Chobham Camp Squatters, 1945 – 1952. By Patrick Rolinson.

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A converted Nissen Hut.*

The camp was situated on Chobham Common; the date it was built is not known. I can only assume that the Ministry of Defence built it in the late 1930s or early 1940s. We do know that prior to 1945 the Canadian Army were in the camp. It was made up mainly of large numbers of Nissan Huts. These were huts with a tin roof, timber frames at each end, and at both ends, two windows and a front rear door whichever way you looked into the hut. The windows were reinforced wire with glass. The interior consisted of one round iron fire with a stack going upwards through the roof. This was mainly a billet for a number of troops, i.e. 20 in all. There were mess halls, built of the same construction, and also concrete huts with proper roofs; these must have been for officers.

At the Brickhill end of the common was a smaller camp and a football pitch. On the hill to the base of the camp was a large water tank that overlooked Brickhill. Electricity, water mains, roads and pathways ran to all huts on the camp, and the main road ran through the camp from Windlesham to the main road leading from Chobham Village to Sunningdale. Down in Brickhill was a small shop that sold most things, mainly cigarettes and tinned foods and vegetables. Chobham village was about two miles away and Sunningdale the same distance. And of course there was Windlesham village, which could be walked to.

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The Camp on Chobham Common. Map by Patrick Rolinson.

My story of Chobham Camp begins after the Canadian Troops had left the camp. The site then became a goldrush for so many families who needed accommodation. I would have been about eight years old, and with my mother, elder brother Jeffrey and my younger sister Mary, we were one of many families that required a place to have of our own.

Mum was informed by her brother Brian that he would go and find us a hut. And he did. He stayed there for several days, keeping guard on the hut until we could get there. It was the middle hut of a group of six, not far from Sunningdale Golf Course. With few possessions, we entered the hut. It was just one big empty space with just a round fireplace, the stack reaching up through the roof.

From this point it was home, but alterations had to be made, such as partitions built with timbers we needed to find. There were several iron beds, so that was a start. We erected the partitions so that there was a room for us boys, one for Mary, and one for Mum, which was where the fire was and where we ate, washed, and if it is the right word, relaxed.

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The Nissen Huts on Chobham Common. Diagram by Patrick Rolinson.

We were not alone. The camp was filling up with families and many children of my own age. We, like everyone else, assumed that our stay there would be short-term, but it would not be many years later that we left. No one in authority prevented the families moving in. To us all it seemed we had been given permission. One thing people noticed was that two compounds at the camp were being guarded by British soldiers, and restriction signs were posted for all to see, one by the main Chertsey road above Brickhill and the other next to the main road leading to Sunningdale. Fences were erected, plus some barbed wire, there were entrances that were guarded with sentries and rising pole barriers, and it was not long before we realised why. Large trucks started arriving at the camp, and it was not long before those on board started to disembark. They were lined up on the parade ground, and still more lorries continued to arrive. It was not long before word got round that these were German Prisoners of War. This was a tense moment for us all. One moment we were listening to broadcasts on what we then called a wireless about the war and the terrible things that were happening, and next we had the same people as neighbours.

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The Camp on Chobham Common. (Image courtesy Surrey Heath Museum.)

The area depicted on the camp diagram is the landing strip, which is now, in 2010, a picnic area. It became busy with light aircraft landing and taking off. Some passengers looked very important. The runway in those days was very short but that type of aircraft was capable of landing on it. To us young ones, this was great fun.

We were known then as Camp Squatters, and we all got on very well. If you had it, you gave it to those who did not, a bit like the old Eastenders. Life on the Camp was hard but you made the most of it. Schooling was first at the local school, Valley End School, about a mile away. As we grew older we went on to Chobham St Lawrence School, which was a much longer walk. You would start walking to school in the morning, get to Round Pond Woods, and suddenly hear the school bell ringing. With about two more miles to go, you knew you were going to be in trouble. Walking home, especially during the winter months, it was dark, and you still had to walk through Round Pond Woods collecting firewood for the hut stove on the way.

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Round Pond. (Photograph by Roy Smithers, image courtesy Mark Stroud.)

 

Every day our mother would cycle from the camp to a place called Kettlewell Hill just outside Woking, to her job as a domestic servant. The job gave her a little money to help keep us clothed, but it also had its perks, such as food left over by her employers, and not forgetting a small bag of coal she brought back each day for the house. How she managed the trips home in the dark we will never know. I suppose you would say because she was a mother.

