The Day of The Daffodil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Primrose Pilgrimage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Daffodil Wagon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blooming Tooting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prince Albert

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

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

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

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

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

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Last of the Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First Lady Sadie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stripes of Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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