The Drummer

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Many years ago when soldiers were at battle in the field with no altars on which to hold religious services, they would pile their drums neatly to make an altar, perhaps draped with regimental colours or a flag. A clergyman would then consecrate the ‘altar’ and celebrate religious services. In modern times the tradition of the Drumhead Service of Remembrance lives on. In the quiet stillness of the dark November night, I always like to slip into St Mary’s Church, Summerstown on the eve of Remembrance Sunday. The drums will have arrived earlier that evening and make a splendid sight, red, black and pristine shiny, they bristle with anticipation, evocative of the eve of battle. They also remind us that amongst the ranks of privates, gunners, sailors and aircraftmen that make up the Summerstown182, there is one who stands alone in being classified as a drummer. Its George Henry Cooper of Huntspill Street and Swaby Road, who was in the 8th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. He died aged 27 of pneumonia on 7th May 1918, just under two years after his brother Reginald was lost in the Battle of Jutland. He is buried in Wandsworth Cemetery.

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Henry Benjamin Cooper, a baker from West Molesey, near Hampton Court, married Rose Readings from Stoke Row, Oxfordshire in Chelsea in 1889 and in 1891 they were living at Queen’s Terrace in Fulham. Their oldest child George was born in Parthenia Road, Parsons Green the previous year. Its close to Eel Brook Common at the northern end of Wandsworth Bridge Road. A sister Maude was born in 1892, Reginald two years later and Winifred in 1896. By the time Gertrude arrived the following year, they had relocated via Wandsworth Bridge Road to Huntspill Street, Summerstown. Henry Cooper was doing very well in his bakery business based at No3 Pont Street, Belgravia, now one of the grandest, most exclusive parts of London. In 1901 there were five children and they were all still there in 1911, though another record would seem to indicate that George was abroad in the army. 17 year old Reg worked as a fishmonger. Unusually this census record indicates the streets that all the children were born in.

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It would appear that Henry and Rose moved into a new road near Earlsfield in 1914. They were very likely one of the first residents of Swaby Road, part of a planned garden suburb, the Magdalen Park Estate. A wonderful photo from 1915 shows children playing in the newly built street, looking south towards Burntwood Lane. The Cooper abode at Nos 142 and 144 would be roughly where the horse and cart is, not far from the junction with Littleton Street. Currently one of these is for sale and the other in the process of a major refurbishment and shrouded with boards. The large circular plinths on the gable-ended houses are visible in the photo and these still exist. A decorative outer laurel motif suggests something might have been intended to be added in the middle – that remains oddly empty and plain, so perhaps the money ran out.

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Across the road in the old photo is open ground and although the building of houses here was delayed by the war, a large section between the roads which were named Openview and Fieldview were retained for sporting activity. Originally this land was owned by Magdalen College Oxford and the good quality Edwardian housing designed in 1911 by builders, the Holloway Brothers, on the west side of Swaby Road, Burntwood Lane and Magdalen Road were the start of an ambitious project that was never completed as originally planned. The Council’s ‘Magdalen Park Conservation Area Appraisal’ describes it thus; ‘The west side of Swaby Road is made up of three long terraces, each composed of two building types in a Neo-Georgian style. In all, there are 81 two storey buildings and each has been designed to contain two flats, one on the ground floor with another on the first floor, making a total of 162 separate dwellings. This is a very fine composition with a style that is unique and possibly one of the finest examples of domestic architecture of its period within the Borough’. Reg’s next-of-kin details indicate his parents lived at 144a Swaby Road, two years later, George’s have them next door at 142a. Sadly Rose didn’t have very long to enjoy this splendid location, perhaps heartbroken at the loss of her two sons and a married daughter, she died in 1919 aged 63. Henry passed away in 1931, he was only 73 but lived longer than four of his children.

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Rose never saw a road on the other side of the street being named after the Mayor of Wandsworth, Sir Archibald Dawnay. He was eleven years in office, right the way through the war years and when it came to drumming up recruitment fever he was right at the forefront, very much the driving force behind the local 13th Wandsworth Battalion, part of the East Surrey Regiment. Quite how she felt about having Dawnay Road, a permanent reminder on her doorstep of a man who may have stirred her lads into action, we can’t be sure.

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George’s military headstone in Wandsworth Cemetery is placed unusually, but not uniquely on top of an existing family grave. Records indicate this was only authorised in 1987 and put in position in 1993. The family headstone is now almost unreadable but its possible to decipher mention of his brother Reginald being lost at the Battle of Jutland. He was a ‘First Class Stoker on the famous HMS Invincible. Her destruction at the climax of the Battle of Jutland, resulting in the death of all but six of her crew of 1,031 was captured dramatically in some very famous photographs. In 1991 a British expedition marking the 75th anniversary of the battle located the wreck. The war years saw wedding bells for the Cooper family, Gertrude married in 1916 and Maud a year later, both in St Andrew’s Church by its long-serving vicar, Reverend Douglas Tudor-Craig. Reginald, most likely in uniform, married Blanche Violet Warren on 2nd October 1915 in Balham. Eight months later he was dead and Blanche would be a widow for 40 years. She died in Wandsworth in 1956.

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Maud and Gertrude Cooper both married servicemen. Maud wed Stanley Weller who was in the Royal Marine Light Infantry. Among the 82 names on the Swaby Road Absent Voter’s List, he is at No142, apparently serving on HMS Canterbury. Maud and Stanley lived on at 142a Swaby Road until her death in 1928. Gertude married Joseph Marcantonio from Eltringham Street in Wandsworth, the son of an ice cream maker. He had been invalided out of the 23rd London Regiment after two years service following a gunshot wound in 1915. Sadly after a little over two years of marriage, Gertude died aged 22 in December 1918. This was a very black year for the Cooper family. Her name is just about readable on that family headstone in Wandsworth Cemetery.

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Although his military records have been lost, George’s army service number is consistent with a 1908 recruit into the East Surrey Regiment, when he would have been 18. Although he is listed at home in the 1911 census, another record places places him with the 2nd Battalion of the East Surreys in Burma. A long way from Huntspill Street. He would have returned from India at the start of the war and should in theory have gone to the western front in early 1915. One thing is certain, from the end of March, through April 1918, the 8th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment suffered terribly in the wake of the German Spring Offensive. In the mayhem of a retreat, with gas and shells exploding over him on top of terrible weather, its unlikely George would have had much chance of doing any drumming. Its most likely that in the midst of this madness he was wounded and taken back to hospital in England.

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The ‘soldiers effects’ form tells us that George died of pneumonia in a Shrewsbury War Hospital in Shropshire and left an estate of £22 to his father. This may have been Berrington Hospital which was converted from an old workhouse and appeared to treat many soldiers who suffered from respiratory diseases, many of which were caused by the effects of gas. A desire to provide the patient with ‘fresh air’ may also have been a factor in choice of hospital and certainly Shrewsbury must have had a much better air quality than London in those days.

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When the family lived at Huntspill Street there must have been a connection with St Mary’s Church but the move to Swaby Road very much took the family into the orbit of St Andrew’s. In October 1914 the very first list appears in the St Mary’s parish magazine of ‘Men serving their King and Country who have gone forth from this parish’. There are 124 names on the list, both Cooper brothers among them. One woman is included, Nurse Ethel Willoughby under ‘Hospital Service’. Twenty of these names would eventually appear on the war memorial. In June 1918 George’s death was announced in the parish magazine and that it was as a result of him being gassed.

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Horse and Plough

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One of the saddest deaths of all of the Summerstown182 must surely be that of Henry William Ward He passed away at the Grove Military Hospital, Tooting just five days before the Armistice, on 6th November 1918. Not only that, but the fact this happened at home seems to make it even harder to bear, just half a mile up the road from his family home – so close yet so far. He is buried just another half mile or so, in the other direction, in Wandsworth Cemetery on Magdalen Road, Earlsfield.

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Henry lived at 74 Summerstown, at the Plough Lane end, on the other side of the road from The White Lion, Sadler’s Cottages and Gothic Lodge. He would have been very familiar with the Hammonds, the Bakers and the Woods, living on the last stretch of this pivotal road, a location long favoured by those with Romany roots and a fondness for caravans and horses. He worked as a blacksmith and served as a farrier-sergeant in the Royal Field Artillery. They were in charge of smaller mobile field guns, positioned close to the front line and moving frequently using teams of horses. Henry would have been making and fitting shoes, attending to the majority of the veterinary and husbandry needs of a horse and inspecting every horse in his charge twice a day.