I shall always remember one particular night she was returning home. It was very dark. Snow was falling. She approached Round Pond Woods, and had to get off her bike and push it up the hill, head down to avoid the snow. Suddenly a pair of hands grabbed hold of the handlebars. Looking up, petrified, she saw a man dressed in some form of uniform, which she recognised as that of a PoW (Prisoner of war). At that moment a small car arrived, driving up the hill, lights flaring, and the man ran off. The car stopped and the driver asked if she was all right. Shaken, both of them continued their journeys home. Mother’s first thought was to ring her brother in law, Sam, who was on leave from the RAF, and who lived in Chobham. Sam came round and contacted the commanding officer of the PoW camp. He in turn said that the PoWs would parade the next morning so that mum could identify the man.

Next morning, mum, along with Sam, who was dressed in civvies, spent some considerable time walking up and down the men lined up in front of her. But she could not identify anyone. Her words were, “They all look the same.” Sam’s response was to say to her, “pick anyone.” I suppose this was the response of a military man in the RAF who had been fighting these people. Mum refused to do this and that was the end of the matter.

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Nissen Huts on Chobham Common. (Image courtesy Surrey Heath Museum.)

Returning to life on the camp: during the last few years I have returned to the camp on several occasions, and found I remembered the layout of the camp very well from all those years ago. I knew where huts used to stand, the roads leading to them, where the pathways and parade grounds of the PoWs used to be, where mess halls used to stand, the communal toilets and bath areas, football pitch, water tower, right down to where eventually the red telephone box stood. They are all there if you know where to look.

Our second hut on the camp was situated on the Chertsey Road end of the camp, approaching the roundabout, which in our time was a crossroads. Approaching today’s roundabout there is a large road sign indicating roads to Sunningdale, Chertsey and Chobham. Right opposite this sign is where we lived all those years ago. The small, but well-worn bridge over the ditch is still there; remove the moss and leaves and you are standing in the rooms as you did many years ago. When my grandchildren were shown this they showed disbelief that this was our home. It is easy to spot where the homes were: on areas where trees cannot grow, just leaves and moss. Some areas are hard to get to now, but when you do find them, you also find the friends that used to be there.

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Looking from the “small, but well-worn bridge over the ditch” to the site of the Rolinson’s second hut.

Going back to those days; the football pitch as we knew it is still there today, unchanged. It is at he Brickhill end of the camp, just to the right of the Chertsey road. The only difference is that there are now a couple of iron bars over the entry-places to stop high vehicles getting in. Here we watched the PoWs and guards play football. The pitch was comprised of shingle, and today if you move a clump of grass you can still see the shingle…

1947 was the year of sunshine and snow. The summer was so hot. But the winter was so bad with snow it was six feet deep in places. This made it very difficult to get to the toilets and washroom. At times we would collect snow in a bowl or bucket, melt it, and use it for washing, cooking and even drinking when the pipes froze. One morning I came into mum’s room to make a cup of tea for her and found that due to the warped door, snow had drifted through the gap. I found mum asleep with a huge drift of snow on her and the bed. And so for a few weeks we called her Snow White.

Christmas was upon us. Paper chains we made ourselves. For presents there were apples, oranges, perhaps a book. And then there was the biggest present ever: a knock at the door and we opened it and standing there was a guard and two prisoners with small parcels wrapped in newspaper with pieces of string. In broken English they wished us a happy Christmas. Times like this you wish you had a camera. Mum had a brooch made from some sort of Perspex, the girls rag dolls, and us boys a jigsaw, all made by the Germans. Well, I suppose they had plenty of time to spare, but it was a lovely gesture, a moment never to be forgotten.

Things began to change within the PoW camps, especially the camp on the Sunningdale road. With a guard escort, we were invited into the Mess Hall on several occasions to eat with the PoWs. We were shown photos of their own families and children. When the time came, many of these prisoners remained in the UK, eventually marrying local ladies and finding work as bus drivers. Many years later, we would meet up with these people, either in the village of Chobham or in Woking.

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A Nissen hut at Brick Hill. (Image courtesy Surrey Heath Museum.)

Another activity we used to engage in was swimming. Where? Well, also built on the camp, at the Brickhill end, was a large water tower. It was located on the highest part of the camp, overlooking the football field and the smaller PoW camp. As shown in the diagram a ladder was fixed to the outside of the tank leading to the top and a hatchway which could be lifted, with a smaller ladder inside which we would climb down and swim in the clear waters. No health and safety in those times! If we did not swim here we would walk over to Sunningdale golf course where they had a small lake on one of their fairways with a walkway made of timber through the middle which would become a diving board into the water. This is still there today.

