“He loved the Common:” Roy Smithers and his photographs of Valley End.

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Valley End was always home for Roy Smithers. He was born at Brick Hill in 1909 and baptised at St. Saviour’s in the same year.

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His parents, William and Elizabeth, had 5 children, Phyllis, Brenda, Eric, and Winifred, as well as Roy. Sadly his sister Phyllis died in 1912 aged 9.

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Roy went to Valley End School, and even won prizes there. In July 1916 he was given a prize at the school treat by Mrs. Leschallas.   The Smithers family did well that year; his siblings Brenda and Eric were also awarded books, and the bouquet for Mrs. Leschallas was presented by “Winifred Smithers, a tiny tot from Class III.”

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During World War II Roy found himself, to his irritation, in a reserved occupation. But finally he joined up, and worked on the motor torpedo boats with the Navy. He spent some of his war service in Australia.

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Roy always lived in the family home. His sister Winnie worked as a cook in Sunningdale, but after their parents died she returned to Valley End and shared the house with her brother.

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He worked as a carpenter, but he had other interests as well. A creative man, he played the violin, and enjoyed photography.

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Roy took portraits, but he didn’t have a studio. He would visit and photograph his subjects in their homes. Like the rest of us, he took pictures of holidays and trips out, but he also took photos of scenery.

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Roy loved and knew the Common. A practical man, he used his wood working skills to maintain the footpath signs.  He way marked all the footpaths on the Common, and built notice boards, gates, bridges and stiles to make it accessible. During his life he charted nearly all of the Common’s 93 footpaths on Ordnance Survey maps.

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It is not surprising that he took photographs of the countryside, and especially of the Common. He took pictures of Fox Hill, Anscombe Hill, Round Pond, the fires in the heather in summer, and the wide vistas of the heath land.

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A resourceful man, he decided to develop his own film. First he had to prepare a darkroom, and so he built one himself in the garden.

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His nephew Peter Reed remembers work going on in there. “Roy was a talented photographer, and one of the sheds was built as a darkroom. I spent many hours in it with Roy, rocking photos in trays of developer, enlarging, doing matte, gloss or sepia finishes, etc.”

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Pam Corben, his niece, knew how seriously Roy took his developing. “If you got caught there while he was developing, you were stuck.” Because the room had to be completely dark, no one was allowed to open the door to leave.

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He was a very inventive man, who could make things work. As there wasn’t room for a bathroom in the house, he put a bath into the darkroom. It was heated by a gas-ring under a dustbin full of water. When a Water Board official visited, he was fascinated. “Can I bring my partner to look at this?”

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The darkroom continued as a tool shed. The Stroud  family had been living in Brick Hill for many years when Mrs Stroud moved to the ‘Smithers’ house. She and her son Mark found the dilapidated shed out in the garden with the bath in it. It was so derelict that it had to be demolished, but before it was knocked down they found a tin box, containing negatives.

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When they looked at them, they discovered that they were looking at striking images of people and places, and of Chobham Common. They had found Roy Smithers’ archive, and recognising their local value retained them.

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Roy died in 1990 at the age of 81.  His ashes were scattered on the Common at Longdown, a high point where there are distant views over the golf course and open countryside. A bench stands there “To the memory of Roy Smithers who loved this spot so well.”  It is a fitting resting place and memorial for him; “He loved the Common.”*

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Sources.

Surrey Advertiser, 29th July 1916.

Newspaper clipping, “Chobham mourns passing of a good man.”

With thanks to Mark Stroud for sharing these photographs, and telling me the story of how they were discovered.

With many thanks to Peter Reed, Pat Corben, and Joan Weymouth for information on Roy Smithers.

All photographs by Roy Smithers. With thanks to Mark Stroud.

  • Quote “He loved the Common” by Joan Weymouth.
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Westcroft Park, by Ken Mepham.

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During my lifetime it (Westcroft Park) was owned by H. O. Serpell Esq., but my father often referred to it as Hotham’s, so presumably the name of the previous owner was Hotham. Whether or not the estate was always known as Westcroft Park, I just do not know. It was during the early 1920’s that Mr. Serpell had the place renovated, landscaped, and had the clock tower built out in the park. It was only recently that I discovered that he built the clock tower in memory of his son, who lost his life in the First World War. We were led to believe that it was to celebrate H. O.’s appointment as High Sheriff of Surrey, a position which he held for some years. (I never did know just what his duties were, except that he went to Kingston-on-Thames once or twice per week. I concluded that he was some sort of senior magistrate.)

He had a biscuit factory at Reading and was, I suppose, in direct competition with Huntley and Palmers who owned much of that town. Serpells biscuits were usually a bit cheaper, and at one time they supplied Marks & Spencer with biscuits.

