‘The funeral of Councillor Dee took place yesterday in bright sunshine which was
appropriate to the deceased’s disposition’. So reported the Hackney Recorder.
At a pivotal moment in her life, George Dee’s widow wrote, ‘I thank God for giving
me such a good husband’.
What had George Dee accomplished during his life to receive such plaudits?
Nine Elms, Surrey, may well conjure a picture of a leafy, suburban idyll near the
city of London. In fact, in the middle of the nineteenth century, it was a triangle
surrounded by a sprawling railway goods depot, the Gas Works and, to the north, the
open sewer of the River Thames. This was home to the Dee family who, like many of
their relatives, the Carvers and the Smarts, left their homes in the impoverished
Hampshire countryside of Upper Clatford and moved to London to seek ‘a better life’.
A new life in London for the Dees
William Dee, George’s father, had been an agricultural labourer. The career move
in his late twenties, sometime between 1848 and 1851, saw him settled as a brewer’s
servant at the Nine Elms Brewery and living at Frances Stahl Yard with his wife,
Lucy, and first son, William.
The Yard was demolished during the next decade and in 1854 the Dees moved to nearby
4 Nine Elms Lane. William and Lucy’s three younger sons, Robert, Thomas and George
were all born into this environment. George James Dee was born on 27 March 1858
- although his arrival does not feature in either the parish records or index of
births. Three years later, in 1861, the family was ensconced at 14 William Street,
Lambeth: an area classified as ‘poor’ forty years later by Charles Booth. William
was a brewer’s potman.
More upheaval followed when the family moved north of the Thames to St John’s Wood.
William worked on the railway as a policeman and a railway inspector. By 1871, William
had died (in his forties) and Lucy and George were living at 40 Gee Street (the ‘Dees
of Gee Street’) cheek to jowl with three other families. Lucy was a charwoman and
also received an annuity, probably as a result of the death of her husband. George
was just twelve years old. Possibly, these experiences helped strengthen George
and gave him a determination to improve his lot in life.
Over the next ten years matters had improved somewhat. Mother and son were living
at 85 Glenarm Road, Stoke Newington - a middle-class area. Lucy was not working and
George was supporting his mother by working as an ostrich feather dyer. (The finished
products were fashion accessories for bridal parties and costumes.) Perhaps it is
worth noting that of the four sons, it was George who stayed with his mother.
When George met Annie
The next road to the north and running parallel to Glenarm Road was Powerscroft Road.
Here, Annie Dear was living. She was the first surviving child of silversmith William
Dear and his wife, Ann. She was born on 30 September 1859 at Lea Bridge Road, Upper
Clapton, Middlesex and spent her childhood in this area.
We don’t know how they met - did she buy an ostrich feather, perhaps, or did they
meet in the neighbourhood? - but the couple married on 29 July 1882 at St Matthews
Church, Upper Clapton.
George was slowly moving upwards socially. His occupation was given as a ‘warehouseman’
when he married and a witness at the wedding was Lucy Dewar, a professor of music.
George described his father (formerly an agricultural labourer) as a ‘farmer’.
The Dees were living at 30 Glenthorne Road in 1882 and at 121 Almark Street, Lower
Clapton in 1883. Between 1884 and 1887, two daughters were born - Edith Annie (Ead
or Eadie) and Gertrude Florence (Gertie). But, Lucy Dee, George’s mother, died on
7 October 1889 and was buried at Abney Park Cemetery. Between 1892 and 1898, George
and Annie had two more daughters, Dora Elsie and Marjorie.
Dee brothers - businessmen
By 1891 George had opened at least one shop at 119 Church Road, Stoke Newington (which
is just across the road from Abney Park) and the family, like many Victorian business
people, was living above the shop. George was described as an oil and colourman
selling what we would call today DIY and hardware materials such as paints and paraffin.