Other things made life at the camp easier for us all. For example, a fish and chip van would call round on certain evenings, and a vegetable van as well during days of the week. This made life a little easier for our parents.

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One of the roads through the Camp, still to be found opposite Brick Hill.

I suppose if there was a tragic moment in those days it was when we witnessed a large wartime aeroplane crash in the fields above Woodlands Lane, Windlesham. …

Our time in the camp was coming to an end. Many of our parents were rehoused at Brookleys Estate, Chobham, where today many of the children of those parents still live, or even their children. My mother and us children were also rehoused at Brookleys Estate at the end of the road Oakdene. Uncle Sam, whom I mentioned earlier helping mum at the camp, lived with his family in Elm Drive, and another of mum’s sisters lived in Brookleys. My grandparents lived at Little Heath.

Come the summer of 2010 I shall, God willing, go back to the camp…I will once again explore the camp area as in the past, and reminisce at the football ground. Those were the days.

Patrick Rolinson.

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The kitchen in a completed temporary house converted from an army Nissen Hut. (Image courtesy of IMW.)

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*Nissen Hut, Cultybraggan Camp. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

With many thanks to Pat Rolinson.

Also with thanks to Surrey Heath Museum.

 

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The Prisoners of War on Chobham Common. By Ron Little.

 

Prisoners of War on Chobham Common. by Ron Little.

Copy of German prisoner of war at Valley End

Henry, a German Prisoner of war at Brick Hill. He worked at Slococks Nursery, and helped Mr.Millard with his bees, as he had his own bees in Germany. (Image courtesy of J. End.)

The German POW camp was built on Chobham Common during the last war. It was situated to the west of Fox Hill and practically opposite Brick Hill.

 

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A general view of a group of Nissen huts amongst trees at a German Prisoner of War camp, somewhere in Britain.. (Image courtesy of IMW)

During daytime, quite a number of the POW’s were employed under guard working on farms. But they must have spent much of their leisure hours at handicrafts and produced a number of well made articles. Among these were concertina-type sewing boxes. These were sold locally for £1: we still have one of these boxes, still in excellent condition and still in use today.

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German Prisoners of War in Britain; everyday life at a German POW Camp, UK, 1945. (Image courtesy of IMW.)

On the Brick Hill side of the road, the POW’s had quite a good football pitch. Although it was rather stony, it served its purpose adequately. The POW’s were keen footballers and produced an excellent team which played matches against other POW teams on Sundays. The football played was first class and these matches always attracted many of the local football enthusiasts. Whilst the matches were in progress the rest of the POWs would line the sides of the pitch and in unison would voice their opinions of the referee in the few words of English that they knew. At times this caused considerable embarrassment especially if there happened to be ladies present! They were a first class team and among their players was a pre-war Austrian International player. But the star of their team was the goalkeeper who after the war settled in this country and became a professional footballer – playing as goalkeeper for Manchester City. His name was Bert Trautman.

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Sculpture of Bert Trautmann at the Manchester City Museum, Manchester, UK. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

As time went on they were able to play against local football teams but proved far too good for our lads.

It was 2 – 3 years after the end of hostilities before the POW’s were repatriated. I think it was Christmas 1946 that they were allowed to walk freely around the district. It was at this time that I was visiting my parents who then lived in the shop which is now Suttons the Bakers. Somebody happened to say that there were a couple of POW’s outside. My Father said, “Why not invite them in?” After a while they were eventually persuaded to come indoors where they enjoyed mince pies and a glass of wine. Really it proved rather emotional as one of my brothers who had only just returned from Germany came in and of course the POW’s were very keen to gain first hand knowledge of the state of their country.

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German Prisoners of War mend boots and shoes at their PoW camp, somewhere in Britain. They are working in a Nissen hut which is being used as a cobbler’s shop. (Image courtesy IMW)

 

There were a number of people in the village who befriended the POW’s. Among them were my sister and brother-in-law: they were good friends with a couple of these POW’s, who would often call in for a cup of tea and cakes. What I must mention is how this particular pair of POW’s constructed a lovely wooden rabbit hutch, and pushed it, complete with a young rabbit, on a wheelbarrow all the way from Chobham Common to Chertsey Road, and presented it to my young nephew as a gift in return for the kindness shown to them. Eventually repatriation was completed and the POW’s returned home: but not all of them, as some had met local girls whom they married and settled in this country. I know there were one or two in this district who no doubt could tell many tales of their time as POW’s on Chobham Common.

