Land of The Gods



On Saturday we came together in Tooting and Wandsworth to honour our renowned ‘Dustman VC’ Corporal Ted Foster. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his extraordinary act of bravery at the village of Villers-Plouich near Cambrai on 24th April 1917. The day began with a magnificent formal unveiling of commemorative VC stones for Ted and two others VCs, Reginald Haine and Arthur Lascelles at Wandsworth Town Hall. Participating in this was Johnson Beharry, awarded the VC for his acts of valour in Iraq in 2004. We then moved down Garratt Lane to 92 Fountain Road where Wandsworth Council have placed a green heritage plaque on Ted Foster’s old home. Following that we set off on a Guided Walk of key Foster locations. ‘Tiny Ted’s Tooting Tour’ concluded at his grave in Streatham Cemetery. On that walk I mentioned that this weekend, on the other side of the world, in a small town in the hills of northern India, local people would also be remembering a First World War VC hero from their community.

Within touching distance of the Himalayas, the state of Uttarakhand in northern India is known as the ‘Land of the Gods’. It borders Tibet and contains two of the holiest of Hindu cities, Rishikesh and Haridwar. The Beatles spent time in Rishikesh in the sixties and it is considered the yoga capital of the world. Haridwar hosts the extraordinary Kumbh Mela when up to ten million devotees descend to bathe in the Ganges. The western part of the state is home to the Garhwali people and the renowned Garhwhal Rifles. In the spring of 1915 a soldier from a small village in the moutains near Chamba died on the same day as a soldier from Summerstown.



Burmester Road is a pivotal Summerstown location for so many reasons. One of the broadest streets in the area, with The Hindu Society at one end and the Anglo American Laundry, spectacularly revealing itself around the corner at the other, it has a unique character. On top of that it would have been on the southern edge of the area leading to Robert Sadler’s Copenhagen Running Grounds. No25 is at end of the road, one of seven houses in what I call ‘Laundry No-Mans land’. The story goes that these were caught up in an expansion row between two rival laundries and if Mrs Creeke had got her hands on them they were earmarked for destruction. The rival laundry purchased these houses to prevent this and the family of Robert Stanley Belben Lake were resident there sometime between 1910 and 1914. The houses survived the Laundry War and had another close miss in June 1944 when a flying bomb landed in the laundry yard behind then killing six people. In the later First World War years the family of another Summerstown182 soldier Mark Archer lived at the address. The road was home to the Meikle brothers, Edward Benning, John Davis and Ernest Pelling. We haven’t written anything about it for a while, but this was the cat-infested street, once inhabited by magicians, footballers and ventriloquists.


The Lake family had their origins in the west country – a baker by trade, Robert’s father, Robert Belben Lake was born in 1871 in Bideford, Devon. In 1892 he married Annie Williams from Mitcheldean in Gloucestershire and the following year Robert Stanley was born, baptised at St Paul’s Church, Clapham on 24th January. They were living then at 34 Motley Street. Its tucked up against the tangle of railway tracks and sidings to the south of Queenstown Road, Battersea. There is a great post on the Rootschat website about a newspaper clipping from around 1910 which details a street fight between three women in Motley Street, one of whom was someone’s granny. One of them ‘used a cat’ to defend herself with and then proceeded to assault the others with a skipping rope.

In the 1901 census the Lakes lived at Victoria Cottages in Edmonton. At this point Robert was trying his hand as a blind maker using a material called sail cloth. Robert junior was nine and he had a brother William who was five and a sister Winifred aged three. The two youngest children were born in Mitcham. Another son Joseph aged seven was absent. They clearly couldn’t decide whether they liked north or south London because by 1904 another son Sidney was born in Merton. In 1910 they were back in Wandsworth at 25 Burmester Road, tucked in a few doors away from Mrs Creeke’s flourishing Anglo American Laundry. But so much had changed. In 1909 Robert Belben Lake had died aged 38. The 1911 census sees Annie living with a widower called Alexander George Hieron. It was a busy household, there were four Lake children including Robert, now nineteen and two Hierons. Obviously this was an arrangement that would have been frowned upon in many circles but it surely made sense for all concerned for the two families to share one roof. Certainly George and Annie appear to have stayed together for a long time. There is no indication of what job Robert Lake did but his step-father was a Dusting Foreman and quite possibly had a young Tiny Ted Foster under his wing. Tiny was still doing the bin round when Robert Lake was in uniform and about to come into the orbit of another extraordinary young soldier who would go on to hold the Victoria Cross.

Robert Stanley Belben Lake from Burmester Road was a Lance Corporal in the 1st/3rd London Regiment (the Royal Fusiliers). He attested at Edward Street in Hampstead and set foot in France on 6th January 1915. Known as the ‘Third Londons’ the regiment first spent a brief spell in Malta. The British Army was now ready to emerge from its winter in the trenches and was reinforced with fresh troops many of whom had come from the other side of the world. On 10th February the Third Londons joined the Garhwal Brigade in the 7th (Meerut) Division and prepared to be at the forefront of a large British offensive in the Artois region. Neuve Chapelle was a small village located roughly midway between Bethune and Lille, around 20 miles south of Ypres. It was the gateway to the strategic high ground of Aubers Ridge.

Here in the early hours of 10th March, four divisions, comprising 40,000 men, two of whom were Robert Lake from Burmester Road and Gabar Singh Negi from Manjood in Uttarakhand, gathered on a sector of the front just a few miles wide. The infantry attack began with an unprecedented thirty-five minute bombardment which apparently consumed more shells than the British Army had used in the whole of the Boer War fifteen years earlier. It was still dark when the soldiers began their advance that morning. We have no idea how Robert died that day and his body was never recovered. Many of the Third Londons were killed in the initial charges and in total 8 officers and 340 other ranks would be lost in the battle.


Just a little further down that line and also advancing that morning was a young man from the village of Manjood in the foothills of the Himalayas. The nearby town of Chamba had fallen to the British in 1845 after the Anglo-Sikh Wars. They soon realised that the local men were good fighters and in the hill station town of Landsdowne they established a base for the Garhwal Rifles Regiment. Born on 21st April 1895, Gabar Singh Negi was the youngest of three brothers. His father died of cholera in 1911 and two years later he enlisted in Landsdowne, a gruelling four day trek from his home. The 39th Garhwal Rifles sailed from Karachi on 21st September 1914 and alighted in Marseilles on 13th October. By the end of the month they were in the trenches south of Ypres. It was here at Festubert that another Garhwali, Darwan Singh Negi became the second Indian soldier after the Pathan, Khudadad Khan a month earlier, to be awarded a Victoria Cross. When presenting his medal, King George enquired if he had a personal request. Darwan Singh Negi famously asked that a school be built in his home village of Karnaprayag. It still stands today.


In her wonderful book ‘For King and Another Country’ Shrabani Basu writes an extraordinarily moving passage about the fate of Gabar Singh Negi at Neuve Chapelle and the reaction of his young wife. ‘The day would belong to Gabar Singh Negi. Bayonet in hand, his senses on high alert, he was the first to go round each traverse, facing the full onslaught of the German attack. Letting out a fierce war cry, he charged at them bayoneting and killing several Germans as he swept through the trenches. In the clash of steel and helmets and relentless fighting his officer was killed. The 22 year old Garhwali who had once tended goats on the hillside of his remote village, took command and carried on driving the Germans on despite his injuries. As the shells rained down around him, Gabar Singh fought his way through, not stopping till he had forced the Germans to surrender. He had taken the call and secured the trench, but Gabar Singh’s war was soon to be over. Fatally injured, he drew his last breath. He died in the rubble of his hard-won trench still clutching his bayonet, a soldier to the last. His body was never recovered. For his gallantry, Gabar Singh Devi was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross’.

‘Thousands of miles away in her village in the hills, Satoori Devi, barely fourteen, would be informed of her husband’s death by an officer from the headquarters at Landsdowne. Her heartbroken cries filled the silent hills. She had barely known her husband and now he was gone leaving her to face the rest of her life alone. Gabar Singh’s mother joined her daughter-in-law, wailing a Garhwali song for the dead and circling in a trance for the son she would not see again. The lamps burnt low in their Garhwal home that night. The family huddled under the blankets in the chilly March night and prayed for their loved one. Their only consolation was that he had upheld the honour of his regiment and would be awarded the Victoria Cross. Satoori Devi would never remarry. She would look after the extended family, tend the cattle and carry firewood, wearing the Victoria Cross pinned on her sari all her life. Villagers would salute her as she passed by’. The Gabar Singh Memorial in Chamba was built in 1925. Each year on 21st April, the date of his birthday, the Garhwal Regiment pay tribute to the brave warrior whose courage continues to inspire the young men and women from the hills of Uttarakhand to join the Indian Army. In Chamba, since 1971, an annual fair has been held in his honour. A procession of Manjood villagers place their floral tributes to the sound of the traditional Dhol drum. Satoori died in 1981 and would have attended, naturally wearing her husband’s VC medal.


Robert Lake has his name inscribed on the Le Touret Memorial. The day we visited him in 2015, as we took photos at the entrance a beautiful butterfly flitted around and seemed to want to be in all our pictures. Gabar Singh Negi is on the Neuve Chapelle Memorial. This was where the Indian Corps fought its first major action as a single unit, forming half of the attacking force. More than 4,000 of them perished here and it is the highly symbolic location of The Indian Memorial. Robert Lake and Gabar Singh Negi died on the same day, in the same battle, they were roughly the same age and both had recently lost their fathers. There was much in common between them. We celebrate that in our community by hosting an exhibition called ‘Far from the Western Front’ in Tooting later this year. The extent of the involvement of soldiers from overseas is quite astounding. One and a half million men from ‘undivided India’ (comprising present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka) including soldiers and non-combatants, were recruited into the British Indian Army during the First World War. One in every six soldiers of the British Empire was from the Indian subcontinent. Look out for this brilliant exhibition outlining some of their stories and experiences which will be St George’s Hospital University Library, hopefully in September.


