Wednesday, 29 December 2010

"Opportunity missed"

For all the publicity about the renovation of Reigate Priory Park through Heritage Lottery Funding of £4.2 million plus more millions from local businesses, I have always maintained that a DVD would be an ideal way of recording the process and the outcome.

So it was a great treat this Christmas to see the new DVD sponsored by the Borough Council and Legal & General. It features some key historical elements since the 12th century, as well as the ancient woodland deerpark, medieval fishponds - now the lake, wild flowers, Victorian-style herbaceous borders and numerous magnificent tree specimens.

Those of us interested in nature conservation might be astonished by the attention to regulations when it came to the demolition of the old air raid shelter with its one resident bat. Similarly with the draining and dredging of the lake, one single duck nest had to be protected by giving it a wide berth of several metres.

The silliest story in my opinion, though, is about the fully grown terrapin that is an unwelcome resident of Reigate Priory Park lake - certainly not a genuine heritage feature and according to Surrey Biodiversity Partnership, actually 'a serious threat to our wetland fauna'. Project manager Nina Porter explained that she had heard about the terrapin before, she had seen it herself and it was a menace, eating fish and ducklings. I wonder if it had been properly listed in the paperwork as a living creature that should be moved to a new and more suitable home, if the opportunity presented itself.

Well, now we know that there was indeed a perfect opportunity, but failure of communication with a naive contract worker.

Suffice it to say that, after all that hard work and financial outlay, the overgrown and unwanted exotic pet still lurks there. Yes, Reigate's Rogue of a Reptile was taking a stroll across the grass when it was spotted by a workman, picked up and ushered back into that beautiful, tranquil and ancient lake, where it remains to this day. Watch out - he or she has grown to the size of a dinner plate.

Now how about a Reward for anyone else who finds it again?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Castle cottages

There is some good news from my Lib Dem councillor Graham Norman about one of my heritage concerns locally - the boarded up cottages in Reigate's Castle Grounds are for sale!

Yes, it will be good to have them occupied again and one trusts fully restored in keeping with their age and location.

If they decided to put them on the market as a result of my raising the subject then I am very glad I did - and with the proceeds there will be more than enough to pay for the restoration of Reigate's magnificent Park Lane gates. After all, it is only fitting that the sale of one historic treasure in this ancient town can fund the long awaited repair of another. Problem solved.

Letters to the Editor archives

Now that the local paper has moved offices out of Reigate to Redhill, there is no space for the archives. They have all had to go to somewhere in Brentwood/ford, I hear.

So for posterity, here are two of the letters published in October 2008, one by a colleague and the other from me. Well, if only more people had read them at the time, such as our MP Crispin Blunt who lives in London, not his constituency. We really could have helped prevent at least 4,445 girls from getting side effects in less than two years, some of whom have needed long-term hospital care.

Yes, both subheadings were shown to be correct - the HPV comments WERE misleading, and Better safe than sorry - but it is too late now for those girls.

Click here to enlarge

Click here to enlarge

For an up to date account of my findings please take a look at my new Pigeon Post page: Truth about Cervarix.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Who tore the guts out of the Nazi forces?

(1) Lifesaving phage medicine as used for Red Army troops to fight infections throughout WW2 and the Cold War

(2) This Soviet medal was for meritorious service in WW2 - in Russian, "We have won"

Back in August I was at the Cabinet War Rooms special tea party where I had a most delightful conversation with Mr Hugh Lunghi. He had previously told me about his experiences of being the official interpreter for meetings between Churchill, Montgomery and Stalin and now he enlightened me with some more gems.

Actually at one time during the war he was even stationed here in Reigate.

He had stayed for almost three months in the small wooden dacha/shooting lodge in Abastumani, near Borzhomi, Georgia where the Grand Duke Michael lived for long periods smitten with T.B. - a place I visited in 2007 on my Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship investigating their excellent approach to health and wellbeing.

Kindly commenting on my book chapter about Women who thawed the Cold War, Mr Lunghi explained that the phrase 'Iron Curtain' was originally coined by a German political philosopher in the 19th century. 'The phrase appears again in 1918, used by the Russian emigre philosopher Vasily Rozanov in "Apocalypse of Our Time". Goebbels picked it up in Feb. 1945. Churchill first used it in his May1945 telegram to Truman and again in his wonderfully prescient address in Westminster College, Fulton in March 1946.'

The solid piece of world history which I am especially grateful for, and which is certainly worth recording for posterity is this: 'The battle which won the war and liberated Europe was the battle of the Kursk Salient in the summer of 1943. It was more important than the whole of the Overlord operation on the Western front (see for example Europe at War by Norman Taylor pp110-112) Kursk was the decisive battle of World War II: 6000 tanks took part; the Red Army lost more troops in that one battle than the Western Allies lost in the whole war. As Churchill put it, "The Red Army tore the guts out of the Nazi forces". In the British Military Mission in Moscow, thanks to Stalin's deep secrecy, we were, at the time and even long after the War, given very little information about its progress. Churchill devoted only 5 or 6 pages to Kursk in his history of the war!'

A quick check on Wikipedia informs me of these terrifying statistics as we remember World War 2 locally this week:

German losses at Kursk: 203,000
Soviet Union losses at Kursk: 863,303,

and from reading a recent monograph about the WW2 medical emergency care, the losses would have been far greater without phage medicine.

For that matter, the German troops were also routinely issued with phage medicine in WW2 -and it was our Allied troops who missed out.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

J Arthur Rank

Have you ever wondered what to write in an autograph book? Well, this is what J Arthur Rank wrote on 4th February 1923, here in his home town for a neighbour's boy, Eric Hurst of Edes Fields, Park Lane. I had the great honour of showing it to the two audiences of my lecture, Churchill's Secret Reigate.

Pray about everything
Always expect something
Be thankful for anything
Grumble about nothing.

J. Arthur Rank

As well as all his other achievements in the milling business and the movies, he was the superintendent of the Sunday School at Reigate Methodist Church in the High Street, commemorated by the Rank Memorial Hall which is where I used to go for Girl Guides, the youth club, taking part in plays and concerts - and not forgetting those glorious Saturday night evenings, bopping round our handbags to the latest bands in the 60s!

J Arthur Rank was a great fan of Winston Churchill, even adopting some of his speech mannerisms apparently, and you can see from the blue plaque at Chartwell, he was one of the generous benefactors who eventually bought the place for the Churchills to continue living there, as a thank you gift after the war. During the war itself, J Arthur Rank housed his milling business temporarily in Reigate Priory for safety - just the other side of the wall behind his beloved Methodist Church. It was a wise decision because Hitler's lot had already earmarked the huge London flour mills as key targets.