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This corner of the Wimbledon Stadium complex, still the home of a beautiful willow, sadly earmarked for the chop, was until just under a year ago, the location of Simon’s Diner, providing sustenance to the greyhound racing fraternity, market and car boot sale shoppers. Now its enclosed with Galliard hoarding awaiting the coming of luxury homes and AFC Wimbledon. I just had to smile a few weeks ago when as if some giant cheeky mouse had visited, a hole suddenly appeared opposite Lidl and there were police reports of a caravan being impounded. Very naughty of course, but it seemed a bit like tradition was being upheld.

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What changes would take place here in the following decades as the traces of calico ditches and watercress beds were replaced in 1928 by a greyhound racing stadium. Then came speedway, bangers, monster trucks and on a bizarre day in 1978, sixty five naked women riding bicycles in Freddie Mercury’s video. Now we eagerly await the return of the football club who Henry Ward may well have watched when they came to the other end of Plough Lane in 1913.

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Henry was born around 1885 into a part of Surrey with long-standing military connections. His parents were Thomas Henry Ward from Ash, near Aldershot and his wife Mary Keen, a native of Farnham. They married on 14th November 1880 at a place called Tongham, just off the famous A31 Hog’s Back road. In the 1891 census the family lived at 7 Pembury Place, on the High Street in Aldershot and Thomas worked as a grocer’s assistant. There appear to have been only two children, William and his sister Emily, born in 1890.

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A decade later, presumably having decided that London provided a better future, they were at 32 Selkirk Road in Tooting, one of the great historic roads in the area, overlooked protectively by the famous old Defoe Chapel. Legendary Tooting worthies, Joshua Oldfield and Bevill Allen are connected to this building though Daniel Defoe’s involvement remains unconfirmed. At No3 is one of Tooting’s most long-established businesses, Harrington’s famous Pie and Mash Shop. Bertie and Clara set up there in 1908 and its still going strong. Henry was now a blacksmith’s mate and his father a labourer. Five other people lived at the address including George Squire, indicated as an assistant barber. He quite possibly worked at one of three nearby barbers shops, assuming they were in operation at the time. Another extraordinary tonsorial connection was forged a few years ago when Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop was dramatically transformed into a theatrical venue. In the winter of 2014, Tooting Arts Club decided to stage Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical Sweeney Todd there. Eight actors, three musicians and an audience of thirty two people squeezed into the tiny shop. Exceptional reviews followed and on the last night a visit from Sondheim himself. Sir Cameron Mackintosh took it to the West End and the show is currently playing on Broadway with the existing cafe set at 3 Selkirk Road re-created for its Big Apple audience. Whatever would Henry Ward have thought of that?

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The following ten years saw dramatic events which took the family up Garratt Lane to Summerstown and allow us to identify Henry as the H W Ward on our war memorial. In April 1907 Thomas, still resident at Selkirk Road died at the age of 44. In December Mary re-married to Cornelius William Walker and moved to 74 Summerstown. They certainly didn’t hang around getting hitched as Cornelius’ first wife Elizabeth only passed away in September of that year, leaving him with six children.

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One small episode which happened in 1908 was found in the online records of a trial of one William Sheldrake at the Old Bailey. It would appear that Cornelius Walker described as a ‘tar traveller’ had supplied materials to the defendant ‘whom I knew, and had arranged to make the end carriage of a van for me’. The Walkers had previously lived at 11 Summerstown, another house with 182 connections. Sheldrake was acquitted of the forgery and deception charge but the extract gives a tiny glimpse into the world of horses, trading and travelling life that Henry now orbited. A world remarkably of which there are still traces, over one hundred years later. On the 1911 census, Henry indicated as ‘Harry’ is 26 and listed as a stepson, working as a carman. Ernest Walker a nineteen year old son from Cornelius’ first marriage was also a tar traveller. In June 1910 Emily had married George Figgest a gardener in the cemetery and they now lived at the same address. There were Figgest family living round the corner at No8 Keble Street where William and John may well have been George’s brothers.

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It’s not possible to say too much about Henry Ward’s military service other than that he was a farrier-sergeant in the 179th Royal Field Artillery at the time of his death and that he also served with the Royal Horse Artillery. He enlisted in Camberwell and it would seem from other similar service number records relating to 179th Royal Field Artillery that he volunteered in June 1915 at Deptford, so possibly he was living at this time in south east London. The only other thing we know is that he died on 6th November 1918 and his name is on the screen in Wandsworth Cemetery. In January 1919 his death was noted in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine, ‘We regret to hear that Henry William Ward of the Royal Field Artillery, died in hospital on November 6th 1918’.

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A key fact in tracing the family of Henry William Ward was in his Soldier’s Effects record which shows his mother as his sole legatee. Mary Walker was left nine pounds, eighteen shillings and sixpence. This fact enabled us to trace his parents and find out that his mother had re-married. It also stated that he died in the Grove Military Hospital, now the site of St George’s Hospital.

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The Absent Voters List of 1918 makes interesting reading with two Walker brothers, Henry Ward and George Figgest all listed as serving soldiers at 74 Summerstown. Ernest Walker was in 1/5th East Surreys, Alfred Walker in the Army Service Corps, George Figgest a ‘wheeler’ in the Royal Field Artillery and Henry Ward a sergeant-farrier. Familiar names of Earl, Baker, Nicholls, Woodley and Wright all feature in the list and round the corner, Robert and William Figgest at 8 Keble Street.

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Cornelius died in 1925 at the age of 74. Henry’s mother and married sister Emily were still at 74 Summerstown according to the 1958 electoral roll. This photo from 1958 shows the road shortly before its transformation and No74 would have been one of the houses on the left. Across the road is the beautiful Gothic Lodge at No73, the building immediately to its right is the only original house on the main section of this road which still stands today. It would appear that Emily and George Figgest had a son in 1920 called Harry John Figgest. Its quite possible that he was named after her recently deceased brother. We will perhaps never know.

Movement of Jah People

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Persistent rumours have abounded in SW17 circles over the past few years that Bob Marley spent some time in Tooting. He laid down some grooves at the recording studio above the Mixed Blessings Bakery on Mitcham Lane. He courted a nurse from St George’s Hospital. He was spotted on a bus in Blackshaw Road. As much as we would love it all to be true, our investigations, including conversations with those who would surely know, have failed so far to come up with conclusive proof. It is though well documented that Bob spent quality time just a few stops up the Northern Line in Kennington. Playing football in the park, hanging out at the Rastafarian temple on St Agnes Place and recording Exodus. This was released by Island Records on 3rd June 1977. St Agnes Place was London’s longest running squat from 1969 to 2007.

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We’ve already established one fabulous Bob Marley connection with the Summerstown182. His father Norval spent some time at a convalescent camp in Shropshire in 1918 where William Caudle from Garratt Lane was also a patient. Now we have another. Kennington was very much the orbit of William James Wood. The lad lived in nearby Smith Street and inspired by tales of FA Cup Finals at the nearby Kennington Oval, he probably kicked a ball on the same patch of grass as Bob, Bunny and the rest of the Wailers. I’ve also got fond memories of playing football in Kennington Park, most especially scoring a 30 yard screamer against the Wandsworth Warriors on my fortieth birthday match. Its not far from the imposing St Mark’s Church where the war memorial has over 400 names. This was once a place of execution where 21 Jacobite rebels captured at Culloden were hung drawn and quartered in 1745.

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Frederick William Wood, a labourer and his wife Mary Ann had their roots firmly in this Lambeth area. They had nine children, five boys and four girls. Frederick their eldest was born in 1881 and John two years later. At least three of their boys served in the First World War and two of them, William and Robert were killed and are on our war memorial in Summerstown. Their third child, Elizabeth Jane was born in August 1884 when the family lived at 9 Clark’s Row, part of a small enclave of streets between Brixton Road and Clapham Road, near St Michael’s Church on Stockwell Park Road. Lilian Baylis who famously managed the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells theatres lived here. Van Gogh also spent a year just round the corner and has a plaque and a road named after him. Its all very close to the elusive Type Archive which I never seem to be able to locate.

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The Woods were still there when William James was born on 2nd May 1886. His father is listed then as working as a general dealer. By the 1830’s Stockwell Park was an exclusive early Victorian neighbourhood with many imposing villas. The coming of the railways, and the opening of Stockwell Underground station in 1890, attracted more working people and smaller terraced houses and mansion blocks sprang up. Stockwell Gardens Estate was built in the 1930s, and the Studley Estate in the 1950s. In 1944 a V1 destroyed a number of houses on the corner of Stockwell Park Road and Lorn Road, killing 11 people. Clark’s Row and Halstead Street were demolished in the fifties and are now submerged beneath the Slade Gardens Adventure Playground. By the way, that’s Slade as in the Art School, nothing to do with Noddy Holder. St Michael’s Church dating from 1841, survived extensive damage from this bomb and is still going strong. There are some lovely houses in the area with decorative ornamentation seemingly matching the pinnacles on the church.

