Frank’s girlfriends

Datelined Belfast – 8th – 6 − 14

Dear Till

Many thanks for your welcome and interesting letter, sorry I was unable to answer it before, but really I haven’t had time. Well I have chucked Dolly up, well I said in the letter that I couldn’t be more than a friend and that I would always be pleased to hear from her. I wrote to her over a week ago, but have not had any reply and don’t want any. I couldn’t stick her, her ways wasn’t mine, you cant wach (Poor Jessie) although you take the mike out of her letter which she wrote I bet the pair of you wont catch John Willie again so cheap. Now Till what are you getting at, you dont want anythink on the 2nd of July, but keep saving up until Yarmouth week now I tell you what I am going to give you and no more than £1 and if that dont so well you can take it out of the knocker get me fruity. You dont half try to pull my leg on the q.t. I am not one of your Johnnies just come up had some before from you.

Yes Uncle Matt will soon be writing and so I will be getting the Old Age Pension if it wasen’t for Auntie Carrie (and not so much of the Ninkey) I wouldn’t here at all from Brixton, tell him to look sharp and write. So George is the first to get married out of all of us all and he got caught napping that’s only half his luck I expect I shall be the next (see any green). Have you heard from Dolly or Edie lately. I should like to know what she thinks of me.

Did Aunt get my letter, and what do you think of the photo, had a brave time last Monday, suppost to take Jess to the pictures and meet her at two o’clock and of course I ment to to, so I got ready and was away down the town when who should I meet but some of the bhoys and then we went into the first bar we came to, and Bid stopped there until six o’clock very near sober and then we goes and has our photos done so this is the results I am holding the seat to steady myself what do you think of it not bad eh. Comes back to barracks had a wash and brush up and off I goes again, but who should I meet, but was her and she started rearing up so I said alright and was going to have her to have some more beer, when she stopped and I finished the evening with her so it wasent a bad Monday what say you. I don’t know how it will finish up, but I have known her for about 14 months and its still going strong.

Well how are you getting on alright I hope and still merry and bright, is Ciss still at Stewarts, Remember me to them all and don’t forget to tell Mattie that its about time he dropped me a line. When are you going to have your Photo taken, have you wrote or heard from Doris lately, and is the Old man still at the Green. I am getting on alright still in the pink and still mucking in. We are having some lovely weather here just at the present and things are in the pink. Rather surprised to hear that you and May are mucking in again. Remember me to her and ask her to drop me a few lines. Now Till, I think this is all the news at present, trusting you are in the best of health and still merry and bright, hoping to hear from you soon.

I remain
Your Irish Filip
Bid xxxx

What’s goin’ on?

By the beginning of 1914 Europe was in a precarious position. Old alliances and slow burning grievances were starting to edge the main protagonists, namely Germany, Austria, Russia, France and Great Britain, further along a path to all out war.

Similarly, Frank’s new home, Ireland was in a state of near civil war. The Curragh mutiny in March 1914, when British army officers refused to march on Ulster, followed by the Larne gun-running incident in April, when the Ulster Volunteer Force smuggled thousands of rifles into Ireland, had left the British Government with their own ticking time bomb. Unionists were aghast at the proposed home rule and the Nationalists were equally enflamed by the pro-union stance of British rule. Frank’s regiment had been deployed into the very centre of this unrest in Belfast. But it must be remembered that the tensions within Ireland were not solely religious. The argument was one of self rule, which split both protestants and catholic families, and, eventually, a nation apart. Only the outbreak of world war stifled the unrest, but the uneasy peace wasn’t to last.

In the pink

Biddy seems blissfully unaware of this tension in his letter to Mabel. He simply mentions the “lovely weather” and thinks that “things are in the pink”. Bid is far more interested in beer and women than politics. He’s just like any normal 21 year old lad.

He seems to have finished with the previously mentioned Dolly. His mood runs from the indifferent, “I would always be pleased to hear from her”, to the downright dismissive, “I couldn’t stick her, her ways wasn’t mine”. We’ll just take it as read that that particular relationship had ended.

He mentions that George, whoever he might be, is getting married and then refers to his own wedding as being next. Ye gads, Bid moves quickly! He only just dumped the last poor girl a few seconds ago and suddenly we meet his current love interest in the next couple of sentences! It also appears that they have been going out for 14 months. He’s a “bhoy”, is our Frank! Jess is a local Belfast girl and I will write more about her later on.

The photo Bid refers to having taken while on the town is lost to me. I had a bag stolen on a train years ago and lost my only copy of the photo. If any family member reading this has a copy I would love to get hold of it again.

An image of Frank with his "buoys"
Frank with some of his fellow Dorsets. He’s standing in the middle with his hands on the shoulders of one of his “bhoys”.

Again his letter is littered with lovely London vernacular: “taking the mickey” (interestingly used here 20 years before it apparently entered the vernacular), “Old Age Pension”; by this I assume he means getting old and fractious for not receiving any letters. “Ninkey” poses a stiffer challenge. Does anyone know what ninkey actually means? It rings a bell with me but I can’t find reference to it anywhere. He uses “see any green” again for jealousy and “q.t.” Which is surprisingly not American but British in origin. It is simply a contraction of quiet.

Frank’s generosity is marked by a present to his sister of one pound. This is about £300 in today’s money, using relative earnings as a calculation. Mabel obviously has been saving for a holiday to Yarmouth – whether that’s Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight or Great Yarmouth, it’s impossible to tell, although I suspect it’s the latter. He refers to the 2nd July and I presume that’s her birthday. The closest I got to her birthdate on was July.

His annoyance at no one writing to him brings us to the attention of his aunt Carrie and uncle Matt. I think that he is referring to Walter Matthew Webster, brother of his mother Ada, and his wife Caroline (née Davis). Walter’s second name is used as a first name, in a constant attempt by my relatives to outwit future generations. Bid mentions that his father, Frank, is living on the Green. In his notes Geoff mentions Camberwell Green as a possible reference but I have no evidence of his living there yet. Bid’s parents seem to be separated at this point in time and I intend to find out more about this in due course.

The frivolous, light-hearted tone of this letter is a telling counterweight to the parlous state of the outside world. 22 days after Bid wrote this letter, on the 28th June 1914, Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo. As a result of Austro-Hungarian aggression in the aftermath and tangled treaties between nations, Europe was dragged inexorably into war and Bid with it. I leave you this week standing in between the Old World and the New.

Next week

Swept along by a wave of patriotic fervour, Britain rather reluctantly joins France and Russia in defending Belgium’s neutrality against the might of the German army. Bid prepares to head for Belgium.

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.