Frank Kitz’s Wandle Wake-Up

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Something was stirring in south west London on Saturday. It was the eve of Storm Ciara but the skies above the Wandle could not have been bluer, or it’s waters more serene and twinkly as we followed the riverside path from Summerstown to Colliers Wood. This was a road once trodden by Francis Kitz and we were on the ‘Wandle Wake-Up’, kick-starting our celebration of his remarkable life and work.

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I first came across him seven years ago. His great granddaughter Lynda was working with me on a project to acknowledge a local Second World War bomb incident. Three of the 36 people killed when a V2 rocket landed on Hazelhurst Road were members of her family. We did them proud, various commemorations and a  plaque at the site of where the bomb landed have recalled that tragic day and those who lost their lives. In our countless email exchanges Lynda told me about the father of one of the victims, another family member of whom she was immensely proud. The more I heard about him, the more I liked the sound of him myself. Francis Kitz was putting himself on the line in a very different way from the Summerstown182 First World War casualties we were researching at the time, but he had my equal respect. I wrote a post on my blog about him and introduced him on my Walks as ‘The Summerstown Anarchist’.

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That was probably a bit unfair – Merton was more his orbit and there was much more to Frank than anarchy. What kept the pot boiling was the search for a photo of him. I joined family members in the hunt which has certainly taken us to some interesting places, but he remains elusive. I quite like that, always one step ahead of his pursuers. What clinched the magic though was a day a few years ago when we were driving down Merton High Street and I pointed out one of the locations associated with him. At that precise moment a Sex Pistols song came on the radio – what else but ‘Anarchy in the UK’?

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Interest in Kitz fired up again when we met ‘Made in Merton’ last year at the brilliant Merton Heritage Discovery Day. They were demonstrating some great ways of showcasing the beautiful patterns created by Wandle workers to a wider audience. I was blown away by images they had produced of William Morris fabric designs blasted all over a building. They saw what I had written about Frank and wondered if we could do something together and perhaps put up a plaque alongside a community print-making activity. Why not? We planned some walks to raise funds and that’s how we all came to meet up for the ‘Wandle Wake-Up’ and a chance to get up close to some of the locations and places where Frank Kitz had lived and worked.

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We set off past Blackshaw Road, heading down Plough Lane towards the Wimbledon Stadium development. It wasn’t mentioned, but thoughts must have been on the events of 1944. Not far beyond the Summerstown Towers was No36 Hazelhurst Road, destroyed by the rocket and where Annie, the mother of Frank’s ten children had lived for 30 years. Our route was overshadowed by the towering blocks and cranes of the Stadium and its frantic construction work. In six months time, if all goes to plan AFC Wimbledon should be back on their home turf after almost three nomadic decades. Their ongoing efforts to raise funds and keep the club owned by its fan base is surely something Kitz would have admired. A dramatic left turn was made as we encountered the Wandle and entered a tranquil and peaceful world, very far removed from the choking traffic and noise on Plough Lane. The path quickly lead us to the dramatic ‘meeting of the waters’ – the spot where the River Graveney emerges from a concrete channel and merges with the River Wandle. One attendee remarked that the previous week they had visited the confluence of the Nile but that this was so much more uplifting.

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As always when on a Wandle tour, I couldn’t resist mentioning Eliza James, ‘The Watercress Queen’. Her main fields were a little bit further up the river but beds where this was grown would have been on both sides of the river and a number of other locations close to the Merton Printworks. Frank Kitz would have been very familiar with it and I’m sure well aware of its magic powers.

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After negotiating the Wandle Meadow Nature Park, for so long the home of the sewage treatment works, we crossed the river over a bridge dedicated to the late Colliers Wood councillor, Gam Bahadur Gurung. Formerly a Gurkha and fittingly celebrated with some colourful Nepalese prayer flags fixed to the bridge. Just before the Connolly Mill we emerged at the historic Wandle Bank, leading us directly alongside the river to Merton High Street. Here we stopped outside No5, where Lynda’s grandmother was born and she spoke very movingly about Francis Kitz, her great grandfather who had come to live at this address sometime in 1885. It was a very special moment.

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We can only touch very briefly here today on the question ‘Who was Frank Kitz?’ but I hope these few words will conjure up some idea of the man himself and perhaps leave you wanting to know more. So, who was Frank Kitz? You could describe him very aptly as a Rebel with a Cause. And what was his cause? A lifetime crusade fighting for the rights of working men, women and children, not just in the South but further afield too: in the North, the Midlands and Wales. In his memoirs Recollections and Reflections, he describes himself as: “an antagonist of the capitalist system who spent the best years of my life in persistent warfare against it”. So, what do we know about him? Well, in spite our very best efforts we have been unable to find a photo of Frank. However, what records do give us, is an insight as to his appearance and personality: ‘A fine burly figure, with a mass of light brown curly hair, blue eyes, rather heavy features, a pleasant, jolly smile’ and ‘A bluff, breezy chap, fond of his beer and jolly company’ and ‘Ebullient and impetuous…’ and ‘One of the wittiest public speakers I have ever known’. Frank Kitz was born in 1849 in Kentish Town, North London. In fact, his real name was Francis Platt, the child of Mary Platt and, we believe, a German émigré. He was brought up in poverty in the West End by his single mother, who was in domestic service, and had to fend for himself at an early age, finding work as an errand boy, porter and messenger. He was fascinated by revolution and it was in his formative years that he witnessed the injustices of society and the stark class divisions of the‘have and have -nots’. It was no surprise that he took the rebellious route he did and championed the causes of the poor. During his tramp around the country he states in his memoirs: ‘I found everywhere the same conditions – the factory with its iron discipline, the mazes of mean streets and insanitary slums for the workers, the enslavement of women and children’.