Tiny Ted’s Tooting

Ted and flags



For those of us who plonk our rubbish on the pavement early on a Thursday morning and wait for the Serco truck to magic it away, its hard to imagine what happened as recently as fifty years ago. Then a big hairy binman might turn up on your doorstep, walk through the house, pick up your bin from the back yard, throw it over his shoulder and walk back out again. Imagine if that person was the six foot two war hero Tiny Ted Foster! If ever you were holding out for a ‘First World War Hero’ Edward Foster fits the bill on every level. From his Kitchener-style tache, sergeant’s stripes and iconic dustman status, to tales of how he dealt with a German machine gun and liberated a French village. The thought that Tiny Ted might have stepped into their home to carry away the rubbish must have lit up several generations of Tooting folk. He is without doubt one of the best known Wandsworth soldiers of the First World War and will be honoured on Saturday 22nd April with a commemorative VC paving stone in the Town Hall Gardens. That afternoon the focus moves to his Tooting hometown and the house where he lived for over thirty years at 92 Fountain Road. Here the council will unveil a green heritage plaque at 2pm and after that I’ll round things off with a Guided Walk, ‘Tiny Ted’s Tooting Tour’ taking in some key Edward Foster locations.


Much has already been written about him, not least in Paul McCue’s ‘Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions in The Great War’. A new headstone was placed on his grave in Streatham Cemetery in the nineties, around the same time that his medals were acquired for the Lord Ashcroft Collection at the Imperial War Museum. They are available there to view in the top floor gallery, in a wooden box with a bin lid painted on it bearing the words ‘Dustman VC’. Back in Wandsworth, a riverside path on the southern section of King George’s Park, round the back of the Henry Prince Estate was named Foster’s Way as part of the Council’s celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of VE Day. There have been official visits to Villers-Plouich, the tiny French village that was the scene of his heroics. His name is there also on an information board outside the Town Hall. Children at Smallwood Primary School have been learning about him as part of our Summerstown182 community history project. Several of them live on Fountain Road and are thrilled to hear about the genial giant who once resided in their street.

Booth map
The Foster family roots were in the Lambeth area. His grandfather John Foster, married to Mary, was a carman from Shoreditch. Ted’s father Charles was born in Westminster in 1849. In the 1861 census they lived at 28 Causton Street, roughly behind the Tate Britain Art Gallery. On Christmas Day 1875 Charles Foster, now 26, married Mary Ann Biggs aged 24 in St Barnabas Church, South Kennington. He was working as a brewer and lived at 2 Portland Street in the area between Wandsworth Road and South Lambeth Road. The church closed for business in 1980 but has been converted into flats and is now called Ekarro House. On 13 June 1877 Amelia Mary Foster was born, she was baptised at St Barnabas on 15 July. The Fosters now lived at 11 Hemans Street and Charles worked as a brewers servant. Their second child Charles was born in 1883. The Charles Booth notebooks describe the area as ‘mostly costers and low class labourers, poor and crowded’. In the 1930s the slums were cleared and royalty came to inspect the newly constructed Hemans Estate. Not far from Sainsburys and the New Covent Garden Market, you get a good view of it from the top deck of a 77 bus along the Wandsworth Road.


map of 1888

At some stage the Fosters took the course of that 77 bus and headed for Tooting. Edward was born on 4th February 1886 at 14 Tooting Grove Wandsworth. A map of 1888 shows that Tooting was still largely under-developed with large pockets of empty spaces, the Fairlight area, the Bell Estate and Totterdown were all either fields, farms or the private fiefdom of Lady Bountiful. This was a few years before the two fever hospitals, most of the schools or Streatham Cemetery appeared. Tooting Grove was a cluster of cottages facing the High Street. Behind it the exotic nurseries of Peter Barr’s daffodil-growing enterprise were in full swing.


Between 1896 and 1911, the population of Tooting exploded, multiplying five times to 36,000 people. The Foster family were right in the middle of this surge of growth which saw Tooting transformed from a village to what it is today. Tooting Grove, itself now dissected two hospitals, The Grove on its west side, The Fountain on the east. It was here that Edith Cavell trained as a nurse for six months in 1895. In 1890 the family had moved to No15. The current St George’s Hospital complex now straddles the entire area but the line of Tooting Grove runs through it and the southern part of the street still bears the name. Some idea of the location of where Edward Foster was born can be gained from the site of ‘The Little House’ currently at No13 Tooting Grove. This was still a pub 15 years ago but was once also ‘The Queen Victoria’ and in the First World War years known as the source of a collection made every week to send copies of the ‘Tooting and Balham Gazette’ to the soldiers. Organising this was a dustman called Bill Drummond.

Tooting Grove was described by Alfred Hurley as ‘Probably the worst slum area in the Borough of Wandsworth’. ‘For many years Tooting Grove had been a source of trouble to the local authorities. It was a collection of old and dilapidated dwellings, rat ridden, with broken roofs, and the conditions under which human beings were living in overcrowded and insanitary surroundings were deplorable’ Hurley describes how unscrupulous property developers took advantage of the First World War to enforce refurbishment on the already very poor inhabitants. Henry Prince, chairman of the Housing Committee got involved and the council purchased the houses and in 1936 a new estate was completed.

In 1891 George Foster was born, he may possibly be the policeman brother who moved to Stoke who appears in a photograph with Ted, probably taken after he was discharged in 1918. In the 1891 census at 15 Tooting Grove, Charles now 43 is indicated as a general labourer and Mary was working as a laundress, the children listed are Amelia 14, Charles 7, Edward 5 and George 1 month. Ted would probably have started school around this time and it would seem that he was educated at Graveney School until 1900. The nearest school would have been just a little bit further down the High Street at what was then Tooting Corner, now Tooting Broadway. A London Board School was established here around 1870. By my reckoning this is roughly on the present day site of Sainsburys. Before this was built the site was that of an adult education college which still uses the space above the supermarket. Close by is Gilbey Road. If Ted Foster is Britain’s Bravest Binman, this might be Tooting’s Bravest Street. There are 99 doors on this road and from behind them emerged 137 serving soldiers and sailors according to the 1918 Absent Voters List.


Dust Destructor

On 3rd August 1896 Amelia Foster, aged 19, married Walter Newburgh at Christ Church, Mitcham. In 1900 Ted left Graveney School and started work at Wandsworth Council at their new ‘Dust Destructor’ rubbish incineration facility which opened for business in 1898 on an old clay quarry brickworks. It was wound down in 1930 and is now Fountain Road Recreation Grounds, though it was still used to house dustcarts and their attendant shire horses for some time. Its landmark feature, demolished in 1930 was a 153 foot chimney and curiously there is now one at the back of the hospital which can’t be much smaller. The 1901 census shows the Foster family now at 27 Tooting Grove. Mary Ann was now 49 and Charles was absent. He died in 1914 aged 65. Ted’s older brother Charles was 18 and working as a carman, Edward was 15 but there is no indication on the census of his new job. There were some colourful occupations in the street, an italian ice cream vendor was living next door, there was a street musician, several organ grinders, a dealer in lumber and a paper hanger.

On 24 May 1903 Charles Foster aged 20 married Florence Amy Butterworth at Christ Church, Mitcham. Ted was 17 when his brother married and probably already shaping up to be a big lad. The Dust Destructor site at Alston Road was just a short walk along the Grove. After re-organisation sometime around 1909, it appears he was transfered to dusting section (refuse collection) contracted to a company called F W Surridge who were based on what is now the site of Tooting Leisure Centre at Greaves Place. Either way it was still an easy commute.


On 8th May 1910, at Christ Church, Mitcham, Edward Foster, aged 24 married Alice Jane Donovan, aged 26. According to the certificate Ted now lived at 92 Boundary Road, Colliers Wood and Alice just a few streets away at 44 Byegrove Road. She was the daughter of a labourer called John Donovan and was born in Berkshire. The following year Ted and Alice were living at 48 Fountain Road. He gave his profession as a dustman (contractors) and she would later work in a laundry. The census indicates that his brother Charles was next door at No46 with his wife Florence, working as a carman for the council. The Fosters grip on Fountain Road had well and truly been established.


Ted and Alice lived here for a couple of years before moving down towards the Lambeth Cemetery end of the street to 141 Fountain Road in 1914, even closer to the Dust Destructor site. They would have been at this address when war broke out. This was next door to a house lived in just a few years previously by the Marshall family and one of the ‘Lost Women of British Jazz’ Sadie Crawford. It would seem that in 1915 the Fosters moved for the last time, to 92 Fountain Road. With them now was a young niece Alice Kemp who later married and lived next door at No94. Alice Foster was still there when she died in 1972.

Ted joined the army in the sumer of 1915, part of the 13th Wandsworth (Service) Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment, whose numbers were recruited thanks to the efforts of Mayor Archibald Dawnay and the Tooting undertaker William Mellhuish. The Battle of Arras had started on 9th April 1917 and the small village of Villers-Plouich was occupied by the Germans and blocked the advance on the Hindenberg Line. The accounts of what Corporal Foster did that morning are almost beyond belief. He and a Lance-Corporal Reed, each armed with a Lewis gun and some bombs furiously attacked a German trench at a place just outside the village called Fifteen Ravine. Here two machine guns had been causing havoc and threatened to halt the attack. Under a storm of rifle and machine-gun fire, the duo forced their way through the wire and jumped into the trench. In a fearsome fight, one gun was lost which Tiny Ted swiftly reclaimed. He followed this up by getting both Lewis guns in action, obliterating both machine gun crews and capturing the trench. The action was recorded in a detailed account written by James Price Lloyd of Military Intelligence which after many years of being classified is now available to read.



The liberation of Villers-Plouich followed, but at a heavy price for the Wandsworth Battalion, 39 officers and men were killed taking the village, 160 wounded. They lost about a third of their fighting strength. One of these, buried in Fifteen Ravine Cemetery was 17 year old Alfred Quenzer, the son of a German butcher who lived just around the corner from Ted Foster on Bertal Road. After his exploits at Villers-Plouich Edward Foster spent several months being feted locally. News of his VC was announced in the London Gazette on 27th June and he was also awarded the Medaille Militaire. On 17th July after more than a year at the front he returned to Fountain Road. Flags and bunting were draped across the street and a huge crowd gathered outside his house to give him a rousing reception. A few weeks later at Buckingham Palace, King George V pinned the Victora Cross onto his tunic. Ted declined the offer of a desk job to return to front line duty and was wounded at Cambrai in November when a bullet went through his wrist. The injury caused him to be discharged from the army the following year.