 

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This article was originally published in the Windlesham Magazine in August, 1991.

Although I have tried to contact Mr. Little or his family, I have not been able to find them. If you know anything about Ron Little, I would be very glad to hear from you.

 

A Man Unknown

Did you know that Valley End was once the haunt of highwaymen?

The parish reached Broomhall Lane, and included a small slice of the London Road, now the A30. This used to be the Great West Road, one of the major routes from London.  The inns at Bagshot had up to 30 coaches a day passing through.

But travelling on the road was full of risks. It crossed desolate heath land. Daniel Defoe described it in the 1720s as “a vast tract of land… given up to barrenness, horrid and frightful to look on.”

Travellers were vulnerable in this isolated country. In 1795 a writer complained bitterly “The high-roads thirty or forty miles round London are filled with armed highwaymen and footpads.”

There were many tales of the highwaymen in Surrey – such as this one:

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The Highwayman. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

It appears that close to the milestone marked 22 miles* to Hyde Park corner, which is still embedded outside Sunningdale on the road to Virginia Water, a two-wheeled curricle appeared going towards Bagshot. The occupants were two military Officers. Out from the trees moved a mounted figure with levelled pistols, and demanded the Officer’s valuables. Astoundingly, the Officers handed over three gold guineas and a gold watch. Here the Officers pass out of our story – in my opinion with ignominy, as no one in their right mind traversed Bagshot Heath unarmed in those times.

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“22 miles to Hyde Park Corner.” The milestone, just past West Drive on the A 30.

However, here comes an unnamed Hero.

Breasting the rise, (there’s a cliché for you, but very aptly put in fact,) came the afternoon coach from the “Three Mariners” at Bagshot on its way to Staines, its leaders pulling hard at their collars and thus breasting the rise. The Coachman took in the situation at a glance and with the aid of his companion on the box, braked the coach, jumped down, blocked the coach wheels and striped the tack off the near leader. The unnamed companion with the coach blunderbuss in one hand and the looped ribbons in the other swung onto the animal and belted up the hill after the Highwayman who had turned towards Virginia Water and was off as fast as his mare would go.

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The Three Mariners, Bagshot, an old coaching inn. (Image courtesy of the Three Mariners, Bagshot.)

Now Virginia Water must have been very different two hundred years ago, and I think it must have been a ford. But the little inn on the far side was The Wheatsheaf as it is today.

The pursuit must have been gaining because the Highwayman put his mare at the iron railings (could they be the same railings as are there today?) Anyway the mare refused and the thief either got off or fell off. He didn’t try again but set off on foot to the water’s edge where he decided to swim for it. Our hero in pursuit must have been getting very close because the thief without taking any of his clothes off plunged straight in. He was half way across when his luck ran out, for by chance, the Water Bailiff carrying a gun appeared on the far side.

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Virginia Water Lake, 1950. (Image from Britain From Above.)

The Highwayman seeing him there gave a despairing cry and sank below the water.

They pulled him out quite drowned, recovered the three guineas and the gold watch, remarked on his grey wool stockings being heavily darned, and – would you believe it – the only other matter reported was the finding in his pocket of a bill from the Wheatsheaf for one shilling and nine pence for his lunch.

There is another account of this here in the Sporting Magazine for 1797.

The Coroner’s account book at Berkshire Record Office includes the cost of “An inquisition taken at the parish of Old Windsor on view of the body of a Man unknown” on Dec. 4th 1797, and explains, “(Highwayman, endeavouring to escape attempted to swim across Virginia Water and was drowned.)”

These were violent times; another inquest that year, held on May 17th 1797 at Binfield, recorded the death of Edward Bunce, “Turnpike Keeper shot through the head by Night.”

Stories of the highwaymen lingered in the area. When James Ogilvy wrote “A pilgrimage in Surrey” in 1914 he mentioned tales of highwaymen hiding in the trees on the common, and of a tavern they used between Longcross and Chobham Common.

He may have been thinking of the Traveller’s Friend – an ironic name if ever there was. This stood next to Longcross car park on Staple Hill. The pub has long gone, but there is still an iron bar sticking out from a tree, which used to hold the pub sign – a reminder of the days of the highwaymen.

Colour photo of the rear of a house on edge of Chobham Common, Longcross, previously a public house called `Travellers Friend', taken MayJune 1982 (back view) Chertsey Museum

The Traveller’s Friend, Longcross. (Image courtesy of Chertsey Museum).

*”Brock” gave the milestone as marked xviii, but according to the Sporting Magazine it was the stone marked 22 miles. This stone is just past West Drive on the London Road. It is opposite Crown land, and nearly facing it is a private track running across open countryside and woodland. It passes close to Coworth Park, and comes out on the A329. You are then on the edge of the Park, and close to Virginia Water Lake. This must be the route which the highwayman took.

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Sources.

The story of the highwayman was told by “Brock” under the title “Captain Snow, I presume,”  in the Windlesham Magazine, Feb. 86. and is reproduced by kind permission of the magazine. I have been unable to trace “Brock”, but if anyone knows anything about him I would be very glad to hear from them.

Berkshire Record Office. Coroner’s account book. D/EX 1412/1

Daniel Defoe. “A tour through the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies. 1724 and 1727.

Gentleman’s magazine. 1795. Vol. 78. p.831.

Sporting Magazine, 1797, Vol. 11, p. 112.

James Ogilvy. “A pilgrimage in Surrey.” 1914.

Ron Davis. “Three places for refreshment at Longcross.” Typescript, Chertsey Museum. Note – “To be published in April 1996 edition of “Connections,” Virginia Water Parish Magazine.

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Château Brick Hill.

 

People on Brick Hill knew how to forage on the Common. They knew how to gather fruit and flowers, and how to use them – for example for home made wine.

 

Brick Hill had a thriving tradition of home made wine. Many people made it.

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Beer and bottles in the larder. Kitchen in Whittaker’s Cottages, Weald and Downland Museum. (With thanks to the Weald and Downland Museum.)

Lilian Millard produced a range of wines. She was once clearing out her cupboards where it was stored when the curate popped in for a visit. She hospitably offered him a few samples. He happily agreed, merrily sipping them. Then he paused. “After that,” he said, “You’d better give me some coffee.”

Joan Weymouth carried on the tradition, branching out into sloe gin. As she needed to bottle it, she was lucky  to get some gin bottles, still with a touch of gin in them, from one of her clients.

Tony Lovejoy’s mother also made wine. Her rhubarb wine tasted wonderful, but was unexpectedly strong.

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Elderflowers in bloom in Valley End. For Elderflower Wine, “Pick Elderflowers that are fragrant and at their peak.”

The women in Dave Hizzey’s family had skilled hands with wine.

“My great grandma was a great homemade winemaker, as my Mum was. Apparently when my Mum first went there, in the little shed in bottom of the garden the wine was all in proper barrels, draped in wet sacks, to keep them cool in the summer.

“The best wine my Mum ever made that I really liked was a Cumberland Brandy, and that was wheat, and raisins or something.  Then she made elderflower – she never made elderberry, I don’t know why, perhaps she didn’t like them, and broom, with the flowers from the broom. I think you can do it with gorse as well, but it’s a job to pluck the flowers. They were great lovers of dandelion wine.

“I can remember as a kid my Mum used to say, “Oh, your Dad’s gone to get his bottle filled,” because my Gran lived  next door, and my Dad used to go and say goodnight to his Mum every night. But she’d have a jug of wine which she’d made, because she used to make it as well, and a glass, and I don’t mean a wine glass I mean a tumbler, full of wine as well. He’d empty the jug, and you really don’t know how strong that stuff is. He used to come back a bit wobbly.” (David Hizzey.)

 

If you fancy making a  homemade wine, here are recipes from Surrey in the 1930s.

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“For Broom wine -take 4 pints of broom flowers.” Broom blossoming on Chobham Common. (Photograph by Roy Smithers, courtesy of Mark Stroud.)

GRAPE WINE.

Collected from Chobham W.I. in 1932.

3 lbs. Grapes.

3 lbs. Sugar.

1 gallon Water.

Put the grapes in a large pan with the stalks on, and cover with a gallon of boiling water. Leave for ten days, then with a wooden spoon press them to the side of the pan to beak them, strain through a fine cloth, add the sugar, stir well, and leave for 24 hours, stir well again and put into bottles; each one must be filled to the top, as the froth works out fill up again. After about two weeks the corks could be put in but not very tight for a few days – CORKS, not screw stoppers. The grapes should be picked before cold nights come on or they will get mildew.

Or, if you can’t pick own grapes before the nights grow cold, you could try something else.

POTATO WINE.

Collected from Wrecclesham W. I. in 1932.

A half a gallon of small potatoes.

3 and a half lbs. Demerara sugar.

1 gallon water.

1 lemon.

1 orange.

(Use potatoes which would otherwise be thrown away.)

Well wash potatoes, boil until tender but not smash, strain into a pan containing sugar and fruit, when dissolved boil again 30 minutes, when cool add a little yeast and set to work, extra water may be added when boiling to allow for wasting. Bottles or jars must be kept filled up while working.

And if you would like a liqueur

ORANGE LIQUEUR.

Collected from Pirbright W. I. in 1932.

1 gallon Gin.

8 Seville Oranges – the rinds.

8 Lemons – pared very thin.

2 lbs. Loaf Sugar.

Steep the rinds of the oranges and lemons and the sugar in the gin for 6 days, stirring twice a day and then strain and bottle off.

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Pottery barrel and jar, from the Weald and Downland Museum artifacts collection. (With thanks to the Weald and Downland Museum.)

I have not tried these recipes myself, but if anyone uses one please let us know how it turns out!

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With many thanks to David Hizzey, Joan Weymouth, and Tony Lovejoy.

“The Surrey cookery book: recipes and remedies old and new: contributed by 50 Women’s Institutes.” Compiled by Miss Adeline Maclean: assisted by Miss Evelyn Thompson. Guildford 1932.

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Farming in Valley End

Alan Richardson and his family have farmed in Valley End for many years.

“I ran a farm with up to 300 acres, not all in Valley End of course, the land was all around the village. There were a lot of farms in Valley End and Chobham before the 1950s.

“The big farms were like Windlesham Park, which was 375 acres. It was farmed by Henderson, and at one time he had over 40 people working on that property. He was a great benefactor to the villages of Windlesham and Valley End.

“Some of the farms were very small. If you had 40 acres you had a biggish farm. If you had 4 acres or more it was called it a farm.

“People who had cottages and gardens or these small farms, turned their hand to anything to make extra money. Shrubbs Farm did carting in order to earn extra money, and Sturts the brickmakers used to run a taxi service as well. Nothing was specialised in quite the same way as today.

 

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Goats on the Common. (Photo courtesy David Hizzey.)

“You had to have something of everything in the farming line. You had to have poultry, you had to have a couple of sties of pigs, possibly less, just one sow sometimes, and she would have pigs each year, and they would be killed in the autumn. If you had a cow who had a calf each year, the family was kept in milk, and probably even sold some or gave it away maybe to other people. But I expect they made cheese and cream cheese with the milk, as well, but some was given away, or sold, just as a little extra.

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Feeding the chickens at Valley Wood Farm. (Image courtesy J. End.)

“The war prolonged farming in Chobham. Because everything was saleable, everything made quite a good price, and people could keep going on quite small acreages.

“During the war, everything was used, everything was ploughed up. The War Agricultural Committee would come round and tell you what they wanted you to grow, and you had to do it. Whether the ground was suitable or not didn’t always matter. They wanted more of, say, potatoes, cabbages, or brassica, and you had to comply and grow what they said.

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“To enjoy the fruits of victory, save now.” A farming scene on a National Savings Committee poster, Second World War. (Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum.)

“My father used to complain, when they came round, “Another bloody failed farmer coming round and telling me what to do, I know that field won’t grow what we’re being told to grow.”

“We used to take the corn down to Chobham Mill. They would crush it or grind it. Oats were a great favourite in those days. More oats were grown because it was considered the right thing for feeding cattle and horses.

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The Town Mill, Chobham. (Image courtesy of Chobham Village.)

“Mechanisation started around Chobham in the 1950s. Rolfe used to come round with a big Massey Harris tractor and threshing drum, and he used to come to us.

“The Greens used to have someone who came, and they lived in a caravan on wheels. A lot of people did. They travelled in caravans, but they weren’t gypsies. It was because they travelled quite long distances and they didn’t have cars in those days. They would bring the kids quite often.

“They came in autumn, and it was an exciting time of the year. You’d already reaped the harvest. You were taking the proceeds of what you’d planted in the spring. Everything happened in late autumn. That was the end of your farming year. Then you went into winter and everything sort of shut down. You’d look after the stock you hadn’t killed, and if you had cows obviously you’d still milk those.