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Entrance to Westcroft Park.

When the clock and bell tower was first built, it carried a full carillon of bells which at first were played from the tower, by striking the keys with the fist and pedals, but I understand that later on it was possible to play by keyboard from the house. Sunday afternoons were picked for hymn recitals which usually lasted for about one hour. One person who played the bells was Percy Rolfe who was head gardener – cum- bailiff, and I believe that Gwen, his daughter also played them. And so, especially while the whole thing was a novelty, folks would walk down from around the district to listen to the bells.

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The bell tower at Westcroft Park. (Image courtesy Surrey Heath Museum).

At that time another attraction was the sight of about half a dozen highland cattle wandering the park. These great beasts with shaggy coats and enormous horns looked formidable, but I understand were very placid. Mr. Rolfe was a well-known gardener, and in the conservatory attached to the house many types of exotic plants were grown, including melons, oranges, lemons and even bananas. Quite a few men were employed in the gardens and farms… If I remember correctly the cars, resplendent in shining red paint and brass, included two Rolls-Royces, one open, one closed, and a very ancient open Wolseley.

As H.O. was one of the governors of Valley End School, and was rather haughty, he demanded during his term of office, that we schoolboys should salute him as he passed us on the way to Sunningdale station, and that the girls would curtsey. Needless to say, if we didn’t have time to dive through the nearest hedge, we were busy re-tying a shoelace, or examining something in the top of a tree!

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The bell tower today.

Dinner was served at 8 o’clock each evening and a short tune was played on the bells, by way of saying grace, and I can recall that simple little tune which we could hear easily from Windlesham Park and even in the village on a still evening. The clock struck each of the quarter hours, but was different from the Westminster Chimes. Although I can remember how it went on the hour, quarter past, half past and quarter to now escape me. During World War II many of the bells went towards the war effort, which seems a shame, but enough were left to provide the Westminster Chimes which were still ringing out when I last remember.

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The Victorian postbox at the junction of Woodcock Drive and Windlesham Road.

The Rolfe family lived in the cottage on the corner of Woodcock Drive, which houses the Post Box in the wall. This Post Box is interesting for the fact that it is old enough to have cast in the metal V.R. (Victoria Regina.)

Just off Woodcock Drive a small pond, (now filled in of course) held a few very large carp, and a very old H. O. Serpell would amuse himself by letting the fish take bread from his fingers.

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The memorial to Fanny Serpell, nee Oliver, in St. Saviour’s churchyard.

Henry Oberlin Serpell was a biscuit manufacturer, who moved his factory from Plymouth to Reading. He lived at Westcroft Park, and  was High Sheriff of Surrey in 1924.  He lived for many years with Fanny Oliver, but was unable to marry her as his mentally ill wife was still alive. In 1938, when he was 85, the law changed, and he was able to divorce his wife on the grounds of her incurable insanity.  They had been married for 61 years. The marriage was dissolved on Wednesday 6th July 1938, and he married Fanny 4 days later.  He died at the age of 90.

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First published in the Windlesham Magazine, May 1987. Reproduced by kind permission of the Windlesham Magazine.

I have been unable to trace Ken Mepham, but if anyone knows anything about him I would be very interested to hear from them.

Shields Daily News, 9th July 1938.

 

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“This great and noble undertaking.” To Valley End for D Day.

Over 70 years ago, during World War II, Valley End was transformed. To the north of Brick Hill, reaching the base of Fox Hill and the junction of Chobham and Chertsey Roads, was a settlement of Nissen huts, with roads and a parade ground.

This was the Camp, and many local people have memories of the Canadian servicemen stationed there during the War.

Here is the story of one of them, Private Peter Paul Desabrais.

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Private Peter Paul Desabrais. (Image courtesy of Joan Weymouth.)

Desabrais was a member of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. After having been   recruited in Canada he was trained at Fort Benning in Georgia, USA. On 13th February 1943 he qualified, after completing 5 jumps from an aircraft.

In July 1943, with 31 officers and 547 other men, he sailed for England aboard the Queen Elizabeth, arriving in Scotland on July 28th 1943.

It was then that he was sent to Valley End. The Camp was the No. 1 Canadian Base Staging Camp.

Desabrais wasn’t there long. It may only have been a week or so before the Battalion moved to Carter Barracks, Bulford, near Salisbury. It was enough time for him to get to know the Millard family, and to give them give a photograph of himself outside his mother’s house in Montreal, “as a souvenir.”

Salisbury Plain must have been seething with troops in preparation for D Day, the invasion of Europe.