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A dyer by trade, Kitz was employed during the 1880s by William Morris at his Merton Abbey Works. However, he was not just an employee but also a ‘comrade’ helping Morris with propaganda and speeches for the socialist cause. Morris commented: ‘He is certainly somewhat tinged with anarchism… but I like him very much’. Kitz lived his life in poverty and was always a ‘rebel by temperament’. William Morris stated after a visit to Merton: ‘I called on the poor chap at the place where he lived and it fairly gave me the horrors to see how wretchedly off he was, so it isn’t much to wonder at that he takes the line he does’. Frank was a revolutionary who maintained his extreme opinions throughout a lifetime of fierce political activity. His inventiveness, his turn of phrase and way with words made his public speaking so appealing to the crowd. The important point about Kitz, apart from his working-class background is that he LASTED as a revolutionary. He is still as relevant today as he was then. He championed the workers and, with others, helped to lay the foundations of the benefits, rights and freedoms we all enjoy today.

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It was fitting at this point that we were joined by David Saxby, historian and archaeologist, who continued a moving eulogy to a dogged and committed campaigner for better working conditions who put the lives of others above any care of his own. David also emphasised the closeness of his relationship with William Morris. If anyone on the ‘Wandle Wake Up’ doubted why we wanted to put up a plaque to Francis Kitz they surely knew now that this rebel was a worthy cause.

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Outside the big Sainsbury’s store, Portia stood on a wooden block and told us about ‘Made in Merton’. How they were awarded a grant in 2018 by the Mayor of London for their ‘Stich, Print, Process’ project which celebrated Merton’s textile heritage. They are now going to add a splash of dramatic colour to our plaque unveiling event and we’re thrilled to be partnering them. We were now in the heart of Frank Kitz’s world on the site of the William Morris Printworks and just a stone’s throw from the dye house where he worked his magic. Across the road was the location of the Merton Abbey branch of the Socialist League and the Surrey Labourer’s Union where Frank would have stood up so many times in support of his comrades. Beside the Gourmet kebab house once ran Wandle Road, another of the places where he lived at No23. Just around the corner from that, another address was 97 Deburgh Road. Newspaper cuttings indicate the family were here from at least 1893 and four years later when their fourteen year old son John Walter Kitz was tragically killed in a railway accident at Wimbledon station. Kitz came to this area in 1885, Morris just a few years before that. Very different backgrounds but a shared vision of better lives for workers.

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We crossed the Wandle for the second time and wended our way along the riverside park in front of the superstore – our heads spinning as we tried to imagine the busy printworks and also consider the neighbouring presence a few centuries before that of a gigantic medieval priory. We passed one of the original walls of this to be greeted by some early daffodils as we crossed the Pickle Ditch. We were now on the edge of a retail park, choked with Saturday afternoon shoppers. It was quite fitting given the amount of industrial and retail parks in this vicinity that we should now mention Ronnie Lyon, the man credited with inventing them. Overlooking us at every turn, the massive tower from which he once ran his empire was once voted ‘London’s Ugliest Building’. Now re-clad in white, its filling up with people looking for the best view in Collywood and sits a bit more comfortably in its historic surroundings. The Burger King at this juncture was once a Kitz location, ‘Barnes Cottages’ conveniently opposite The Royal Six Bells pub. That’s where Frank, Annie and eight of their children are recorded in the 1891 census, the homes of Wandle workers surrounded by mills, watercress beds and feeding it all, the twists and turns of the ever-present Wandle. Their cottage looked across at what is now Wandle Park, once the site of Wandle Bank House, whose grounds were the scene of idyllic fishing afternoons enjoyed by Horatio Nelson in the company of his mate James Perry. On a little bit further, on the other side of the road is the Holiday Inn Express, the site of yet another Kitz abode called Clare Villas. In spite of everything being so utterly different, as the river flowed past, it was not hard to imagine all the activity in this area and the busy transient lives of those who supported its industry.

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We were now firmly on Stane Street and heading towards Tooting. Straight as an arrow, down the old Roman Road. A final Kitz location here on the site of the world famous Tooting Market was in an area called Angel Court, adjoining the old Angel Inn. That’s long gone and currently the home of Iceland. It was in this pub that Lynda’s parents had their wedding reception.

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The final leg of our journey took us up Garratt Lane and back to Summerstown. On the way the family recalled how Annie, the mother of Kitz’s children had sold flowers at Streatham Cemetery. I had heard from some elderly residents that the last nursery in this area had been on the corner of Smallwood Road and there’s a passageway behind this that would have been a cut-through to Hazelhurst Road. Easy to imagine Annie making that short journey every day. It was now dark, but a special moment as we looked across at the cemetery gates and tried to imagine Annie there with her flowers. She passed away in 1940, four years before the bomb and is buried in the cemetery.

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Frank himself died in 1923, ending up living a few miles further away in Battersea. The last years were tough on him as he struggled to make a living and at odds with his family. Consolation must have been the great esteem and affection in which he was held by his comrades. This poster dating from 1920 advertises ‘a socialist carnival’ including a ‘Historical Revolutionary Dress Contest’ to raise funds for him at Battersea Town Hall. ‘He is now between 70 and 80 years of age and has worked to the last, although weakened and handicapped with his conditions. It is our wish to aid our old Comrade in his dark years and to make his last days as smooth and pleasant as we possibly can’.

