Song and Dance

Sadie plaque2Newbon3

Just over three years ago I got a lovely message, out of the blue from Perth in Western Australia. It has lead to us knowing about a person of great significance called Sadie Crawford and hopefully the placing later this year of a blue plaque on her family home in Fountain Road. The message was from someone called John Brown who had come across this website after googling for information about Wimbledon Football Club and their plans to move back to Plough Lane. John was born in Scotland in 1944 but relocated to London when he was a baby. His parents moved with John and his sister Christine into a small three room house at 2 Turtle Road, Earlsfield, the home of his Grandmother Rhoda Newbon. She had reared her thirteen children there and John and Christine’s mother Doreen was the youngest of these. After a brief spell on Tranmere Road, John left the area to live overseas when he got married in 1971. Christine’s husband Dave Willis was a much-respected member of the Wimbledon FC team which won the FA Amateur Cup at Wembley Stadium in 1963.

Dave in blue

John had vivid memories of his glamorous ‘American’ Great-Aunt Sadie visiting her sister’s home at Turtle Road. They knew she was a talented musician and had played with quite a few big names of the jazz world. In fact both John and Christine’s son Stephen have inherited her love of the genre. It was though a shock to the family when they heard that ‘Aunt Lou’ was one of the ‘Lost Women of British Jazz and was going to be featured on a BBC Radio Four show with much of the research done by leading jazz historian, Howard Rye. Christine saw a website about the programme which contained a request for people to contact them with any information about certain names they had discovered but knew very little about. One name was Sadie Crawford, the stage name of their Great Aunt, born Louisa Marshall, their Gran’s younger sister who visited the family on many occasions in London from the USA where she lived until she passed away age 80 in 1965. The photograph below was taken at a family wedding outside St Mary’s Church in 1958. Sadie is second from the left beside Rhoda. The eighth and youngest Marshall sibling, Charlotte is on the right.


‘We knew she had been on the stage as part of Vaudeville acts and that she left home to pursue her career at a very early age around 1901 from Fountain Road where the Marshalls then lived. The researchers of the programme have now confirmed to us that Sadie (Louisa or Aunt Lou to us ) was a major pioneer, the very first british female musician to play with american jazz musicians visiting Europe and the UK for the first time. Some of these musicians and their bands became very famous, Louis Armstrong Satchmo was one. Also Seth Mitchell and Gordon Stretton. She travelled throughout Europe and onto South America and the USA. We have now heard her playing the saxophone and the researchers are gradually sending us more information about her career and we hope to receive some photos of her in the bands soon.’ I was of course fascinated by Sadie’s story and it wasn’t hard to identify the Marshall house on Fountain Road. We began talking about her on our Summerstown182 Guided Walks and her tale always went down a storm.


John and I have shared many emails and he has some wonderful stories to tell about growing up in this area. ‘Marc Bolan was quite noticeable around the district as his clothes were a bit Carnaby Street compared to the rest of us. I recall him as a friendly guy and my mother said he was always very polite when shopping in the Bakery. The Post office and bakery ( I think it was called Carters ) was opposite the Prince of Wales pub. There was a bus stop outside and a side lane to factory units at the back’.


‘The off-licence at the top of Turtle (known as Jack Beard’s) was run by the Webbs. And just round the corner was Pop Gowan’s Grocery store. His grandson Ray was a great friend of mine and we went to the same Grammar School. At the bottom of Turtle I think at No14 were the Frenchs. Their son Trevor was also a good friend who contracted polio in the epidemic of that time. The crutches and big boot never slowed him down very much and I still probably have some scars on my shins where he tackled for the ball with his crutches or swung his leg which had no articulation but a big boot with side calipers on the extremity!’ Trevor went on to win a swimming medal at the Tokyo Paralympics.


Christine’s son Stephen has produced an outstanding website on his family’s history. His grandmother Rhoda Marshall married Walter Thomas Newbon on Christmas Day 1896 at St Andrew’s Church, Earlsfield. They spent the whole of their married lives in this area, firstly at No5 Boyce’s Cottages, Garratt Lane (above), roughly where Earlsfield Police Station is located now, then at No2 Turtle Road, a small cul-de-sac leading from Garratt Lane. Walter and Rhoda lived here until their deaths, in 1940 and 1963 respectively. Walter spent most of his working life as an omnibus driver. ‘He was never well off but brought up his large family in modest comfort. The family remained close, even after the children married, and Christmas gatherings at Turtle Road were large family occasions’. His father, John Joseph Newbon had run a removal business, originally from Boyces Cottages but then from premises next door to the Leather Bottle pub. The signage is visible in many of the old photos of the famous hostelry. By the time of his second marriage, John Newbon had changed the nature of his business and his shop and on his marriage certificate he styled himself ‘master greengrocer’. He died in 1915 at the age of 73 and is buried in Wandsworth Cemetery.

