Friday, 12 August 2016

The Battle of the Somme and the Well Hall Estate: Another Son of the Estate Killed in France

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George Thomas Jeffery was another soldier with local connections who died during the Battle of Somme.  He had enlisted at the age of 20 in November 1914 giving his father as Thomas and his mother as Alice.

The Jeffery family were living in 12, Admiral Seymour Road by June 1917 when Thomas wrote to the army regarding his son’s personal effects including a silver wrist watch and a gold ring.

Alice Emily his mother as well as George and two of his siblings were all helping with their father’s business as a seaman victuler in 1911 when they were living in Rochester.  There were four sons in all, all of them younger than George.   When George enlisted, joining the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, the family were living in Rochester, but the move to Well Hall would have happened within the following year or so.  How sad that within about eighteen months of that new beginning for the family, the eldest son was dead.  George died of wounds on 18th August 1916 and is commemorated on the memorial at Thiepval.

George’s brother Frederick William was also injured in the Battle of Somme, but survived and by the end of the war was no longer in the army although another brother, Arthur, was.  Arthur was living on the estate with his father in the 1920s. The eldest child, Grace, married in 1919 and had a son who was named George, perhaps after her brother.  Alice died in 1925.  I wonder if the wrist watch and the ring were ever found and returned, precious mementos of Alice’s son.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Births and Deaths in Ross Way

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Mary Ellen McIlRoy lived on the estate at 56, Ross Way and I came across her name because it appears in both the birth and death registers of St John’s church in the course of two years during the war.  What is her story?

Mary Ellen was the daughter of William Charles Holden and his wife, Mary Ann.  She was born on 28th November 1877 possibly in the Royal Herbert Hospital, but certainly in the Charlton/Woolwich area where her father was a Corporal in the AHC.  By 1891 there were five other children in the family of whom she was the eldest, and the family were living in Woolwich, where her father was by then a hospital orderly.  Her youngest sister was born in 1897.  No doubt Mary Ellen had a responsible role in the family as the eldest child.

On April 18th 1897 at the age of twenty, Mary married Danby Hunter, a house painter, with whom she had two children – Maud and William Danby.  Danby, who claimed on his marriage certificate that he was a bachelor at this point, had already had two children by a previous marriage and one of them came to live with them.  Danby Hunter died in 1906, leaving Mary Ellen with the three children.

Where she went for the next few years isn’t clear – she didn’t return to her parents’ home in Fenwick Street, Woolwich – but she eventually met and married John Alexander McIlroy in 1914.  By this time her eldest two children, if not the third, were living independently of her.  John, who had served for twenty-one years in the army travelling around a great deal and living most recently in Yorkshire, was by then earning his living as a blacksmith in Woolwich.  He too had been widowed and had had at least four children with his first wife. At the time of his marriage the children would have been aged between six and fourteen.

The marriage took place in Woolwich on 4th October 1914 and we can only assume that at some point during the next few months John was able to get a job as a blacksmith at the Arsenal and so the family came to live in Ross Way.  He was probably also in receipt of an army pension.  The children by the couple’s previous marriages were now aged between eight and sixteen and there is no way of knowing if they all came to live in the newly formed household.  None of them were registered at Deansfield School in the autumn of 1915.

On 28th September their daughter Mary Ellen McIlRoy was baptised at St John the Baptist church, Eltham and it was here only two months later that John Alexander was buried.  There is evidence of some ill-health in his army record – ‘debility’ – and this may have contributed to his early death at the age of 44, leaving Mary Ellen a widow for the second time with several children and a baby.  Some time between 1916 and the 1919 Electoral Register Mary and her family moved on from 50 Ross Way.  A family tree on the family history website Ancestry shows her marrying once more in the 1920s and there is also a picture of her wedding to John Alexander but I haven’t as yet got permission to use that in the blog.