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This area does have some ‘purple’ on the Charles Booth map. He visited in 1899 and despite its suburban pretensions, described this location as ‘very poor and rough; children dirty’. In 1893 when Fanny was born the Wood family were at 44 Halstead Street. Robert is noted as having been born in Kennington in 1897 so they were probably still in this area. They would most certainly have been around in 1896 to see Reverend Begbie replace the pinnacles on the church and repair the tower.

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The 1901 census indicates they had moved a little bit further north and were at 70 Smith Street, off Camberwell Road, not too far from the Oval Cricket Ground. There were nine children at this point, ranging from 20 year old Frederick to two and a half year old Charlie. William was sixteen and working as an errand boy. This venue had been hosting the FA Cup Final until just a few years before. The 1893 final saw West Brom beat Aston Villa 3-1 in front of 33,000 people. Close to Kennington Park this was a crowded area but probably a bit more pleasant. Booth noted nearby Kennington Terrace as being ‘very respectable, all with servants’. Interesting then to note that St Agnes Place where Bob later hung out, was also a road of 22 houses purpose built for the families of servants who worked at Buckingham Palace. Since the 2007 evictions its been completely reshaped into a row of oddly characterless Georgian-style townhouses, contrasting so sharply with its former existence.

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Child mortality was of course rife in the early years of the century but all nine Wood children appear to have survived. Only the four youngest were still at home in 1911 when the family pitched up in Summerstown, at 56 Smallwood Road. Fred and Mary had now been married for 32 years. Phoebe and Frances, aged 21 and 19 were working as domestic servants, 15 year old Robert was an errand boy for a chemist and the youngest George was 12. We don’t know where William now 26 could have been and with his army records also unattainable, the rest of his life is speculation. A note in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine from August 1917 states ‘We have heard this month that Robert Wood of the Northamptonshire Regiment and his brother William Wood of the Royal Fusiliers have been killed in action’. This was certainly a long time to wait for confirmation of his death. Identifying him as the person on our memorial took some time but we are almost certain that he was killed on 7th November 1915 and is buried at Fricourt, near Albert. Indications are that he lived in Brixton and a William Wood is one of forty names listed as being on the lost St Michael’s Church ‘War Shrine’.

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Raised in Hounslow, the 11th (Service) Battalion (London Regiment) of the Royal Fusiliers were part of the 18th (Eastern) Division of General Kitchener’s Second New Army. Their early days were rather shambolic with few officers to train the new volunteers and no organised accomodation or equipment. They were initially located in the Colchester area but moved in May 1915 to Salisbury Plain where King George V inspected them on 24 June. They were fortunate to avoid Gallipoli and went to France in July 1915 and moved to Flesselles, near Amiens. There are no indications of them being involved in a major attack until the Somme the following year so it appears likely that William died in some isolated action whilst both sides were settling down to the prospect of trench warfare.

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A few miles outside Albert, Fricourt was attacked on the first day of the Somme offensive, by then William Wood was already dead. Point 110 Old and New Military Cemeteries are either side of a track to the south of it and named after the contour on the map. Point 110 Old Military Cemetery contains 100 Commonwealth burials of the First World War including William Wood. A small wood on a ridge, the Bois Francais is just beyond these cemeteries, the enemy lines relatively close together as neither wanted to concede the high ground. The trenches near here had London names like Park Lane, Old Kent Road, Duke Street and Shooters Hill.

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William Wood may have been settled into his own life by the time the rest of his family came to Summerstown. Certainly he appears more connected to the Stockwell and Kennington area. But his family now living in Smallwood Road placed his name on the war memorial alongside his brother Robert and thats how we’ve come to know about him. When I went to have a look at St Agnes Place I chatted to a very nice lady who told me that her father had worked with Bob Marley during his time in the area and should be able to confirm or deny the Tooting rumour. I’m hoping very much to hear from her. Whenever I go past there in future I’ll certainly think of William Wood along with the movement of jah people.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/when-bob-marley-joined-the-bloomsbury-set-6230422.html

A Cleaner Tooting

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Joseph Frederick Thomas Lucas was born in Willesden at the dawn of the twentieth century into an age of optimism. A few years later his family came to live in Tooting in the early years of the reign of Edward VII. There’s a good reason why the King’s statue is outside Tooting Broadway. Related to most of its royalty he was known as the ‘Uncle of Europe’. As people flooded into the area and new streets and amenities emerged almost overnight, this was the birth of the bustling, hustling Tooting we know today. The trams came in 1903 and with them three future kings to inspect the progress of the emerging Totterdown Estate. A library was built and great well-intentioned public meeting places like Fairlight Hall and the Central Methodist Hall would soon emerge, followed by the cinemas. There was even a new St Mary’s Church in Summerstown. Public baths were constructed, then a great ‘bathing lake’, now the world famous Lido. Not only was Tooting getting bigger, it was getting cleaner.

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The Lucas family had a strong military pedigree. Joseph’s grandfather Hugh was a Chelsea pensioner from Belfast, his parents worked in military tailoring and his brothers Albert and Hugh served alongside him in the First World War. Albert was killed at Cambrai and less than five months later eighteen year old Joseph, serving in the 8th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment also lost his life in the wake of the German Spring Offensive. His name is on the great memorial at Tyne Cot in Flanders. The Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing is the largest cemetery for commonwealth forces in the world. The Memorial bears the names of almost 35,000 officers and men whose graves are not known.

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Their first residence in Tooting was 11 Gambole Road, the street that diverts sharply off Garratt Lane just before its last stretch and heads to St George’s Hospital before turning into Coverton Road. Not far down here, No88a was the childhood home of the legendary comic actor George Cole. This last stretch of Garratt Lane would at that time have been called Defoe Road and the hospital was the Fountain Fever Hospital. Just a short walk away Sidney Lewis was born in 1903, another young lad who ended up in uniform before he should have done. The pressure to join up in the early war years was intense and halfway down, Gambole Road is met by the extraordinary Gibey Road and its record-breaking Absent Voters List roll call of 137 out of 99 doors. There are only 40 doors on Gambole Road but still 37 names. They include a George Slaughter at No28 and someone at No5 who was on the quaintly named ‘HMS Inflexible’. At No40, next to the hospital were three members of the Henson family including one who was a Sergeant in the Chinese Labour Corps.

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No11 is now gone. The even-numbered houses on the north side are all preserved but the south side peters out at inflexible No5 before it meets Gilbey Road. For whatever reason, where it should have been appears to be a parking space. Around this point is surely one of the oddest doorways in Tooting, No98a Gilbey Road actually fronts onto Gambole Road and has a great big gaping windowless wall all to itself. At the Garratt Lane end of the road is a chiropracter and a shabby corner retail premises which should be a prime location but has been empty and boarded-up for as long as I can remember.

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The 1911 census saw them living at 29 Bertal Road in Summerstown. A delightful street of about 40 original houses, tucked in between the Hazelhurst estate and Lambeth Cemetery. Eleven year old Joseph was still at school with two younger sisters Daisy and Rose. His name does not appear on either the Smallwood or Fountain registers, though its hard to believe he didn’t go there given the proximity – he probably didn’t make the 1916 ‘Old Smalls’ booklet because he was not yet in the army. The Absent Voters list for here also makes interesting reading for Joseph you would think should be on it. His brother, 25 year old Hugh Lancelot Lucas of 21st London Regiment is. The reason is that Joseph was too young to vote – like thousands of others not captured on this register because they were under twenty one. Other familiar Bertal Road names are John Warman at No27, brother of William. George Quenzer at No2, brother of another underage soldier Alfred, who died with the East Surreys at Villers-Plouich. Walter Matthews at No11 was connected to the Kitz family and the maternal grandfather of our great friend Lynda Biggs. He survived the war but was badly gassed.

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Joseph was in the 8th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment, killed on 18th April 1918 when the battalion were retreating in the face of the great German Spring Offensive. No wonder the tone is a bit brisk and to the point, they must have been terrified. The Gloucesters war diary indicates that they ‘relieved the Australians in front of Messines’ at the start of the month and were now in front line trenches. There was an extensive enemy barrage on the 10th forcing them back to a place called Stinking Farm. On 14th they were at Rossignol and trenches near Beaver Corner. The diary note on 18th reads ‘Orders were received from Brigade to commence to withdraw the battalion back to a field near Wippenhoek Siding about two miles east of Abeele’. This was a place where the previous year a young Jamaican pilot called William Robinson Clarke became the first black airman to fly for Britain. They remained here for three days before moving to Proven. There is no mention of any attack or further shell barrage but the young man from Bertal Road was some how lost in this period. Heartbreak for his mother Annie who less than six months earlier had lost an older son Albert at Cambrai. Annie’s husband William died in 1921. She passed away in 1947 aged 81 having outlived five of her sons.