We might now reflect on what we can infer about his family. According to records
from 1871 to 1891 George’s older brother, William, was an oilman dealing in paint,
as was Robert (1872-1891) and Thomas (1877-1881). The conclusion is inescapable
that the brothers enjoyed a close relationship - they had a common trade. Also,
in 1891, Thomas was living where William had resided in 1871. (See: Addendum)
George’s little empire flourished. He was described as having, ‘sound common sense
and business ability’. He owned at least three shops in Stoke Newington (including
90 and 119 Church Street and 38 Victoria Road), each of which was run by a store
George James Dee
bn 27 Mar 1858 Nine Elms
d 10 Mar 1924
bn 30 Sept 1859, Upper Clapton
d 1 July 1949, Southsea
Edith Annie Dee
bn 17 June 1884, Clapton
Gertrude Florence Dee
bn 5 April 1887, Clapton
Dora Elsie Dee
bn 22 July 1892,
bn 30 Jan 1898 Stoke Newington
In 1919 there was a whiff of controversy in George’s political life. He had lost
a local election but a few months later he fought back and regained his seat with
a sizeable majority. The losing candidate said, ‘I am sorry to have to introduce
a jarring note but I want to say, with all seriousness, that I do complain most seriously
of certain things that have been introduced into the Lordship Ward election.
I have it on evidence that certain canvassers on behalf of the candidate who led
the poll went about taking advantage of the fact that I worship my God differently
to others in the room...I do protest seriously against the fact that an Englishman
born and bred in the neighbourhood cannot stand for election without this being used
against him - as I can prove’.
What are we to make of this? Does it show a steely resolve on the part of George
to retake his lost seat? Did he instigate the campaign to discredit his opponent
because of his religion? It has been suggested that there was an anti-Semitic bias.
Whatever the truth of the matter, George was in high spirits when he was returned
as councillor. He proposed that, ‘in his opinion they could not find a better (returning
officer) if they searched all London over!’.
George was a man of energy and ambition. Not content with having two children and
managing shops, like his brother, Thomas Dee, he embarked on a career in local politics
which lasted almost thirty years until his death.
In 1894, he was elected as a councillor in the Stoke Newington Vestry as a representative
of Church Ward. At a time when the major political parties were Labour, Liberal and
Conservative, George successfully stood as an independent municipal reformer.
He was to continue as a councillor (later representing Lordship Ward, Stoke Newington
Borough) until his death. He sat on a number of committees being particularly interested
in the work of the Highways and General Purposes Committee and was chairman of many
at different times. He was reportedly offered the office of mayor on several occasions,
but refused this honour due to family and business commitments (as well as, it is
rumoured, the financial outlay required).
A pillar of the community
As well as his municipal duties, George had an interest in education being a school
manager as well as vice-chairman of the group comprising four local schools. He
was also a church worker being a sidesman all his life at the Parish church of St
Mary, Stoke Newington and took a prominent part in the work carried on at the Mission
A picture emerges of a man who was a respectable and respected pillar of the community.
Business was booming. By 1892, the Dees had moved from the rooms above the shop to
34 Hawkesley Road and then bought a newly-built, eight-roomed Victorian house (christened
‘Brooklyn’) at 95 Fairholt Road, Stoke Newington (shown left) in 1887/8 - a far cry
from the squalor of Nine Elms slums!
It was a home with a garden large enough for a wedding party of more than sixty guests
and for a tennis court! It was this that helped his daughters meet suitors.
A father’s pride in his daughters
Like many middle-class families of this time, George and Annie’s daughters attended
teacher’s training college. When Marjorie was at Avery Hill College in London, she
found the rules a little harsh and restrictive. This prompted a fatherly letter from
George which provides an insight into his outlook. He wrote, ‘there is one thing
very certain, the girls must obey the rules until they are altered’ and added ‘it
may be that some of the Rules are not right but try to get them altered without making
any bother, for you see you have to please everyone including the Head. I am sure
you will be tactful’.
As we have seen, George was proud of his family and put them before his civic duties.
Family photographs show them enjoying the seaside airs together and a grandson recalls
that the family would gather at ‘Brooklyn’ over Christmas when George would be ‘the
patriarch’. His feelings for his daughters can be assessed when in a letter to Marjorie
he looks forward to celebrating her twentieth birthday, refers to her as ‘my little
sunshine’ and describes her as a ‘thorough English girl…there is nothing better in
this world (believe me)’.
George Dee’s death
George died on 10 March 1924. He contracted influenza during a virulent epidemic.
This developed into bronchitis which affected his heart and he passed away at four
o’clock on Monday morning.
His funeral, on Thursday 18 March, was held at St Mary’s Church at 2.15 pm and was
attended by a large congregation which included local dignatories such as the mayor,
the town clerk and several councillors. George was then buried at Abney Park Cemetery
which was near two of his shops.
