A Home for The Daffodil King



We are just three months away now from a momentous occasion on Garratt Lane, Tooting in south west London. On Saturday 21st September, a gathering on a patch of grass outside a utility building at the edge of the Aboyne Estate at the junction of Garratt Lane and Wimbledon Road will witness the unveiling of a historic plaque commemorating the extraordinary horticultural heritage of this Wandle Valley area. We will pay homage to a Scottish seedsman called Peter Barr, whose remarkable mission one hundred and fifty years ago, to rejuvenate the daffodil in this country, was undertaken at his nurseries, here in this locality. It very rightly led to him being renowned all over the world as ‘The Daffodil King’.

This year, as if anticipating the great event, they came early – I saw my first daffodil in Sussex on New Year’s Day. Thankfully though, they were in their glory by the time of the first ‘Blooming Tooting’ Walk in mid-March. Over the past six months, funds for this initiative have been raised through a number of local history walks on the site of the ‘Tooting Nurseries’. Local schools have got involved, most notably Broadwater Primary who have produced some excellent material which can be seen at an exhibition on Unveiling Day. Talks were given to Mitcham Horticultural Society, at Merton Heritage Discovery Day and to various charities and community groups. There has been huge enthusiasm, Work and Play Scrapstore hosted and provided upcycled materials for a very successful ‘daffodil-making’ craft workshop at their Hazelfest event where Berit’s stunning blooms were a star attraction. It will be repeated at the Broadwater Road Fun Day and also the Friends of Streatham Cemetery Open Day. We’ll be using these magnificent creations made by local people to decorate ‘Peter Barr’s Hut’ on Unveiling Day. The response has been overwhelming, Tooting has truly been engulfed with ‘Daffodilmania’.
Two more Walks in July will continue to explore the area and its horticultural connections. On 6th July ‘Blooming Tooting’ features the site of Springfield Hospital and the Share Community Nursery. ‘Fields of Gold’ on 27th July takes in both Lambeth and Streatham Cemeteries and the ‘Fairlight’ area in between. All these sites were once populated by nurseries and market gardens, a great swathe of yellow on my map. Of course it wasn’t all daffodils that were grown, Peter Barr alone was renowned for his tulips, snowdrops, irises and peonies – but the romantic vision of ‘Fields of Gold’ is hard to shake off. On 13th July we’ll have a presence at the wonderful Broadwater Road Community Fun Day in Tooting. Come and see the plaque, have a chat and help make some daffodil decorations for Unveiling Day. Beautiful Streatham Cemetery was built in 1892 on what was previously Springfield Nursery. We’ll be there with our stand at the Friends of Streatham Cemetery Open Day on 15th September. Listen, we’ll go anywhere to make sure the story of Peter Barr and his Tooting connections gets to as wide an audience as possible. Only last week it was up to City Hall to show the plaque to the Mayor of London.
Old maps and archive material indicate that Peter Barr’s footprint covered a good stretch of Garratt Lane in the three decades he was associated with this area. His family were all raised here and on one momentous day in 1879, six of his children were baptised in St Mary’s Church in Summerstown. These children were all under ten when he first settled in Tooting and would have grown up amongst the flowers and sweetly-scented daffodil fields. The Broadwater pupils were particularly taken with Agnes, born in 1866 who was a small child when the family came to Tooting. She was encouraged by her father to illustrate various specimins to aid identification at a time when there weren’t any cameras. Clearly he had high expectations of her as in one correspondence he sternly notes ‘She is only young at flower painting but has good promise with practice’. She carried on this illustration work until after she married, an inspiration perhaps for fellow south Londoner, RHS orchid illustrator Nellie Roberts, buried in Lambeth Cemetery.
SW17 map 1862
Finding a location to put up the plaque was not easy. Peter Barr was definitely associated with numbers 6, 10 and 18 New Road, the name of which changed twice later. Now the last grand blast of Garratt Lane before it hits Tooting Broadway, at least two of these fine houses still stand, though they bear a very different address. Built around 1855, not long before Barr’s arrival in Tooting, they fulfil James Thorne’s description so aptly, when in 1876 in his Handbook to the Environs of London, he described the area as ‘A region of villas and nursery gardens, very pleasant’. With their long-disappeared names, Myrtle Villa, Slaveley Villa, Wycombe Villa and Sussex Villa, these were the villas and they formed a gateway to the nurseries of Garratt Lane.
They stretched all the way up Garratt Lane to Summerstown covering land now filled with streets and houses, Broadwater School and Streatham Cemetery. On the other side of the road was Bell’s Farm and the Exotic Nursery run by Robert Parker, renowned for his orchids. The Barrs was definitely resident at Bell’s Farm for a while around the time of the 1881 census and they pop up at a Park Terrace in Summerstown before relocating to more spacious surroundings in Surbiton around 1891, thus ending their 30 year connection with Tooting.


It was agreed that a better place to place a plaque would be somewhere that daffodils were actually grown. Helping us find such a location was none other than Peter Barr himself, with a little help from E A Bowles’ transcription. Filling in a few of the gaps in George Dear’s research, we made visits to the RHS Lindley Library, Kew Gardens Herbarium and the RHS Archives at Wisley. All proved extremely productive and made us understand even more distinctly just what a significant figure Peter Barr is. The Kew Archives contained fascinating correspondences but it was hard to beat the thrill of opening up a dense volume of pressed ericas grown in the Tooting nurseries in 1859. They might have pre-dated Peter Barr by a few years but it really was quite a jaw-dropping moment to see something so old, grown in our area, preserved for the nation in such an auspicious collection.
Amongst the extensive notes in the Lindley Library at Vincent Square, we found one key indicator as to where his nursery was – certainly in 1885 when he wrote it. Peter Barr was giving directions to someone and described how they could get a train from Waterloo to Earlsfield. He even knew the times of the trains! The visitor was advised to check with the station-master and come down Garratt Lane and look out for the entrance of ‘Barr and Sons Grounds opposite the Holborn Almshouses’. Built in 1848, the beautiful Holborn Estate almshouses are still there and it’s across the road from them that we will put up Peter Barr’s Plaque.
It will be fixed to the small building currently used by council maintenance staff looking after the estate. A patch of grass directly in front of this has potential for future developments; some planting, an information sign, perhaps a bench. Somewhere to sit and ponder the magnitude of the horticultural activity that took place here. Its certainly not an unpleasant view, looking out on one of the oldest most ornate buildings in the area, a view more akin to the rustic Cotswolds than south London SW17. A zebra crossing connects the location with the almshouses. Garratt Lane intersects with Wimbledon Road via a roundabout. Close to a number of schools and a bus-stop, its a busy place with thousands of people passing by every day. The Aboyne estate is known by many who live there as having been built on the site of the grounds of Springfield Farm. Very few knew about its earlier association with the nurseries.
George Dear viewed the plaque for the first time a few days ago and was thrilled to see another step forward in the work he started 25 years ago, Just how relevant that was became clear to me when RHS International Registrar (Daffodil & Delphinium), Melanie Underwood showed me the files at RHS Wisley, containing all his carefully preserved notes and correspondences. Her predecessor Sally Kington helped George all those years ago and did additional research later. It is very fitting that she will be attendng on 21st September. She has been a great help in advising on the wording for the plaque as well as the location. Sally has also identified a number of varieties of daffodil grown by Peter Barr which we hope to have on hand on the big day to encourage local planting. Thanks also to John Brown, Marion Gower, Kate Filby and Sheila Hill who have all contributed to getting to know Peter Barr a little better.
And thanks most of all to the good people of Wandsworth and further afield who have come on our walks and donated so enthusiastically and generously towards this initiative. A huge thankyou also to everyone at the Royal Horticultural Society and The Daffodil Society who have been so helpful and supportive. We’ll never forget the first visit to the Lindley Archives and the hushed, almost reverential aura as Peter Barr’s portrait was brought to us on a trolley with great ceremony. Encased in a box, the lid was slowly raised to reveal his familiar visage and a pair of piercing turquoise eyes danced with delight. Surely I believe at all the fuss we are making of him. He deserves it – Flower to the People!

Earlsfield Celtic Connection

EarlsfieldHouse Wandsworth1IMG_4995

Half-way down Garratt Lane between Wandsworth and Tooting, Earlsfield was until quite recently derided as a rather dull suburban nesting spot, lacking the history of Wandsworth or the multicultural buzz of Tooting. How wrong could you be! With its rich romany heritage, legendary tattooist Barry Louvaine, Louis de Bernières writing books in the library, the Airfix factory and the self-styled ‘Finest Laundry in England’ its always punched above its weight in the quirky stakes. Why else would Ian ‘Stupid Boy’ Lavender choose to live here above Ace Supplies in his ‘Dad’s Army’ heyday? What’s not to love about having a New Avenger at the end of your road? Even if it was Gareth Hunt, not Joanna Lumley. For a long time its most famous home-boy was Michael Aspel, newsreader and smoothie TV presenter, now its Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London from the Henry Prince estate.

Elm Lodge 1874

One question that does pop up quite a lot is where Earlsfield gets its name. I assumed for most of the twenty five plus years I have lived here that it had something to do with Lady Di’s ancestors, the Spencer family who were famously extensive landowners in the area. Not so. Its believed that Earlsfield, Wandsworth, SW18 takes its name from a businessman called Robert Davis. Around 1868 he purchased Elm Lodge, the All Farthing Lane Manor House, looking out over a vast network of open fields, high on the eastern side of the Wandle Valley.


He enlarged it substantially and renamed it Earlsfield. This would appear to have been in honour of his mother, whose maiden name was Earls. It also referred to the place they lived in Ireland. These Irish roots hadn’t been widely mentioned and I first stumbled across them in a Council document which drew on information provided to the local Heritage Service by a family member in 2005. Apparently Earlsfield was near Manorhamilton, ‘Lovely Leitrim’ not too far away from Sligo where I have family and know quite well. I determined to set about discovering what we have come to call, the ‘Earlsfield Celtic Connection’.