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Everyone on the ‘Wandle Wake-Up’ Walk came away feeling they are involved in something quite special. Frank Kitz was someone who helped the workers cause at a time when the breakneck pace of the industrial revolution threatened to crush the working man and woman. He did this at great personal sacrifice. He worked on the Wandle and helped create beautiful textiles and fabrics. He is symbolic of many who did a similar job and our plaque salutes all of them. Please look out for details coming soon about the unveiling event which will be accompanied by a ‘Made in Merton’ community craft activity. It will be a day to remember and probably in mid-September to coincide with the Wandle Fortnight. In the meantime, we need to continue raising funds to pay for this plaque and another great walk is planned. Saturday 25th April is the big day and we are calling it ‘Frankie Goes to Collywood’. Join us at 2pm outside Colliers Wood underground station for a historic tour of the area, featuring the site of the William Morris Printworks and Merton Priory. If you enjoy it, please do throw in a few pounds to help us remember Francis Kitz.

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A huge thank you to the Kitz family, particularly Lynda, Sylvia and Debbie for so generously sharing so much of their information and research about Francis Kitz. We are also very grateful to David Saxby whose years of research and publications about the Wandle, its industries and its workers have been such an invaluable resource for so many of us. A big shout to everyone who came on the ‘Wandle Wake-Up’ and donated so generously towards this plaque initiative.

https://www.swlondoner.co.uk/made-in-merton-culture-seeds-fund/

Tooting’s Golden Glow

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It seems like a lifetime ago, when London puffed its chest and presented itself to the world in a glorious inclusive month of colour, harmony and the very best of Britishness. From Danny Boyle’s NHS-celebrating opening ceremony to that golden Saturday night when Mo Farah danced around the track, the Games of 2012 were truly an unforgettable time, when we knew for sure that we lived in the best city in the world. A small army of volunteers in pink and purple seemed to sum it all up, radiating warmth and a welcoming joie-de-vivre that embodied the spirit of the Games. There had been a few doubts beforehand but that month left us all feeling so proud of ourselves and the afterglow lasted for years. The smile of a cheery Somali-born runner summed up the greatest Games any of us could remember and cemented our love of a wonderful multicultural city that its been a privilege to raise my children in.

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A few days before it began, the Olympic Flame come down Garratt Lane, past the site of our very own athletic stadium in Summerstown. The story of the Victorian pedestrians who provided such a sporting spectacle at Robert Sadler’s Copenhagen Grounds at Althorp Lodge was told and presented to us in an outstanding book by Kevin Kelly. That summer to coincide with the London Games, Kevin gave a talk about another little-known local athletic story. This was also someone with a special local connection, whose athletic feat was surely the greatest that any athlete from these parts has ever achieved. His name was Albert Hill and he won two gold medals at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp. Not just any ones, but would you believe, the highly prized ‘blue riband’ middle-distance double of 800 and 1500 metres. This was the domain of Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Kelly Holmes but when they were burning up the track, little was ever said about a railway worker from Trevelyan Road who trail-blazed the golden path so many years before.

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Albert George Hill was born on 24th March 1889 in Bath Street, Southwark. Its a road on a site now submerged beneath the site of South Bank University near the Elephant and Castle. His father William worked as a stationary packer and was originally from Wiltshire. His mother Elizabeth came from Cornwall. Albert was one of eight children, reared on Commercial Road, now Upper Ground the road that runs along the Thames behind the Royal Festival Hall. Next to the timber yards and wharves, this was a poor area later devastated by the Luftwaffe and property developers. When he was fifteen Albert had joined the Gainsford Athletic Club, believed to have been located somewhere just across the river near Drury Lane. Here he participated in swimming, cycling and athletics and from 1907 to 1909 was a London junior champion.

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What a relief it must have been for the Hill family and their talented athletic son to move from the riverside to the suburbs around 1908 and a home in one of Tooting’s most characterful roads. Next to Longley Road ‘Tooting’s Beverley Hills’, Trevelyan Road was allegedly built for the servants of the theatrical royalty who resided in its slightly grander neighbour, where lived the likes of Harry Lauder, Harry Tate and Charles Whittle. With its quirky range of house styles, it was much-loved by local doctors. There was even a golf course nearby where Prime Minister Arthur Balfour did the rounds. Residents very possibly had their bins collected by a muscular young dustman called ‘Tiny Ted’ Foster From Tooting Grove. A few years later he distinguished himself with a Victoria Cross in the First World War.

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Trevelyan Road would later become known for its extensive Irish community and a boarding house where the Beatles slept or at least ‘hung out’ in. Stories abound of sightings of the Fab Four in the summer of 1963 when they came to play at The Granada on the Roy Orbison tour. As with many other Tooting locations, rumours have also swirled about a Daniel Defoe connection at the curiously ornate Norfolk House.

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In 1906 Mount Vesuvius erupted, snuffing out Rome’s hopes of hosting the 1908 Olympics. In stepped Lord Grenfell to bring the Games to London for the first time. As a blossoming junior champion, Albert would certainly have taken a keen note of events in White City, Shepherds Bush. It was a few years before his statue popped up in Tooting, but Albert might have noted the controversy at the opening ceremony when the Americans refused to dip their flag to the watching King Edward VII. Albert was working at a printers that year when his family began their connection with the house in Trevelyan Road, one that would last for four decades. In that optimistic Edwardian decade Tooting came alive. As it’s population exploded, arriving on the scene were its famous trams, the groundbreaking Totterdown Fields estate and grand public buildings like the Central Methodist Hall.

