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As well as the windmill that stood on Rockshaw Road, which was demolished when the second railway line was built, there was another mill just below the Road, in a field accessible from Old Mill Lane at Station Road. The field was called ‘Fair Field’ (it had been for many years the site of the Merstham Fair) and there was a house and some workshops there. These all gave way to the development of houses at the corner of Rockshaw Road and which are appropriately named ‘Fairfield Cottages’. In 1937 a John Lane was living in the Old Mill House and that was demolished before WW2, which would tie in with Fairfield Cottages being started in 1938.
On the northern side of the road, the first mill had given way to a house and
garden occupied by Col and Mrs Neighbour. There were few houses on this side,
and no more until one got to ‘Innesfree’ (the senior Spaldings).
This house was destroyed by a doodlebug, killing all inside. It is now known
as The New House. The areas between and behind the houses were farmland and
in the distance the chalk quarry stood out proudly, beautifully white. During
the war it was a landmark for the German pilots trying to bomb the railway.
After Innesfree there was a field, then a small sort of nursery place with an
outbuilding and Miss Pocock’s house (Brambles, or the like?) [Roemarten]
and, after more farmland, a small rough lane, now overgrown, leading to Mr Peter’s
farm. The lane led to stables and to Quarry Cottages – two of the village
school-teachers, Mrs Spray and Miss Howard, lived here. The Peters also established
the Greystone Lime Works. Sadly the only things left of the farm and stables
now seem to be a few poor fruit trees. There is no sign now of the buildings
having been here.
After the lane there was a further field and then the Pilgrim’s Way footpath. Next to the footpath were two old cottages, one of which was occupied by the Morleys.
After the two cottages was a small field (subsequently to become part of the de Rose’s garden), and then a small lane (still called Rockshaw Road). There were only five cottages – The Firs (de Rose), Ockley (Cox), Upland (Waters), Fairmead (Blowes – my family) and Lynwood (Spalding). There were no houses on the opposite side and the meadow (with Straddling farm animals) was only a very short distance from our front gate. The houses on the opposite side were built post-war.
I believe someone wrote in a book that there were no woods in the area. That is quite wrong. There was a lovely wood very close to our houses (a little piece of it still remains) and we children (6 or 7 of us before the war) would play there, build small camps, pick bluebells, primroses, red campions, wild white anemones, etc., without coming to any harm. There was a small family of gypsies at the far end of the wood and sometimes they would come to the houses asking for water or ‘got any stale bread missus?’, and sometimes to sell their wares – clothes-pages, firelighting sticks, mops. Our parents always obliged and sometimes handed over a few treats as well. [Another reminiscence tells of the family, whose name was Smith - their infant son had lost an arm. They lived in Bletchingley, at the junction of Rabies Heath Road. Local gypsies were housed here by the Council, but only the Smith family came to Rockshaw Road and they would ask for clothes, metal, or whatever else had been left behind by the many builders engaged in modernising and improving the houses.] There was another gypsy, an old man who lived on his own. We called him ‘Old Swearard’ (for obvious reasons!) but we kids all loved him and he would sit us around his fire and tell wonderful stories. Beyond the wood there were hilly meadows, and we had great times in winter sliding, tobogganing and snow-balling. Alas, when the M23 was built most of the wood disappeared.
I remember the Bensons at The Red House (he became a Lord); but when I was a little girl Admiral (later ‘Sir’) David and (Lady) Lambert lived there, and if we were both walking down the road at the same time (he to the station and me to school) I was allowed to walk with him across the station meadows! After Sir David’s death Lady Lambert moved to Quality Street and I used to visit her when I was on holiday.
When war was declared Mr Bowring, from The Georgian House, offered all the local children the chance to go to his brother in Newfoundland, who would find homes for them ‘for the duration’. None of us said we would go and just as well as we would have been on the evacuee ship that the Germans sank not far off Liverpool.
Monica de Rose [of the Firs] told me how her mother was walking down the road one day, going to work (she was a nurse). It was raining and she had her umbrella up, when suddenly a monkey jumped from a tree and landed on the umbrella! Mrs de Rose didn’t know where it had come from or where it went to, and enquiries revealed nothing. Monica couldn’t remember how far along the road her mother was. Monica was my first real friend – I was about 2½ and she 3½ and we’re still good friends now.