After the war the Council honoured Ted Foster with the title of Chief Dusting Inspector and he carried on working until his death on 22nd January 1946 aged 59. John Brown recently located this extraordinary article in the Streatham News of 24th June 1927. It shows a collapsed wall at the Dust Destructor entrance on Pevensey Road. A young boy called Leonard Chamberlain was very tragically flattened in the incident when a dustcart struck the wall causing it to fall on him. It must have been a tramautic time for local people, but standing there by the gate, un-named in the photo but clearly recognisable, is the calming, reassuring presence of the hero of Villers-Plouich.


Many thanks to Ted Foster’s grandson Dennis for sharing some of the family’s photographs. Also to Jean and Rose, born and raised in the Fairlight area, Fountain Road and Pevensey Road. Their memories of the locality and its people are very vivid and Jean’s father and grandfather both worked ‘on the dust. It was a hard life, the smell, the horses, the constant washing of bodies and clothes. But there seemed to be a real sense of camaraderie and of working together for the good of the community. Rose showed me this lovely photo of the ‘Tooting Dustmen’s Day Out’ trip to Southend. The togetherness is very apparent and you can practically hear those accordians and taste the Mackesons. It was probably taken not too long after Tiny Ted Foster passed away and its certain that most of the people in the picture would have known him.

tiny on bike


Little India



Whether he had an entry into France as dramatic as Private Ryan’s, in the early summer of 1944, 26 year old Ted Pavitt from Sutton, of the 2nd Battalion, Monmouthshire Regiment was bound for the Normandy beaches. He was part of the allied invasion known as D-Day which would turn the course of the Second World War. As he came across the channel that day, did he give a thought I wonder to two uncles he had never met. They were both killed in the First World War, 27 years before. One of them, William Pavitt perished in the sea close to Le Havre, not far from where Ted probably landed. Another, George Nation was killed in fighting near Ypres in the build up to the Battle of Messines. Very sadly, just a few months after D-Day, as the allies pushed towards the Seine, Ted would become a third member of the Pavitt family to lose their life in war. He was killed on 15th August 1944 in the fierce fighting near Bayeux. This was the first French town of importance to be liberated and Bayeux War Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth cemetery of the Second World War in France. Ted is one of 4,144 Commonwealth burials there.


Teddy’s grandfather, George Pavitt was born in Battersea in 1857, son of Henry who worked as a Thames lighterman. On 5th April 1885 he married Marian Smith at St Peter’s Church, Battersea and they lived in Grant Road, just to the north of Clapham Junction. Its still there today bordering the Winstanley estate. Just a few years later they appear to have moved into a nearby nest of streets tucked in between Falcon Road and Battersea Park Road. Curiously the names of these roads all have Afghan associations, no doubt as a result of the Second Afghan War, 1878-1880. This has always been of interest to me as a Great Great Uncle Samuel died in Kandahar in 1879. There is a plaque commemorating him in the church in Ballinamallard, County Fermanagh.

Samuel Lendrum

Known bizarrely as ‘Little India’ the streets in this corner of Battersea were designed by Alfred Heaver who has his own estate named after him in Balham. Incredibly these roads have survived immense changes literally on all sides and two of the Pavitt homes look like they are still in their original form. In 1891 they were living at 29 Patience Road  with three children. George, now aged 34 was a coal merchant and the family consisted of Emily 4, George 2 and William six months. He had been born on 20th September 1890 and baptised at Christ Church, Battersea on 8th October. A rocket bomb on 21st November 1944 destroyed both the church and the vicarage, though a new current one was built in the fifties. In the adjoining Christchurch Gardens in Cabul Road is the ‘Citizens of Battersea War Memorial’, unveiled in 1952 and recently awarded Grade II listed status by English Heritage.



George and Marian had another child, Violet, born in 1894. The family then lived at 33 Candahar Road. This house also still exists, though rather precariously on a corner where a lot of hard hats and hi-viz jackets are currently in evidence. Rather defiantly it has its own Banksy style mural on the wall facing the developers, which looks a bit like a bird holding up its wing in a dismissive ‘STOP right there’ gesture. The Pavitts would also appear to have lived for a time in nearby Mantua Road before crossing the tracks in to Wandsworth and heading for Lydden Grove, Earlsfield where Albert may have been born in 1900.


George Pavitt senior  must have died some time before 1908 as by the time of the 1911 census, Marian was listed as being widowed. She was living then at 21 Kingston Road, Wimbledon with four of the children. George now 22 was working as a photographer and Emily 26 was an ironer in a laundry. Albert was now 11 and the youngest Harry was 3. George Pavitt junior married Violet three years later and they had three children, one of whom was Teddy, killed in Normandy in 1944. The house near South Wimbledon tube station has now joined forces with No23 to form the Spiceway supermarket. Tragedy would also strike another Pavitt sibling, Emily. She had married a George Nation in St Andrew’s Church, Earlsfield in 1911. He was killed in France on 28 February 1917. What a bad year for her, a husband and then a brother lost in the space of three months. She lived at 12 Steerforth Street with her three children for a long time. Its about half way down the road, not far from the doctor’s surgery. Emily died aged 61 in 1947.

Only 21 year old William was missing from the household in Kingston Road. According to the 1911 census records he was on board a ship called HMS Triumph. He had joined the Royal Navy on his 18th birthday in 1908 for 12 years, perhaps around the same time that his father died. It states on his records that he had a tattoo of a man on his right forearm, a snake on his left. On 2nd April 1911 he was in the Mediterranean on HMS Triumph. Among the ships he sailed in were HMS Ganges, HMS Impregnable, HMS Illustrious, HMS Undaunted and HMS Eclipse. There was a good deal of shore-based activity when he was progressing his career as a signalman and he doesn’t appear to have participated in the Battle of Jutland. He attained the rank of Leading Signaller in 1913. Throughout his career his conduct is indicated largely as ‘very good’ though in October 1915 it would seem that whilst on HMS Undaunted there was a hiccup. He received 42 days imprisonment for ‘deserting watch’ and returned to the rank of Signaller. In April 1915 HMS Undaunted was damaged in a collision with the British destroyer HMS Landrail. Perhaps this precipitated his move to HMS Derwent from 24th November 1915. In any case, on 1st April 1917 his rank was restored.


That year had started very positively for William. On 2nd February 1917 he married Louisa Elizabeth Collis at St Mary’s Church in Summerstown. They lived at 41 Burtop Road and her parents William and Louisa were in the neighbouring street at 32 Headworth Road. Hopefully he was able to enjoy a brief period of leave with his new wife, though their happiness must have been overshadowed by the sad news at the end of the month that his brother-in-law George Nation had been killed. He was in the 20th London Regiment and is buried at Chester Farm Cemetery just south of Ypres.

Sadly, a little over a month after he had been reinstated as a Leading Signaller, on 2nd May 1917, William Pavitt lost his life when HMS Derwent struck a mine off Le Havre. She was a 550 ton destroyer with a complement of 70 officers and men, 58 of whom were lost that day. As the country started to experience acute food shortages as a result of the submarine menace, her job that spring was to escort merchant ships across the English Channel and defend the Dover Barrage. HMS Derwent hit a contact mine laid by German submarine UC-26. In nine patrols UC-26 was credited with sinking 39 ships, either by torpedo or by mines she had laid. UC-26 was rammed and sunk by HMS Milne off Calais six days after the sinking of HMS Derwent, on 8 May 1917.


Quoting a relative, who was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve, a member of the Great War Forum posted quite a graphic account of the incident in 2006 ‘It was during this, my re-qualifying, that I was lent the Derwent, one of the same class as the Swale, that we were blown up in Havre Roads and only myself and four ERAs (Engine Room Artificers) were saved. I had only just seen the transports safely in through the Boom Defence at Havre, and turned around to return to base, when the fore part of the destroyer was blown clean off. All the crew live in the fore part of a destroyer and there was not one man saved. The Gunner, who had relieved me a few minutes before, and the CO, who were both on the bridge, were both killed and some 80 of the crew. We had struck a mine. The rest of us, five in all, put the boat out and were picked up by another of our destroyers, the Exe of the same class’.


Louisa Pavitt, widowed after less than three months, married again in 1921, to Victor Samuel Barnes, a boot repairer. They had two children, Edwin and Mabel and lived in Sutton. The son of a bookbinder and also a previous resident of Burtop Road, Victor was was the brother of Fred Barnes from Keble Street, a member of the Summerstown182, killed in the First Battle of Ypres in 1914, buried in Poperinghe. Alongside his brothers Albert and William, Victor serving with the Queens’ Royal West Surreys was one of three Barnes brothers listed in the 1918 Keble Street absent voters list. Louisa passed away in 1969 aged 87. William’s body was not recovered for burial and he is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial, high on a hill overlooking the Medway, on which are inscribed the names of over 18,000 seamen killed in both wars. We visited a few years ago and found his name amongst the Signallers who had lost their lives in 1917. His death was not posted in the St Mary’s parish magazine until October when notification of it was in the same passage as that of another seaman, Charles Blight, the wireless operator from Franche Court Road.

Remembering William Mace





On the most dazzling of Spring days, Streatham Cemetery was at its loveliest, awash with blue skies, blossom and birdsong. In one tranquil corner, a collection of beautiful decorated daffodils crafted out of plastic bottles, felt and bright yellow paper danced in the breeze to the gentle strains of Adam Hill’s mellow guitar. The onlookers quietly contemplated the words of Pevensey Road poet John Byrne, ‘The Glorious Dead and the Great Un-sung’. This was the centenary of a young First World War soldier’s death, and a gathering of young and old had come to the unmarked grave of William Mace from Thurso Street. He joined the South Wales Borderers at the age of sixteen but died of TB in a local hospice after being discharged, his eighteen months of First World War service seemingly unacknowledged. Well, on 13th March he was remembered, with the help of two schools, local charities and community groups, quite splendidly.