Black and white photograph of apple pickers at Spratts Farm, Ottershaw, 1916 Chertesy Museum

Apple pickers at Spratt’s Farm, Ottershaw, 1916.  From left to right; Henry Spong, Benny, George Smith, Sonny Bolton, and Bill West. (Image courtesy Chertsey Museum.)

“The land use has changed totally. Look at the local shows before 1955. They would have mangels, swedes, turnips, and all sorts of produce, like sheaves of corn, to be judged. But after the 50s that all disappeared because there were no more farms producing it.

“In the end of course, even the nurseries went. Containerisation came in and open field nursery work stopped to a large extent. There are only a few little bits here and there. They are all sold up now.

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Hay wagon at Botleys Park, Ottershaw. (Image courtesy Chertsey Museum.)

“I was the last one with cattle in the village. When I sold up that was it. I sold up about 2010. I never went above a 100 head of cattle, but it was mostly it was round about 60 or 70 head. I used to drive cattle through Chobham along the Woking Road.

“There is no farming worth talking about in Chobham now. There is no one in Chobham who is relying on farming for their income.

“The horses came in when ordinary people could afford to have a horse. It started with the 60s. Prior to that if people had horses for pleasure it would only have been wealthier people.

“Chobham is growing horses and houses now.”

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With many thanks to Alan Richardson.

Memory or maps? Beating the bounds of Valley End.

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Beating of the Bounds in a town, 1900 – 1919. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

The tradition of beating the bounds, in which villagers walked the boundaries of their parish, was undertaken in Chobham during the 19th century. We do not know when the custom started.

There was a serious reason behind it. At a time when boundaries were vital for local administration walking the boundaries, or bounds, taught residents where they were. As an aid to memory lads were told to beat the boundary markers with sticks, which gave the tradition its name.

Valley End had been given its own parish boundaries. But as it remained part of the civil parish of Chobham, when Chobham beat the bounds it included Valley End.

In this area the beaters were called meersmen, and were led by a flag bearer. The boundary markers were Maltese crosses, cut into the ground or into trees.

It was a raucous occasion. Boys were dispatched to wade through ponds. Tony Lovejoy’s father described a lad having to go through a house by climbing in one window, and out at another.

He may have been remembering Ridge Mount, near Sunningdale, which was then in Valley End. This was the house that triggered a debate on memory versus maps, and changed the parish boundaries forever.

On the 22nd May 1900 Chobham was beating the bounds, and following their traditional route west of Sunningdale.

They were on what had been a scrubby, ignored patch of land. But recently a large house, Ridge Mount, had been built there. The annual rateable value, assessed by Chobham, was £200. This was a large amount in those days.

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Ridge Mount in 1912. The boundary line is shown going straight through Ridge Mount House, the Dormy House of Sunningdale Golf Club. O.S. 25″ map, sheet X.6 (With thanks to the Surrey History Centre.)

Which is why the meersmen were met by officials from Windlesham. Chobham had claimed the whole house as part of their parish. Windlesham said no. A sixth of the house was theirs.

Windlesham later took credit for trying to prevent a quarrel. If they had tried, they had failed.

Surrey County Council was finally obliged to call an Inquiry, held at the Sunningdale Hotel on 7th February 1902.

Chobham’s argument was that they had followed this route every 7 years since at least 1851. Chobhamers testified that they had taken this line since they were children, and that the bounds had been established for generations.

This argument over a sixth of a house mattered. Chobham protested that it would lose rates and voters along with this sliver of land.

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Ridge Mount is now the Dormy House Nursing Home on Ridge Mount Road, Sunningdale.

Harsh words were exchanged. There were protests that “It was not right for Chobham to mask in a Windlesham garment.”

It was a difficult decision for Surrey County Council. The maps that Windlesham so confidently displayed had not been intended to define a boundary. Chobham had never bothered with maps, as their route was “only supported by Chobham traditions, which were founded on custom, and the information of the inhabitants.”

At one time the unbroken tradition of Chobham could have been sufficient. But the dawn of the 20th century was a more bureaucratic age. Surrey decided in favour of Windlesham.

Chobham accepted the ruling, and with it the implication that the customs and traditions of the village were worthless. Chobham never beat the bounds again. The parish thought that there was no point.  

The tradition of Beating the Bounds continues in other areas. This film follows a group beating the bounds in Oxford.

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Sources.

Surrey History Centre. Item CC28/33

With thanks to Tony Lovejoy.

Marry in haste

“Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” (English proverb.)