There is very little about Robert Davis in that Wandsworth Heritage Services local enquiry file but what there is is filled with delicious clues as to who he was and what he did. Two of these are brief newspaper accounts from the Wandsworth Borough News in relation to his death and funeral. It appears he died aged 71 on 31st March 1890. Earlier that day he had performed his duties as a JP and in the evening attended a quarterly meeting of the Wesleyan circuit at the Wesleyan Church Schoolroom, East Hill, in his capacity as church secretary. He was seen to stagger, was guided to a chair but died shortly afterwards. The death notice mentioned how this highly-respected individual ‘Came to London with the proverbial sixpence in his pocket – by dint of energy, perseverance, and the care of small things which has always characterised him, he succeeded in pushing his way up the social ladder to become a partner in Messers Brown, Davis and Co’. Intruigingly its suggested that this company came to ‘a most unfortunate termination’. The passage contains the information that he bought Elm Lodge in January 1868 from the heirs of William Nottidge, The house stood on the site of the old Manor House of All Farthing whose extensive grounds stretched to the railway and formerly extended across the cutting. That swathe of land was sold when the London to Southampton railway was built in 1836. ‘From 1877 Davis embarked on a series of developments in the area and as a result of this speculative building Earlsfield Station opened on 1st April 1884’.


The second newspaper account details his funeral on 12th April 1890 and the procession to Putney Cemetery from St John’s Hill Wesleyan Church. It is mentioned that the shops in Wandsworth pulled down their shutters as a mark of respect. He was seemingly ‘interred in the family vault’.


Also in the files are some brief correspondences with two family members, only one of which mentions the Irish link. One dating back to 1983 refers to a 20 page family history which would make very interesting reading. It mentions some other family members including a brother Thomas who was a doctor who married into the Hazlett family from Derry. Here’s hoping one of them gets in touch to fill in a few of the blanks.


Census records and an Ancestry tree provide other interesting insights into Robert Davis’ life and movements, particularly those of 1871 and 1881 when he was resident at Earlsfield House in Wandsworth and raising a family. Robert is indicated as being born in Leitrim, Ireland on 28th May 1819, one of the ten children of Robert Davis and his wife Mary Jane. It seems he married Mary Jane Heeley from Birmingham in Staffordshire on 4th July 1850. A year later in the census of 1851 he was aged 31 and living in Islington, north London and listed as working as a ‘Manchester Warehouseman’. The couple have a servant so clearly things are good. Their first child Robert Frederick was born here a year later, followed by Kate, Clement and Mary. A fifth child in 1861 was Ellen Rutherford Davis. This middle name indicates a link with another prominent landowning Manorhamilton family who went on to live at the Irish Earlsfield. Robert and Mary had nine children in total but very sadly she died aged 43 ‘after a brief illness’ in December 1869, not long after they had bought Elm Lodge. Just a few months earlier Robert’s mother Mary Jane Earls passed away in Ireland. To add to this, very tragically their youngest child Agnes May Davis also died that year. It would appear that it was around the time of this triple tragedy that the name of Elm Lodge was changed to Earlsfield House. This newspaper cutting from the 1920s recalls local memories of the elm trees in the area.

EarlsfieldHouse Wandsworth2

The Davis family were still in Islington in 1861 but a year later Arthur Earls Davis was born in Wandsworth. The 1871 census saw the widowed Robert Davis living with eight children aged from 4 to 18 years old. Esther Heeley, Robert’s sister-in-law was working as their housekeeper and there were three servants. Robert now 57 was a wholesale warehouseman and probably at the peak of his powers. But it wasn’t all business, and in October 1871 he married again to Anna Halse in Kent. The funeral note in the newspaper had stated that his company was ‘Brown, Davis and Co’ and some indications online suggest that a company of that name invented the concept of the button-up shirt. Its not a big leap from ‘manchester’, cotton and linen to shirt-making, so could this have been the source of his wealth? ‘Brown, Davis & Co. were a firm of Tailors and Gentleman’s Outfitters trading from Aldermanbury, London who in 1871 registered the first patent for a shirt that buttoned all the way down the front. Up until this time shirts were pulled on and off over the head’. This connection is still to be proved!


Did the ‘unfortunate demise’ suggested about his business force Robert to seek an alternative career as a property developer? A key moment was the purchase in 1876 of a further 59 acres which he began building on shortly afterwards. Earlsfield Road, arrowing south west from almost straight in front of the house down to Garratt Lane was authorised in 1878 and other streets to the west of Garratt Lane such as Summerley, Skelbrook and Trewint emerged a few years later. The railway station opened on 1st April 1884, prompting even more frantic house-building. Swaffield Road popped up with the monstrous new ‘Wandsworth and Clapham Union Workhouse’ at the end of it in 1886. When Robert died, the remainder of his land, house and property were sold off to build Barmouth, Swanage and Killarney Roads. By 1900 the area to the north of the station was fully built up and would have been almost unrecognisable from the one Robert Davis moved into. I like to think that Killarney Road, which would have run right across the southern side of the house was a nice little reminder of the owner’s heritage, though it is a long way from Manorhamilton.


In the 1881 census, four of the Davis children were stll living at Earlsfield House and the family had a staff of seven to look after them. Clearly Robert Davis was highly successful and life was good. Although his property development was in full swing, on the census records he indicated the profession of ‘Manchester manufacture’. Whatever the case, he was a very wealthy man and would leave £28,366 in his will when he died in 1890.


The ‘Earlsfield Celtic Connection’ search went off in completely the wrong direction when I became convinced that the Irish version of Earlsfield House was Mercy Convent just outside Ballymote, not far from Sligo. It fitted the bill for a great story, especially when the eleven bedroom property went on the market, complete with one nun still in residence. A local historian put me straight, he told me that the Gore-Booths of Lissadell had owned it and the Earl in question was the Earl of Shelbourne. I should have paid closer attention to the council document as the real Earlsfield was less than a mile outside Manorhamilton. No trace of it though on any map so I had to call in local assistance. Thankfully I was put in touch with Dominic Rooney.


Dominic wrote back immediately sharing my enthusiasm for the ‘Earlsfield Celtic Connection’ and alerting me to a historian in the Manorhamilton area called Margaret Connolly. He confirmed that Earlsfield was a locality on the outskirts of Manorhamilton, in the townland of Donoughmore, one mile east of the town on the Enniskillen Road. He also identified a John Davis and a Robert Davis who had once lived in the neighbouring village of Lurganboy in the 1790s. They both added their names to a petition by residents of Manorhamilton and Glenboy to the Earl of Leitrim in 1792 deploring a recent act of parliament against distilling which had ruined the local whiskey distilling trade; and again in 1798 to a second petition by the same residents requesting the building of a proper barracks in Manorhamilton. The second petition describes the signatories as all ‘gentlemen’ which shattered my hopes of a rags to riches tale. Much later, it appeared that a Richard Earls Davis, Robert’s brother was the first secretary of the famous Sligo Leitrim Railway.


Later that week Dominic sent me a map pinpointing precisely where Earlsfield was. Parish baptismal records from the 1880s indicated a Wesleyan Methodist connection and this seemed to fit with Robert Davis’ own Methodist convictions. It was clearly now the same family and we knew where they came from. I resisted the temptation to google it and set off to see it for myself on a visit that coincided with helping my sister move house.


Just before I left, Dominic sent a newspaper account detailing how a recent owner of Earlsfield House had created a prize -winning garden there in 1973. A very evocative photo gave a tantalising glimpse of it through tall pine trees. Very sadly we heard that the house was destroyed by fire in December 1987, though it seemed another property was rebuilt on the location. It was a wet weekend and although we were on a major deadline in a van hired to move Margaret’s boxes, we couldn’t resist trying to find it ourselves. For two days we assumed it was a charred ruin close to the old railway line on the edge of the town. We were so wrong.


On Saturday night, worn out after a day of frantic de-cluttering, we passed through Manorhamilton on our way back from Enniskillen and saw that there was activity at the old Methodist Church, now an arts venue called The Glens Centre. We stopped and were invited in to an an Irish Language Event. That was interesting enough in itself but afterwards when we announced out mission and chatted about the ‘Earlsfield Celtic Connection’ , the banter and enthusiasm was tremendous. The Methodist influence in this town is notable, with John Wesley visiting here on at least seven occasions. The Earls and Davis families were clearly moved by the message but whilst some converted to the cause, other family members stayed with the established Church.


We met Margaret Connolly on our last day. There was snow on Benbulben and all the mountain tops on the way down as we drove over from Sligo. It lashed rain and sleet as she took us to the site of Earlsfield. If we’d taken clearer note of Dominic’s original instruction we might have found it earlier. We had been passing it on the road to Enniskillen every day. Margaret’s car pulled up an avenue to a solid olive green coloured farmhouse. We knew the sad story about the fire and that what was there now was very different from Davis times, so the house felt oddly of little interest. It was more about the setting and the area itself. So this was the place from where the man who gave the name to Earlsfield, SW18 had set out. We had made the ‘Earlsfield Celtic Connection’.


We are indebted to Des Keaney for sharing photos of his family’s home. His grandmother bought it in the late 1920s from a Dr Rutherford who was descended from the Davis family. Tended by Des’ father, the garden won the Bord Fáilte National Roadside Garden competition in 1973 and earned him the title of ‘Ireland’s Gardener of the Year’.


Margaret took us next to Cloonclare Parish Church to be met by Rosemary and June who welcomed us warmly with a wonderful photographic index of all the old grave records ready for us to look at. There were indeed plenty of Rutherford and Davis burials but the one that jumped out was Thomas Davis, the doctor mentioned in the Wandsworth Heritage Service communication.


There was a tablet to him at the church indicating his vital community role as the Medical Officer of the Manorhamilton Workhouse and Lurganboy Dispensary. Its not inconceivable that he might have held this position at the time of the famine. We had already visited the site of the workhouse and famine memorial, on a hill behind the Health Service Offices. The photograph below shows the Fever Hospital which stood behind the workhouse. Its a sad, bleak place, memories of dark times when one million died and another million emigrated. The Davis family with a substantial house on good land would have had the resources to avoid the full effect of this, but the potato famine of 1844-49 could very well have precipitated Robert’s move to England.


Margaret took us past that house called Rockwood where Thomas Davis lived with his wife Alice. She also showed us the home of another brother, Robert Earls Davis in nearby Lurganboy. We also visited the church where we think he may be buried but the headstones are worn and very difficult to read. He was Secretary of the Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway from 1877 to 1895.