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We remembered Joseph Lucas this summer along with two of his Summerstown182 mates, Albert Dell and Eldred Henden whose names are all on the memorial at Tyne Cot. We were there to attend the Passchendaele centenary commemoration event, standing among the headstones precisely a century after the battle began on 31st July 1917. It was a curious oddity that none of our Summerstown threesome died in that battle but all the following year. We placed a little cross at the foot of screen wall where his name is inscribed, close to the top of the middle column of Gloucestershire Regiment names. There was quite a collection of tributes so there must have been plenty of people there that day with connections to the regiment.

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Later that evening we went to Artillery Wood Cemetery, just a few miles outside Ypres to remember someone who did die that day. Killed by a shell just a short walk from where he is buried, Francis Ledwidge was a poet and Irish patriot who served with the Royal Inniskiling Fusilers. The Friends of Flanders Field Museum in Ypres have done great work over the last twenty years to bring his legacy to public attention and this year his face was on an Irish postage stamp. All our Belgian pals were there; Bart and Sabien, Gilbert from VIFF, Tracey and Richard doing the music. Also present were members of the Ledwidge family, representatives of the Irish government and a coachload of people from the poet’s home town in Slane, County Meath. One of his best known poems ‘To One Who Comes Now and Then’ was written a week before his death on 22nd July 1917. That was the day Fred Jewell died so we made a trip to his grave the day before and recited it.

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Sadly we know very little else about young Joseph Lucas. We don’t know what job he had, can’t be sure about his school or when he joined ths army or any detail about how he was killed. We have so far not been able to contact anyone from the Lucas family. All we have is a little early family background. For more on that, read the story about his brother Albert. However, he is in our thoughts and if we are passing 29 Bertal Road on our Summerstown182 ‘Walk of Remembrance’ next month, we’ll be sure to leave him a candle.

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Bob Sadler’s Plaque

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Between 1853 and 1864 there was an extraordinary athletics venue just off Garratt Lane. This was still largely an area of fields and farms adjacent to the small mill communities of Garratt and Summerstown, but crowds in their thousands flocked regularly to attend sporting spectacles at Robert Sadler’s Copenhagen Running Grounds. A few drinks and a wager on some of the biggest sporting celebrities of the age played a large part in this and Bob slaked thirsts and ran his enterprise from Althorp Lodge, opposite Tesco on the site of what is now Burmester House. Once, a prominent location on the sporting history map of south London, there is now no trace of it and for many years local historians, although aware of its existence, could not pinpoint precisely where it was. The runners, known then as pedestrians, came from all over the country and much further afield, most famously the native North American known as ‘Deerfoot’ who ran in his traditional costume. As well as the elite runners of the era, there were all sorts of odd challenges and events to witness; a man running against a horse, barrel-rolling events, even competition between disabled athletes. The founder of this establishment, Robert Sadler, was a man of many hats, a Garratt Lane entrepreneur whose contribution to the area’s life, industry and development of Summerstown will hopefully now be more widely known and appreciated.

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Robert Sadler’s plaque unveiling, part of the Summerstown Celebration on 16th September was a joyous occasion that showed the presentation of community history at its best. The story of this ‘lost’ running ground, which was ‘found’ so splendidly in Kevin Kelly’s book, has always got a mention on our Summerstown182 Walks and people can scarcely believe the tale. The tranquil millenial housing estate which now occupies this site, between the Anglo American Laundry and Garratt Green, gives away no clues to its former existence but its possible to close your eyes and imagine this birthplace of the world of athletics ‘track and field’ that we know today.

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Remarkably in the summer of 2012, the Olympic Flame passed by the site on its way down Garratt Lane. Hundreds of people packed the streets that evening in a scene which would not have been dissimilar to that at one of Bob’s big events a century and a half before. As the sporting historian Simon Inglis put it so magnificently in his speech at the unveiling ceremony ‘Everytime you go past this spot, just imagine you can hear the roar of the crowd as Deerfoot comes round the bend and hundreds of your ancestors lose vast amounts of money’.

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Kevin Kelly is in regular contact with descendants of the Sadler family and it was no problem persuading his Great Great Grandson, Robin to come over from the Isle of Man to perform the unveiling. He was joined by his wife Margaret and daughter Ruth, herself once a keen athlete. Also there for the grand unveiling was local wordsmith John Byrne to read a few verses he had penned especially for the occasion. The Victorian pedestrian community was represented by the Great Great Grandaughter of Teddy Mills, once the most famous runner in England who had graced this circuit so many times.

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After the unveiling we trooped up Keble Street to St Mary’s Church to showcase some of the work we’ve done in our year of Heritage Lottery Funding. Much of this involved local schools and a short film made by students from Burntwood School featured The Corner Pin pub, once managed by Bob Sadler, his family living in the cottage next door. His legacy is everywhere. Anyone need to pop into Tesco? This was for one hundred and fifty years The Prince of Wales public house and the Sadlers were once in charge there. The day rounded off with a Beer Festival at By the Horns – yes, Bob was once there too as this was the site of the Sir Jeffrey Dunstan where post running ground, the great man dispensed local ales to thirsty Summerstowners.

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We identified this story as worthy of a plaque and funds to pay for it were raised via two Wandsworth Heritage Festival walks which attracted over one hundred people. One of these was called ‘The Industry of Garratt Lane’ and fitted the bill perfectly as few were more industrious in this area than the versatile Bob; a pugilist, printer, pedestrian promoter, publican, property developer – he did the lot and if one name deserves to be remembered for his part in the development of this Wandleside hamlet, then Robert Sadler is the man.

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We had a lot of fun promoting it and come the glorious day there must have been two hundred people outside Burmester House to witness a few short speeches followed by Robin and Ruth unveiling the plaque. The family really enjoyed themselves that weekend, running the full gamut of former Sadler locations; The Corner Pin, By the Horns, Tesco Express. They even followed up on his printing and dyeing career with trips to Merton Abbey, the site of the Garratt Printworks next to the Wandle and the Liberty shop in Regent Street. They also called in on his splendid grave in Wandsworth Cemetery. ‘Here lies a man who was loved by all and despised by none’.

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Its wonderful now that in an era when promoting physical activity is more relevant than ever and in an area where so many families live, that we now have this permanent reminder of our sporting heritage. The fact that we have chosen to celebrate and remember it sends out a powerful message to anyone who cares to look up and read it. A big thank you to all the councillors who supported this initiative, the residents and businesses who rallied round to promote it, the people who came on the Walks and some who didn’t but chipped in anyway to help pay for it. Once again we were blessed to have the support of Integral in Wallington who held cake sales and dress-down days to add their contribution. Thanks also to Tooting PRSS, Wandsworth Radio, Wandsworth Borough Council and Brightside who pumped out the publicity.

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Althorp Lodge was demolished around 1900 and Kevin Kelly and a possee of local historians have searched fruitlessly for some kind of image or impression of it. An artist’s interpretation on the back cover of the publication is as far as they’ve got, but it would be wonderful if we could locate an illustration or photo. There must be one out there, the building graced this site for nearly one hundred years and played such a significant role. In the mean time though, the plaque will do, informing many more people of the running ground’s existence and introducing a whole new generation to its remarkable story.  Simon Inglis had some advice to youngsters when they see such a reminder of the past ‘Stop! Read it, have a little think, because its plaques like these and stories like Kevin’s that bind us all to the past and help to give us greater appreciation of where we live.’ Most important of all then, thank you to Mr Kevin Kelly who through his dilligent research and extraordinary publication has given us all the priceless gift of this extraordinary piece of Wandsworth history. Go on… if you haven’t done so already, show your appreciation by buying a copy of his book, details below. 

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Trying to envisage the world inhabited by the Summerstown182 families is sometimes very difficult. This was the late Victorian age of industry when polluted over-worked cities were choking many of their populace and life for many people was an almost intolerable daily grind of hardship and struggle. It has been heartening then to discover how one family found a way out of all this. From the mean streets of Southwark and Bermondsey via Lambeth they made their way to Summerstown. This was the journey of one family, a member of whom was a soldier called Sidney David Giddis of the Royal Field Artillery. He was killed aged 24, just over a month before the end of the war, on 3rd October 1918. He is buried in France, in a cemetery called Flesquieres Hill near Cambrai.

