… about the Battle of Ludshott Common?
Most people probably do know that during both World Wars Grayshott was host to various army units. Billets at the Village Hall and Grayshott Hall, the military hospital in Heather Lodge, the Canadian army at Camp Superior and tanks training on Ludshott Common all brought the wars close to the minds of local people. But even in the 19th century Grayshott was famliar with the sight of men in uniform.
During the 1850s the government bought up thousands of acres of cheap land around Aldershot and started to build a new army camp. By the 1880s the Aldershot District Command was formed, its southern boundary running close by Milford, Haslemere and Liphook and thus encompassing Grayshott. Through the late Victorian period the heaths around our village were prime training areas and were regularly visited by the army’s summer manoeuvres. One such, in August 1894, was dubbed by the press as ‘The Battle of Ludshott Common’.
To set the scene, on Monday 20th August an invading Southern Army under the command of Major-General Lord Methuen had been advancing from the coast. It was composed of the 1st and 3rd Grenadier Guards, 1st Scots Guards, 2nd Coldstream Guards, 41st Field Battery of Artillery and half a squadron of the 9th Lancers. Opposing them, the Northern Army under Major-General Gregorie was a mobile ‘field column force’ including the 4th Hussars, Highland Light Infantry, Sutherland Highlanders, Leicestershire Regiment, Cheshire Regiment, two batteries of artillery, a field company of Engineers and a balloon section. The Chief Umpire was the Duke of Connaught, who was General Officer Commanding at Aldershot.
When operations began at 11am – a very civilised hour – Colonel Lord Falmouth, commander of the Guards Brigade, had established the main body of his troops in bivouac on Ludshott Common, with the 3rd Grenadiers deployed as outposts to the north on Headley Common (which we now know as the area north of the B3002, roughly from Hammer Lane down towards Land of Nod).
Major-General Gregorie had received intelligence of his enemy’s dispositions and was instructed to attack the outposts, drive them from the common and secure it for himself. In other words, occupying the high ground of Ludshott Common was the day’s objective for both sides.
Having marched across Frensham Common, via Barford Mill, Gregorie’s column made contact with the invaders by Upper Hearn Farm. Having driven back the Guards’ scouts, the Highland Light Infantry advanced across the outposts on Headley Common and succeeded in forcing their withdrawal to Ludshott Common. Gregorie pushed his Highlanders across the common, supported by the Leicesters and Cheshires, and simultaneously launched a left flank attack by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders through Headley Wood, skirting the road (possibly Hammer Lane). Not to be drawn, Falmouth withdrew his right flank and retreated his entire force to the ridges south of the common (probably Bramshott Chase). Gregorie brought his artillery onto the common in support of the infantry and both vigorously pressed the attack until ‘cease fire’ sounded.
After the battle the umpires conferred and his Royal Highness declared that the Guards ‘could not be expected to have the experience and dash of Aldershot troops, but their appearance, high efficiency and high discipline could not be too highly praised…‘ Then the troops marched back towards Aldershot, camping for the night at Frensham where they had ‘a great camp fire sing-song’.
So runs the chain of events. In reality, this would have been a fantastic spectacle for our villagers to enjoy. These manoeuvres were advertised in the press, and permission had to be sought from landowners, such as Alexander Whitaker to tramp across his hunting estate at Land of Nod. Everyone would have known about them. It was in the school holidays so most likely every schoolchild for miles around was getting in the way, and everyone else too if they could slide unnoticed from work. Thousands of spectators turned out in fine weather – ‘passably fine…decidedly warm though somewhat muggy’ on the day at Ludshott. They sometimes became a major problem, running alongside the cavalry and cluttering up the battlefield until the Military Police were called to clear them away.
This was before the days of khaki battledress. Gregorie’s Northern Army wore full parade dress, no doubt bulled to perfection knowing that the eyes their commanding officer could fall upon anyone; red jackets for the infantry, tartan on the Highlanders, and the Hussars in blue with sparkling gold braid. The Southern Army was more restrained, in drill uniform, but the Guards still magnificent in scarlet tunic with white lacing and bearskin hats.