On another page in Eric's tiny autograph book is a wonderful pen and ink drawing of their beloved Reigate Heath with the old windmill in the background - just as it looks today. The historic windmill is still in good condition and used as a church.

If you would like to see the autograph book, maybe I can take it along, with my WW2 memorabilia and my brand new patchwork commemorative quilt, to the Age Concern event on Saturday 20th November at Merstham Day Centre, 11am - 2pm.

The next day, Sunday 21st November, J Arthur Rank will be featured in BBC's Songs of Praise at Carshalton Methodist Church. Yet they wouldn't have known about those memories and souvenirs of J Arthur Rank that Eric's family have cherished all these years. Perhaps the Reigate Methodists would like to include that special autograph in their service sometime, now that the Rank Memorial Hall has been demolished.

My DVD and photobook are still available of course, by post via

Sunday, 24 October 2010

'Urban Open Land' oasis to be closed

Dearie me, I hear that the beautiful natural oasis to the east of 'the Priory' pub in Bell Street, Reigate is under threat again from our Borough Council.

Our planning officers are insisting that it should be left unmowed, fenced off - and unvisited! This is despite the fact that the landlords pay up to £400 per month in rent to the Godfrey Searle Choir Trust, clearly adding much needed support to a local good cause that would otherwise be money down the drain if the land is to be designated unusable.

Methinks our Council staff have their 'knickers in a twist' and are wasting our public money on yet more legal costs, at a time of national austerity too.

Do we need to spell it out? The whole point of urban open land is that it is open.

Monday, 18 October 2010

New street name suggestions

For many years my mother Audrey Ward was invited by groups and schools to give local history talks, and far and away the most popular were the ones about street names! We still have the card index, boxes of slides and lecture files, amended each time to satisfy the curiosity of residents of different parts of the borough. Sometimes my father or I went along too, to operate the slide projector and generally provide a bit of support with the various props.

Merstham, for example, has a housing estate with roads named after different types of rock - Portland Drive, Malmstone Avenue, Purbeck Close, Greensand Close - perfect material for learning about geology and geography! We have a heavy box of rock samples which I think came from the local stonemasons/undertakers.

Woodhatch has an estate full of beautiful tree names - Blackthorn Road, Juniper Close, Holly Road, Hornbeam Road, Willow Road, Hazel Close, Cedar Close and so on.

In Reigate we have the historic connections with aristocracy: Beaufort Road, Somers Road and St.Albans Road to name just a few.

Redhill, developing rapidly in the 19th century due to the railway as well as royal patronage at Royal Earlswood, is blessed with names like Philanthropic Road, Prince's Road, Asylum Arch Road and Victoria Road.

A new addition to Redhill's one way system in recent years was Princess Way, commemorating Princess Diana; whereas a new street name was needed for Reigate Priory's converted stable mews - what a good idea - it became Stable Mews!

What treasures they are, each with glorious stories and inspiring characters to discover! We had hoped to turn them into a book but unfortunately there has been no chance of any funding or interest from a publisher - after all, the number of streets has increased considerably in just a few short years. It seems unlikely in these times of harsh economy, that any more Lottery money will be coming our way either.

Strangely there is not a hint anywhere in the borough's street names of the significant role of Reigate in protecting our country during World War 1 or 2.

In honour of two generations and our leaders who greatly valued this area, I would like to make a little plea that we can name any new roads to commemorate Sir Winston Churchill, General Montgomery, the Welsh miners who constructed the Battle HQ bunker inside Reigate Hill and even the pedigree carrier pigeons who lost their lives delivering messages.

While we are on the subject, perhaps we can also commemorate the Girl Guiding movement - since, after all, it is their centenary this year, 2010. Even more significantly - it was all the idea of a group of pioneering Reigate girls who had 'gatecrashed' a Scouting jamboree at Crystal Palace in 1909. Look what effect that has had internationally ever since! My personal guiding experience was with the 2nd Reigate company, in the now demolished Rank Memorial Hall in the High Street, from 1963-70, and before that as a Brownie at the 3rd A pack, next door at the Congregational Church - another demolished piece of Reigate's long, distinguished history.

So I do hope that Reigate & Banstead Borough Council will consider these very topical commemorative road-naming possibilities in the near future.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Bad news - Reigate in the ITN health archives

With so much rich history, a healthy environment and magnificent views over many counties, Reigate's residents have much to be thankful for. Over the centuries, it has been the scene of various battles, on land and in the air. Even cannonballs have been found in the Priory park, possibly from when a local Lord mounted cannon to frighten the rightful young female owner away. Like mine, her name was Elizabeth - Lord High Admiral Charles Howard's granddaughter.

Did you know there is a different sort of battle going on here right now? Since 2008, Reigate has hit the history archives again. There is televised news evidence by ITN, now in their online archives, about a young female casualty - 13 year old Rebecca Ramagge. She is still very ill indeed, two years on. What was the cause of injury, according to the doctors?* 3 tiny jabs of a new vaccine called Cervarix - given in school.

Click here for archive ITN evidence of the effect it is having on Rebecca and her family.

Our Reigate MP, Mr Crispin Blunt, is the only one to have called a parliamentary debate, and the House of Commons was practically empty at the time. Now, over two years into the programme, more than 4,445 girls have had their side effects reported officially to the UK's regulatory watchdog. Whereas some may be "quite mild" and "not long lasting", clearly, as you can see from ITN, some of these are also serious and long term - a great cause for concern and a great shame.

For the record, I can add that in October 2008, here in Reigate I proved that the original advertising materials circulated to GP surgeries and PCTs contained false information about the incidence of side effects, news which the Dept of Health and a former Health Minister accepted and apologised for - to me, anyway. It sounds from the archive news clip that medical professionals were indeed, misled by that false information. Too late - the damage is done.

Then in September 2010, I proved that the regulatory watchdog, the MHRA was wrong in continually stating that there is no evidence that the side effects can be long-lasting. They have since thanked me and kindly confirmed that they are going to take my comments into consideration.*

With great teamwork, my associates in other counties and other countries have unearthed more huge errors and oversights with the HPV vaccine programmes so I make no apology for the fact that I am not a working scientist, nor am I medically qualified.* At least I am female, and at least I care about the welfare of our young girls.

This is another battle that we shall win in the end, and, I sincerely hope, with no more casualties thanks. "Never wonne ne never shall".

*Note: GarethT.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

A quilted comforter to commemorate the Battle of Britain 1940

Yes, it may be a strange thing to do, but I had never made a patchwork quilt before, and I figured it would be a pleasant pastime to combine the fabric colours and prints into a padded picture to mark a remarkable wartime achievement 70 years ago, in August-December1940.

A few of my squares are now printed with photos of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, army General Montgomery, my Luftwaffe aerial photo of the Reigate area and the corresponding map that the German navigators had from the 1930s. It covers Redhill, Dorking, Leatherhead, surrounding villages, golf courses, roads, railways and countryside. They identified the golf courses and the Merstham rail tunnel but a lot more was well hidden underground! There is even a Spitfire and a Hurricane, with a British airman looking up wistfully into the air.

The squares are arranged to represent the pale blue sky, the North Downs with chalk scars and green vegetation. Below that are a rich variety of oak leaves (representing Surrey and the ancient Vale of Holmesdale), beech woods, barbed wire and undergrowth where our allied soldiers, especially Canadians, would be grouping and training in their hundreds of thousands. Meanwhile, manmade caves and tunnels were hastily being adapted for wartime purposes or constructed afresh - invisible to the enemy from the air.

As I peer at my small cotton squares and think of a talk I shall be giving next year to a group at St Paul's Church, Dorking, it is inspiring to think of all those flying aces, swooping and looping overhead. A Reigate girl actually married one of them - Tony Eyre from Churchill's Own - the 615 Squadron based at Kenley aerodrome. He did well to survive the war from 1942-45 in a PoW camp but then as Wing Commander was killed in a flying accident in 1946. His Welsh gravestone was almost forgotten until this year. A contemporary of his in 234 and 238 Squadrons, Old Reigatian Battle of Britain ace Wing Commander Bob Doe is well-remembered with a blue plaque on an exterior wall of Reigate Grammar School. Thankfully, he survived those war years for another 70 years until February 2010, aged 89, and is noted for some wise words: "We do not want to be remembered as heroes, we only ask to be remembered for what we did....that's all."

It is really intriguing to spot on the scraps of old map, some of our local country estates which Churchill was so familiar with:

The Deepdene - a fabulous estate where he and his brother Jack used to visit their aunt on many occasions - how exciting it must have been for them to explore all those sand caves in their youth and wonder about their potential in times of need - how right they were;

Reigate Priory, again, that 'dear old house' as his mother Jennie had described it - with sand tunnels connecting to local houses and the old castle caves a veritable tourist attraction;

Polesden Lacey - the euphemistically-called grand "country cottage" where his autograph is permanently on display in the visitors book, along with that of "Christine Churchill" - who knows who she was? (I think it was his wife Clemmie's sense of humour);

Cherkley Court, where Winston Churchill was lavishly entertained by his newspaper baron/Air Ministry head - Lord Beaverbrook - yet slept in a bedroom there where you could "barely swing a cat";

Juniper Hill, where, I am told, Churchill used to go and watch secret air reconnaisance film footage in the undergound cinema;

Norbury Park, which by then was the sumptuous home of Marie Stopes, the reformer whose book on "Married Love" was lent to Clemmie by Jack's wife Goonie in 1918 and she wrote about it in a letter to her husband Winston - they already had three children and two more were to be born to her;

Oakdene at Holmbury - a mansion previously owned by Augustus Perkins, who I have since discovered was a Colonel and 'grandson of Boston's merchant prince of the China trade'. Churchill's parents appear to have been friends of the family which is not surprising considering his mother was American - his father sometimes stayed there at Oakdene and travelled by train back to London;

and Headley Court, which was chosen for the recuperation of RAF wounded airmen - not surprising, because this is a beautiful part of the world.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

A curiosity - school fire escapes made of wood

44 years ago this summer, there was a tragedy waiting to happen in a village in Wales, because nothing had been done about an overloaded slag heap and a water main in a disused canal. It was only a matter of time - actually by October of 1966, when a third factor - so much rain - created a disaster at Aberfan.

"Tip No 7...slipped and descended upon part of the village killing 116 children and 29 adults. The tragedy occurred just after 9 o'clock in the morning under circumstances which apparently precluded the issue of warning." Well, that is the official view of the Cabinet Office in their case study this summer. They describe the rescue at Pantglas Junior School as "near fruitless" and
"the mental scars are so hard to heal, some 40 years after the Aberfan disaster".

Yet the case study makes no mention of prevention or any concerns expressed by professionals or local people before the tragedy.

Here in Reigate in 1966, that event immediately sparked a concern with a teacher at a local primary school that there were no fire escapes for the upstairs classrooms. It only took one person to realise that if something went wrong in the boiler room, there would be no escape since the children's only staircase was directly above it.

What happened next? A letter to the local authority resulted in a terse conversation with an official who reckoned to the effect that "If you make a strong point like this and we have to spend our limited resources on fire escapes then we cannot afford to allocate funds to Redstone Secondary School for much needed playing fields." Fortunately, that intuitive teacher was inspired to reply gently along the lines that there may be less need for playing fields at secondary level if a whole cohort of children were to suffer in a disaster in a primary school with no alternative exit route.

Oh well, this is all history now. I will just divulge that fire escapes were authorised to be installed in this Surrey primary school as a result. The silly thing is that the new fire escape to the upper floor of the Infants department didn't even match up with a suitable door or window (I am told), and would you believe it - what a classic blunder - the fire escapes to the Infants department and the Juniors department were both made of WOOD. This must surely be a local curiosity?

I would like to ask for a bit of common sense and balance in local authorities. This can be achieved, very economically, by listening to employees and local residents who have the courage to voice their concerns and offer some practical suggestions. With modern communications technology and the internet, history might just prove the point as "Lessons Identified" - or even, "Lessons Unidentified".

Monday, 7 June 2010

The children buried at Reigate Priory

Memorable features in the Priory grounds are the tiny graves for some cherished pet dogs that belonged to Lady Henry Somerset's grandchildren.

Now we know from archaeological evidence that some children are buried in the grounds of Reigate Priory, too - since, after all, it was consecrated ground. A colour leaflet about the archaeology includes a photograph of two skeletons, with the following information:"A trench revealed these juvenile burials."

It goes on to make a guess as to why: "It seems likely that they were children of citizens of the town, for whom burial in the monastic cloister would have been a symbol of status."

Actually it is much more likely that the children were residents of Reigate Priory, as novices.
Take a look at this carefully preserved worksheet from the days when my mother, Audrey Ward, was setting up the educational museum in collaboration with other expert history teachers at the school. Yes, in her own handwriting, she shows that children did live at the Priory, even in medieval times, long before the building became a stately family home. I would think it is even possible that they had died of the Black Death.

As she explains in the text, "Children were 'given' to the church at a very early age: one way of poor parents ensuring their child a safe future. Cardinal Wolsey, a butcher's son, became a novice at the age of eight and rose to be Henry VIII's Chancellor".

In her authoritative book, Discovering Reigate Priory - the place and the people, she explains that "Augustinian canons took in local boys and taught them to read and write - so Reigate Priory was a school even then!"

This worksheet is the first in a series of 6 which I have kept for future use.

The second one is especially charming, illustrating young Lord Charles Howard holding a toy wooden galleon just like the ones he would later use in master-minding the defeat of the Spanish Armada!

I wonder, would the Lord High Admiral turn in his own grave (or should I say, family vault at Reigate Parish Church) if he knew that Council staff actually refer to the wonderful galleon in the children's playground mistakenly as a Pirate Ship - yes, sad but true.

So, grown-ups and children, as you career around the paths and walkways on your bikes and scooters, please spare a thought for those much-loved children whose mortal remains are not visible beneath your feet, but whose memory lingers on and certainly deserves some respect.

To illustrate the Black Death, this medieval illuminated manuscript shows plague victims being blessed by a priest.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Lady Henry Somerset's story - and a society scandal

The most famous female owner of Reigate Priory
is Lady Henry Somerset, and her name is associated locally with the restoration of some Victorian garden features in Priory Park. Numerous roads in Reigate and Redhill commemorate her family names and properties; various buildings were constructed or altered on her instructions. Her cottage dower-house, now known as Makepeace, was built right beside the magnificent Park Lane gated entrance, a beautiful and more befitting replacement for the old workhouse which formerly stood there, since royalty and VIPs would be visiting from this side of town rather than the former Bell Street entrance. Only one small memorial to Lady Henry Somerset is present in Reigate: an un-named sundial on the Priory's south wall bears the image of a duck and a child. This is a reminder of the village of Duxhurst which she created a few miles away near Horley - now barely a memory.

Much less well known are the good works that Lady Henry Somerset did throughout her life. Her artistic and literary achievements have been largely forgotten. A gifted orator, she had become world famous pioneering the Temperance Movement. She established Duxhurst as a countryside home for inebriate women. Her love of children was legendary. Yet the terrible time she had as a newly married heiress and young mother was almost unspeakable, and for a while she was ostracised from London Society. For over a century, the story told was simply that Lord Henry had been found in the embrace of a footman, so husband and wife separated and he went to live overseas. Well, as we found out a few years ago, that was a euphemistic understatement ... the Press would have had a 'field day' if they had uncovered the truth.

This is what happened. It was in November 2003 that I was able to take my parents Audrey and Denis Ward to Lady Henry Somerset's ancestral home of Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire. Together, we spent five days studying her archives in the private dining room along with Douglas Sylvanus-Davis, the archivist.

It was here at Eastnor Castle that we made some astonishing finds. One by one, we examined the boxes of papers tied up with faded red ribbon.
Then, just as one of Eastnor Castle's cats snuggled up close in one of those cardboard box lids, I suddenly came across a handwritten document from early 1878. Here were pages and pages which gave a shocking account of events and Henry Somerset's appalling behaviour with his homosexual friends in their sumptuous London home. Isabel was distraught, especially about the influence this might have on her one and only child.

Evidently this document was a first draft for her lawyers in the custody battle. It had been written so painfully by Lady Henry Somerset that it took all three of us with our heads together to work out exactly what some of the writing said. We realised straight away, that here was a great responsibility if the record was going to be set straight for posterity, whilst respecting the dignity of those aristocratic families. After all, Lord Henry Somerset was a son of the 8th Duke of Beaufort, whereas Isabel was the eldest daughter and heiress of the 3rd Earl Somers. Her younger sister Adeline was the Duchess of Bedford at Woburn.

Sadly since that revelation in 2003, my parents and I have not had the energy or resources to publish another book ourselves, especially a biography of Lady Henry Somerset. So it was a great relief in 2009 when local author Ros Black took up the gauntlet and followed up this amazing story from my mother's collection of historic material and our notes from the archive about her heroine. The outcome is the newly published book, "A Talent For Humanity - the life and work of Lady Henry Somerset".

It is very readable and well-produced small paperback with some excellent colour illustrations. Each chapter contains eye-opening detail, for example, I had no idea that Lord Henry had effectively threatened his wife with a knife: 'el cuchillo'. Not surprisingly, there is no photograph or painting of him - just an illustration of one of the songs he was famous for.

The book is priced at £9.99.

To me, it is disappointing that my discoveries in the archives at Eastnor Castle have not been acknowledged.

In view of Lady Henry Somerset's aristocratic heritage and marriage into the Beaufort family - the highest of British nobility - plus her tremendous love of the arts and the quietness of open space and nature, I wonder if her story will eventually be portrayed on the wide screen, in full colour and with a suitably big budget. Her fame and influence extended around the world through her lectures and writing, and there are lessons to be learned from her pioneering humanitarian work.

Friday, 14 May 2010

My Naughty Little Sister in Reigate

Dorothy Edwards was a "traditionally built" lady with a bun who lived for most of her life, 1914-1982 in Reigate. She used to read her much-loved childen's stories aloud on BBC's Listen with Mother, much to my delight as a child of the 1950's and 60's. Little did I know that she lived only a mile or so away from our family, and even visited local schools on a regular basis, also calling in on Mr Sean Hawkins, owner of the Ancient House Bookshop for updates on sales and lengthy chats. During that time she and her husband Francis lived in a cottage on Woodhatch Road, just by the bus stop beside the historic Angel Inn. They then moved to one of the newly built properties in Burnham Drive.

Do you remember the original black and white illustrations, the escapades with Bad Harry, When My Naughty Little Sister Was Good, and that Naughtiest Story of All? Happy memories and a far cry from the antics of some British children these days.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Reigate Castle Grounds and Barons' Cave

This is my latest slide show of the 11th century castle area in the centre of Reigate - a stone gateway, dry moat, inner bailey, outer bailey, wet moat, barbican, southern approach, public gardens, private grounds, medieval inn/assizes, castle walk, cottages, stately trees and rare flowers. The man-made Barons' Cave may have been the castle wine cellar before becoming a local curiosity for visitors by the 17th century. The cave is open to the public on a number of advertised Saturdays throughout the summer. Watch out for the dinosaur.

Friday, 7 May 2010

A talent for humanity

We are looking forward to the publication of Ros Black's forthcoming book about Lady Henry Somerset.

Born Lady Isabel Somers in 1851, her family owned Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire, parts of London as well as much of Reigate. On her marriage at the tender age of 22 she became the daughter-in-law of the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort at Badminton House.

If you are not already familiar with what happened next, the story will be really inspiring, as well as an eye-opening, shocking moral and social education.

Meanwhile I would just like to share an artistic treasure that is savoured at Badminton. It's a dainty, bright and homely view of that dear old house, Reigate Priory from a refreshingly different angle - just as if it were the lid of an old fashioned chocolate box. The herbaceous planting of that time was very informal and relaxed, compared with the current mathematical corporate style of the Sunken Garden by the south door. What delights are inside? Would you believe, this little picture is tucked behind one of the main artworks in the Beauforts' sitting room.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Exhibition of sculpture in caves

The sandstone caves in Tunnel Road in the centre of Reigate were used as an air raid shelter during World War 2. There are 4 or 5 open days each year, hosted by Malcolm Tadd and the Wealden Cave & Mine Society.
This exhibition of sculpture called "Reconnect" is by Zita Ra for her MA Fine Art show at the University of Brighton.

The sculptures and caves can be seen by the public in Reigate on Saturday 8th May 2010. I can highly recommend this innovative exhibition and congratulate the organisers. A special event not to be missed!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Surrey's Commemoration of People, Places and Events

There is a one-day conference on Monday 24th May, 9.30am-4.00pm at the Surrey History Centre in Woking, organised by Surrey History Trust and Surrey County Council.

I sent them the list of notable local citizens that previously I presented to the Reigate Society a year ago and it will be interesting to hear what happens.

Update: 29th May: nothing.

Monday, 19 April 2010

My mug

The postman has just delivered my new mug from the Welsh Shop in Newport. It's ever so educational because it says "Duw Duw! Well I Never!" - the first Welsh expression I have ever learned. Now you see, this is because Welsh miners were signed up as Royal Engineers in World War 2. They were sent here to south east England with their special skills and techniques to mine the new bunkers for South Eastern Command, all in the utmost secrecy of course. It was one of these miners who accidentally let the cat out of the bag to Mr Foan the barber in the High Street. Hence the reference and brilliant play on words in one verse of my special poem by Barrie Singleton:

Welsh miners exclaiming “dieu dieu!”
Drilled tunnels for Monty’s HQ.
Soon South Eastern Command’s
Subterranean band
Were installed ‘gainst what Gerry might do.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Reigate's horses

Visitors to Reigate might be unaware of its equine history. There isn't a single horse or even a donkey alive in the central part of the town nowadays, whereas there were several at the stables in Reigate's Priory Park as recently as forty years ago.

There is actually a rather high class wooden rocking horse which has been used as the symbol for Reigate Priory Museum since it was founded in the 1970s. The museum is open during school term times on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, and additionally for special occasions such as Heritage Weekend in September each year. At the top of the grand staircase is the rocking horse which used to belong to Mr Clifford Price, former headmaster of Holmesdale School and Reigate Priory School. It was adapted from a fairground horse.

The unique notebook illustrated is one I had made as a gift for CHASE children's hospice.

This second photograph shows the 2010 remains of the beautiful old thatched stables looking from Park Lane with the Priory Park and hills in the background. This is where Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother visited many of her champion racehorses who were trained here over the years. Surrey County Council is responsible for the site. My mother wrote in her book, Discovering Reigate Priory: "In 1997 the buildings were sold for conversion into desirable homes" but there have been no signs of developments since then except decay, neglect and arson.

Reigate Priory's ancient horse ponds were just by the new Pavilion, (now covered up); 6 strong horses were needed to pull carriages up Reigate Hill; do you know about the famous Reigate Mare, or a horse called Plowman which had won the Prince's Plate at Newmarket, the hunting horse that was so admired by King Louis XV that it was given to him, and Reigate's American Countess Beatty who loved to hunt?

Friday, 16 April 2010

Horse chestnuts in the park

Dear Reigate and Banstead Borough Council,

May I please bring to your attention the text on your leaflet obtainable from the Pavilion.

"Tree number 13: Horse Chestnut - Aesculus hippocastanum arrived in Britain in the 17th Century. The name derives from the inside of a conker shell that is shaped like a horses hoof."

Would you please let me have the source of that information and get it corrected.

As a biologist educated by the great tree expert, Professor Alan Gemmell, I cannot accept an explanation that a conker shell is shaped like a horse's hoof! Was this an April Fools joke or a Spot the Deliberate Mistake game?

Some accurate and logical explanations for children and adults alike are given here:
with references and photographs of the horseshoe leaf scars.

"The name refers to the nuts being fed by the Turks to ailing horses."

"As a primary school teacher, the explanation I have used most often is the shape of the leaf scar ..."

In view of the fact that Reigate Priory was home for centuries for numerous horses of the highest quality and their famous breeders, I am currently writing an article about this for publication on the internet and as a chapter for a book. So I look forward to hearing that you are going to amend the text and consider scrapping the remaining leaflets. I shall keep my copy as a souvenir however.

Thank you.

Grace Filby (Ms)
Former Head of Science and Head of Special Educational Needs at Reigate Priory Junior School.

All photos and text on this site are copyright Grace Filby 2009-2010 except where credited and referenced accordingly.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Reigate's role in motoring history

If you are very lucky, you can see these treasured veteran and vintage motor cars on display at special occasions in Reigate. This particular one was a garden party for the residents of a nursing home in July 2009. The enterprising manager at the time asked me for a few local contacts, so it was no trouble at all to put him in touch with the owner of the cars, Bryan Goodman. Bryan is an authority on motoring history and author who lives just round the corner from the nursing home. What a stunning collection and a joy to behold.

Since then I have acquired an original page from the Illustrated London News, November 21st 1896, which beautifully illustrates the famous day when the first motor cars arrived at Reigate - on the inaugural run from London to Brighton. The drivers stopped here for lunch at the White Hart Hotel, which was in those days at the top of Bell Street. Note the magnificent full page illustration by artist H.P. Seppings Wright with his amusing observations alongside. In the right hand corner, in the background is the entrance to Reigate's Tunnel Road - historic in itself as the gift of Lord Somers in 1824 and the first road tunnel in the country.

It must have been some major achievement to get the 'Red Flag Act' repealed in Parliament. Just one year before, it had become law that a man had to walk 60 yards in front of any vehicle waving a red flag - there was a speed limit of just 2 miles per hour in towns! The annual London to Brighton Emancipation Run - not a race - has commemorated this common sense liberation most years ever since. No wonder there is an additional drawing in the bottom right hand corner if you look very carefully. It's a patriotic display of flags flying high, along with the notice "REIGATE WELCOMES PROGRESS". The whole artwork bears close scrutiny and is now carefully preserved in a double glass frame, with a photograph of the unique occasion on the reverse.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Reigate's Royal Navy connections

Reigate's majestic wooden ship,
complete with crow's nest for a bird's eye view

One doesn't expect to find a wooden sailing ship in the middle of a country park for the children to play on, so let's look at why there is this one in Reigate Priory Park.

Well, Reigate Priory was founded in medieval times by Augustinian canons (monks, that is, for those not familiar with the word). Being in such a pleasant and healthy setting, it also had a role as a hospital, with a Guest House or Infirmary on the east side, underneath what is now the Priory car park. In fact, ancient human skeletons are known to be in the sacred ground by the main building - sadly there is no visible acknowledgement of this nowadays as a mark of respect.
When King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, instead of destroying this one, he gave the whole area to one of his most esteemed supporters, Lord William Howard. He was the uncle of Anne Boleyn, Henry's 2nd wife and also Catherine Howard, Henry's 5th wife, and the king appointed him Lord High Admiral. They were such friends that they went hunting and played tennis together. It was on 8th June 1541 that Lord William and Lady Margaret became the owners of Reigate manor, as a family home just 20 miles from their house in Lambeth for official duties.

During the next 140 years the Howard family and their descendants owned Reigate Priory, but it wasn't all "smooth sailing" for Lord William and his wife however. As the old stone monastic building was being modernised into a Tudor mansion, complete with brick-built Tudor Tennis House and stabling for the hunting horses, the King became furious with his wife, suspecting her of infidelity. He imprisoned her uncle and aunt in the Tower of London - 'forever'! After some months, the King relented, released them and returned their properties, so what a relief it must have been for them to return safely to Reigate in 1543. Such drama!

Their son Charles was just seven years old at the time, spending much of his childhood in Reigate. As he grew up, he also came to be very highly regarded and famous too. He often went to sea with his father. His bride was Catherine, the new Queen Elizabeth I's closest friend and First Lady of the Chamber, with the great responsibility of supervising Her Majesty's wardrobe and her jewels.

With his noble parentage, the Queen appointed young Charles, above others, as Lord High Admiral to lead the Navy - 'and Army prepared to the seas against Spain'. Yes, for the history books, this was the Charles Howard, Lord Howard of Effingham and First Earl of Nottingham who had the leading role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. How grand it would have been to have total command of the fleet, with the Ark Royal flying the Howard standard, just like the one carved into the top of the Tudor fireplace here at Reigate Priory! He had the advantage of Sir Francis Drake as second-in-command.

Lord Charles Howard, who foiled the Armada
and prevented subsequent Spanish invasions

Reigate's famous link with the defeat of the Armada explains the modern beacon at the southern edge of the grassed parkland, which was installed in 1988 to commemorate 400 years since the Armada along with a massive fireworks display. Oddly, the beacon was lit whereas to be historically accurate, the original array of beacons across the country were to be lit only if the Invasion took place (which of course it never did). You see, we had the military tactics of an excellent Lord High Admiral, plus an excellent second-in-command, plus better sailing ships. Naturally, the weather would have had something to do with it too.

To this day, Reigate can be proud of the Ark Royal , having adopted the modern version: in 1914 at the start of World War 1, a seaplane tender was given the name, taking part in the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign. Ready for World War 2, in 1937 the Navy's second ever purpose-built aircraft carrier was launched as the Ark Royal. That one successfully tracked and helped to sink the Germans' flagship, the Bismarck, much to Hitler's fury! The Ark Royal was a key target now and was actually destroyed near Gibraltar, not long afterwards. The current Ark Royal aircraft carrier, launched 1978 has just recently 'set sail' in 2009 after a £12-million refit. It is 210 metres long - 683 feet.

The Reigate Unit of the Sea Cadets Corps is also named Ark Royal.

Returning to Charles Howard and England's safeguarding of 1588, we should note that Her Majesty did not authorise any funds for the welfare of the injured and disabled sailors, so he bore the expense himself. Later he founded the Chatham Chest which funded the creation of the Royal Chelsea Hospital.

The next naval link with Reigate was in the 17th and 18th centuries when the very wealthy and influential Parsons family took ownership. Sir John Parsons was Commissioner for Victualling for the Royal Navy since 1683. His brewing business in London was popular for its strong stout, known as "Parson's Black Champagne". For ship's biscuits, oatmeal was the main ingredient so this is why Sir John Parsons encouraged the growing of oats and the milling via numerous windmills locally. This was also big business, with large amounts of money owed by Sir John to at least one oatmealman in Bell Street, it emerged in a trial for murdering his housekeeper. His face was recognisable from a description in the press; having run away, he was caught out and as a result, he was hanged. Dare I suggest that, without the security of the money he was owed, and with the sudden news of a baby on the way he had reached the end of his tether...?

Early in the 20th century, Reigate Priory was a popular place for the 'Marlborough set' on lease and for house parties. Who should be visiting again in the summer of 1911 but Winston and Clementine Churchill! This was exactly when he was made First Lord of the Admiralty. Now he needed to have some key discussions with Lord Jackie Fisher, a much older and very experienced First Sea Lord cronie of his. Where would be an ideal location for a comfortable long weekend? Reigate Priory of course. He commented on the 3 day meeting in his diary, so did Lord Fisher, whose brain, he wrote, was buzzing like a hive of bees - and naturally there is the Guest Book to check signatures. Disappointingly, the Churchill biography by Roy Jenkins bears no mention of Reigate Priory itself. His team of researchers must have had no idea of the significance of the place and 'dumbed it down', referring to it as just a country house in Surrey, as I recall. I didn't bother to read the rest of it.

As a result, Churchill's priority decision was to convert the Royal Navy from Welsh coal to oil. He then asked the now retired Fisher to solve the question - to "crack the nut" of the "riddle" of supply of oil. Fisher accepted the challenge, suitably delivered with a touch of eloquent flattery along with his personal, direct request in writing. Of course it made sense that the Welsh miners had skills to be expertly employed in the Royal Engineers, digging subterranean bunkers - including the secret one in Reigate's chalk hill 30 years later.

Now who else was a naval friend of Winston Churchill from those pre-WW1 days? None other than the young and dashing Admiral David Beatty. He married the fabulously wealthy American, Mrs Ethel Tree and went on to achieve great successes in sea battles during WW1 with his famous battle cruiser flagship, HMS Lion. What a powerful symbol. Incidentally, a lion is the coat of arms of the Churchill name. Ethel meanwhile, had her own large sea-going yacht named Sheelah. With no expense spared, she had this kitted out as a hospital. She staffed it with leading surgeons and nurses, personally took part in the caring for injured sailors and organised huge amounts of fundraising for the sailors' families.

By 1919, Admiral David Beatty was rewarded by the British Government to the tune of £100,000 and created an Earl, Admiral of the Fleet and First Sea Lord. His official residence was now the Mall House in Admiralty Arch, yet he and his wife had several properties around the country. Still , London was not peaceful enough for Ethel, who had suffered increasingly from depression and loneliness when her husband was away. When the opportunity came up in 1921 to buy the historic Reigate Priory with such maritime connections, that they were already so familiar with from various visits, this country property became their next acquisition. It was as a result of this purchase at £35,000 by the newly promoted Earl and his Countess that the 19th century dining room ceiling now became modernised and painted gloriously with gold! The Admiral's Daimler and the Countess's Rolls-Royce became their chosen forms of land transport and they entertained lavishly, honoured by the company of the King and Queen at dinner in London. We know that even some minor iron gates on the premises were painted gold, whereas others, the Park Lane gates and railings, dating back to 1720 and of a vintage comparable with Cheyne Walk, Chelsea were of huge value. By this time, the stately brick pillars had been adorned with stone pineapples on top.

What happened in the wintertime? Nature takes over. The hunting horses on the estate would be in their stables whereas Priory Lake would freeze up, much to the enjoyment of Countess Beatty and her visitors as a temporary site for a skating rink, complete with coloured lanterns and a magical party atmosphere!

On a sombre note, lest we forget, it was Earl Beatty with the greatest dignity, who made a speech to the crowds on the official unveiling of the Borough's War Memorial in 1923. Earl Beatty is himself commemorated in Trafalgar Square, directly behind Lord Nelson. He received a state funeral and was laid to rest in St Paul's Cathedral alongside Lord Nelson. There is a school named after him in Toronto, Canada. After all, the Canadian Army was stationed here in Reigate too "with their drawl and their chrome", during WW2 before they were shipped off to Normandy on D Day.

Now I hope that explains why we have a whopping great wooden ship in the middle of Reigate Priory Park, and a Churchill Fellow to tell you about it. I hope that also explains why it is named the Grey Lady...? I cannot offer any explanation why this stately galleon should be described on an official website as just a "pirate ship" but perhaps no-one had ever told them about the REAL maritime history, with all its gunpowder, blood and gore.

The last of Reigate's famous admirals,
with a commanding view over Trafalgar Square and its famous pigeons

Reference 1: 'Discovering Reigate Priory - the place and the people' 1998
Author: Audrey Ward
Editor: Grace Filby
Publisher: Bluestream Books, 1 Howard Road, Reigate RH2 7JE
Proceeds are for Reigate Priory Museum

Reference 2: 'Churchill's Secret Reigate' illustrated lecture by Grace Filby featuring a specially commissioned poem by Barrie Singleton, 2009.
A DVD and summary are available.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Wartime memories of Sarah Churchill by Myra Collyer

Please click here to read the only approved account of Myra Collyer. She has given permission for it to be available on the internet as she feels that unauthorised reports give a false picture of her life and that of Sarah Churchill.

In particular we wish to point out that Myra Collyer did not go on the stage after the war. Sarah Churchill's role during the war in both camps was as Production Manager of plays and concerts, never actually performing in them.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Reigate Priory's gates and railings

You can view my photo album of the Eagle gates and Park Lane's Pineapple gates here, along with several more sets of gates and railings by the same smith in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.


Friday, 5 March 2010

The Parsons' beautiful murals and staircase

Do take a look at this trailer about the renovation of Reigate Priory's murals and staircase. They date back to the early 1700s.

The full length DVD is available from Reigate Priory Museum and is based on historical research by its founder, my mother Audrey Ward, author of "Discovering Reigate Priory, the place and the people". Although she is not credited in the official Surrey County Council version, she says the DVD is a delightful record of a wonderful achievement. We sent out some free copies to interested parties and received some great feedback, including from the Duke of Beaufort at Badminton House.
Later, the DVD won an award at the New York Film Festival.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Reigate Priory Park Restoration

When our gracious parkland dating back to medieval times was being restored in 2007, Reigate and Banstead Borough Council did well to get a video made for them by local photographers.

There are some beautiful shots and rare footage of the special equipment used for digging up trees and dredging silt from the lake. An archaeologist is shown hard at work, examining the area near the old gatehouse, which was since covered up again. Several council employees are interviewed.

What a shame that Director of Services to the Community, Graham Cook, had failed to grasp the basics about Lady Henry Somerset, whose entire life from 1851-1921 is associated with Reigate Priory.

He speaks to camera: "Lady Somerset", and goes on to say "because she was a society hostess there were many photographs in magazines of the time."

To put the record straight, may I point out that she was never addressed as Lady Somerset - it was, at first, "Lady Isabel" as a girl, and then after her marriage, always "Lady Henry Somerset". It is a misrepresentation to describe her as a society hostess, and by so doing, it trivialises her life and achievements. In fact, soon after the birth of her first child and legal case for custody, severe social limitations were placed on her, caused by the embarrassment over a failed marriage. She had discovered that her husband was homosexual and had many like-minded friends. Society ostracised her for not 'turning a blind eye', so at Reigate Priory with its beautiful parkland, she was able to find peace and serenity again. As well as her heavy responsibilities as a landowner, she devoted the rest of her life to social reform, the temperance movement and Christian charity - hardly the description of a 'society hostess'!

It was the custom to rent out properties of that size - and in the case of Reigate Priory, to notables such as Lord Curzon, Mrs Ronnie Greville - THE society hostess, General Sir Ian Hamilton and Princess Wiazemsky. If you refer to Ernest Scears' history of Reigate Priory, or the visitors books, you would find that their guests included "such outstanding personalities as Edward VII, the Grand Duke Michael of Russia, the Russian Ambassador Count Benckendorff, the Hon. Mrs George Keppel [Alice] and their associates". If you refer to Audrey Ward's book "Discovering Reigate Priory - the place and the people", you would find that those associates included the Churchills, Lord Jack Fisher, Hilaire Belloc ('ex-MP') etc. etc..

Those remarkably high quality photographs of the house and grounds were taken shortly before the whole estate was coming up for auction at the Grand Sale of Reigate in 1921- a sensible course of action, don't you think? The explanation is far more practical and down to earth than the Council Director's version.

Sadly, the Lottery-funded interpretation boards in the park give no indication that there are Augustinian canons buried on the estate, and yet Lady Henry Somerset wished for that fact to be commemorated since it is hallowed ground. Even more ironic is that the pet dog graves get an interpretation board of their own!

Who is kidding whom about "introducing" tennis courts? Here at Reigate Priory, we had "Real Tennis", as at Hampton Court and King Henry VIII. For the 2007 renovations, the existing tennis courts were actually dug up and new ones constructed elsewhere in the park - that is all. A skate park? In Lady Henry Somerset's day there was a 9-hole golf course and top quality horses to admire on the estate. The famous stables, frequented by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, have been left for the vandals. Even the paddock fences, abandoned and ignored, are now a disgrace.

There is another great shame, though. Reigate and Banstead Borough Council failed to take the opportunity to get the magnificent 18th Century Park Lane wrought iron gates restored. They date back to about 1720 and would have stood to welcome all the rich and famous for many generations of society hostesses! The gates and railings in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea were made by the same smith and they are still there to be admired for their excellence, in tip-top condition.

In contrast, the even larger, and of national importance, Reigate Park Lane gates and railings are sitting forlornly, in a parlous state. They are now thoroughly rusted from being left in the undergrowth from WW2 until 1993. Even a box of bits of original ironwork has gone missing, it seems. Where are they located? Well, for 17 years they have been in a Council depot right beside the ratepayers' winter road salt supplies.

It's basic science that salt is corrosive to ironwork.

Towards the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century, Lady Henry Somerset chose the Park Lane Gates and Railings as the main entrance to her beloved Priory - in time for her son's 21st and his wedding. What a wonderful feat of engineering excellence she was honouring, and it was right there that she chose to build her dower house, Makepeace.

So Reigate and Banstead Borough Council, well done on having a lovely video made as a record of the restoration project, but with £6.5 million to play with, it also shows that the history homework hadn't been done properly by a key Council officer. For how long will we ratepayers wait for the beautiful gates and stables to be restored?

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Lady Henry Somerset's eloquent testimony, 1895

Lady Henry Somerset was the main landowner here in Reigate in 1895. She also owned Eastnor Castle in Ledbury, Herefordshire, from where she wrote the following letter that has just turned up. It was the occasion of the retirement of the Pastor of the old Congregational Church in the High Street - ah, those were the days. Nowadays it's a Marks and Spencer's.

"It would be impossible for any inhabitant of Reigate to fail to appreciate the services of Mr Adeney - his venerable presence and his uplifting influence have made their mark on the town, and I am glad to think that many will assemble to tell him all the glad things that are in their hearts. It is well when we are ready to speak words of cheer to the ears that are still quick to listen, and to grasp living hands with warm congratulation while yet the heart is able to respond, instead of waiting to lay our tribute on cold stone, and when the soul has gone beyond the power of earthly voices.
"For this reason I hope I may add my word of hearty appreciation for the life and services of your revered Pastor."

Isabel Somerset, 16/9/95.

It is nice to see a letter of appreciation. Many thanks to Mr David Blunkett for sending one on the occasion of my own retirement a century later.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

DVD of Churchill's Secret Reigate talk

It's £8 plus Post & Packing - and you can buy it here online, from anywhere in the world! For a limited time the pack also contains the specially commissioned poem by Barrie Singleton which was the finale of my presentation.


Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The ATS girl who worked in the bunker

One of the very happy outcomes of my "Churchill's Secret Reigate" talk was a phone call from a lady in the audience who has found this little gem.

In a 4-page document we can see a photo and read about Eileen Olive McKerron, nee Graves. She describes in exact detail her uniform issued, her daily tasks and memorable moments between 11/12/1942 and July 1945. How exciting to be posted in her home county, in the signal office tunnelled out of the chalk hills, up steep steps and narrow paths and the whole area disguised with camouflage material. Inside the tunnels were the cipher room, the office, the radio room, the switchboards and the teleprinter room - all in constant use and with urgent, important messages. When the news of the success of the invasion of Normandy reached them, the office staff felt that they had done really valuable work.

She even chronicles as memorable moments the cycling in Surrey with most signposts missing, and watching the 'doodlebugs spluttering overhead'.

You can read this rare document here:

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Churchill's Secret Reigate photobook

I am getting ready for my 2nd lecture about 'Churchill's Secret Reigate' next Saturday. Over 100 people have reserved free virtual tickets and there are limited spaces with good visibility.
This will be videoed fortunately, since publishing any research is a challenge. A few notable Churchillians, friends and military historians have seen the potential and are offering great support.

Would you like to view my souvenir photobook free of charge? Please scroll down to see the link. It's of little consequence compared with the material I'm able to share in my talk. If you'd actually like to purchase it, then I will send £4 for each copy to CHASE Children's Hospice, since I gather the small amount of Govt. funding has just been cancelled.

It was a treat this week to hear from Eric Sykes' agent regarding my research. His message is that Churchill was always his hero and I am very welcome to include an extract from his autobiography about his experience of Reigate during WW2. Certainly, it is an honour to do so. Eric Sykes was in the RAF stationed at Gatton Park. His book recounts how he was in radio signals and barely saw any aircraft, let alone women, but describes beautifully, the day he first walked all the way down the hill to Reigate and saw the Canadian effect of their troops that were over here. I think that all this time, he didn't realise that Reigate Hill was actually the HQ of South Eastern Command and exactly where Monty was in charge. It says a lot for the disguise techniques that I describe in my lecture. Eric Sykes has also documented his experience of D-Day after leaving Gatton, and later on, years later, meeting up with a fellow Canadian and introducing him to Vera Lynn. The message to me was that he was "thrilled"about my news.

So do take a look. On page 25, right at the end, is a poem by a good friend of mine who has a knack of encapsulating a great story, in a nutshell. The previous pictures have no caption so you can make up your own story if you are inspired to do so. Please notice Winnie the Pooh on page 2.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The secret tunnels of Reigate Hill

I learned recently that "our" Reigate Hill underground Battle HQ known as Monty's Hideout was the inspiration for the secret tunnels of South Heighton on the South Downs for the Navy - started and completed soon afterwards in 1941.

Geoffrey Ellis describes this as follows:

'Col. FH Foster DSO OBE TD RL RIBA CRA 4 Corps Troops Royal Engineers disclosed how he designed the subterranean labyrinth after visiting Montgomery's headquarters at Reigate."

Haven Life, March 2006 page 19.

Take a look at the photos - it's a magnificent story of perseverance and restoration. The South Heighton site was eventually recognised as being of National Importance by English Heritage.

A little snippet of information I like is that one of the secret entrances was disguised a chicken coop.

Now then, how about its inspiration, here in Reigate?