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A pie and mash shop opened in Selkirk Road that year and Albert very likely sampled Bertie and Clara Harrington’s famous liquor. Assuming it had a sports department in those days,  he may even have bought some of his kit in the recently-opened Smith Brothers store. Both still do a roaring trade today. Young Albert might have enjoyed a visit to the King’s Hall  Picture Palace at the end of his road. The first purpose-built cinema in Britain opened for business in 1909. A few years later the magnificent Broadway Electric Palace emerged round the corner, just a few weeks after the sinking of The Titanic.

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In 1910, Albert won the UK Championship four mile race at Stamford Bridge, home of the recently formed Chelsea Football Club. He now worked for the London Brighton & South Coast railway in their ‘Dispatch Dept of Accounts’ office and subsequently became a ticket collector at London Bridge. Meeting someone called  Lily Wood may have been a bit of a distraction to Albert’s athletic ambitions as he didn’t take part in the British championships in 1911 and 1912 and missed out on the Olympics. A big moment that year was joining the Polytechnic Harriers Sports Club, where Sam Mussabini of ‘Chariots of Fire’ fame became his coach and rejuvenated his career. The legendary Mussabini who coached gold medallists at five Olympic Games has his own plaque at his former home in Burbage Road, backing onto the Herne Hill Stadium.

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The 1912 Olympics were in Stockholm. This was a big year for Albert, in July he married Lily Wood in St Nicholas Church and moved to East Dulwich. His parents lived on in Trevelyan Road until their deaths and his sister Olive continued to reside there with her husband Arthur Edwards until after the outbreak of the Second World War.

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It was at this address that Albert’s parents waited anxiously for news about him in the First World War, when he served in France as a wireless operator in the Royal Flying Corps for three years. The 1916 Olympic Games were scheduled for Berlin but the world had other things on its mind. Albert had joined up in 1915, a year when local recruitment spearheaded by an undertaker called William Mellhuish went into overdrive. Patriotic fever was whipped-up, expressing itself sadly in a number of attacks on German-owned businesses like Peter Jung’s bakery on Tooting High Street. Albert survived the war apparently without any injury, though smoking between 60 and 80 cigarettes a day at this time can’t have done him any good. He started training again when he came home in 1919 but Albert was about to turn thirty and having been through the War and back to a wife and small child, not to mention a ferocious nicotine habit, he could surely have been excused from pursuing further athletic challenges. What happened next is all the more admirable and extraordinary. In August 1919 he equalled the British record for the mile with a time of four minutes, sixteen seconds. His sights were now set on the Olympic Games in Antwerp.

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What happened in Belgium in the summer of 1920  is well-documented online – you can even watch a film of the race. At thirty one, Albert Hill was considered too old for selection and had to battle the blazers of the Amateur Athletic Association to gain a place. There might also have been a touch of snobbery about the inclusion of a railway worker from a humble background in south London. There are stories about how poor the conditions were, how Albert got sick after a rough Channel crossing and how he travelled to the stadium in the back of a lorry. Apparently he trained for the race on a diet of Stella Artois and cashew nuts. Whatever the case Albert came home with two gold medals and a silver in the 3,000 metres team event. This involved running seven races in eight days. His feat would not be repeated until 1964 and not again after that until Dame Kelly Holmes in Athens in 2004.

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In 1921 Albert’s second daughter was born and he set another new British mile record. The time of four minutes, thirteen seconds lasted or ten years. He was involved for some time in coaching but after his eldest daughter emigrated to Canada he joined her in 1947. He died there in London Ontario, shortly before his eightieth birthday. Half a century after his death, a century after his triumphant summer in Belgium, seems like a very appropriate time to make sure more people in our area know about Albert Hill and take pride in his achievement. What better thing to do than put a plaque on the house that was once his home in Trevelyan Road. Alongside that we will as always be promoting this event at schools, community events, Wandsworth Heritage Festival and through our informative and entertaining walks and tours.

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As ever, we invite you to contribute to this promotion of our local heritage by attending some of our Summerstown182 History Walks in the Tooting and Wandsworth area over the next months and perhaps making a donation towards the plaque. Albert will be following in some famous footsteps; Sidney Lewis, Sadie Crawford, Tiny Ted Foster VC, Robert Sadler and Peter Barr ‘The Daffodil King’. All these unveilings have been unforgetable community occasions and this will be no exception. Already a date has been fixed, Saturday 25th July, to coincide with the start of the Tokyo Olympics. Trevelyan Road will be the place to be that afternoon, so look out for our Summerstown182 twitter feed and blog for precise details about what is happening and how to get involved. Let’s salute the triumph of Albert Hill one hundred years ago and once again, bathe together in the glorious spirit of London 2012!

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The Day of The Daffodil

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Last Friday lunchtime, a great floral garland of vibrant yellow and cream appeared on our famous Edward VII statue outside Tooting Broadway tube station. Just to be clear what was going on, he also clutched a large arty daffodil made out of canvas, chicken wire and a cardboard drink carton. Bewildered passers-by gazed curiously at the newly-decorated monarch and reached for their phones. Perhaps a clue may have been the direction he was gazing –  looking towards Garratt Lane and the Tooting Nurseries – towards the realm of a regal rival, Mr Peter Barr, ‘The Daffodil King’. Dressed to impress for the arrival of Mrs Langtry, Queen Victoria’s eldest has done many things and been to many places, but had he ever waved a giant daffodil from the Work and Play Scrapstore?

