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.
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.
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.