The Hidden Hundred – Merton or Mitcham?

Collier’s Wood residents often included Merton in their addresses, so it was natural that homes surrounding “Merton Abbey” should include that name in their own.  Merton Abbey with is railway station, sidings, and mills was also home to “Morris & Co. Decorators Ltd”, the inheritors of the William Morris  Merton Abbey works legacy, and the Littler family textile printing works taken over by Liberty & Co. Ltd. in 1904.  It was a landmark area with a distinct character of its own.

At the time of the Great War, Merton Abbey lay on the western boundary of the Mitcham UDC. As show on OS maps of the period, the boundary followed the line of the Wandle through Modern hall Park before taking the curve along the northern end of Phipps Bridge Road.  At the junction with Christchurch Road the boundary veered north to follow the course of the stretch of water know as “Pickle Ditch”, or simply “the Pickle”.

Merton_abbey1

pickle1

Phipps Bridge Road and the Pickle Ditch, circa 1910

These names appear among casualties in the CWGC registers, but could they have been added to the Mitcham War Memorial?

Although the parents of Company Quartermaster Serjeant Joseph Harry George Sheen had settled in Church Road by 1910 with two of their three adult children,  Joseph was living near Kennington, working as an electrical engineer for a lighting company.  He married Elsie Mary Hawkes in 1912 and their two children were born soon after, Douglas in 1913 and Doreen in 1914.  By the outbreak of war, Joseph was living in Woodbury Street Tooting.  While Joseph’s parents and brother Frederick lived in Church Road for another decade after the war, there’s no evidence that his widow Elsie  ever lived in Mitcham.

JHG_Sheen

There may have been little reason for Joseph Harry George Sheen to be on the Mitcham War Memorial, but his name was added to his father’s headstone in the Church Road cemetery at the time of George William Sheen’s death in October 1927.

also our dear son

Coy Qm Sgt JOSEPH HARRY GEORGE SHEEN

24th Batt London Regiment

who gave his life in France

May 26th 1915 aged 29 years

but has no known grave

What of the Pledger brothers?  They were both born in Earlsfield.  Their parents Henry and Marry Ann (nee Daveney) had been near neighbours in Wardely Street before they married on 15th October 1882 at St.Annes Church, Wandsworth.  Six of their children were born in Earlsfield before the family spent several a years in Iver, Buckingshire, around the turn of the century.  They had returned to Merton by 1907, living at 47 Wandle Bank until 1911.

Soon after his return to London, Henry Pledger married Ada Lilian Lilly on summer’s day, 15th June 1907, at All Saints Church, South Wimbledon.  The couple made their home  in Balham, where daughter Caroline was born a year later.  Henry had named his daughter after his only sister.

Of parents Henry and Mary Ann’s 12 children, only seven had survived into adulthood.  In 1911 Thomas and his brother William were both working as “assistant printer“,  possibly at Liberty’s textile print works, or at Morris & Co.  Around this time the Peldger family moved into what most would regard as a very old-fashioned home, one of the traditional timber-framed, weather boarded and pantiled cottages of early 19th Century along Phipps Bridge Road and the Pickle Ditch.  A home that may have had no running water, that was certainly without gas, had doubtful drainage and no damp course!

From 1913 until 1915, Henry Pledger snr. appears on the Electoral Roll with an address that is simply given as “The Pickle“.  Thomas Henry Moses and Charles Flint were living in homes given the same address. In 1911, when the Electoral Roll shows Thomas Henry Moses at “The Pickle“,  according to the census his family are living at “Littlers Cottages, Merton Abbey“.  Were these addresses one and the same?  Or did “Littlers Cottages” refer to more than one group of dwellings?  According to census and Electoral Data the occupier of “1 Littlers Cottages, Merton Abbey” between 1911 and 1915 was the family of Thomas Charles Sears.   Theses home were hardly spacious enough for one family in four rooms,  it seems improbable that the Sears and Pledgers would share a single cottage.

cottages_1910

Littler’s Cottages, circa 1910

There is no doubt that the Pledgers were living at “1 Littlers Cottages, Merton Abbey” by the outbreak of war in 1914.  William Pledger was the first of their sons to volunteer on 24th of November 1914 at Camberwell, giving his address as Littlers Cottages.