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Twenty four hours later Mr Jan Pennings, Chair of the Royal Horticultural Society Bulb Committee, straight off the plane from Amsterdam, stepped out of the station to be welcomed to ‘Blooming Tooting’ by a Dutch-speaking Rose. He was carrying a huge bag of bulbs. It was game on, The Day of the Daffodil was underway. What followed saw Garratt Lane in Summerstown transformed for a few hours into a fragrant magical garden, inhabited by enchanted ‘daffodil people’. It could not have been any more joyous. A glorious day at the end of September beneath the bluest of skies. They came to salute Peter Barr ‘The Daffodil King’ and find out more about our wonderful horticultural heritage on the banks of the Wandle. And they came for their historic bulbs…

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This was the grand climax to a year of Walks, Talks, participation in community events, visits to schools and trips to libraries, museums and archives, learning much more about daffodils than I thought it was possible to know. Our plaque unveiling day was proud to be part of Wandle Fortnight and the annual three day TOOTOPIA festival. But it was also the beginning of something – bags of bulbs were furiously swept up by people clearly enthused by our ‘let’s plant’ call. Now it’s over to the good folk of Tooting, Earlsfield and Wandsworth to plant those daffodils in time for a spring uprising not seen in these parts for one hundred and fifty years!

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The entrance to the Holborn Estate opposite the almshouses looked magnificent that morning. A resident’s Mum had made us some beautiful yellow and green bunting which made sure everyone knew that something special was happening.  It was so hot we couldn’t tape the curtain over the plaque without it coming away and our planned exhibition on the wall of the gardeners hut kept falling down. Vijay’s cool warm-up tunes kept us calm as the two Johns ran up and down the ladder more times than Bob the Builder. It didn’t matter, there was something special in the air as people gathered at the entrance to the Aboyne estate. Some didn’t know what was going on, others had been told something about the daffodil man by their children who had been learning about him at school, a few had been looking forward to this day for years. Surely none more than 85 year old George Dear, all the way from Furzedown on his mobility scooter. The man who researched this story 25 years ago. I do hope he’s forgiven us for putting the plaque here and not on a wall in his hometown Pevensey. Road.

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Also there was Sally Kington. We first met her in the summer when on a blazing hot day, we invited her to join us on a mad midsummer jaunt to St Albans to honour Frederick Sander, ‘The Orchid King’. It was such a big deal to get Sally’s blessing for this project and her enthusiasm and support has been boundless. Once upon a time she was International Daffodil Registrar, keeping track of 28,000 varieties of daffodil and thrilled when she got the call from Tooting to help George with his research. Joining this daffodil royalty and representing The Daffodil Society, also present was another former winner of The Peter Barr Memorial Cup, Reg Nicholl. He was so pleased to be among us – what an honour to have this trio of ‘Daffodil people’ grace our special day.  The Mayor of Wandsworth made sure they all got a special welcome in her opening address which referenced the Huguenots market gardeners who first turned the soil onthis stretch of Wandle Valley.

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The mighty John ‘Mr Streatham’ Brown gave a rousing account of George’s efforts to dig out this history and how they had battled to carry out their research in a pre-internet era. Bruce from the Wandle Valley Forum spelt out how none of this would have happened without the presence of the sacred Wandle waters and the particularly blessed Trewint Street to Plough Lane stretch through Summerstown. We are mightily humbled to be part of Wandle Fortnight and recipients of a grant of £250 towards putting on our event. John Byrne’s exclusive plaque-unveiling recitals are a much-loved feature of these occasions and he didn’t disappoint. All the more relevant than ever this year as he is a long-term resident of Pevensey Road. He was a tough act to follow but Nardia and Mithuna from Broadwater Primary School blew us all away with their unique observations on the daffodil growing activity on the fields where their school now stands. It’s been wonderful to have this school so involved and engaged in this project alongside Fircroft and Smallwood.

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To a dramatic drum-roll from Vijay, Sally and Mr Pennings unveiled the plaque and set the seal on another piece of Garratt Lane history. Shortly afterwards the Dutchman showed us how it’s done, stepping forward, trowel in hand to plant the first ‘Blooming Tooting’ bulb at the foot of the plaque. It was a glorious moment and the Mayor of Wandsworth followed suit and another historic daffodil prepared to take root in the grounds that a century and a half ago made horticultural history.

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With the plaque unveiled and planting on their minds, the history-hungry  hordes turned on  Kate’s wheelbarrow and her beautifully packaged bulb-bags were gleefully received. Van Sion, W.P. Milner, Albatross, Mrs Langtry, Irene Copeland and Barrii Conspicuus, all dating from the 1870s, prepared for their return to the Tooting earth. A sight to make any daffodil-person blink back Angel’s Tears.

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It was time for the second part of the great event and the crowd moved slowly down Garratt Lane to Streatham Cemetery. The previous day a ‘Great Chain of Daffodils’ a quarter of a mile long, had emerged on the cemetery railings. A handmade floral tribute of Scrapstore materials created by local people of all ages at various workshops at community events over the preceding months. Interspersed among them were the thoughts of pupils from Broadwater School alongside colourful tags indicating the names of some of the daffodil types once grown here by Peter Barr.