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Winston Churchill fires an American .30 carbine during a visit to the US 2nd Armoured Division on Salisbury Plain, 23 March 1944. (Image courtesy Imperial War Museum.)

Although most of the men who fought on D Day were British, American or Canadian, there were in all 2 million troops from over 12 countries involved. One of them was Desabrais.

D Day was the most massive combined sea, land and air operation ever known. There were 2 elements. First, an airborne assault landed 18,000 Allied paratroopers. Second, almost 7,000 vessels landed troops on the Normandy beaches.

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The Airborne Assault: Major General R N Gale OBE MC, the commander of 6th Airborne Division, talking to troops of 5th Parachute Brigade before they emplane at Royal Air Force Harwell on the evening of 4 or 5 June. (Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum.)

The 1st Canadians, under the command of the 3rd Parachute Battalion, were part of the airborne assault. They were due to land 1 hour in advance of the rest of the Battalion.

This meant that when the Canadians, including Desabrais, assembled by the aircraft on the evening of June 5th 1944, “the start of the first engine signalled the beginning of the invasion of Normandy, and the departure of the armada for Hitler’s fortress, Europe.”[1]

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“The drop,” by Albert Richards, 1944. (Image courtesy Imperial War Museum.)

The Battalion fought well on D Day, and in the Battle of Normandy afterwards, but this came at a heavy price. When Desabrais returned with the remaining Canadians to Carter Barracks in September 1944, he left many of his comrades behind. Of 27 officers, only 3 survived. Of the 516 men of other ranks, 343 had died.

Because of these losses, the unit had to be reorganised before they returned to the conflict. This was done, and on Christmas Day 1944 Desabrais sailed with the Battalion for Ostend in Belgium.

The Canadians joined the 6th British Airborne Forces to take part in the Battle of the Ardennes. Sergeant Anderson, a veteran of this campaign, remembered it; “My recollection at this point is that the Ardennes was not so much covered with glory, as extreme hardship and misery.”[2]

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The Ardennes Offensive. The German Counter Offensive 16-22 December 1944: Stavelot church standing amid the ruins of the town which was briefly recaptured by the Germans on 19 December.(Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.)

They must have been relieved to return to Britain in February 1945. It seems that Desabrais did not return to Europe with the Battalion after this point.

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion continued to fight. With the British 2nd Army they crossed the Rhine and Germany to reach Wismar on the Baltic Sea, 2 hours before the Russians. By this time the War was drawing to a close, and finished 6 days later. In June 1945 the Canadians returned home.

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Men of 6th Airborne Division greet the crew of a Russian T-34/85 tank during the link-up of British and Soviet forces near Wismar on the Baltic coast, 3 May 1945. (Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.)

Peter Paul Desabrais had travelled thousands of miles during his war service, and had fought in the invasion of Europe. He would have taken back with him incredible memories of war and conflict. But among those powerful experiences there would have been a peaceful interlude at Valley End, and  friendship with a local family, who kept his photograph as a souvenir.

For a personal view of service with the 1st Parachute Battalion in D Day, the Battle of Normandy and the Battle of the Ardennes, read this account by Henry Churchill. (Link)

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We have not been able to contact Peter Paul Desabrais or his family, but if you know anything about him we would be very glad to hear from you.

Sources

“1st Canadian Parachute Battalion; Nominal Roll.” Compiled by Sid Carignan. 2002.

“Out of the clouds; the history of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.” John A. Willes. Published Canada. P. L. Jackson, 1981.

“The first Canadian Parachute battalion; a brief history,” by Captain Todd Strickland. The Army Training and Doctrine Bulletin; Canada’s professional journal on Army issues. Vol. 3, no. 1. Spring 2000. pp. 31 –39. http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/D12-9-3-1E.pdf

Imperial War Museum http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-d-day

Juno Beach Centre. https://www.junobeach.org/canada-in-wwii/articles/1st-canadian-parachute-battalion/

With many thanks to Joan Weymouth.

Title from “Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” Dwight D. Eisenhower.

[1] From “Out of the clouds; the history of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.” John A. Willes. 1981

[2] From “The first Canadian Parachute battalion; a brief history.” By Captain Todd Strickland.

Valley End Cricket Club

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The Cricket Club has been a part of Valley End life for over 120 years.

The idea for a club seems to have originated with the local church, possibly planned as an alternative to the Brickmaker’s Arms.

A board in the clubhouse commemorates those who have given “special help and assistance.” The names include those of 2 vicars of St. Saviour’s, The Rev. T. J. James and the Rev. N. Edmunds. But maybe they were also keen cricketers; after all James and Edmunds, and the Rev. Richmond, also served as club presidents.

Local benefactors were involved in setting up and running the Club. These included the Leschallas family from Highams, and the Christies from Ribsden.

