Frank goes to Cambridge

From Lce Cpl Crawshaw, E Coy, 1st Bn Dorsets, Blackdown


Dear Mable

I received your letter this afternoon, and am glad you have wrote to me at last, I think you had better give those Johnnies of yours the sack once a week so that you can write to your little brother. I expect you are glad to get rid of Doris in one way I expect you miss her all the same, and what about those photo’s surely you can let me have one for what with you promising me one and May also, I think it is only right that I should have one, so dont forget it the next time you write, I think I deserve one. Well Till it is like this we are getting six weeks leave in five weeks time and I thought it best to wait till then, for it wont be very long so hope you won’t be dissappointed Dear, so tell mother I shall be home with her for six weeks soon. We have just come back from Cambridge and am not sorry either Seeing that you want a dozen handkerchiefs I should be satisfied with a bottle of Colegates and also a tooth brush peach so hope you will send it along of the Photo dear surely you can let your peach have that, now be a good Girl and send it for I might send you something in return love.

That all hoping all are well at home and give my love to mother and tell her I shall be home soon, did you get the Pcard which I sent you that all this time and another time dont keep me waiting so long and I should like to know the Johnnie you go with I would tell him something stopping you form writing to your late sweetheart the idear I never heard of any such thing in my life (Wartie(?) What do you think of that nagging its just like Nrs 60 Where is Muff dont forget to write back soo there a dear and dont the Colgates and photo


A bear with a sore head

I need to update on last week. Frank’s sister Mable was commonly known as Tilly. Was this was due to her second name being Ethel, as Geoff suggested to me in an email this week?

Many family members from this time seem to use their second names as their first names, or worse, have entirely made-up ones. It makes researching the family quite tricky. For example, I am having trouble finding out more about Frank Crawshaw senior because that Frank isn’t his official first name.

This week the letter carries on the plea for the infamous photographs. Biddy is quite desperate to get hold of them. Despite his jovial tone, it’s easy to detect the mild irritation that he hasn’t had a letter from his sister for a while.

Biddy’s nagging tone is compared to “just like Nrs 60”. Allow me to take a bit of a leap of faith, and assume that Biddy is referring to the road they grew up in: Bellefields Road in Brixton. I looked up the 1901 Census records for 60 Bellefields Road and found a Police Constable and his family living there: Arthur Christmas and his Irish wife Phoebe. I wonder if she is the nag Biddy makes reference to? The name Arthur Christmas conjures up, for me at least, an image of a meek, put-upon husband and his shrew-like wife, infamous with all the neighbours for her legendary nagging.

Interestingly the Christmas surname returns at the end of Frank’s story but we shall come to that in good time.

I had a look at the Census Summary for 1911 (the full 1911 Census will be released to the public next year) and I found that both properties have been split into flats in the period 1901-1911. Last week I referred to the growing working class population of Brixton, as leases began to run out on properties built in the 1860s. Here is proof in the pudding as it were.

Added to his list of demands is the request for a toothbrush and some Colgate tooth powder.


The ubiquitous squeezable tube of toothpaste was a relative newcomer to British households in 1912. Much more common was toothpowder, still available today, which you mixed with water prior to brushing.

The ribbon tube was invented, inspired by artists’ paint tubes, by Dr Washington Sheffield to house his Creme Dentifrice in 1896. Colgate and Company mimicked this design in 1908.

If you ever wanted to know how stripes appear in toothpaste then I urge you to read the Wikipedia entry for toothpaste. I did, and I have, so there you go.

Cam Pain

Biddy had just returned from Cambridge and it sounds like he hadn’t had a very good time. Doing a little digging we can assume that he had been taking part in the Army Manoeuvres of September 1912.

This was the largest exercise the British Army engaged in prior to the First World War. Nearly 50,000 soldiers were involved, with eminent observers invited from all over the world, including France’s General Foch.

The exercise took place to the south of Cambridge and was contested between the Redlands Army, under control of Douglas Haig, and the Bluelands Army, led by Sir James Grierson.

These exercises were generally pre-agreed and were designed primarily to test the ability of officers in the field. It must have been a very footsore and bored Frank who returned to his billets in Aldershot.

Although the official result was a draw, it seems that Haig’s Redlands army, although they had far more experience on their side, lost the battle. Grierson hid a division of his troops in trees and ditches overnight and subsequently outflanked Haig’s invaders.

Image showing airship "Gamma" on Army Manoeuvre, September 1912
Airship “Gamma” on Army Manoeuvre, September 1912

Image shown from the 1914-1919 Forum

Air support, in the guise of dirigibles Gamma and Beta and several planes, was used to spot the enemy and Bluelands used it to conceal their troop movements to more success. Funnily enough, the victor Grierson was reported to have remarked that the aerial observation completely spoiled such exercises!

Forging on the road British Army 1912

Image from Amazon old poster service

Sadly, Grierson, a fluent German speaker and expert on the German Army, never got the chance to prove his value to the British Expeditionary Force. On 17th August 1914 he died of a heart attack while travelling by train to the front. His replacement was Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, of whom we’ll hear more later on.

The Aldershot infantry regiments, which is where the Dorsetshire Regiment was based at that time, were part of the Redlands Army so my suspicion is that there are some sour grapes in Biddy’s terse summary of his visit to the Fenlands.

The exercise sounds like a farcical few days. The Canadian Minister allegedly had a fist fight with the South African Minister, the terrifying Jan Smuts, over whose country’s troops were better fighters. J.E.B. Seely, the then-secretary of State for War, was humiliated by his horse which bit and badly bruised King George V’s foot. You can read more about the Army Manoeuvres of 1912 on Wikipedia.

