Last of the Lost

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The Lost Streets of Earlsfield have contributed about 26 names to the Summerstown182 and so many others passed through these roads, washed away when the Wandle burst its banks in September 1968. So many local families still have painful memories of losing treasured possessions and being rehoused. A small cul-de-sac, Turtle Road would have been roughly where the bus-stop on Garratt Lane opposite Freshford Street now stands. The houses would have been very similar to those few that survived the waters in neighbouring Siward Road. These are two of the shorter streets in the area, leading to what was a marshy section of Wandle hinterland, once the home of the expansive Garratt Mills and the site of an enormous mill-pond half the size of what is now Garratt Park. In Turtle Road at No7 lived the family of a soldier called George Joseph Brown.

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The story of Sadie Crawford has featured that of her oldest sister Rhoda, to whom she was particularly close. Rhoda Matilda Marshall and Walter Thomas Newbon were married on Christmas Day 1896 at St Andrew’s Church, Earlsfield and it was in this area that they spent the whole of their married lives. Their address at the time of their marriage was 5 Boyce’s Cottages, Garratt Lane, located where the police station is presently. From the early years of the 20th century they lived at 2 Turtle Road. In that small three bedroom house their 13 children grew up, and there that Walter and Rhoda lived until their deaths (in 1940 and 1963 respectively). There is no doubt that they were very familiar with the Brown family across the road at No7, whose children would have grown up with the Newbons. One of so many young men who perished in the final six months of the war, George served as a private in the 13th Middlesex Regiment and was killed on 11th October 1918.

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George’s father John Brown was a labourer, born in 1868 in Wandsworth who had married Alice. Their first child Alice was born in 1894 and John two years later. A third child, Joseph George was born in 1898 and baptised on the 24th July 1901 when the family lived at 7 Worple Way. Just to the north of Wandsworth Town railway station and currently the location of a massive Homebase store, awaiting high-rise redevelopment. This would have been an area close to the mouth of the River Wandle, surrounded by industry in the parish of St Faith. By 1911 they had relocated to 7 Turtle Road where there were now six children, four boys and two girls, all born in Wandsworth. Now 42, John Brown worked as a tar paver. The two older children still lived at home, Elsie was a dress-maker and John was employed as a shop assistant. Thirteen year old George now had two younger brothers, James and Albert and a sister Ellen.

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George would have been sixteen when war broke our three years later. He’s not on the Absent Voters list of 1918 but his older brother John William Brown aged 22 is. Also on the list are two Newbon boys, Walter Francis and George Thomas. George Brown died precisely a month before the Armistice, his soldiers effects record indicates that he left everything to his mother Alice. A private in the 13th Middlesex Regiment, he was killed in action on 11th October 1918. Pushing the Germans back in the last ferocious weeks of the war, the regimental War Diary shows that they attacked on 10th near the village of Rieux. They succeeded in gaining the high ground at a cost of ‘six officers and one hundred men killed, wounded or missing’. The following day the line was held and an attempt to extend it along a sunken road was met with considerable opposition. Either in this incident or the attack of the previous day, young George lost his life. It was reported in the Diary that the 13th Battalion then moved to Aveines-les-Aubert. Here, in the St Aubert British Cemetery, George Joseph Brown from Turtle Road was buried. Commonwealth War Graves Commission records show that 19 men of the 13th Battalion, including Matthew Wilton from Buxton in Derbyshire died on the 10-11th October 1918. George and Matthew are among the 13 who now lie side-by-side in St Aubert British Cemetery,  just eight plots away from each other. His death was reported in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine in January 1919. In the following paragraph it was announced that a sum of £14, 9 shillings and 5 pence had been raised towards Christmas entertainments at the Grove Military Hospital.

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As the sun went down on an evening in late October a couple of years ago, we visited George Joseph Brown’s grave at St Aubert. He is one of a number of Summerstown182 casualties who lost their lives in the last month of the war who lie in cemeteries to the east of Cambrai. The light went down very quickly that day and we were only just able to take some photos. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have now added the information to their database, but at the time it was only by visiting a cemetery and seeing a grave that you were able to read the message on the headstone, in George’s case ‘Forever with the Lord’.

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The 1969 electoral roll paints a fascinating final portrait of Turtle Road before the Wandle consigned it to the history books. There are 14 house numbers and 31 names on the list, including James and Doreen Brown and their children, John and Christine at No2. These are effectively the last residents of the lost street. Christine married Dave Willis in 1968 and John and his parents relocated to higher ground on Tranmere Road. The James Brown living with his wife Grace at No5 may well have been George’s brother. Born in 1902, he would have been in his late sixties and John Brown recalls ‘quite a big man’. Among his other recollections, an off-licence at the top of Turtle Road known as Jack Beard’s, run by the Webb family. Just around the corner was Pop Gowan’s grocery store. Across the road on Garratt Lane was Johnny Allen’s fruit and veg shop. John’s Mum would walk from her bakery in Summerstown to Earlsfield with a loaf and some leftover cakes and Johnny would swap her for fruit and veg.

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John also remembered the heyday of the South London Rangers Cycle Speedway Club in Garratt Park. Founded in 1951 in Battersea, they relocated to a newly-built track in Earlsfield in 1955, sharing with Tooting Tigers. There’s a fabulous Cycle Speedway website with lots of photos including one of Club president Winifred Atwell presenting a Cup in 1956. Trinidad-born Winifred was one of the most popular singers and performers of her day and this would have been at the height of her fame. Sadie, on one of her visits to Turtle Road would have marvelled at the prospect of Winifred watching the Cycle Speedway in the park at the bottom of the street.

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Sadly we won’t be able to place one of our ‘Stripes of Peace’ tributes at No7 Turtle Road later this year, because its no longer there. But no doubt we’ll find an appropriate spot close to the site of where the house once stood, where we can tie up a decorative personalised tribute to remind everyone living near by of the sacrifice of a young man called George Joseph Brown who once lived there, one hundred years ago.

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