Maskell Road Floods 1968 1

Back in Turtle Road, John Brown’s parents, Doreen and James Smith Brown lived with Mrs Rhoda Newbon until her death in 1963. They left Turtle Road, the family’s home for over 50 years in 1968, shortly before a weekend of heavy rain in mid-September caused the nearby River Wandle to burst its banks. Two hundred families were evacuated from their homes in the Earlsfield area ‘trapped by muddy, swirling floodwater up to five feet deep’. The damage resulted in the road being demolished soon afterwards. Whereas Maskell and Siward Roads still exist and Burtop Road lives on in the shape of the Burtop Road estate, Headworth Road and Turtle Road are gone forever – truly they are the ‘Lost Streets of Earlsfield’.


Living on the other side of Turtle Road were two families who would have known the Newbons; the Browns at No7 and the Bakers at No9. George Brown and Fred Baker were killed within a few weeks of each other and are buried in cemeteries just a few miles apart to the east of Cambrai. The Bakers must have been one of the very first residents of Turtle Road and were there on the 1890 electoral roll and 1891 census. David Baker was born in Pimlico in 1853. He married Marion McGinn, the daughter of a silk weaver at St John’s Church Battersea on 31st July 1881. He gave his profession as pianoforte maker, the same as his father apparently. The couple appear to have settled in Battersea and their first son David was born in 1885. Three years later Ethel Ellen Baker was born with the family now living in Rollo Street and nearby Alfred Street. She attended Raywood Street School not too far from the dog’s home. David was now a carman. By 1891 they were in Earlsfield, at Turtle Road with a third child Edward. Over the next decade they raised another five children; Albert, Florence, Edward, Frederick and Mabel. Seven of these appear on the 1911 census, only oldest child David appears to have left the nest though the census indicates that a ninth child had died. The versatile David Senior was now a house painter. The girls Ethel and Florence worked in a laundry, Edward made lamps in a factory, Albert was a carman at the laundry and Leonard worked as a gasfitter’s assistant. Frederick was fourteen and possibly looking for work.


Sadly Marion Baker died in 1914, a month after the outbreak of the War. One that her five sons would all likely have participated in. Oddly though, there is no mention of any of them serving in the forces in the Absent Voters List. Walter and George Newbon at No2 are on it, but there is no one down for No9. A Commonwealth War Grave Commission record indicates though that 20 year old Frederick Walter Baker of the 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment was killed on 20th October 1918, native of Tooting, the son of David and Marion. This must be our man, killed so tragically just a few weeks before the end of the war. He was involved in the eight day Battle of the Selle, forcing the Germans out of the new defensive line they had been forced to take up after losing the Hindenburg Line. After an initial assault on 17th, the British Third and First Armies launched a surprise joint night attack north of Le Cateau in the early morning of 20th October. By the end of the day they had advanced two miles and secured the high ground to the east of the Selle river. The War Diary of the 1st Battalion indicates their advance at Bethencourt that morning began at 2am. 50 prisoners were taken, 20 machine guns and two anti-tank guns – at a cost of the lives of three officers and 25 men including Frederick Walter Baker from Turtle Road.


We visited his grave in the village of Bethencourt a few years ago. In the tiny Communal Cemetery are 75 war graves and many of those buried here appear to have died on that Sunday 20th October. Fred Baker is in a long line of headstones of East Surrey soldiers. Other names on the St Mary’s Church war memorial are in other cemeteries nearby; George Brown, his neighbour from Turtle Road, William Bonken, John Lander ‘The Man from Dancing Ledge’, Harry Keatch and ‘Biscuit Boy’ Sidney Cullimore. All so nearly made it to the finishing line.


Sadie Crawford wrote in an interview published in 1941 that she had performed with her own all-girl orchestra for troops during the First World War at various recreational centres and YMCAs in London. She was at this point performing under the name Sadie Johnson and had formed a song and dance partnership with Adolph Crawford. They appeared at venues like Wimbledon Theatre, Camberwell Empire, the Surrey Music Hall in Southwark and the Canterbury on Westminster Bridge Road. In 1918 she and Adolph got married in Southwark. I have a romantic image that a young lad who she might even have met, because he lived opposite her older sister on Turtle Road, may have caught one of her shows before he went off to fight.