The New York Times reported the manoeuvres as preparation for “the repulse of a conjectural German invasion”.

Two years later the British Army was to meet that threat head on, but in a different country.

Next week

We jump over a year in the future to Christmas 1913. I’ll be looking at Biddy’s new home.

Biddy sends a letter home

From Lce Cpl Crawshaw, E Coy, 1st Bn Dorsets, Blackdown


Dear Mable

I received your welcome letter, and am glad to hear that you enjoyed yourself + also May. Till I am sorry that I am unable to get away for the fortnight leave but I am going to get a weekend from the 4th of September so will hope to spend a few hours with you then. I notice that you never told me Doris was home on a holiday but I guessed it, for her little letter which she wrote to me tell her she likes her plumes too much. How long is Doris home for, for I should like to see her, did you see your photo in those PC I sent home shourly you can recognise your big hat + what about sending me one of your and also Mays especially where you was taken in the water (not much) Remember me to Mother and tell mar I hope to see her soon + also Pups (?). Is Muffit still at that same place where you gave me the address off.

Now Till I hope you will send me photo of May and yourself and write back soon don’t forget dear. The weather is very cold + also raining. How many more young fellows will you have before you get the right one, I think the best youngman that you ever had was (B Spenc—r see any green) No that’s not my wedding I was going to, I have got too much sence to get spliced, I am waiting for you so that I can come round + have a cheap tea. Remember me to Horace and also your bloke. Hoping you all at home are in the best of health + still smiling. Don’t forget to let me know if Muff is still at the same place. That’s all the news at present hoping to hear from you soon love, and not much of the Joe peachie.

I remain

Your loving raspberry


For Joe xxxxxxx

Don’t forget the photos and write back soon

Introducing the Crawshaws

Frank’s parents, Frank Crawshaw and Ada Webster were married in 1890 in Camberwell Parish church, St Giles. Both were living in Dulwich Village at that time, according to the marriage certificate.

Ada was born in Southwark in 1870. Her parents were Matthew Webster, a machine pattern cutter from York, and Phoebe Oakley. Southwark was an slum housing area blighted with high levels of poverty and crime

Frank Crawshaw senior was originally from Norfolk.  The 1891 census sees him working as a pawnbroker’s assistant, living at 252 Wandsworth Road. I couldn’t find any mention of Ada at this time in the records I have access to.

Brixton life

Three years later, however, they are living together at 21 Combermere Road (street view below) in Brixton. It’s now a rather lonely little house with a reinforced front door. Frank was born in 1893 and a year later Mabel came along.

In the 1901 census we find Frank and Mable living at 48 Bellefields Road (street view below) in Brixton with their father Frank, mother Ada and a lodger called Henry Sheppard.

Frank senior was now a brewer’s clerk, possibly at the Youngs Brewery in Wandsworth or the Red Lion Brewery in Lambeth, now the site of the Royal Festival Hall. Interestingly the lion which once stood on top of the brewery’s entrance archway can now be found standing on a plinth on the south side of Westminster bridge. The brewery itself was destroyed by bombs in the Second World War.

Frank and Ada Crawshaw were both certainly from humble backgrounds, but the Brixton properties they lived in seem comfortable enough. They were probably far better off in Brixton than the cramped housing of Southwark and Bermondsey.

Brixton was born out of the development of south London in the second half of the 19th Century. Vauxhall Bridge opened in 1816, opening up the farms and market gardens of South London to developers. The Chatham Main Line brought the railway through Brixton in 1862. Large houses and middle class artisan developments sprang up around a busy market and commercial centre. As leases got shorter the middle classes moved out and, by the early 1900s, larger properties were being split into flats allowing working class families to live within easy commuting distance of the Capital, away from the squalor of the inner city slums.

The letter and the language

Frank’s first letter mentions their sister Doris. She was born in 1902 and in 1912 seems to be living away at school. Is the eight year gap between children significant? We’ll find out more about the state of the Crawshaw’s marriage in later letters.

Frank shows off his sense of humour in this first letter. He mentions a previous suitor of Mable, Ben Spen—r (I am guessing Ben Spencer but don’t know why he censors himself) and follows it up with a comment “see any green”. “See any green (in my eye)” was a popular english phase and probably meant that he is not as naive as she thinks. He enjoys pulling his sister’s leg about her love life.

Frank ends the letter with the phrase “not so much of the Joe Peachie”. I’ve found one mention of Joe-Peachey in the American magazine Boy’s Life in February 1921. This seems to echo the meaning we know today as everything is fine. So to use it in almost a negative way is perplexing. Does anybody know the origins of this phrase?

I love the phrase “your loving raspberry” he uses to sign off the letter with. I think I’m going to use it in emails to clients.

He talks about photographs long since lost. Who was May? I have yet to find out, but his “not much” aside, when mentioning a photo of her and his sister (possibly swimming?) in water, suggests that she was a girlfriend, rather than a relative.

Horace and Joe are also mentioned in the letter but I cannot match their names to anyone in my rather spindly family tree.

My great uncle Geoff remembers in his notes that he had an auntie Muff as a child. Muff is also mentioned as Muffit. I am guessing that they are one and the same person. I wonder if she is a sister of Ada Webster?

Perhaps I’ll find out in the next week from other members of my far flung family. Until then, I remain your loving raspberry. JE x

Next week

We’ll meet more members of the family and have a look at some of the consumer products of the time.