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David and Alice Giddis had eleven children in total, six boys and five girls, Sidney was the third child and oldest son born in 1892. They ended up at 865 Garratt Lane, not so far from St Mary’s Church but now lost beneath the block at the front of the Aboyne estate. They would have been pretty much directly opposite the Summerstown Dental Centre who have become great supporters of this project. My dentist always enjoys getting an update on whats going on before I lean back in the chair. They’ve also been great displaying our posters in the surgery. Reading about Bob Sadler’s plaque or a proposed trip to the Chattri sure takes the mind off gum hygiene technique.

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David William Giddis was born in 1864 in Bermondsey. On 20th March 1887 and working as a labourer, he married Alice Elizabeth Parker at St Luke’s Church. They were living at 10 Edward Street. A few years later the 1891 census finds the Giddis family living at 8 Leyton’s Buildings near Borough High Street. David was now working as a furrier’s machine grinder and they had two small girls, Alice and Clara. Their first son, Sidney David was born on 15th August 1892. He was baptised at St George the Martyr, Southwark in October 1894 along with his brother David George who very sadly died just two years later. Their residence was now 199 Leyton’s Buildings. Charles Booth’s map shows what a tough area this was. The dark blue refers to ‘very poor, casual, chronic want’, the black to ‘lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal’ and Leyton’s Buildings were encircled by plenty of these ominous hues.

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More children followed; Ernest in 1897, Violet in 1898, David in 1901. In that year’s census they were living at 79 Bermondsey Street, south of London Bridge Station. They were still surrounded by inner-city grime, with the leathermarket on one side and the workhouse on the other. A world of tanneries and glue factories. But something had happened and very excitingly David was now a coffee house keeper. Perhaps his previous grinding skills holding him in good stead. There were now six children and even someone listed as a servant, Annie Sunken who worked as a waitress. Things had really looked up. Located between the evocatively named Black Swan Lane and Gun Alley, the location is now the home of the Fashion and Textile Museum. A school register record picks up young Sidney at Webb Street School in 1899.

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In the late 17th century and throughout the 18th century a major impact on London life was made by the numerous coffee houses, which began to populate the city. The forerunner of the modern cafe, they were great places for a mostly male clientele to meet, chat and do business. The best known example was that owned by Edward Lloyd which evolved into the Lloyd’s of London insurance market. In the 1880s the temperance movement tried to revive the coffee house scene in an attempt to divert the working man from the demon drink. A good example of this in Tooting was the highly devout Eliza Jane Bell AKA ‘Lady Bountiful’ commandeering The Bell Public House on Upper Tooting Road (on the left in the above photograph) and turning it into the Bell Coffee Palace in 1888. Its likely that a coffee house in an area densely packed with trade and industry such as Southwark would be more of a workers cafe than a palace.

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Another of Sidney’s school register records a few years later finds him at Heber Road School and it would seem the family were now living at 43 Landells Road in leafy East Dulwich. They were still here when Alfred was born in 1903. This really was a dramatic contrast from Bermondsey but they were soon on the move again. From 1906 they appear to have been at 111 Wandsworth Road and would seem to have settled there for almost a decade. The 1911 census indicates David was still a coffee house keeper and Alice was helping to run the business. It may have been an extended family affair as oldest daughter Alice is listed as a waitress and second oldest Clara as a domestic, both working ‘at home’. Ten children are listed including rather oddly two who had died and have their names crossed out. One of these Doris died as an infant in 1909 and two years later Alice passed away aged only 24. Sidney was 18 and working as a railway porter. The family were still at 111 Wandsworth Road in 1915.

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Incredibly this address where the Giddis family lived for around ten years still stands, in the middle of the Nine Elms regeneration tangle of cranes and tower blocks. On the corner of Miles Street with St George’s Tower on one side and the new American Embassy sprouting on the other. Back in the early years of the twentieth century in spite of its proximity to the riverside industries, this was a location positively glowing with prosperous pinkness on the Booth map. The railway yards and wharves would have no doubt provided a regular stream of thirsty customers to swell the Giddis coffers.

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We can’t be sure why they were on the move again in the early years of the war. William was in his early fifties, so still a fair bit away from contemplating putting his feet up. Maybe they just wanted a gentler existence. Sometime between then and Sidney’s death, the Giddis family located to 865 Garratt Lane, Summerstown. Sidney and his younger brother Ernest are on the electoral roll at this address in 1918 and also the Absent Voters List. The house is gone but several adjoining four storey properties survive at the junction of Garratt Lane and Aboyne Road. This includes No857, the home of the Caudle family. They too had made good through business, in their case the bootmaking trade.

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A wonderful photo from 1900 gives a clue as to how this area looked. All you can really see are the gateposts and trees to the right of the carriage but these houses had a grandeur that dwarfed most of those in the surrounding streets. The houses in the background all still exist in their original form, the beer shop at No849 is now ‘Nibbles’ chicken shop and Garratt Green Supply Stores is a hairdressers. Across the road, the plot of land where the dentist is now located, has a ‘for sale’ sign. The Giddis family were here for at least twenty years, the versatile William, far from contemplating retirement was according to the marriage certificates of two of his daughters, now working as an interior decorator. Maybe he even advised on the decor for the house that became the dental surgery. Curiously just a few doors along, some years later, No734 was the headquarters of Albert Percy Weston, artificial teeth manufacturer.

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It is really hard to know exactly when Sidney joined the army but given his younger brother Ernest became a soldier in 1915, its quite likely he was involved from around the same time. Ernest who was a printers errand boy in 1911 survived the war and died in 1962. Sidney was a gunner in the 74th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. He is buried at Flesquieres Hill British Cemetery, near Cambrai, not too far from where Tiny Ted Foster performed his heroics a year earlier. It is famously close to where a recovered tank, ‘Deborah’, is located in a barn. It passed through the village of Flesquieres on the 20 November 1917 and was hit by mortar shells and put out of action close to where the cemetery is located. The tank was found buried there in 1998. Fierce fighting in this area started in mid-September 1918 through a series of very large scale offensive operations aimed to break the Hindenburg Line system. It was a very dangerous time and tragic that so many who had been through so much would lose their lives in these last weeks. It wasn’t until February 1919 that Sidney’s death was announced in the St Mary’s Church parish magazine. It was mentioned in the same paragraph as his neighbour William Caudle and the sailors Charles Moss and Harold Glassett.

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Three of Sidney’s siblings, Dora, Alfred and Violet lived on until the 1970s. In 1933 there were six Giddis family members resident at No865, Sidney’s parents and three of his brothers. They probably knew chiropodist Leonard Lumbers and his wife Aspasia living across the road at No742, now home of the Summerstown Dental Centre. Sidney’s father David died aged 75 in Kingston Hospital in 1939, Alice four years later. It was probably good that David and Alice did not live to see history repeat itself. On 20th August 1945 his younger brother Leonard, aged 34 and too young to have made it onto the 1911 census, died in Egypt whilst serving with the Hampshire Regiment. He is buried in a Commonwealth War Grave at Heliopolis just outside Cairo, close to the airport. Another Giddis killed so tragically at the tail end of a major conflict.

The Greatest

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George Cole and Pam

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The rather immodestly titled GREATEST TOOTING TOUR IN HISTORY, part of this year’s very successful Tootopia Festival had a lot of hype to live up to, but boy did it rise to the occasion. It always had the makings of a lively one, since that Lonely Planet story back in August, a lot of eyes have been cast on our little corner of south west London. Why is Tooting such a great place to live? What lies behind it? Many people are very curious and the GTTIH was an opportunity to explain how it had got to this point and to shine a light on some of the worthies who made it all happen. And that needed to mention some of the recent history – made by the children of migrants or those who weren’t even born here. That included the food, the markets, the Mauritians working in social care, the Filipinos at the hospital, the extraordinary community work of BATCA. The inspirational stories of Sadiq Khan and Naser Bokhari OBE, the first Muslim head teacher of a British secondary school – all as much a part of Tooting history as the Lido or a plate of pie and mash.

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What a joy it was to see so many turn up on a most glorious autumnal afternoon, keen to soak up some knowledge. They could have spent their Sunday chilling to some cool sounds or nibbling on an artisinal avocado sandwich but they were as hungry for history as they were for a Pooja samosa or a glass of Victor’s liberated cider. I was so proud at the end when someone told me they lived in Bevill Allen Close but had always wondered who they might be. Let me tell you, a man-of-the-people vicar naturally, and one who did many good things for those less fortunate than himself – a recurring theme perhaps that still resonates in this area today.

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I wasn’t quite prepared for the numbers though – as 2pm approached, I pulled myself up onto Edward VII and gazed anxiously down Mitcham Lane. They just kept on coming, pouring down Coverton Road in a never-ending stream, to have a look at George Cole’s childhood home. Someone did a head-count at the hospital and it was two hundred plus. My recently-acquired megaphone came in handy but how could I hold it and show my pictures? Step forward the brilliant Lisa who in a typical show of Tooting community-spirit, kept the visuals flowing for the next two and a half hours.

