Fengates Road Inclusive Entertainment and Neighbourly Development

Chapter Six - 1918 to 1945

It was during the Great War that Leslie Martin (the son of George, number 1), whilst posted as a cadet to Portsmouth, met his future bride, Milly, who still lives in Redhill and attended our street party at the age of 101.

“I first came to Fengates Road as a bride of 20. My father-in-law was a very successful builder. His home had the most amazing parquet floors, but it became too much for me to keep up and it was in a very poor state when I sold the house. George built the little cottages on Linkfield Street. Altogether he had about 30 houses including some by the police station. We lived at number 24 Linkfield Street, and across the road from us at number 43 lived Vincent Hooper (son and partner of T.R. Hooper).”

Vincent, now a qualified architect himself, continued to work with George and his sons, designing and building houses in the area.

Mrs Burr

Mrs Burr in her front garden, cared for by Norman Stevens.

From this point on there is a shift in the pattern of residents in the road. We begin to see a higher number of widowed or single ladies here, doubtless due to the impact of the war years. Some of these, like Miss Bougler and Miss Watt of number 62 were schoolteachers, working in Elm Road. It was not until the 1950s that women were able to teach if they were married. Many couples had a parent living with them, and families seemed to stay together on the road if they could. Mrs Moore lived at number 11 whilst her married daughter lived at number 10 in the 1930s. In fact many families had long connections with the road. The Kents (number 18) came to the road in 1895 and raised their children here. Both a son and daughter remained on the road all their lives. John married Daisy, the housekeeper of George Martin, whilst his sister married Mr Burr and moved next door to number 16. Bertha Frost, of number 22, was Daisy Kent’s sister and lived to be 100.

In 1921 Winifred and Dorothy Ryall were living at number 54 with their parents and later that decade moved to number 64. Many people have shared with us their fond memories of these ladies who made such a valuable contribution to the life of the community during their many years on the road. This 1971 profile from the Surrey Mirror allows Winifred to tell some of the story in her own words.

PROFILE

IAN GLOVER-JAMES

AS A YOUNG Sunday school teacher Winifred Ryall had wanted to become a “day school teacher.” But it didn’t work out. “My mother was taken ill so I had to stay at home to care for her.” Miss Ryall stays at home herself nowadays, but quite recently made one very special trip out. It was to the 50th anniversary of the Brownie pack she started in Redhill in 1921.

Winifred Ryall

She is an elderly and rather shy lady who relaxes and warms visibly on further acquaintance. There is more than a trace of the formal hospitality of a past era in her household. The front room is exquisitely furnished with small chairs and a chaise longue upholstered in matching patterned material. The wooden table top gleams, the clock ticks loudly as the failing light outside darkens the room and one gets the impression that the electric fire has been put on especially for the visitor’s benefit.

MEMORIES

She sat in a neat blue tunic dress, her silver hair plaited and her large, clear eyes turning momentarily to the three large scrapbooks she had positioned on the table beside her. Every now and then she would leaf through the pages weighted with cuttings and photographs of her 44 years in the movement and refresh her memory.

“I started the Brownies in 1921. The 3rd Redhill St. Matthews pack. They are the oldest in the district. Canon Daniel’s daughter had started the Girl Guides in 1919. I was very interested in the Guides and would go along and help her.” The Guide captain at that time was a Miss Isabel Fowler one of the many pioneers of the local Guide and Brownie movement who turned up to pay tribute to Miss Ryall at her pack’s 50th anniversary.

‘BROWN OWL’

She led the 3rd Redhill pack until her retirement in 1965. Didn’t that mean she was a ‘Brown Owl’? “Brown Owl. Yes that’s right, although they call it a ‘Brownie Guider’ nowadays. That change came with the new uniforms. But everyone just went on calling me ‘Brown Owl’ just the same.”

Miss Ryall gives the impression that she was glad they did.

The Brownies met every week in the St. Matthew’s church hall and Miss Ryall did everything with them apart from going to camp. Even her sister helped.

“My sister Dorothy made all the uniforms, right from the beginning. And she went on making them right up to when we retired in 1965. During the war we had trouble getting the material. We had to make them out of old Government bags and out of drill. There was rationing then of course, and the girls payed for their own uniforms themselves. The war years were the most rewarding years of Miss Ryall’s leadership. She worked with the Guides and Brownies, involving them in the war effort at home. In 1956 she started the St John’s Brownie pack. “There were just too many wanting to join so I was asked to start another pack there. St. John’s itself is now divided into two packs.”