The event was reported by the Special Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, seemingly a somewhat excitable gentleman who’s report causes confusion rather than clarity as he frequently gets the two sides mixed up. Thus we know of artillery batteries posted on Ludshott Common, outposts extending from Headley All-Saints to the Land of Nod, a triple line of trenches on the common and two Maxim machine guns close by the Greyshott Road. There were ‘Heilanman … sprawled along the sandy roads or among furze and heather’, the result of the ‘snap and howl’ of magazine rifles and artillery salvoes directed by ‘Royal Engineer aeronauts…800ft aloft’.
An incredible spectacle, although sadly poignant when the correspondent unfavourably compares the British assault tactics to those of the contemporary German army. His words were prophetic, written almost twenty years to the day before the Battle of Mons.
Now, it’s as fantastical for us to imagine thousands of redcoats camped on the common and columns of cavalry jingling along the country lanes as it would be for them to see Chinooks woompa-woomping low across their old battle-ground on route to Longmoor.
There is nothing left to see on the surface, the subsequent manoeuvres of two world wars have swept away any surface evidence of that day in 1894. But one little survivor from beneath the soil is this blank cartridge, recently dug up in a garden which was once a field next to the battleground. It’s a .303 Mark II cordite-filled blank, manufactured for the War Department by the Royal Laboratory, Woolwich. This was the type of round used in the army’s new Lee-Metford rifles, and this particular version was only used between 1892 and 1894. The primer was unreliable, and indeed this one has been shot but misfired. Quite possibly, a redcoat taking cover at the corner of Bulls Farm pulled it from his weapon and without a second thought tossed it away over the hedge, there to lie for 113 years. There must be thousands more sprinkled across Ludshott and its surroundings.
JC, April 2018
… about the local bus?
For those who see the local Stagecoach bus service passing through the village or even have to use it may wonder how we all managed before mass car ownership took place.
As early as 1905 a horse bus service operated between Grayshott and Haslemere. By 1909 this had been replaced by a motor bus owned by Ben Chandler, proprietor of the Royal Huts Hotel, Hindhead. Also in 1905 a motor bus service was started by the London and South Western Railway Co, linking Haslemere and Farnham stations and taking in Hindhead Golf Club and Frensham Ponds. During 1913 these services were taken over by the Aldershot and District Traction Co, who were by then rapidly expanding, radiating out of their Aldershot headquarters. The ‘Tracco’ as it was known locally bought Clay Hill garage at Haslemere, which became their operational base for the district. (Latterly the premises were used by Clement Metal Window manufactures and is now a vacant site on the right approaching the railway arch at Haslemere station.)
In 1931 a new garage was opened at Hindhead (on the left hand side going up the hill towards the Punchbowl and now housing) which held over 40 buses and provided major employment in the district. Back to the 1920s, with improved mechanical reliability and all weather coachwork services were opened up to Guildford, Aldershot, Bordon, Midhurst and during summer months even Bognor Regis was reached via Chichester.
So, from this period until the 1960s from Grayshott the hourly service no. 17 using a small 20 seat bus locally known as the ‘Whippet’ took you to Farnham via Beacon Hill and Tilford; hourly service no. 24 to Guildford via Godalming and Petersfield via Liphook and service no. 18 to Haslemere / Grayswood and Bordon / Whitehill every 30 minutes. The no.18 even would wait to bring late night Rex cinema goers home if the film was running late from Junction Place, Shottermill.
All a world away from today’s service, passengers carried by the ‘Tracco’ peaked in 1950 at about 52 million generating a revenue of some £ 1,015,000 with 345 vehicles.
RP, February 2018
…about the winter of 1962/63?
Now some 55 years ago probably the worst winter in this area that most of us now recognize in living memory, the previous being in 1946/7. I remember that a hard frost set in with clear days from early December and by Boxing Day Frensham Great Pond was entirely frozen over. A family visit to the pond with my godparents on that afternoon and with many others it was possible to walk the length and breadth of the pond on the ice. Skating was also in vogue. Returning home around dusk light snow began to fall, immediately settling on the dry ground, by the time Grayshott was reached the snow had really set in, to many younger ones it just qualified for a ‘White Christmas’!