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The madness of Garratt Lane yielded to the shade and tranquility of Streatham Cemetery. The former Springfield Nursery has never felt so welcoming. Some lost themselves in the delicious tea and cake provided by The Friends of Streatham Cemetery, others joined Roy Vickery of South London Botanical Institute in a ‘Wildflower Walk’ perhaps imagining themselves with Peter Barr in the high Pyrenees on the hunt for long-lost daffodils. All too soon it was over but as the evening sun passed over the Aboyne Estate, the new plaque seemed to light up like a dazzling sapphire.

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A week later, we await more daffodils arriving soon from Mr Scamp in Cornwall. Three days of rain has been good for those already in the ground and softened up the earth for more digging. Daffodils have been planted in Streatham Cemetery and churches, organisations and schools are jostling to get their orders in. We gave them out in the market the next day as part of our ‘Throwback Tooting’ history talk for TOOTOPIA. On our way to deliver the Tooting Sikh community their bulbs this evening, we passed the Al- Muzzamil Mosque – there was huge enthusiasm, the Imam has put in a big request and showed us photos of his sunflowers to confirm his green-fingered abilities. Truly ‘Blooming Tooting’ is underway and somehow our neighbourhood already seems a brighter, more fragrant place – FLOWER TO THE PEOPLE!

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Look out for your daffs coming through in the spring. Take photos and let us know about it on social media #BloomingTooting. If you need bulbs in the next few weeks, get in touch and we’ll see what we can do. Failing that they are very easy to get hold of at any garden centre or DIY store. Keep an eye out for further Blooming Tooting Walks next year as we continue to spread the word and expand our knowledge of the other things grown here. ‘The Orchid King’ lead us to RHS orchid painter Nellie Roberts and some kind of memorial on her unmarked grave in Lambeth Cemetery is on our radar.

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The Primrose Pilgrimage

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They came from Tooting, Earlsfield, Wandsworth, Summerstown and Streatham, united in the joy of newly-discovered  shared history about the place where they live. It was the warmest of Saturdays in mid-September, a day I will never forget. For almost a year we have been absorbed with the story of Peter Barr ‘The Daffodil King’ and trying to tell it to as many people as possible. It’s involved trips to museums, libraries and archives, consulting with experts. We’ve done guided tours, talks and school visits to spread the word. There have been trips to daffodil farms and involvement in community events encouraging people to make handmade flowers, write poetry and paint murals. We have found out about the likes of horticultural contemporaries such as Nellie Roberts, Frederick Sander, William Copeland and Henry Moon. We have sourced historic bulb varieties and will be giving them out for people to plant. We have learned more about daffodils than I ever thought there was to know. Nothing though was quite like the trip to Peter Barr’s grave in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery in East Finchley on ‘The Primrose Pilgrimage’.

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An article in an edition of ‘The Journal of Horticulture and Home Farmer’ in the Lindley Library Archive indicated that a few years before his death, his daffodil work done, Peter Barr turned his attention to wildflowers. He was working on a classification of primroses – cowslips and oxlips also tickled his interest. His ‘Daffodil King’ legacy assured, but his wildflower work only beginning, he remarked in a letter to fellow daffodil afficianado H.P. Brotherston ‘I wonder who will plant my grave with primroses?’ How could we resist!

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St Pancras and Islington Cemetery opened in 1854. Newly arrived in London and settled in Islington, it’s likely Peter Barr and his wife Martha bought a plot there. The 1861 census has then living at 31 Cloudsley Square. The cemetery is an enormous two hundred acre site with almost one million burials, one of the largest in the country. It was a magical day when we located his resting place a few months ago after a furious search in a densely overgrown section. Under a canopy of trees, midsummer sunlight danced on his headstone. We bathed in a green otherworldliness as we pulled away the ivy to reveal the names of Peter Barr, Martha, their daughter Alice Maud and her husband Edward. Perhaps most movingly of all was the surprise find of a fifth interment. Indicated by the top two lines on the headstone. ‘Samuel Hewlings Barr – born at Tooting July 31st 1869 – died September 17th 1869’ One hundred and fifty years after his infant son’s death, it was as if our connection with Peter Barr was rubber-stamped by these words on the family grave.

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On Saturday we gathered at Tooting Broadway, local residents tickled, curious and most certainly a little moved by this history that most of them knew nothing about a few months ago. We were armed with a spade, trowels and secateurs. We also came with primulas, all the way from County Down and ‘Barrii Conspicuous’ daffodil bulbs from Ron Scamp’s farm in Cornwall. We also had Peter Barr’s Plaque, making a final outing before it gets fixed to the entrance of the Aboyne Estate. Our twenty two stop journey on the Northern Line whizzed by in a whirl of excited anticipation as we read some of the words written about The Daffodil King by pupils at Broadwater Primary School.

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It was all going so well as we tumbled out at East Finchley. Boarding the wrong bus took us off-piste, but gave us a chance to view a bit of suburban north London dissected by the North Circular. Spirits remained high as we met up with Sam Perrin, historian and cemetery guide, who got us back on track and provided some fascinating insights into this remarkable cemetery. To show that Peter Barr is not the only royalty here, on our way to him we passed Henry Croft the original ‘Pearly King’. As we entered the heavily wooded section it all came back and we diverted from the path and tentatively took the plunge into the deep green realm of The Daffodil King.