She also formed the 7th Redhill pack from the Congregational church – they lent her their hall free of charge to hold her own Brownies meetings when St. Matthew’s hall was being rebuilt – a debt she is grateful for to this day. In 1959 Miss Ryall also founded the Salvation Army Brownie pack.

REWARD

One of the rewards of serving so long in the Brownie movement is to see the girls that were once her own Brownies leading their own packs. The St. John’s and 7th Redhill packs are now both helped in this way.

“It’s the greatest youth movement in the world – Baden-Powell knew what he was doing.” Miss Ryall’s brow creased with the earnestness of her declaration. “The Guide and Brownie movement makes friends for you all over the world.”

She told of the foreign girls she had known and been befriended on returning to their home countries by the movement. And of the local girls who had emigrated and been helped in a similar way by her letters to Guide headquarters.

Friendship is something that Miss Ryall herself has found in the movement, and none more so than the time when Lady Baden-Powell once approached her with a spontaneous greeting in a crowd.

“I was with my sister outside Hampton Court church. I’d seen Lady Baden-Powell before, of course, at Guide rallies, but I didn’t think she knew me. It was a wonderful gesture, she invited us back to her house and we talked about the movement for hours.”

CHALLENGE

“The Brownie movement gives young girls a challenge, a purpose in life. That’s one of the things about the movement that I think they have changed for the worse. Badge work is getting easier. They’ve done away with the first-class badge. I don’t think it’s the same anymore the challenge isn’t there. At one time you couldn’t get the proficiency badges until you got a second and a first class, but you can get the proficiency badges easily.”

Miss Ryall has seen many changes in her 46 years with the movement, but Brownies and guides are still as popular as ever with girls, she claims. Many of the local packs have waiting lists.

In 1957 she attended the Baden-Powell centenary service in Westminster Abbey, a big step from the early years when she was a young Sunday school teacher with nothing but the Baden-Powell handbook and a lot of enthusiasm.

In 1962 she was awarded the ‘Oakleaf Award’ by the county guide commissioner, a high honour bestowed on her for her long years of leadership in the movement.

REUNION

At the 50th anniversary of the 3rd Redhill pack Miss Ryall met many faces that she hadn’t seen since they were young girls in her pack. Middle-aged housewives now, some of them had not only daughters, but also granddaughters in Brownie packs. “They came from Bournemouth, Manchester, Norfolk and Rutland, it was rather wonderful that they could come. I hadn’t seen some of them since their Brownie days.”

She looked into the pages of her Brownie scrapbook, hand-written notes of their activities over the years. She remembered how they collected for the ‘Save the Children Fund’ every Christmas. “I would say to them ‘Brownies, think of all the poor children in India who won’t be enjoying Christmas this year.’”

“It’s a service that they learn. Doing something for others and not wanting a reward.”

It sums up Miss Ryall's own life neatly.

This article was sent to us by Mrs Molly Salvage whose own memories are added below.

“The sisters lived at 64 Fengates Road and Miss Dorothy was behind Brown Owl all the time. Apart from making the uniforms she made birthday cards, illustrated with fairies, flowers etc. for Brownies and Sunday School children and Christmas cards. In fact we exchanged Christmas cards and kept in touch until their deaths (Winifred died 29/3/76 and Dorothy 29/12/75) – birthday cards coming for my children too. Miss Dorothy was the cook of the pair and I believe she worked at the local hospital doing mending and repairs to linen etc.

I still use a needle-case she made from Brownies’ uniform material with a gnome embroidered on the front, which is well over 50 years old now. It was in a similar purse with thimble and threads given when I ‘flew up’ to Guides.

As a staunch member of St. Matthews’ Church, Brown Owl, in charge of the Sunday School organised the annual outing to Brighton by train for us all (with some mothers too) each year during the holidays. Brown Owl also began a Cub pack for the neglected brothers! And led a team collecting for salvage on a handcart during the war.

Both ladies were of a ‘gentle generation’ and although childless themselves did so much for children always.

I think Miss Thorpe, Miss Burr and the Misses Smallfield also lived in Fengates Road, all St. Matthews’ schoolteachers.”

In 1921 Professor Combridge moved into number 58 with his widowed mother. He was a lecturer in mathematics and bought the house directly from T.R. Hooper. Mr Combridge later married and raised his family there.

Prof. Combridge

Prof. Combridge with his mother holding baby Rosemary.

The following extracts are written by his daughter Rosemary and are illustrated by pictures from their family albums.

