Edward James Seal was born in Carshalton on 28th April 1873 and baptised at Carshalton Parish Church in July. He was known as “Jasper”. His mother was Harriet Seal, a domestic servant from Carshalton, daughter of Thomas Seal, a blacksmith. Jasper’s father was Edward Cross (although he is not named on the birth certificate) from Culford in Suffolk. Edward was a farm labourer and gamekeeper and he was 26 years older than Harriet, almost as old as her father.
Edward senior was lodging with Harriet and her family in 1871. The ten members of the Seal family, plus lodgers, lived in a 2-up 2-down house in St James Road, off Little Wrythe Lane, Carshalton. Little Wrythe Lane was then still mostly a grassy lane between ancient hedgerows by Batts Farm, but the arrival of the railway meant that the area was starting to develop into suburbia. Little Wrythe Lane was later renamed Green Wrythe Lane and now runs through the St Helier Estate to Morden.
Edward and Harriet moved around the corner to Levitts Row, probably a row of terraced houses or cottages in Wrythe Lane near the junction with William Street, perhaps where Cricketer’s Terrace stands today. They had a baby girl, Annie, in 1872, then Jasper in 1873 and another boy, Thomas, in 1874. Edward and Harriet married at St Peter & St Paul’s in Mitcham on Christmas Day 1875 and the children took their father’s surname. Edward and Harriet went on to have five more children: Charles (1876), Joseph (1878), Harriet (1880), Maude (1882) and Elizabeth (born 1888 and died aged only 3 days).
Not much is known of Jasper’s schooling or teenage years and the 1891 census records for the family have not been found at the time of writing (it seems that the whole road may be missing). The family had moved back to St James Road by 1887, may have briefly lived in William Street, and then returned to St James Road once more. Edward senior had been in poor health for some years and died at 3 St James Road in 1893, when Jasper was 19.
Title: Lower Lodge, The Oaks
Description: Lower Lodge at The Oaks. Courtesy of Sutton Local Studies Centre.
Jasper lived in the same road, at no.1, until 1899, when he must have found work at The Oaks, Woodmansterne, the 18th century mansion after which the famous horse race was named. The Oaks was then owned by Lucy James, widow of Harry James, who had made his fortune in South America. There seems to have been a Cross family connection to the estate as gamekeeper James Cross, possibly Edward’s cousin, was living at The Oaks’ Keeper’s House in 1891 and presumably working on the estate. His son, Alec, was a contemporary of Jasper and lived at nearby Rose Cottage years later. Jasper moved into the Lower Lodge (pictured right) which used to stand on Woodmansterne Road. With her health failing, his mother moved in with him and she died there in July 1899.
In 1901, Jasper is recorded as working as the “Odd Man Domestic” (odd job man), part of a domestic staff of at least nine at The Oaks, and was probably living in servants’ quarters in the house. An E Cross was playing cricket for Woodmansterne at this time and it was probably Jasper, the only “E Cross” living locally.
Two years later, he was still living in Woodmansterne (address unknown) and working as a carpenter when he married Edith Eliza Bruce in November 1903, at the parish church in Great Horkesley, Essex. Edith had been working as a parlour maid at a townhouse in Cromwell Crescent, Kensington, in 1901 but had moved to Great Horkesley by the time of the wedding. They were both 30 years old.
Jasper’s younger brother, Thomas, had served in the Boer War and had been mentioned in despatches. Tragedy struck the Cross family when he was run over and killed by a runaway horse-drawn van in Carshalton High Street in 1904, aged 30.
Title: The Oaks Stable Block 2016
Description: Stable block at The Oaks (2016)
By 1905, Jasper and Edith had moved into a brick and flint cottage at Oaks Farm, which was The Oaks’ “model farmery”. New-fangled motorcars were starting to replace horse-drawn carriages and, by 1909, Jasper was working as a chauffeur. They were still living at Oaks Farm when their daughter, Evelyn Mabel, was born there on 10th July. Many of the big houses were converting their stables into garages and, by 1911, the Cross family had moved into the loft above the stables.