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A cricket match for ladies and gentlemen, held at Highams, the home of the Leschallas family, as part of the  festivities for the Coronation of George V, 1911. (Image courtesy J. End.)

The first problem facing the cricketers was to find a pitch. A plan to use a piece of common land behind the church failed after a lot of effort had been expended on it. Finally Mr. J. A. Tyler of Woodlands, (later known as Windlesham Park), provided some ground. This was the start of a long connection between this estate and the Club.

Mr Tyler was a prominent local figure.He was elected MP for Chertsey in 1903, but unfortunately he had to resign the following year. He had speculated on the Stock Exchange, and was declared bankrupt. This didn’t break his connection with the Cricket Club, and he was Club Captain from 1914 – 16, but he had to move from Woodlands.

The  new owner of the estate charged rent of £6 per season. It was  a huge sum for Valley End, and represented half their annual income.

Not only that, but after 1907 he wanted his pitch back. The Cricket Club would have been homeless but for the support of Leschallas family, who simply invited them down the road to Highams.

During World War 1 the pitch was ploughed up, and many members were called up for military service.

After the war, A. P. Henderson, of Windlesham Park, let them return to the ground. This family were committed to the Club for years. 3 of them later became Club Presidents. They seem to have let the Club have the ground rent free.

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Valley End Cricket Club, c. 1932. From left to right standing; Ted Harris, (unknown player), Arch Hampton, holding Eric Adams, Eric Smithers, Pip Chew, Nev Anscombe. Sitting; Bert Jones, Curl Adams, Reg Millard, Bill Lovejoy, (unknown player,) Roly Felton. (Image courtesy J. End.)

Despite this finance was always a problem. Various fundraising efforts were made; in the 1920s whist drives were popular. There seemed to be so many demands. A trip to Merrow in 1926 seemed likely to be an expensive outing, until Mr. Sturt of Valley End lent his lorry.

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Mr. Sturt’s lorry. (Image courtesy J. End.)

The Cricket Club was established as a part of the local community. Members were often part of the local sporting fraternity , such as Edward Coombs, member of the Cricket and Football Clubs, or William Godfrey, a cricketer who also played Table Tennis at Christ Church.

After World War 2 A. P. Henderson’s widow, now Lady Wilson, became President. At the same time the Secretary and Acting Treasurer was Jim Binks. Under his auspices Valley End finally bought it’s own ground from Lady Wilson for £200 in 1954. He is commemorated in the Jim Binks Pavilion.

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The Jim Binks Pavilion at Valley End Cricket Club.

In 1946, Lady Wilson had sold neighbouring land to Farmer Dudley Glanfield. He seems to have been fiercely protective  of his boundaries. It may be no coincidence that a fence was built between the two properties, confirming what belonged to the Cricket Club.

Valley End was a friendly local club. Tony Lovejoy remembers the  players coming not only from Valley End but also from Chobham, Woking and Windlesham. Most of them had bikes, and only one or two had cars. If fixtures were at a distance taxis could be hired from Taylor’s of Updown Hill Windlesham to transport the players.

After the matches at Valley End the teas were served in the in Institute. Ladies such as Mrs Gladys Lovejoy and Lilian Millard would prepare the food.  Joan Weymouth recalls cucumber sandwiches, and  small jars of sweet peas on the tables.

The Valley End teas became legendary. Visiting teams looked forward to playing Valley End and relishing the lavish tea afterwards.

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Valley End Cricket Club remains a local club, and a good one. In 2008 they played at Lords in Village Cup Final.

And won!

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SOURCES.

With thanks to Tony Lovejoy, Joan Weymouth, and Mark Jones.

Valley End Cricket Club 1895 – 1995. Published by Valley End Cricket Club.

“THE HITCHING RAIL – looking back to the history of cricket in the village,” by Sally Clarke. First published in the Windlesham Magazine, July 2014.

Shields Daily News – Thursday 28 July 1904

Surrey Advertiser – Saturday 28 October 1939

Surrey Advertiser – Saturday 29 June 1940

“St. Saviour’s Valley End, 150 years; a history of a church, a parish and its people.” Sally Buchanan 2017.

If you want to know more about the early history of the Club, the Clubhouse displays a copy of the report for 1895. It is as follows;

Valley End Cricket Club.