Snow fell on and off for the next few days , the last on New Year’s eve which put an end to most celebrations that evening including the popular annual Grayshott Fire Service party and dance at the Fox and Pelican public house. Walking up Headley Road that morning, the snow had drifted into huge banks along the shop fronts, nothing was moving.
To make matters worse rain fell on January 4th which immediately froze. Telephone and power cables became coated in ice and broke, branches of trees also broke under the weight. In those days gritting the local roads comprised of a couple of chaps spreading grit from the back of an open lorry by hand shovel, the only mechanical means was Arthur Johnson’s ‘ Midhurst Whites’ American built Chevrolet four wheel drive former army lorries from Liphook under contract, usually being used for lime spreading which ideally lent themselves for grit spreading and snow plough duties. The electrified main London to Portsmouth railway line was brought to a standstill with the ice on the conductor rail causing havoc with the current pick up shoes, one train broke in half ascending Witley bank north of Haslemere station. For many days a steam locomotive was sent from Guildford shed to Haslemere to assist electric trains in difficulty over the hilly section.
Temperatures dropped to below 10 F in early January with about 380 mm of lying snow, diesel fuel froze. There was almost no improvement during all of January but gradually temperatures lifted and a long but gradual thaw set in , heaps of snow were still to be seen into early April.
…about the Sailor’s Stone at Gibbet Hill, Hindhead?
Most facts surrounding the murder of a lone sailor walking back to Portsmouth to join his ship are well known locally. The murder committed on September 24th, 1786 is commemorated by a stone standing by the route of the old road near to the top of Gibbet Hill.
On the back of the stone is this inscription:
“This stone was erected by order and at the cost of James Stillwell, Esq., of Cosford, 1786. Cursed be the man who injureth or removeth this stone”.
It is believed that the stone was originally in a similar position to where it is today. In 1826 considerable alterations took place to the road and a ‘new’ road was constructed round the punchbowl at a lower level (what came to be known latterly as the A3 Portsmouth Road, and recently filled over as part of the Hindhead Tunnel re-landscaping). An interesting letter is printed in ‘The Table Book’ published 1827.
“Ten Guineas Reward. Whereas some evil-disposed person or persons did, in the night of Tuesday, the 17th instant, maliciously BREAK, DEFACE and INJURE the stone lately put up at Hindhead, by the Trustees of the Lower District of the Sheetbridge Turnpike Road, to perpetuate the memory of a murder committed there, in the place of the one removed by John Hawkins, Esq.
Whoever will give information of the offender or offenders shall on his, her, or their conviction receive a Reward of Ten Guineas, which will be paid by Mr. James Howard, the Surveyor of the said road. Witley, 26th July 1827.”
This ‘new’ stone was placed beside the new road near the apex of the Punchbowl bend. The letter holds a few mysteries. It implies that this was not the original stone. Was the first stone so damaged that it had to be replaced? And was the curse added at this time to deter further vandalism of the stone? Who was John Hawkins? And what happened to the ‘original’ stone ?
The present stone was again renovated, in 1889, by members of the Stillwell family. Further to all of this, with more road improvements the stone was once moved in the early 1930’s ( contradictory dates previously published of 1930 and 1932) to its present position. It is related that this time many asked to move the stone refused because of the curse. Two did actually handle it, and during the seventh year after this Rupert Chandler became ill and died at the age of 50 and Charles Harris (who was a member of the Grayshott fire brigade ) fell from a ladder and did not work again (Sunday Express, 31st October 1937) .
To quote : William Cobbett – ‘Rural Rides’ 1822 : Hindhead, That miserable hill, the most villainous spot that God ever made’.
RP, June 2017
…about Grayshott’s famous postmistress, Flora Thompson?
Most people probably do know that the author Flora Thompson worked for some while in Grayshott’s Post Office. Although people took her as the postmistress, she was actually the clerk and telegraphist. The official postmaster (and wife-murderer to-be) was her employer, Walter Chapman, whose concentration on his trade of cabinetmaker caused Flora to become the daily face at the Post Office’s counter and led to her unofficial promotion in the minds of her customers.