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There were almost too many highlights to mention. Hanging on to the railings in front of The Trafalgar, trying to imagine Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma passing by on their way to Merton Place was a good start. Traffic slowed and buses hooted, curious drinkers put down their pints and cocked an inquisitive ear. On Trevelyan Road we were all cast back to the dawn of the swinging sixties and the day Tooting was the centre of the pop universe. We gathered across the road from a house where The Beatles stayed before their Granada concert in 1963. Curious about what was going on, an elderly resident came out and told Sheila how she remembered Ringo dangling his legs from an upstairs window while George strummed his guitar on the pavement below. The Constitutional Club, Mary Millington and Olympic double gold medal hero Albert Hill are the oddest of bedfellows, but they all seemed as one on this glorious historical foray. As I explained, hopefully the GTTIH can be a taster for more serious discourse on long winter nights at the likes of the Tooting History Group.

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After a sobering moment recalling the Nutwell Street V2 rocket of 1945, we passed through Bickley Street into Sainsbury’s car-park. Here for a few minutes, we were transported to the mid 18th century when it was once again the grounds of Salvador House. People swooned over possibly the oldest brickwork in Tooting. As we trooped through Salvador Passage to the strains of a Cuban jazz band at the Graveney and Meadow, I felt almost evangelical in my desire to spread the historical word. We could have dallied on Mitcham Road for hours; the cinemas, the library, Joseph Rank and his Central Methodist Hall, the good works of Reverend John Anderson and even better bargains of Mr H A Smith, Tooting’s very own Mr Selfridge.

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Then it was into Broadway Market where I didn’t have to say too much as it just speaks for itself. From here we emerged onto our very own Desert Island in the middle of the madness of Tooting High Street, a world of Daniel Defoe and Alexander Selkirk, where the only food is Harrington’s eel pie and mash. Outside the Lahore Kahari we marvelled that this location was once the HQ of William Mellhuish, the sombrero wearing undertaker to whom we should all be thankful for the placement of the Edward VII statue outside the tube station. The King famously had a passion for showgirls and if they’d been contemporaries, one of them might have been the tragic Ruth Ellis who once lived on Franciscan Road. We passed the shimmering minarets of the Al-Muzzamil mosque, the oldest in Tooting and headed up Broadwater Road. This is ‘Lady Bountiful’ territory, though hard to envisage Miss Eliza Bell, the generous but extremely devout ‘old lady in the big house on the hill’ or imagine how she blocked the building of one of the first cinemas. Its also the location of one of the great Tooting manor houses and its ornamental fish ponds.

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We stopped at The Selkirk to give a mention to Chief Khama of the Bamangwato people in Botswana and wondered if its because of our Boer War ally that a nearby road got its name. We weren’t too far away from Streatham Cemetery so of course ‘Great Train Robber’ Charlie Wilson came up. Also there are ‘The Magnificent Seven’, the small number of almost 400 war graves that commemorate women. Back on Garratt Lane I ended up on a wall not far from Mr Drouett’s Asylum. Here I spoke about boy soldier, Sidney Lewis, also John Sullivan who created ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and the Tooting Popular Front. Was he aware that when Citizen Smith trooped out of the tube station he was just a few doors away from what was once the HQ of the Tooting Communist Party and the birth of British Trotskyism? I’d be a plonker to think otherwise.

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A big thank you to all who stepped out with me on a most memorable afternoon that I hope can be repeated before very long. There is just so much to mention we could never do it all justice on one outing. Thanks and respect to local historians who have done all the hard work and given me my ammunition; Janet Smith, Rex Osborn, John Brown, Kevin Kelly, Marion and Graham Gower to name a few. Get yourself down to the Tooting History Group, The Streatham Society or the Wandsworth Historical Society to hear some of their wisdom. Mention also to John and Sheila Hill for their knowledge and support, getting me prepared for the day, also Dipa Patel for unique foodie insights. Finally the indefatigable Loredana who gave me this fabulous platform and whose infectious enthusiasm swept everything and everybody involved in Tootopia along. There will very probably be a statue or a plaque commemorating her in Tooting one day.

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One of the most delightful aspects of the Summerstown182 project has been all the connections we have made over the past three years. One of these has been with the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. We’ve been fortunate to visit a couple of times, made some good friends and were delighted when three of the residents, Marjorie, Steve and Ernie attended our Sidney Lewis plaque unveiling last September. Its been great now to discover that a member of a Summerstown182 family was once one of their number.

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Lucas family roots were in Ireland and Hugh Lucas was born on the world famous Shankill Road, Belfast in 1833. In November 1854 he joined the British Army in Armagh, just in time for the Crimean War. Irish soldiers made up around a third of the British army in 1854, and it is estimated that over 30,000 of them served in the Crimea. My own Great Grandfather, Robert Simmons was one of them. His twenty one and a half years service entitled Hugh to a pension, along with a red jacket and a place in the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. A long time before that he married Margaret Campbell in Cork in 1859. Three years later Hugh’s soldiering had taken the family to Chatham in Kent where the first of their eleven children, Susan was born. Their third child William Lucas was born in the garrison town of Aldershot in Hampshire on 22nd March 1868. One of the census records pinpoints his birthplace as ‘South Camp’.

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On 2nd May 1876 Hugh was discharged and headed to London to start his new civilian life. In 1881 the family were living in Soho and 13 year old William Lucas was working as an errand boy. On 9th September 1888 in Westminster, he married Annie Elizabeth Fallowfield from Marylebone and their first son, William John was born in 1889. They both appear to have worked in some kind of military tailoring. Given his father’s Chelsea Pensioner status, perhaps they were employed at the Royal Hospital? In 1891 they lived at 11 Hopkins Street Westminster with two small sons, William and Edward. This was close to Berwick Street market. Very sadly, tragedy appears to have struck and both boys died in 1893, William was four and Edward three. The 1901 census finds them at 11 Bateman Buildings in the parish of St Anne, Soho. That’s just south of Soho Square, between Greek Street and Frith Street in today’s parlance. There were now four more boys, all under ten; Hugh, Anthony, Albert and Joseph. They must have lived in Hendon for a while as Albert was born there and baptised in Stonebridge on 22nd June 1896. Annie is listed at this time as a shop assistant and tailoress. Sadly though there was more heartache to come when Anthony aged seven died in 1902. Hugh also passed away that year at the age of 69.

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Perhaps jolted by these losses, or simply part of the movement of people from overcrowded central London slums to the wide open spaces south of the river, in the early years of the new century the Lucas family relocated. The 1911 census saw them living at 29 Bertal Road in Summerstown. The house is still there, tucked in between the Hazelhurst estate and Lambeth Cemetery. It must have been a delight for the Lucas family to be surrounded by newly-built streets, trees and some room to breathe. William appeared to have made a complete career change and now worked as a silversmith’s porter, the same profession as his 18 year old son Hugh. Albert, now 14 was a brass finisher and errand boy. Eleven year old Joseph was still at school. There were three additional children; Daisy, Rose and George. The two youngest are listed as having been born at 11 Gambole Road, Tooting so we can assume the family had been in this area from 1904 at the latest.

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Like his two brothers, Albert joined the army and served first in the East Surrey Regiment before transfering to 1/5th Battalion, Loyal North Lancashires. They was based in Bolton when war broke out in August 1914 and became known locally as ‘the Bolton pals’. In the late autumn of 1917 they found themselves ten miles east of Arras, pitched into a battle which would initially be claimed as a great victory, though soon turned on its head. Haig described the object of the Cambrai operations as the gaining of a ‘local success by a sudden attack at a point where the enemy did not expect it’. With no preliminary bombardment, tanks would be used to break through the German wire, with the infantry following under the cover of smoke barrages. The attack began early in the morning of 20th November 1917 and initial advances were remarkable. Across Britain, Church bells rang out in triumph for the first time in the war. By 22nd November, a halt for rest and reorganisation was made, fatally allowing the Germans to reinforce. After fierce fighting around Bourlon Wood the Germans launched a major counter attack and much of the ground gained in the early attack was lost.

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On 30 November 1917, the 55th Division including Albert Lucas and his Bolton pals faced this offensive. The losses for the 1/5 Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashires that day were huge, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission recording at least 87 names. Albert, aged twenty one, would be one of three of the Summerstown182 to perish on the 30th. Alongside Eric Tibbenham from Thurso Street and William Dell from Pevensey Road, his name is carved on the Cambrai Memorial at Louveral. The memorial commemorates more than 7,000 servicemen of the United Kingdom and South Africa who died in the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917 and whose graves are not known.