In the photograph (right), the loft is above the 18th century carriage house (centre). By 1912, another building (right) had been converted to a “capital” triple garage (“with pit, and heated by hot water”, a petrol store and was lit by acetylene gas) and the Estate’s other lodge (below right), on Croydon Lane, had been extended to four rooms for use as the chauffeur’s cottage, giving the family a proper home in exchange for Jasper taking on the extra duties of the gatekeeper.
That year, Mrs James tried to sell the estate and she soon retired to a house in London. Jasper remained at The Oaks until 1913 but there can’t have been much call for a chauffeur and he left around 1914.
Title: The Lodge, The Oaks
Description: The Lodge at The Oaks (c1910). Courtesy of Sutton Local Studies Centre.
The family moved to a cottage in the grounds of Well House (pictured below right) in Banstead, which stood near to where the war memorial stands today, and presumably Jasper worked for Mrs Aileen Arthur as a chauffeur at Well House. The Arthurs were related by marriage to local landowner Sir Henry Lambert.
In early 1915 there was a shortage of motor drivers in the Army Service Corps and the War Office wanted to recruit 10,000 men. The money was good: 6 shillings a day pay and all expenses covered with a separation allowance for married men of another 9 shillings per week. An advertising campaign was run in the first half of the year and the government contacted the main union of taxi cab and bus drivers to try and persuade their members to join. Letters were sent to members of the R.A.C. and the A.A. and editorials were written to sell the prospect of good pay and benefits to skilled drivers. Suggestions were made to car owners to retrain elderly coachmen to temporarily replace chauffeurs and appeals were made to keep the drivers’ jobs open for when they returned.
“The need for motor transport drivers is extremely urgent. Many thousands are wanted, and chauffeurs of any description who are physically fit will be accepted and given practice in lorry-driving if required. These men will be on exactly the same footing as every other enlisted soldier, and will therefore be eligible for pensions if disabled, and if they are killed their widows will be eligible for pensions. The pay is on a very liberal scale and motor men ought to jump at the chance of a life of adventure with two guineas a week steadily mounting up to their credit each week. All the motor drivers on active service in their letters home express themselves delighted with the life. They are having the time of their lives, driving about the Continent, with uniform, board and lodgings provided free and plenty of pocket money to boot.”
“Call for Motor Drivers”, an article in the Cambridge Independent Press (7th May 1915)
A member of the R.A.C. wrote letters to newspapers criticising car owners for putting their luxury before their country and urging them to let their men enlist:
“Every capable driver of a car is wanted, and wanted at once. The pay is good, and the life, I am told by those who have been at the front, is interesting, the experience splendid. Will my fellow members of the clubs and every owner of cars help by the personal sacrifice of setting their drivers free, and promising them their places back after they have performed the greater and most urgent duty.”
W.E. Middleton, Royal Automobile Club (28th April 1915)
Title: Well House
Description: Well House. Courtesy of Banstead History Research Group.
In 1911 there were about 20 chauffeurs (both employed and self-employed) in Banstead. Some, like Joseph Arnold (chauffeur at Nork House, died 2nd September 1915 during the Gallipoli campaign), had already answered the call. There was now considerable pressure and incentive on the others. Jasper would be able to serve his country, earn 42 shillings a week plus 17s 6d in separation allowance (the going rate for a wife and one child) and there would be a good chance his job would be kept open too. His service records have not survived but he probably joined up in the spring of 1915.
He served with the 341st Mechanical Transport Company, formed in May 1915, which became 8 General Headquarters Ammunition Park. They sailed to France in April 1916 with 61 lorries, 3 cars and 7 motorcycles. The Company were responsible for running the main ammunition park for the Fourth Army and transporting ammunition and other supplies from the railhead to the nearby dump. Other units would then collect the ammunition and drive it to dumps nearer the front line from where it would then be transported to troops in the front line or to the guns of the artillery by road or light railway.
Jasper did not make it to France with his unit. He fell ill with pneumonia in February 1916 and 12 days later, on the 8th of March, he died at the Military Hospital at Sidney Hall, Weymouth, Dorset, with Edith at his bedside. He was 42.
Jasper was buried in All Saints churchyard, Banstead, 3 days later. He is commemorated on the Banstead war memorial and on the wooden memorial panels inside the church.
On 8th March 2016, the 100th anniversary of Jasper’s death, a memorial service was held at Jasper’s graveside at All Saints, Banstead, during which a bell was tolled 100 times at noon.