Report 1895

The Club was formed in the early part of 1895, and consisted of 25 members. The great difficulty was the finding of a Ground on which to practice, and it was thought a piece of the Common Land in the parish might be used for this purpose, but various difficulties arose, and after spending a good deal of labour on a piece of the Common behind the Church, the idea of playing there was abandoned, and efforts were made to obtain a Ground elsewhere. Towards the end of the season, Mr. J. A. Tyler of Woodlands was approached, and he at once consented to allow the use of a piece of ground in his Park. As far as the friends of the Club have allowed the Ground has been taken up and re-laid, and Mr. Tyler has very generously at his own expense taken up and relaid a piece as large as that done by the Club, and the result is now a good large pitch that will meet all the requirements of the Club for the coming season.

The Club has during the past season played four matches winning two and losong two.

The foundation of the Club has been largely owing to Mrs. Christie and to her encouragement and sympathy and pecuniary assistance the present promising future of the Club is also in a great measure due.

The thanks of the members are due to Mr. Tyler for his very generous assistance, to Mr & Mrs H. P. Leschallas, Mr & Mrs R. C. Christie, Sir Joseph & Lady Hooker, Mr. J. C. Darnell, Mrs Hotham and Mr Alexander for their donations to the Club, and to the Rev. S. Edwards for a donation of past proceeds of the Concert on January 30. Also those members and friends who helped in the clearing and levelling of the piece of ground behind the Church.

From the Balance Sheet beneath it will be seen that there is a balance in hand of £1.11.1.

Valley End Cricket Club

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The BOC in Valley End.

 

By the late 1970s, the Convent of the Good Shepherd was forced to leave Valley End.

They left behind a large site. There were various ideas for the future of the estate. It should be a training college and treatment centre for chiropractioners;  it could be a conference centre and hotel. Maybe the new owners could simply modify the existing laundry buildings.

But in 1982 it was suggested that the existing convent buildings should be demolished, except for the clock tower, and new office headquarters should be erected. BOC were interested.

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BOC Windlesham from the air. The building is actually within Chobham – but the postal address is Windlesham.

BOC was founded in 1886 by Arthur and Leon Brin, and was originally called Brin’s Oxygen Company. In 1906 the name was altered to the British Oxygen Company, or BOC.

It was a leading company in its field.

“The BOC Group, perhaps better known to most people in the UK, as British Oxygen, started trading in Britain over a century ago – they now operate in four continents. Their primary business, the production of gases, is essential in many of the industries that contribute to the quality of our daily lives: in the manufacture of cars, steel and microchips; heat-retaining coatings for glass in construction; cold store transport for fresh flowers and foodstuffs; health care and environment, anaesthetics for hospital operating theatres, insecticides and combating water pollution. In many fields, BOC are at the forefront of the technological race.” (HP. 1988)

By 1982 BOC was based in Hammersmith, and looking for new premises. They chose to build on the site of the convent.

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The building is said to represent a diagram of an oxygen molecule. The clue may be in the use of hexagons for the main building and the courtyard. They are six sided – and so are snowflakes. “The molecules in ice crystals join to one another in a hexagonal structure, an arrangement which allows water molecules – each with one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms – to form together in the most efficient way”. (Met. Office.)  BOC dealt with cryogenics, the science of freezing. The way in which the hubs are linked by walkways is also reminiscent of stick and ball models of molecules.

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A BOC booklet explained the ideas behind the design. “Underlying the design were two key concepts. The first was that the building should be low-level to blend with its surroundings. The second was that it should have a central hub with radiating wings, the wings to be connected to each other by overhead walk-ways. These features would ensure easy communications within the building while avoiding through-traffic in office wings.

“Another design challenge was to allow the building to follow the contours of the land without looking multi-level. This was achieved by stepping the wings were they intersect.”

The architects were GMW Partnership, who also dealt with the interior design. Wimpey Major Projects were the building contractors. The Ove Arup Partnership were the consulting engineers. Gardiner and Theobald were the quantity surveyors.

In 1985, The BOC Group moved into their new headquarters.

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It is a huge building, but less obtrusive than the convent had been.

“BOC doesn’t impinge on the area. The convent was enormous. In fact with BOC buying the site, the property is lower than it was when it was a laundry. It was more or less an oblong three-storey block, so there must have been dormitories in that.” (Ann Wolfe.)

The only parts of the convent that remained were the clock tower, and the graveyard.

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The interior is notable for the use of curved surfaces. The support structures are outside, leaving the interior uncluttered. It is striking because of the creative use of glass; even the walls and roofs of the wings are glazed.

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The building rapidly became a landmark, and in 1988 when local people were invited inside to visit it, they were fascinated.

“On the approach road to Windlesham, this very attractive building has been a headturner for the last three years. It was designed with the help of computers and input from the staff themselves. To be on the inside, strolling along the luxuriously carpeted corridors, gazing from curving glass-roofed walkways, with treetops at eye level is a fabulously futuristic experience. Style and decor are modern but not angular, in keeping with the architecture. The furniture and fittings are discreetly expensive, extremely well designed and (as at least one ten year old visitor can testify) very comfortable. Although we did wonder how the Personnel Director tolerates using such an extraordinarily squeaky chair!” (HP.)