Rockshaw House was a huge mansion at the top of the road, but on the other side, with a ‘Lodge’ and iron gates as one went in. I didn’t see all of it but I went to a function once in the main hall. It was a vast, beautiful room with a minstrels’ gallery. The house had a sad happening during WW2 when it was taken over by the armed forces. One night one of the young soldiers committed suicide by throwing himself from the gallery. Strange to tell, not long afterwards when one went down the road towards Warwick Wold, whatever time of year and whatever the weather, a cold breeze wafted across the road. With the old house having been demolished, the breeze is no longer there – I have investigated!
The Crystal Palace, built originally in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition in 1851, was moved in 1852 to the South London area that took its name. In 1936 the Palace sadly burnt down, leaving just the two towers standing. On the night of the burning word went round that there was a glow above the Downs and at its height, from Rockshaw Road some of the flames could be seen shooting up.
Before the war very few cars were to be seen and those there were came from the ‘big’ houses. The rest of us had two feet or bicycles on which to make the journey to the village and back. Fruit and vegetables were brought round in a van, occasionally meat or fish. The was the Walls ice-cream “Stop me and Buy one”, and occasionally the ‘Rag-and-bone’ man with his horse-cart. On one occasion my mother was struggling home with two or three heavy shopping bags and ‘rag-and-bone’ man stopped and said “come on, ducks, I’ll take you home in style!” Mortified, but very grateful, she accepted. When I heard about it I said “Oh, Mummy, how could you – what will my friends say?”
After what had been called ‘The Crisis’ in 1938 war with Germany
was eventually declared at 11.00 a.m. on 3rd September.
In our lane everyone gathered to discuss the ‘awful situation’, wondering what would happen and whether our husbands or fathers would be called up. Some preparations had already been made, because the first thing that happened was sirens being tested. The noise gave us all a heck of a shock.
The ‘phoney war’ went on for some time, during which all householders were told about essential blackout curtains and blinds, that there would be rationing, that there would be shelters – first, garden ones called Anderson shelters (after Sir John Anderson, who lived in Rockshaw Road) [Pickett Wood] and then Morrison shelters issued later in the war.
A call went out for householders to have evacuees from London. My parents took in a brother and sister, but they hated being in the country and didn’t stay long. Later, an Italian lady, Elena, was billeted with us, having been employed at a factory somewhere – but she was more interested in her French Canadian boyfriend! She stayed for about 18 months.
An air-raid wardens’ post-cum-first-aid unit had to be organised and Mr Toms [Whitmore] allowed this to be done in his garage. It was reinforced and then had large sandbags placed all over and around it; inside was a mass of radio and technical equipment as well as a full range of medical supplies from bandages to stretchers, and buckets full of sand, inside and out. I don’t remember who the wardens were – certainly among their number were Mr Toms and Ernie Blowes, and possibly Mr Houlder and Mr Port.
Nothing could have prepared us for the noise of the air-raids – the particular drone of the German planes, the screaming of the falling bombs followed by the explosions. Compared to London we got very few, but we got enough. During the Battle of Britain daylight raids the kids in our lane would stand by the front door watching the dog-fights, cheering loudly if we saw a ‘Jerry’ brought down.
The worst night-time raid for us was the night they ‘fired’ London, during May 1941. This was before the Morrison shelters were delivered and we spent most of the night under our dining-room table of in the cellar, if we had one. During a slight lull some of us had a quick peek outside and, for the second time in modern history, looking up to the Downs we could occasionally see the actual flames as an enormous bomb exploded. It was almost daylight before the ‘all-clear’ went.
Another of our noisy nights was when a huge ‘mobile’ anti-aircraft gun was parked at the top of our lane and was firing rapidly.
We always knew when there was going to be a daylight raid, because all the fighters would go up from Kenley, Biggin Hill and one or two other smaller air stations.
Morrison (or ‘under-table’) shelters were made available in about 1942. They were made of solid steel tops and framework with wide steel mesh fixed to both ends; the sides were similar but removable. All were held in place by metal hooks. They were delivered (luckily for us) before the Flying Bombs, or Doodlebugs, began to arrive. When we heard the first few everyone thought it was a plane crashing, but that occurred rather too often and we realised that they were something rather more dangerous. Then during the days people, especially the children began to watch out for them. If they were heading in your direction or you saw one dropping you immediately dashed indoors into the ‘Morrison’.