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At this point something magical happened. Our group of ten, who hadn’t planned what we were going to do – without any words and almost as one, sprang into glorious action. We pulled back twisted ivy roots and tore into the tangled mess on the grave. Removing some of the growth revealed the word BARR in four large letters at the edge of the plot. A small stone urn was straightened. Leaf mulch was gathered and the soil was turned in preparation for the planting of our historic bulbs. (By the way, it’s the same spade you’ll be using next week Mr Pennings!) Water was collected from a nearby tap in plastic bags to feed the voraciously thirsty earth. We then took it in turns to each gently dig in one of the bulbs. It took no more than forty minutes, though maybe I just dreamt that and we were there for hours. In any case I may never again witness a more moving display of teamwork or genuine show of the power of community history to bind people together.

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All our connections worked out on the way home but it’s the one between Peter Barr and our area that had brought us together and our mission to St Pancras and Islington Cemetery has bound that more strongly than I ever believed was possible. Who would imagine such a scene a few days before the 110th anniversary of his death? We will be back soon, Mr Barr to check on our pilgrimage progress – FLOWER TO THE PEOPLE!

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The Daffodil Wagon

Harvest time at a small family run Cornish daffodil farm! Peter Barr’s plaque hits the road…

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We contacted Scamp’s Quality Bulbs as they had been highly recommended, not only are they a small-scale family run farm in the UK but they are also capable of supplying historic daffodil bulb varieties that would have been cultivated and pioneered by Peter Barr in his Tooting nurseries. We intend to give these out to local residents and schools as part of our ‘Blooming Tooting’ initiative, celebrating the placing of a plaque for ‘The Daffodil King’. Not only that, but over twenty years ago Ron Scamp had helped local historian and nurseryman, George Dear cultivate a daffodil named ‘Sarah Dear’ in memory of his daughter. Armed with the historic plaque and a daffodil yellow vintage camper van we made our way down to Cornwall.

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It seemed almost a journey back through time as we moved from the bustle of Falmouth, through the sprawling new housing estates and business parks, then finally into open farm land. Scamp’s Daffodil Farm is situated on the stunning South Cornish Coast tucked away from view, down a steep tree covered country lane lined with brimming hedgerows. As you reach the top, standing proud against a dramatic back drop of sea and sky is the huge green barn, testament that you have now arrived at a working farm.

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It is a busy time for daffodil growers and Scamp’s is no different. At this time of year bulbs are being lifted, sorted and made ready for dispatch. On our arrival the whole family were hurriedly sorting bulbs in the sunlit covered courtyard.
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We received such a warm welcome from Adrian Scamp and were given a tour of the farm and the opportunity to see our order being prepared. To my surprise it was not a very mechanised process at all by modern standards. I am sure Peter Barr’s Tooting Nursery wouldn’t have been much different. It only took a little imagination to remove the gentle sloping fields criss-crossed with hedge rows and place them in the once rural fertile belly of Tooting.
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Adrian’s father Ron Scamp (once a winner of the Peter Barr Memorial Cup) and founder of the family business willingly shared his detailed knowledge too. He explained that his love of daffodils started as a small boy and though now in his seventies, he still has an infectious childlike enthusiasm.
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In fact what struck this cynical Londoner more than anything about our trip to Scamp’s was the passion and love that goes into every bulb.
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A Home for The Daffodil King