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William’s service as Trooper 2207 was short-lived, he was discharged unfit on Christmas Eve 1914.  Undeterred, William Pledger volunteered again at Battersea on 23rd March 1915, joining the Middlesex Regiment.  He was a well built individual at 5ft 10 inches and a 159 pounds, and while his medical revealed a scar below his right knee, he was passed fit and first posted to the 16th Battalion.

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William was sent to France on 17th November 1915, he would later be transferred to the so-called Football Battalion, the 17th Middx. in August 1916.

Thomas Pledger joined under the Derby Scheme, attesting at Wimbledon on 22 February 1916.  The nineteen year old plumber’s mate was posted to the 9th Bn. of the Royal West Surrey Regiment (the Queens) but soon found himself transferred to the 3rd Bn. of the East Surrey Regiment based at Dover.  Thomas Pledger was not deemed ready for overseas service until 23rd January 1917 when he joined the 1st Bn. East Surreys.  Perhaps his specialist training as a signaller had detained him.

T_pledger1

Henry Pledger joined sometime in 1916, most likely as a conscripted man.  It is not known when he first went to France as Pte.  12303, 1st Bn. Royal Fusiliers.  Like his brother Thomas, this may not have been until 1917.

The Pledger family was hit hard in 1917.  Mary Ann Pledger fell ill and passed away aged 51, she was buried on 1st Feb 1917, little more than a week after Thomas had gone to France. The Spring brought more hammer blows.  William Pledger was posted missing on 28th April 1917  during the Arras offensive.  Was he dead or alive?

The 17th Middlesex suffered its heaviest casualties in a single day’s fighting during the entire war. Having fought its way through Oppy Wood into the small village of Oppy on 28 April 1917, the battalion was cut off and surrounded. After a desperate fight, the survivors, many of them wounded, were captured. Among those taken prisoner were Joe Mercer (Nottingham Forest), Charles Abbs (Norwich City) and Wilf Nixon (Fulham). The casualties of the 17th Middlesex on 28 April 1917 were eleven officers and 451 ranks killed, wounded and missing.

In fact William Pledger had been taken prisoner.  Just ten days later Thomas Pledger was killed near Fresnoy on 8th May 1917.

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With the Pledger family struggling to come to terms with their loss, news reached them that Henry Pledger has been killed on 9th June 1917 near Ypres, during the Battle of Messines as described here.

Unless they were forewarned, his family  would be shocked when William Pledger was repatriated in August 1918.  Whether through expediency or necessity, William’s right leg had been amputated.  He had been a prisoner for a year and 119 days.  William  was admitted to 1st London General Hospital, Camberwell, on his arrival in the UK on 25th August 1918.   He was not discharged from the Army until nearly a year later on 9th August 1919.

W_pledger3

Henry Pledger and several family members were still living at Littler Cottages in the 1920s when they received Thomas’ medals and his plaque and scroll.  But their home was just a few yards on the wrong side of the Mitcham and Merton boundary for the either of the brothers to be considered for the Mitcham War Memorial.

The sufferings of the Pledger family in the Great War have been long forgotten, their names are not to be found on any memorial in Merton or Mitcham, nor were they included in the 1921 publication:

W_M_roll

 

Perhaps one name you might truly have expected to see on the Mitcham War Memorial is “GOODMAN T.E.” ….

Footnote1:  Henry Pledger passed way aged 85 in 1942. His son William George Peldger , maimed in the Great War, died soon after his father in 1942, aged 46.

Footnote2:  The Merton Memories Photographic Archive contains many period images from in and around Merton Abbey.

 

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