There is an interesting puzzle about the occupancy of 50, Ross Way in that on 12th August in 1916 (a few weeks before Mary Ellen’s baptism) a John Everett aged 27, rifleman, and Grace Brooks had given this address when they married at St John the Baptist church, Eltham.  Were all these people living in the house?  It was a Class 1 house with three bedrooms upstairs but also an extra bedroom on the ground floor.  Was this being sublet, with or without the permission of the London County Council who were then managing the estate, and if so how common was this?

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Well Hall Estate: Baby Irene Pook

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Irene Pook was the seventh child of Gertrude and Henry Arthur Pook.  Sadly, this baby died on Wednesday on 22nd December 1915 aged only two days with ‘insufficiently inflated lungs’ according to the doctor at the inquest, and a verdict of ‘death from natural causes’ was given

This lack of medical facilities on the estate seems to have haunted the authorities.  In May 1918 The Pioneer newspaper reported on a talk on the estate which referred to figures issued by the Medical Officer of Health commenting on the birth and death rates for Well Hall as compared with other parts of the borough.  The infantile death rate for the whole borough at that time was given as 70 per 1,000 and that for Well Hall as 95 per thousand.  In particular it was commented that the health of the inhabitants of the estate compared rather unfavourably with that of the adjoining hutments.

There were also witnesses at the inquest who commented on the lack of doctors and nurses on the Estate.

Gertrude Knockels had married Henry Pook, a house decorator, in West Ham in 1896.  By the time of the 1911 census when the family had been living in Lee, there were three children in the family but three other children had already died, so this perhaps makes it harder to attribute Gertrude’s death to the lack of nearby medical assistance, but no less tragic for the parents especially with the death being so near Christmas.  The tiny 2 day old baby whose family lived at 1, Moira Road, was buried at St John the Baptist Church, Eltham, on 23rd December.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Rhoda Baillie of the Well Hall Pioneer Circle

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Rhoda Baillie was a key figure in the Well Hall Pioneer circle. Meetings were usually held at her house – 34, Prince Rupert Road – and in August 1916 she held the role of Secretary, a post which she was re-elected to in November 1917.

Rhoda’s birth family name was Gilder.  She came from a local Plumstead family and was born on 9th November 1884 into a family with several other children – Frederick (8), Charles (6) and Fanny (4).  Later on there was another child, a younger brother Alfred Henry.  Her father Charles was a metal turner.  In 1881 and 1891 the family were living in Hudson Road, Plumstead.  Ten years later when Rhoda, by then 16, was a draper’s assistant they were living in Plum Lane.  Rhoda attended Vicarage Lane and then Burrage Grove Schools.

Rhoda married Roger Thorne Baillie, an explosives worker at the Arsenal at St Anne’s church, Lambeth on 16th June 1906.  He was thirteen years her senior and it is puzzling to work out how they might have met, although its possible that by then Rhoda had left home and was working in the Lambeth area. However, as was common at that time even when a woman was working, no occupation is shown on her marriage certificate.  Roger at this time was a storekeeper. Less than ten years later, the couple became eligible for a house on the Well Hall Estate, as by then Roger was working at the Arsenal, and the couple moved into their new Class 3 house at 34, Prince Rupert Road in 1915.  Shortly after that the Pioneer Circle formed and we find Rhoda had an important role in that.

It was either Roger or Rhoda Baillie who is the likely author of an article on the estate printed in the Pioneer newspaper in December 1915.  Initials only are given – R.B. – but given the involvement of both of them in the affairs of the estate, it is tempting to attribute to authorship to one of them.

Rhoda and Roger lived in the same house throughout their married life.  I don’t know whether they had any children but I can find no evidence that they did.  Rhoda died in 1965, some ten years after Roger.

