The website for Dr Martin Shaw OBE FRCM (1875 –1958)

"Miss C. James, Teacher of Music, Camberwell Green"

James Shaw addresses a letter to his future wife Charlotte James

A large tree over-arching a pond with two ladies of the eighteen-forties and a child infront of a large house


Finding Shaw's Birthplace

In an article published by the Camberwell Society in the autumn of 2011, Isobel Montgomery Campbell detailed the search for the birthplace of her grandfather Martin Shaw, starting from a non-existent address given on his birth certificate.


How 3 High Street, Lambeth turned out to be 3 Camberwell Green

Researching the birthplace of composer Dr. Martin Shaw OBE, FRCM (1875 - 1958)

The Composer Martin Shaw

Martin Shaw is a name well known to singers and choral musicians around the English-speaking world. One hundred years ago, at a time when English culture was felt to have been lost due to influence from the Continent, Martin worked to raise its profile, reviving Purcell, noting down folk songs, editing books of national song and creating new songs from English poetry.

A Non-existent Birthplace

There is considerable confusion about Martin Shaw’s birthplace however, as the address given on his birth certificate, 3 High St. Lambeth, does not exist. This is enough to trip up any biographer, certainly the one who claimed Shaw was born in North London, and even the National Dictionary of Biography misleads, giving Shaw’s birthplace as Kennington, a name on the birth certificate, yes, but not one associated with his family. Shaw probably did not know his place of birth either, which is why, in his reminiscences Up to Now, he claimed an alternative truth: that he was born a Cockney.


The research for Shaw's exact birth-place introduced me to the vagaries of Census records, old maps, postal directories and last but not least, the changing Parish Boundaries of London.

Maps for a New London

In the 1860s, London was expanding rapidly, and a new map was needed. A Mr Stanford responded to this need, publishing Stanfords Library Map of London and its Suburbs in 1862. It was the most detailed map of London available at the time, until the publication of the Ordnance Survey Maps in the 1870s.

Despite the greater detail of the Ordnance Survey, Stanfords continued to be the preferred map for the London County Council, and was still in use as late as 1912.


map of Camberwell Green showing road to the West of the Green as 'High Street".



A Dispute with the Registrar


On the 17th of April 1875, I can imagine a dispute going on in the Lambeth Registrar's office. The Registrar, Thomas William Boult, would have been sitting across his desk from a young musician called James Shaw – a rather wild-haired Yorkshireman, there to register the birth of his first child, the future Dr. Martin Shaw.

James could well have been fulfilling any expectations created by his wild hair in contesting, with a certain angry exuberance, what Thomas Boult was writing as his address.

“–But we live on Camberwell Park, not on the High Street! The local people all know it as that, the Post Office knows it as that!”

Thomas Boult would have remained stolid and grave as he explained, with all the weight of His Position stacked up behind him:

“Sir, property to the west side of Camberwell Green, that which falls within the Borough of Lambeth, marked here,” turning to tap his official Stanford’s map “is marked as being High Street. Thus that is the correct address.”

“–But that is pre-posterous!” James would have expostulated, “our letters are addressed to us at 3 Camberwell Park, not High Street – why, if letters were addressed to 3 High Street they wouldn’t arrive!”

As Thomas Boult considered this, a small chink of logic must have cracked open the black marble of his Official Duty, and let in enough reason to illuminate an idea.

“Well sir, I am legally obliged to put down the correct address for the birth-place of the child, but for your own address, and at your insistence, I will additionally add Camberwell Park.”

And there it is on Martin's birth certificate, a trap for biographers ever since: Martin Shaw's place of birth, Lambeth, at 3 High Street, Father's address: 3 High Street, Camberwell Park.


Of course, Thomas Boult may just have been busy that day, he may have hardly said anything, but one has to account for the curiosity somehow.


