In a pivotal olde-world Tooting location, separated by the cobbled Salvador passage-way from Macdonalds and the great hulk of the Tooting Granada Bingo Hall, this ancient inn has seen a lot of history. And a lot of drinking. Tooting has always been renowned for its pubs and many of them still survive though not necessarily with the same name. Always a bit of a rough and ready old-school boozer with something of a reputation, the Horse and Groom has been rejuvenated by the Antic company whose Tootopia festival creates such a buzz around here every September. Its now the Graveney and Meadow, a rather nice gentle name, conjuring up pastoral visions of a tinkling brook running through fields of lavender and camomile. Very much in keeping with the field mushrooms, eggs benedict and carrot hash on its brunch menu. If that’s not your thing, how about some Graveney House Beans on toasted sourdough with sriracha ketchup. In the effortless Antic manner its been done-up just enough to make it a comfortable place to drink or eat, yet preserving some of the rough edges of the past. The low dark timber ceiling and the odd exposed crumbling brick make it easy to transport yourself back to the mid-nineteenth century when the Brigden family were pulling pints for the good people of Salvador.
One of the names on our war memorial at St Mary’s Church in Summerstown is Henry John Brigden, who died in the final weeks of the war on 2nd September 1918, one hundred years ago. He was born at 1 Smallwood Road on 29th October 1888, the fifth and youngest child of William Brigden, a postman from Wandsworth and his first wife Mary Ann. Very sadly, when Henry was only eighteen months old, his mother died on 21st April 1890 at the age of 36. She left behind four other children; 13 year old William, 11 year old Alfred, 9 year old James and 8 year old Elizabeth.
William married again four years later at St Saviour’s Church in Southwark. His second wife Ann Bloom was a widow from Carlisle and on the certificate he gave his profession as a house painter. The 1901 census sees them living at Elizabeth Cottages, 3 Smallwood Road, right in the eye of the dramatic building development engulfing the area. In 1906 this may have become 98 Smallwood Road, a house that William Brigden was still living at in 1933. He died a year later aged 79. Henry was probably one of the first pupils at Smallwood School.
Rewind two generations and his Grandfather, also Henry and originally from Buckinghamshire had relocated to Wandsworth. Here he married and worked as a ‘letter carrier’. The 1861 census indicates a change of career. He was now a beer retailer with a family of six children, resident at the Horse and Groom pub in Mitcham Lane, Tooting. Henry was probably familiar with another local publican up the road in Summerstown. Indeed he may well have gone there to place a wager at one of the contests at Robert Sadler’s running grounds. The Brigdens were still there ten years later. William aged 15, like two of his siblings was ‘employed at home’ so very likely helping out at the pub. There were now seven of them, five boys and two girls. A decade later William had assumed his father’s earlier trade and was working as a ‘letter carrier’. He married Mary Ann Hussey in 1875 and they had four young children; William, Alfred, James and Elizabeth. Henry Senior died in 1872 but the family were still on Mitcham Road at No22. William’s older brother Henry ran the corn-chandlers shop at No37. The Horse and Groom was now listed as No21 and managed by the Boulter family. An Irish widow called Jane Boulter ran the show with her four daughters and a son.
The Brigdens had a big stake in mid-Victorian Tooting. A map of 1860 shows a still largely rural area and how even a generation later it was still far removed from what it would become in the early years of the twentieth century. Most of the building was along Tooting High Street with a cluster of development on Church Street leading to St Nicholas. Around Salvador, the Horse and Groom is just about visible on the map. New Road hadn’t yet become Garratt Lane and leads through the fields to Wandsworth. There was no hospital, no Streatham Cemetery, just a great swathe of open ground all around the Surrey Lunatic Asylum. Below this were the fishponds, once possibly the moats of the medieval manor houses which dotted this area. One of these, roughly where Selkirk Road now stands is believed to have been visited by no lesser person than Queen Elizabeth 1st, en route to Nonsuch Palace.
The main residential areas appear to be around Tooting Grove and Salvador. In the decades that followed these, would become densely populated and the most notorious of the Tooting slums, eventually cleared in the 1930s. The Fairlight area was also identified as a slum area but apart from a few properties, wholesale demolition was avoided – that was left to a V2 rocket and sixties development. In Salvador’s case the houses were replaced by Sidney Bernstein’s massive Granada Cinema. The Horse and Groom quietly observed it all; Frank Sinatra, Beatlemania, the coming of the bingo age. By the early 1880s the open spaces were filling up and familiar road names appear. Selkirk, Graveney and Defoe Roads. The railway line skirts Lambeth Cemetery and runs alongside Longley Road. Certainly there were now plenty more local drinkers to keep the beer flowing in the Horse and Groom.
By 1911 the family had moved away from the hustle and bustle of Tooting and were living at 98 Smallwood Road with 22 year old Henry working as a butcher’s assistant. His father’s occupation was listed as a general labourer. No98 was Henry’s pivotal address, it would have been just to the right of the Schoolkeeper’s Cottage, most likely demolished in Sid Sporle’s sixties purge. We left a candle at the nearest house and a little card in his memory when we did our Remembrance Walk last November. I was amazed to get a reply on Twitter from the resident saying how much the gesture was appreciated.
Two of Henry’s aunts, who would have probably grown up helping in the Horse and Groom ended up living just a few doors along Smallwood Road from William and his fmily. His younger sisters Eliza and Agnes neither of whom ever married lived at No92. Eliza died aged 79 in 1944. Agnes passed away in 1944 aged 76. In the 1891 census, Henry Brigden their two year old nephew is present with them at 6 Elizabeth Cottages, Smallwood Road. Quite possibly his Aunts were looking after him as a consequence of his Mother’s death. They were both dressmakers at that time. With his Dad now settled with a new wife Henry was back at No3 with them in 1901.
Living so close to the school, its impossible that Henry would not have attended there and he probably worked in one of the butcher’s shops in the area. His name does not appear in any of the lists of those who joined up in the early years of the war which appear in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine, nor is he in the ‘Old Smalls’ booklet published in 1916. This would suggest he was conscripted in the later part of the war. He enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery in Wimbledon and died of his wounds on 2nd September 1918, whist serving as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery, a few months short of his thirtieth birthday. His soldiers effects record show no sign of a wife. He left everything to his father. Henry was in ‘Anti-Aircraft Battery L’ at the time of his death and is buried in St Martin Calvaire British Cemetery, St Martin-sur-Cojeul, a village about eight kilometres south-east of Arras It contains only 228 Commonwealth burials. His death ‘killed in action’ was reported in the December issue of the St Mary’s Church parish magazine. As for the old Horse and Groom, its enjoying its new lease of life at the centre of Tootopia and if you are passing, have a look at the old gable wall on the Tooting Broadway side of the building and you can still see the name (or at least half of it) painted onto the bricks. Better still, try looking out for it from the top of a passing bus.