The Well Hall Estate: The First Tenants

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John Kennett has recorded that the first tenants to move onto the estate were a Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Aylward (Sidney and Jane) who moved into 238, Well Hall Road on May 22nd 1915.  This was a Class 2 house. What was it like, I wonder, to move onto what was essentially a building site?  Lines had been laid for a narrow gauge railway to transport building materials from the sidings at Well Hall station; the use of such railways were a common practice in the building of large estates at the time.  There were special trains daily and also fleets of ‘motor-lorries’ carrying materials at a rate of 1800 – 2450 tons per day.  At least 3,000 thousand men were employed in the building of the houses – this is certainly the number that went on strike in 1915 –  and I imagine it would have been noisy and dirty with everything being made on site and nothing pre-fabricated as would happen today.  Given that the shortage of materials meant a degree of flexibility was needed in carrying through the building, this was a helpful state of affairs.   We know that a lot of overtime was being worked, so there was no chance of the agreements today which can limit building on big sites to reasonable hours so as not to disturb nearby residents.  According to Frank Baines, the principal architect, writing in 1920, houses were completed at the rate of one every two hours.  There are some images of the estate being built which were published in the periodical ‘War Illustrated’ which you can see here.

In spite of all the hard work, the vision of the garden city was not going to be realised for a few months and the first tenants just had to put up with their less than perfect surroundings as they enjoyed the amenities and roominess of their new houses.  But perhaps this, as well as the work place they had in common at the Arsenal, helped the new tenants to form a community.  A number of those who were later to be so active in the social and community life of the estate lived on Well Hall Road.  Another family is recorded as moving into Congreve Road at the end of July and this reflects the fact this part of the estate on the east side of Well Hall Road was being built first.  However by June 1915 it was reported in the Kent Mercury that such good progress was being made on the eastern side that the western side had been started.

The first woman resident, Jane Aylward, was born Jane Reid on 16th August 1888 and like her husband was born and grew up in Hertfordshire where she lived in Croxley Green.  By 1911, at the age of 22, she was a dressmaker working at home with her parents and siblings.  Sidney was staying with members of her family in the village and about a year and a half later they married.  Sidney was an engineer working in a cement factory but a couple of years after this was clearly employed at the Arsenal.  Not long before their move to Well Hall their only daughter Joan was born in the registration district of Uxbridge, on the edge of North West London, so it looks as if their migration to South East London was in at least two stages, which wasn’t an uncommon pattern of migration into the capital.  The couple were in their twenties when they moved into their smart new house with their young daughter but both found time to be involved in the social activities on the estate.

On the eve of the Second World War the couple were still living in the same house and their daughter about to embark on her own married life.  It always seems as if the estate inspires a lot of loyalty among its residents so it would be interesting to see if residents have tended to stay longer here than elsewhere in the London suburbs.

July 2016 Newsletter

July 2016

Dear All,

June’s Race Night, held in conjunction with the Irish Community Services to celebrate Her Majesty’s 90th birthday, was a great success.   We are very thankful to the people and businesses that sponsored races and horses.   Successes such as this enable us to put on the Summer Fete and the Christmas Social.

Being relevant to the community is central to the Association’s work.   We therefore welcome the initiative shown by a lady who has recently moved here and wanted to start up a Progress Estate Parents’ Group on Facebook.   Read on for contact details and further information.

Funding for the book about our Estate’s history has now been received and writing is making good progress.   The publication date will be announced in due course.

As part of Open House London 2016, we will be repeating our popular Estate Walk on Sunday, 18th September at 2:00 p.m.   Confirmation of the final details will be published in the organiser’s programme nearer the time and we will, of course, confirm details by email to everyone on our list.  

Robert Ledgerwood 

Progress estate family fun day summer fete featuring HERE COME THE GIRLS 
Saturday 13th August - 11am - 3pm, Lovelace Green

The Progress Residents Association is pleased to announce that, following the success of its 2015 Summer Fete, it has teamed up with Royal Greenwich Heritage Centre’s “Here Come the Girls” tour which is now underway.

During 2016, the Centre is holding a series of interactive family performances exploring the lives and contributions of three women during the First World War.   One of these is May Pinson, an Edwardian wife, mother and munitions worker who moved to the newly-built Progress Estate (originally called the Well Hall Estate) in 1915.   She will be interacting with visitors to tell her story and has kindly agreed to open the Fete at 11:00 a.m.    