Join us over the next months on two very special Guided Walks to raise funds to pay for Sadie’s plaque. On Saturday 24th March, ‘Sadie’s Swinging Tooting’ sets off from Tooting Broadway tube station at 2pm. If you can’t make that, we’ll be back again as part of Wandsworth Heritage Festival on 26th May. At 2pm Stephen Willis gives a talk about his Great Aunt in Tooting Library, followed at 330pm by another walk ‘Entertaining Tooting’. We’ll be asking everyone who participates to chip in with a fiver.

The Red Flag


At the western end of Wimbledon Road, just the other side of Keble Street, facing the roundabout and looking down Blackshaw Road, No58 shares a sad distinction with No14 Worslade Road. A family living there suffered the agony of losing someone in both world wars. The Bruce family had only come to live there recently when Walter was killed on the first day of the Battle of Amiens, 8th August 1918, whilst serving in the 10th Battalion of the Essex Regiment. He died just three days after his eighteeth birthday. A generation later, his older brother Arthur, aged 46 and serving in the Royal Marines was lost at sea on 15th October 1941. He was on the merchant ship SS Empire Heron, which was in a convoy taking a cargo of sulphur to Manchester when it was met by a U-boat pack in the mid-Atlantic. She sank with the loss of 42 of her 43 crew. A terrible double blow for Mary Bruce who had been living in the neat mid-terrace house on Wimbledon Road for at least twenty years and would have twice received a telegram there bearing tragic news.


Walter was one of eleven children born to John and Augusta Mary (Maria) Louise Bruce. His father was born in 1862 in Dunblane in Perthshire, famously the home town of Andy Murray, his mother in France. At the turn of the century, many families took the plunge to move from one part of London and then perhaps switched around streets a few times within that – surprisingly there was quite a bit of back-and-forth with the Bruce family between Battersea and Tooting. They had married in 1890 and the census the following year finds them in Bickley near Bromley, with John Bruce working as a licensed victualler at a pub called The Chequers on Southborough Road. They had one son John, who was a year old.


The pub is still going strong and was in fact in the local news recently with reports that it is ‘haunted by ghosts including a French policeman, a woman in stiletto heels and a poltergeist that forces visitors against walls’. Highwayman Dick Turpin is said to have drank there regularly and could ‘make quick getaways through tunnels from its cellars’. Perhaps spooked out by ghostly goings-on in Bromley, the Bruces headed down the south circular to Battersea. The population here exploded from 7,000 in 1841 to 150,000 in 1891 as people poured in from the countryside in search of work at the wharves, railway yards and numerous factories and mills lapping the Thames.


Another son Henry (Harry) was born the following year and a daughter Mary in 1893. Twelve months later Peter Duncan was born with the family living at 11 Winstanley Road. John seems to have had enough of being a barman and was now working as a plasterer. Harriet and Arthur were born on Christmas Day 1895 with the Bruces now resident at 94 Speke Road. These roads are all part of a cluster of streets in an area north of Clapham Junction. Built on low-lying, ill-drained ground with an underground river, the Falcon Brook running through it, this lead to chronic housing problems with damp for an impoverished working-class population. However, it was one that under John Burns, another lad with a Scottish father, was now organising itself. He was elected to the London County Council in 1888 and as MP for Battersea in 1892. The Progressive Alliance took control of Battersea in 1894 and pioneered municipal reform.


Largely razed after the war, some of the names of the streets where the Bruces lived survive on the Winstanley estate. Speke Road developed in the 1860s, along with Grant and Livingstone Roads, commemorate African explorers. John Burns once lived there, one of eighteen children ‘the son of a washerwoman’. He was apprenticed at Prices Candle Factory at the age of twelve. In 1889 he played a major part in the London dock strike and was known as ‘The Man with the Red Flag’. He campaigned fervently against the Boer War. The Liberal Prime Minister invited Burns to join the Cabinet in December 1905 as President of the Local Government Board. His major lasting achievement was the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909 which enabled councils to build houses for rent and ensured they were built to a certain standard.


