The almshouses for Valley End.

 

Valley End has it’s own almshouses. It shares them with Windlesham.

The story starts in 1936, when William Charles Lee died. He had been born in a poor family in Windlesham, and understood poverty. Sally Clark has written about his life.

 

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Lee’s Court; the almshouses in Thorndown Lane.

“When William Charles Lee died on 15 December 1936 he established by his Will, two trusts – the first of £1000 to be invested and the income to be applied ‘for the general purposes of the Windlesham and Valley End Nursing Association’. This trust was known as the Windlesham Sick Poor Fund. The residue of his Estate, after some bequests to family (he never married and had no issue), he left for a second trust ‘to establish and maintain almshouses for aged poor persons born in (or if such are not available) residents of the parish of Windlesham and Valley End.’

“This trust was registered as W.C. Lee’s Resthouses, Windlesham.

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The Resthouses, Windlesham. (Image courtesy of Ann Wolfe.)

“William Charles Lee was born in Windlesham on 6 April 1840, the eldest son of James, and Sarah Lee. In July 1858 his brother George and his sister Emma died within a week of each other at ages 7 and 4 respectively. The nearest hospital was at Windsor and required membership of a hospital scheme at 2d a week. A single visit to a doctor could be as high as a shilling. James’s agricultural labourers wages were low and it would have been difficult for him to provide adequate nursing care for the family – something at age 18, William would have been very aware of.

“A year later in 1859 his mother Sarah died too. His father was unable to look after his remaining children and so Elizabeth, William, James and Eliza were passed to various relatives and again this was bound to have had a huge impact on William..

“William had been a farm labourer but on moving to live with his mother’s sister, Aunt Elizabeth Manzi and her husband, Innocent Manzi in Bermondsey, East London, his life changed significantly. Innocent worked as a picture frame carver and gilder (a process of covering a wooden frame with thin gold leaf to replicate solid gold) and he taught William the trade.

“William’s father James subsequently seemed to drift from lodgings to lodgings, probably following farm labouring jobs available to him and eventually died in Valley End. William’s brother James, described as a farm labourer and cowman at different times of his life, never married and also drifted from lodgings to lodgings until finally taking refuge in the Union Workhouse at Epsom where he died of pneumonia on 11 January 1892 at age 50. His death certificate lists his occupation as a stableman of Epsom. Again, the circumstances of neither of them having a permanent home right to the time of their deaths must have influenced William’s decision regarding his Resthouses.

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Gustave Dore. “Applying for admittance to a refuge.” 1872.

“By 1871 William had moved from the Manzi home but was still living in Bermondsey where the census describes his occupation as a picture frame maker. He developed his business, expanding as the years went by to include publishing and selling of art prints. It supported him for the rest of his life and at times his sister, Eliza who lived on and off with him.

“Eliza married Thomas Martin in 1878 and their son Percy was born in 1881. Relatives described the marriage as unhappy due to their heavy drinking. Percy left home at age 12 for this reason – in his own words he said that he no longer wished to sing in pubs for his father’s drinks and joined the merchant navy. Percy was a sailor most of his life. He met and married Margaret Maxwell on the east coast of Canada but ultimately took up US citizenship, settling finally in New York where Eliza visited them in 1930.”

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Plaque on the Resthouses.

On 15 December 1936 William Charles Lee died, and set up his trust to build and run almshouses, for the benefit of Windlesham and Valley End.

 

Two years later, some land was given by Charles Henry Bulwer Caldwell, of the Cedars, Windlesham, and W. C. Lee’s Resthouses opened in 1948.

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Memorial to Charles Henry Bulwer Caldwell in St. Lawrence’s Church, Chobham.

When the houses first opened the Trustees were able to avoid charging rent, but they were unable to continue to be so generous. At present, “the Trustees aim to charge around half of Equivalent Fair Rent as assessed by the Valuation Office Agency.”

At one point Joan Weymouth was a Trustee. “When I joined, you had to go and visit the people. I had the difficult lady.” Then the lady discovered that Joan’s mother had nursed her in the Cottage Hospital. “Not Mrs Millard? She was the only one that dried between my toes!” After that they were firm friends.

The almshouses still stand in Thorndown Lane, providing housing for the elderly, and continuing to fulfill the aims of William Charles Lee.

