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.

An Introduction to Frank

Alexander Frank Crawshaw in training at Blackdown Camp in 1912
Alexander Frank Crawshaw in training at Blackdown Camp in 1912

My great great uncle, Alexander Frank Crawshaw, was born in Brixton in 1893 and died 21 years later on 11th February 1915 amid the mud and carnage of The Western Front. Using transcripts from his letters, photographs and other sources, I hope to uncover more about Frank, or “Biddy” as he was known to his family, and explore the world he lived in.

A collection of 32 letters was transcribed by my great uncle, Geoff Debnam in 1998. I have a copy of that transcription, while the originals remain in his ownership in Wellington, New Zealand. I am entirely to blame for any poor typing or factual errors. Spelling and punctuation remains as it is in the transcripts. I have referenced in Geoff’s notes where I think it helps.

His son, Carl, kindly scanned in the incredible photos of Frank and his comrades. I will tell the story of how the letters came to be found at a later date, but I think that it is fair to say that these were kept private by Mable, my Great Grandmother on my mother’s side. She, like countless other sisters, mothers, girlfriends and wives around Britain, was deeply affected by Frank’s death and never really came to terms with it. Most of the surviving letters were sent to her, but there are a couple to his Aunt Webster as well.

I will certainly make lots of factual errors along the way but hope that people reading this blog (if I am lucky enough) will be able to correct and educate me with their own knowledge of the period. I want to encourage your comments and welcome any correspondence. I hope you enjoy what you find, and I hope this inspires you to delve into your family’s past. You never know what secrets you might find…

Frank joins the Army

The first letter finds Frank living at Blackdown in September 1912. Blackdown camp was a large army camp near Aldershot in Hampshire. It is now part of the infamous Deepcut barracks. The Dorsetshire Regiment was based there from 1911 through to 1913, until it was posted to Victoria Barracks in Belfast.

The Dorsetshire Regiment (or the Dorsets as it was more commonly known) was formed in 1881 by the amalgamation of the 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot and the 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment of Foot.

Most regiments in the British Army, at the beginning of the war in 1914, had 2 battalions; each of which generally contained 1,007 men (although once a regiment was engaged in the field it rarely achieved its full complement). There were usually four companies to a battalion. Each company of 227 men was further split into four platoons and then into sections of 12 men and a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO). Other parts of a 1914 battalion included the Battalion HQ, machine gun section and transport. Frank belonged to E company (Coy) in the 1st Battalion (Bn) of the Dorsetshire Regiment.

By the time we meet Frank, in a letter to his sister Mabel in September 1912, he had been in the Army for 18 months. He joined the Dorsets after passing a medical in Dorchester on the 11th February 1911 and was enlisted a few days later on the 16th of February.

Frank had been promoted to Lance Corporal on 28th January 1912. A Lance Corporal was the first step up the ladder from the rank of Private. It was an unofficial position; the holder could be demoted at any time by their commanding officer. Essentially they made sure that their small group, or tent, completed tasks assigned to them; thinks like polishing boots and tidying up. They were also usually second-in-charge of a rifle or machine gun group. A Lance Corporal was distinguished by a single chevron stripe worn on the arm. Frank would have been addressed as “Corporal”.

Next week

I am going to look at his first letter to Mable and look at Frank’s background; where he came from, and the various members of his family.

Frank Crawshaw. Soldier, Londoner

Letters from Frank Crawshaw to Mabel Crawshaw 1912-1915

Mabel Crawshaw (1894-1964) was my great grandmother.

Alexander Frank Crawshaw, known to everyone as plain old Frank, was born in Brixton in 1893. He died in Wulverghem in Belgium on February 11th 1915. He was just 21 years old.

I am going to post a series of transcripts, made by my great uncle, Geoffrey Debnam, of correspondence between Frank and Mabel, from 1912 up to his death in 1915.


Here is Frank with, I can only guess, Mabel.