It was fairly early on in our Summerstown182 history project when we worked out there was something not quite right about the Mace brothers. Arthur and William were on the First World War memorial in St Mary’s Church but they had no Commonwealth War Graves Commission recognition. Both had been discharged from the army and subsequently died of TB, but it was as if their military service had never happened. They are both buried in Streatham Cemetery in unmarked graves. With the help of an organisation called ‘In From the Cold’ we petitioned the authorities and Gallipoli veteran Arthur Mace will now have his name inscribed on the memorial in Streatham Cemetery. He now has a page on the CWGC website rather charmingly footnoted ‘Arrangements are being made to add this gentleman’s name on the Screen Wall in this Cemetery’. Sadly his younger brother William was rejected. The difference was that the paperwork from 100 years ago indicated that Arthur’s condition was worsened by his military service. William’s apparently was not.

Rules are rules and many other similar cases occured, but it all seemed rather unfair. We had to do something for William. It was the reaction of some young people from Ernest Bevin College who jolted us into action. We had told the story to the boys in the course of a BBC School Report collaboration in 2015. Their obvious disquiet at the perceived injustice made us realise that this was something we needed to follow up. For a while we considered a campaign, some kind of social media storm to take on the military bureaucrats. We would probably need to raise money to get some legal assistance. It was then that we traced the family and they came to meet us. They didn’t really want any of that. To add to an already very sad story, it seemed that they had only recently found out about the brothers’ existence. They really had been completely written out of the picture.


William Mace programme
It seemed like a gentler path should now be pursued, so we settled on what we called a ‘Remembrance’. This was based on something I participated in a few years ago in a cemetery in Belgium. It was organised by Friends of Flanders Field Museum (VIFF) – a simple combination of readings, music and placing of flowers at a soldier’s grave. The key factor was that it was always someone whose story has been ‘forgotten’. In that particular case, Robert Hope, a soldier from Sunderland who had been shot at dawn. My great uncle was courtmartialed for refusing to organise his execution. William Mace became Tooting’s ‘Forgotten Soldier’ and on 13th March 2017, in Streatham Cemetery, on the centenary of his death, his community came together to remember him.

We were determined to create a very special occasion, something that everyone who was there would never forget. Short, simple but perfectly executed. Streatham Cemetery were great and Lambeth Council who look after it couldn’t have been more  helpful. We wanted to be sure that some ‘permanent’ acknowledgment of William’s military service could be made and it was agreed to add his name to the Streatham Cemetery Book of Remembrance. On a wet and blowy day a week before, Sam the Cemetery Manager hammered a stake into the ground at the spot where William is buried, Block D, a great grassy mound under which are buried probably thousands of bodies. Close by is a holly tree. It was around here that we gathered.


We have been working with Smallwood Primary School as part of our Summerstown182 Heritage Lottery Funded First World War community history project. They had been told William’s story and grasped the idea of a ‘Forgotten Soldier’. We wanted to involve them in the ceremony and they made the most beautiful daffodils which on cue were hung from the branches of the holly bush. They all had tags attached bearing a personal message which the children had written. Six of them read these out. A daffodil was chosen for a number of reasons; William’s association with a Welsh regiment, a symbol of health care, a nod to the area’s history as a place where these flowers were widely cultivated and simply the fact that it was springtime and daffs were bursting out all over. John Byrne had written verse for the occasion and Kath Church from The Friends of Streatham Cemetery also added words from Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Reverend Roger Ryan of St Mary’s Church closed proceedings and provided a fitting commendation to see us on our way.

Working hard

making daffodils

It was also proper given their school’s initial input, that Naqibullah from Ernest Bevin College was there with four of his History Club schoolmates, all only a few years younger than William. He joined me in reading an introductory text outlining the story of William Mace. There were some difficult passages about disease and military protocol but the younger children’s attention never wavered. All this happened at 2pm on a Monday afternoon so we only expected a handful of people to show up. Those who were able to do so made the effort. Ralph Norbury, a 98 year old veteran of D-Day and Arnhem was present, also in attendance, military historian Paul McCue and John and Arthur Keeley, the V2 survivors from Hazelhurst Road. William had passed away in the care of a place on Clapham Common called ‘The Hostel of God’. Its still in the same location but now called Royal Trinity Hospice. It was very fitting that their CEO, Dallas Pounds took the trouble to attend.


To our great delight, the nephew and niece of William Mace were able to come along to the ceremony. Ivor 88 and Joan 93 were brought by Ivor’s children, Anne and David. They had only found out about their mother’s brothers existence a few years previously, when a relative did some family history research. When a letter from Sheila Hill dropped through their door telling them of the interest in Summerstown, they must have wondered what was going on. Hopefully they will be back in Streatham Cemetery soon to see Arthur’s name carved on the memorial wall.



The Auld Triangle


There have been many wonderful Summerstown182 moments but 25th March 2015 was hard to beat. That was when we welcomed Len Jewell to St Mary’s Church, just a few days short of his 100th birthday. He reckoned that it was his first visit since being dipped in the font in 1915. Dave Mauger from Tooting PRSS and Rud from Wandsworth Radio were there to meet him, also Maureen Pitts the only current parishioner with a relative on the First World War memorial – it was a very special occasion. As if that wasn’t enough, we had a surprise visit from a woman called Doreen, all the way from Dartford in Kent. Her Grandfather, Francis Raymond is on the memorial and she showed us her mother’s birth certificate and some lovely photos of her own wedding to Brian at St Mary’s in 1965. We sent her over to Franche Court Road where she had a cuppa with her old mate Alan Gardner.

Francis himself was also hitched in St Mary’s. He was 26 when he stepped down the aisle with Emma Elizabeth Wickens from Foss Road on 25th April 1915. That was the day of the Gallipoli landings and also a period in the wake of the sinking of The Lusitania when Peter Jung’s bakery at Tooting Broadway was coming under attack. Lets hope he hadn’t been tasked with the catering.  Emma was the eldest girl in a large family at 92 Foss Road. Twelve children are noted on the 1911 census but four had died. They lived in just three rooms. Frank gave his profession as a newsagent. Above then in the St Mary’s marriage register were a couple who had tied the knot just a week earlier; Hilda Mullinger Mace and the jockey, Dick Durham. Hilda was a sister of the Mace brothers and her two children Ivor and Joan attended our Remembrance in Streatham Cemetery a few weeks ago.  Almost a year to the day later, a daughter Mary Ann was born. In 1937 she married Doreen’s Dad and the rest is history.



Francis’ father was a John Robert Raymond, born in 1860 and whose roots lay in the Mile End and Stepney part of east London. The family relocated to south London and were in Penge by the time of the 1871 census. On the 14th May 1882, at the age of 22 and working as a blacksmith, John married Mary Ann Sophia Willis at All Saints Church in Upper Norwood. In 1891 they were living with three children at 11 Triangle Place, Clapham. Francis, three months old, only just makes it onto the census. Robert Thomas was eight and Lily was two. They were still there in 1901 and John had now become a tram driver, very timely with trams about to come all the way out to Tooting. Frank also now had a younger brother called Alfred. Very sadly John Raymond became sick with consumption and died in a Fulham hospital in 1903 aged just 43. He is buried in Norwood Cemetery.  Frank appears as a visitor in the 1911 census, at the home of his brother Robert at Carfax Square, Clapham. Now aged 20, the census tells us he was a newspaper cyclist. Robert had followed his father’s calling and was an LCC ‘electric tram driver.’ Carfax Place is just the other side of the main road so they were literally next door and Frank was probably still living in this area. Booth visited in 1899 and described it as ‘rather poor and dirty’.


The old houses are long gone but Triangle Place still exists, off Clapham Park Road, just behind the big Sainsburys store near Clapham Common tube station. Its part of a large 1930’s development called the William Bonney Estate. He wasn’t Billy the Kid or even a pirate, but the Mayor of Wandsworth from 1938-1944. I have recollections from about twenty years ago of the pub at the end of the road being called The Auld Triangle. Then for a long time it was a nightclub called The White House. Its now a French restaurant, Le Petite Bretagne, rather appropriate given whats happened this week.


Francis enlisted in the army in Tooting on 10th December 1915 joining a training battalion, the 27th Middlesex. He was posted to France with the 16th battalion sometime in 1916. His daughter Mary Alice Louisa was born on the 15th April 1916 and the certificate indicates he was a private in the Middlesex Regiment, so his promotion to Corporal must have come some time after then. He gave his profession as a ‘carman, selling mineral waters’, a good step up in a few years from delivering papers on his bike. Frank and Emma gave their address as 21 Foss Road. His regiment was rather grandly known as 16th (Public Schools) Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own). It was raised in London on the 1st September 1914 and trained initially at Kempton Park racecourse. In July 1916 they went into action on the Somme and the following year were extensively involved in the The First, Second and Third Battles of the Scarpe during the Arras Offensive. It was here that Francis Henry Raymond was killed on the last day of May 1917 near Monchy-le-Preux.


The 16th Middlesex war diary at this time is very matter-of-fact but gives a few pointers as to what happened in those last months. In April 1917 the battalion moved from the Somme to Arras and from 15th-18th were ‘engaged in making new defences at Monchy’. This was clearly dangerous territory and in the process of this they suffered 72 casualties. At Arras on 22nd, one of their Lewis guns brought down an aeroplane. Between 24th and 25th they endured another 104 casualties in the assault on Monchy. After a few days recovery at Souastre they were back near Monchy digging strong points on 10th April. By the 20th they were in the front line trenches and up to their neck in defending the village. On 30th, ‘under intense artillery barrage’ a contingent of 11 officers and 230 men joined the Lancashire Fusiliers in an attack on Hook Trench. ‘All were driven back by counter-attacks, with the exception, as far as can be ascertained of two officers and some 30 to 40 men’. Whether Frank made it through in these few days the battalion sustained almost 250 casulaties with 32 killed. The following day they were relieved and moved back to Arras, on that day Frank Raymond must have succumbed to his wounds. His name is inscribed on Bay 7 of the Arras Memorial.