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The building was set in grounds of fifty acres, but only ten acres were actually developed. The rest of the ground was landscaped. The convent had filled in the lake of Highams, but BOC dug two new ponds.

“It is a working environment where the beauty of colour, line and form cannot be ignored. To work in such offices set in forty acres of natural parkland keeps morale high for the 220 BOC employees, half of whom moved from the very old Hammersmith building. At an approximate total cost of £20 million, BOC feel they have got something of a bargain.” (HP.)

 

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The building held a collection of art, including works commissioned especially for this site. An art consultant, Marian Goodman, had been appointed. Gerhard Richter painted six pictures, there were murals by Sol LeWitt, sculptures by Giuseppe Penone, and collages by Giulio Paolini. They also had work by David Hockney. The impact was stunning.

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“Basic colour schemes of muted natural shades are of course exactly the right foil for the valuable collection of international art: large canvasses of vibrant oils, miniature water colours, tapestries, pen and ink studies, interior and exterior statuary, sculpture and bronzes.”(HP)

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The building was amazing, and the surroundings beautiful. It must have been an amazing place to work in.

But times change.  In 2006 BOC became part of the Linde Group.    In 2014 they sold the site at Windlesham to Kamkorp.

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Kamkorp is part of the Frazer-Nash group, and they deal with the design and technology of electric vehicles. They intend to rename the site Kamkorp Park. The plans are controversial but their application was approved by Surrey Heath.

It will be a new stage in the story of this historic and beautiful place.

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Sources.

All photographs by kind permission of BOC UK.

With many thanks to Helen Perbet and the Windlesham Magazine for quotes from “By Kind Invitation.. by HP” (Helen Perbet.) First published in the Windlesham Magazine, Sept. 1988.

“Windlesham” BOC  c.1985.

With thanks to Ann Wolfe.

With thanks to Mary Bennett for information.

The Convent of the Good Shepherd.

After Alice Leschallas died in 1934 Highams was sold. It had been a luxurious home for about a  hundred years, but times were changing. Instead of a wealthy individual, the next owner was a religious organisation. Highams Hall became the Roman Catholic Convent of the Good Shepherd.

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The Convent of the Good Shepherd. (Image courtesy Mary Bennett.)

The Order held to the high ideal of offering a refuge to those in need, and during their time at Valley End many found a home with them.

There were three orders of nuns in the convent; there were the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, who ran the training school; there was an enclosed order of Magdalenes; and there were the auxiliaries, who were women who had devoted their lives to the convent.

The buildings began to sprawl. There was the laundry, dormitories, a chapel, a graveyard, a surgery, cottages, employees had homes in the grounds…

The site must have been busy. For some years the chapel was the parish church for the RC parish of Bagshot, and was a major centre of activity for local Catholics.

The convent is particularly remembered for the young women they sheltered. There are local stories that it was a mother and baby home, but the inspection reports, which start in 1951, make no mention of this. Some, although not all, of the girls were referred from the Probation Service. Others were in need of care and protection, which they found at the Good Shepherd.

 

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Photograph from Woking Review, Sept. 1966. (Included in National Archives HO 366/298)

The girls worked in the laundry. It was a Training School, and the idea was to give them work experience. At one point an assembly line was introduced for the same reason, but didn’t last long.

The young women seem to have been happy there. In 1964 one girl told an inspector that “Here they are polite and friendly even when you do something wrong.”

That year the report described how many girls, who were unmanageable elsewhere, settled at the Good Shepherd and appreciated the gentle and peaceful atmosphere. The convent provided a busy, ordered day in a quiet environment.

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Photograph from Woking Review, Sept. 1966. (Included in National Archives HO 366/298)

Many seem to have enjoyed their time there. Women would visit after they had left, sometimes bringing their husbands and children with them. One girl returned to be married in the chapel.

All this was expensive. Finance had always been a problem. The Training School closed in 1973, and space was leased to the Adult Education Institute.

“Adult Education had the ground floor. I don’t know what they did with the rest of the building. It came under Camberley Adult Education, and the headmaster’s wife Joyce Tolley ran it. They had day classes; they had evening classes. They had upholstery, they played badminton. They did languages I think and some people took their O-levels from there.”

Finally, the sisters had to leave. The contents of the convent were cleared.