The announcement of his death and reports in the local newspapers impressively occupied
several column inches which included many eulogies such as: He was ‘a valued and
highly respected resident’. George had ‘a genial and kindly disposition’ which ‘gained
him the affection and esteem of his colleagues’. He ‘rendered yeoman service to
the public’ and at his funeral there were, ‘many signs of respect and affection which
he modestly gained’.
His will of 1919 indicates that he had amassed, ‘plate, linen, china, glass, books,
prints and furniture’. At his death, his gross estate was £6,110 (net £4,037). Apart
from bequests of £25 to his daughters, the residue was left to his wife. It included
four freehold and seven leasehold properties around Stoke Newington:
What overall view do we form of George Dee? Like many of this period, he rose rapidly
from a humble background to middle class, a status of which he was keenly aware.
He was an able businessman who believed in the wise investment in bricks and mortar.
George was a hard working and astute local councilor who cared about his community
and was also a leader of men.
Perhaps, the only jarring notes are sounded by the possible ruthlessness of which
a political opponent accused him (This may be simply sour grapes. However, his brother,
Thomas, is remembered as ‘ruling with a rod of steel’ and this might be partly true
of George.) and his likely class-conscious treatment of his future son-in-law, Charlie
Charlie would cycle from Portsmouth to Stoke Newington to see Edith Dee, a round
trip of one hundred and fifty miles, only to be turned away on more than one occasion.
Charlie’s son suggests that his manner of speech was ‘rough and ready’ and that he
used the occasional expl**tive. George as a cyclist would have known the rigours
of traveling such a distance but his dismissal of Charlie gives an indication of
the strength of his inclinations although his reaction may have been influenced by
his wife who was said to be, ‘imperious, brusque and ruled the household’.
He clearly believed in the traditional Victorian virtues of the established church,
the need to observe protocol and the importance of a close family life. His business
and political life was well balanced by his interest in sport. He was a keen cyclist
(see later) and a member of Brownswood Bowling Club.
But also, the impression is given, from talking to people who remember him, that
there was an appealingly human side to George. His sense of play is recalled. When
serving as a sidesman in church and the plate was being passed around, he would jingle
coins in his pocket.
Once, he and his family were dining out at ‘Bobbies’ at Eastbourne. The table was
set under a glass dome which had sprung a leak. In the middle of the restaurant,
George opened his umbrella!
George Dee - Captain of Clapton Wanderers Cycling Club
An insight into George’s character is provided by his involvement in cycling as captain
of his club. He was voted an ‘admirable skipper’.
Cycling was popular in the twenty years from 1870. In 1874, there were seven cycling
clubs in the Greater London area. By 1882, the number had mushroomed to one hundred
It was mainly a pastime enjoyed by the middle classes because of the prohibitive
cost of the machines. At the weekend the massed ranks of the clubs would pedal forth
into the countryside leaving behind the grind and grime of life in the city. They
relished the pleasures of nature while enjoying the benefits of exercise. It was
seen as a way of recovering health and expanding the mind after being cooped up in
town and of preparing for the stress of the week ahead.
H. G. Wells drew upon the pleasures of cycling in his book, ‘The Wheels of Chance’
(1896). It features a shop assistant who finds freedom and adventure by using his
annual holidays to travel on empty, unspoiled, country roads.
Cycling clubs were social organisations. Members would meet regularly at their headquarters
to talk, reminisce, argue, eat and drink. A sense of belonging was provided by the
comfortable club uniform which was a symbol of order. As can be seen from the photograph,
the members wore a pill box cap, tight knickerbocker trousers, high boots and a jacket
without frills and flaps. The crowning touch was the club’s unique badge (left)
which was usually pinned to the cap.
The fellowship of other riders was important when the team was assaulted, when someone
crashed or the unreliable bicycles broke down, found out by the rigours of rough
roads. The captain of the club would lead the rides and set the pace as the group
glided through lanes and villages.The clubs offered a ‘freemasonry of the wheel’
but for all that, there was a dash of the bohemian as it was an activity considered
vulgar by the upper classes and attacked (sometimes literally) by others.
George evidently was sociable, an organiser and a lover of exercise and nature.