“My brother sister and I were all born at 58 Fengates Road, called ‘Lulworth’, beginning with me in 1928. Literally born there, with a midwife, no hospital. It was in the days of coal fires, gas lighting, copper and mangle for the white wash, starched table linen, flat-irons that had to be heated on the stove and rubbed down with beeswax, and pegs bought from the gypsies.

The kitchen boiler heated the kitchen and hot water very efficiently. An annual trauma was spring cleaning, centred on the sweep’s visit.

Food was much more seasonal then: new potatos were an annual treat, salad was only available in the summer, apples were stored in the cellar from September to Christmas, in the soft-fruit season jams were made, and plums were bottled for winter pies: even eggs were more plentiful in Spring and were ‘put down’ in isinglass (for baking only). There being no refrigerator, food was kept fresh in a ‘meat-safe’ – a wooden or metal wall cupboard with perforated zinc door and sides, located in the cellar: another section of the cellar housed the coal and coke. In the course of the thirties my father had electric light installed, my mother started sending household linen to the laundry, and we eventually acquired a vacuum cleaner.

Rosemary and Anthony

Rosemary and her brother Anthony

The house being solidly built and our furniture mostly oak, we children could be fairly active, and both parents were full of ideas for things to make. Father had a good collection of tools and Mother was a gifted needlewoman: There were always odds and ends of dress material, cardboard, string and bits of wood to be found: buying crash for kettle holders (the earliest home-made presents from girls learning to sew, who would have at least to darn their own stockings in later life) must have been relatively cheaper than today.

Anthony

Anthony was very proud of his horse and cart.

It is amazing how much we managed to play on the fairly small lawn without doing too much damage to Father’s flowers: ball games, pig-in-the-middle, French cricket and grandmother’s footsteps were all favourites. During a craze for hopscotch we played it on the pavement outside.

And then, of course, there was always the common. We had our own names for different parts of it. There were very stout swings just the other side of Whitepost Hill to the left of the fountain, and a few trees, which were easy to climb. Three flat areas were worn down to sand through regular use by a boys’ preparatory school in Elm Road, and here cricket and even a crude form of tennis could be indulged in. There was a pond halfway up with frogs in it, and tadpoles in the spring: our parents taught us the names of the wild flowers, and we learnt which we could pick and what their stalks felt like.

When we moved to London in 1943, it was the Common I missed the most. As we got older and books played a larger role in our lives, we got to know the second-hand bookshop in a yard in Station Road and the Ancient House bookshop in Reigate, and the shelves, which had stored our toys, began gradually to hold books.

Every year on November 11th my mother used to take us to the War memorial at Shaw’s Corner for the Armistice Day act of remembrance and the two minutes’ silence at 11 o’clock, during which factories halted production and all the traffic stopped. When I started school we had a similar service in the hall with the whole school specially assembled. In the late thirties fears grew of a repetition of the Great War, which had finished some twenty years previously, and people dreaded it. However, it came, and we switched to a kind of emergency stations for the duration.

On Redhill Common

Redhill Common showing paths worn down to the sand beneath.

On the beach

On the beach in 1936.

My father was evacuated to Bristol with his London-based job, and my brother’s school was evacuated during terms, but we remained based in ‘Lulworth’. Miss Thorpe, headmistress of St. Matthew’s Girls’ School, who was a friend of my mother joined us, and her house (number 19) was let to two school teachers from a school which had been evacuated to the borough.

Echoes of wartime

Echoes of wartime.
Fancy dress at the street party.

My mother dug up half the lawn to grow vegetables in, and we children grew lettuces, which she bought from us at ½d each, the money going in a tin to buy more lettuce seeds. Everyone had an identity card with a national identity number (kept later as one’s National Health number), a ration card, and a gas mask. Children wore identity bracelets with their name and number on. Everywhere you went you took your gas mask with you, and there were inspections at school to make sure you had it and knew how to put it on.

No railings

Number 13. Railings removed.

They smelt of rubber, like having gas at the dentist’s. They were just plain horrid. As far as food went, we were lucky that mother made her own jam and cakes and had brought us up to drink our tea weak and without sugar; it made our rations go further. Household waste was divided into what could and couldn’t be fed to pigs – an early form of recycling – and metal railings not essential to safety and superfluous aluminium saucepans went to help make armaments.

During the Battle of Britain when our fighters were trying to prevent German bombers get to London or trying to shoot them down on their way home, there were a lot of ‘dog-fights’ overhead.

Air–raid sketches

Air–raid sketches on the cellar door of number 58.