None of those customers would have known a Flora Thompson, but a Flora Timms, since she didn’t marry until after leaving Grayshott, to John Thompson, in 1903. John was also a post office clerk/telegraphist and I sometimes wonder if the two of them spoke together in Morse code.
Flora’s best known books, the Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy, were a lightly fictionalised autobiography of her own youth in the Oxfordshire countryside, where she first took employment as a Post Office assistant upon leaving school at age 14. Her book about Grayshott – Heatherley – was completed in 1944, three years before her death, and not published until 1979.
Flora arrived in Grayshott, it is thought, in September 1898 and left in autumn 1900. Those two years had a profound effect on the rest of her life. In Heatherley, Flora describes her semi-fictitious character Laura as having been ‘a cat in a previous existence’, for she was more attached to places than people. From the moment she arrived ‘One hot September afternoon near the end of the last century a girl of about twenty walked without knowing it over the border into Hampshire’ the wild and alien scenery became deeply imprinted upon her. Having grown up amidst the gentle farmland of Oxfordshire, which was beautiful in many small ways but otherwise ‘plain and homely’, she had never before encountered the fragrance of gorse and pine, or had long views across heather-clad commons to ‘a wavy line of dim blue hills’.
Flora found making friends of her own age and temperament difficult. She hints of Grayshott as having something of a multiple personality, not a village ‘but a settlement of recent growth’, with a mixed population of shopkeepers, holidaymakers, retirees and bohemian artists, and where the original country smallholders lived in the valleys in their ‘little low houses’. Whilst she made many acquaintanceships with all of those types, she was not part of any of their worlds so it seems that few lasting personal bonds were formed. Instead, she took to long walks in the country, a suspicious pastime in a society where a young woman disappearing alone onto the heath for hours on end was cause for gossip. Upon these walks she appears to have been at her happiest, and often resentful when others insisted on offering her their company.
Of the village, in 1899 she would have seen the openings of St Luke’s and The Fox and Pelican, from which she bought her ninepenny dinners of ‘a thick cut off the joint, two or more vegetables, and a wedge of fruit tart or round of roly-poly’. She noted that of the working people, few who lived in Grayshott had been born there, most having come to the village to earn a living from the area’s growing tourist trade. George Bernard Shaw was a frequent customer at her counter; she described him as a tall man, with a forked red beard and quick, searching eyes. Arthur Conan Doyle she judged as ‘probably the most popular man in the neighbourhood’. She also wrote little character sketches of ordinary residents, such as an unpopular builder who nobody could entirely snub because ‘one half of the villagers were employed by him and the other half employed him’.
Heatherley is presented as fiction, and not everything and everyone in it are traceable to facts, but it’s nonetheless a valuable record of social history at a time of rapid change and contrasts. Grayshott was a place where Flora operated her modern telegraph machine whilst broomsquires, by then outnumbered by incomer celebrities, still fashioned besoms on their ancient homesteads in the long, narrow valleys. It was a village where the stuffy morals of late Victorian England still expected all respectable young women to wear a sailor hat, but progressive thinkers such as Shaw drew crowds to his talks on socialism, vegetarianism and disarmament.
Flora left Grayshott in the autumn of 1900, the result of her reduced workload following the opening of a new telegraph office at Hindhead. She spent short periods in Yateley and Twickenham, then until 1916 in Bournemouth, after which she settled in Liphook. It was after the Great War that she began writing in earnest, surrounded by the nature she had loved since first walking out from the sunken lane at Pitfold twenty years earlier to see her new home before her ‘set with small slender birches just turning yellow, with red-berried rowan and thickets of bracken, the heath lay steeped in sunshine’. Tennyson, Shaw and Conan Doyle may have blessed our village with their presence, but it is to Flora that we owe the most enduring and personalised images of Grayshott’s character.
Flora’s books are generally available in Grayshott at the Post Office and Pottery.
On the Trail of Flora Thompson by John Owen Smith traces the factual basis of many of Flora’s local places and people. His republication of Heatherley (1998) has footnotes on the true identity of people and places she mentions in the book.