With two prominent brothers and so many local links, Robert Davis had a very strong base in the Manorhamilton area but chose to make his name across the water. Quite literally. He couldn’t have left a more outstanding legacy than the name of a suburb in one of south west London’s largest and most noteworthy boroughs. There is still so much to do, a leading local railway historian has offered to help and people on both sides of the Irish Sea are curious to find out more. We’d also love to hear from the Davis family.


I had to have a look for Robert’s grave and after working out that the obvious Putney Vale Cemetery only opened up in 1891, I thought I’d look in the old Putney Lower Common Cemetery near Barnes. By chance I happened to be cycling past one sunny morning on my way over to Kew Gardens to do some research on ‘The Daffodil King’. I popped in and found him within minutes. ‘In Loving Memory of Robert Davis of Earlsfield, Wandsworth Common’. An ornate raised sarcophagus, close to the Chapel, that he would have visited twice to bury his wife Mary Jane and baby daughter. A nice touch is that the names of all nine of his children are inscribed on it; Ellen Rutherford, Arthur Earls, George Herbert and Edith Alice on one side. Robert Frederick, Kate, Clement Francis and Mary Emily on the other. Agnes May who died as an infant in 1870 is on one end. His second wife Anna (formerly Halse) died in 1900 and is in the neighbouring grave along with her daughters.


Sadly there is no trace at all of Wandsworth’s Earlsfield House which was located at the top of All Farthing Lane, just as it bends around after the junction with Barmouth Road. Killarney Road ran across it and a local resident remembers that the shop on the corner, which still stands, was where a number of the properties were managed from. He also recalled a Methodist Chapel on Crieff Road. The name does live on, a severe-looking block of private residences which were for a long time a children’s home and an off-shoot of the Workhouse, stands on the corner of Swaffield Road and Garratt Lane. The main Wesleyan Chapel that I suspect Robert attended was on East Hill opposite the alms houses. Sadly it was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War.


So, the ‘Earlsfield Celtic Connection’  has been established but there is still lots more to find out so stay tuned for more discoveries. We’ll be visiting some of the locations mentioned here on my ‘Walk the Lane’ Tour on Saturday 8th June as part of this year’s Wandsworth Heritage Festival. Local residents and councillors here have shown great enthusiasm for the story and wouldn’t it be lovely if the ‘Earlsfield Celtic Connection’ resulted in some kind of official recognition of this lovely piece of shared heritage. A sign, a plaque, a few exchange visits, maybe even a twinning? Stranger things have happened. We have so much in common!


Thanks so much to Dominic Rooney, Margaret Connolly, London Metropolitan Archives and Wandsworth Heritage Services for helping establish the ‘Earlsfield Celtic Connection’.

Blooming Tooting


Its formally known as a Narcissus, sometimes apparently in days gone by, as the Lent Lily, but to people the world over, it is the much-loved Daffodil, a symbol of spring awakening, of good works, rebirth, care and charity, an optimistic harbinger of better times ahead. Its such a universal and popular flower that we hardly notice it. What a thrill then to find out that this ubiquitous yellow bloom has a very special historic connection to the place where we live. I was first introduced to Peter Barr and the extraordinary daffodil heritage he bequeathed to this area about five years ago by George Dear. If Peter Barr is the Daffodil King, George is his Tooting Kingmaker. Peter Barr was active here from about 1868 to 1889 when his nurseries and plant houses flourished alongside those of the Rollisson family on the land to the north of Tooting High Street. Its now covered by Broadwater School, St Augustine’s Church, Streatham Cemetery and extensive housing on both sides of Garratt Lane. Truly the scent of daffodils and the other plants and flowers once extensively grown here hangs heavily over this area.


Quite literally in fact, as one of the roads, Rostella gets its name from part of an orchid, no less. Its an extraordinary legacy which was perpetuated for many decades with young people at Smallwood School being presented with bulbs up until the 1960s, the best ones receiving certificates in recognition of their daffodil-growing prowess. A few years ago we commemorated William Mace a ‘Forgotten First World War Soldier’ with a ceremony in Streatham Cemetery. This involved children hanging handmade daffodil tributes in a tree close to his grave. A century and a half after he alighted in Garratt Lane, now is surely the time to honour Peter Barr, the man who swathed the Tooting fields with yellow and travelled the world to return the daffodil to its position as one of the nation’s favourite flowers.


George was born in Pevensey Road, right in the very heart of all this history. One of his earliest memories being the V2 bomb in nearby Hazelhurst Road. He has had a lifelong interest in plants and gardening and worked for many years as a groundsman for Wandsworth Council. About twenty years ago he became curious about Peter Barr after reading in ‘The International Daffodil Checklist’ that in 1886 he had a nursery in Tooting. Retirement allowed George to take on an extensive research project. It was so much harder in those pre-internet days but George came up with some invaluable local connections which allow us today to acknowledge and celebrate The Daffodil King and his work in Tooting. With the daffodil fields and nurseries long gone and leaving no trace, old documents showed that Peter Barr was resident at at least two locations which still stand. Some of the oldest buildings in the area, these prominent three-storey townhouses are just a stone’s throw from bustling Tooting Broadway, the last grand buildings on the great Garratt Lane road connecting Wandsworth and Tooting. Census records and street directories tell us that between 1870 and 1876, numbers 1073 and 1065 Garratt Lane, once 10 and 18 New Road were home to Peter Barr and his thriving family. The 1871 census lists his wife Martha and seven children, four girls and three boys, aged between ten and three.


Ten years later the 1881 census sees them living at Bell Farm, a location indicated on many maps opposite Streatham Cemetery, roughly where an early seventies block Copeland House stands today. The fields attached to this would have been the location of present-day Pevensey Road, Smallwood Road and Thurso Street. George Dear concluded that his grandfather and great grandfather, both living in the area and working as agricultural labourers, would very likely have known, possibly even worked for The Daffodil King.

1863 barr map

The above map dates from 1863, just a few years before Peter Barr came to Tooting. The Tooting Nursery is clearly marked in the area that is now Hebdon Road. Very obvious on this map are the old manorial water features which lent their name to present day Fishponds Road. Adjoining this were fields which thirty years later became Streatham Cemetery. Peter Barr and his family lived first at 6 New Road and later at 18 and 10 New Road. These houses were built in 1868 and he was one of the first residents. This final section of Garratt Lane, stretching two and a half miles from Wandsworth, became Defoe Road and from 1938 the name was extended to Tooting Broadway. The name chances and re-numberting have made the present day locations of the houses on New Road hard to identify but one local family who have lived in the area since before the Second World War kindly showed us the original deeds. By 1878 the Barrs had moved a short distance up the road to Smallwood Farm, later Bell Farm, not far from the St Clement Danes Almshouses. On this map it is indicated as Martin’s Farm, owned at that stage by the widow of Samuel Martin.


Peter Barr was born one of twelve brothers in Govan, Glasgow in 1826, the son of a weaver. His father was an avid grower of tulips and young Peter took an interest and got a job as an errand boy in a seed shop. He worked his way up to manager and eventually ended up in London, settling in the Islington area where he married Martha Hewlings from Spalding, Lincolnshire in 1859.


From about 1861, Peter Barr was a partner in a seed and garden shop ‘Barr and Sugden’ in Covent Garden. Right at the heart of London’s premier fruit, vegetable and flower market, the original building is still there at 12 King Street, just around the corner from the Royal Opera House, appropriately opposite the Petersham Nurseries emporium. The firm expanded from a florists into a general business dealing in seeds and plants. The Barrs were back at this address in the 1891 census so this was quite a lengthy tenure. Daffodils re-introduced from Spain were a mainstay but the firm also specialised in iris, tulips and lilies. Needing somewhere to cultivate their produce, Peter looked to the under-developed area to the south west of the city. The grounds at Lower Tooting, in the fertile Wandle Valley were a proven growing area. Rustic Tooting was also a splendid place to raise a young family away from the creeping industrialisation of the big city. Since the last years of the eighteenth century the Rollison family had established their own nurseries here. At their height they employed some fifty plantsmen and were famed for their cultivation of orchids, rhodedendrons, ferns, ‘the best collection of heaths in the London area’ and ‘the finest show house in the trade’. They used the water features which were once the moats of the Tooting manor house to grow aquatic plants. They were patronised by aristocracy and were a favourite stop for Sir Joseph Paxton looking to stock up on greenery for Chiswick House and the Crystal Palace. Before this the rich Wandle alluvium had attracted Huguenot market gardeners, fleeing from religious persecution in France and Belgium.


Peter Barr would most certainly have come into contact with a woman called Eliza Jane Bell of Park Hill House, whose extensive grounds would have overlooked the nurseries. A wealthy philanthropic recluse known as ‘Lady Bountiful’. Her father Alexander had made a fortune selling corn to the government during the Crimean War. She was extremely religious and when her father died in 1886 leaving her £350,000 she declared ‘I am very rich, I know, but God shall have it all’. It was very likely that Bell Farm where the Barrs lived in 1881 was part of the family estate and named after them.


By the mid-1800s daffodils were decidedly out of fashion, regarded as wild flowers, unfit for gardens with a status akin to something like a dandelion today. Yellow was for some reason not a popular colour in this early Victorian age. Peter Barr had read in a catalogue written in 1629 called ‘Paradisus Terrestris’ that 94 varieties of the flower had been grown in British gardens in the early 1600s. He set out on a mission to being them back to life. A key early move was the purchase of the uncategorised collections of two famous breeders, Mr Backhouse and Mr Leeds, after their deaths. He then launched himself on a global journey, travelling the world in search of bulbs to bring back to London. His standard book ‘Ye Narcissus, or Daffodyl Flower and Hys Roots’ was published in 1884, probably after many late nights of writing in New Road and Bell Farm.


Sadly Martha Barr died in 1882 aged 51 which possibly precipitated a move and even more travelling. By 1891 Peter Barr had relocated his business to Thames Ditton. Back in Tooting, both the farm and the exotic nursery had been sold and a network of houses and streets were emerging. Streatham Cemetery opened for business in 1892. ‘Exotic Villas’ at the lower end of Fountain Road would be the only legacy of all the horticultural activity. Soon the Fairlight area would be completely built over as families like those of Sadie Crawford, Tiny Ted Foster and Sidney Lewis populated the area. George Dear discovered that the main Bell Farm house and yard were occupied by a builder from Liskeard in Cornwall called William Bond who used it as a base for the construction of the nearby streets.