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A bit of googling a few years ago took me to the website of the Bolton War Memorials Project and the realisation that Albert’s name is on a memorial in a park in the famous northern town associated with Peter Kay and Nat Lofthouse. I got in touch with project coordinator Jim Robinson who explained how Private Lucas is commemorated in Bolton on the ‘5th Loyals’ Memorial, located by the Chorley New Road entrance to Queen’s Park. He very kindly made a visit and took a close-up photo of Albert’s name. Jim agreed that he could find no other link between Albert and Bolton. It is likely that he never even saw the town, yet for almost a century his name has appeared with almost 1017 others on this memorial. He is not the only one who in answer to some military need, ended up serving in these otherwise predominantly Boltonian units. Two other members of the Summerstown182, Charles Blakeley and Arthur Leicester were in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

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In recalling my own family’s First World War involvement, Cambrai is a word we remember with pride. My Great Uncle, Captain Alan Lendrum, of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers lead 300 men in a wiring operation and was subsequently awarded the Military Cross. A few years ago we walked the fields near the village of Fontaine-lès-Croisilles where it all happened early in the morning of 20th November 1917. Also fighting near here at that time was our good friend Corporal Edward ‘Tiny’ Ted Foster, back in the front line with his Wandsworth mates and wounded in the hand at Bourlon Wood. For Annie Lucas though Cambrai spelt the beginning of more heartbreak. Having lost two of her boys, young William and Edward thirteen years earlier, history would cruelly repeat itself. Less than six months later, Albert’s younger brother Joseph Frederick Lucas serving in the Gloucestershire Regiment was killed in Flanders. His name is written on the great memorial at Tyne Cot. Annie’s husband William died in 1921. She passed away in 1947 aged 81 having outlived five of her sons.

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The house at 29 Bertal Road, Annie’s home for nearly forty years was lived in by the Lucas family until at least the early seventies, possibly later. Albert and Joseph’s brother George lived at the address with his wife Violet and their brother Hugh was next door at No31 until his death in 1970. Hugh Lancelot Lucas born in 1892, got his unusual middle name from Annie’s father. He is present on the absent voters list of 1918, a rifleman in the London Regiment. He probably moved into No31 after he got married in 1927. George died in 1996 aged 89. Both brothers would surely have been aware of Albert’s Bolton connection. No31 Bertal Road is currently for sale and the garage adjoining it is lit up with a dazzling early autumnal blaze of scarlet foliage which must surely be a nod to Albert and Joseph’s Chelsea Pensioner Grandfather.

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The Iron Man

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Whilst preparing for the ‘Industry of Garratt Lane’ Walk in June, I spent a lot of time on the Wandsworth section of this historic route, just up a bit from Southside, near the Wendelsworth Estate adjoining All Farthing Lane. This was one of two Wandsworth Heritage Festival ‘Earlsfield’ walks which raised money to put up a plaque commemorating Kevin Kelly’s extraordinary story about Robert Sadler and his mid-Victorian running ground. Surely one of the most industrious of all Garratt Lane habitués, Robert’s Great Great Grandson Robin came over to unveil the plaque in a memorable ceremony on Saturday. We started that walk at the site of what was once James Henckell’s iron foundry, forging weapons of destruction which were used at Trafalgar and Waterloo.

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David Hughson in 1808 gave a dramatic description of the activities carried out at the mill: “At these mills are cast shot, shells, cannon, and other implements of war; in another part of it the wrought iron is manufactured, and the great effect of mechanical power is exemplified in all their operations, in the splitting of iron bars of prodigious length; in a pair of shears which will rend asunder pieces of iron more than two inches in thickness; and in the working of a hammer, which weighs from five hundred and a half to six hundred pounds; the timbers employed are of an enormous size, and the wonderful powers of all the elements are here made subservient in the production of various tools and implements necessary for man in the arts of war and peace.” Its an extraordinary spot, tucked in between the Wandle and Garratt Lane, home to all sorts of industry and activity over the years. Iron was soon followed by paper and parchment, then gas mantles and cookery ware. The names of Veritas and Benhams are all writ large into the social history of this area and many thousands of local families passed through the workforce.

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Many of these workers would have slaked their thirst in one of Youngs most popular pubs ‘The Old Sergeant’ still proudly facing All Farthing Lane and doing a roaring trade. Close by, and echoing past industrial activity, a street called Iron Mill Road cuts through the Wendelsworth estate, all utterly changed of course. The Forrester pub was until very recently the headquarters of Wandsworth Mind where we gave a memorable Summerstown182 talk earlier in the year. Close to that Frank Bruno helped the Mayor of Wandsworth plant a ‘Wishing Oak Tree’ to celebrate the Millenium. He was brought up very close by and once trained at the same Earlsfield Boxing Club from where Olympic medalist Joe Joyce has emerged. A bit further up All Farthing lane is the site of the house from which Earlsfield got its name. We are still working on Robert Davis’ connection with Ballymote Convent in Sligo, so watch this space.

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One family who came from this area were the Jones. It looks like there were four brothers who served in the First World War and one of them James, is on the St Mary’s Church war memorial. He was killed on 1st July 1917, just a few weeks short of his twenty-first birthday and his name is inscribed on the Menin Gate at Ypres. He served in the same 23rd London Regiment as the Sunday School Three. James’ father, William Henry Jones, who was the son of a Thames lighterman, worked as a gas fitter, possibly at the enormous Wandsworth Gas Company. He married Mary Ann Wright in St Ann’s Church, Wandsworth on 7th September 1884. It was a stone’s throw from his home in Iron Mill Road. They were still there, living at No6 when their first child William Henry was born in 1886. George was born in 1889, Annie in 1892 and James on 15th July 1896 when they lived a little further up Garratt Lane at 23 Wardley Street. William and Mary were blessed with two further children, Ernest born in 1899 and Jessica in 1905.

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In the 1891 census they were at 14 Lemuel Street, adjoining Iron Mill Road. It is listed in my 2008 A-Z but seems to have disappeared off the map today. William was now working as a gas lamplighter and Mary was a washer and ironer, presumably in one of the many nearby laundries. Her father George was also living with the family. The 1894 map above shows how close they were to William McMurray’s paper mill, (in the bottom left corner) now on the Henckell site. His legacy lives on in the naming of Esparto Street, a grass used in the manufacturing process, grown on McMurray’s estates in North Africa and Spain. By 1901 it would seem the Jones family had moved two roads along from Wardley Street to 31 Bendon Valley. A huge fire at the paper mill saw most of the buildings destroyed and 160 people put out of work, the business never recovered and Benhams and the Veritas Incandescent Mantle company moved onto the site. Henry now worked as a labourer and five children are listed, only the eldest William was employed, working as a carman. The Harrison and Barber horse slaughtering yard and its noxious attendant industries were nearby and would have been in full swing. The 1894 map below shows this place indicated as a ‘Chemical Manure Factory’. It was a nasty business, too taboo seemingly to even be marked on a map. Also close by were the Riversdale Fireworks Factory where three young women were killed in an accident in 1888. This was a rough, tough neighbourhood, a world of horses, drinking, gambling, trading, casual labour and dangerous dirty work.

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A move to the other side of the relatively new railway tracks was definitely desirable and the 1911 census saw the family living at 34 Burtop Road. William now aged 48 had forsaken his career in gas and was working for the council as a ‘road scavenger’ and may possibly have brushed shoulders, if not streets with the likes of ‘Tiny’ Ted Foster and the Tooting dustmen. The family had clearly formed a connnection to St Mary’s Church, Summerstown, because Anne married the unusually named Harris Hazael Edwick there in May 1914. On the same register page is George Kitz from 36 Hazelhurst Road. He was one of the ten children of Summerstown Anarchist, Francis who on this document is listed as deceased. He actually lived for another ten years! James other sister Jessica married an Eric Hodson and went on to live at 12 Squarey Street, next door to the widow of Reginald Knight, another Summerstown182 soldier, buried in Ferozepore, India.

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Its hard to read the date on James’ attestation but it looks like he signed up in late May 1915 at St John’s Hill, Clapham Junction. This was around the time of the regiment’s terrible losses at the Battle of Festubert. Whether he was unaware of that or joined as a result, we can’t be sure. Very soon the local paper was full of a list of the dead including William Mace and George Boast. It was referred to as the ‘Gallant Charge of the 23rd’. George Keeley, father of our good friends, V2 survivors John and Arthur, was one of those who came through. In the October 1915 issue of the St Mary’s Church parish magazine, the vicar lists the next batch of ‘men connected with this parish serving their King and Country’. Among them are James and William Jones of 23rd London Regiment and George Jones of the Royal Garrison Artillery. There is no more news of any of them until the October 1917 edition reports that ‘James Jones of the 23rd London Regiment was killed in action on July 1st’.