Our cellar had been adapted as an air-raid shelter: it still held the coal and coke and the meat-safe, but the space between the window and the rockery was filled up with sandbags and the ceiling supported with an extra upright, just a rough thick plank which my brother decorated by painting berries and things on it.

To sleep there we put groundsheets on the floor and our mattresses and bedding on top.

Combridge family

Combridges all on a bicycle.

The air raids were the reason for the blackout: no lights must be shown at night: everyone had heavy black curtains at all their windows, which were drawn at dusk in what almost became a ritual: out-of-doors we carried torches, and at bus-stops we were exhorted to shine our torch on ourselves or raised hand, not in the driver’s face!

Being able to differentiate our aeroplanes from German ones became a vital interest, and in spite of the fact that air raid sirens could be relied on to give warning of enemy aircraft, we became experts in identifying the various British models: fortunately in those days planes rarely flew too high to have their build and markings distinguished, which is what made this war-time equivalent of the post-war boys’ hobby of car spotting feasible. Otherwise, daylight life went on as normally as possible, and the drop in traffic made it possible to cycle to school and to our grandfather’s house in Earlswood with or without a parent; before we left in 1943 I was even allowed to cycle round the local villages alone on summer evenings providing Mother knew where I was going.”



Wartime photos

A selection of pre-war photographs of the Combridges at number 58.

Milly and Leslie Martin had now moved to another of George Martin’s houses.

“During the war we lived in number 2 Oakdene Road in a 3-storey house. We were supposed to sleep downstairs under the tables. One night I remember the ‘buzz bombs’ coming over every three minutes. I worked as a scullery maid as war work. My two sons went into the navy and Leslie, my husband signed up again and went mine-laying and sweeping. I had two terrible evacuees staying with me. They came in and said “Hello you Surrey toff” and I told them “I’m not a Surrey toff, I’m a Hampshire hog!” I still feel that Portsmouth is my home after all these years.

One night we were sleeping in Leslie’s fathers cellar (number 1) and we woke up to find the beds floating. We think it was because of one of the bombs.”

Hilda Lindfield (nee Hammond) worked at the East Surrey Hospital, as matron’s maid and later came to live on Fengates Road at number 12.

“All the staff lived in the nurses home which was opened by Princess Alice. Sir Jermiah and Lady Coleman were great supporters of the hospital, and Sir Jeremiah used to visit the hospital in ‘drainpipes and spats’. They gave a big firework display for the hospital staff at Gatton just before the war. During the war a bomb was dropped outside the hospital entrance, after which matron went out onto the common to collect shrapnel. We also had to deal with the casualties of the Shaw’s Corner bomb.

There were invasion blocks on Reffels Bridge during the 2nd World War. Also there were pipes laid along the road for petrol to go down to the coast for the troops. They were laid all along Hatchlands Road etc.”

Eileen Caldecourt and son

Eileen Caldecourt with son Dave.

At this time Eileen Caldecourt (nee Brett), the granddaughter of Mr Worsell, was living with her parents at number 62.

“Mr Stiemax, a Reigate Grammar School teacher (a German) scratched a swastika on the wall above the coalhole. The police made us erase it during the war. A barrage balloon was stationed at the crossroads by the White Lion during the doodlebug raids.

Misses Dorothy and Winnie Ryall, from number 64, slept in our cellar during air raid alerts.”

Elaine Dando has lived on Whitepost Hill all her life and was friends with many families on Fengates Road, including the Combridges and Semples.

“As the Battle of Britain progressed bullets were being exchanged over the common. The milkman was passing with his horse and cart – caught out by the raid. Suddenly his horse reared, and thus narrowly missed being hit by a bullet that ploughed into the large lime tree that still stands on the lower slopes of the common, in front of the cottages.

Lime tree

The lime tree on the common.

The Shaw’s Corner bomb fell as a bus was passing. There were dreadful casualties who were taken for treatment to East Surrey Hospital. We knew that the troop trains would be returning after Dunkirk. From where we were playing we could hear them approach. They made a much heavier deeper sound because they were so heavily laden with men. We rushed to the bridge to wave as they passed. People would throw food down to the troops.

Dairy advert

Advertisement for the Welsh Farm Dairy.

It really wasn’t until towards the end of the war that things changed. Food was still being delivered. I remember that the lady who served at the dairy always wore a wonderfully white starched apron. I used to be sent round to the dairy for cream if we had visitors coming. It was served with a special ladle into little 1/3 pint bottles and tasted absolutely delicious.”