Back in south London Emma was left with a child just over a year old. There was no mention of Frank Raymond in the parish magazines over the war years and his name never appeared in the roll of honour, nor was his death announced. Emma may have had to wait some time before hearing the bad news. She remained in Foss Road and in September 1919 in Croydon she married John Raymond Wyeth from Colliers Wood. From at least 1924 the couple lived in Foss Road at No39, her parents just up the road, still at No92. She would have been there when the V2 rocket landed on the next street in November 1944. A number of homes would have been badly damaged by the blast but No39 was at the southern end of Foss Road, not too far from the back of the Keeleys at No44 Hazelhurst Road. She was there until her death aged 67 in 1959. So many familiar names surrounded her; the Hammonds, the Warmans, the Byatts, the Duttons, the Steers, the Sandys, the parents of Maureen Pitts who were at No22. Next door at No41 were the Paskells and it was Brian Paskell who stepped down the aisle with Frank Raymond’s grandaughter Doreen in 1965.

Mother’s Day





Another of the fifteen Summerstown182 soldiers killed in the Battle of Arras was twenty year old Henry Edward Wilton of the Royal Marine Light Infantry. He died in the ferocious fighting at the village of Arleux on 28th April 1917.  The son of a farm labourer from Sussex, the roots of his family lie tucked into the gentle folds of the South Downs in the tiny village of West Dean. His father Henry was born in 1871, the son of Samuel, an agricultural labourer and Eliza Wilton from Woolbeding who worked as a washerwoman. Henry was doing the same line of work in 1891 when the family lived at Cottage No93, West Dean in 1891. West Dean is a historic estate recorded in the Domesday Book, nestling in the valley of the Lavant, north of Chichester. 1891 was a big year for the village as the hugely wealthy William James took over the estate, and set out on a great plan to embellish the house and gardens. Also that year, according to a brass plaque in the church, his brother Frank was killed by an elephant on the west coast of Africa. The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII was apparently a regular visitor to his lavish house parties. Who would believe that he would one day follow the Wiltons to Tooting.



How this new dawn for West Dean affected the farm workers on the estate is hard to say, but Henry’s thoughts were on other matters. He had met Chelsea girl, Ellen Wilkins and their first child Arthur Felix was born in 1893. Elizabeth was born in 1894 and Henry Edward on 11th January 1897. All three births are registered in Brighton. Its unclear if the family moved there from West Dean or this was simply where the paperwork was housed. In any case at some stage around the turn of the century, they must have decided to try their luck in the big city, because in 1901 they  was at 31 Haydons Road, South Wimbledon and Henry was working as a plasterer. With houses now popping up all over this corner of Wandsworth his new skills would have been in demand. He and Ellen were there with three children, Arthur, Elizabeth and Henry aged four. His mother-in-law Elizabeth was also present that day.

Haydons Road, which follows the course of the Wandle, connects Merton High Street to the Plough Lane junction. It passes many roads with Nelson or Battle of Trafalgar references and has had a turbulent history itself. An odd assortment of rather tired shops and cafes, recently closed pubs, houses old and new and a train station that it is very easy to forget about. It has a scruffy reputation and feels somehow that it could be something so much better than it actually is. The Wilton home at Number 31 still stands, the final southern stretch approaching the High Street is populated by Victorian terraces, flush with the street on the west side, a tiny garden fronting those on the east.



Here stands No31, a short walk from the Nelson Arms and just a bit further along Merton High Street, possibly the greatest bicycle repair shop in south London, the legendary AW Cycles. This probably didn’t start trading long after the Wiltons were living around here. Up at its northern end, AFC Wimbledon will be very soon relocating to their spiritual home. In 1901 they were still called Old Centrals and had moved from Clapham Common to a new ground at Worple Road West. They were on their Plough Lane site at the junction of Haydons Road by 1912 and thats where they remained until 1991. Their mascot is of course the legendary Haydon the Womble. Thanks for your ‘Quid for Sid’ endorsement last year, mate.


The Wiltons took the big plunge from Merton to Wandsworth some time around 1906 as their fifth child Dorothy was born in Tooting, possibly at 115 Smallwood Road. This house also still stands in all its original glory. It would have shuddered and shook as the V2 rocket landed just a stone’s throw away in 1944. It now looks out on the foreshortened Foss Road and the Twin Towers of the Hazelhurst estate. Look out for our historic guided walks there, just one of many attractions which will be part of the Wandsworth Fringe ‘Hazelfest’ on Saturday 20th May organised by the brilliant ‘Scrapstore’.


By 1911 they were at 42 Blackshaw Road. Arthur was a typewriter mechanic, Elizabeth was in service and Henry worked as a warehouse boy. The census indicates that Henry and Ellen had seven children in total, three of whom had died. This extraordinary road which separates the Fairlight streets from Lambeth Cemetery has seen a lot of changes. On one side very little has moved since the cemetery opened for business in 1854. Though having said that, many original Victorian monuments were lost in a ‘lawn conversion’ carried out between 1969 and 1991. The other side has gone from Bells Farm and its exotic nurseries to an extensive house building programme and the massive St George’s Hospital complex.

No42 is at the top end of Blackshaw Road, directly opposite the entrance to St George’s with a very handy 493 bus stop just outside the front door. In fact its actually Clare House that’s across the road, the original nurses home and one of the oldest parts of the hospital. The Wiltons would have been present to see the Grove Fever Hospital become the Grove Military Hospital and the site of so many wounded servicemen coming and going would have been a constant reminder of the peril their son was in. 15,000 officers and men were treated here between November 1916 and September 1919. Now its still a frantic location with ambulances flying into A&E twenty four hours a day. I had heard a rumour that Clare House was earmarked for demolition but all seemed intact when I inspected it a few days ago.



Henry enlisted on 9th October 1914. He was seventeen and gave his occupation as a painter. His underage status must have soon come to light as the records state that he forfeited 94 days service. He was in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, alongside Ernest Pelling from Burmester Road, another of the Summerstown182 to have served in this prestigious regiment. Unfortunately Henry was with them on what was to become their darkest day, the 28th April 1917, the Battle of Arleux. A town now best known for its smoked garlic and its annual festival in September.

Royal Marine deployment to Gallipoli started in February 1915. Records indicate that Henry got there in August but soon became sick with dysentry and was invalided back home on 26th August. One of their number was Rupert Brooke who died on a hospital ship two days before the invasion. The following year the Royal Naval Division was sent to France and fought at the Somme. In November 1916 the 1st Royal Marine Light Infantry took part in the Battle of Ancre, the last large British attack of the Battle of the Somme. They incurred over 50% casualties and after being withdrawn from the line, had to be completely rebuilt with new recruits. One of those killed on the Ancre was Ernest Pelling. Having come through that, the spring of 1917 saw them in the front row for the Battle of Arras. On 23rd April they were in action at the Second Battle of the Scarpe and amidst the sleet and the snow captured the village of Gavrelle. This strategically important site would not be given up easily and immediately came under intense artillery bombardment. On 28th an attack to the north was launched in support of the Canadians. Henry and the 1st Royal Marine Light infantry began their assault at 425am only to find the wire uncut. There was no option but to seek cover in shell holes where they were cut to pieces. A few got through the wire but the battalion was virtually wiped out. The cost to the Royal Marines that day was appalling and remains the largest casualty list for one single day’s fighting in their history. Out of nearly two thousand officers and men of the two battalions who attacked that morning, over a thousand had become casualties. The Second Battalion had incurred six hundred all ranks killed, wounded and missing, whilst the First Battalion had lost over five hundred officers and men killed, wounded and missing.


Henry’s name is inscribed on the Arras Memorial, its on a section where unfortunately age has taken its toll and the names are starting to fade and it was difficult to read. A monument to the Royal Naval Division at Gavrelle stands on a busy road outside the village. The memorial was inaugurated in 1991, and consists of an anchor, weighing three tons, the emblem of the division, surrounded by a broken wall of red bricks which symbolises the ruins of the village of Gavrelle which was mainly built out of red bricks at that time. In March 1918, at a trench, not yet cleared, a soldier from the British 56th Division reported: ‘That was a terrible part of the line, in front of Oppy Wood and Gavrelle. The Royal Naval Division had attacked there the year before, and their bodies were still hanging on the wire where they’d been caught up’.

Back in Tooting, it was some time before official news of Henry’.s death could be verified. The parish magazine of January 1919 finally reported ‘We have heard with great regret that Henry Wilton, Royal Marines, was killed in action in May 1917’.  This was a year and eight months after the event. It would appear that his family were on the move again shortly afterwards, to 162 Markerfield Road Tottenham. Perhaps the pain was too much to bear and they needed to forget. We went to West Dean Gardens last weekend on a most glorious spring afternoon. It was Mother’s Day and the gardens were ablaze with daffodils, primroses and assorted blossoms. The greenhouses hummed with the expectation of seedlings jostling furiously in the race to sprout. It is truly the best time of year to be alive and our thoughts went out to Ellen Wilton who had to wait so long for news of her son, lost that spring, one hundred years ago in the garlic fields of France.


Guns of Brixton




Smallwood Road is one of the main arteries of the Fairlight area, traversing east to west, it joins up Streatham and Lambeth cemeteries, but has none of the congestion of Wimbledon Road or the transience of Fountain Road. Its still pretty busy, but the presence of the school knits it together and stabilises things, giving it more of a community feel. It is though an odd mix of old and new. There is one ‘shop’ with an unknowingly retro sign that was picked up recently by the BBC in its ‘Further back in Time for Dinner’ series. It hasn’t done any business for about ten years. The original houses on the northern side, in which many of the Summerstown once lived are all gone. Francis Halliday’s Schoolkeeper’s Cottage being the exception. Many of the older houses on the southern side still stand. The sixties saw quite a bit of redevelopment, and more if Sid Sporle had had his way. The western end seems to be the one we know most about thanks to Iris and Neil and their photos of street parties, the Higgs and Johnson families. This section connecting to Foss and Hazelhurst Roads was definitely a hub of many of the families connected to St Mary’s Church. The other end facing Streatham Cemetery is more elusive. On the southern side the original houses disappear between numbers 27 and 65 and the street dips into a close of new build. Opposite this stretch lived a number of 182 families and at No56 were the Woods. Two brothers, part of a family of nine have their names on our memorial. At this time we remember Robert, of the 7th Northamptonshire Regiment who died almost one hundred years ago on the 28th March 1917 in the buld up to the great Battle of Arras.