Aged 73, at the turn of the century, the indefatigable Peter Barr set out on a world tour that lasted seven years. His search for new or forgotten varieties of daffodil took him all over the world – to China, Japan, South America and Australia. In Melbourne it was reported ‘Although over 70 years of age, he is a keen observer, with a remarkably retentive memory, and is much more active than many men 20 years his junior. As he strolls about in a garden he will tell you the family history of each flower or plant that catches the eye. Under his guidance the hidden beauties of plant life unfold themselves in such numbers that the dilettante flower-lover feels utterly abashed. No one can realise how a man can love a flower until he has seen Mr. Barr take a bloom in his hand, and turn its face towards his own. The innocent delight in his eyes, the gentleness and fond delicacy of his touch, are good to see’. On one trip through Spain he climbed alone to the top of a 7000 foot mountain where he found a daffodil which had not been cultivated for 250 years. His work was highly acclaimed and in 1897 Peter Barr was one of the first recipients of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Victoria Medal of Honour. In 1912, three years after his death, The Royal Horticultural Society established the Peter Barr Memorial Cup, still awarded annually to those who have done great work in the service of daffodils. One of the early recipients was his son Peter Rudolph Barr.


Back to the 1870s and Peter Barr’s various family homes. Almost 150 years after they lived there, this seems like the right time and an appropriate location for a publicly funded heritage plaque acknowledging his work in this area. An extraordinary map from 1871 shows the location of Bell Farm in the middle of what looks like a forest covering both sides of Garratt Lane, over what is now Streatham Cemetery and Copeland House. The area to the north of Fountain Road is clearly indicated as ‘Exotic Nursery’ and ‘Springfield Nursery’ is on the opposite side. On other maps of the time it is referred to as ‘American Nursery’. Quite fitting then, that there is a tablet commemorating ‘England’s Greatest Horticulturalist’ in a place called Paw Paw, half way between Detroit and Chicago.


Peter Barr’s family home on Garratt Lane is at a key location, on one of the busiest roads in south London, just a short walk from Tooting Broadway tube station. It is passed each day by thousands of people, who when we put up a plaque will learn about the Daffodil King and our area’s part in the evolution of this beautiful yellow flower. Its the very least we can do for a man renowned the world over – ‘The Daffodil King’ or ‘Peter the Great’. Look out for a grand unveiling event in September and in the meantime, if you’d like to contribute to another historic plaque in this area, come on one of our Guided Walks and make a donation. We’ll be outlining some dates very soon but it seems appropriate to do one when the daffs are next in all their glory, so look out for ‘Blooming Tooting’ on Saturday 16th March. It starts outside Tooting Broadway at 2pm – meet there for an entertaining and informative two hour tour of the world of The Daffodil King. We also hoping to involve local schools in this initiative – Broadwater Primary, whose school is on a site that would have been bang in the middle of all this horticultural activity have heard all about him on their History Walks. Ernest Bevin College History Club are helping us update our research. A former pupil there is Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London. Another Garratt Lane boy, he was thrilled to hear about The Daffodil King when I bumped into him at a tree-planting event just before Christmas.


Thanks to George Dear and John Brown for their research into Peter Barr, also these two excellent accounts of his life and times.

Prince Albert

Wimbledon RoadZOOMwindfallAlbert2

Albert Elliot’s home was very close to St Mary’s Church at No5 Wimbledon Road just a few doors away from the Carrigan household at No11. The young painter’s labourer and decorator would surely have known the leather grounder who was just a few years older. Both families originally lived on Summerstown before relocating to Wimbledon Road. The Elliot home along with all the houses on the south side of Wimbledon Road on the edge of the Hazelhurst estate disappeared in the decades after the Second World War. Many of them were damaged in the bombings of 1940-41. The above photo looks down towards the almshouses and No5 would be roughly where the horse and cart can be seen. Note the distinctive tall chimneys on the almshouses. This is the view today and the house was probably somewhere around the entrance to Burfield Close. Its very likely that the apple and pear trees down here at the back of the almshouses which produce a heavy crop each September would have been yielding their fruit in Albert’s day.


In 1901 the family lived at 85 Summerstown, one of the Sadlers Cottages, very close to the White Lion pub. Just across the road, opposite the Summerstown Mission was an off licence known as the Prince Albert. At this stage William Elliot worked as a copper varnisher and later as a builder’s labourer. Its very hard to imagine that his hands would not have been involved in the construction of houses in the nearby Fairlight streets or even the magnificent St Mary’s Church arising at the end of the new Keble Street and directly in line with his home. A photo from 1968 shows the cottages and the pub on one of the famous occasions that the River Wandle burst its banks. They would have disappeared soon after this and the site opposite the rapidly disintegrating Wimbledon Stadium is now a rather characterless early seventies block. It is though home to another church, The Redeemed Christian Church of God. Possible candidates for the next Multifaith Tour perhaps.


William Elliot was born in Westminster in 1862. He got married in 1884, his wife Mary hailed from Dunstable in Bedfordshire. Their eldest child William was born in Lambeth in 1887. By 1896 they were in Wandsworth where Albert Edward was born. In 1901 they were resident in Summerstown. Mary worked as a laundress and they had three boys; William 14, Albert 5 and Sidney aged 1. We can’t be sure when they moved to Wimbledon Road but they must have taken great pride at the splendid new Church opposite their home. After eleven years in a temporary tin church located at the end of Summerstown, opposite the Corner Pin. It must have been a wonderful moment for everyone in the area when Queen Victoria’s daughter came to lay the foundation stone and the new structure opened its doors for the first time in April 1904.


By 1911 a fourth son had been born to William and Mary, Frederick in 1907. The two oldest boys, William and Albert both worked like their father in the building trade. Albert would have been eighteen when the war broke out and prime material to end up in uniform. We haven’t found his service records, all we know is the he was a gunner in ‘F Battery’ 14th Brigade of the Royal Horse Artillery and died on 24th August 1918. Military historian Chris Burge has deduced from the few documents that survive, a little bit about his army career. When he died, Albert’s legatee, his mother, received a £19 war gratuity which would imply he had served from near the beginning of the war. This is consistent with his entry in the Surrey Recruitment Register which shows him volunteering on 29th August 1914 in Kingston and first going to France on 24th February 1915. He rests in a small cemetery south-west of Arras along with another local boy, Fred Neary from Foss Road, who is also on our memorial. Serving in the Lincolnshire Regiment, he was killed thirteen days earlier. There are only 221 burials in this tranquil spot. We visited St Amand British Cemetery on a dazzling October evening a few years ago. As so often happens when we make these trips, the yellow and brown autumnal hues came together in a glorious golden fusion, a stunning backdrop for the glimmering headstones beneath the bluest of skies. Albert was one of seven F Battery casualties all buried together, including Lieutenant Clifford Gould MC from Glastonbury who at 21 was a year younger than the lad from Summerstown.

Dudley and Reg

One of the magical occasions which have happened so often on the Summerstown182 Walks over the past four years occured in September 2015 when four members of the White/Elliot family rolled up for one of the tours. Reg White was there with his daughter Teresa Elliot. He lived at No1 Wimbledon Road, his mother’s maiden name was Elliot believed to be related to the Elliots who were at No5. He produced an old photo taken about sixty years ago which showed him with a couple of his pals. One of these was Arthur Keeley, the older of the two brothers who unveiled the Hazelhurst V2 plaque no less. We promised to put them in touch which was exciting enough but imagine Reg’s face when another old Hazelhurst pal, Dudley Hutchinson walked round the corner. It really was quite a way to start the tour.


Last of the Lost


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.


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.


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.


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.


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’.


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.


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.


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.


First Lady Sadie



Saturday June 16th was an extremely busy day in Tooting; there were school fairs, family barbecues, Ramadan celebrations, street parties, even a Furzedown Festival. But the place to be was on one of the area’s oldest, most historically-charged roads. North of St George’s Hospital, connecting Blackshaw Road and Garratt Lane, its the long artery between Streatham and Lambeth cemeteries. Anyone who was outside a little pale blue house on Fountain Road, opposite Anderson House that day will never forget the occasion. It was one of those unique once-in-a-lifetime moments that should be potted and preseved forever. This was the childhood home of Louisa Harriet Marshall, who grew up to become known as Sadie Crawford, a pioneering saxophonist who played alongside some of the greats, at the dawning of the age of jazz. A deeply moving ceremony in front of over 300 people saw the unveiling of a blue plaque organised by the Summerstown182 Community History project. She is the first woman to be commemorated with a historic plaque in Tooting and that coupled with her American connections, lead to the event being dubbed ‘First Lady Sadie’.


As always, we had the plaque made up a good few weeks before the actual unveiling, allowing ourselves plenty of time to promote the event. This meant we could bring it along to Stephen Willis’ talks about his Great Great Aunt for Merton Heritage Discovery Day and in Tooting Library as part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. We also took it to Broadwater School and The Streatham Society. In the weeks prior to it being put up, Sheila and I did a ‘Tooting Walkabout’ – hundreds of people must have posed with it and places like The Ramble Inn and Costa’s Cafe, who made donations were able to see it. We even ‘bumped into’ Sadiq Khan and our local MP, Dr Rosena, outside Earlsfield Station. We used the photos as the cover for a special commemorative programme. It was a great way of creating awareness and involvement. The day before the plaque was actually fixed to the house, we attended the ‘Procession 2018’ in central London and joined thousands of women marching to celebrate the centenary of universal suffrage. It was a bit cheeky but the plaque generated such interest and comment, lots more photos, even the attentions of a film crew!


It was an email four years ago from one of her great nephews, John Brown in Perth, Western Australia that kickstarted this project. John alerted me to the fact that Sadie had been recently featured in a BBC Radio 4 programme called ‘The Lost Women of British Jazz’ and I began telling her story as we passed the house where she had lived on my guided walks. Everyone was fascinated by her story. Sadly John never made it over for the unveiling but there were plenty of other family members there. At least half a dozen of them had memories of Sadie, including the five cousins who pulled off the green cloth to reveal the tribute to their ‘Great Aunt Lou’. From left to right these are; Iris, Margaret, Marian, Christine and Shirley.