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Memorial to William Charles Lee in Windlesham churchyard.

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With many thanks to Sally Clark, for her permission to include her article on W. C. Lee. This was first published in the Windlesham Magazine, who have kindly agreed to let us use this item.

In her article Sally Clark added “My thanks to Marianne Robbens, former Trustee and Pat Tedder, current Trustee of the charities for all the material and putting me in contact with Linda Lee Franks.”

With thanks to Joan Weymouth.

Aviva Community Fund. W. C. Lee’s Resthouses.

Open Charities W. C. Lee’s Resthouses.

Charity Commission W. C. Lee’s Resthouses.

 

 

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Fanny Teal and James Daborn.

James Daborn married Fanny Teal in 1899. He was Churchwarden from 1914 – 1932, helped to run the Institute, and played an active role in local affairs. Fanny was the daughter of John Teal, the gardener at Highams Farm. Margaret Christie was their granddaughter.

“My Grandmother Fanny Teal met my Grandfather James Daborn when she was 12 and a half, but she didn’t marry him until she was in her late twenties. They married in 1899.

“Her first pregnancy was a twin pregnancy, which didn’t survive, and she was told by her doctor that she probably would have no more children, but in any case they weren’t to try for at least 5 years. So there’s quite a gap between her having the twins and when Aunt Dorrie was born.

“In the end Fanny had three children. There was Dorothy the eldest, then there’s my mother, Emily, and James came suddenly out of the blue quite a bit later.

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Brick Hill (Photograph by Roy Smithers. With thanks to Mark Stroud.)

“James’s family were from Brick Hill, but not Fanny’s family. They were strictly Highams, and Fanny and James moved in there with her father. But when he died they were given the tenancy of Oak Tree Cottage. That was owned by Highams as well.

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Brick Hill (Photograph by Roy Smithers. With thanks to Mark Stroud.)

“It must have been a great change, because if you look at the farmhouse at Highams it’s big, and Oak Tree Cottage is a lot smaller. It must have been very hard work as well. The water was from the well, half way down the garden path, and there were no mod cons.

“Fanny was poultry mad. She loved them. At Oak Tree Cottage in the kitchen there was what we call in the West Country a Bodley Stove, a black iron range, that was up on legs, with a gap underneath. When she was hatching chicks it seemed that all the chicks came into the kitchen if it was cold. She’d bring them in during the evening if they were near hatching, because the stove would still be a bit warm. She had chickens everywhere. We had to go and feed them.

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Poultry were an important part of agriculture during World War II. Farmer’s daughter Barbara Hoare feeds the chickens at Mount Barton farm. (Image courtesy of IWM. )

“James, my Grandfather, had a stroke quite early. He was not anywhere near retirement age. He didn’t earn any money after that. There wasn’t any social security.

“Fanny used to sell her eggs. The amount of chickens that she had was more than they would need themselves. It was a business. She’d got all the skills. Because she’d grown up on the farm, she knew a lot about it and what to do, and how to rear them.

“During the wartime too, her chickens were quite valuable. She never went in for ducks or geese or anything like that at Oak Tree Cottage.

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Brick Hill. (Photograph by Roy Smithers. With thanks to Mark Stroud.)

“I remember her on a sunny day, when there isn’t any wind, in the summer time. At Oak Tree Cottage there were 2 big bedrooms, and then there was another little very narrow staircase up to the loft room, where there were some old bits of furniture she’d keep up there, all covered in old sheets.

“But on a sunny day with no wind, the windows would be thrown open. She would take all the feather beds, they’d be lugged up the stairs, she’d unpick the ticking, and all the feathers used to be shaken out on onto the floor, which was covered in a big sheet. She would be in her overall with a mop cap, so the feathers didn’t stick in her hair, and she’d sort of turn the feathers, throw them about to get all the dust out. Then the bed was all stuffed up again, and I used to help her sew it.

“This was why there had to be no draught in from the window, but she said the sun was good for the feathers. You didn’t do it on a damp day, because the feathers would get all matted.

“Once a year your feather bed had to be refluffed. To do this for one feather bed I should think took about 3 days from start to finish.

“Fanny made the feather beds herself. She used to keep not the prime feathers, but the under feathers of her chickens for this.