Along the same stretch were Francis Baker at No66 and Henry Brigden at No98 next to the school. Across the road were Sunday School Three member, James Jenner Crozier at No37, Frank Townsend at No65 and Arthur Hutton at No85, opposite the Schoolkeeper’s Cottage. Quite a gathering really. Frederick William Wood, a labourer and his wife Mary Ann had their roots in the Lambeth area, most specifically Kennington and Brixton. They had nine children, five boys and four girls. Frederick their eldest was born in 1881 and John two years later. Three of their boys were definitely in uniform and its very likely that all five were. Their third child, Elizabeth Jane was born in August 1884 when the family lived at 9 Clark’s Row, north Brixton, part of a small enclave of streets off the Brixton Road near St Michael’s Church. They were still there when William was born in May 1886. Their fifth child, Phoebe Martha was born on 1st November 1891 when they lived at 43 Halstead Street, just two roads along. In 1944 a V1 destroyed a number of houses on the corner of Stockwell Park Road and Lorn Road, killing 11 people. Clark’s Row and Halstead Street were demolished in the fifties and are now submerged beneath the Slade Gardens Adventure Playground.


This area does have some ‘purple’ on the Charles Booth map. He visited in 1899 and described this location as ‘very poor and rough; children dirty’. In 1893 when Fanny was born they were at 44 Halstead Street. Robert is noted as having been born in Kennington in 1897 so they were probably still in this area. He was the second youngest child. The 1901 census indicates they had moved a little bit further north and were at 70 Smith Street, off Camberwell Road, not too far from the Oval Cricket Ground. This venue had been hosting the FA Cup Final until just a few years before. The 1892 final saw West Bromwich Albion beat Aston Villa 3-1 in front of 33,000 people. Close to Kennington Park this was a crowded area but probably a bit more pleasant, Booth noted nearby Kennington Terrace as being ‘very respectable, all with servants’.



Child mortality was of course rife at this time but all nine Wood children appear to have survived. Only the four youngest were still at home in 1911 when the family pitched up in Summerstown, at 56 Smallwood Road. Fred and Mary had now been married for 32 years. Phoebe and Frances, aged 21 and 19 were working as domestic servants, 15 year old Robert was an errand boy for a chemist and the youngest George was 12 and still at school. William Wood was the fourth oldest child born in 1886. It would seem that he was also killed in the First World War and is on the St Mary’s memorial. A note in the parish magazine from August 1917 states ‘We have heard this month that Robert Wood of the Northamptonshire Regiment and his brother William Wood of the Royal Fusiliers have been killed in action’. With no date to go on, identifying William was not easy but we are almost certain that he was killed on 7th November 1915 and is buried at Fricourt, near Albert. Indications are that he lived in Brixton and there is a William Wood on the lost St Michael’s Church ‘War Shrine’ in Stockwell Park Road. We’ll come back to him later.

Robert was first with the Suffolk Regiment before joining the 7th Battalion of the Northamptonshires. They were based in the Souchez sector near Vimy Ridge and Arras in late March 1917 and Robert was killed in preliminary skirmishes before the main battle. One of the most famous landmarks in this area and after which the cemetery is named, was a popular cafe called Cabaret Rouge. It was destroyed by shellfire about two years before Robert Wood got here. Another of the 182, David Baldwin, who was killed in April 1916 is buried in the Cabaret Rouge Cemetery which we visited the day before the Somme Commemoration last year. It was a beautiful golden evening. Robert is buried in the nearby Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery Extension, close to Lens. We’ll be over to visit him sometime this year.


The 7th Northamptonshire’s war diary seems unusally keen on its weather reports. The 20th March finds them at Sains-en-Gohelle, a cold day with snow showers. There is though a concert in the canteen and ‘bathing in the brewery’ which hopefully raised spirits. On the 22nd they relieved the 2nd Leinster Regiment in the trenches and mention is made of Robert’s ‘A Company’ being in the front line. Over the next few days there was sporadic shelling and the rain and snow continued to fall. On 27th the diary reports showers and hail and that the enemy shelled ‘Headquarters Trench’ at intervals during the day but did no damage. This was where ‘A Company’ were. On 28th it states ‘Bright at first, changing to dull and rain later. About 530 pm a heavy bombardment on our lines and on Vimy Ridge opened and our Artillery retaliated. This lasted about an hour. The enemy opened again about 915pm but all went quiet again by 10pm. 2nd Lieutenant G P Rathbone was wounded. Casualties, O.R. killed 3, wounded 13 (including 2 slightly, still at duty)’. One of these was 21 year old Robert Wood. The following day the diary reported that ‘a whizz bang knocked out seven men at Souchez Post, 2 being killed’. It was very wet.

The youngest of the Woods, George Charles Wood, a Lance Corporal in the Hertfordshire Regiment is on the absent voters list at 56 Smallwood Road in 1918. He would appear to have joined the Bedfordshire Regiment in September 1916 when he was working as a carman. It seems like he survived the war unlike his two brothers. The last trace of the Woods appears to have been sister Phoebe who was living at 58 Smallwood Road in 1946.

Many thanks to Friends of Slade Gardens many of whose photos are used in this story

Cousin Herbert




There are three Tibbenhams on the First World War memorial in St Mary’s Church. Identifying the ‘H Tibbenham’ has caused us more than a few headaches. Surely it had to be a brother of Spencer and Eric from Thurso Street. The finger initially pointed at Horace. We then made contact with family in Australia who confirmed it most certainly wasn’t Horace who passed away in 1958. Not long after that we found out about a cousin Herbert, killed at Arras, whose connections were very much based in the Tibbenham family Suffolk homelands. A quick google shows there are still plenty of them in this area so hopefully one of them will read this. All three Tibbenhams died in 1917 in different battles; Spencer at Messines, Herbert at Arras, Eric at Cambrai. The Bignell family in Melbourne descended from Ethel (Annie) Tibbenham very kindly supplied us with photos of Spencer and Eric and now its time to have a closer look at their cousin. His name is on the Arras Memorial, St Peter and St Paul Church in Hoxne in Suffolk and St Mary’s Church in Summerstown.


Herbert’s father, Pleys Robert Tibbenham seems to have spent all his life in East Anglia. A farmer, born in Weybread in Suffolk in 1862, he died in the same county, in Hartismere in 1948. William Tibbenham and his wife Maryann had ten children and Pleys was the second oldest of eight brothers. The connection with Summerstown in south London appears to be the eldest, William who worked as a draper, a trade  his son Spencer followed him into. He went to London in the 1870s and eventually settled at 12 Thurso Street, Tooting. He died there in 1936.

Back in Suffolk, Pleys married Rosa Alice Buckingham in Depwade, Norfolk in 1895. He was 33 so he’d left it quite late by the standards of the day. The following year their first child, Mary Doris was born. She died in 1988 at the age of 92. Herbert was born on 2nd September 1897 in the village of Brockdish in Norfolk. Right on the Suffolk border on the River Waveney and apparently a great spot for a wild swim. There were two more girls, Ruth was born in 1899 and Kathleen in 1907. Both also lived to a ripe old age, Ruth died in Chichester in 1996 aged 97 and Kathleen passed away in Norwich in 1993 at the age of 86.

In 1901 the family lived at New Farm, Sotterley Road, Ellough in Suffolk. Used to looking at old maps of Earlsfield and Summerstown, when they were mostly fields and farmland and contrasting to today, by comparison, very little seems to have changed in Ellough. They seemed to move address quite frequently, perhaps depending on what work Pleys could find and were subsequently in Dickleburgh and Syleham, dipping in and out of the neighbouring counties. By the 1911 census they were back in Suffolk, at Hoxne. Herbert was fourteen, Ruth aged twelve and Kathleen three. Mary was elsewhere that day, she later moved to London and was married in Wandsworth in 1930. Pleys was now according to the records a farm manager working for his brother. Brockdish, Syleham, Weybread and Hoxne are all still tiny settlements just a few miles to the east of Diss in the River Waveney valley. It all sounds very lovely and I can feel this surely calls for a ‘Tibbenham Suffolk Sunset’ Guided Walk.

What Herbert was up to in the pre-war years is a mystery. Did he move to London? Perhaps he stayed with his uncle in Tooting. His cousin Spencer emigrated to Gloucester, New South Wales, Australia in 1912 so there would have been a spare bed at Thurso Street. Though given the size of the Tibbenham family it was more likely to be part of one. All we know for sure is that he joined the army in 1915. Herbert’s service records have survived to give a few clues about the course of his war. It appears that he had a medical at Holborn on 20th November 1915 . He was not long past his eighteenth birthday but he declared he was nineteen and working as a warehouseman. At five foot eight and a quarter inches he was taller than average, though still a good few inches smaller than his cousin Spencer. On another section he gives a very comprehensive list of dependents. His parents are listed and his three sisters. The family all appear to be living in Syleham, but Doris is now in Stockwell, just a few stops up the Northern Line from Tooting. Also listed are eight uncles including William in Thurso Street. Its odd given his large extended family that Herbert’s name ended up on the St Mary’s Church memorial. Its just possible that as well as his uncle’s family his sister Doris had some sway.

KRRC Rayleigh
He officially joined 19th Battalion of Kings Royal Rifle Corps on 27th November 1915. On 23rd August 1916 Herbert embarked for France at Southampton and landed at Le Havre. Now with 16th KRRC on 7th September he was in the field and the field in question was the Somme. On 10th September he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. 16th (Church Lads Brigade) Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps was raised at Denham, Buckinghamshire in September 1914 by Field-Marshal Lord Grenfell. Losses were extensive at the Somme in the fighting at High Wood and Herbert’s transfer was perhaps simply because they required additional manpower rather than his being a good christian soldier.