John’s sister, Christine Willis had celebrated her birthday the previous day. These two, along with Christine’s son Stephen have been the family driving force on this project and its been a joy working with them, our three-way emails whizzing across the globe, provoking all sorts of memories. Stephen has clearly inherited his Great Aunt’s musical genes and is Director of Music at the Abbey School in Reading. One of the many family photos they shared with us was a group in front of St Mary’s Church in August 1958. The occasion was the wedding of Christine’s cousin Shirley and ‘Great Aunt Lou’ stands proudly alongside the happy couple. It was just wonderful sixty years later to welcome Shirley and Ron back to St Mary’s Church. If they were half as happy on their wedding day as they were on Saturday, it must have been a great day.


Perhaps the most memorable moment of an emotional unveiling day was an announcement by Dr Millan Sachania, Head of Streatham & Clapham High School that the school has initiated an annual ‘Sadie Crawford Music Scholarship’. The first recipient of the award, Year 7 student Adrianna Forbes-Dorant then took centre stage and with a skill and assuredness belying her age, proceeded to cooly and confidently play ‘Ray’s Blues’ by Dave Grusin and the classic ‘Take Five’ by Dave Brubeck. It was an extraordinary moment in time, a one hundred year connection between a gifted young musician today and someone who at a similar age was dreaming about an escape from her job as a domestic servant. The school’s gesture added so much to the occasion, a wonderful accolade for our initiative. No one in Fountain Road that day could be in any doubt that they were witnessing something uniquely special. Adrianna, the first ‘Sadie Crawford Scholar’ seemed to take it all in her stride and received a marvellous reception.


Kicking off proceedings was 83 year old local resident, Winston Belgrave, performing ‘Steal Away’, a tribute to the Windrush Generation, just a week before the seventieth anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush. Winston himself came from Barbados eight years later to work for London Transport. This was followed by Stephen Willis’ beautiful clarinet rendition of ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans’, a tune originally recorded by his Great Great Aunt Sadie with Gordon Stretton’s ‘Orchestre Syncopated Six’ in Paris in 1923. The catchy little number which Stephen played for us as part of his talk in Tooting Library is hard to get out of the head. He had spent long evenings transcribing it from the recording, but it was well worth the effort. The day before we all went to the BBC Studios at Portland Place where Stephen and Millan duetted on BBC Radio London’s Jo Good Show – it was a day of frantic media coverage, a double-page spread in the South London Press and another interview on Radio Wandsworth. It all set us up nicely for what was to follow the next day.


Back in Fountain Road, renowned jazz historian Howard Rye told everyone about Sadie’s extraordinary globe-trotting career and collaborations with some of the leading lights of the jazz age. We heard all about the significance of Pete Hampton and Laura Bowman. Howard’s research was used in the ‘The Lost Women of British Jazz’ and he was delighted to see Sadie further celebrated and had advised on the wording for the plaque. Her music took her to a mind-boggling array of countries, often in periods of great upheavel and turbulence. She was in Russian for the Revolution, not the Bolshevik one, but an earlier one in 1905. The extent of her travels in a pre-jet age is simply astounding with long journies to Australia and South America. Sadly it eventually took its toll on her first husband Adolph Crawford who died in Paris in 1929. For a more detailed account of Howard’s Talk click here.


Local resident John Byrne recited ‘The Prettiest Star’ a poem about Sadie that he felt inspired to pen. He may not have known it, but in her 1960 family memoir, Sadie had noted that ‘When I was young I will say I was a good looking girl with long black braids to my waist, and in Germany they called me the ‘Strand Schönheit’ (the Strand Beauty)’. Whether her admirers were referring to a beach or the theatrical part of London, we may never know. We were delighted to have the presence of the Deputy Mayor of Wandsworth Jane Cooper as well as at least six other local councillors, recognising the significance of this wonderful new addition to the musical heritage of the borough. I met Mrs Cooper a few days later and clearly Sadie’s story and the event had left a deep impression.


Before the plaque was actually unveiled Stephen filled us in on some of the family’s recollections of Sadie in later life, her numerous visits to London for weddings and other family occasions at Turtle Road where she invariably liked to crack open a bottle of Moet. With her white gloves and wafting of taboo, she might have been very well turned-out and always stayed at the Regent Palace Hotel, but she was a modest woman. Everyone knew that she had been ‘on the stage’ but never that she was the first British female jazz musician to be recorded or had played with some very important names. Its been wonderful to see the pride they have all taken in the story of their Great Aunt being presented to a wider audience.


Sadie lived much of her later life in Washington DC where she is buried and her first husband Adolph Crawford was from Indianapolis. She later married again to Frank Mozee. It was lovely on Saturday then to have an American voice give her perspective. Reverend Mae Christie of All Saints Church is all the way from Louisiana, the birthplace of jazz. Having lived there for some time, a few weeks earlier Mae helped into making enquiries about Sadie’s final resting place in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington DC.


After the unveiling we all trooped back to St Mary’s Church in Summerstown, associated for many years with the Marshall, Newbon and Brown families who lived just a little bit further down Garratt Lane on Turtle Road. One of the ‘Lost Streets of Earlsfield’ sadly washed away by the 1968 floods. Sadie’s jazz music reverberated round the great church as we tucked into a fantastic spread. We also looked at an exhibition on Sadie’s remarkable life. A wonderful occasion, a fifth historic plaque in this area in the last few years and a terrific addition to the local heritage of the Borough of Wandsworth. Also a magnificent legacy, the ‘Sadie Crawford Music Scholarship’ ensuring that the name and spirit of this inspirational and adventurous woman will long be remembered.


Four of our Walks over the past few months have raised money to pay for this plaque and the unveiling event. Perhaps the most memorable was ‘Sadie’s Swinging Tooting’ in March when we stopped outside some of the key locations in her life. Maybe the most moving of these was 19 Gilbey Road where Louisa Marshall is indicated as a domestic servant in the 1901 census. She was working in the household of a tailor called James Anderson, probably looking after his six young children. Its hard to say how long she worked in service, but having left school at the age of eleven, its very likely that’s what she was doing when she was Adrianna’s age. Another walk in May focused on some of the places of entertainment in Tooting, the cinemas that started springing up in the area at the same time that Louisa Marshall was taking her first tentative steps onto the stage. Stephen provided two talks for us, one at Merton Heritage’s Discovery Day and another in Tooting Library. A massive thank you to all those who chipped in on the walks and contributed towards raising the funds. Also to Jimmy, Nabi and Tooting Rotary Club for supporting us so generously, as well as Terry Shead, Sadie’s godson. Once again, Sheila and John Hill were at the forefront of a Tooting plaque initiative, helping promote it, keeping things under control at the event. A big shout out also to the Tooting Town Centre Police who made sure we were all safe in Fountain Road. A huge thank you to Reverend James Fletcher for hosting the after event at St Mary’s Church and Viv, Linda and Rose who organised the teas. Jean-Marc put up the plaque, Windrush Print did our programmes and Iris and Sheila made sandwiches. Marion, Andrew, Josephine and Jeremy took photos, Annabel made the film. Signs of the Times made the plaque. And of course, the people without whose approval, none of this would have happened; Hannah and Mez, the lovely couple who now have the special privilege of living in a house where a jazz pioneer was born, now proudly bearing a blue plaque.


Stripes of Peace


As we prepare for the second ‘Hazelfest’, a wonderful ‘mini green’ festival on the Hazelhurst estate, beneath the Summerstown Towers, we can look across Wimbledon Road to a house associated with one of our 182 names. The family who lived there one hundred years ago, were that of Albert Lucas, a young man, born at the turn of the twentieth century. He died fighting with the 54th Infantry Brigade, pushing the Germans back in the ferocious last months of the First World War. He was killed in action on 21st September 1918 and is buried in northern France in a village called Templeux-le-Guerard, not far from Cambrai. 28 Wimbledon Road is just one of the locations where we will be placing a special tribute in time for this year’s centenary Armistice Remembrance. Created by members of the local community at various events over the next months, we are calling this exciting initiative ‘Summerstown Stripes of Peace’.


We intend to round off this final year of commemoration with the most ambitious Summerstown182 Walk ever. It will be a massive Earlsfield-Tooting ‘double circuit’ on Saturday 10th November, passing as many of the homes and locations of the Summerstown182 as possible, telling their stories. Each of these places, marked by a poppy on our map, will be indicated with a simple personalised tribute made over the months before by local people. This will be done through a series of workshops lead by artist Judith Lawton, supported by Big Up Films and the Work and Play Scrapstore. The first of these workshops will be at Hazelfest on Sunday 20th May, other venues are still to be confirmed. Decorative ‘hangings’ created from up-cycled materials made at the workshops will populate the neighbourhood, each being placed at or near the locations where the 182 individuals lived, in the week before Remembrance Sunday. ‘Summerstown Stripes of Peace’ will remind people today of the sacrifices of young men like Albert Lucas who lived here 100 years ago. The emphasis will be on celebrating the coming of peace rather than glorifying war, the colourful element expressing the diversity of people from all over the world who suffered in this conflict.


There is no photo of Albert or very little knowledge of his family. As far as public records are concerned, Albert Lucas and family are hardly visible. We thank the brilliant local military historian Chris Burge for finding all there is to tell. What little information there is comes mostly from his military records. We can say more about the final few months of his life than all the preceding years. From the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records we learn he was named after his father and the family address by the 1920s was 28 Wimbledon Road, just a few doors away from St Mary’s Church. This was given as his next-of-kin address on the documentation associated with his death. His ‘Soldiers who Died in the Great War’ entry says was born in Greenwich, and indicates he enlisted in Wandsworth. He served firstly in the London Regiment, before being transferred to the the 6th Northamptonshires, the same regiment as that of the soldier whose story started our project, William Clay. His entry in the ‘Soldiers’ Effects’ register confirms his father was his sole legatee and the £3 war gratuity equates to someone with less than twelve months service at the time of his death. This implies Albert Lucas was conscripted in the final year of the war.


