299 Fulham Road, Chelsea

142 Fulham Road
The shops of J. Somes (no. 299, far left) and W. A. Dolling (opposite, at no. 142) in Fulham Road, Chelsea, around 1906. The belligerent-looking shopkeeper outside no. 142 may be W. A. Dolling himself. Photo courtesy of Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Local Studies.

In around 1910, my grandfather, Jo Somes, took over running the family jewellery and pawnbroking business at 299 Fulham Road, with his brother, George Francis Somes. The business had been left in trust by Jo’s father when he died, to support his widow, Alice Somes, Jo’s mother. The trust had been administered by Jo’s uncle, but when he too died in 1910, the business was landed upon the reluctant shoulders of Jo himself.  However, through the shop, he met, by chance, the woman who would become his wife, Evie Smith.

On the opposite side of the street from 299, at no. 142, was the shop of William Arthur Dolling, glass and china merchant. Arthur Dolling himself had become badly ill, with a brain tumour, and his wife Rose, struggling to cope with their young daughter, May, had enlisted Evie, her niece, to help with running the business. Evie’s family were originally from Oxford, but were at that point living on the Isle of Wight, where her father was a well-known boat-builder and inventor. While Evie adored her parents, the family was far from well-off, and one suspects that life on the Island was a little quiet for her, so the chance to live and work in London for a while must have been welcome. With a fast train from Portsmouth to the capital, it was not a hard journey to return home when needed.

It was not long before Evie caught Jo’s eye, and a romance soon developed. Evie, too, was musical, and with her father and siblings was an accomplished choral singer. As well as the usual womanly skills of needlework and the like, she also practised miniature painting, and pokerwork. When in London, they carried on their romance, playing tennis, going for rides on Jo’s motorcycle and sidecar, and in musical activities. When Evie’s own familial duties kept her away, they kept in touch, almost daily, by postcard; he called her, tenderly, “Girlie” or “my darling girl”, and she called him “my own dear boy”.

Their relationship was not without opposition from Alice Somes, who didn’t want her son seeing ‘a mere shop-girl’, or ‘that woman that cleans the windows’, as she put it. By return, Evie was deeply suspicious of Alice’s housemaid-companion, Maud Snook, who she suspected had eyes for Jo (or maybe vice versa). Though after their marriage the relationship became more civilised, at heart, the enmity between Alice and Evie continued the rest of their days.

Arthur Dolling died in January 1911, aged only 33.  As Jo and Evie’s relationship deepened, and he and George settled in as best they could to running the business, so the troubles looming in Europe overshadowed them, and everyone else. Jo had enlisted with the Westminster Dragoons in 1908, and later, the Royal Army Medical Corps. Soon after the outbreak of the war, Jo signed up as a Special Constable for the Metropolitan Police, while continuing his duties with the RAMC. Realising that his experience with motorcycle engines qualified him eminently as an aircraft mechanic – since the propulsion for the early planes consisted of essentially the same engines – he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps.

In August 1915, he and Evie were married in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight – although there was no time for a honeymoon – and the couple moved into a house in East Sheen. Soon, though, Jo was called up for active service, and served on the front line, repairing plane and motorcycle engines. His active service continued throughout the war, and eventually he ended up with the RAF, as the RFC was merged with the Royal Naval Air Service in 1918. Though physically uninjured, he was more than a little traumatised by his experiences. Despite all this, he and Evie had their first child, Theo, in March 1917.

There, we’ll leave the tale of the Somes family for the moment – but it’s continued in more detail in The Somes family and Fulham Road, on Academia.edu.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *