Old Fleet and Crookham
by Ted Roe
Chapter 1 The Crondall Hundred
n his will dated 885, Alfred the Great, the Saxon King bequeathed the Hundred of Crondall to his nephew Eltham. A 'Hundred' being the Saxon division of land from which a hundred men at arms could be raised, (within this Hundred of Crondall lay the areas now known as Fleet and Crookham). The Hundred of Crondall included Yateley to the north, Long Sutton to the south, Farnborough and Aldershot to the east and extended westwards to the boundaries of Elvetham, Dogmersfield and Winchfield which came within the Hundred of Odiham. This area was divided into 'Manors', Itchell, Ewshot, Crokeham, Well, Feldmead, Dippenhall, Farnborough and Aldershot. These Manors (with varying spellings) are all mentioned in the records of Winchester Cathedral. The area of Fleet was known only for its pond. The saxons called it 'Fuglemere' (wild fowl lake). The stream running out of the pond to the north almost certainly gave Fleet its name. 'Fleet' is probably a corruption of 'La Flete' (Norman French for a stream) or 'Fleet' - a stream, creek, inlet or shallow water (Oxford dictionary). This seems likely as Fleet was originally only a small piece of land to the north of the pond on each side of the stream. Every Manor had its stocks and whipping post on the village green or by the churchyard gate. There was one in Crookham Village as well as in Crondall. Thus summary punishment was dealt out to evil-doers by the village constable.
In 940 Bishop Aelsige bequeathed the Hundred of Crondall to Elphage for life and then to the 'Old Monastery' at Winchester. All the land within the Hundred was administered by the Lords of the Manor at Crondall on behalf of the monks of St Swithen and later on behalf of Winchester Cathedral. Farmers and cottagers were granted rights to use this land paying 'tithes' (rents) in kind until the Tithe Commutation Act in 1844. After this date the tithes were paid in money until after the second World War with the passing of the Tithe Redemption Act. Until 1852 the Dean and Chapter of Winchester held their annual court at Court Farm, Crondall, to receive their rents and other dues, to grant or renew tithes and levy fines on tenants who had not made good use of the land, (Corn for these tithes was threshed and stored in the great Tithe Barn at Crondall); this barn was the largest in Hampshire and contained three threshing floors, each big enough to hold two loaded waggons of wheat. Twelve men could thrash in it at once. The roof was supported by huge pillars of whole oak trees roughly squared to about twelve inches on each side. This great barn was totally destroyed by fire in 1861.
Wealthy tenants were permitted to purchase the freehold of the land they occupied. It is said that the farmer of Freelands Farm, Gally Hill Road, Crookham purchased his freehold, hence the name 'Freelands' farm. The old oak which still stands at the entrance was planted to denote that the land was free. Oak was not permitted to be planted on rented land. Fleet pond was a source of supply of fish for the Monks at Winchester. These fish were caught and kept in small ponds called 'stew ponds' so that they were readily available for the various feast days. One such pond was situated on the heath at the north end of Hitches Lane and was filled in and built over only a few years ago. This pond was known as 'Crocodile Island'; it is said that originally there was an island in this pond which was inhabited by a large number of lizards; hence the unusual name. The Crondall Customary (the old Crondall records) gives details of some of the tenants of Fleet pond and the grazing nearby. In 1324 a note appears referring to repair expenses for making a new 'Vivarium and Sluce' at Fleate. 1406 Expenses for nets and boats. l505-6 Grant by the Prior and Convent of Winchester Cathedral to Sir William and John Gifford of Ichille of the pasture and fisheries of Fleate. These were two ponds from which Sir William was obliged to send 100 fishes of Pikes, Tenches, Breams and Roches yearly in good and fresh state between the feasts of Easter and Pentecost. Also it shall be lawful as well as to the aforesaid Lord Prior and his successors as to their steward and treasurer for the time being as often as they shall please to fish with the nets and boats of the said William and John in the aforesaid ponds, and to take away the fish captured there. Further, Sir William is to keep in good repair the bridge between the two ponds known as 'Le Fletebridge' well and sufficiently at their own cost except that the Prior and his successors shall find them the balk timber for the repair of the aforesaid bridge.
1536-7 Prior Barynge and the Convent granted a similar lease to George Paulet Esquire and his assigns for the term of 60 years for the pastures of 'Le Flete'. The yearly rent of 23 shillings and 4 pence was to be paid (as before) for the pastures, but in lieu of sending fish to the Priory he was to pay for the two ponds and the fishery a yearly rent of 20 shillings.
1567. 'It is agreed that all tenants within the Manor may graze the waste ground and commons therein but not in one parcel of ground now enclosed called the Fleate Pond.'
Johanna Cawett, widow, at the same court, according to the custom of the Manor, asked for the premises of a croft of waste soil lying near Fleate Pond consisting of 15½ acres called 'Broomhurst' and three closes called Ludshet, 6 acres; and Ludshed Mead, 7½ acres with appurtenances at Crokeham, granted at a rent of 7 shillings 1 pence per year and an entrance fee thereupon 'An ox of a brown colour valued at 10 shillings' Also in this year of 1567 a great storm carried away the head of one of the ponds (Pondtail end) so that a meadow was established there by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Winchester.
The land in the south of the Hundred was good agricultural country and was settled and farmed for hundreds of years. In the north, which included Fleet and Crookham, was poor soil and was mostly open heathland with pine woods on the higher ground and gorse, bracken and sedge in the lowlands. This area was traversed from the south coast by smugglers on their journeys inland. They carried kegs of brandy and bales of silk and lace on packhorses along narrow tracks across country and had hiding places on the way. Often a keg of brandy was left at some lonely house for the owner who could be trusted not to betray them.
A very interesting find was made on the common near Bourly Bottom in 1928 by Mr Charles and Mr Anthony Lefroy of Ewshot House (as Itchel was called in those days). The rain had washed away the soil in a hollow from which a sod had been cut, showing a heap of gold coins with two gold ornaments and a chain which probably belonged to the bag which contained them. One coin bears the name of Eligius who exercised the office of moneyer (coin maker) in Paris during the reigns of Dagobert and Clovis II between 628 and 641 AD. Some were imitations of the late Roman coins and some appeared to be Anglo Saxon ecclesiastical coins, There were not more than two or three of one type and it is conjectured that the unfortunate owner, wandering in seventh of eighth century on the wild Wessex heath, losing his course and perhaps his life, may have been a professional moneyer who had samples not only of his own coinage but also of other gold coins of the period. The place where they were found is but little off the road from Winchester to London. These particulars are quoted from Sir Henry Lefroy's book of the history of his family. It contains engravings of the coins which are now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Crookham, Ewshot and Fleet were very sparsely populated. Crookham and Ewshot were the first to develop as although the land was not of the best, it could be farmed profitably. Also a seam of clay suitable for firing ran through this part and it was not long before local men were making tiles and bricks at Ewshot, bricks at Crookham, pots and pans in Crookham Street and bricks near the Canal between Zephon Common and Crondall Road, here there were four workers cottages known as 'Brickyard Cottages', which in about 1950 were converted to the one large house which is still occupied today. The large ornamental lake in the garden of the proprietor of the Grange Estate was originally the pit from which the clay was dug for use in the Gally Hill brickyard.
Fleet had nothing to attract farmers or craftsmen. The soil in the west was shallow and sandy and that in the east the same but very wet, even boggy in parts and mostly covered with gorse, bracken and sedge. Isaac Taylor's Map of Hampshire drawn in 1759 shows Fleet Pond, Fleet Farm, the Mill north of the pond and Broomhurst Farm a little further west. These three habitations comprise the whole of Fleet until about 1840.
Roads in Fleet have been used by travellers and merchants for hundreds of years. The road from Reading to Farnham crossed the Fleet area and is today known as Reading Road North and South. From this road branched the road to Crondall (Hitches Lane) and the road to Hartford Bridge Flats (Fleet Road). In early times these roads were mere tracks across the heath along which it was possible to drive a horse and cart or a coach. The land around Reading Road North was called 'Farnham Road Heath', that by Hitches Lane 'Crondall Road Heath' and the land to the east of Fleet Road was called at different times: 'Bramshot Heath South', 'Peat Moor' and 'Crookham Common.
The Basingstoke Canal was constructed late in the eighteenth century and became fully operative in 1793. Although it runs through Fleet and Crookham and was for a period quite a busy waterway, it had little or no effect on the development of this district. True, in later years bricks came by barge from Nately Scures and timber from London to build some of the new houses. Coal also came by barge before there was a railway station in Fleet. The barges were unloaded at the wharves at Reading Road bridge and Chequers bridge. Coal for Crookham was often unloaded on to the canal bank near Coxheath bridge. One or two Inns were built near the canal, the 'Fox and Hounds' in Crookham Road, the 'Chequers' in Crondall Road and the 'Foresters' in Aldershot Road. It is said that in these inns the Captains of the horse-drawn barges in their knee breeches and buckled shoes came to slake their thirst and swap yarns in the bar. There was at one time an inn called 'The Jolly Waterman' in Crookham Village opposite Crondall Road. The name suggests that it hoped to draw trade from the people using the canal although it was some distance from the waterway. Another explanation for its watery name in the midst of a farming community is that it was the favourite haunt of the miller from the water mill at Picot (Dogmersfield).
The passing of the 'Enclosure Act' of 1834 which allowed, or rather encouraged the enclosing of waste and common lands, caused life to stir in this sandy and boggy trace of land which is now Fleet. By 1835 the common land which stretched from Malt house bridge to Manley Manor, some 3,600 acres, had been enclosed principally by the freeholders of the adjacent land. This caused considerable hardship to the commoners who had lost their grazing for a cow or pig, a run for their geese and chickens and their supply of peat and firewood. To compensate them a few acres were left as common land. This was most inadequate and useless to most of them as their cottages were in Ewshot and Crookham which meant that their animals and birds would be grazing a mile or perhaps two from their cottages. They would not be able to keep an eye on their animals or shut the birds in at night or find time to milk the cow. Parson White, Curate of Crondall protested against the injustices of the allotments. After repeated protests to the lawyers and commissioners for the Enclosures he finally secured a sum of £3,164 compensation which was invested and the interest used to purchase fuel for the poor (Coal Fund): When Crookham and Ewshot became independent parishes the compensation was divided between these two villages and Crondall. This charity is still in existence.
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Chapter 2 Crookham becomes a Parish
By 1839 the tithings of Ewshot and Crookham (a Tithing was the tenth part of the hundred combined together for co-operative farming and defence) had a population of about 1,200 persons. There was no school and the church was three miles away at Crondall. This was too far for many to walk, so these people, particularly the children, were receiving no religious instruction. This gave concern to the clergy at Crondall and they decided to raise enough money by public subscription to build and endow a Church in the Crookham Tithing to serve both Crookham and Ewshot. To this end they printed and distributed a little booklet setting out the need for a new church. This booklet contained a map of Crondall showing the site of the new church to be mid-way between the two villages. Such was the enthusiasm for this church that £929 was soon subscribed by the public and Church dignitaries. The gentry subscribed the remainder of the £2422 needed for the building plus £1 ,000 for endowment.
A page from the booklet reads as follows:
'In these two tithings a large tract of heathland, about 3,600 acres has recently been enclosed and apportioned out (in allotments) to numerous proprietors upon whose allotments new cottages are continually erected; twenty or more have been built within the last five years and the population is rapidly increasing.
And although the Rev. White, Curate of the Parish, has been in the habit of delivering lectures in a private room, yet this provision is very insufficient for the religious instruction of the people and the large and scattered population of the parish, his other duties are such as to demand his whole attention.
And no church being near, the people are in fact destitute of all means of public worship, except such as can be obtained through the dissenters (non-conformists). It is proposed therefore to build a church large enough to accommodate 400 persons on the site marked on the annexed map which is exactly two miles from the Parish Church, and that a Burial Ground and a District be attached ...............................
The church was built and dedicated in 1840. Thus 'Crookham-cum-Ewshot' was established as an ecclesiastical parish. The part of Crookham in the vicinity of the church became known as Church Crookham and the part that had been long established, Crookham Village. The forming of this joint Parish, settled a long standing feud between these two villages concerning the boundary lines. The new District (Parish) extended from the stream at Pilcot to Warren Corner, Ewshot Hill and from the bottom of Redfields Lane to the further side of Fleet Pond.
(Quotation from Grace Lefroy's book "History of Crookham"):
The first stone was laid in March 1840 and the church consecrated August 31st, 1841 by Bishop Sumner of Winchester. The non-resident Vicar of Crondall was the Rev. W.D. Harrison, Vicar of Stoneham, Hampshire. The Curate in charge of Crondall was the Rev. Anthony Cottrell Lefroy, first incumbent of the new District.
As originally built, the chancel was of the same proportions as the transepts with a similar wooden roof; the carved pulpit was on the north and the choir seats were on each side before the chancel steps. Benches for the school children were in the transepts; the boys sat beyond the pulpit and the girls by the vestry door, near the harmonium, which was played first by Mrs Lefroy. Men in the congregation in the nave sat on the north side and women on the south. The church was built to hold 400 people.
Among the most regular attendants at church on Sunday mornings were farmers Tom Poulter and Daniel Poulter, Master Wiggins, Master Crockford with his grandson by his side, brought up in the way he should go: Master Prizeman and others, all in clean white smocks; Farmer Freeman in a grey smock, and his sons in white slops, each with a flower in his mouth. Old George Lunn in his leather gaiters and green smock, and red handkerchief, sat in the front seat with his ear trumpet; farmer Hall the church warden for many years, and his wife; his son Farmer John, and his wife and their two sons, sat in the south transept. Dame Bushel, bent quite double with her stick, came to church with a red cloak; her good grand-daughter (the kind Mrs Alexandrer) walked with her, carrying a chair on which the old dame rested now and then on the way. Dame Gregory and Granny Cox also wore red cloaks, and Daddy Cox a smocked frock; this old couple were among the first to have rooms in the Almshouse when it opened in 1854.
The women came to church in shawls and bonnets with crowns and curtains and broad strings tied in a large bow under their chins. Mrs T. Poulter and others carried a large prayer book wrapped up in a clean white hand-kerchief. At home she always wore a mob cap and a little shoulder shawl tucked into her apron, and a dark brown calico dress with leg~of-mutton sleeves.
On Sundays Farmer Hall came out in a tall beaver hat and frilled shirt and a figured blue satin waistcoat, and he always wore a pink and white striped carnation in his buttonhole He was a great man for cricket, and cricket was played on Sunday afternoons near the North Horns, with the approval of Mr Lefroy and the Squire, who were influenced by the views of the Rev Charles Kingsley of Eversley on manly Christianity - viz., that Sunday was meant both for worship and recreation, to the benefit of the whole man, soul and body and not for loafing.
During the incumbency of the Rev. George Wickham, the proposal to build a larger chancel for the church at Crookham was carried out at a cost of £1,868; over £1,000 of this was given by Mrs Spurges Bourne. The Architect was Mr H. Woodyer, and the builder Mr James Liming. It was completed and consecrated in 1877. The addition included a side aisle on the north for children's seats, thus making more room for more adult sittings in the space formerly occupied by them in the transepts. A new organ, organ chamber and vestry were added on the south; new choir seats were placed in the chancel, a stone pulpit and brass altar rails replaced the carved wood a new east window was inserted, and many handsome additions to the furniture and adornment of the chancel were made. The oak lectern was carved by Miss Edith Kerr. The present font was given by Mr Galsworthy and the new altar rail by Mrs Chinnock. (The Galsworthys and Chinnocks lived in Dinorben Court from 1872 until it was sold for redevelopment in 1935). The brass and copper screen to the Chancel, in memory of the Rev A.C. Lefroy and of the first jubilee of the church, was dedicated on the occasion of the jubilee, which was celebrated on August 31st, 1891. The Mission Room in Crookham Street was opened the same year and the Parochial Room in Reading Road in 1912.
One of the leading parishioners of Crookham in the early days was Farmer Hawkins of Grove Farm. He was of the John Bull type with low crowned beaver hat, and two stalwart sons. Mrs Hawkins was very tall, in a black dress with a large black silk or white apron with a round, rosy, smiling face at the top and a band of black velvet across her forehead.
There were very few houses within half a mile of the new church in 1841. There were none between the malthouse and the church except Freelands farmhouse. Coming from Crondall (Redfields Lane), after passing "the Horns" there was Farmer Newmans on the right, and Hockey the blacksmith and the smithy on the left, with the old cottage beyond, recently pulled down (circa 1920); then Velmead Farm and the cottage at the end of Watery Lane, Goddards Farm. After Hockey's came the 'Old Horns' with a pair of antlers on the signpost and the yew tree by the door. Opposite the 'Old Horns', beyond the turning to Ewshot Lane, there was Bushell's house beside the cart-road leading along the hedgerow of Eenix to join Sandy Lane at Hampton Gutter (near the 'Wyvern') - The boundary between Crookham and Ewshot at that point was the bank and oak trees from the 'Old Horns' to where the 'Wyvern' now stands. The turn to the left of the 'Old Horns' (Gables Road) led close past the front door of 'The Gables' with the farmyard and buildings across the road. - There were five or six small one-story cottages between the two lanes from the 'Old Horns' which both joined the road from Crookham Street to the 'North Horns'. Further to the right were John Boulter's and the house at Hamilton Gutter, both double and two storeyed; then Joe Hill's (newer) and Tom Steven's cottage by the corner of the 'North horns', which was white and thatched, where old Mrs Smith sold bread and groceries, and wooden dolls, as well as beer. Few more cottages thereabouts, and some in Green Lane (possibly Tweseldown Road); Winter's the 'boots' Lunn's, Wiggin's, Grenham's and others, and the small farms and cottages on the Ewshot property.
The roads were but tracks for carting turf from the common and sand from the pits, with other rough lanes leading to the farms. There were coach roads (Tumpike Road) from town to town and the road from Farnham to Odiham went past Warren Corner with a toll bar at Bowling Alley. A road from Farnham to Reading passed through the new District from Beacon Hill across the common by the 'Oatsheaf (Fleet).
There was a pottery kiln behind the farm buildings (in Crookham Street). It was very interesting to watch bread pans, pipkins and flower pots being made on the potter's wheel. The clay was trodden by a boy with his bare feet. who made up lumps of different sizes and placed them on a board ready for the man at the wheel; then one would look into the oven packed with vessels ready for baking, and inhale the pungent smell of hot, burning clay. This local industry came to an end long ago, but the old house, second on the left in Crookham Street, is still called the 'Pot Shop'.
The school was the next new building to be finished in Church Crookham. It was opened on January 1st, 1843, with Mr James Liming as master, and Mrs William Stevens as mistress. His father was the school master and Parish Clerk of Crondall, and later at Winchfield, and finally at Fleet, when a school was started there by Squire Lefroy.
Mr and Mrs J. Liming lived for seven years at the school house, and afterwards (changing his profession) worked as a builder under Mr Lefroy's direction in the development of the District. (At the completion of each new house, Mr Liming planted a Monkey Puzzle tree in the garden, one or two of which still remain).
The winter of 1853 was a very hard one. The ice was so thick on the canal that there was a bonfire on the ice, and a long slide right under Malthouse bridge. That was the winter of the Crimean War.
Owing to the Demands of the Crimea, the government started the military camp at Aldershot in 1854, and bought the large tract of open country which includes the Long Valley and Bourly Bottom, part of the tithing of Ewshot. Mr C.F. Lefroy, as Lord of the Manor of Ewshot, was required to sell to the government 800 acres of the common for a practising ground for the troops. This ran from the back of the 'North Horns' to the Ewshot boundary, from the 'Cocked Hat Wood' to 'Caesar's Camp'. The Sappers and Miners working at the camp lived at first on the common in huts built of turf. The whole of the ground was knee-deep in heather, and the parishioners of Ewshot and part of Crookham had the right to cut turf for fuel. To make up to them for the loss of their common rights, money was invested to provide a certain amount of coal annually for each parishioner whose rent did not exceed £6 a year. Now that rents have so greatly risen, the rate has been raised to £12. The turf fire on the open hearth made a cheerful blaze when the dry furze caught fire and left heaps of hot ashes to boil the hanging pot, and to smoke the bacon in the chimney. Broad, flat-pointed spades with a wide cross handle, against which a man pushed with his chest were used to pare off the turf for firing. As long as this continued, the seedling first, birch etc. could not grow up and cover the ground as they do now. It was all open country as far as you could see from Gally Hill to Fleet Pond, and beyond to Minley. The new road to Aldershot was made at this time and Squire Lefroy built 'The Wyvern' in 1854 at the end of it. Until the early 1920's the sign was a red Wyvern on a green ground - his family crest.
The Almshouses (next to the church in Crookham) were built in 1854 from the money left for that purpose by Miss Isabella Cottrell of Bath, sister of old Mrs Lefroy of Itchell, and added to by her family.
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Chapter 3 The Railway. Church Crookham and Fleet Develop. Fleet becomes a Parish.
The London and South Western Railway was constructed during the late 1830's and became fully operative in 1840. A little station was built close by Fleet Pond (Although there were no inhabitants at that end of the parish). This was not because the planners foresaw that Fleet would grow into a large town, but because of Fleet Pond. They looked at this beautiful stretch of water, about 134 acres in extent, set amid pine woods and heath land and thought what an ideal place it would be to run excursions from London, so the little station had been made and called not 'Fleet' Station but 'Fleet Pond' Station. The crossing of the pond presented the construction engineers with a problem. After considering several methods they decided to lay the tracks upon a high bank of sand firmly held together by a thatch of turf, hazel rods and willows. This cheap method of construction has proved to be most satisfactory.
There were only two tracks at this time and the station was on the west side of the road bridge. The goods yard was in the cutting towards Elvetham Bridge.
Londoners came to enjoy the beautiful scenery around Fleet Pond, and also came in the winter to skate when the pond was frozen. As late as 1929 when the pond was frozen for six weeks, special trains were run to bring the skaters from London.
In 1896 two more tracks were added to the railway, and at this time the station and goods yard was moved to the other side of the road bridge. This was mainly because the local tradesmen pointed out that the steep pull over the bridge was very wearing on the horses, and quite unnecessary, It must be remembered that at that time practically everything too large to be sent by mail was transported by the railways, and the parcels offices and goods yards were very busy places.
Once the railway was in operation Fleet began to develop steadily. Three small farms carne into existence; Pondtail Farm, situated to the east of the pond (all trace of which has long since vanished), Peat Moor Farm situated at the junction of Church and Sunnyside Roads (demolished in 1970 and the land redeveloped), and Boone Farm House situated on the brow of the hill in Crookham just south of the Oatsheaf Hotel, still remains today and is called Stanton Lodge.
Londoners who came to enjoy the scenery fell in love with the district, purchased land and built charming country houses both in Fleet and Crookham. The majority of the early settlers were people of independent means, or wealthy business or professional men, all classed as "Gentry". They built large houses in extensive grounds, which required a staff of servants to run them; housekeepers, cooks, parlour maids, house maids, butlers and footmen inside, and gardeners, grooms and coachmen outside. The inside staff lived in the house, but accommodation had to be built for the outside staff and their families. In some cases cottages were built in the house grounds, grooms and coachmen often had accommodation adjoining the stables and coachhouse. All the first houses in Fleet were along Fleet Road or to the west of it. Development of the other portion of Fleet did not commence until much later. Between 1840 and 1860 Fleet grew quite slowly and by 1860 there were only about 300 inhabitants of which 30 or 40 were children of school age.
Crookham had had a school since 1843 but there was no school in Fleet until 1860 when Mr Charles Lefroy of Ewshot House, bought two cottages in Church Road just north of where the parish church now stands. These cottages were unfinished in as much as that there was only one large room and no division built within the four outside walls. Here he opened a small school with about 30 pupils, and services were held on Sunday evenings by the Rev. A.C. Lefroy, the first vicar of Crookham. The first school master was Mr George Liming from Crondall, who died in 1869, aged 81.
In 1857 Mrs Charles Lefroy died, and the squire resolved to build a church in her memory at Fleet. The first stone of the church was laid on 6th August 1860. Mr Charles Lefroy and his two little motherless children, aged 11 and 12, were present. His own death in April 1861, occurred before the church was finished, and the work was carried on and completed by Mrs Lefroy's father, Sir James Walker. It was designed by Mr Burgess, the architect, in the style of an Italian Basilica, with a small apse for the chancel, and the narthex at the west end. The consecration took place in 1862 and a District was assigned to it and placed under the charge of the Rev. William Plummer. The church of All Saints contains a beautiful tomb with carved figures of the founder and his wife in effigy. The inscription on it reads as follows: To Janet the most dear wife of Charles Edward Lefroy, Esq. on whome may Jesue have mercy". To record the benefactions of her father, James Waker, Esq.. CE., F.R.S., to the parish of Crondall and his most liberal contributions to Christ's work of this building; this monument is placed MDCCCLXL". Also to Charles Edward Lefroy, Esq., born March 9th, 1810, died April 17th 1861, founder of this church, who in the midst of his work for God's Glory and the good of the parish, was taken to his rest".
The following is an extract from Notices of the Parish of Crondall by Sir J.H. Lefroy, R.A., privately printed in 1968: 'The last of the works it was given to my brother to inaugurate though not to complete, was the church at Fleet, in 1860-61. Many and mixed feelings induced him to select this distant corner of the parish for a monumental church to his wife's memory. It was not at the time much wanted, although a population was beginning to collect in the neighbourhood, evinced by the fact of a small railroad station having been established there, but it was certain to be wanted at no distant date, and the wild country, the open heath, the absence of elements of opposition, the pleasure of exercising a sort of creative power, all turned the scale against the suggestions to lay out the money in other ways nearer home. He did not live to complete the design, it was completed by James Walker, her father.'
The cost was: £ s. d.
By subscription 724. 0.0.
C. E. Lefroy, or his estates by money or material 1122.0.0.
James Walker exclusive of an endowment of £75 per annum 1477.0.0.
The early Marriage Registers of Fleet contain many items of interest. The first marriage in the Parish Church was eighteen months after the consecration, and neither the bride nor the bridegroom lived in Fleet; the marriage was after the granting of the Superintendent Registrar's certificate; the entry in the register was wrong and had to be corrected two days later by the Rev. W.H. Plummer in the presence of the parties concerned. The second entry is also of interest, for the bridegroom aged 24 was a widower, and neither of the witnesses could write, and had to make a mark. Of the first eighteen marriages there were eight in which at least one of the parties could not write. Another interesting feature is the description given under the heading 'Rank or Professions', 'Coachman or Groom' figures frequently in the early days. 'Oil and Colourman', 'Railway Gateman' also appear and a remarkable number of 'Gentlemen'. In the first ten years after the opening of the church there were only eighteen marriages. The first Register book was not completed until 1922, and contains the records of less than 500 marriages, many of which were of families whose names are still frequently met in Fleet today.
The Church took over the little school in 1863, and thereafter it was run as a Church School, supported by the Church, a little Government grant and the scholars' pence. (Each pupil was required to pay 2 pence per week towards the cost of their education). So now, Fleet was a complete little community with it's own Parish Church and School, a little shop or two and the Oatsheaf Inn.
Fleet continued to grow steadily, and in 1871 there were 381 inhabitants including the following:
Arthur Andrews, Plumber
Miss Marther Bartlett, Boarding School
Malor Montigue Barton, The Gables
John Bridge, Manager
Nathaniel Brown, The Firs
Wm. Robert Chandler, Station Maste
Fredk. G. Chinnock, Dinorben Court
Eliza M. Cox, Stockton House
Detmold and Butchers, Farrners, Fleet Farm
Doherty, Victualler, The Oatsheaf
James Froud, Carpenter
Frederick T. Galsworthy, Dinorben Court
David Goddard, Bootmaker
Thomas Kidman, School Master
Mark Kimber, Cattle Dealer, Rose Cottage
Thomas Liming, Parish Clerk
Thomas Long, Landscape Painter
George Wright, Corn Miller, Fleet Mill
John Potter, Market Gardener
Augustus Roots, Firs Lodge
Miss Smith, School Mistress
Jph. F. Stebbing, Farmer, Booth Farm
William Voller, Grocer and Baker
George Mansfield, Victualler, 'Prince of Wales' Inn
Wm. Monk, Butcher and Farmer
Rev. Wm H. Plummer, B.A. The Parsonage
Charles Wake, Horse and Conveyance Prop.
Windover and Dougherty, Drapers and Grocers, Provisions Merchants and Post Office
At this time the main Post Office for the whole district was in the station yard, Winchfield. Mail was delivered to the Sub-Offices in the various villages by pony or donkey cart. The mail for Fleet arrived at Windover's and Dougherty's little stores, opposite the Oat Sheaf Inn at eight o'clock each morning, and the out-going mail left at six o'clock each evening; by special arrangement there would be an extra delivery. The postal address of Fleet was: Fleet, Winchfield Royal Sorting Office. The Crookham mail was all distributed from W. J. Jessett's Bakery, Grocery Stores and Post Office in Crookham Village, also via the Winchfield R.S.O. Later when Church Crookham became more populated, a Sub-Post Office was opened in Aldershot Road almost opposite the Wyvern.
Grace Lefroy writes in her book 'Some Historical Particulars of the Parish of Crookham' (published 1923): "The next event which should be mentioned in these records is the building in 1861 of 'The Lea', now called 'Crookham House (next to Crookham Church, now demolished and the land redeveloped). Mr Lefroy designed it as a residence for Mrs and Miss M. A. Dyson, after the death of the old Rector of Dogmersfield (Mrs Dyson's husband), who wished to settle in the parish.
Miss Dyson, who was very intellectual and an earnest churchwoman, devoted herself and her means to the education of young girls, generally daughters of clergymen or other gentlemen of small means. She had about ten at a time living under her roof, with a governess to superintend their lessons. However, on the death of the Squire that same year, when Mr Lefroy became guardian of his two sons it was decided that he and his family should move into the larger house when it was ready and that Mrs and Miss Dyson should inhabit the parsonage.
A large back room at 'The Lea' became a useful parish room, and a flourishing night school was held there by Mrs Lefroy and her daughters on two nights a week, and on Sunday afternoons.
The marriage of H.R.H. Albert Edward Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in June 1863, was celebrated in Crookham. There was a bonfire at night on Beacon Hill. The school children were drawn up on the spot where the War Memorial Cross now stands, and each received a new threepenny piece, a bun, an orange and a white satin bow made up into a 'Wedding Favour' with a sprig or orange blossom and a red cross for Denmark, painted on the ends of the ribbon. 'God save the Queen' was sung 'Long may Victoria reign' etc. and she did reign long, from 1837 to 1901, so that it was thirty eight years before the Royal bride and bridegroom of 1863 succeeded to the throne.
Queen Victoria's Jubilee was loyally celebrated in Crookham in 1887, and a new coloured window was inserted in the west window of the church as a memorial of the fiftieth year of her reign; and again, in 1897, when the clock was placed in the church to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.
The Sunday evening services in the school room on Ewshot Hill were well attended, and more accommodation being needed, Mr Powell promoted the erection of a district church for that part of the parish. A site was given by Mr Johnson of Crondall, and subscriptions amounting to £1,053 were obtained, largely from the family and friends of Mr Powell and Mrs Crawley.
The foundation stone was laid on August 14th, 1872, by Mrs De Vitre, then residing at 'The Lea'. The work was carried out by Mr James Liming under the supervision of Mr Oldrid Scott, the architect, and the new church was consecrated by Bishop Harold Browne of Winchester on December 1st, 1873. The first clergyman in charge was the Rev. C. P. Irby, Mr Powell's nephew.
Part of the tithing of Ewshot was formed into a separate district for St Mary's Church in 1886 and the Rev. T. Robinson was appointed to it,on the resignation of the Vicar of Crondall, the Rev. W. D. Harrison. In 1890 the district of Crookham, Fleet and Ewshot each became a separate vicarage.
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Chapter 4 The development of Fleet 1862-1900
The year 1877 saw a remarkable speeding up of the development of Fleet. Until this time all the land on the east side of Fleet Road belonged to Mr. Thomas Keep; this had come into his possession in 1840 as a marriage settlement on his marriage to Ann May. During his lifetime he had given and sold rights to parts of this land and when he died it could not be agreed how to divide up this land between the various claimants, (or 'Trustees' as they were called), particularly as this land was only held on Copyhold from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. On the 1st June 1887, His Honour the Vice Chancellor Mollins, ordered that the land should be enfranchised and sold by public auction; the trustees to share the proceeds in proportion as he ruled.
In July 1878, the land was enfranchised (became freehold) for the sum of £2210, paid by the trustees. At the public auction held in June 1878 Mr. Henry Jesty Brake, Estate Agent at Farnborough, was the highest bidder for this large stretch of unbroken heathland, 248a 2r 22p in extent for the sum of £4750. This included all the land east of Fleet Road from the Oat Sheaf to Avondale Road, to Reading Road and Pondtail bridges.
Mr. Brake lost no time in planning the roads. He laid them out in the American style as it was called, the main roads parallel to each other and the lesser roads intersecting at right angles. It is said that Fleet was the first place in England to be laid out in this manner. Plots of land were sold privately from his little office in Aldershot Road and at auction sales at local public houses and in London. The sales were interesting in as much that plots of land were sold on easy terms, so much down and the balance by installments. So the hire purchase system is not so new after all, at least not in Fleet.
A report in the local paper of one of the auction sales reads as follows; "On Monday April 11th 1882, Mr. Brake held his annual land sale at the Prince of Wales, Reading Road, Fleet. The correspondent received an invitation to the Luncheon, and our readers have doubtless frequently seen Mr. Brakes advertisement about this Fleet land of his, but many of them like myself, had never taken the trouble to inspect the estate, being under the impression that it was little more than a bog where prolific frogs croaked night and day".
Upward of 100 men attended this luncheon, held in a marquee behind the Prince of Wales. The tables were decorated with flowers supplied by John Jesty Esq. of Fleet, there was musical entertainment supplied by the Farnborough Amateur String Band. Mr. Brake sold in building plots a piece of land immediately opposite the Prince of Wales, out of 56 plots offered 46 were sold at prices from £10 to £70 per plot. The following gentlemen most of whom came from London, were purchasers of land. Messrs. Davis, King, Raynor, Lovelace, Thurley, Hawkins, Abrahams, Poulter, Parch, Geary, Maxwell, Bray, Bedwell and Laws. A few days before the sale, Mr. Brake distributed among his customers about 200 copies of a small book entitled "A Mystery of Fleet Pond" by C. S. Herve of Aldershot, (a fictional work for their entertainment). At this time there was a steam plough working between Pondtail and Reading Road bridges.
Fleet was growing fast; a new town had had it's foundations laid although at that time none saw that it would grow into the large town that it has become today. Cottages and large houses were being built on the plots of land sold by Mr. Brake; craftsmen of all sorts came: Smiths, Coachbuilders, Painters and Decorators and Builders became established and more shops were built along the Fleet Road. Mr Parnell came from Hammersmith and built four shops (opposite the present Civic Hall). He did this by direct labour, the craftsmen coming from London and being transported from the station in a donkey cart. Mr. James Oakley, built a house and shop near the junction of Fleet Road and Upper Street; he twice enlarged these premises and incorporated a clock tower. when completed this establishment had 100ft of shop window in Fleet Road and 60ft in Upper Street: it was really a departmental store, and sold everything from groceries to bicycles, millinery to furniture, also an off-licence and a funeral furnishing department. As well as a number of men, 15 young ladies were employed as shop assistants, dressmakers and milliners and a number of these were boarded in the large house adjacent to the shop. The large thatched store shed at the rear of these premises was the scene of one of the largest fires in Fleet, it was totally destroyed, but the main building remained undamaged.
At the other end of the village near Birch Avenue in part of the shop which is now Broads, Mr. H. Blacknell established himself as a builder, ironmonger and sawmill proprietor. An advertisement of a little later date informed the public "that he kept practical workmen in the following branches: Carpentry, bricklaying, plumbing, cabinet making, plastering, paperhanging, hot and cold water fitting, barrow making, slateing, tyling and whitewashing. Electric crank and air bell fitting, blacksmith, tinsmith, coppersmith and gave advice on all sanitary matters". What a useful man to have in the place. His saw mill was a very busy concern, truck loads of short lengths of large timbers came by rail to Fleet Station and were transported to the sawmill by horse and waggon. Here they were fashioned into seed boxes and packing crates of all descriptions and brickyard requisites. The waste was cut into six inch lengths, and four or five boys were kept fully employed chopping them into suitable pieces for fire lighting and bundling them into 'pimps' as they were called.
Capital and Counties Bank (now Lloyds) was built in 1889, its heavy white stone facade and pillared entrance looked very out of place among the pine trees which flanked it on either side. It is a matter for conjecture whether it was made so massive to deter any robbers who might be lurking in the woods, or if in fact someone foresaw that in time it would not look out of place among the buildings that would rise up about it.
The roads began to take shape, although most of them were still little more than dusty tracks in summer and muddy ones in winter, particularly the centre of Connaught Road, Albany Road, Avondale Road, Kings Road and all the roads going towards the pond; at this time the water level of the pond was much higher, which raised the water table throughout Fleet. There was a ford and a little plank bridge across the stream in Kings Road. Mr. Brake had some concrete hoops made to carry the road over this stream; these cracked almost immediately but did not break and 'Brakes Bridge' as it was called, carried the road for a good number of years. Gravel was dug from around Pondtail and used to make some sort of surface on the roads, heather and bavins of wood were laid in the wet places to make a foundation for the stones and gravel.
In spite of all the building that was going on, Fleet and Crookham were very quiet, pleasant little places, there were still acres and acres of heathland and pine woods which filled the air with their aroma. In the lower pans the bog myrtle flourished and in summer the gorse and broom was 'a blaze of gold and filled the air with its heavy scent. This coupled with the sharp smell of the pines and bog myrtle was considered very health giving, and not a few of the early residents were drawn by this quiet and beautiful air.
An early visitor wrote the following letter to a local newspaper: "1 feel I can unhesitatingly express my surprise that the great value of this locality as a health giving resort and breathing place for exhausted Londoners is not more fully known and appreciated. After recently accepting a kind invitation of a friend who has fortunately found out this and has benefited himself and family thereby to spend a few days with him at Fleet, where he has wisely built himself a country house to which he resorts with his family on every available opportunity. I was most agreeably surprised to find I was within such an easy and accessible distance of so charming and health giving a spot. I find myself in the midst of scenery of the most varied and lovely distribution and suitable to every taste. Added to this I was at once assured of the purity and salubrity of the air by the freedom with which I could breathe and the lightness and freshness of which I was so conscious".
By 1885 the little Church School at Fleet was grossly overcrowded, so much so that where families had more than one child of school age, one child attended one week and another the next. The church authorities decided to build a larger mixed school to accommodate the growing number of Fleet children who at that time numbered about 120, the population being in the region of 700 persons. The present building was owned by the uncumbent, who, rather than continue to lend the unsuitable building, offered to give £300 towards a new school. Mr. Brake 'made over' 18 plots of land at half price at the junction of Church Road and Albert Street, to be used for school purposes and as it was considered that £500 from the public would be enough to provide a substantial brick building; the managers pointed out to the parishioners that the modest sum they were asking them to subscribe would save the Parish a heavy burden of rates, remembering the large increase to the rates occasioned by the new Board School at Crondall. The cost of which was no less than £3872, and the annual cost of educating each child was 42/- whilst at Fleet National School it had been only 31/-, with as good a result as tested by the Government Inspectors.
On 2nd November 1886, the new trust deed was completed, and the land was vested in the Incumbent and the Churchwardens of All Saints, Fleet. A balance sheet of November 1886 shows that £757 was raised from the public, £35 from the Diocese and £65 from the National Society, making a total of £857. The school cost £852.18.11 land the legal fees £5.13.6. making a total of £858.12.5. Sir Henry Mildmay, Bt. of Dogmersfield House immediately subscribed £5 to balance the account.
And so the school moved from the little cottage to the grand new building in the centre of Fleet. The old school reverted to a cottage and is there to this day.
People made their own entertainment in those days. In 1885 a drum and fife band was formed to lead the processions on fete days etc. In 1891 a consortium of business and professional men built a hall in Fleet Road midway between Reading Road and Upper Street and named it Fleet Hall. Here, dances and meetings were held, and travellers gave talks about their journeys, often illustrated by pictures projected with an oilburning magic lantern. There was a football and cricket club, and in Albert Street a little gymnasium given by Col. Horniblow for the boys who had little to do when work was finished. Here there were parallel bars and other equipment as well as a reading room and billiards room and Staff Sergeant Cussack from the Headquarters Gymnasium at Aldershot came to instruct the boys in keeping fit.
In winter when the pond was frozen, practically everyone went on to the ice to skate or watch the games of curling and ice hockey, and the boys on their long slides. In later years people parked their cars in the roads by the pond and skating often continued until almost midnight in the light from the headlamps. At weekends there were often five or six hundred people enjoying themselves on the ice.
In the summer, Mr. Bloore, a London timber merchant, who lived at the Beeches, (now the North Hants Golf Clubhouse) hired a special train and brought all of his staff to a fete in the grounds. The village people were also invited and it was a really grand and enjoyable afternoon. Again on the 5th November Mr. Bloore brought his staff down to a great bonfire and firework party at the Beeches. Proceedings commenced at the Oatsheaf from where a barrel of tar was rolled to the Beeches followed by the band and all the local children and anyone else who wished to join in the fun.
There was no mains water in the district at this time and each house had its own well or shared one with a neighbour. Most of the large houses had a storage tank which was kept filled by a mechanical pump or was hand pumped by the gardener or other employee. A lot of the smaller houses had hand pumps beside the kitchen sink and many drew their water with a windlass and bucket. There was a village pump in Church Road behind Vollers bakery which was on the corner of Fleet Road. On the other side of the road there was a small pond where a travelling blacksmith sometimes set up his smithy. The pump was removed about 1900 after the Frimley and Farnborough Water Company had secured the sole rights to supply water to Fleet.
The only public transport to Aldershot was by Mr. Collin's horse brake, even this did not give shoppers a very reliable service and passengers were expected to walk up the hills. In winter when the road was muddy and the going hard, they were expected to help the poor old horse by pushing up the hills.
At this time steam traction engines were used a great deal for hauling heavy loads. Richard Pool had several of these and they could often be seen drawing road-making materials or his huge furniture pantechnicons. During the 1920's the government put a heavy road tax on these iron wheeled monsters and they disappeared from the roads almost overnight.
Fleet and Crookham already had commuters as many of the local gentlemen had chambers, offices or businesses in London to which they travelled by train each day. They were taken to the station in their horse-drawn coaches driven by a cockaded coachman. Captain Philips who resided at Velmead House used a beautiful pair of roans driven in tandem to draw his coach.
In 1900 the Leipzig Barracks for the Royal Field Artillery were built at Ewshot and later Punjab and Quetta Quarters were added. The building of these camps provided employment for many local craftsmen and when the army was installed with their many horses and mules, the farmers found a ready market for their corn, hay and straw.
At this time and for many years to come the community was in two sections, the gentry and the remainder of the population. This is admirably illustrated by an advertisement published in the Fleet News of December 1897 which read as follows: "Alfred Morgan begs to inform the gentry and inhabitants of Fleet and surrounding parishes that he has been appointed agent for W. Coopers cycles".
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Chapter 5 Fleet and Church Crookham become an Urban District. Development to 1914
Until 1894 Fleet and Crookham were in the civil parish of Crondall, but in that year they became separated and each had its own parish council. In 1904 Fleet and Crookham were created an Urban District.
On the 30th March of that year an election was held in Fleet to elect the first councillors. There were 16 candidates for the nine seats on the new council, so competition was great. Such a big event upset the routine of village life and great was the excitement. The merits of the candidates and their chances of being elected was the main topic of conversation with the whole population (about 2,000 at that time). Three jokers opened a book on the chances of the prospective candidates, and printed a poster listing the probable starters and gave their weights and occupations, but there is no record of the odds that were offered.
The first elected councillors were: Col. Horniblow, Col. Bradshaw, Capt. Maguire, Messrs. J. Edwards, F. Edwards, R. Clamp, H. Blacknell and W.M. Kenrick. The first meeting of the new urban district council was held in the Fleet hall on 21st April 1904. Col. Horniblow was elected chairman and after the business of arranging to engage officials - surveyor, treasurer, rate collector etc., a councillor raised the question of the overhanging trees in a number of roads. He said, "In many places loads of straw pass along the roads, catching the trees and leaving straw in the branches which is not at all sightly." It was therefore arranged to circulate a notice to property holders as follows: "The council wish to see all district roads and footpaths cleared of all obstructions caused by the growth of trees. As a general rule all lateral growth should be cut back to the boundary and headway cleared in the roads to admit of the passing of laden waggons, say of hay or straw, and on the footpaths to a height of seven feet six inches or eight feet. This regulation will be enforced after the coming summer."
About this time Ruby Cottage on the corner of Albert and Upper Streets was adapted to council offices and continued in use until 1936/37 when the offices were moved to The Views in Reading Road North, the old offices having become too small to accommodate the growing number of officials. The business of deciding how the district was now to develop was now in local hands, and although many of the councillors were business men whose interest it was to see it grow, they made sure that any development did not spoil the natural beauty of the district. To this end industry was kept to a minimum and when the Railway Company asked to build their workshops at Fleet, their application was turned down, and the workshops were built at Eastleigh. Mr Blacknell's saw mill in Fleet Road was still in operation, and The Whitney Exercisor Company had a factory in Kent Road where they manufactured muscle exercisors, dumb bells, golf balls etc. Mr Collis made bicycles in a little workshop in Church Road next to the school, and in Fleet Road, at what is now the Terrace Garage, Mr Barnwell also made bicycles. Mr Stevens, the blacksmith in Crookham Village, had established a smithy and coachbuilding business in Fleet Road opposite the Post Office. When later his six sons joined the business, a car sale and repair department and a petrol service station were added. Before the motor car took over from the horse, it was quite usual to see farm carts, milk floats etc. made by Messrs. Stevens loaded on trucks in the goods siding at Fleet station awaiting transport to London and other parts. In later years Stevens made a number of the mobile County Libraries. (The business was sold for redevelopment in the 1960s. At that time it occupied all the frontage now accommodating Waitrose Supermarket and the adjacent shops; the machine shops, smithy, paint and wheelwright shops went through to Albert Street).
The council should not receive the credit for all that was done, for although there was no Residents Association or Amenity Society at this time, the public made known to the council their complaints and ideas on how things should be done. For instance, in 1905 only a year after the councillors had come to office, a public meeting was called to protest about the condition of Fleet Road which was all mud ruts and potholes filled with water in winter, and inches deep in dust in summer. One militant, Sam Wacket, registered his complaint by fishing and sailing paper boats in a large puddle near the Oatsheaf. Owing to this demonstration it is said that the surveyor was relieved of his post. Fleet Road was improved and Mr Silvester of Freelands Farm secured the contract against severe competition to draw flints from Basingstoke for this purpose.
The Fleet Volunteer Fire Brigade, formed in 1900, had no pumps, the hoses being connected directly onto the main water supply. They were carried in a horse and cart, the horse being borrowed from the milkman when required. The firemen, resplendent in their smart uniforms and shining brass helmets, cycled to the scene of the fire. Crookham also had a fire brigade, who carried their equipment on a hand cart. A ladder mounted on wheels served as a fire escape and did service until about 1920 when a motorised vehicle was purchased.
One of their first assignments was to Grove Farm, Crookham Village, the outbuilding of which caught fire on Christmas Eve. Crondall Brigade came with their famous old hand pump and pumped the duckpond dry, but in spite of this the fire became out of control. A young lad grabbed a horse, mounted bareback, and raced across the heath to bring out the Farnham Fire Brigade. When they arrived the fire had burnt itself out, and the buildings were totally destroyed. Another large fire was at some stables opposite the council offices. Here four horses were destroyed; when the stables were rebuilt the proprietor allowed a horse for the fire brigade to be kept there.
Most of the calls made upon the firemen were to deal with heath fires. At this time, and for many years to come, there were plots of heathland and woods in most of the roads, particularly in the Kings Road and Aldershot Road areas. In the hot summer weather the sedge and undergrowth became tinder dry and caught fire. It was the opinion of the experts that the sun shining through the bottom of broken bottles ignited the dry material, but less knowledgeable, and perhaps more knowing people thought it more likely that boys, stealing a quiet smoke, caused the fires with their cigarette ends and matches; pointing out that there were usually some boys at the scene of a fire long before the brigade arrived, anxious to tell the firemen the best way to get water to the blaze when it was not by the roadside. During a hot spell the firemen were often called out several times in a day, they must have been very pleased each time they saw a plot of heathland being grubbed up to be built over.
The horse drawn transport was used by Fleet firemen until about 1920. It could have been used for much longer, but at this time, the firemen approached the council for a motorised vehicle. The council, (ever careful about spending ratepayers money!), were loath to invest in the vehicle, and offered a faster horse and better stabling. The firemen were having none of this and threatened to resign if their demands were not met. Eventually a model "T" Ford, fitted with lockers for the hoses and fittings and a platform for the firemen to ride on, was purchased. There was still no pump and it was not until 1934 that a secondhand fire engine with pumps was purchased to serve both Fleet and Crookham. This vehicle gave good service until, in 1940, the brigade became part of the National Fire Service.
Most of the surrounding villages had their own Volunteer Fire Brigades, and they all helped each other if there was a large fire. They also competed against each other at some of the larger fetes, where cups and shields were offered for the best turnout and for the speediest and most efficient running-out of hoses of various lengths and numbers.
During the winter each brigade held a grand dinner party to which representatives from other brigades were invited. After the serious business of eating and speech making was over, and the temperature rose in the gas-lit halls, over their glasses of ale the men told stories of record turnout times, of hoses run out and water brought to bear incredibly quickly; of great fires controlled and beautiful girls saved from fiery deaths, which could only be matched by the stories of the fish that got away
The next ten years slipped away with nothing of great importance occurring to interrupt the quiet way of village life. Mrs Duck came round daily with her horse and cart from which she sold fresh fish received each morning from the London train. Messrs Cubby and Meach delivered milk "warm from the cow and milk from special cows for invalids". Groceries, bread, meat and coal were delivered by horse and cart or errand boys on bicycles. On Saturday evenings a butcher auctioned meat on the forecourt of the Oatsheaf, and occasionally a "cheap jack" set up his stall there; on warm summer evenings the men played quoits on this same forecourt.
There was no roar and smell of motor cars, and it was quite quiet save for the long drawn-out cry of "coaa" of the coalman on his rounds, or the shout of "Rag a Bones Booones" from the scrap collector. Occasionally a muffin man came round with his wares on a cloth-covered tray, carried on his head, breaking the stillness with his handbell and raucous cry of "Muffins, fresh Muffins". Apart from sounds such as these, and the clip clop of horses hooves and the crunch of cart wheels on the gravelled roads, it was so quiet that one could hear the clock in Fleet Road strike each hour, the starting whistle at the R.A.E., and commands shouted on the parade ground at Ewshot Camp or even sometimes the military bands playing in Aldershot.
A quiet routine was established in the traffic free roads, Parnell's oil van, selling paraffin came on set days to the various roads; the green-grocer with his pony and cart came regularly twice each week. The coalman's horse and cart following the usual round was struck by one of the infrequent motor vehicles as he turned off Aldershot Road without giving any signal or warning. The irate motorist remonstrated with the coalman, only to be told - "Well, everyone knows I go up Regent Street on Tuesdays".
In Crookham, hop picking was one of the highlights of the year. Whole families from the nearby villages came and were contracted to pick until the harvesting was complete. Each family was allotted a seven-bushel basket, and when these baskets were full a "Tally man" came along the rows of pickers to empty them into his cart and make the correct entries in his book. Everyone picked as fast as possible as payment was made per bushel. The hops were not picked directly into the basket but into small flat containers and opened umbrellas, so that the hops were not squashed thus retaining their full size. Only when the Tallyman appeared at the end of the line were these various containers lowered very, very gently into the large basket; woe betide anyone who kicked or knocked the basket causing the hops to sink down. Finally, they were carefully smoothed towards the sides of the basket. Providing the seven bushel line was reached and the dip in the centre not too noticeable, seven bushels were recorded by the Tallyman. (Over the years fewer and fewer hops were grown, and the last crop was harvested at Grove Farm in 1974).
Although Fleet was a quiet little place it was very much alive, and every thing that happened both locally and nationally was of great interest to everyone. If a local man was before the Odiham Bench for being drunk in charge of a horse and cart, or for leaving a horse unattended, it was news. A subject for conversation for some weeks was the occasion on which the bottom fell out of a cart on its way up from the station, scattering boxes in the road and bolting the horse, leaving the driver running in front of the axle.
There being no wireless or television at home, the people attended all the local events. Members of the Crookham Rifle Club, (formed in 1908), over the years made quite a reputation for themselves winning many cups and shields, one at least a national trophy. Many of the young men and girls spent some of their leisure time at the roller skating rink in Copse Lane. Fetes, usually held in the grounds of Crookham House or in Woodlands Meadow, Fleet, (on the west side of Fleet Road between Church Road and Stockton Avenue), were great events, usually preceded by a procession of local organisations such as the Buffalos, Hampshire Friendly Society or the Oddfellows, each with their huge banners and led by the Fleet Brass Band. At the fetes there were side shows, tug-of-war contests, races and fancy dress competitions for the children, and often a maypole and a tea. The fire brigades competed against each other in displays of skill. Practically all the population turned out to join in the fun. Football and cricket teams were well supported and dances, whist drives, meetings and lectures well attended, as were the performances in Webers Theatre in Fleet Road. Here two performances a week were given also a film show on Saturday afternoons. (Webers Theatre was destroyed by fire in 1914).
An M.P. who came to talk at a political meeting held in Fleet Hall wrote to a local newspaper saying "he was astounded at the enthusiasm of the Fleet people who had walked along dark muddy roads through the woods on a wet evening filling the hall to almost overflowing to hear him speak". (At that time there were only five oilburning street lamps between the station and the Oatsheaf, and one opposite the church in Church Road). A number of the young ladies went to London and joined a demonstration in support of the suffragette movement and received a letter of thanks from Mr Churchill.
An unusual event eagerly anticipated by practically everyone, especially the children who received a day off from school, was the King's review of the troops on Laffins Plain near Eelmoor canal bridge. Queen Victoria had expressed a desire to see her troops, and a review was arranged. It was held annually, and continued during the reigns of Edward VII and George V. Thousands of foot and mounted troops, together with their bands, and the Artillery with their horses or mule-drawn gun carriages, paraded and charged before the Royalty who watched from a little pavilion set upon a small hill. It was a spectacle well worth walking the few miles to see. On several occasions, Mr C. Munns, who had a small private school at Kent House, Velmead Road, took some of his pupils by boats along the canal to this event.
This was the time when the combustion engine, motor cars and motor cycles were being developed, and men were learning how to make and fly aeroplanes. The young men were fired with enthusiasm for these wonderful new inventions, and eagerly learned all they could about them. They were amazed at the great speeds obtained by these new vehicles, 20, 25, 30 and even 40 miles per hour, it was unbelievable! Aeroplanes flying across the English Channel were almost a miracle.
It was not long before some of the local gentry had one of these new means of transport. Soon garages appeared to supply petrol and oil and do repairs to the cars. Carburettor and magneto adjustments were done by trial and error as no two engines were the same, and no one knew much about them anyhow. The mechanic had to be proficient in soldering, brazing and blacksmithing as many components became cracked or broken owing to the uneven road surfaces and lack of shock absorbers. But these men were keen and good craftsmen, and somehow kept the vehicles running. Some of the men built their own machines. Mr Riddler, who kept the Atlas garage in Fleet Road, made two motor cycles, one two stroke and one four stroke. Mr A.A. Enticknap, whose brother had a garage at the junction of Crookham and Coxheath roads, became a skilled aero engineer and assisted Colonel Cody to build his aircraft and fly it on Laffins Plain, He also assisted in the construction of Cody's aeroplane which is now in the Science Museum.
On Sundays, nearly all the children went to Sunday School and they eagerly looked forward to the Christmas tea party and the summer 'treat' which consisted of a day's outing, transport was by horse-drawn brake. They went to Elvetham or Dogmersfield Parks where games and races were organised and a tea provided. In later years they were taken further afield, to Frensham Pond, Hindhead or the south coast by charabanc. Finally, the churches organised combined outings, and fleets of buses took the children to the coast. On one or two occasions a special train was chartered to take them to Bournemouth or Swanage. In the early 1950's when many families possessed their own car, an outing to the coast was no longer a special treat and they were discontinued.
Sunday was a family day. After attending church or Sunday School many families took a walk to enjoy the beautiful scenery in the district; or further afield to Farnborough Common to watch Col. Cody and his mechanics working on his aeroplane. If by any chance it left the ground and made a short flight there was tremendous excitement. The practice of watching the flying on Farnborough Common continued until the 1930's. There was no concrete runway, neither was the common fenced in, and the spectators could sit on the grass quite close to where the aircraft were taking off and landing.
In 1910 a London Golf Club constructed a golf course and clubhouse at Bramshott. The membership was large enough to make it worth while for the railway company to build a small platform by Bramshott Bridge and stop many of the trains there. This golf course was in use until 1940 when the government took it over to extend the military installations.
In 1911 at the time of the Coronation of George V the people gave teas for the children and gaily decorated the streets. In the evening of the day there was a bonfire followed by a display of fireworks.
In 1912 there were about 3,000 people living in Fleet and a similar number in Crookham. All parts of the parishes were fairly well populated, particularly in the vicinity of the Wyvern Inn and the centre of Fleet. There were thirty or forty shops in Fleet Road and as many houses. There was a motorised bus service to Aldershot, and water and gas had been piped to the district some years previously. There was street lighting in the main roads and a telephone service. Few people other than the doctors and the hospital had telephones at this time, and the exchange was in one room in a cottage in Albert Street. The householder, Mrs Mackey manned the switchboard during the daytime and at night her daughter slept in the exchange room just in case there should be a night call.
Fleet was beginning to look less like a village. Crookham Village had not changed much for a number of years; although Church Crookham had grown considerably it was still very rural and had only two shops in Galley Hill Road, a small stores and Post Office in Aldershot Road, a baker in Tweseldown Road and a few shops near the cross roads. At Redfields Farm Mr A.J. Brandon commenced to grow tobacco as a commercial crop. This proved to be very successful and within a few years a large staff was employed to cultivate the plants and cure the leaves. The crop was then packed into huge barrels and sent to Salisbury to be blended and made into pipe tobacco or 'Blue Prior' cigarettes. (Tobacco was last grown on this farm in 1938).
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Chapter 6 The Great War. Development to 1939
1914 saw the start of the Great War. Troops were billeted in every house in the district that was not fully occupied. All the stabling and many of the saddle horses were commandeered for the growing number of recruits to the Royal Artillery Regiment, stationed at Ewshot. The camp at Crookham was built and became the depot of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The whole character of the village changed. Columns of troops on foot and horseback marched along the main streets, often preceded by a band. Heavily laden contingents marched through Fleet to the station ;these poor lads were on their way to 'the front'. During evenings and weekends there were soldiers every-where looking for some sort of amusement. Red Caps patrolled the streets to keep them in order and were stationed along the canal to pick up soldiers who had hired boats at Farnborough or Fleet and perhaps stopped off at a public house somewhere to become incapable of returning to camp. The old Fleet Hall became a cinema and there was a permanent fair ground with swings, roundabouts and many other amusements on the spare piece of ground at the junction of Reading Road South and Clarence Road.
At Farnborough, the 'Royal Aircraft Factory', as it was then known, was already established and during the war produced aero engines for fighter aeroplanes. Many craftsmen were brought in to do this work and women worked on the assembly lines, many finding lodging in Fleet and Crookham.
After four dreary years the war came to an end and the men came home - or some of them did. There was scarcely a family who had not lost at least one of their menfolk, some had lost two or three. After peace was declared there was great rejoicing and celebrations which included sports and tea for the children, a fancy dress carnival, a maypole by the school children, a fancy dress dance with music by the Fleet Brass Band, and for those who did not dance there were village games. There was an 'Al Fresco' concert, a torchlight procession and a water carnival of illuminated boats on the canal. Finally, a bonfire blazed on the vacant land between Clarence and Connaught Roads facing Reading Road.
But after the celebrations were over, people felt the loss of their men folk. Collections were made for a war memorial and a roll of honour in the school, and life slowly returned to normal.
Soon afterwards a start was made on a sewerage system. It was first laid along the main roads and gradually extended to the smaller roads and to Crookham. Electricity also came at this time, again first to the roads with the large houses.
Another Hall was built on the site of the old Webers Theatre. It was called the New Hall, but was in fact two halls constructed from old army huts. The larger hall contained a stage and dressing rooms, a kitchen for preparing and serving refreshments and two badminton courts were laid out on the floor, the other smaller hall contained one badminton court and adjoining cloak-rooms.
The Fleet Badminton Club used the courts in the New Hall one evening each week during the winter; there was a great demand for the hall on the other evenings of the week for dances, whist drives, concerts, political meetings, lectures and the like. Mr J. G. Wilcox and Mr W. Edmonds, both local tradesmen and good amateur entertainers, put on many enjoyable shows in these halls with groups of local talent such as The Magpies, The Hampshire Clan and the Fleet Follies. LtColonel and Mrs F.N. Eastwood organised a more serious drama group drawn from the gentry. Their productions were acted in the New Hall and also on the lawn at their house ("Collingwood" in Elvetham Road).
In 1927 the Church Institute was built in Albert Street, midway between Upper Street and Church Road, for the use of the church and church events. It comprised a large hall with a stage and dressing rooms and a kitchen for refreshments. The hall could be divided into two parts by shutters and at one end were two billiard tables and two table tennis tables. A young men's club was formed which used this hall until 1939.
There were one or two fetes each summer and a flower show organised by the Fleet Horticultural Society (formed in 1908). They were held in a marquee in the grounds of Courtmoor House or in Woodlands Meadow, Fleet Road. These were well supported; the main exhibitors being the gardeners employed by the owners of the large houses who showed on behalf of their employers. There was great rivalry between these men to win trophies, particularly as their employers would not have been too well pleased if a neighbours gardener excelled them. Although few amateur gardeners competed, the show was one of the highlights of the year and was well attended. In the autumn they held a chrysanthemum show in the Pinewood Hall and this show, with its tiers of huge blooms, was even more spectacular than the summer show.
On Boxing Day the Mummers toured the streets, dressed in coats and hats decorated with paper. They performed their traditional little comic play in the streets, the large houses and the public houses; they were plied with Christmas fare and given a few pence. At the end of the day they were all in a very festive mood and their evening performances were riotous.
The Aldershot Military Tattoo held annually in Rushmoor Arena commencing at dusk each evening during the last week in June caused as much interest to the Fleet people as the carnivals do today. Thousands of spectators from all over the country came by coach, rail and car to see this wonderful performance. Sometimes people brought chairs out onto the pavement to sit and watch the never ending stream of traffic passing through Fleet all the evening. All this traffic returned after midnight and continued rumbling past until almost dawn. Nearly all the people in the district attended a performance each year, and the Boy Scouts went every evening to show people to their seats in the grandstand.
Most of the people who had come to the district during the war remained as also did the R.A.M.C. Depot at Crookham. The soldiers at this time were poorly paid and had very little leave. There were great numbers of them in the town during the evenings and at weekends looking for cheap entertainment. On pay night, the cinema, Oatsheaf and the fish and chip bar were crowded with these men. There were often columns of troops marching along Fleet Road to or from the station, going or coming from terms of duty in the Colonies. Along some of the other roads passed long columns of troops in sections or platoons carrying out route marches or manoeuvres some on foot others mounted on horseback. The field guns and kitchens, (which always smelled of delicious stew), were drawn by horses or mules and were often accompanied by a band. During school holidays and on Saturdays these columns were always followed by boys with buckets and shovels or a box on wheels, who gathered the garden fertiliser dropped by the animals. If not needed by father it could be sold to a neighbour for a penny or perhaps two per bucketful - 'big business' in those days! An enterprising youngster with a bucketful of the aforesaid fertiliser demanded the top price of two pence. The householder on questioning this high price was given the quick reply - "Well Maam, we left the shovel at home and this lot is hand picked".
Army officers stationed at Aldershot and Crookham found Fleet and Crookham pleasant places to settle their families. Gentlemen, retired from high ranking civil posts in the colonies, came to live in the district. As there was little or no industry in Fleet an increasing number of people young and old were finding employment in London, to which they commuted each day.
Building to accommodate the new population went on apace, houses were built along Reading Road, Elvetham Road and at Crookham. The heath between Church Road and Elvetham Bridge (known as Elvetham Woods) was developed, and Gough Road, Fitzroy Road, Calthorpe Road and Herbert Road were constructed. Birch Avenue was made, and in about 1926, Stockton House, set in extensive grounds which stretched from Fleet Road to Elvetham Road, became the first estate in Fleet to be redeveloped. The drive became Stockton Avenue and Waverley Avenue and Pines Road were constructed and houses were built along these roads. In all these areas the houses were large to accommodate domestic servants as well as the families, as at this time the gentry employed at least two servants in the house and a gardener. Smaller houses were being built for the working population on the vacant land throughout the district.
In 1924 Fleet's first council houses were built; three pairs at the junction of Albany and Kings Roads, and three pairs in Elvetham Road opposite Church Road. Later ten were built in Kenilworth Road and eight in Westover Road. All this building was done by five or six local builders who employed a permanent staff of building craftsmen. The land was cleared by hand, and foundations and drainage trenches were hand dug. All the concrete mortar and plaster was mixed by the labourers; concrete mixers did not begin to appear until the 1930's. Each builder had his own joiners shop, they contained little or no machinery, the timber for doors, windows, cupboards, staircases etc. was sawn and planed by the apprentices. Several hundred men were employed in the local building industry at this time and many building craftsmen moved into the district.
At this time, the car was gradually taking over from the horse for the delivery of goods. In summer these heavier and faster vehicles raised clouds of dust from the gravelled side roads, so the council provided a cart to sprinkle water on the roads to lay the dust. Soon, however, these roads were re-made and surfaced with tarmac. All the supplies for the shops etc. still came by rail and were delivered by the Eales brothers (the official railway carriers) in two model 'T' Ford vans.
In 1924 the greater part of Crookham was taken into the Fleet Urban District Council.
In spite of all these developments Fleet was still a quiet and peaceful place, although more of a small town than a village. There were still a lot of spare pieces of land in all the roads on which children could play and have their 5th November bonfire. It was still safe to play football and cricket in the road using a telegraph pole for a wicket providing an eye was kept open for the few passing vehicles; a top could be spun or a hoop bowled on the pavement and marbles were played in the gutter on the way to school in safety.
A bell summoned the children to school, and apart from one or two who had bicycles, they all walked. Most walked home and back again at midday but a few who had come a long way brought sandwiches for dinner which they ate in an open shed in the playground; no food was allowed to be eaten in the classrooms. Should a child get thirsty or dirty there were two or three sinks set in a slate slab in the cloakroom with an enamel mug attached by a chain for drinking water. There was no hot tap and even in winter they had to wash in cold water. The classrooms were hot in summer and cold in winter; there was only a coketurning stove in each room for heating. The desks, seating either two or six children, were set in rows across the classrooms. Each day commenced with prayers and religious instruction, and on Ascension Day and Ash Wednesday the children all went to the Parish Church. Reading, writing and arithmetic were the main subjects with one period a week of geography and history, also knitting or sewing for the girls and drawing or painting for the boys. There were two periods each week set aside for physical training in the playground which consisted of muscular exercises which if well done were followed by some relay races or a game of rounders. Some of the senior boys played football and cricket in the Views Meadow after school and on Saturday mornings. The girls played netball in the playground. There were little or no games played during school hours, and even the rehearsals for the Christmas concert were done after school.
Empire Day was celebrated each year. The whole school lined up in the playground and listened to speeches by school managers and local dignitaries; prizes for diligent work were presented by Col. Horniblow. 'Land of Hope and Glory' and 'God Save The King' were sung and sometimes the girls gave a display of country dancing and the boys did physical exercises. Discipline was always strict and the teachers caned the children who either arrived late, talked in class, did poor work or made mischief in the playground. Should it come to the notice of a teacher that a boy had broken a window or a street lamp, stolen apples or committed some other misdemeanor on the way to school, he would be caned and a note sent to his parents who would probably deal out more punishment. Similar arrangements to those at Fleet existed at Crookham during this period.
There was a small private school in Branksomewood Road run by the two Miss Wards "for Gentlemen's Daughters", (this school later became St Nicholas School); also there were several little schools in private houses. In Kent Road, Mr and Mrs Stevens had opened 'Eriva Dene' school for boys and girls. This school fulfilled a long-felt need for a local school where children could gain national certificates of education, equivalent to today's 'A' levels. Before this, children requiring further education than could be obtained at the elementary school had to travel to the secondary schools at either Farnborough, Aldershot, Odiham or Basingstoke. At this time all secondary education had to be paid for, except for the few children who gained scholarships.
Wireless programmes were being broadcast at this time and the handy men and boys were busy in their spare time making simple receiving sets. Quite quickly a forest of poles carrying wireless aerials appeared in the gardens.
There were plenty of facilities for sport. There were football, cricket, hockey, bowls, tennis and badminton clubs, as well as a number of privately owned tennis courts which could be hired by the hour; any sort of game could be played in Oakleys meadow. The motor cycle enthusiasts had formed the Fleet District Motor Cycle Club and held rallies, hill climbs and other events. There was an open air swimming pool in Cove Road by the pond and boating to be had on the canal. Punts, skiffs and canoes could be hired at Reading Road wharf and at Pondtail and at the Fox & Hounds Inn in Crookham Road. There was a little shop by Reading Road bridge that served teas on a lawn, and a hut at Pyestock called the Forest Hut from which teas were served on little tables beneath the pines. The canal contained huge shoals of roach as well as pike up to twenty pounds in weight and good tench and perch, offering good fishing. There was an abundance of crayfish for which the children fished under the bridges, using a cods head or a piece of meat tied on a string as bait. When attacked by the crayfish this was very gently raised to the surface, and the crayfish scooped out onto the towpath. Both the canal and the pond were clean and clear of weeds and used for swimming by the men and boys. There was the North Hants Golf Club and a Polo ground at Ancells Farm in Cove Road. This polo ground was owned by a gentleman named Ormrod from Kingsclere, who each season brought his grooms and string of ponies to play against teams from all over the country; on several occasions teams came from abroad to compete. Of course the latter sports were only enjoyed by the gentry, who did not often enter into the other sporting activities. They were, however, very interested in the way the town was being developed, and a considerable number of them from time to time served on the Council to help to decide what sort of a place Fleet was to be. At this rime the Council was responsible for granting all planning permission.
These Gentlefolk formed quite half of the population of the district at this time and they lived a life mainly apart from the rest of the community. A few served on the elementary school's Board of Governors, did hospital or church work, helped in the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements and the Red Cross, or arranged concerts and garden parties for charity. The sport and social centre of the serving officers was the Officers Club at Aldershot. Most of their sons received their education at Public Schools and University; their daughters went away to school and many attended finishing schools, sometimes on the Continent, to prepare them for their presentation at Court and the following London Season.
They patronised the bridge club, held bridge and cocktail parties in their own homes and at house parties were sometimes entertained by a group of ladies playing guitars who called themselves the Zingari Band. These ladies upon one or two occasions performed in public at charity events and played at private dances and concerts held in the Pinewood Hall.
About 1930 a police station was built in Reading Road South and a police sergeant appointed. Until this time there had been only two constables in Fleet and one in Crookham. In 1932, the remaining part of Church Crookham was combined with Fleet and the whole district was then administered by Fleet Urban District Council on which Crookham was allotted four seats. This allowed for the development of the two districts to be co-ordinated.
Crookham was expanding as fast as Fleet, and in 1935 Dinorben Court was purchased for re-development. This was a large estate comprising most of the land between Reading Road bridge and Castle Street and extended through to Coxheath Road. The main drive was made into Dinorben Avenue and large houses were built along both sides. Soon afterwards, Court Moor, another large property in Reading Road South, was sold also for redevelopment.
In 1932, Queen Mary purchased a large house in Elvetham Road called 'The Pines'. The house was re-named Queen Mary's House and was for the use as a home for retired senior nurses of the Queen Alexandras Imperial Nursing Service. In 1933, Queen Mary and the Princess Royal visited and spent a day at this house. By 1960 very few nurses were living in this house and when in that year a Bill was passed by parliament raising the pensions of these elderly ladies it soon became empty and was sold for redevelopment.
In 1935 a one-day carnival was held as part of the King George V Silver Jubilee celebrations. In May 1937 the Coronation of King George VI was celebrated with children's and adult's sports in the Views meadow, a children's tea, during which souvenir mugs and a Union Jack were given to each child; a comic football match was played by Fleet Football Club, and a floodlit tattoo organised by Lt. Col. and Mrs F.N. Eastwood and Mr J.G. Wilcox; there was also a carnival and a carnival dance. In Crookham a further carnival was held with children's sports and teas, followed by a bonfire.
In 1939 another carnival was held in aid of Fleet Hospital.
The horse and cart as a means of transport had now almost disappeared; and there were quite a number of privately owned cars and motor cycles on the roads. Columns of mounted troops no longer passed along the roads but were replaced by tanks, armoured cars and lorries. There were still a number of private roads that had not been made up, and main drainage was not available in all the roads.
In 1939 the army extended the camp at Crookham; this extension was at first named Boyce Barracks and was later renamed Queen Elizabeth Barracks. In June 1948 Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother visited these barracks on the occasion of the Royal Army Medical Corps Jubilee.
Also in 1939 there was still a farm in Reading Road South and Lee Farm in Crookham Road. Tobacco was still being grown at Redfields Farm. Nurseries in Fleet Road, Aldershot Road, Albert Street, Crookham Road and Pine Grove still produced flowers, fruit and vegetables. There remained a few plots of building land and one or two large tracks of wood and heathland. Fleet was no longer a village but a small town. When the second World War commenced in September 1939, an era in the development of the district had come to an end.
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Chapter 7 The 1939-45 War. Development to 1975
As soon as war was declared the reserves were called up and Crookham Camp was full to overflowing; some of the local men volunteered for the forces and the remainder were conscripted by age groups. The men too old or medically unfit for active service and those employed in reserved occupations were enrolled in the Civil Defence Organisations which were exceedingly well organised by the retired senior army persons living in the district. The single and childless married women were directed to employment of national importance or were conscripted into the women's sections of the armed forces.
There was no street lighting and the windows of all houses were blacked out with dark curtains. The few vehicles that were on the roads at night had all their lamps masked and the only illumination allowed came through a small slit in the mask. Each time the air raid siren sounded, denoting that enemy aircraft were approaching, the Air Raid Wardens patrolled the streets to make sure that not a chink of light was escaping from any house that would attract the attention of the enemy. Fleet pond was drained as it was considered that, particularly on moonlight nights, it was too good a landmark to leave for the enemy should they be trying to locate targets in the area. Almost every night marauding aircraft passed overhead on their way to the industrial towns in the north, and often explosions could be heard caused by bombs which had been jettisoned from aircraft that were in some sort of difficulty. During the later stages of the war formations of our own aircraft loaded with bombs on their way to attack enemy installations passed overhead during the evenings; the noise from their hard-pressed engines struggling to gain altitude making the whole air vibrate; they came back in the early hours of the morning making much less noise.
The people of Fleet and Crookham were apprehensive that they could well be subject to heavy enemy attack, owing to the near proximity of Aldershot, the R.A.E. at Farnborough, the R.A.F. station at Odiham and the American Bomber base at Blackbushe. However, with the exception of a few isolated incidents, they escaped unharmed. The worst of these incidents was when a bomb intended for Crookham Camp hit a house in Sandy Lane killing the husband, wife and their four children. A stick of small bombs was dropped near The Wyvern; one hit a cottage in Aldershot Road and a woman lost her life. A bomb glanced off the roof of a house in Connaught Road, bounded off the road over the house on the other side and finally failed to explode when it buried itself in Oakley Park. A stick of bombs dropped in the fields of Broomhurst Farm without doing any damage; one failed to explode and laid in the ground until 1971 when it was accidentally but safely excavated and detonated during the construction of the M3 motorway. In daylight, low flying aircraft fired at some agricultural workers in the fields and at the houses in Crookham Village; there were no casualties and no damage was done.
In spite of the blackout and the fact that most of the men were away, there was a surprising amount of social activity. The cinema opened each evening and there were socials and dances. The congregations at the Churches were greatly increased by the troops who attended, and the Church people did a lot to entertain them. They organised tea for them in the schoolrooms on Sunday afternoons; a great number were entertained in people's homes and often a good meal was squeezed from the meagre rations for these men. From these associations many friendships sprang up which have continued through the years.
The day peace was declared everyone tore down their blackout curtains in a frenzy of relief. When darkness fell all the house lights were turned on and the whole district was a blaze of light; bonfires were lit in some of the streets, burning considerable holes in the road surface. The town had come alive again. To commemorate the peace, the children of each street were given a tea party, sitting at trestle tables set up in the roadway. Each child was given a certificate to say that he or she attended the party. Later, when most of the men had returned from the forces, there was a procession along the main streets followed by a huge fete in the Views Meadow.
Life quite quickly returned to normal, apart from the rationing of food and clothing which went on for a year or two.
With all the young people returning from the forces, many of whom had married during this time, and with old people who had taken refuge in the district during the war who wished to remain, there was an acute housing shortage. Squatters moved into the large houses vacated by the troops, notably Dinorben Court. When these people were finally housed, Dinorben Court was found to be in such a dreadful state of repair that it was demolished.
Soon houses were being built on the remaining plots of spare land, and a lot of land previously thought unfit for housing was made up and built over. The woodland between Aldershot and Albany Roads was cleared and Albany Close was developed by the Council. In part of Dinorben Estate, Wickham Road and Close were made and Council houses built there. The Council developed part of The Lea, a large tract of heathland extending from Crookham Road to Hitches Lane.
The phenomenal increase in the population of Fleet and Crookham really started about 1950 when land previously 'White' on the map was released for development and industry began to move into the south-east. Although none actually came to the district a lot came within travelling distance. Also in 1952 the Government took over the 'Power Jet' factory at Pyestock where Frank Whittle was further developing the aero jet engine, invented by him during the war. The Government rapidly expanded this factory and turned it into 'The National Gas Turbine Establishment'. They brought in hundreds of skilled personnel. All these people had to be housed nearby, and many came to Fleet and Crookham where the Council provided almost one hundred houses for their use; many purchased their own properties. The developers were quick to see that the district was ideal for the people who would be working in the factories in the surrounding towns, and also that it was a very suitable commuter area for London. Very quickly all available land was being built on or earmarked for future development. The heathland adjoining Basingbourne Road, extending to GaIly Hill and known as 'Basingbourne Woods' was cleared, levelled and developed partly by the Council and partly by private enterprise. Glen Road, Fir Close, and many houses were built in the Firs Meadow, and later the new Police station was sited there. Lea Farm and the grounds of the two adjacent houses became Lea Wood, Frere Avenue and Merrivale. The nursery in Crookham Road were maidenhair fern had been cultivated was developed to become Sycamore Crescent and Fern Drive.
A lot of people living in the large houses were finding it impossible to get domestic servants, gardeners etc. as the type of person who had previously done this work was now able to find more remunerative employment in offices and industry. Many of them were now able to afford their own transport and were not tied to working locally. A large number of these houses came on to the market and were eagerly purchased by developers. In many cases the house names were given to the new roads, and many of the roads developed by the Council were given the names of prominent local persons. Most of the smaller houses had large gardens and in a considerable number of these another one or two houses were built.
Fleet Road developed from a road lined with little shops mingled with large houses, two Churches, a cinema, a large garage, filling station and coachbuilding establishment and one or two vacant plots of land, to a busy shopping centre; large modern shops and offices have taken the place of the houses, Churches, cinema and the industrial organisations. Many of the little shops were demolished and modern shops were built in their place.
Five large houses set in extensive grounds which occupied almost all the land between Kings Road and the Railway Station were sold for re-development, and Knoll Road and Close, Cranbrook Court and all the adjacent houses were built. On the other side between Avondale Road and the Station one large house was re-developed together with the adjoining heathland and Darset Avenue and Bramshot Drive were built.
New people came to Fleet and Crookham in hundreds or rather thousands. Very many of them were young couples buying their first home, so many in fact that in 1962 Fleet returned the highest birth rate in the country. Since then the district has continued to grow, and between 1946 and 1975 the population has grown from a little over 8,000 to over 23,000. Apart from some houses with large gardens which still remain, almost all the available building land is now used. Fleet and Crookham will not be able to expand much more unless the War Office releases more of the surrounding land or some of the agricultural land is released for development.
With the rise in population and the raising of the school leaving age to 15, it was not long before the little schools in Albert Street and Gally Hill Road were unable to cope with the increasing number of children. In 1947 Heatherside Secondary Modern School was built; later it was used as a Junior and Infant School and greatly enlarged. As the population continued to grow, Heatherside School was followed by Court Moor Secondary, Lea Wood All Saints, Sandy Lane Infant and Junior, Calthorpe Park Comprehensive, Velmead Junior and Tavistock Infant Schools.
About 1950, Heatherside School became the centre for further education. Later this was transferred to Court Moor, and in 1973 classes in a wide variety of subjects were attended by almost 2,000 students.
In spite of the development and the large increase in population, industry was, as far as possible, kept out and almost every application for an industrial concern to come into the area was fought by the residents, particularly by members of Fleet Planning Protection Association. Two firms that had been established in Fleet for many years did, however, flourish and grow. During the Great War Mr H. Pool had a sawmill and building business in Fleet Road opposite the Post Office. In 1921 he purchased from the War Office two acres of land adjacent to Fleet Railway Station and a portion of Fleet Pond known as The Flash. Shortly afterwards he transferred the sawmill and building business to this site. From that time until 1960 he, and later his son Mr H.H. Pool, built almost all the houses in Reading Road North, Gough Road, Fitzroy and Herbert Roads, as well as many other houses in the district. They also developed Stockton House and Dinorben Court estates.
During the 1939-45 war the sawmill was very busy and they cut and drew timber from as far afield as Wales; they also cut Army timber. They supplied the Government with large quantities of sawn timber, some of which was used at Buckingham Palace and the London Underground Stations as a protection against bomb blast.
In 1958 the first factory was built on this site and was occupied by 'The Netta Brush Co'. Planning consent was granted in 1962 to fill in The Flash and build factories on this site. Today there are about twenty tenants on this site employing over 250 persons.
In 1929, Mr E.T.J. Tapp who had already formed the company of County Commercial Cars Ltd. came to Fleet and took over two sheds in Albert Street which had previously been used by Richard Pool to house and maintain his traction engines. In the first instance the company specialised in converting four wheel 'Ford' trucks to six wheelers. Later they turned their attention to adapting crawler drive to agricultural tractors. In 1954 they commenced to adapt tractors to four wheel drive and by 1963 no more crawlers were being made. They outgrew their old premises and in 1955 built the first portion of their complex in Albert Street which now houses the main office and the administration staff, the assembly lines, stores and inspection departments. The machine shop, fabrication and welding is still at the old works. They now have premises at the junction of Albert and Upper Streets, in Upper Street, Church Road, Fleet Station Industrial Site, Redfields at Crookham and at Aldershot and Andover. These are used for tractor finishing, supply department, finance and secretarial departments, final inspection and despatch unit, tyre and unit stores, truck assembly, records storage, printing, and services parts and stores.
The company's business is now the design and manufacture and sale of four wheel drive agricultural tractors, specialised tractors and transmissions, and six wheel commercial vehicles. They have about 450 employees, over 350 of them based in Fleet producing over 2,000 vehicles annually, 65%-70% of which are exported.
In 1975, apart from these two large organisations, there were twenty-seven smaller industrial firms operating in the district, including the twenty on the industrial estate.
In 1963/64 the R.A.M.C. Depot was moved from Crookham and the Haig Lines have remained empty with the exception of two or three weeks each year when the Territorial Army take them over for their summer training programme. From 1964 to 1975 various Gurkha Regiments have been stationed at Queen Elizabeth Barracks. These good-natured, cheerful little men have become very popular in the district. In 1973 the 7th Duke of Edinburgh's Own Gurkha Regiment presented Fleet Council with a ceremonial Kukri which is exhibited in a glass case over the Gurkha bar in the Civic Centre; and the 10th Princess Mary's Own Gurkha Rifles presented a fine coloured print of a painting of L/Cpl. Limbu winning his V.C. in 1965 at Serinhin, Sarawak. This hangs in the Gurkha lounge.
From 1945, although radio and television were entertaining more and more people in their own homes, social and recreational activities increased enormously. In 1946, Dr Falkland Cary retired and came to live at Hallands, Fleet Road. He had had experience of the professional theatre and was keen to form an amateur dramatic group in Fleet, but was informed that the north side 'Colonels etc.' would never work with the 'less aristocratic south'. However, he went ahead and had notices printed and displayed in the shop windows saying that amateur actors were required 'not snobs'. The result was that seventy-five people attended a meeting and Fleet Players were formed. Their difficulty was to find somewhere to perform as the New Hall was no longer used and the Church Institute (later called The Fleet Hall) was used only by and for the Church Finally the Church changed their ruling concerning the hall and Fleet Players and others used it from this time forward. The Players produced their first play and gave a very polished performance of Madam Tic Tac in 1947, directed by Dr Falkland Cary. During the following twenty-eight years they gave two or three performances each year. All were produced and acted to an almost professional standard, including Richard of Bordeaux, Scarlet Pimpernel, Journey's End, and the first amateur production of The Lady's Not for Burning. Also in 1946 the Fleet Stamp Club was formed (later renamed The North Hants Philatelic Society), and in 1947 the Fleet Townswomen's Guild was founded. The membership of the Fleet Horticultural Society grew, and as well as holding summer and chrysanthemum shows they held a show of seasonal flowers, fruit and vegetables at each monthly meeting in the Church Institute, and from the early 1960s they staged a large June show in conjunction with the carnival. At all these shows the main exhibitors were amateur gardeners.
From this time to 1975 almost one hundred other societies, associations and clubs have been formed to cater for all leisure activities and interests.
In 1953 on the occasion of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the streets were decorated with flags and bunting, and there were twelve days of special events including special services at all the Churches and a United Church service in The Views Meadow; a sports gymkhana, swimming gala and regatta at the Cove Road swimming pool, carnival king making at The Views Meadow followed by dancing on the grass, a horticultural show, a fair in The Views Meadow followed by the crowning of the carnival king and queen, a coronation ball, old folks' tea and entertainment and a motor cycle gymkhana. Finally there was a carnival procession, the carnival queen's procession starting from Crookham and the king's procession from the Station; they met at the Oatsheaf and together toured the district, finally arriving at The Views Meadow where the band of the R.A.M.C. played, and there was community singing.
By 1954 there was a growing need for a public hall in Fleet, the New Hall having been demolished and the Church Hall being inadequate to serve the needs of the growing population. In that year the Fleet Chamber of Trade called a meeting to discuss this matter and decided that £10,000 would be needed to build a reasonable sized hall, and that if a carnival was arranged each year for the next few years this amount could soon be raised. They did not wish to organise this project so a committee of tradesmen and other local people was formed, and the project registered as a charity. The first carnival was held in 1955 and continued as a week-long, yearly event. Unfortunately the price of land and building rose steeply, and when £10,000 had been raised this sum was not nearly enough to build a hall, and so the carnival committee donated the money towards the cost of the Fleet Civic Centre. In 1967 the carnival was re-registered with the Charity Commissioners as an organisation to provide amenities, to benefit the community as a whole.
From the funds raised since this time they have re-installed radio and television at Fleet Hospital, purchased an ambulance for the St John's Ambulance Brigade and 'Medico' baths for Winchfield Hospital.
In 1973 the Council purchased from the Ministry of Defence, Fleet Pond and many acres of land surrounding it for recreational purposes. Although this area was designated as an area of scientific interest, limited boating and fishing was allowed (by permit) and a certain amount of clearance was done (and is still being done) by volunteer labour under the supervision of the warden, thus enabling the public to enjoy walks in the unspoiled woodland.
Also in 1973 the Council purchased from the Army a recreation ground with a derelict gymnasium in the Bourley Road, Church Crookham. They refurbished the gymnasium to form a sports hall to provide facilities for indoor sports, together with a lounge, changing rooms and a shower block. The recreation ground was re-organised to provide a senior and junior football pitch, a floodlit all-weather area for tennis, a six-a-side football and a grass running track. In 1974 the ground was officially opened and named 'The Peter Driver Sports Hall and Ground'. Peter Driver, the 1954 Commonwealth Games 6 miles Gold Medallist, was a local man and a founder member of the Fleet & Crookham Athletic Club. His tragic death in 1971 at the age of 39 is remembered in the name of this hall.
At this time the council developed the sports ground at Calthorpe Park laying out a 9-hole pitch and putt course, tennis courts and a junior football pitch. The indoor sports centre which was for the use of the schools and the public was not completed until 1975.
From 1955, the increasing number of local government departments that were developing, caused the council to think seriously about a Civic Centre to contain Council Administration Offices, Committee Rooms and a Public Hall; local bodies put forward suggestions as to what they thought was required to fulfill the social needs of the community. Various propositions were discussed, turned down, agreed to or improved upon and it was not before 1964/65 that preliminary plans were prepared. By this time finance was one of the major factors. The price of building had rocketed during the previous few years, yet in spite of this it was proposed to build local authority administrative offices, library and assembly hall together with a shopping precinct and car parks in and around the Views Meadow. Later, owing to the change in the structure of local government, the inclusion of administrative buildings was abandoned; also the scheme to include a shopping precinct was shelved for the time being.
In 1971 work commenced on the Assembly Hall, Library and Car Parks, and when completed comprised one larger hall subsequently named Chernock Hall after the house which for many years housed the public library. A small hall, named 'The Carnival Hall' in recognition of ten thousand pounds donated towards the cost by the Fleet & District Carnival Committee, three committee rooms, kitchens and usual offices, and car parks to accommodate over 200 vehicles. The War Memorial was moved from its old site near Fleet railway station and incorporated in the landscaped square in front of the Assembly Hall. The Assembly Halls were officially opened in March 1973 by County Alderman Mrs F.M. Graham Taylor, O.B.E. who for twenty four years was a member of Fleet Urban District Council and Chairman from 1954/56.
In 1972 there were plans for the government to change the structure of local government. A plan was designed to bring together small administrative groups so that they could be administered more economically and efficiently as one large group. It seemed likely that Fleet would be combined with Farnborough and Aldershot. Fleet and Hartley Wintney Councils already had a close association, and it was generally considered by the public that Fleet and Hartley Wintney together would be much more acceptable. Feelings ran high about the proposed merger; meetings were held, letters sent to M.P.'s, to the County Council and the Boundary Commissioners, and any other body which might have influence in this matter. Many columns were printed in the local press and several people stated their views on Southern Television News. Finally, Fleet did join Hartley Wintney, and in April 1974 the Hart District Council was formed. Such was the pleasure of the people who had led the campaign to bring this about, that a celebration champagne party was held in the Victoria Hall, Hartley Wintney.
Over the years,
Royalty and several celebrities have stayed or lived in Fleet and Crookham. The
Duchess of Albany was several times the guest of Sir Richard Morton of Crookham
House, and to commemorate these visits the lower end of Upper Street was renamed
Albany Road. The Duke of Connaught spent several nights in Fleet while attending
to military duties in Aldershot. In honour of this visit, Middle Street, High
Street and Station Road were renamed Clarence Road, Connaught Road and Kings
Road. Sir Arthur Sullivan, whilst staying as a guest at Boon Farm wrote the
music of the famous Savoy opera "The Yeoman of the Guard". During the 1920's,
General Smuts (the then Prime Minister of South Africa) spent a week or two at
Fleet Farm House. Dorothy Brandon, a cripple living at Redfields Farm, Church
Crookham, wrote a play telling the story of her life entitled 'The Outsider'
which was nationally acclaimed. Daphne Du Maurier lived for a short period at
The Gables, Church Crookham, and Sir Seymour and Lady Hicks lived for some years
at 'The Courtyard', Elvetham Road. From 1946, Dr Falkland L. Carey, the well
known playwright, has resided at 'Hallands', Fleet Road. He has published about
thirty plays, the best known of which are 'Candied Peel', (written in
conjunction with Philip King), 'Sailor Beware', 'Madam TicTac', 'Watch It
Sailor' and 'Big Bad Mouse'. Some of these have run for long periods in the West
End and have toured Canada, U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand; four of them have
been made into films.
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Acknowledgements by Ted Roe
The many residents of Fleet and Crookham who have kindly lent me their old photographs of the district and have given me many enjoyable hours of their time recounting memories of the "old days".
The chairman and members of Hart District Council.
members of all the churches in the area.
Dr Falkland L. Cary. Mr H.H.Pool Mr R. Tapp.
My friends and family who have given me encouragement and help in compiling this small work.
Published by Ted
Roe, Harewarren Farm, Dogmersfield, Hampshire
Printed by Charterlith, 30 Reading Road South, Fleet, Hampshire, Fleet 4406
Particulars of the Parish of Crookham, Hants. by Grace Lefroy, O.B.E.
The Crondall Records, by Francis Joseph Baigent
Monastry and Manor and Ordained in Power by R.P.Butterfield
Early Fleet Newspapers
Souvenir Booklets and Magazines published by the various churches.
A Brief History of Fleet & District Hospital 1897 - 1947
fleethants.com thanks the family of the late Ted Roe for their kind permission to include information from the book "Mainly about Old Fleet and Crookham" on its website.
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