Albert’s service papers have not survived, but looking at the casualties in the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment for August 1918 onwards shows a disturbing picture. Albert Lucas appears to have been among a largish group of at least 50 men all transferred from the 10th Londons, 14 of whom would be killed in August and September 1918. All were from various places within London and all were born at the end of 1899. They were all just 18 in 1918 and conscripted in the first two months of that year. Among the few surviving papers of this group are the pension documents of a Private Albert Edward Freeborn, of 82 Fircroft Rd, Upper Tooting. He was wounded on the same day that Albert Lucas was killed. Albert Freeborn had been conscripted on 2nd February, aged 18 years and 1 month. He joined the 6th Northants in the field on 2nd August 1918. The Great War Forum provides details of another 18 year old, Private Eric Richards from Hampstead.
A summary of his movements may well of be almost the same as those of Albert Lucas. ‘On 18th September during an attack against an established German position on a small hill, 27 British soldiers were ordered over the parapet bearing only rifles and facing machine guns. Only three British soldiers survived. A piece of shrapnel hit Eric in the forehead and he lay wounded all day, being carried in after dark. The shrapnel was imbedded in the bone and not removed by the army surgeons’.

Templeux le Guerard 3

Another 6th Northamptonshire Regiment soldier who Albert Lucas very likely knew, possibly killed the same day, was a Lance Corporal Allan Leonard Lewis. He was awarded the Victoria Cross at Ronnsoy on 18th September in the same attack where Eric Richards was wounded. ‘Three days later, having seen his company through an enemy barrage, he was struck on the head by shrapnel and killed while getting his men under cover from heavy machine gun fire’. He was the only soldier born in Herefordshire to win a Victoria Cross during the First World War.

6th Batallion

Chris believes that Albert Lucas was born at the end of 1899. He is likely to have been conscripted in January 1918 and sent to France in July or by early August, 1918. Only 14 years old when war broke out and 16 when conscription was introduced, Albert Lucas must have thought many times, would the war be won or lost before his turn came? Even when conscripted in 1918, he cannot have expected to serve overseas until he was 19. The German Spring Offensive changed all that. In April 1918 the crisis led to the overseas service age limit being dropped to 18 years and 6 months, as long as a soldier had had six months training. Among the Summerstown182, Albert Lucas has a special place, he was among the last conscripts, maybe even the last conscript, to lose his life in the First World War.


There is just one other small tantalising glimpse of what may be the early life of Albert Lucas. In the registers of Southfields School, Merton Road, newly opened in 1905, is the name of Albert Lucas, aged five, born 26 December 1899. He was admitted there on 10 October 1905 and its noted that his father was Albert Lucas. Southfields School opened in 1905 and was closed in 1926. The family address is given as 3 Strathville Road, just around the corner and confirmed as the living place of Albert Lucas in the 1907 Wandsworth electoral roll. 587 Garratt Lane may also have been a later childhood home. Southfields School may have been one of a number of schools on the Merton Road site of the current Southfields Academy. Its impossible to know when he came to Summerstown or whether he even lived at 28 Wimbledon Road. Albert’s father, and a Sarah Ann Lucas, possibly a sister, appear in the Wandworth Electoral Register at 28 Wimbledon Road between 1918 and 1928. The address is associated with another of the Summerstown182, Ernest Hayward whose widow Mary Ann lived here for a substantial period of time.


Join us at Hazelfest when we launch our Summerstown182 ‘Stripes of Peace’ – look out for Judith and help make a tribute to young men like Albert Lucas. The event kicks off in front of Hayesend House at 1pm on Sunday 20th May as part of Wandsworth Arts Fringe. There will be artists, performers, musicians, community groups and local residents, all coming together to celebrate artful reuse. There’s even a chance to participate in creating the first permanent street art mural on the estate with artist-in-residence Jayson Singh. In a few months time the streets around St Mary’s Church and the homes of  the Summerstown182 heroes will blaze with colour. As the sun goes down on four years of commemoration, we celebrate the dawn of peace.


Red Rose from Pevensey Road


In November 2014 there was a 70th anniversary service in St Mary’s Church, Summerstown, remembering the victims of one of the worst Second World War bomb incidents in Wandsworth. At 830am on Sunday 19th November, a V2 rocket smashed into neighbourng Hazelhurst Road, directly on top of the houses in front of Smallwood School. After the service we walked the short distance to the site of the bomb crater behind Sutton Courtenay House. Here the names of the 35 people who died that day were read out by relatives and petals were scattered in their memory. A guitar ensemble from Burntwood School performed an emotional rendition of Fields of Gold. It was a deeply sad but spectacularly moving occasion. We returned to the Church for tea and it was here that I first met Rose and her sister Shirley. We wanted to put together a display of local people’s memories of the incident and she was one of the first that I talked to. I couldn’t have wished for someone with more vivid memories or a sense of bringing the past to life. It would be rare for me to do one of my rambles in this area without recounting one of her anecdotes or observations.

Pevensey helipad

Rose Mangan was born the fifth of seven children at 26a Pevensey Road, the ‘rough end’ as she liked to call it, though apparently not as rough as Hazelhurst and Foss Road which were considered ‘out of bounds’. Her father George worked for a while as the gate-keeper at Streatham Cemetery and the dust yard in Alston Road. Her mother Alice lost her first husband in the war. Rose came into the world on 19th May 1928. Life was harsh in the Fairlight area just a few years on from the General Strike. In the years before the establishment of the NHS, whole families with grown up children inhabited single rooms. Houses were damp, cold and rat-infested. Infant mortality was rife. Local newspaper reports show how tough it was in the ‘Tooting Slums’. ‘Vermin, bugs, rats mice and fleas’ screamed the headlines. ‘In four rooms in Foss Road lived seventeen people. In the front room of a Hazelhurst Road dwelling, sleep a husband and wife together with a son aged 23 and a daughter of 20. In a back bedroom live a married daughter her husband and four children’. There were reports of an undertaker entering a premises with a coffin for a dead child and having to fight off a rat attempting to get at the body. ‘Children are being raised in circumstances which may easily lead to impaired vitality, poor physique, tainted morals and a low conception of what should be life’s fine adventure’. These conditions would shape Rose and her politics, giving her a lifelong concern for the day-to-day struggles of ordinary people, in particular their housing needs.


This was the year that all women over the age of 21 got the vote and were now on the same terms as men. The first talking picture appeared in London and Tooting was awash with seven cinemas. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and Mickey Mouse made his first appearance in Steamboat Willie. Amazingly Rose was born on precisely the same day that Hollywood starlet, Tallulah Bankhead ‘wet the rabbit’ with a bottle of champagne and in frnt of 22,000 people, officially opened the new Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium. That seems so prophetic given that this week they’ve finally started knocking it down. Rose didn’t go to school much and the ‘School Board Man’ was a regular visitor at No26a. Fortunately here was a passage-way at the back of the house connecting it with Khartoum Road, providing a good escape route from him. Rose started work aged 14 at the Shirley Box Factory in Merton. The evening before Sunday 19th November 1944 she went out dancing above the Co-op store on Tooting High Street, what we refer to as the ‘RACS building’. She was with her regular tango partner Ronnie Fletcher, a promising boxer from a large family in Khartoum Road.

Hazelhurst road[2]

At breakfast time the next morning, the Nazi rocket ripped Hazelhurst and Foss Road apart, killing 35 people, injuring over 100 and destroying 50 homes. The threat of bombs didn’t worry Rose too much, she was a carefree young girl and had already witnessed quite a few incidents. She was a typical teenager, enjoying life and feeling indestructible. Fourteen children died that day, many of them her classmates from Smallwood Road School or people she would have known. Three of them were from the Hinson family. Joan Hinson who also worked in the box factory was a great family friend. The photo below shows them all on a works outing to Hastings in 1944. The bomb killed her mother Winifred and two brothers, Raymond and Robert. Joan herself was pulled out of the rubble. It was a most wonderful thing that through the commemoration the families got back in touch and Rose was able to give the Hinsons a funeral card which she had held onto for over seventy years.


Rose’s recollections of this neighbourhood were so clear – she remembers the area being very poor, but lively and populated by colourful characters like Cocker Woodley and Mrs Hammond selling second-hand clothes from barrows on the street. Her sister-in-law Doris worked at the Laundry and Rose showed me a few pieces of fancy linen which had fallen off the back of the Anglo American wagon. There were shops on every corner, most notably ‘George’s’ at the junction of Pevensey and Rostella Road. He sold everything. Rose often got sent out for a ha’porth of jam which she brought back in a saucer. You could buy rhubarb and watercress which was grown locally on the allotments behind the cemetery. Rose was considered a ‘weakling’ so was encouraged to eat plenty of iron-rich watercress. I asked her once what she ate it with and she looked at me like I was mad – ‘We ate it on its own because we couldn’t afford anything else’. They also couldn’t afford fresh milk, so always bought the condensed version out of tins.

Laundry van

Despite that, pubs were affordable to most people and The Fountain Hotel was the centre of the community where everyone met for a drink and a sing-song and very often a punch-up. There were regular Saturday night brawls in Khartoum Road, Rose would watch them from her bedroom window at the back of Pevensey Road. Men and women of all ages, always starting after the pubs shut, and usually over money. People lent each other money for the rent and there were nearly always disagreements over payment. Memories were short and next day they’d all have a cup of tea together and be the best of pals. One of the favourite photos Rose shared with me was of her father-in-law Frank, walking out of The Fountain proudly clutching a live chicken he’d just won in the raffle. Other characters were a street entertainer who went by the name of Jelly-on-a-plate, an Italian ice cream maker called Jumbo who sold bright yellow ice cream and was interned, a one-armed dustman called Dumper Sergeant and an ARP Warden called Streaky Bacon. Whenever there was something to celebrate, the residents lit fires in the middle of the road which often damaged the tarmac. On VE Day there was a huge bonfire at the junction of Pevensey and Rostella Road. It got a bit out of control and lemonade bottles in the shop on the corner started to pop their corks. As she told me, Rose leaned back and smiled ‘What a fascinating era!’


There was a main bomb shelter in what was known as ‘The Old Park’, the small recreation ground just off Cranmer Terrace. There were other shelters in Pevensey Road but they were very flimsy and no one felt safe. The preferred gathering point for people when there was an air-raid was in the passageway of the house. Rose just liked to take her chances and didn’t generally bother taking precautions. The sound of the ‘ack-ack’ anti-aircraft guns were a familiar soundtrack from this time. Fairlight Hall played a big part in everyone’s lives. Rose and her sisters Shirley and Jessie were members of the Girls Brigade and did a lot of marching around the area. Rose’s future husband Frank Cook who lived just a few doors away at No12a Pevensey Road got presented with an enormous certificate for his contribution. There were ‘magic lantern’ shows and a lot of activities for children and young people.