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Oaktree Cottage in the 1930s. (Image courtesy of Joan Weymouth.)

“She was a very neat little lady, and after the midday meal it was her turn to read the paper in the afternoon. James read it in the morning. She’d go upstairs and she would change into her afternoon dress, and come down, and the newspaper would be spread out on the kitchen table. There was a velvety cloth that went over the top of the scrubbed kitchen table, and the newspaper would be laid out, and she’d be there in her tidy dress. She had little wire glasses, very small glasses, and she’d read the paper until it was time to make the tea.

“Granddad, James Daborn, wasn’t particularly tall. I think in the end I was taller than he was. I think a lot of that was to do with his stroke. He was very bent, and he had one paralysed arm.

“He used to grow some tomatoes against the wall. And I loved tomatoes, and one day I pinched one. That was disaster! He counted them!

“James played the harmonium. He was very musical. He also played the clarinet. He was in the Chobham Band at one time in his life. In the sitting room there was a photograph of Chobham Band with him in it.

“He was a lovely man, a beautiful man, he was humorous too, full of fun. He was the kindest, most gentle man there was.”

 

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Sources.

 

With many thanks to Margaret Christie.

 

 

 

Farmer Glanfield and “the farm most disrupted by compulsory purchase orders.”

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Dudley Glanfield, by Dudley Glanfield, 1920s. (Image courtesy National Portrait Gallery.)

 

Prior to purchasing Twelve Oaks, Woodlands and Manor Farms in 1946 from Lady Wilson, Dudley Glanfield was an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and a well known portrait photographer of Royalty and the Nobility with a large studio in Knightsbridge, London. 185 photographs taken by him in the 1920s and 1930s are held by the National Portrait Gallery, including one of King George V1. A well educated man, he held a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration and was also qualified in Mechanical Engineering.

Whilst he had a love of the land, he was not an experienced farmer. Neighbouring land owners recall that he did for a period have a herd of cattle but generally the estate which he named ‘the Twelve Oaks Farm Estate’ was not properly farmed and the land returned to its natural state. He did not maintain the farm buildings and as they continued to decay, he resorted to living in a caravan. He had had a love of flying light aircraft from the 1920s and continued this hobby when he moved to Windlesham, flying his aircraft over the surrounding villages and often taking
photographs.

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Dudley Glanfield, by Dudley Glanfield, 1930s. (Image courtesy National Portrait Gallery.)

In a set of historical notes he put together, he states that ‘Twelve Oaks used to be a Hunting Lodge of Queen Elizabeth 1 when she was resident at Windsor circa 1563 to avoid the plague in London’. Whilst she was resident at Windsor to avoid the plague and whilst this area was part of Windsor Great Forest, I have not to date found any documented evidence of a hunting lodge on the site. Mr Glanfield writes that the original ‘twelve oaks, some 400 years old, were compulsorily felled in 1972 for the cutting of the M3 Motorway.’ He elaborates on this with the comment that ‘a mile of motorway bisects the farm estate in half and that access to the farm is now down Scutley Lane Public Bridleway, unsuitable for motor vehicles/trucks delivering fertilisers, cattle food and machinery.’ So presumably in the 1970s there was some farming activity.

His battle against Compulsory Powers on his land started before the motorway however. In the late 1940s a Compulsory Wayleave Notice for electricity pylons across his land was passed. He fought this with much publicity including personal appearances on radio and television and eventually issued a High Court Writ against the Central Electricity Authority delaying the erection of the pylons for 2 years and instrumental in getting the 1957 Electricity Bill through Parliament ‘to avoid such injustices being perpetrated on any landowner again.’ The battle with Compulsory Powers continued in respect of a giant sewer pipeline, new water mains and gas mains across his land. All of which earned him an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as ‘the farm most disrupted by compulsory purchase orders’ and the nickname of ‘Dynamite Dudley’.