“I remember them selling furniture and things from there, and also they had woollen underwear, combinations and things like that, that they actually burnt, they had bonfires. They had davenports, the writing desks, they sold those quite cheaply, and I couldn’t afford to buy one at the time, which was infuriating. And pots and pans were sold off. I would have thought they would have gone to an auctioneer or something to come in, but they didn’t.”

By this time the Training School had closed, and the young women had gone. But they were not the only people who had found a refuge at the Good Shepherd. The order had sheltered young and old women, and the older ladies remained.

They are only mentioned indirectly in the archives, and they seem to have been almost forgotten. But Ann Wolfe, who lived close to the convent, remembers them.

“I didn’t come in contact with the nuns until the laundry had finished, but they had elderly ladies there, who had been in care in their youth and they’d obviously stayed on.

“The ladies had stayed all their lives at the Convent. I would think there were quite a few of them. They used to scuttle around a bit. They’d not made their mark in life. They didn’t have any money. They had nothing. They relied really on charity.

“They just worked all their lives, cleaning.

“This particular lady, Frazey Wishart, her father was in the army. Whether it was after the war or wartime I don’t know, her mother died, and she was put in the care of the nuns, but I believe that that was in the West Country.

“Frazey was such a gentle soul, she loved to help, and she used to make the tea for the Adult Education in the evening, and she loved to do that. She would come down and chat, because perhaps the others were getting a bit grumpy. 

“Why were some of them there? I mean, Frazey was only there because her father couldn’t manage her, which seems very hard.

“As it was closing, some went up to Liverpool, and I know that in the end Frazey went to Staplehurst.

“She was a wonderful old lady, she really was, and it’s sad that she’d never had much of a life. But she didn’t complain, she just went on her way, and she’d help anybody.”

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The new home for the elderly ladies at the convent. The Convent of the Good Shepherd, alongside Iden Manor, Staplehurst, 1936. (Image courtesy of Britain from Above.Britain from Above.)

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SOURCES.

With many thanks to Ann Wolfe. All quotations courtesy of Ann Wolfe.

National Archives. CHILDREN: Order of the Good Shepherd: classification of cases in convents into age groups. HO 45/21989

National Archives. Highams Hall, Chertsey Road, Windlesham, Surrey: registration. BN 62/3067

Sally Clark. “Looking back to the work of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd Convent in Windlesham 1937 – 1979.”  Windlesham Magazine, March 2014.

(As far as I know the Woking Review has ceased publication, and I cannot trace the current owner of their archive. If anyone has any information on this I will be very glad to hear from them.)

The Leschallas family in Valley End.

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Highams Hall, the residence of the Leschallas family in Valley End. (Image courtesy Ann Wolfe.)

Henry Pigé was born 1833, to a Huguenot family in Bethnal Green. They were pawnbrokers, and Henry took his turn behind the counter.

However his cousin, John Leschallas, was in a different trade; he was a builder. It was an era in which cities were expanding, and huge fortunes were to be made in development. John Leschallas lived in the “pretty suburb of Tottenham” in the prestigious Rows House, a mansion with extensive grounds.

Henry left the pawnbroking, and moved in with his cousin. In 1874, he changed his name to Henry Pigé Leschallas, and in the same year he married Alice Beaumont Rogers. They had 6 children, John, Mary (Alice) , Gilbert, Percy, Harry and Beaumont.

In 1877 John Leschallas died. Henry was not the sole beneficiary, but was left a huge fortune.

Henry sold Rows House. A born businessman, he added a note to the sale particulars to the effect that it would be a valuable building site. But he couldn’t resist adding a note explaining his new situation; “The proprietor… has purchased a large Estate at Bagshot in Surrey, and is removing from the neighbourhood.”

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The gardens at Highams. (Image courtesy Richard Wingfield.)

The large estate was Hyams – later  called Highams Hall. The Leschallas family moved in, and seem to have hit the ground running. Almost immediately Henry built a lodge, and seems to have added a laundry and a gas works.

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Highams Hall. (Image courtesy of Ann Wolfe.)

Henry went on to buy other houses and land. He purchased the Manor of Boscastle in Cornwall, and then Glenfinart in Argyllshire, Scotland. He also bought land around Valley End, and at one time owned properties in Brick Hill. No wonder he was sometimes known as the Governor!

But it is in Valley End that he is remembered as a benefactor, and a generous supporter of local causes. Even after Henry died in 1903 the Leschallas family continued to take an interest in parish events.

Henry, and then Alice, were valuable friends to St. Saviour’s. The vicar knew he could rely on them. Henry Pigé Leschallas was churchwarden from 1893 – 1903. His son Gilbert took the office during 1904, and Percy held the post from 1905 to 1914. It was unusual for people of such high social standing to become churchwardens, and was a measure of their commitment.

