We had arrived early for lunch with Ellie and so decided to mooch around Bethnal Green whilst we waited. Strolling randomly we found ourselves on Cyprus Street, where we discovered a WW1 memorial commemorating soldiers from the East End.
Apparently it is not known how many First World War memorials there are, which I guess is not surprising given there are over a 100,000 of them and range from rolls of honour and benches to large monuments and buildings.
In the 1960s the memorial was badly damaged when the local authority demolished the house it was on in order to build a large block of flats. Fortunately the pieces were retained, and stashed away by the builders in one of the local pubs. Years later a local resident came across the pieces and decided the memorial should be returned to its formal glory and ‘rehung’ on the street, albeit they had to find a different house to place it on. They selected the space between two houses opposite Cyprus Place, which has the bonus of making the memorial very visible from Old Ford Road. And even more splendidly on the day we visited the road was cleared of cars.
Cyprus Street in 1911 was home to more than 150 working class families living in 110 houses. Many of the 4 roomed houses (excluding kitchen) were split in 2 or occasionally 3 different households. Occupations ranged from French polishers and cabinet makers, to butchers and cheesemongers to boot makers, brush makers and even a military braid maker.
The memorial was organised by a men’s club based at the Duke of Wellington pub on Cyprus Street, and the twenty six men listed are all described as of Cyprus Street. So the proposal that this was the biggest loss of life in WW1 from any one London street seemed quite probable to me. [Sources: View from the Mirror and BBC WWI at Home] However some of my further research suggests things are not quite as they seem.
I knew it probably wouldn’t be possible to track all twenty six men down given how little information is on the memorial. However I thought by reviewing the 1911 census and WWI military records I might be able to trace the majority. It was of course always going to be a challenge especially given the records for non-commissioned officers and other ranks were destroyed (burnt records) during a bombing raid in WW2. In the end I found only half, and some of those I am not confident about. Still what little I did find has connected me more to this wonderful East End street and its cultural heritage.
Agombar, E – I know it says A E Combar on the list but an error was made! His name was Edward Agombar and he was a Lance Serjeant in the 1st Dragoon Guards. He was 28 years of age when he died on 1st June 1915. His father, George, a tinman was still living at no 58 Cyprus Street in 1939.
Amos, J – I am pretty sure his father Thomas was still living here at number 112 in 1939. However I am less certain about J Amos himself. I think his name was Joseph and that he was an Ordinary Seaman. If so he died on 5th June 1916 when his ship, the HMS Hampshire, was sunk by a German mine off the Orkney Islands.
You may have even heard about the incident as if this is the right J Amos then the ship he was on was the same one as Lord Kitchener. There is a memorial to HMS Hampshire right here in Winchester, something I only discovered when preparing this post. I nipped out earlier to photograph it, unfortunately no names listed and as you can see it needs a bit of a clean.
Cole, A H – In 1911 (Arthur) Herbert was the father of two young children living with his wife Susannah at no 66. Both he and his wife worked in a fancy box making factory; she made them and he was a warehouseman. I don’t where or when he died in the Great War, but at the time of the 1911 census he was 31 years of age.
Doyle, T A – I am presuming that this is the younger Thomas who was a Wheelwright Apprentice as his father with the same name was already 40 years of age in 1911. They lived at no 108, a family of six with 4 children aged 14 and above still living at home in 1911. He joined the Royal Engineers, but I am not sure when he died or where.
Fennings, T – I cannot find a Fennings household on or near Cyprus Street in 1911, and the only T Fennings in the military records is a Thomas Henry. If it is the same one then he joined the 1st (City of London) Battalion (Royal Fusiliers). On joining Thomas gave his parent’s address a few miles way in Plaistow. I can only presume the Duke of Wellington pub was his local prior to him joining up or there was another T Fennings. The Thomas, I found, was a Corporal, and died on 15th September 1916 on the Somme, one of 300 from his brigade to die that day. Interestingly his wife is recorded as living in Peckham, whom by the time the Commonwealth War Graves Commission recorded his burial, had remarried.
Gardner, W J – William lived with his wife Florence at no 64, immediate neighbours to Herbert Cole. He was 26 years of age, a Builder’s Labourer and father of one in 1911. I don’t know where or when he died as the W J Gardners listed in the military records were from other parts of London, and unlikely to be him.
Gadd, A – At first I thought A Gadd was called Alfred, a professional solider, joining the Royal Fusiliers in 1898 a few months after his 18th birthday. However then I found two Albert Gadds at no51 Cyprus Street on the 1911 census; a father of 45 who was a Cabinet maker and a son of 18 who was a Linen Collar Sorter. Ten years earlier they had been living at no35. So far more likely the A Gadd listed here who went off to war never to return is the son – Albert. The father was still living here in 1939.
Goodwin, J – John was born in Oxfordshire in the 1880s. By the time he was living at no91 Cyprus Street, he was a father of 5 and a butcher. He would have been in his early 30s when war broke out in 1914, I have no idea when he died or if indeed he is the J Goodwin listed on the memorial.
Hodges, J H – I had presumed this was James Henry, known as Harry, who was living with his widowed mother at no100 Cyprus Street. On the 1911 census he is recorded as aged 16years, one of twelve children and out of work. Interestingly however there is a British Army Pension Record which indicate that James Henry had enlisted as a 14 year old in 1909, and that pension was later claimed. If they are one or the same then that would indicate Harry had left behind a widow or dependent. Perhaps they are not the same!
Hamblin, T – Now Thomas I am feeling much more confident about! Thomas, lived at no59 with his wife Elizabeth. They were both in their 30s; he was Dock Labourer and Elizabeth worked for gentleman’s tailors as a Tailoress. Thomas, a rifleman during the war, died on 1st July 1916 on the the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Nash, W – Walter lived next door at no 61 and like my great uncle was a rifleman in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. He died on 9th September 1916, a few days before Thomas Fennings but in the same battle. Prior to enlistment he had been a cabinet maker, and in 1911 a father of three. His widow, May, was a boot fitter and his parents William and Elizabeth also resided on Cyprus Street.
Wathews, H & W – Brothers William and Henry were living with their widowed mother Isabella in 1911 on Pritchard Road, less than a mile from Cyprus Street. William was 16 years of age at the time of the census, and had begun his working career as a warehouse porter before becoming a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. He died on 10th September 1917. His younger brother, Henry, joined the Wiltshire Regiment and died the following year only a few days before the Armistice.
To finish my tales on a more positive note I thought you might like what I found out about William and Henry’s mother, Isabella. She was a lavatory attendant throughout her working life, and in 1939 lived at no28 Cyprus Street. What really cheered me up though apart from their great surname (also spelt Matthews and Wathens) was that she didn’t die until 1957, at the grand age of 91 years.
And finally if you are in the UK and come across a war memorial then you can find out more via the Imperial War Museum memorial’s register. The register includes memorials to members of the armed forces, civilians and animals from all wars and to those who died in service. You may find you are the first person to register the memorial, or at least like me be the first to offer a photograph. They currently have less than 85,000 on their database, and many without photographs.