Side view of James Shaw in velvet smoking jacket and handlebar moustache playing on a grand piano in his music roomdrawing room


The Martin Shaw Archive


The Martin Shaw Archive has recently been acquired by the British Library; as well as Shaw’s music manuscripts it contains correspondence from the major poets, composers and artists of his day such as Augustus John, Walter Crane, Benjamin Britten, and over a hundred letters from Shaw’s close friend and colleague Ralph Vaughan Williams.

But for researchers like me there is also useful correspondence from parents and grandparents.


Miss C. James, Teacher of Music

Martin was born in a terraced house, the home of his maternal grandparents, where his mother Charlotte had lived before her marriage with her parents and four siblings: a household of seven.

After her marriage to James the couple continued to live there with their growing family until they moved to Clapham in the late 1870s.

The letters from Charlotte and James’s courtship have survived; James addressed one letter to Charlotte as: Miss C. James, Teacher of Music, Camberwell Green; another envelope is addressed to her at 3 Camberwell Park, so the terms “Park” and “Green” seem to have been interchangeable at that time.


The 1871 Census

Charlotte's father was co-incidentally called Mr James, a name he seems to have taken to please a relative in the 1830s. Prior to this, he was called Joseph Losh.

In the 1871 Census Joseph Losh James, an accountant, is listed as living at 3 Camberwell Green with his wife and five children.

His neighbours were Charles White –an oilman– living next door at 308 Camberwell Road, followed by Charles Taylor, a physician and surgeon, at 306 Camberwell Road. This must have been a substantial residence, as a coachman and two general servants were also listed as part of the household.


Kelly’s Directory

The census confirms the family address, but where exactly would 3 Camberwell Green have been so close to Camberwell Road?

Here Kelly's Directory of Post Office Addresses comes to our aid. Published in 1872, Kelly's lists its entries geographically, not alphabetically, enabling the reader to count round the houses as if they were accompanying the compiler along each street, or in this case, clockwise around the Green.

When road junctions are arrived at they are marked in italics, such as the southwest point of the Green where Kelly’s states is Camberwell New Road... and then continues with the Police Station, listing Andrew Gernon as superintendent.


photo from book showing single roomed Police Station with the attending officer looking out of the  top half of the stable door.


At that point the compiler confusingly had to count Down the houses numerically as he proceeded northwards and Up the map of the Green. Shops are passed and listed:

Ebenezer Eve the hosier,
Ambrose Skinner, a saddler and harness maker.
The Misses Catherine and Mary Hawxwell with their Fancy Repository;
they possibly conducted their business in the front room whilst their father William Hawxwell, also listed, sat out his days in the back.

At the point where the compiler had reached 3 Camberwell Green I had a Eureka moment, as it listed a Registry Office for Servants, with Martin’s grandfather Joseph Losh James named as Proprietor.

The house to north of it, 2 Camberwell Green, lists the oilman of the census, Charles White;
whilst the surgeon Charles Taylor MD is listed next at Pine House –with no street number next to that entry at all.


Combining both Kelly’s and the Ordnance Survey Map

By combining the Ordnance Survey map and the entries in Kelly's, I could work out where Martin had actually been born.

A substantial residence with outbuildings is visible on the OS map, on the north-west side of the Green, with out-buildings large enough for a coach –and a coachman– to live in. As there are no other houses that meet the criteria, we can take that as being Pine House, meaning that Martin Shaw’s birthplace can be found two houses to the south of it.

More detailed map of Camberwell Green showing individual house plots and the High Street marked as 'Green'.


So whilst from his birth certificate it would be technically correct to say Martin Shaw was born in Lambeth, or Kennington, or even Brixton, were he to be born today his birth would be registered in the London Borough of Southwark, at 3 Camberwell Green.


Curiouser and Curiouser

And now, having located the site of 3 Camberwell Green, another curiosity is revealed. Although the house which James Losh James occupied has long since been demolished, it is amazing how often a place will change, yet stay the same.

The paths on the Green remain as they were in the 1870s, so by standing in the same place you can see that where once there was a Registry Office for Servants, today there is a Job Centre – although it occupies a much larger site than the crowded house of Joseph Losh James.


With acknowlegements to the London Metropolitan Archives for the maps used in this article.