Monday, May 17, 2010

Some thoughts on the Common Toad

Yesterday Bob from Brockley quoted George Orwell from 16 May 1939. A few years later Orwell observed in his essay Some Thoughts on the Common Toad that:

Even in the most sordid street the coming of spring will register itself by some sign or other, if it is only a brighter blue between the chimney pots or the vivid green of an elder sprouting on a blitzed site. Indeed it is remarkable how Nature goes on existing unofficially, as it were, in the very heart of London. I have seen a kestrel flying over the Deptford gasworks, and I have heard a first-rate performance by a blackbird in the Euston Road. There must be some hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of birds living inside the four-mile radius, and it is rather a pleasing thought that none of them pays a halfpenny of rent.

There were a number of gasworks in and around Deptford so it is difficult to be certain which site Orwell was referring to.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Wally Crouch was born Walter Thomas Crouch in Portsmouth in 1877, the son of a shipwright. After his father died his mother remarried and he took the name of Armstrong. By the time of his Peckham marriage on 10th June 1899 to Blanche Phillips he had reverted to the name Crouch and gave his occupation as a Public House Manager. Wally and Blanche moved to Deptford firstly at 6 Lucas Street, then 29 Charles Street, but subsequently settling at 66 Speedwell Street. Various jobs as a labourer and painter (for the London County Council) came and went, interspersed with periods of unemployment.

By 1911 Blanche had given birth to eight children, but two had since died. More children were born and in 1915 a son John Lionel Crouch was born. After John’s death The Times carried a story that Wally had been a greengrocer and that John had looked after his father’s ponies. Perhaps Wally’s fortunes improved after the 1st World War, perhaps the story was made up, but John had a talent with horses.

As a teenager John was apprenticed to Australian trainer Stanley Wootton at Epsom. In 1933 his name started to appear in the lists of runners and riders in the newspapers. In 1936 he rode 31 winners and in October it was announced that, at the age of 21, John was to be the King’s jockey. He was to receive a retainer so that he would always be available to ride the King's horses in preference to other owners. That winter John went to India to race in Madras.

Although Britain was preparing for war in the summer of 1939, things were looking good for John Crouch. He had bought and furnished a house in Epsom and was due to marry 19-year-old Barbara Hives (the daughter of the head stable lad to trainer Walter Nightingall) on 1st July.

On Monday 19th June John and Barbara posted the wedding invitations and the next morning John made his way to Heston Aerodrome to fly to Newcastle to ride that afternoon. The British American Air Services DH.89A Dragon Rapide John was flying in reported its position by radio when passing York at midday, but it never arrived in Newcastle. The weather in the northeast of England was poor that morning and the rain kept many race goers at home, but there was surprise when John Crouch failed to arrive.

That Tuesday evening the BBC broadcast appeals for news of the missing aeroplane. The following day the Royal Air Force searched for the plane but it was not until 5.00pm that Robert Redfearn, a postman, and his friend Richardson, a newsagent spotted the burned out wreckage near the summit of Dora’s Seat, Ettersgill Fell, County Durham, miles from the nearest habitation. The bodies of John Crouch, Glaswegian pilot F.S. Appi and wireless operator J. Elmslie were found close to the wreckage.

John Crouch’s funeral took place on Monday 26 June 1939 at Epsom Parish Church and he is buried in Epsom cemetery.

Barbara eventually married in the spring of 1945.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Jacob Brothers - Mayors of Deptford

Benjamin Joseph Jacob became the first Mayor of Deptford on Friday 9th November 1900. He served two consecutive terms (until November 1902). His younger brother Jesse Jacob was Mayor for the municipal year 1906-7.

Benjamin was born on 10 March 1836 and christened at St Pauls Church, Deptford on 13 April. Jesse was born 27 July 1840 and christened at St Pauls on 24 August . Their parents were Benjamin and Sarah Jacob nee Cooper). Benjamin and Sarah had married at St Botolphs, Bishopsgate on 1st July 1833 and Benjamin was their second child and first son, Jesse the fourth child and second son. Benjamin senior was a lighterman. The family lived at various addresses around Creek Road and Deptford Green, but by 1861 had moved to 2 Deptford Bridge. By then there was another boy and two girls.

For many years Sarah's younger brother Will Cooper lived with the family. Will was clerk to the Queen's Proctor. (The Queen's Proctor was a lawyer appointed by the government to intervene in various cases most notably where there was suspicion of collusion between parties in divorce actions.) Another uncle was the Revd Dr Robert Halley (married to Benjamin senior's sister Rebekah) a prominent Congregationalist minister and academic.

Both sons served their apprenticeships as Lightermen and at some point went into partnership with their father as B. Jacob & Sons (later incorporated as B. Jacob & Sons Ltd). Various tugs and lighters were built or bought including a Thames Barge named Jesse in 1865. As well as moving goods on the Thames itself the firm unloaded goods from ships in the river into lighters and delivered to wharves on Deptford Creek.

Benjamin Joseph married Mary Elizabeth Wade in 1861 and Jesse married Ellen Bavin in 1865. Benjamin and Elizabeth had at least six children: Louis, Helen, Walter, Benjamin, Annie May and Reginald. They lived in Warwick Street (near to where Warwickshire Path is now), 64 Lewisham High Road (now Lewisham Way) and finally 29 Pepys Road. Jesse and Ellen had two children Maria Annie and Harry. They lived at 33 Douglas Street (now Douglas Way) and then 52 Florence Road, where Ellen died on 4 October 1888. Jesse and the children then moved to 60 Wickham Road.

Jesse stood for election, apparently unsuccessfully, as a Thames Conservator in 1897. (The Conservators were the forerunners of the Port of London Authority.) During his first term as Mayor Benjamin gave evidence on behalf of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen to the Royal Commission whose findings led to the formation of the Port of London Authority. During he second term he was a guest at the King's Levee in the St James's Palace Garden Party.

During his time as Mayor Jesse was at the Broadway Theatre in New Cross on 16 December 1906 when the Dickens Fellowship Dramatic Society gave a performance of a play based on Dombey and Son in aid of the Lord Mayor's Cripples Fund. Jesse promised a donation of £5 but subsequently donated 5 guineas. A few weeks later Jesse's son Harry died at 60 Wickham Road on New Years Day 1907. The Duchess of Albany visited Deptford on 14 May 1907 and Jesse welcomed her to the Deptford Fund Refuge at St Peter's Hall, Brockley. On 12 July 1907 Jesse attended the centenary festival dinner of the City of London Truss Society. Jesse died at 60 Wickham Road on 27 January 1908, less than three months after his term as Mayor ended.

Mary Elizabeth died on 29 June 1911 and Benjamin Joseph on 24 January 1918.

Benjamin Joseph's son Reginald followed his father onto the river and was Master of The Company of Watermen and Lightermen in 1922.

B. Jacob & Sons Ltd carried on, until going into voluntary liquidation in 1967 and being wound up in 1968, presumably as a result of containerisation.