In 1897 the Bruces were still in Battersea when a seventh child Charles was born. Walter Hugh was their eighth, born in Wandsworth on 5th August 1899. A school admissions record from 1900 shows Duncan and Mary attending Fircroft Road School and the family now resident at 41 Kellino Street. By the time of the 1901 census the family had crossed Tooting Corner and were living at 135 Trevelyan Road. Seven of the children are listed, all under eleven. Harriet was absent and may have died as an infant. Even though there would surely have been plenty of work for a plasterer with all the houses being built at the turn of the century, life would have been hard for the Bruce family, their incessant moving perhaps being because they struggled to pay the rent.


They were shortly on the move again to 26 Headworth Road, Earlsfield when another pair of twins were born in January 1902, William and Sidney, baptised by Reverend John Robinson. He would have been a busy man then, furiously laying plans for his new St Mary’s Church. Incredibly by the time Agnes Flora was born in December 1903 they were back in Battersea at Speke Road. She was I believe the last of their eleven children. Another school record from 1905 provides a telling indication of the family’s situation. Five year old Walter entered Southfields School, Merton Road on 20th March 1905 and was discharged two months later, apparently ‘removed to workhouse’. The address of John Bruce was given as 80a Penwith Road. The workhouse would surely have been nearby Swaffield Road.


The family appear to have got itself back on the rails by the time of the 1911 census one once were back in Battersea, now living in a four room tenement at 112 Meyrick Road. Its indicated on this form that two of the eleven children had died. Nineteen year old Harry was a fitters mate at the generating station, Duncan a sales manager for a bakery and Charles aged 14 worked in a grocers. Perhaps having these older children earning had stabilised finances. A military service record for Peter Duncan Bruce indicates that he was discharged from the Hussars in December 1914 after three months service. The reason for this was ‘myopic astygmatism’ – he was short-sighted and ‘not likely to become an efficient soldier’. At this time they lived at 16 Este Road. One more move for the family was to come and they were back in Summerstown on Wimbledon Road by 1918. In the Absent Voters list, John Bruce serving on HMS Cardiff was resident at No54, Peter Duncan Bruce, seemingly in the Army Service Corps at No58. There was no mention of Walter. The ‘soldiers effects’ record after his death later that year indicates his mother as sole legatee. She was left one pound, seven shillings and four pence. It would appear Mary Bruce lived on at No58 with her adult children until at least 1939. Sidney was a shoemaker and married at St Mary’s Church in 1928. Agnes Flora, a tailoress wed there two years later. Two other brothers, Harry (Henry) and Arthur would seem to have been with Mary at 58 Wimbledon Road until 1939.

war diary

On the 8th August 1918 the Allied forces launched the hundred day Amiens offensive, a surprise attack that heralded the end of the First World War. The so-called ‘Black Day’ for the German Army. It was also a very black day for the Bruce family. Walter died in the attack by the 10th Essex Regiment at Gressaire Wood on the Morlancourt Ridge. This commenced at 420am on a misty morning and when the mist lifted his already depleted batallion were completely exposed. In the mayhem the war diary records ‘Casualties; other ranks killed 56, wounded 191, missing 24, 2 officers killed, 8 wounded, 3 missing’. Widely commented upon in accounts written shortly afterwards, was the fact that by this stage the 10th Essex comprised largely of very young inexperienced soldiers. One of these was the eighteen year old birthday boy from Summerstown. Near here, just a few months earlier, Manfred von Richthofen, the famous ‘Red Baron’ met his death from a single bullet in aerial combat, while flying over Morlancourt Ridge.


The map showing the planned attack on 8th August amazingly indicates the village of Sailly-Laurette in the bottom left corner. It is here, at Beacon Cemetery that Walter Bruce is buried. There are 517 First World War burials there, mostly killed that month. The fact that short-sighted Peter Duncan Bruce and his under-age brother Walter were back in the army in 1918 shows the desperate need for manpower at that time. Walter was still two years short of the required minimum age for service overseas when he was helping hold back the German Spring offensive.


In July 1914, John Burns MP wrote, ‘Why four great powers should fight over Serbia no fellow can understand. This I know, there is one fellow who will have nothing to do with such a criminal folly, the effects of which will be appalling to the welter of nations who will be involved. It must be averted by all the means in our power. Apart from the merits of the case it is my especial duty to dissociate myself, and the principles I hold and the trusteeship for the working classes I carry from such a universal crime as the contemplated war will be. My duty is clear and at all costs will be done.’ He resigned his post as President of the Board of Trade, played no role in the war and left Parliament in 1918. John Burns died aged 84 in 1943 and is buried in St Mary’s Cemetery, Battersea Rise.