Girls Brigade with MrShepherd

Rose remembers Leonard Shepherd, the man who who come to the area as a teenage missionary and had stones thrown at him. He persuaded Sir John Kirk to set up a ragged school and Fairlight Hall opened in 1905. After the V2 incident she recalled crowds of people covered in dust streaming towards Fairlight Hall where they received medical treatment. Rose Mangan and Frank Cook got married on 12th September 1953 at Wandsworth Town Hall and left their respective homes on Pevensey Road to live briefly in Clapham. They missed Tooting too much and were soon back. David was born in 1955, Julie nine years later. Rose was a popular dinner lady at Ensham School and the College at Tooting Broadway.


On one of my visits Rose produced a plastic bag full of yellowing newspaper cuttings from the late sixties. They contained some lurid headlines ‘Battle of Tooting Broadway’, ‘Residents on War Footing to take on Council’. ‘Every Street will Fight’. This was the age when concrete towers were all the rage and the Council in their wisdom wanted to compulsory purchase the Fairlight houses and put residents into grey blocks. People who had lived all their lives in this area, some through two world wars, were terrified of being moved out of their homes. ‘Anti-Development’ Groups were organised and Rose played her part in seeing off the property developers. Those little houses they wanted to knock down are still going strong, now over one hundred years old, exchanging hands for ridiculous sums of money.


Rose was a very special person whose love of life, twinkle and inner light shone through so brightly in older age. It was a real privilege to have known her briefly and I will always treasure those little chats we had. Her memories and stories will live on. Thank you Rose, for shedding a light on the history of this area, for being so generous with your knowledge and passing it on in such a lovely warm friendly way. She typifies the Tooting character that I love so much, a little bit cheeky with a heart of gold, resilient in tough times but able to laugh about it. She was just the kind of person there is not enough of in the world, someone who doesn’t take things too seriously, can see the funny side of adversity and has a healthy disrespect for so-called authority. Rose lived life to the full through times of extraordinary turmoil and change. Another of the great war-time generation whose like we shall perhaps never see again is gone, but the memories live on forever. Walk past the RACS building and imagine Rose and Ronnie dancing the night away, stroll past George’s and hear the lemonade bottles popping, look at a bunch of watercress and imagine her tucking in – and when we get a new Stadium in Plough Lane, think of Rose and the almost nine decades of history that came before and toast her with a mug of condensed milk. One of the great Women of Summerstown, Red Rose from Pevensey Road – we salute you.

Rose inChurch

Rose died on Mothers Day, 11th March 2018. It was one of my greatest honours to be asked by Julie and David, to read the above account at her funeral service.

Time of Cholera


Albert Edward Hawkes of the 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment is buried in the French town of Le Treport. In the mad dash to catch the ferry, the sign always looms large on the motorway, halfway between Dieppe and Abbeville. I feel quite guilty that we still haven’t got round to visiting him. To hammer home the point, there is a Treport Street in Wandsworth, off Garratt Lane, a familiar passage which almost certainly evokes the Huguenot presence. A few days ago as part of our new Planet Tooting initiative, a trip to the wonderful Migration Museum in Vauxhall was organised. The Huguenot plight is one of their ‘Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain’ exhibition. As we wandered around the fascinating area close to the Museum, surrounded by the remains of the Royal Doulton Pottery works, the imposing London Fire Brigade HQ, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and the once over-populated wharfside area that was ravaged with cholera in the mid-nineteenth century, we got a sense of the world into which Albert Hawkes was born.

Maskell Road Floods 1968 3

Albert was born in 1897 and was twenty years old when he died of his wounds in a hospital in France on 25th April 1918. After spending his childhood in Kennington and Battersea, passing through Southfields and Garratt Lane, the Hawkes family alighted at Maskell Road in Summerstown in 1918. There was a connection with this address until the flooding of September 1968 when a William Amos Hawkes, born in 1907 and his wife Dulcie were still living there. I suspect William may have been Albert’s brother. On the Museum trip, one of our group recalled how her father, living on Burntwood Lane got out his boat that weekend and paddled across Garratt Lane to help rescue people and possessions from the stricken houses. At the same time as the Lambeth cholera outbreak, the main incident in this area was the appalling case of Mr Drouet’s ‘Pauper Asylum’ at Tooting Broadway where 118 children died of the disease.


Albert’s father was Henry James Hawkes, a post office sorter, known as Harry. He was born in Southwark in 1870 and baptised at St Saviour’s Church. On 23rd February 1890 and living in Sutton Street, he married Elizabeth Maria Lambell, at St John the Evangelist, Waterloo, the beautiful church where we start our ‘Waterloo Sunset’ Walks. They had at least five children, the eldest Harry James Hawkes died as an infant. Their next child Ernest was born in January 1895. At this stage they were living at 146 Vauxhall Street. On 15th September 1897, another son, Albert Edward Hawkes was baptised at St Peter’s Church. This was an extremely impoverished area, surrounded by the gasworks, Lambeth Workhouse and the notorious cholera-infested wharves. Almost 2,000 of the waterfront population died of the disease in 1848-49. There are large swathes of blue on the Charles Booth map which was produced at the time the Hawkes family lived there. Vauxhall Street still exists, arrowing its way towards the Oval and even today it bears echoes of the gasworks and the iron foundry near to where the Hawkes homestead would have been. Just round the corner on Black Prince Street was a philanthropic educational establishment called the Beaufoy Institute which opened in 1907. Its now a Buddhist Centre. A decorative tablet on the front of the building bears a most beautiful sentiment ‘Those that do teach young babes Do it with gentle means and easy tasks’ .


The 1901 census indicates that the family had moved a few miles west into Battersea and were living at 22 Wickersley Road. There is no sign of their house any more which looks like it might now be beneath the John Burns Primary School. Harry was still working as a post office sorter. Ernest was six, Albert three, Elizabeth an infant. This would have been a much more salubrious location, on the Lavendar Hill side of Battersea and coloured a more delicate shade of pink by Mr Booth.


Electoral rolls indicate the family were in Wickersley Road until 1906 before moving the short distance to 48 Grayshott Road, within shouting distance of the Town Hall, now Battersea Arts Centre and right at the heart of the fabulous Shaftesbury Park Estate. What a place this was for young Albert to grow up in. Shaftesbury Park was the most renowned housing experiment of its day. Dedicated to providing decent accommodation for the working classes at a time when overcrowding and squalid living conditions were rife amongst the less well-off. Built between 1872 and 1877, it was the first major development of a housing co-operative. Promoted as a ‘Workmen’s City’ it offered its inhabitants not only a healthy home environment but the benefits of community living, underpinned by co-operation and self-help. Backing the scheme was the philanthropic social reformer and peer, the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, the man behind the establishment in 1844 of the Ragged School system providing free education. On 3rd August 1872  Shaftesbury laid the foundation-stone of buildings on the estate which would take his name. It’s actually just across the road from No48. Comprising about 1,200 two-storey houses with gardens laid out in wide tree-lined streets, the estate houses were of four basic types or classes distinguished by the number of rooms (only the highest class originally had bathrooms). One facility not provided on the estate was a public house, undoubtedly an attempt by the reformers behind the scheme to avoid the social problems of cheap alcohol.


It would have been a pleasant place for Albert to spend some of his childhood years, but maybe the lack of a decent boozer prompted a move to the Earlsfield area in 1911. With its ornate doorways and pastel colours, Strathville Road is one of of the loveliest streets around here. No124 would have been a nice spot and handy for The Sailor Prince or The Pig and Whistle. They would surely have known the Hayters at No 111. By 1913 the Hawkes family had crept even closer to Summerstown and until 1915 were at 723 Garratt Lane, presently the premises of Spotless Dry Cleaners, close to the junction with Franche Court Road.


Directly opposite this is Maskell Road and its here that we pick them up again in 1918, on the other side of Garratt Lane at No28. This last address in particular would have been a bit of a come-down from some of their earlier residences. One of the poorer streets in the area, Maskell Road was low-lying and prone to flooding. What precipitated this down-scale is hard to know, but they must have been happy at this address as there would be a family connection here for the next half century.

AG (Garratt Lane1968)

Albert’s surviving military records give few insights into when he joined the army or where he may have served. All we know is that he was with the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment when he died of his wounds in No.2 Canadian General Hospital at Le Treport. He left what little money he had to his mother. Le Treport was an important hospital centre with nearly 10,000 beds. As the original military cemetery at Le Treport filled, it became necessary to use the new site at Mont Huon and Albert is one of 2,128 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. The Canadian Archives contain a remarkable photo album and diary, available to view online. They belonged to a nurse called Alice Issacson, originally from Ireland who served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. She was working at No.2 Canadian General Hospital at Le Treport at the time of Albert’s death.


The Devonshire Regiment are best known for their huge sacrifice on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. They suffered so many casualties that a cemetery was named after them, famously bearing the legend ‘The Devonshires held this trench, the Devonshires hold it still’. These words were originally on a wooden cross which disappeared and replaced in the eighties with a stone memorial which now stands at the entrance to the cemetery. Two years later, the German Spring Offensive of 21st March 1918 found the 2nd Devonshires in reserve. Their War Diary records how they moved into the front line at Villers Bretonneux on 20th April. On 24th April four German Divisions made a massive tank attack on the British lines. After heavy fighting Villers Bretonneux was lost. At 10pm that night troops of the 18th Division alongside two Australian divisions organised a rapid counterattack and by daybreak they had surrounded the village. During the morning of the 25th, the Devonshires fought through it, street by street, taking full possession by the afternoon. The front line was secured once again but very likely in this attack, twenty year old Albert Hawkes was wounded and subsequently lost his life. Haig commented in his despatches on the youth of the recent intake who had behaved with distinguished gallantry in this intense action.


Villers Bretonneux was cleared of enemy troops on 25 April 1918, the third anniversary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli. This action marked the effective end of the German offensive that had begun so successfully more than a month earlier. The site has such meaning for the Australian nation that it was adopted as the site of The Australian National Memorial, the main memorial to Australian military personnel killed on the Western Front during the First World War. On 27th May at Bois de Buttes, to buy time for the rest of the Corps, the 2nd Devonshires stood and fought when their Brigade was overwhelmed by another huge German attack. In recognition of their outstanding courage the French awarded the Regiment the Croix de Guerre, whose ribbon all Devons wore on their sleeve.