George with his brother-in-law, Charlie Mills 1919c
A sample of George’s handwriting
Seated: George and Annie with Gertrude Dee. Back row l to r Dora: Joyce Saunders
and Marjorie. The boy is John Saunders
Annie Dee with her daughters, l to r Edith and Gertrude (kneeling), Marjorie and
An informal scene of George and Annie with their daughters, Marjorie and Dora
Annie Dee’s widowhood
108 Church Street
65 Spencer Grove
71 Sandbrook Road
4 Yoakley Road
6;34;46;116 Hawksley Road
95 Fairholt Road
119 Church Street
13 Ayrsome Road
After the death of her husband in 1924, Annie had a number of companions including
my mother who stayed with her for some years at Stoke Newington (shown left).
The late thirties heralded some dramatic changes for Annie. She fell down a short
flight of stairs and broke her femur. To help her seventy-eight year old bones to
knit, she was confined to her bed with her leg securely sandwiched between two sandbags.
But the limb didn’t set properly and she became an invalid. Miss Payne became her
Annie walked with the aid of two silver capped sticks one of which had children’s
teethmarks in the soft metal. Although her injury was most galling for her, there
was one unintentional benefit - one can date when photographs of her were taken by
the presence (or not) of a stick.
A second adjustment that Annie had to make was one of scenery. Perhaps as a result
of her fall, she sold her family home. About the time of this significant move, on
21 May 1937, she wrote these words to her daughters which give a remarkable insight
into her feelings:
“My dear girls,
I feel this afternoon that I would like to write this short note to you all
to tell you just what I am thinking about things.
I thank God for giving me such a good husband and children and for all his other
mercies to me - my recovery, really good health and a life filled with blessings.
Also, an old age with every comfort.
You dear girls have been very good to me and never caused me any anxiety. I
have brought you up as well as I could and you are all doing the same with your families.
Don’t let them get lax but set them an example of a Christian life and sincerity
in all things.
I also thank God for giving you such good husbands. I love them all and they
are indeed like sons to me and have always shown me help and kindness.
There is very little in the home that will be useful to you but divide it, take
what you want and sell the rest.
There is much that I would like to say but don’t know how to begin or end.
I am quite ready to go to rest when my time comes and shall welcome it and trust
that God will be lenient to all my shortcomings and mistakes. I believe he will.
The best advice and best words I would leave with you are these - and if you and
yours remember them, all will be right with you. “Trust in the Lord with all thine
heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him
and He shall direct thy paths. Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee saying, “This
is the way, walk ye in it”. I have found these words so helpful to me.
Your ever loving mother, Annie Dee.”
Share and care
Annie was cared for in turn by her daughters. At the outbreak of war in 1939, she
moved to Bexhill with her daughter, Marjorie Ryan. She briefly moved back to Stoke
Newington, but in 1942, when the blitz intensified, she and Miss Payne moved to Bath.
Her exodus from London was quite an performance as she was conveyed the sixty miles
and more by a St John’s ambulance. Initially they stayed with her daughter Dora Pillow
and then moved (sedately by a taxi, whose driver was commanded not to exceed three
mph) to separate accommodation at 16 Forrester Road.
Here Annie and Miss Payne shared a bed sitting room which came to reek with the oily
smell of the sea boot stockings she knitted. She would dress, hobble to her armchair
and then read, write letters or listen to the ‘Little Maestro’ wireless which was
bought for her by her son-in-law, Sidney Pillow.
At the end of the war, our homeless nomad moved to her daughter, Eadie Mills’, home
at 86 Northern Parade, Portsmouth. Again, the resources of St John’s were mobilised
at a cost of around £30.
The household capacity would have been stretched by the arrival of her grand-daughter,
Grace and her newly-born grandson, me. Sixty years later it is eerie to read what
she thought of the latest addition to her family. She wrote, ‘...Philip John is
very good at night especially but he will have a big temper and, although only five
weeks old, kicks and screams if he is hungry’.
It must have been harrowing for Annie to see the lingering decline and death of her
eldest daughter, Eadie Mills, in 1948. By now she was being cared for in a nursing
home at 20 Clarence Road, Southsea. Her eyesight and handwriting deteriorated, yet
she continued to write to her family.
