the Army Service Corps, George Figgest a ‘wheeler’ in the Royal Field Artillery and Henry Ward a sergeant-farrier. Familiar names of Earl, Baker, Nicholls, Woodley and Wright all feature in the list and round the corner, Robert and William Figgest at 8 Keble Street.
Cornelius died in 1925 at the age of 74. Henry’s mother and married sister Emily were still at 74 Summerstown according to the 1958 electoral roll. This photo from 1958 shows the road shortly before its transformation and No74 would have been one of the houses on the left. Across the road is the beautiful Gothic Lodge at No73, the building immediately to its right is the only original house on the main section of this road which still stands today. It would appear that Emily and George Figgest had a son in 1920 called Harry John Figgest. Its quite possible that he was named after her recently deceased brother. We will perhaps never know.