Herbert was killed in what became known as the Second Battle of the Scarpe in the spring of 1917. The focus was on Arras and attacking the German’s Hindenburg Line, a heavily-fortified line of defence on the Western Front which they had built up over the winter months. The 16th King’s Royal Rifle Corps battalion war diary indicates the build-up to this as they moved north in the preceeding month. On 1st April they were at Corbie on the Somme and on 3rd April they marched ten miles to Beauval. On the following day they went on another ten miles to Barly and onn 5th they covered a further 12 miles to Mondicourt. After a day of rest they moved on to Souastre and were billeted in huts. Here they were given iron rations and extra ammunition and were warned that only six hours notice would be given about the next move. On 11th there was a heavy fall of snow. On 13th they move to Mercatel and then to Moyenville, north of Croisilles where they made themselves as comfortable as possible in the ruined villlage. Many of the men worked with the Royal Engineers on ‘road fatigue’ duty which on occasion had to be cancelled because of the bad weather.

On 21st April the diary gives its first clue as to what is going on ‘a general attack on HINDENBURG LINE’. On the evening of 22nd they moved into position at Croisilles. The following morning, St George’s Day at 445am the attack began, with the 16th King’s Royal Rifle Corps playing a leading role in the 98th Brigade assault. In this action, Herbert Pleys Tibbenham would lose his life. It appeared that the first line of defence that morning was taken fairly easily and 300 prisoners were taken. But German defences were much sterner than anticipated and there was a shortage of bombs and ammunition to breech them. C E Crutchley in his book ‘Machine Gunner 1914-1918’ recalled the scene in the Sensée River valley that day ‘The 16th King’s Royal Rifle Corps who were in support, with great gallantry and despite heavy losses repeatedly made their way up and down the valley carrying bombs and ammunition to the Queens’. At 1pm the diary noted ‘retirement took place owing to lack of bombs and failure of tanks to get up’. At 9pm it was ascertained that 1 officer was killed, 9 officers were wounded and missing and there were 260 casualties among the ranks. On the following day the 16th recuperated at St Leger and the Divisional Commander thanked the battalion for their ‘splendid work during the attack’. This events of the day are featured in an episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ The Grandfather of actor Hugh Dennis was involved, by coincidence serving with the Suffolk Regiment.



Irish Brigade
At this point in the Hindenburg Line, the main defensive advantage the Germans had was their highly fortified Tunnel Trench. An impressive piece of engineering, the tunnel was 30 or 40 feet below ground along its whole length, with staircase access from the upper level every 25 yards. The entire tunnel had electric lighting, and side chambers provided storage space for bunks, food, and ammunition. It was in a major assualt on this, on 20th November that our Great Uncle, Captain Alan Lendrum, then with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was awarded the Military Cross. We visited the area a few years ago and found the fields near Fontaine-les-Croisillies still littered with shells. Some of which might have been directed one hundred years earlier at Alan and Herbert Pleys Tibbenham. Much of the tunnel is still there, apparently intact and out of sight but every so often it caves in to reveal itself.


Back in Tooting, William Tibbenham and his wife Louise had eleven children, a nice split of six boys and five girls. Ethel Annie Tibbenham married a postman from Battersea called Frederick Alfred Arnold in 1910. He was killed in action in 1915. She married again on 26th July 1919 in Wandsworth to Alfred Charles Bignell. Born in Ballarat, Victoria and a resident of Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. He was a farmer who had joined the Australian Infantry in 1914 and served at Gallipoli, Egypt and in France. His address was 171 Tooting High Street on the corner of Sellincourt Road. That’s directly opposite The Trafalgar where the lively Alf would undoubtedly have enjoyed a jar or two.

Mention is made on the certificate that William, Annie’s father was a clerk in the Royal Army Clothing Department. It seems like Annie and Alf headed to Australia soon after and settled in Surrey Hills, Victoria. In May the following year a son William was born. Alf died in 1965 and two years later, Annie then aged 77 wrote to the authorities enquiring about Alf and her brother Spencer’s medals. This letter was preserved in Spencer’s service records, easily accessible online and the address lead me to the Lone Pine Dairy, Balwyn Historical Society and contact with the Bignell family. Curiously, just the day before Annie married her Aussie, sister Ena also tied the knot with an Aussie soldier in Lewes. He was John Paton, a butcher from Allansford, not too far up the road from Apollo Bay. Whether Alf and John knew each other, this happy couple also headed for Melbourne just six days later. Ena lived to be 90 and Annie was 84 when she passed away. Quite why the two sisters didn’t organise joint nuptuals and save on the catering is interesting. Connecting with Balwyn set this project alight a few years ago and we are so pleased to be able to have the photos of Spencer and Eric. Be lovely if we could get one of Herbert as well.

In the meantime, its great to be in contact with Graham of Hoxne Heritage Group and we’ll be sharing our findings on Herbert. A plaque there, inside the St Peter and St Paul Church, commemorates the names of nineteen people from the parish who were killed or missing in the First World War and seven from the Second. We do hope to visit. Meanwhile, back in New South Wales, my cousin and her husband are going to take a trip to Gloucester some time to see if they can find any trace of Spencer. Not too far away from there John will be playing the Bugle at the ANZAC Day service at a place called Krambach on the 25th April. Two days after the centenary of Herbert Pleys Tibbenham’s death.


Rising Damp

AG (Headworth1968-1)


It is ‘Women’s History Month’ and we’ve just done a special ‘Women of Summerstown’ Guided Walk. We have celebrated the stories of the wives, sweethearts, mothers and sisters of the Summerstown182 and those of other significant local women who made a mark in this area one hundred years ago. Why did we do that, well it had became apparent that though the 182 are all male, when we try and explain their experiences, it is very often the women who in one way or another glue their stories together. They deserved for once to be the main focus of our attention. Such a case is Violet Collins, the younger sister of Albert Stewart. We know very little about her, but two traumatic experiences, half a century apart, shine some light into the history of our area and help us understand how it has been shaped.

womens walk


Albert is one of fifteen of the Summerstown182 who died this spring, one hundred years ago in the Battle of Arras. He was wounded in an attack on a place called Oppy Wood, east of Arras. It is best known for the huge losses of soldiers from the Hull Pals on May 3rd – part of the same Third Battle of the Scarpe that killed Summerstown182 William Brown and William Pitts. One of the Humbersiders, 2nd Lieutenant Jack Harrison VC was a well-known rugby league player and in 2004 a plaque was unveiled after him at the KC Stadium. On it he is described as ‘husband, father, citizen, soldier, sportsman, hero’. Arras was a bloody affair with a daily casualty rate of 4,076. Compare that to 2,943 for the Somme and 2,323 for Passchendaele. It was in an earlier assault a few days before this that Lance Corporal Albert Stewart of the 7th Royal Fusiliers from Maskell Road was wounded. He made it back to south London but died of his injuries some three weeks later on 22nd May 1917. He is buried in one of the city’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ Nunhead (All Saints) Cemetery, just a few miles along the south circular.


He was the son of John and Hannah Stewart. Born in St Pancras in 1856, his father was a timber bender involved with coach building. In 1881 he and Hannah were at 5 Luard Street, Islington with two children Florence and John. By the next census in 1891 the family had moved out west and were at 22 Peter Street, Bedminster in Somerset, not far from Bristol. There were three more children and it was here in 1893 that a seventh, Albert would be born in 1893. Two more would follow and in 1901 they had a family of nine.

Their youngest Violet was born in Somerset in 1901 and it was some time around then that they moved back to London and were at Cumberland Villas off the Wandsworth Road. In spite of her large family, a new baby and three children under ten including Albert, Hannah  is listed as working as a wood frame sawyer, perhaps helping her husband with his coach building. Charlie worked in a mantle factory of which there were several in the Garratt Lane area. In 1911 they were firmly in the Earlsfield/Summerstown orbit and living at 10 Maskell Road, surrounded by many Summerstown182 families. It was a bad time for the area and just a few weeks before Albert was wounded, William Baron also in the Royal Fusiliers and living just a little bit further up the road was killed on 11th April. Albert, now eighteen is listed on the census as an errand boy. Four of the their children are present and three of them are in employment. The notes indicate that John and Hannah had now been married 37 years and had ten children, seven still alive, and were living in five rooms.

John Stewart died aged 79 in 1933, Hannah was aged 61 when she passed away a year after her son in 1918. Ernest Stewart was four years older than Albert and in 1911 was a press worker. He married Edith Mancey in 1911 and they are living at 26 Skelbrook Street in the 1939 register. Youngest child Violet married Thomas Collins in 1920 and they were still at 10 Maskell Road in 1939 when he was working as a garage hand machinist. Almost thirty years later, an extraordinary newspaper account in September 1968 records Thomas and Violet being rescued from their home in Maskell Road by a fork-lift truck on the occasion that the Wandle burst its banks. An estimated 500 people in seven roads in the area were affected with up to five feet of water flooding the ground floor of over 100 houses. Thomas passed away in 1971 and Violet died in 1980. Its unlikely Albert married as his soldiers effects record shows he left everything to his father.



On the 9th April 1917 the British Third Army launched the Battle of Arras striking towards Cambrai. Albert’s medal roll shows that he was originally in the 23rd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers from 17th July 1916. But only for a week when he was transfered to the 7th. It indicated that he served with them until 30th April when he must have been wounded and died of his wounds on 22nd May. On April 23rd, the second Battle of the Scarpe began and the 7th Battalion were heavily involved in the attack north of Gavrelle. A few days later on April 29th the attack was continued as four battalions of the Royal Fusiliers made another attempt to conquer the seemingly impregnable Oppy defences which held a key position in their defence of Arras was resisted and in the mayhem the boy from Maskell Road was fatally wounded . It was also at Oppy Wood that the famous 17th Middlesex ‘Footballers Battalion’ suffered its heaviest casualties in a single day’s fighting during the entire war. Among those taken prisoner on 28th were Joe Mercer of Nottingham Forest, father of the legendary Manchester City manager of the same name.

Nunhead is perhaps the least known, but most attractive of London’s great Victorian cemeteries. Consecrated in 1840, it is one of seven huge cemeteries established in a ring around the outskirts of the city. Left to rot when the company that ran it went bankrupt in 1969, its gates were locked. It was bought by Southwark Council for £1 in 1975 and much of the restoration was done in the late nineties thanks to Lottery funding and the strenuous efforts of the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery. Much of it though is still wild and many of the graves are inaccessible. One of its most moving memorials commemorates nine young boys aged between 11 and 14 who died on a camping and sailing trip at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey. They were out in a boat which overturned and all very sadly drowned. Eight of them were from the 2nd Walworth Scouts. The ninth was Frank Masters from the training ship Arethusa, who died trying to help them. By coincidence, a few years later Charles Moss of the Summerstown182 served on a ship called HMS Arethusa.