Annie Dee’s demise
Annie died at the nursing home in Southsea on 1 July 1949 and was buried near her
husband at Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington eleven days later. I am sure she
would have been gratified by the six column inches which were devoted to her in the
Her will (made on 20 January 1938) was even-handed and indicated no favourites. Her
estate of £2,328 was to be divided among her four daughters. Each of her seven grandchildren
received a legacy of £20. The will was witnessed by Miss Laura Augusta Mary Payne
and Mrs Jessie Kate Colyer (who lived in a flat at the top of 95 Fairholt Road).
Her executors were her sons-in-law, Harold Saunders and Sidney Pillow.
There is a decrease in the value of her estate compared with the assets of her husband
who had died twenty-four years earlier. No doubt this was due to the cost of rent,
her paid companion and the nursing home fees.
Annie’s life and character
She is remembered as being a large lady who was ‘brusque and short tempered - everyone
quailed before her’! Another remarked that she was ‘a martinet: someone who demanded
strict obedience’ and added that she was ‘imperious and ruled the Dee household which
had a frequent turnover of servants’. But she also was a ‘good grandmother who was
proud of her husband’s achievements and was an interesting person’. After her fall,
she enjoyed a glass of stout every day. In later years, she developed a dislike
Annie was a religious person and was associateded with St Mary’s Church, Stoke Newington
for fifty years. She was renowned for her work in raising funds to assist the ‘Society
for the Propagation of the Gospel’ which sponsored missionary work for the Anglican
Church. At one time she had a black servant boy called ‘Toto’. One wonders if his
presence was connected to her Missionary interests.
She kept and valued her Daily Prayer Book and Bible and preserved a record of her
family in its fly-leaf in addition to the family Bible in which she meticulously
noted family details.
Her speech and letters were sprinkled with a middle class vocabulary: ‘Good old England’;
’She didn’t care a button’; ‘Thanks awfully for that ripping card’. She had a strict
sense of propriety. Once, her daughter Dora displeased her at the table. In front
of others, Annie instructed the maid to ‘bring Miss Dora two tea plates for her elbows’.
Great grandmother Annie and I were in the same household when I was a small child.
I have a strong impression of walking with a small group which included her along
Elm Grove, Southsea. Another memory to be awakened by psycho-hypnosis perhaps?
Below: Extracts from the Dee family bible, kept by Annie Dee
The two photographs shown below show Annie Dee with three of her daughters and their
husbands together with three of her grandchildren enjoying the seaside circa 1936.
From left to right: Eadie, Annie Dee, Dora and Marjorie with Arthur Ryan.
From left to right: Arthur Ryan, Eadie, Annie, Charlie Mills, Dora and Sidney Pillow.
The children are Gerald Pillow with Margaret and Ann Ryan (who is sitting on Eadie’s
Earlier it was noted concerning the four Dee brothers who traded as oilmen: ‘According
to records from 1871 to 1891 George’s older brother, William, was an oilman dealing
in paint, as was Robert (1872-1891) and Thomas (1877-1881). The conclusion is inescapable
that the brothers enjoyed a close relationship - they had a common trade.’
It was gratifying to discover the following transaction which confirms that the Dee
brothers did indeed work together.
In April 1895, Davies and Evans Ltd announced the issue of 90,000 shares at £1 each.
The company had traded in London for almost fifty years as oil and colour merchants.
As part of the expansion of their empire, they had bought the businesses owned by
W J Dee (on 30 March 1895), G J Dee (30 March 1895) and Thomas Dee
(25 January 1895).
William Dee held what was apparently a warehouse at 6, 10 and 11 Nisbet Place, Homerton
(a turning off Homerton High Street in an area described by Charles Booth as ‘very
poor, chronic want’) and eleven stores. As part of the purchase deal, he joined the
board of Davies and Evans as a Director.
Most of the purchased shops were leased for twenty-one years or more. The Dees were
paid for the leaseholds, fittings, fixtures and good will.
An insight into the oilman trade is provided by the Company Prospectus of Davies
and Evans. The shops were mostly sited in busy thoroughfares in densely populated
parts of London and were thus well placed to supply the public with ‘the staple articles
of the oil and colour trade’. The trade was a profitable business as it ‘provides
the the great mass...at lowest cash prices in small quantities and in the immediate
vicinity of their homes, the indispensable articles of their daily household requirements...in
the same way that co-operative stores purvey for those of a wealthier class’.
Many of the oilmen’s families lived above their shops which were crammed with flammable
materials. There were many fires and resulting loss of life reported on these premises.