 

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Farm Patrol

2nd February 1957: British farmer Dudley Glanfield of Windlesham in Surrey prevents the Electricity Board from putting giant electrical pylons on his land. He patrols his land with a shotgun guarding against invasion by Electricity Workmen. (Photo by BIPS/Getty Images)

 

Dudley Glanfield is buried at St Saviour Church, Valley End and his grave
stone bears this epitaph composed by himself:

Farmer

Dudley Glanfield of Windlesham

1904 – 1992

A man of Earth who knew
How every inch of an acre
Is alive and what was best
For root and beast and got it
He argued as obstinately
For freedom as the sun does
With the seeds till they submit
Be proud
Of a man so placed so true
To why we are alive

 

Following his death in 1992, 400 acres of his land was sold at Public Auction in 16 lots. Manor Farm, Twelve Oaks plus a further 142 acres were sold to Mr Clive Smith the owner of Windlemere and Pine Ridge Golf Centres. However within days after the auction he sold the Twelve Oaks land to Ian and Graham Wooldridge without taking possession himself.

 
The farmhouse and most of the outbuildings by that time were completely derelict and had to be demolished with the exception of the stables. Dudley Glanfield’s notes refer to a Mr A E Barton’s ownership of the Woodlands Estate from 1911 until the Henderson family bought it and that he used Twelve Oaks as his racing stables. One of his horses, ‘Panther’ won the ‘Two Thousand Guineas’ race in 1919. Twelve Oaks is once again home to horses as the Wooldridge family run it as a Stables where Polo horses are exercised, trained and groomed for the competition season each year.

67,000 bricks from the old buildings have been recycled in the refurbishment of the old stables, the building of a new set of stables and staff accommodation and the grounds have been restored to an immaculate condition.

 

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Sally Clark, Local Historian
My thanks to Brian Wooldridge for the information on the auction
and Dudley Glanfield’s notes.

 

(First published in the Windlesham Magazine, August 2017. Reproduced with many thanks to Sally Clark and the Windlesham Magazine.)

 

 

Brick making at Valley End.

Brick making was carried out at Valley End from at least the mid 18th century, when Robert Stevens was given permission to produce bricks at Valley Wood. It continued for generations, and is remembered in the names of Brick Hill and the Brickmaker’s Arms.

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The Brickmaker’s Arms. (Photograph courtesy of Ann Wolfe.)

The brick-fields are now gone, leaving very little behind them. Some were cleared at the end of the 19th century, as it was felt that they spoiled the Common. The site of the yard at Brick Hill lies buried under the M3.

It is hard to imagine what they would have looked like when they were in operation, or how the bricks were actually made.

But an article from 1936 talks about brick making in a village.  This could be easily be a description of the brick field at Brick Hill.

“During the winter the clay is dug out and allowed to weather. Just before use it is put into a “pug” mill, a tall cylinder in which knives are caused to rotate by driving a horse round and round. This makes the clay fine and workable.

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A steam driven pug mill.

“The workers mould the bricks in rough shanties of wood and corrugated iron, standing at a bench. The bottom of the mould rests on the bench, and on it is put an oblong box with no bottom or top. Both are well sanded, and a ball of clay is thrown into the box, forced into shape, and smoothed off.

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Brick moulds at Amberley Museum.

“Next, a thin board is put over the mould, which is turned over, releasing the brick of wet clay. This is carefully placed on a barrow kept by the side of the hut. When the barrow is full, it is wheeled out to the drying shed.

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Moulded bricks drying at Amberley Museum.

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Hack barrow for moving moulded bricks to the drying sheds at Amberley Museum.

“Shed is rather a misnomer, for the bricks are built up in rows, and a portable roof of wood is placed on top. Often the sides of the wall are protected by boards, for it is most important to keep the rain off the “green” bricks. Rain is the brick-maker’s worst enemy, and may lead to a complete stoppage of work.

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“Green” bricks stacked under wood at Amberley Museum.

“A good worker will make from 500 to 800 bricks a day, but it is very hard work…

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Brickyard Drying Shed, Amberley Museum.

“The bricks are burnt in a cone-shaped kiln. The capacity of the kiln varies, but the average country kiln holds from about 25,000 to 35,000 bricks. About ten tons of coal are needed to burn the kiln during the two days that the fire is alight. Another week must elapse before the bricks are cool enough to remove from the kiln. (The kilns at Valley End may have used furze from the Common for fuel.)

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A Victorian brick kiln in Winchfield, Hants. It was built in about 1830, and was used until 1939. (Image courtesy of Dignity Pet Crematorium.)

“Colour of the bricks varies according to the position they occupied in the kiln, and their nearness to the fire.