Albert’s death was mentioned in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine of July 1918. His bereaved family were in good company on Maskell Road; the Phipps, Stewart, Chipperfield, Crosskey, Lorenzi, Brown, Warman and Littlefield families would all share the same tragic consequences of war. Many would remain in the area for decades. Albert’s father Harry Hawkes lived on at 28 Maskell Road until his death in 1952.

Garratt Lane flood photos courtesy of Alan Gardener

Summit of the Gods


Francis Edward Baker is one of twelve Bakers, who died in the First World War and are buried in Mikra British Cemetery at Kalamaria, on the edge of the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. Named after the half-sister of Alexander the Great, the ancient capital of Macedonia, hub of the Byzantine Empire, but as ‘Salonika’, synonymous with ‘mountains, mules and malaria’ – not a good place to be posted in 1918. Francis Baker shares his final resting place on Greek soil with two other Summerstown boys. Percy Littlefield from Maskell Road is buried in the neighbouring Lembet Road Cemetery. Some fifty miles north of there, the grave of Ernest Matcham from Worslade Road can be found in the town of Karasouli. Francis Baker died of pneumonia on 1st November 1918, tragically one day before the end of hostilities in the Balkans. Along with Frederick and William, he is the third Baker on the war memorial in St Mary’s Church in Summerstown. None are related and they all perished in the last year of the war. I did once pass through Thessaloniki on a holiday idyll many years ago and would later find out that it holds a strong personal family connection, forged in another war, twenty five years later. When I visit it again one day, I will be sure to pay my respects to Francis Edward Baker from Smallwood Road.


Francis was one of six children born to William and Emma Baker. William was born in 1847 in Ham, Surrey and worked as a cowman and dairyhand. He married a girl from Woking and their first child Henry George was born in 1869. In the 1871 census the family lived at Church Crescent near the Oval. A second child Emily Caroline was born in 1872. Agricultural pursuits and Vauxhall may not be as incongruous as it sounds, as there is in fact a City Farm adjoining the Pleasure Gardens. One of many community and youth projects which sprung up on unused land during a period of furious redevelopment around Vauxhall in the early seventies, Jubilee City Farm was set up by a group of young architects who worked with local residents growing vegetables and caring for livestock.


Two more Baker children were born in this area, Mary Jane in 1874 and Thomas in 1876. With Cup Finals at the Oval and the first test match on these shores  between England and Australia in 1880, it was an exciting time to be living in Vauxhall, but with sweeping industrialisation, perhaps not the best place to pursue a pastoral profession. Consequently, by 1881 the Bakers had switched back along the south circular to the other side of south London and were at 29 Garden Road off the Upper Richmond Road in Mortlake. With them on the census at that stage were four children; Henry George aged 12, Emily 10, Mary Jane 8 and Thomas 5. This address is quite significant as it is the one stated as that of his parents on Francis Baker’s Commonwealth War Graves Commission documentation. Garden Road, Mortlake is also possibly where he was born in 1886. His existence is first noted in the 1891 census. Emily Caroline got married that year and Henry would appear to have left the nest. 18 year old Mary Jane worked as a laundress and 15 year old Thomas was a labourer. A new addition was eight year old Emilia. They were now resident at 46 Crescent Road, on the Norbiton side of Kingston, near the entrance to Richmond Park. William’s profession is indicated here as a general labourer and he may have had work for one of the big houses dotted in and around the park.


Francis was 15 by the time of the 1901 census and that found him in Wandsworth. It appears that he and his older brother, Thomas were boarding with Emily and her young family at 62 Tonsley Hill. Sandwiched between East Hill and Old York Road and a stone’s throw from The Town Hall, this was once home to blacksmiths, factory workers, Thames lightermen and candlemakers. ‘The Tonsleys’ is now prime real-estate in olde-world Wandsworth, popular with lawyers, advertising executives and hedgefunders. Francis worked at this point as a grocer’s assistant. Emily had married a blacksmith from Crayford in Kent called Benjamin Rooke at St Mary’s Church, Mortlake on Christmas Day 1891. Francis must have got on well with them as ten years later he was still with the Rooke family in Summerstown at 74 Smallwood Road. His occupation is listed here as a packer of china and glass. There were four children, aged between one and eighteen, and Francis probably would have been like a big brother to them. This section of Smallwood Road was cleared in the late sixties but would have backed onto an area of land between the school and the almshouses fondly remembered by older residents as the local ‘horse field’, where the children would go to feed them apples. Its now the site of the extensive Copeland House, just across the road from Streatham Cemetery. A post-war map shows the nurseries on this stretch, a relic from its Bell’s Farm days. The horse presence in the fifties would undoubtedly would have been the legacy of the trade of people like Benjamin Rooke and Arthur Leicester, they were used by the dairies or those who needed a horse to help them go about the business or simply take the family out for a jaunt. With rag and bone men still doing the rounds in the nineties this culture was still a highly visible presence which has now completely disappeared.


In the spring of 1914, 28 year old Francis’ life took a dramatic turn. He went to Windsor and got married to 24 year old Ellen Annie Siggins from Battersea. They moved in just a few doors down the road from the Rookes at 66 Smallwood Road. She was still there in 1938. Two of the Rooke children; Benjamin and Emily who would have remembered Francis Baker very well are on the electoral roll in the same address in 1969. Francis and Ellen Baker had made their home near St Mary’s Church and given his name is on the memorial, I would assume there must have been a connection. Scouring the parish records has failed to find any indication of a child or a single mention of his name during the conflict. His Summerstown182 comrades surround him; the Wood brothers, the Brigdens, the Jeffries and the Tibbenhams – their names would live on together in this section of Smallwood Road in the post-war years.


Francis Baker’s name appears in the 1918 Absent Voters List at 66 Smallwood Road – but there is no mention of either Benjamin Rooke. The young man who packed china and glass was a long way from home in Macedonia taking part in a largely forgotten theatre of the First World War, which even one hundred years later is difficult to explain. The fighting when it happened was intense but it was the conditions that caused the trouble. Its generally believed that malaria and other illness accounted for approximately twenty times more casualties than any from combat. There were 162,000 cases of malaria and over half a million non-battle casualties. The Third Batallion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps to which Francis belonged, sailed from Marseilles to Salonika on 18th November 1915, arriving on 5th December. Was he with them at that stage? Its impossible to say, but given his age and his recently married status, I assume its more likely he was conscripted some time the following year. Lets hope so and that he got to enjoy a bit of marital bliss at Smallwood Road with Ellen before their world fell in.


When they landed at Salonika, the troops would have been able to see Mount Olympus, home of the ancient gods, across the Aegean. It was on the other side of this, a generation later, in another War, that my father left something behind. With the German Panzers pounding at the Monastir Gap and needing to lighten his load, Padre Simmons of the 64th Medium Regiment buried his precious Communion Cups in a wooden box he had picked up in Benghazi. Three months later and having been captured on Crete, he was in Salonika and holed up briefly in the notorious Dulag 185 Transist Camp en route for the Fatherland. Here he witnessed a nervous young Nazi thowing a grenade into a latrine packed with dysentry cases before beginning a hellish ten day train ride to Lubeck and almost four years incarceration.


Back in the 1915 version of Salonika, British and Irish forces were initially there to defend Serbia and eventually 220,000 of them would pass through there. Things were generally quiet but hotted up with a few skirmishes in 1917. The Allied forces populated the dusty plains surrounding the heavily fortified city known as ‘The Birdcage’ with interminable barbed wire fortifications. The Bulgarians kept to the surrounding mountains. It wasn’t until September 1918 that things came to a head with an offensive against the Bulgarians. The 3rd Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps were part of the 27th Division whose heroics included the capture of the Roche Noir Salient, the passage of the Vardar river and the pursuit to the Strumica valley. Hostilities ended when the Bulgarians capitulated on 30th. The Division continued to advance before being ordered to halt and turn about on the 2nd November. One day too late for Francis Edward Baker. All we know for sure about his experience there, thanks to the soldiers effects record is that he died of pneumonia on 1st November 1918 in ‘6th General Hospital, Greece’ and he left what little he had to his widow Ellen. Between them, dysentry, malaria and pneumonia accounted for half of those twelve Bakers buried in Mikra British Cemetery.


As for Dad’s box, he had picked it up from booty left behind by the retreating Italian army in North Africa. He’d got so attached to it, that he even gave it a pet name. But just a few months later the fortunes of war had turned things on their head and with the Nazis on the march to Athens and the 64th Medium Regiment in their path, now he was the one needing to get out of town and offload anything that might slow him down. He never spoke to me about it and I only discovered the story after reading his POW diaries, long after his death. Ill health meant that he never went abroad again after he came back from Germany but an elderly relative in Liverpool confirmed that what he had written was true. Look out for me in the Volos Gorge, I’ll be carrying a spade and wandering the mountain passes looking for Dad’s chest.


‘On the evening of our 3rd or perhaps 4th day at Volos, George came round with instructions. “All superfluous kit and material is to be destroyed. Dump everything you possibly can, boxes, cases, spare wheels, clothes, blankets. Every spare inch of the trucks are to be kept to give stragglers a lift.” We got down to the job at once. It was a real orgy of destruction, thoroughly and efficiently carried out. Of the kit and clothes nothing could possibly be used again. Blankets were reduced to ribbons, so were underclothes, socks, mosquito nets. The boys fairly revelled in it. There were my robes and books and Communion sets. I couldn’t destroy these, nor could I take them with me. I folded them nicely, packed them into ‘I. Impalouis’ war chest, draped it in tattered blankets, put it in a deep slit-trench and buried it. It was indeed with a heavy heart that I parted with these professional appurtenances, especially my Office Book, a present from my cousin George Hobson of Dublin and one which I prized very much dearly. But it was quite impossible to take it with me, and as later developments showed, I did a wise thing in burying it. Nevertheless, in case the chest should be dug up, I left no doubts as to ownership. Inside, on a large piece of paper I left this notice: – “The contents of this box are the property of the Rev. R.A. Simmons. Whoever you are who opens it, be you German or Greek, please take care of the religious articles. When the War is over get in touch with me, c/o The War Office, Whitehall, London, England.” I hope to recover these articles some day’.
Robert Alexander Simmons c.23rd April 1941