There was one big disaster in the Road when one of those ghastly things came straight down into Innesfree, killing everybody, all senior members of the Spalding family, inside. Apart from any neighbours around who rushed to help one of the first to arrive was a very young St John Ambulance cadet (he must have been about 15 at the time) by the name of Keith Gaffney. He had been working in Church Hill, and had seen a previous flying bomb go over and crash near Kingswood, then he saw this one fall. He realised it was somewhere in Rockshaw Road and knew he had to go and help. When he got to Innesfree he knew that there could be nobody left alive inside so he started to help clear the rubble and dig out the dead. They got four people out, but there was a fifth body that was completely pinned between two walls. When he had done all he could, he went across the road to Rondels to look for my father Ernie whom he knew worked there. Ernie had been working on the car on the garage forecourt when the bomb fell and the blast picked him up bodily, throwing him through the garage, out through a small door, along a garden path and dropping him on the (grass) tennis court. That was where Keith found him, shocked and with some minor cuts and bruises. What an amazing escape, and what courage for a young teenage lad!
On one occasion a German pilot, who had baled out from his aircraft, had the misfortune to land on the narrow strip of land between the two railway tunnels. With nowhere to run to, he was soon captured!
We were woken in the early hours by the thunderous roar of hundreds of planes
overhead, all painted underneath with black and white stripes for camouflage.
On and on they flew over. We hadn’t yet heard any news but it was clear
that something big was up. Then word got out – ‘Invasion of occupied
France along several fronts’, at which there were loud cheers.
As daylight arrived the next noise that brought everyone out of doors was the sound of marching feet. a number of divisions – Royal Engineers, Royal Signals, and Canadian troops – were marching along the Road. The pavement and the opposite side of the road became filled with all the householders and children cheering and calling out – “Good luck!”, “God bless!”, “God speed!”, “We’ll miss you!” and, of course, there were many thoughts and prayers for those who would be killed or injured in battle. A number of households had opened their doors to the troops so that they could relax, write letters or just socialise. The Canadian troops at The Mere were very friendly and sometimes very generous, sharing their food parcels from home, especially the sweets with the children. Two of the soldiers even took my friend and me to Purley Ice Rink and taught us how to skate!
Air raids and flying bombs continued and the Wardens’ Post was still a hive of activity. There were lighter moments: one was when my father saw something white in the distance, and on investigating found an unexploded parachute flare with a slightly scorched parachute still attached to it. First, the flare was made safe; and then the parachute was removed. A few ladies along the road benefited from new silk underwear!
The Germans had another lethal weapon to let loose on us – the V2, which was a rocket missile. Mercifully none fell in the Road but I had a miraculous escape at Hayes, in Kent, one day when I had gone to visit my aunt and uncle. I was walking on the common when a rocket exploded only a few hundred yards away. I was knocked off my feet, and the next thing I was aware off was trying to extricate myself from a large gorse bush! Luckily I was unhurt except for several embedded gorse needles.
Yippee! the end of the war in Europe. Rockshaw Road had no street parties,
but everyone smiled and said “what wonderful news”; and we simply
got on with our lives.
Keith Gaffney, mentioned above, was not a resident of the Road but had other connections with it. At one time he used to visit all the ‘big’ houses and, alone, sang Christmas Carols at the door. He was invariably invited in for a mince-pie and a drink, and occasionally invited to a party.
At one of the houses – possibly Piemede [more likely to be Withyshaw] – there was a small private theatre with an outside awning, plush velvet seats, curtains and lighting. One of the elderly residents of the house [possibly Annie Passmore] had, in her youth, been a ‘Gaiety Girl’. Keith, who was a member of several Drama Groups, not only performed there but also wrote one or two plays and musical entertainments.
In the same year, 1945, a new Youth Club opened at Broadmead, in Station Road. It was officially opened by the Mayor the following year. Mr Toms, Mr Houlder and my father were all on the governing committee together with the resident warden Bill (Skip) Williamson. I was a great success.
One annual event was the migration of baby frogs from the mere and stream below the Road. They made their way up to the road in their thousands, and it was impossible to walk anywhere without treading on some of them.
A very sad incident took place in the late 1940s or early 1950s, when a lady was murdered on the Station Meadows footpath [between Clavadel and Oakwood]. It is believed that the victim was one of the maids from Oakwood. I was cycling home, to Fairmead, late at night having come off the last train from London; I was stopped by a policeman, who asked where I was going. He then told me there had been an ‘incident’ and he would walk home with me the rest of the way.
