Monday, 21 December 2015

Christmas in Kilburn a Hundred Years Ago


As the festive season approaches, we were fascinated to find two stories which involved soldiers in Kilburn at Christmas in 1915. The First World War had been going on for over a year. The men who had signed up enthusiastically in September 1914, confidently believing it would all be over by Christmas, were now bogged down in their trenches in Flanders.

The first story concerned Kilburn Lane School. The map below shows the school which opened in 1885, on the corner where Kilburn Lane turned a right angle near the Chamberlayne Road end. Today only the infant school building remains and the Moberley Sports centre has been built on the rest of the site.

Kilburn Lane School in 1894


Cookery Class in Kilburn Lane School, about 1898

The Boys band in Kilburn Lane School, about 1898

Christmas 1915
A newspaper in December carried a story about a seven year old unnamed girl in the infant school who said to her teacher, ‘Please Miss, can’t we give the wounded soldiers a treat for Christmas.’ The idea was quickly taken up and the whole school made plans for a Christmas party. Even though this was a poor part of Kilburn, the children gave their pennies to buy cakes, cigarettes and drinks for the soldiers. One girl held a party at her home and raised 12 shillings and 6d. Wounded soldiers from several hospitals were driven in motor cars to the school where the children put on a musical show. They blacked-up as minstrels to perform the programme of songs and sketches for the soldiers. Unacceptable today, this was a very popular form of music hall entertainment at the time. The show and party lasted for four hours and the soldiers said they had a very happy afternoon.

Party for wounded soldiers, December 1915

The Hampstead Heavies
At the end of July 1915 a public meeting was held in West Hampstead Town Hall in Broadhurst Gardens. This was a private hall not a council building, which later became the Decca Studios, and today is used by the English National Opera. The meeting was a response to Lord Kitchener’s call to raise an artillery brigade. As a result of the patriotic talk, lots of local men signed up and formed the 138th Heavy Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery, who were known as the ‘Hampstead Heavies’.

For more information on the ‘Heavies’ see the excellent website here:

But our second story shows that some people were not so happy to join up. One of these was Samuel Brooks, born in Paddington where his father was a bus driver. Samuel became a labourer, a coal porter and then a carman, loading horses and carts. In 1913 he married Ada Patterson after they had three children born between 1902 and 1909. They struggled financially and Sam joined the Middlesex Regiment in June 1915, probably for the regular pay he received. He deserted soon after but in September the same year he joined the ‘Hampstead Heavies’ Royal Artillery.

Sam clearly did not like being a soldier and just two days after signing up he was admonished by the commanding officer Captain Paris for drunkenness. At the end of September he went AWOL for six days and was arrested by the police. Back in the regiment, he was given 96 hours detention and forfeited six days pay. Undeterred, three weeks later he again absconded for seven days. This time he was taken to Marylebone Magistrates Court at the beginning of December 1915 and charged with being absent from his regiment. The newspaper report said he was a 38 year old gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery stationed in Finchley Road.

The Regimental offices were in shops near today’s Finchley Road Station. The men and horses drilled in Hampstead Cricket Ground in Lymington Road.

The Hampstead Heavies office in Finchley Road, 1915

To explain his absence, Sam said to the magistrate, ‘Can a man soldier with a wife and three children starving at home? The authorities have stopped the separation allowance to my wife.’

A policeman said he had called at their home at 213 Cambridge Road in Kilburn and found there was no fire or food anywhere in the house. The magistrate was sympathetic, but said there was nothing he could do. He handed Brooks over to the Army escort and suggested that he contact the authorities about his financial problems. His Army record shows that he was again punished and lost seven days pay. Sam, his wife and family, did not have a good Christmas.

Brooks service record seems to end in December 1915, so he did not fight in France with the regiment and was probably thrown out of the Army. In the Electoral Registers Samuel and Ada are still together and appear again at 71 Clarendon Street in St Pancras from 1929 to 1931. We do not know what happened to them after this.

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