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Memorial to Gilbert and Percy Leschallas. (Photo by David Fettes.)

The family is remembered in the church. Henry and Alice are buried in the churchyard near to their son Percy. A stained glass window on the west wall was given in memory of Henry, and there are memorials for his sons Gilbert and Percy.

In about 1892 the church ran a Young Men’s Club, which met in the school. The venture was supported by local people, including the Leschallas family. Funds were tight, and Henry used to send them his illustrated papers after he had finished reading them. This was the origin of the Valley End Institute. In 1915 the Leschallas family gave land for a new building, and paid for the hall. This building was replaced in the early 1970s, but the main room is still called Leschallas Hall.

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The memorial window to Henry Pigé Leschallas. (Photo by David Fettes.)

The Valley End Cricket Club was founded in 1895, and in the first annual report thanks are given to, among others, Mr. And Mrs. H. P. Leschallas, “for their donations to the club.” By the mid 1900s, the Leschallas family were not only a force on the pitch, but guiding lights in running the organisation. When the Cricket Club had to leave their ground at Windlesham Park, they simply invited them to Highams.

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A board at Valley End Cricket Club, remembering benefactors. Several of the Leschallas family are included.

The family seem to have opened their home to the community. There are photographs of a Flower Pageant held at Highams in 1905. The girls look surprisingly solemn.

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A Flower Pageant at Highams Hall, 1905. (Image courtesy J. End.)

In 1911 a fete was held at Highams to celebrate the Coronation of George V. There are pictures of villagers processing along the lane to the Hall.

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Going to the Valley End Coronation Fete at Highams Hall, 1911. (Image courtesy J. End.)

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Children marching to the Valley End Coronation Fete at Highams, 1911. (Image courtesy J. End.)

The family were also involved in Valley End School. Percy Leschallas was a school manager for some years, and was proud of this; it is included on his memorial in St. Saviour’s. Mrs. Leschallas paid for some of the school dinners, and helped with school treats. When the Armistice of World War 1 was celebrated with a special bonfire and sports day, Alice gave every child a patriotic flag and a Peace mug.

The school appreciated all this support. When Miss  Leschallas married in 1902 sixteen schoolgirls scattered flowers in front of her when she left the church. When the happy couple returned after their honeymoon all the children were invited to a celebratory tea and entertainment.

The Leschallas family were major landowners and employers. What would it have been like to work at Highams? The photographs we have tend to be of special, happy occasions, such as this picture of the stables, decorated for Christmas.

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Christmas at Highams – decorations in the stables. (Image courtesy D. Hizzey.)

There was a large staff. Some servants lived in, but many had their own homes. There were many outdoor workers. The gardens at Highams were spectacular, with a lake, long greenhouses, kitchen garden and lawns, and consequently a large number of gardeners.

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The greenhouses at Highams. (Image courtesy of Ann Wolfe.)

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The gardens at Highams. (Image courtesy Richard Wingfield.)

For some people, their service with the Leschallas family is literally carved in stone. When Duncan Brown died in 1914, his tombstone proudly announced that he had been “ for 43 years the valued servant and faithful friend of the family at Highams Valley End.” John Teal’s gravestone proclaims that he had been “for 62 years faithful servant of the Leschallas family.”

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The staff at Highams, pre 1914. (Image courtesy Richard Wingfield.)

Even more poignantly “Hattie” Harriet Olleson Luckie was remembered as “the loving friend of Mrs Leschallas of Highams.” In the 1911 census Hattie is shown living at Highams as a companion, but Alice must have known her for years. Hattie had inherited some money from John Leschallas in 1877, as had Henry Pigé.

In 1934 Alice Leschallas died, aged 90. The family had lived in Valley End, and had been closely involved with local affairs, for over 50 years. The vicar wrote sadly, recognising their commitment and support.

“Mr. Leschallas took a very deep interest in all things parochial and in those old times the Church never failed to have him as a worshipper and a generous supporter…Mrs Leschallas never let her interest in the Church and parish cease…”

Alice was buried next to her husband in Valley End churchyard. Highams Hall, their home for so many years, was sold. It was the end of an era.

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Sales particulars of Highams. (Image courtesy Richard Wingfield.

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Sources.

Parish Magazine for Long Cross, Botleys and Lyne, and Valley End. October 1934.

With many thanks to Richard Wingfield.

Sale particulars of a singularly valuable Freehold Estate… London Borough of Haringey Archive Service, Bruce Castle Museum..

“St Saviour’s Valley End 150 years; a history of a church a parish and its people.” By Sallie Buchanan, 2017.

“A brief history of Valley End Church of England School 1859 – 1977: researched and written by Ann Thompson.” A. Thompson 1978.