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

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This year, as if anticipating the great event, they came early – I saw my first daffodil in Sussex on New Year’s Day. Thankfully though, they were in their glory by the time of the first ‘Blooming Tooting’ Walk in mid-March. Over the past six months, funds for this initiative have been raised through a number of local history walks on the site of the ‘Tooting Nurseries’. Local schools have got involved, most notably Broadwater Primary who have produced some excellent material which can be seen at an exhibition on Unveiling Day. Talks were given to Mitcham Horticultural Society, at Merton Heritage Discovery Day and to various charities and community groups. There has been huge enthusiasm, Work and Play Scrapstore hosted and provided upcycled materials for a very successful ‘daffodil-making’ craft workshop at their Hazelfest event where Berit’s stunning blooms were a star attraction. It will be repeated at the Broadwater Road Fun Day and also the Friends of Streatham Cemetery Open Day. We’ll be using these magnificent creations made by local people to decorate ‘Peter Barr’s Hut’ on Unveiling Day. The response has been overwhelming, Tooting has truly been engulfed with ‘Daffodilmania’.
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Two more Walks in July will continue to explore the area and its horticultural connections. On 6th July ‘Blooming Tooting’ features the site of Springfield Hospital and the Share Community Nursery. ‘Fields of Gold’ on 27th July takes in both Lambeth and Streatham Cemeteries and the ‘Fairlight’ area in between. All these sites were once populated by nurseries and market gardens, a great swathe of yellow on my map. Of course it wasn’t all daffodils that were grown, Peter Barr alone was renowned for his tulips, snowdrops, irises and peonies – but the romantic vision of ‘Fields of Gold’ is hard to shake off. On 13th July we’ll have a presence at the wonderful Broadwater Road Community Fun Day in Tooting. Come and see the plaque, have a chat and help make some daffodil decorations for Unveiling Day. Beautiful Streatham Cemetery was built in 1892 on what was previously Springfield Nursery. We’ll be there with our stand at the Friends of Streatham Cemetery Open Day on 15th September. Listen, we’ll go anywhere to make sure the story of Peter Barr and his Tooting connections gets to as wide an audience as possible. Only last week it was up to City Hall to show the plaque to the Mayor of London.
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Old maps and archive material indicate that Peter Barr’s footprint covered a good stretch of Garratt Lane in the three decades he was associated with this area. His family were all raised here and on one momentous day in 1879, six of his children were baptised in St Mary’s Church in Summerstown. These children were all under ten when he first settled in Tooting and would have grown up amongst the flowers and sweetly-scented daffodil fields. The Broadwater pupils were particularly taken with Agnes, born in 1866 who was a small child when the family came to Tooting. She was encouraged by her father to illustrate various specimins to aid identification at a time when there weren’t any cameras. Clearly he had high expectations of her as in one correspondence he sternly notes ‘She is only young at flower painting but has good promise with practice’. She carried on this illustration work until after she married, an inspiration perhaps for fellow south Londoner, RHS orchid illustrator Nellie Roberts, buried in Lambeth Cemetery.
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Finding a location to put up the plaque was not easy. Peter Barr was definitely associated with numbers 6, 10 and 18 New Road, the name of which changed twice later. Now the last grand blast of Garratt Lane before it hits Tooting Broadway, at least two of these fine houses still stand, though they bear a very different address. Built around 1855, not long before Barr’s arrival in Tooting, they fulfil James Thorne’s description so aptly, when in 1876 in his Handbook to the Environs of London, he described the area as ‘A region of villas and nursery gardens, very pleasant’. With their long-disappeared names, Myrtle Villa, Slaveley Villa, Wycombe Villa and Sussex Villa, these were the villas and they formed a gateway to the nurseries of Garratt Lane.
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They stretched all the way up Garratt Lane to Summerstown covering land now filled with streets and houses, Broadwater School and Streatham Cemetery. On the other side of the road was Bell’s Farm and the Exotic Nursery run by Robert Parker, renowned for his orchids. The Barrs was definitely resident at Bell’s Farm for a while around the time of the 1881 census and they pop up at a Park Terrace in Summerstown before relocating to more spacious surroundings in Surbiton around 1891, thus ending their 30 year connection with Tooting.
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It was agreed that a better place to place a plaque would be somewhere that daffodils were actually grown. Helping us find such a location was none other than Peter Barr himself, with a little help from E A Bowles’ transcription. Filling in a few of the gaps in George Dear’s research, we made visits to the RHS Lindley Library, Kew Gardens Herbarium and the RHS Archives at Wisley. All proved extremely productive and made us understand even more distinctly just what a significant figure Peter Barr is. The Kew Archives contained fascinating correspondences but it was hard to beat the thrill of opening up a dense volume of pressed ericas grown in the Tooting nurseries in 1859. They might have pre-dated Peter Barr by a few years but it really was quite a jaw-dropping moment to see something so old, grown in our area, preserved for the nation in such an auspicious collection.
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Amongst the extensive notes in the Lindley Library at Vincent Square, we found one key indicator as to where his nursery was – certainly in 1885 when he wrote it. Peter Barr was giving directions to someone and described how they could get a train from Waterloo to Earlsfield. He even knew the times of the trains! The visitor was advised to check with the station-master and come down Garratt Lane and look out for the entrance of ‘Barr and Sons Grounds opposite the Holborn Almshouses’. Built in 1848, the beautiful Holborn Estate almshouses are still there and it’s across the road from them that we will put up Peter Barr’s Plaque.
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It will be fixed to the small building currently used by council maintenance staff looking after the estate. A patch of grass directly in front of this has potential for future developments; some planting, an information sign, perhaps a bench. Somewhere to sit and ponder the magnitude of the horticultural activity that took place here. Its certainly not an unpleasant view, looking out on one of the oldest most ornate buildings in the area, a view more akin to the rustic Cotswolds than south London SW17. A zebra crossing connects the location with the almshouses. Garratt Lane intersects with Wimbledon Road via a roundabout. Close to a number of schools and a bus-stop, its a busy place with thousands of people passing by every day. The Aboyne estate is known by many who live there as having been built on the site of the grounds of Springfield Farm. Very few knew about its earlier association with the nurseries.
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George Dear viewed the plaque for the first time a few days ago and was thrilled to see another step forward in the work he started 25 years ago, Just how relevant that was became clear to me when RHS International Registrar (Daffodil & Delphinium), Melanie Underwood showed me the files at RHS Wisley, containing all his carefully preserved notes and correspondences. Her predecessor Sally Kington helped George all those years ago and did additional research later. It is very fitting that she will be attendng on 21st September. She has been a great help in advising on the wording for the plaque as well as the location. Sally has also identified a number of varieties of daffodil grown by Peter Barr which we hope to have on hand on the big day to encourage local planting. Thanks also to John Brown, Marion Gower, Kate Filby and Sheila Hill who have all contributed to getting to know Peter Barr a little better.
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And thanks most of all to the good people of Wandsworth and further afield who have come on our walks and donated so enthusiastically and generously towards this initiative. A huge thankyou also to everyone at the Royal Horticultural Society and The Daffodil Society who have been so helpful and supportive. We’ll never forget the first visit to the Lindley Archives and the hushed, almost reverential aura as Peter Barr’s portrait was brought to us on a trolley with great ceremony. Encased in a box, the lid was slowly raised to reveal his familiar visage and a pair of piercing turquoise eyes danced with delight. Surely I believe at all the fuss we are making of him. He deserves it – Flower to the People!
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Earlsfield Celtic Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blooming Tooting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thanks to George Dear and John Brown for their research into Peter Barr, also these two excellent accounts of his life and times.
https://gardenmoxie.com/2018/04/peter-barr-daffodil-king/
https://studiedmonuments.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/peter-barr-the-daffodil-king/

Prince Albert

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

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

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

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

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

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Last of the Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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