In 1873 Richard Gude, of Valleywood Farm, died.[1] He left an estate worth £2,378, an amount that could be worth up to £3,479,000.00 today. Gude left one executrix, Harriet Hone, who had been his cook.

Harriet came from a farming family in West End. She was always a bit economical with the truth where her exact age was concerned, but at this point she was 39 years old, and a spinster.

Her marital status was important. A wife’s legal identity was submerged into her husband’s, so that on marriage the man was absolutely entitled to all his wife’s belongings.

Under the terms of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870, married women had some rights to their own earnings. Later the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 gave women control over property they inherited, or brought into the marriage. But this was 1873. There were ways in which a woman could protect herself financially, but Harriet doesn’t seem to have known them.

Harriet had been given an income and home for life. A friendly letter from John Gude Wenman encouraged her to “enjoy the fresh air of your healthful common, & prepare your House and Garden to receive your nice plants.”

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Harriet’s home, Valleywood Farm,in 1947.(Image from Britain from Above, image EAW011887)

All she had to do was to either stay single, or marry wisely.

She did neither. Harriet married Frank Cutler, an 18-year-old waiter from Chobham, on November 13th, 1873.

A notice proclaiming this was proudly put in the London Evening Standard. She must have assumed that she could keep control of her recent wealth and her new husband. Frank was probably accustomed to strong women. (At a time when most women were listed in the census as having no occupation his redoubtable mother, Susannah, had an awestruck note beside her entry in the 1861 census; “Farmer of 40 acres of land employing 2.”)

Frank signed a document allowing Harriet to act independently of him in business matters. Unfortunately we know of this because a year later on 24th November 1874 a letter was sent to Harriet rescinding this. “We beg to inform you that Mr. Frank Cutler has written to us withdrawing his authority for you to continue to act alone as Executrix of the late R Gude.”

By this time the marriage had collapsed, and the couple were living apart. Frank was ensconced at Valleywood, or “Chobham Common”, managing the farm his wife had inherited. She had fled to Southampton, and had taken shelter with friends, Mr and Mrs. Cushen.

Both Frank and Harriet employed solicitors, and bitter letters were flying to and fro. Harriet was desperately attempting to disentangle herself from matrimony, complaining “her life would be a perfect burden to her if she returned to her husband.” She claimed that Frank, still only 19, was idle, living without a proper occupation.

His solicitor replied that Frank had no desire to be separated from his wife, but if she insisted “It is therefore a question of what is a fair allowance for Mr. Cutler.” The problem was greater in that nothing could be done until Frank came of age. He was under 21.

The fact that they were living apart was frowned upon. Even the solicitors believed that they should resume married life; “in every sense of the word it is our duty to effect such an object.”

But Harriet wanted a divorce, which was shocking. Before the Divorce Act of 1857, this could only be granted by a private Act of Parliament. After 1857 it was permitted, but only on grounds of adultery, and the woman had to have added proof of cruelty too. Her solicitors were horrified; it was “better to avoid the scandal of a divorce.”

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A ballad about the Divorce Bill of 1857. (From Broadside ballads online from the Bodleian Library.)

Finally, in August 1876, a Deed of Separation was drawn up between the two. Frank had moved out of Valleywood. He got £1000, a vast amount then, and he agreed to pay any of Gude’s outstanding debts. Harriet got £485 under the Deed, and kept her leasehold and freehold property. Frank agreed that his wife could live apart, and that he would not visit her without her consent.

Frank went back to his old trade, and became tavern keeper at the Horn Tavern in the City of London. His purchase left him short of money, sadly a sign of things to come. (His solicitor’s bill had been £535.) By September 1877 he was instituting a bankruptcy case, and was summoned to a meeting of his creditors. Finally he went back to working in hotels.

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The Horn Tavern, Knightrider Street, City of London, where Frank was a tavern keeper. It is now the Centre Page. (Image courtesy of Centre Page public house, Knightrider Street.)

Harriet would not have known this. She died in Southampton in January 1877, and was brought back to be buried at West End, where she had been born. Her estate on her death was a fraction of her inheritance from Richard Gude; the wealth had trickled away through her fingers.

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Sources.

Surrey History Centre. 6200/(272) parts 3 and 4 of 17.

Allen Horstman, “Victorian divorce.” Croon and Helm, 1985.

Oxford Companion to the law. Oxford, 1980.

[1] The son of the Richard Gude who had protested about the enclosure of Chobham Place Woods.