 

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As part of the 47th Division, James Jones and the 23rd London Regiment moved into the front line at Damm Strasse, an area which had been captured earlier that month in the Battle of Messines. They remained in these trenches until relieved on 8th July. The battalion war diary is not particularly forthcoming or indeed accurate about what they did in their time there. The entry for 1st July reads simply that one man was killed and another three wounded. Other records indicate that at least three men were killed on this day and that another two died of their wounds. One of those killed was James Jones, most likely as a result of shell fire. His oldest brother William was a farrier in the transport section of the same regiment. Ernest served with the Northamptonshire Regiment and George Jones was possibly in the Royal Field Artillery. Two of these are listed in the 1918 Absent Voters List, along with brother-in-law Harris Hazael Edwick who was a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. Ernest and Harris were living at No34, William at No32. We believe the George Jones living at 71 Bendon Valley when he attested in January 1915 may be the other brother. Quite a contribution from one family.

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34 Burtop Road continued to have a Jones connection for many years and in the 1939 register, Annie, working as a laundry hand, her husband Harris and mother Mary, aged 75 are listed. Annie Edwick, then aged 76 was still on the electoral roll living at 34 Burtop Road in 1969. She would probably have been one of the many people rehoused after the Wandle burst its banks after two days of heavy rain over the weekend of 14th and 15th September 1968. Two hundred families were evacuated as the waters rose and the local paper reported one old lady in Burtop Road who refused to leave without her cat. ‘A neighbour kept the old lady company in the upstairs rooms of her home, while several feet of water swirled through the ground floor’.

CivicAwards

Ambulance Man

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Ford Model T Military Field Ambulance

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Having just written up the story of Joe Wyler recently it was time to tackle the other 1930 addition on the St Mary’s Church war memorial, the man in the bottom right corner, Albert Frederick Brown. He has a very special place in the Summerstown182, as he is almost certainly the last of them to perish, on 12th September 1920. I knew he had been classified as a war death as I’d preserved a screenshot from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website a few years ago. However, when I went to check again a few weeks ago, he was gone. I queried it on social media and someone very helpfully responded with a ‘grave registration document’ which stated that he was a civilian not a soldier at the time of his death. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission confirmed that he had in fact been ‘re-classified as a non-war grave’.

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We were due to visit his grave at Duisans and I did wonder for a moment if his headstone might also have disappeared as a result of his new status. We feared the worst when we couldn’t locate him and there appeared to be a blank space where he should have been. As so often we had mis-read the cemetery plan and he was there all right, in a neat row of six graves near the war stone. Duisans is an odd-shaped bleak cemetery on the edge of a stretch of open rolling country to the west of Arras. Apparently there was fierce fighting here in the Second World War and the entrance is peppered with some very nasty looking bullet holes. On 21st May 1940, in the prelude to the Dunkirk evacuation, 100 German soldiers were cornered in the cemetery and were raked with fire from a French tank. Only 18 of them survived. Twenty years before that, Albert Brown would have been here clearing up the mess of another conflict, one which he participated in from the start. Perhaps it was the sparse, windswept nature of the area, a sense that a lot of bad things had happened here, but we felt uneasy. Albert’s grave contained only his name and date of death, it wasn’t quite the right colour. Things didn’t feel right. We needed to know more about his re-classification and when I enquired, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission very promptly explained how this happened.

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ReClassification
‘The Army’s Graves Registration Report Form in our archive denotes that Albert Brown was a civilian (ex-army), working with the 11th Motor Ambulance Corps when he was accidently killed on 12th September 1920 and buried in Duisans British Cemetery. As a civilian, his accidental death in 1920 meant that he was not a ‘war casualty’ in terms of the Commission’s remit to commemorate servicemen and women who died in service and those who died up to 31st August 1921, of illness or injury caused by or exacerbated by their service during the war. As he had been buried in the cemetery amongst war casualties however, it was conducive for the Commission to erect a headstone and maintain his grave in order to preserve the appearance and uniformity of the site. As you have seen, the headstone is simply inscribed with his name, date of death, age and a religious emblem. When the paper cemetery records were used to create our computer database in 1997, Albert Brown was mistakenly entered under the classification of a war casualty with the information known about his military service. It was not until 2014 that the error came to light however, and so up until then, his details, although inaccurate, were available to view on our on-line casualty database. There are numerous other cases of the CWGC maintaining ‘non war’ graves on an ‘incidental and conducive’ basis but details about these are not included on our website as this lists the Commonwealth war dead, WWII civilians who died as a result of enemy action and some non-Commonwealth nationals whose graves are maintained on behalf of their government on a repayment or reciprocal basis’.

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Albert may no longer be on the CWGC database but he has his war grave and how he deserves it. He joined the Royal Horse & Field Artillery in Kingston on 21st October 1911 and served throughout the war. Albert’s father Hugh Brown was born in Warminster, Wiltshire in 1865 and like his father was a railway signalman. By 1887 he was in Hammersmith, west London and it was here on June 4th that he married Kate Eliza Churcher from Worthing. In 1891 the couple had settled at 32 Cambridge Road and they had two small children, Fanny and Charles Henry. Hugh’s widowed father was with him along with three children of his own. The golden age of rail had apparently pulled them all into the teeming metropolis. From at least 1900 the Brown family were in Summerstown at 20 Burtop Road. In the following year’s census there were five children, Frank Churcher Brown was born in 1892 and Albert Frederick two years later, both in Hammersmith. Only the youngest boy Edgar was born in Wandsworth, indicating that the family moved to the area in 1898. Just a few doors away from the Browns were the Warmans and its very likely Albert knew William, the Summerstown182 stretcher bearing hero.

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It would seem that in 1906 the Browns shifted two streets along and alighted at 11 Maskell Road where they would reside for the next three decades. This is one of what I have dubbed ‘The Lost Streets of Earlsfield’, wiped off the map after the River Wandle burst its banks in September 1968. Maskell Road does of course live on in name only but its neighbours have disappeared beneath the Burtop estate. Only two of the boys were present on the 1911 census and it looks like the 17 year old Frederick was in fact Albert. If so, he was working as a builder’s labourer.

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In any case, just a few months later Albert Frederick Brown joined the army in Kingston, he gave his age as 18 though I think he was probably a year younger. He was a tall lad, at five feet nine and a half inches, blessed with hazel eyes and a fresh complexion. He told the military authorities that his occupation was a carman. Whatever he did over the next few years, Gunner Brown of the 26th Brigade Royal Field Artillery went into action on 16th August 1914, less than two weeks after the start of the war. Various medal rolls indicate that Albert also served with 116th Battery Royal Field Artillery and at Maricourt on the Somme he transfered to the Royal Army Service Corps. He was at some stage promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. We can only speculate at what his being ‘accidentally killed’ on 12th September might mean. Did he step on an unexploded bomb? Was he hit by a truck or a lorry? The words on the graves registration form stating he was a civilian working for the 11th Motor Ambulance Corps might suggest some kind of battlefield clearance work. Obviously there were no more live casualties to be evacuated by such transport but undoubtedly plenty of dead. This would have been hard, dirty work, prone to all sorts of disease and infection. Influenza and pneumonia would have been rife and from the autumn of 1918 to late 1920, army medical facilities remained stationed in the area.

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Albert’s death at the age of 26 was part two of a double tragedy for his family as two years previously, on 24th April 1918, his older brother Frank Churcher Brown also serving with the Royal Field Artillery died of his wounds in a Birmingham hospital. He is buried in Magdalen Road Cemetery. Thankfully Edgar Brown survived the war. He was in the Royal Engineers and is indicated on the 1911 Absent Voters list. On the 1920 electoral roll he’s there alongside Albert and his parents. The war memorial in St Mary’s Church was unveiled in November 1919 bearing 180 names. At some stage over the next few years, the vicar was notified by the Brown family that Albert had died as a result of the Great War. Whether he was a civilian or a soldier was of no consequence.

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Albert Frederick Brown can sadly no longer be found on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database, as per the above image. Whilst the organisation clearly have their criteria, its a shame his listing couldn’t somehow have been maintained, perhaps with a foot-note to explain his unusual status. Thankfully he was there four years ago when we started this project and because of that we were able to place him on our poppy map at Maskell Road. That has eventually lead to us visiting his grave and through writing this short account of him, at least leave some sort of public recognition of his lengthy war-time military service. If he hadn’t been on that database we would have had to add him to the three other Summerstown182 that we have been unable to identify. Albert, we are so glad you slipped through the net.

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