“The first touch of frost puts an end to the moulding of bricks, and then the digging of clay for the following year’s work begins again.”

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“A village brick-yard,” by D. H. Robinson. Supplement to “The Farmer and Stock-Breeder”June 22nd, 1936.

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Sources;

“A village brick-yard,” by D. H. Robinson. Supplement to “The Farmer and Stock-Breeder”June 22nd, 1936.

“St Saviour’s Valley End,” by Sallie Buchanan, 2017.

With many thanks to Dignity Pet Crematorium, for permission to photograph their brick kiln and to include it.

With thanks to Amberley Museum.

I have not been able to get in touch with D. H. Robinson or his estate, or the Farmer and Stockbreeder, which finished publication in 1984. If anyone has any contact details, I would be very pleased to hear from them.

 

Princess Louise’s Holiday Home for Poor Children.

In 1920, 7 year old Cyril Mahon from Hammersmith was playing in the countryside at Valley End. He liked it; a postcard was sent to his mother reassuring her that he was well and happy.

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Cyril was a guest of Princess Louise. He was one of the many visitors who stayed at the Princess Louise’s Holiday Home for Poor Children.

Princess Louise was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria.

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Prince Arthur, 1st Duke of Connaught and Strathearn; Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Duchess of Argyll. 1866. (Image courtesy National Portrait Gallery.)

She led a full life, and there has been speculation that it was fuller and more scandalous than we are told. This may be because although many of her family were artistic, drawing sketches and painting watercolours, Louise was an artist, with a Bohemian temperament to match.

She took classes at Kensington School of Art – the first princess to attend a school open to the public – and became a proficient and skilled sculptor.

 

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Princess Louise’s statue of Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace.

In 1875 Louise and her husband, John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, moved into Kensington Palace. It became their London home, and Louise died there in 1939 at the age of 91.

It was not until 1911 that they found their country place at Ribsden. Louise must have found it peaceful and refreshing; she decided to share it.

The Princess was widely involved with a huge number of charities – she was president of 25 hospitals, and supported causes ranging from The National Trust to Princess Louise’s Own Kensington Regiment. She had held meetings for the Children’s Country Holidays Fund, which may have inspired her.

While she was resident at Kensington Palace she attended the local church, St. Mary Abbotts, a few minutes walk away. An impressive building, it has a Royal Pew and a Royal Door for the parishioners from the Palace, but Louise would have known that many in the parish were struggling.

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Angel carved by Princess Louise, in St. Mary Abbotts, Kensington.

So in 1918 the charity Princess Louise’s Holiday Home for Poor Children was founded. It was primarily – but not exclusively – for children from the parish of St Mary Abbotts, and gave them a holiday in the countryside.

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Weyside Cottages, Princess Louise’s Holiday Home for Poor Children. (Image courtesy Ann Wolfe.)

The countryside was at Ribsden, and the Home itself was the cottages at Weyside, which still stand next to the Brickmaker’s Arms.

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The Brickmaker’s Arms. Weyside can be seen beyond the hedge. (Image courtesy Ann Wolfe.)

Some cheerful postcards from the guests remain; “Cyril sends love and kisses & says he is very happy and likes the country.” Another visitor announced that the Matron had taken them out to a talk, leaving the recipient to comment “Clever matron is all I can say..!”

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Postcard from the Home. (Image courtesy Ann Wolfe.)

The use of the Home may have changed. In the 1930s it is described on the Ordnance Survey map as a convalescent home, but the buildings remained the same.

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Weyside Cottages, Princess Louise’s Holiday Home for Poor Children. (Image courtesy Ann Wolfe.

The Home and its contents were sold in 1948. The funds were used to establish a new charity, which is still run by the Campden Charities.

The Princess Louise Holiday Fund continues to operate, and is used to provide holidays for struggling families with children. The charity founded by Queen Victoria’s daughter still meets its original purpose in the 21st century.

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Sources.

With many thanks to Ann Wolfe.

With thanks to Father Gillean Craig, St. Mary Abbotts, Kensington.

With thanks to Chris Stannard , Campden Charities.

Elizabeth Longford. “Darling Loosy; letters to Princess Louise 1856 –1939.” 1991.

The First Hundred Years of the Children’s Country Holidays Fund 1884 – 1984.

 

 

 

“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.

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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