When news of a local memorial reached Bradford-based history enthusiast Jane Callaghan, she uncovered a fascinating story tied to six postcards. Walthamstow resident Roy Crawford shares what she found…
Back in 2018, when residents of Walthamstow’s Elmfield Road commissioned a memorial plaque to remember those from their area who died during wars, they could have been forgiven for thinking that the memorial would interest passing locals on their way to the nearby wetlands, but certainly not register much beyond Waltham Forest.
So, in early February this year, when an envelope arrived at number 51 – the home with the plaque mounted on its wall – there was no sense of the significance of the contents.
Within the envelope there were six postcards addressed to Eliza Thorp of 14 Elmfield Road, alongside family records and a note from Jane Callaghan, a woman from Bradford. The address on the envelope was incomplete, with a handwritten request to the ‘postie’ to do their best in delivering it. The Royal Mail had done their job and completed the address in-transit.
After reading the Echo story about the memorial, Jane noticed the cards for sale on eBay and did a fair bit of research before buying them. Her aim was to send them to the road once she had found out more. Jane built up a story of the Thorp family who had lived on Elmfield Road through both the First and Second World War.
Eliza and Ernest Thorp had three children; Robert, Ernest Jnr and Dorothy, but they were also looking after a ‘nurse child’, Elise Webb, who may have been an orphan.
Their son Ernest Jnr was working locally as a piano maker’s assistant when he joined the Royal Navy in 1913, aged 18 years. Within four years of joining, Ernest Jr lost his life when HMS Vanguard was sunk on the evening of 9th July 1917. An explosion in the magazine compartment sunk the Vanguard while she was at anchor in Scapa Flow, Orkney. 843 men were lost.
The postcards were sent under ‘navy censorship’, by an unknown writer called Pat. The writer thanked Eliza for sending him magazines, and hoped that the family were well. Jane developed a theory that the mysterious author, Pat, may have been Patrick Graham of Dublin, a friend of Ernest’s who served alongside him on Vanguard. It is assumed that Patrick had visited Ernest’s family home during shore leave and built a bond with the caring family. This may have been why the postcards had been kept for so long after their deaths.
After their son’s death, the Thorp family remained on Elmfield Road and by 1939 had moved to number 40, with their daughter, now married, living three doors away at number 46. Eliza, by this time, had taken in two lodgers, the incapacitated George Grout and Cissie Thomas – and they were all living on the road when it was bombed by the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) in December 1940.
The family’s story ended in 1992 when Dorothy, the last surviving member, died in Lincoln, aged 94.
Elmfield Road today only has homes on the east side, after those opposite were demolished in the early 1960s to allow the construction of the River Lee Flood Relief channel. The Thorp’s family homes may no longer be standing, but due to the interest that Elmfield’s memorial has generated, Jane Callaghan has been able to unearth their story.
And the postcards sent to the Thorp family have finally come back home, after 100 years away.