Stalls will include plant sales, vintage bric-a-brac, face painting, beauty products, tea and cake, locally sourced fruit and veg, jams and chutneys and a raffle.   

Free children’s activities with prizes will be hook-a-duck, quoits, snakes and ladders and a tin can shy.   Other activities will include donkey rides, Jambs Owls and handleable creepy-crawlies.   

Between 12:00 and 2:00 p.m. Adam, a children’s’ entertainer, will be balloon-modelling, performing magic tricks and showing off his bubble machine!   

Live acoustic music will be provided by the Oakland Brothers (acoustic rock, folk, blues and jazz) and the Greenwich Mean Time Quartet.   

Entry is free.

Progress Estate Parents group

We are delighted to announce that the Progress Estate Parents Page has been created on Facebook. All parents are invited to join and be part of this online community which we hope will become a social hub where parents can share information, ask for advice and, in time, build networks and friendships. 

To join the Group, click here or search for "Progress Estate Parents Group on Facebook and then click to join. 

Quiz Night with the Priory Players
Friday 30th September

Progress Hall, Admiral Seymour Road, Eltham, SE9 1SL
Tickets £5.00 per person, pay on the door
Tables up to eight people
Please bring your own drink and nibbles
Doors open 7pm – 7.30pm prompt start 

Timely updates

We issue information between quarterly newsletters by email, Facebook and Twitter.   It might be anything from a warning about a scam to bringing local news and events to peoples’ notice.   If you do not hear from us via one of these means at the moment, please visit our website (address in the box below) and, under ‘Connect’ part way down the right hand side of the website, click on whichever method you would like to adopt.   If you write asking to be added to the email list, please put ‘Email List’ in as the subject.

Making Progress is published by the Progress Residents Association and printed on their behalf by Hyde South East.   Please send articles and comments to

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Well Hall Estate: The Allen Family (of Well Hall Road)

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In August 1916, Annie Allen reportedly wrote to her husband’s uncle in Bolton talking about the holiday the family were about to take at the seaside. The holiday was never taken, as about ten days later in the early hours of Friday August 25th, Annie, her husband Frederick and her daughter Gladys were dead, killed by a zeppelin.

The inquest on the victims in The Kentish Mercury describes in some detail that night of raids; it resulted in eight deaths on the outskirts of London of whom four were killed in the Allen house at 210 (now 290) Well Hall Road.  The bomb exploded on contact with the roof of the house and the family were killed by the explosion itself.  Their lodger, Ellen Funnell, (wrongly named as Annie Tunnell in the newspaper) was killed by the falling debris.

What do we know about the family? Ann Gabbott and Frederick Thomas Allen were married in Bolton in 1903.  At the time of their daughter’s baptism on 15th March 1905 the family were living in Bethnal Green where Frederick was a mechanic. Annie had been born in Bolton, Lancashire into a wire worker’s family as their sixth child. Frederick’s origins are a little harder to untangle, but he might have been born in Derbyshire although clearly spent time in Lancashire and at the time of the inquest was described by his uncle, a witness in the court, as a native of Lancashire.  More research needed!

Clearly, he was an Arsenal worker and aged 37 at the time of his death. Presumably the family had moved into their Class 2 house in 1915 and Gladys had been enrolled at Gordon School. Their lodger seems to have joined them earlier in the summer, having been with them three months. This is perhaps another example of an informal arrangement of subletting.  She was renting two rooms from the family according to the inquest.

Their lodger, Ellen Elizabeth Funnell, formerly Standen, had married her husband, Owen Eugene Funnell at St James, Hatcham in June 1915 at the age of 26.  He was a trooper in the Second Lifeguards and it is likely that the couple had had very little time together before her death.

The family are buried at St John the Baptist church, Eltham, the gravestone being erected as a memorial by fellow Arsenal workmen and scholars of the Gordon School.  Not far away is a small memorial stone for Annie Funnell.

I am grateful to Margaret Taylor, former Hon Archivist of St John the Baptist, for her help in identifying the location of the graves, solving the puzzle of the lodger’s name and providing much other interesting information.