After the war the Road changed. More houses were built on the northern side and what had always been farmland became overgrown. The M23 took part of Ockley Wood and also some of the Quarry area. The brilliant whiteness of the quarry, which at times had been a marker for enemy aircraft during the war, is now completely covered by overgrowing trees, shrubs, grass and weeds. The M23 and M25 too some of the houses, too, at the top of the Road.
Other houses changed hands; some have been divided or turned into flats. Innesfree has been rebuilt and is now aptly named The New House. After Mr Savory died, Rondels was sold for about £10,000.
I have recollections of being taken for a walk one winter's afternoon and going
into a cottage for a cup of tea; it was entirely lit by gas. My father once
took me on the footplate of the narrow gauge railway that ran through Merstham
tunnel under Rockshaw Road next to the main line that serviced the chalk quarries.
Another is hordes of people skating on Albury Edge's lake; this would have been
just post WW II, when the lake had been re-established (it had been drained
during the war so that it would not be a navigation mark for aircraft). One
house, white-coloured plastered exterior walls on the north side of the road
further towards the A23, was partly demolished by a V1 Buzz Bomb.
My father was employed as under-gardener by the wealthy Sellon family at Albury
Edge, where he met my mother Gertrude Collinson who was employed in domestic
service as a parlourmaid.
They fell in love and when Mr Slogrove, the Head Gardener, died my father was offered the post and the Lodge. He married my mother and on their wedding night they walked down Rockshaw Road from Chaldon (where he lived) to their new home at Albury Edge Lodge.
The Lodge is an attractive building, half-timbered in the same style as Albury Edge, but it certainly lacked the amenities of the larger house. There was no hot water or heating; just a cold tap and a rather ugly plain mustard-coloured sink. There was no bathroom, just a tin bath and the water was heated in a copper. There were two large wooden troughs adjacent to the sink. Mrs Slogrove used to do the Sellon’s laundry – there was also a mangle in the scullery and the lawn next to the cottage was always referred to by my father as the ‘laundry ground’. It must have been a very arduous and unpleasant job. When the Sellons asked my mother to take the task on my father flatly refused to let her do it and that was the end of the matter.
There were four gardeners employed: my father as head gardener; the under-gardener, a Mr Ernest Payne; a chauffeur-gardener, originally my mother’s brother Mr Collinson; and later, a Mr Jack Morley whom we all liked very much. There was also a gardener’s boy, Sydney.
There were four servants in the house: a cook, two maids and a Nanny who stayed on after the children grew up.
This Nanny had a somewhat exalted opinion of herself and used to call my Dad Port, much to his annoyance.
On one occasion he placed what was then known as a ‘whoopee cushion’ under the cushion on her chair. When she sat down there was a vulgar noise of breaking wind, much to the amusement of the rest of the domestic staff and the discomfort of this rather pompous Nanny!
These maids also used to play a prank on the chauffeur. When he called round at the front door to take Mrs Sellon out in her Austin Tourer they would sprinkle powder on him from the upstairs window – before Mrs Sellon appeared, of course.
The Sellons always had Austin cars and Mrs Sellon must have been a very tough old lady. In the early 1930s she owned an Austin 12 Tourer – there was no heater and was very cold in the winter. The chauffeur used to wrap a very heavy rug around her before they set off.
Eventually this Tourer was sold to a vehicle body repair firm, Ryders, which is still in Merstham.
This car was followed by an Austin 16 saloon. It was very comfortable and occasionally Mrs Sellon would stop and pick us up on the way home from school. She used to say, in her beautiful well-spoken accent, “How lucky you are to have a ride in my car!”
She was a kind person and we working-class children were invited to her Easter Egg Hunts in the garden along with the children of the well-to-do in the area.
At Christmas she came round with her sons and daughter, Mr Robert, Mr David, and Miss Rachel, with very grand Christmas presents for us all.
My father had quite a responsible job. Albury Edge had a very large garden with a rose garden, croquet court, tennis court, a large vegetable garden with a fruit enclosure, poultry, geese and ducks. There were swans on the lake, a very large orchard and cultivated hazel trees. The lake had a dam at its west end and this had to be maintained. There were clusters of bamboo canes by the water’s edge and masses of rhododendrons. It was a beautiful place, especially in the springtime. He was also responsible for the central heating; that was, keeping the large coke-fired boiler going and also supervising the large greenhouses that were heated by a similar boiler.