Maskell Road Floods 1968 3
On Friday 20th September 1968 ‘The Gazette’ reported that ‘two days of torrential rain at the weekend caused the River Wandle to burst its banks, flooding homes, shops and factories along its borders. Worst hit was Earlsfield where 200 families were evacuated after becoming trapped by muddy, swirling floodwater up to five feet deep’. ‘Willing helpers together with council officials and uniformed police manned thirty rowing boats from Battersea Park Pleasure Gardens and rowed to and fro through the night between the flooded houses and Garratt lane ferrying the stranded families. All the houses in Maskell, Headworth, Burtop, Turtle and Siward Roads, Earlsfield and some in Summerstown were evacuated, except for three families who refused to move out’. ‘Among the stranded people were elderly invalids who could not descend ladders to the boats . They were carried in the scoop of a fork-lift truck and lowered into a car waiting to take them to Brocklebank old people’s home, Swaffield Road’. One of the heroic rowing boat rescuers was none other than Hazelhurst Road V2 survivor, our great pal, John Keeley.

Mrs Minnie Sharp gave a lucid description of the chaos the floodwater had caused in her home. ‘We’ve had flooding before but never like that. We thought at first that it would subside and gradually disappear but it just rose higher and higher and the smell was awful. About four in the afternoon the water started rushing in. We had a lot of furniture in the front to try and stop it but it was no good. Another couple who have been residents of Maskell Road for 60 years are Mr and Mrs Thomas Collins who were both evacuated by fork-lift truck after they had been stranded in their flooded home all night. Mr Collins is blind and suffered a stroke only a few days ago and Mrs Collins recently underwent a serious hip operation.’ This of course was Albert Stewart’s younger sister Violet.

Soap and Water



In about a month’s time we will be celebrating the heroics of Wandsworth’s best known First World War soldier, Corporal Edward Foster VC. The six foot two, ‘Tiny Ted’ from Fountain Road, Tooting who stormed a German machine gun battery at Arras and paved the way for the liberation of Villers-Plouich by the 13th Wandsworth Battalion. On the morning of 22nd April, almost one hundred years to the day of his great valour, a VC Commemorative paving stone will be placed outside Wandsworth Town Hall. Later that day, we’ll be honouring him with a Guided Walk around key local locations relevant to Tiny Ted and his East Surrey comrades. The day will also see the unveiling of a green plaque on No92 Fountain Road, the house where he and his family lived for many years. One spot, which sadly we won’t be able to get to on this occasion is Foster’s Way, a stretch of pathway, named after our hero, bordering King George’s Park. Running alongside the Wandle it stretches from Kimber Road to the new development behind the Henry Prince Estate.  A small footbridge on one section of this leads into Lydden Road, a street very much associated with another soldier who fought at the Battle of Arras, but whose fortune was very different from Corporal Foster.

Dustman VC

Like quite a few of the Summerstown182 that we’ve written about lately, William Baron’s roots lie in the cluster of historic streets off Garratt Lane, about half way between Earlsfield and Wandsworth. It was here that a painter called Robert Baron settled with his wife Annie. He was from Middlesex and she from Dawley Green, Shropshire. They were married at the famous St Anne’s Church, Soho on 5th January 1873. By the time of the 1881 census the family were living at 17 Lydden Road and William Thomas was the youngest of four children. His baptism records indicate he may well have been born in Wardley Street. That took place on 19th December 1880 at another well known St Ann’s, Wandsworth’s ‘Pepperpot’ Church. Robert and Annie had seven children in total and by 1891, they had moved one door along to No15.

E Higgs F Johnson
What a place to grow up, these bustling streets so influenced by the presence of the Harrison and Barber slaughterhouse and its attendant industries, would have been alive with the smells and sounds of horses, hawkers, costers, twenty four hour activity. It was a frenzied world fraught with danger and exploitation. In August 1888 three young women were killed in an explosion and a fourth permanently disabled at a firework factory on the site of what is now the Henry Prince Estate. An employee accidentally stood on one of the toy cap guns. A wave of shock ran through the area and emotion was so high at the funerals that according to the Wandsworth Borough News, ‘Many of the weaker sex had to be lead away’. A little bit further down the road in 1885, a huge new workhouse complex was opened on Swaffield Road, keeping everyone on their toes. Only last week our Summerstown182 Walk provided a harrowing account of what could happen when the wheels come off. Betsey Higgs entered this workhouse in 1900 having been abandoned by her husband with two small children and pregnant with a third. Thanks to Neil Kirby for providing the interview notes relating to his great grandmother’s misfortune. They make for painful reading but we were pleased to know she found happiness in later life. Today, two popular Garratt Lane pubs still stand on the corners of Lydden Road and Wardley Street, The Jolly Gardeners and The Grosvenor, what stories they could tell us.



Getting married didn’t change William’s circumstances much when he wed Sarah Elizabeth James at St Andrew’s  Earlsfield, Surrey, on 23 October 1899. He gave his age as twenty and his profession as a floor layer. The Barons were now as 21 Lydden Road and it appeared Sarah’s family lived at No6 which would have made them the neighbours of Raymond Briggs’ father Ernest. The aspiring milkman, as featured in the brilliant ‘Ethel and Ernest’ lived at No8.


Charles Booth believed poverty and slums were spreading along the Wandle Valley and was most uncharitable in his comments about the area. He visited in 1902 describing Wardley Street and Lydden Grove as the worst streets, summarising the former thus; ‘Houses, two storeyed, most of them flush with the pavement, a low common lodging-house on one side and a yard full of wheelless gypsy vans on the other, each inhabited by a family. There is throughout the street a family to almost every room, and a great number of loafers hang about at the corner – men who work either not at all or only on market days’. This provoked an angry response from the local Medical Officer who produced a report which claimed only 25 families in Wardley Street lived in a single room – bad enough surely. The report noted ‘Insanitary conditions sometimes resulted from careless habits – the people themselves seem to have an instinctive dislike to soap and water’. Very sadly he didn’t quite get as far as Wardley Street with his map so we can’t see what colour he would have given it but nearby Iron Mill Place where Betsey Higgs lived was dark blue ‘Very poor, casual, chronic want’. She lived in Wardley Street in 1891 and quite possibly crossed paths with the Barons.

The 1901 census shows that William and Sarah had one child, Annie Elizabeth, born in March 1900. Also present on that day at 21 Lydden Road were William’s parents. Were they just visiting for tea, or all cosied up together is impossible to say. Lydden Road is now completely changed, a messy hotch-potch of industrial units, builders merchants and lighting suppliers pepper its length. In 1957 the council knocked everything down in Lydden Road and Wardley Street along with some of the older houses in Lydden Grove. No21 is still indicated and is now the location of ‘Mr Resistor, Lighting Specialists’. By 1911 the Baron’s address was 34 Lydden Grove and William is absent. The fact Sarah isn’t working shows he was probably just having a night out. They now had four children; Annie, William born in 1903, Lillie born in 1908 and Reginald in 1910. A fifth child Ivy was born in 1915. Lydden Grove is an odd-shaped street which bends round from the bottom of Lydden Road and emerges on Kimber Road. Much of it still seems intact and it looks like No34 may be the same home where William and Sarah Baron lived over one hundred years ago. Hopefully the door they used was the same shade as the delightful violet that the current one is painted in.


With five small children and a wife, its almost certain that William was conscripted. He appears to have joined the 8th East Surreys on 13th November 1916, at the start of the last British offensive on the Somme, the Battle of the Ancre. Whether he saw any action there, within ten days he had been transfered to the 13th Royal Fusiliers. In the spring of 1917 he was to be involved in the even bloodier Battle of Arras. He lost his life on 11th April in the attack on Monchy-le-Preux, a small village standing on a hill to the east of Arras whose name constantly recurs in many of our stories. At a place called Broken Mill on the 10th April the 13th Royal Fusiliers attacked before dawn. This continued on the 11th and the village was eventually taken, but at a heavy cost. As H C O’Neill put it in ‘The Royal Fusiliers in The Great War’- ‘It was a memorable day. At one time there was a blinding snowstorm; but the troops ignored such small inconveniences’. Attacking as part of a mounted division in that snowstorm were the Essex Yeomanry. They lost 135 men and most of their horses. Lance-Corporal Harold Mugford from Bermondsey (below), although severely wounded in both legs, which were subsequently amputated, was awarded the Victoria Cross.

William Baron is buried in the tiny Houdain Lane Cemetery at Tilloy-les-Mofflaines, just about a mile east of Arras. There are only 76 burials here, 67 identified. He has though got plenty of his Summerstown182 pals not too far away to keep him company. Just a few days before William Baron was killed, Charles Barnard Richmond of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps who lived on Wimbledon Road also died. He is buried in the same village but another cemetery, Tilloy British Cemetery. William would have been fighting alongside another of the Summerstown182, William Pater who was killed just twelve days later. Ernest Seager from Thurso Street died on 10th and is buried at Feuchy with William Steers. Herbert Tibbenham was killed on 23rd and Henry Wilton on 28th. Arras claimed a heavy toll of Summerstown casualties.

In 1997, in the Arras area, the bodies of 27 British soldiers were found, buried together in a shallow mass grave. It transpired that they were members of the 13th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers, killed in the fighting around Arras between 9th-14th April 1917. It was believed that they most likely lost their lives in the attack on Monchy. The remains of 24 of the soldiers, impossible to identify were buried there in a quiet ceremony in December, 1996. Three of the others, two of whom were identified were buried in another ceremony on 15th April, 1998. They were  Private Frank King from Hampton and Private George Hamilton Anderson from Paddington, comrades of William Baron who died alongside him, now buried with full military honours.

old soldiers
Sarah Baron died in Wandsworth in 1929 aged 50. At some stage she had moved to 25 Maskell Road and it was there that she gave her next-of-kin details to the War Graves Commission after William died. All of her children married and four of them would appear to have had offspring themselves, so we hope one day, a descendant may read this and know that William Baron has not been forgotten.