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


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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?”


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.


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.


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.”*





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.

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.



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.


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.


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.



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.



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.


The Northern point.

The parish boundary of Valley End used to reach as far north as the junction of Broomhall Lane Sunningdale and the London Road, the A30.


Noakes Corner, London Road. (The corner of Broomhall Lane and the London Road, looking towards the station.) Photograph by William End. (Photo courtesy of J. End.)

The London Road used to be the Great West Road, one of the major routes from London.

By the 18th century it had become a Turnpike Road, with tolls at Egham and Bagshot. The road surface was improved, and milestones added along the route. We have one at Sunningdale, facing Waitrose, announcing that it is 23 miles from Hyde Park Corner.


The milestone at Sunningdale.


The milestone at Sunningdale, at the junction of Ridgemount Road and the London Road.

Before the advent of the motorcar, the road was quiet, with only horse drawn traffic.


The Post Office on the London Road. Photograph by William End. (Photo courtesy of J. End)

It began to be developed. A parade of shops was built on the corner of the London Road and Chobham Road.


Parade of shops on the London Road. (Photo courtesy of J. End.)

30 years later traffic had increased, although it seems peaceful compared to 2017.


Sunningdale, 1960. (Photo courtesy of J. End.)

The scatter of houses to the west of Chobham Road, just before it joins the A30, was known as the North End.

Frederick Charles Hodder was born in Sunningdale in 1871, and remembered his childhood roaming in the area. When he described Chobham Road and the Common, he was remembering what was then Valley End.

He wrote about mixed memories of industry, the military, and gypsies, set against the background of the common.


Chobham Common, Spring 2006. (Image Wikimedia Commons.)

“Passing up the Chobham Road we came to Dagwell House, occupied by Mr. Joseph Norris, and his builder’s yard and workshops adjoining, then three or four cottages and the brickfields, with a brick kiln and a few more cottages connected with the brick works, and then the open common, with Titlark’s Farm cut out of it.

“One could go for miles over the heath without meeting a soul, unless the common had troops encamped upon it or carrying out manoeuvres, as frequently happened in the summer months.

“What a glorious place it was for a picnic, what a refuge for birds, rabbits and hares! And what a place for gipsy encampments!”


Chobham Common, Spring 2006. (Image Wikimedia Commons.)

The common remains a refuge for wildlife, and an open space to be explored; but  the London Road  has changed out of all recognition.



“A short history of Sunningdale with some notes on Wentworth.” F. C. Hodder. Foreword by R. S. Brewer. London, Saint Catherine Press, 1937.