These greenhouses were very pleasant places to be in during the cold weather and the other gardeners from the local houses would visit my Dad there for a chat in bad weather; Mrs Sellon suffered from severe arthritis and couldn’t get down to the bottom of the garden. It was a very pleasant club-like atmosphere there.
At the end of the road, in Piemede, lived a gentleman, Mr Bowley. He owned a large red Grosser Mercedes supercharged sports car, the same type as Hitler used to go around in. He completely disregarded the 30mph speed limit and by the time he was passing our cottage he was probably travelling at about 60mph with the supercharger emitting a banshee-like scream. Most impressive!
Tanglewood was owned by the Moy family. Mrs Moy was a beautiful brunette and was driven in style in her yellow-black Silver Eagle Alvis by her chauffeur Mr Arthur Clapp.
The Red House was owned by the Edinger family during the early part of the last century. My two aunts Ethel and Elizabeth Port were in domestic service there, and their rooms were on the third floor with small windows. My aunts always said how cold they were there. A bell was installed in their rooms, which was rung at an early hour by Mr Edinger to ensure that hot water was brought to his room for washing and shaving. My aunts loathed that bell!
Some famous people lived in Rockshaw Road: Sir J Anderson and Christine Keeler, a rather naughty girl; Sir Harold Webbe lived at Ash Pollard, one of the houses demolished for the construction of the M23.
In the two old cottages opposite Noddys Hall there lived two families, the Morleys and the Standens. Mr Morley didn’t come over as a very nice bloke and my Dad didn’t have much time for him. The Standens were very nice people and liked by everybody.
My mother was Bertha Ethel Morley, who was one of 12 children of Arthur and
Rose, and who lived at 65 Noddyshall, Rockshaw Road. They were brought up Chapel
as St Katharine's Church was deemed for the rich and upper classes by my mother’s
father and not for the common folk.
My mother married Frederick William Holden whose family lived at 14 Ashcombe Road. After they married they moved to 64 Noddyshall where my brother Robert William was born. He was christened at St Katharine's church against my mother's father’s wishes but because my father was Church of England.
The house had no running water or reasonable sanitation but the condition of the house was the same as the house my mother had been brought up in next door so expectations were not excessive. My mother was in service to the Colman family (I think) in Gatton Park from the age of 12 and had the normal hard life of that time
The council deemed 64 Noddyshall not fit for habitation in 1937 and as they had built some council houses at Wood Street in South Merstham the family transferred there. My sister and I were born there. By then my father was working on the railway as a lengthman, a job arranged by his father who was a relief station master living at 14 Ashcombe road. The houses were all railway owned.
When my grandfather died my father’s sister Nellie and his mother Mildred plus Nellie's son Anthony continued to live at 14 Ashcombe Road.
My mother eventually took a job at Lowood in Rockshaw road as housekeeper with the Johnston family, who had at that time a gardener, a cook, plus my mother as housekeeper, and a ladies’ companion who kept Mrs Johnston's diary and helped with the children. My sister spent a great part of her early life at Lowood as Mrs Johnston only had boys.
We as a family have a great affection for Lowood (my house in New Zealand is also called Lowood) and Rockshaw Road during the late 40s and 50s as we all stayed at the house during the six-week summer break as the Johnstons (being of Scottish origin) went to their Highland holiday home and my mother looked after the house. My sister was married at St Katharine's and had her reception at Lowood paid for by the Johnstons. My brother and I used to walk the large dogs that most of the houses in Rockshaw Road owned for much needed pocket money.
The coming of the LCC council estate and the M23/M25 changed Merstham beyond my mother’s understanding and in 1972 she emigrated to New Zealand to be with myself and my sister and brother
My mother died in 2002 at the age of 90, but before she did we arranged for a professional biographer to take down her life story, which we have got in book form in New Zealand.
The experiences she had in service evoke a different time that has now gone but never the less still remain interesting to her children and grandchildren who read her story in disbelief at the conditions that nearly all working people and especially rural folk had to endure.
Diana Spence (nee Savory, who was born at Rondels and lived there until some years after the war) kept a diary intermittently and recorded that the first doodlebugs were spotted on 16th June 1944. One fell on her father Guy's flour mill at Thornton Heath the following day. Later that year, on 3rd August, one narrowly missed Rondels but hit Innesfree across the road. Diana also remembers skating on the Mere during the winter around that time.