Jottings From an Earlier Grayshott, 1962
Here we show the text of a talk given by Mr FLH Harris to the Grayshott Good Companions club in May 1986. Mr Harris settled in Grayshott in 1927, and for many years during the 1950s and 60s he was Chairman of the Parish Council. According to our Chairman, Richard, his family had the village’s wholesale grocery business and lived at Spurfold in Church Lane. You can see him in the photo below, the gentleman standing at third from right. Incidentally, the gent at second from left is Jack Hayden Smith, author of ‘Grayshott, The Story of a Hampshire Village’, to whom we owe so much knowledge of Grayshott.
Follow this link to read the document: Jottings From an Earlier Grayshott
Some of the handwritten additions are a little tricky to decipher. On page 9, his earlier draft read ” 2:30 AM. Transmitting Air Raid Message Red or the All Clear/Messages in Code Nicotine Cecil”. If anyone can shed some light on what this means we would be most interested. Similarly, if any readers attended Mr Harris’s talk and can recall who was the “….. great idiot” please come forward!
On page 10, the earlier draft read “Correspondence to press. Plague of bluebottles. Compared them to the worst of Persia”. We may sometimes yearn for a simpler age as described with no yellow lines and less traffic, but I imagine most of us can be happy about losing the buckets and bluebottles!
Comments by a Parishioner, 1981
In 1980-81 the Parish Council conducted a village appraisal, to research and document the residents’ views on issues such as shops, recreation, housing, parking and traffic. All of which are familiar themes to us nowadays. The results were duly published. One resident felt the urge to respond in the form of a letter, ‘Comments by a Parishioner’, which we show here. It’s interesting reading, prophetic in some instances, and shows how the concerns of forty years ago have not changed too much. The author is anonymous; if it was you, and you’d like to claim credit, please tell us and we’ll set the record straight!
Follow this link to read the document: Comments by a Parishioner.
Grayshott Parish Booklet, 1932
We have recently received many generous donations of interesting and important items. Here we show the first of them, a little brochure from 1932 titled Grayshott Parish; Chronological Record of Events up to June, 1932. We think this was compiled largely from Parish Council minutes and living memories, therefore it’s a first-hand record of events written down by people who witnessed them. If you would like to know when mains water arrived in the village, who donated the allotments or how many gas lamps lit the village in 1926, read on.
Here we have an interesting little object which was dug up in a garden during building works. It’s the remains of the lid of a pot of FS Cleaver’s Bear’s Grease.
Frederick Samuel Cleaver and Sons were ‘manufacturers of genuine honey soap and every description of fancy soaps and perfumery’, based in Red Lion Street, Holborn, London. Samuel Cleaver started the business in 1770; in 1921 it was sold to Lever Brothers but the Cleaver name remained in use until 1934.
Bear’s Grease was sold as a hair strengthener and restorer, from the belief that bears being hairy, application of their fat would confer similar upon the human head. In 1653 the botanist and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote ‘Bear’s Grease staies the falling off of the hair’. It was made with grease from the fat of the brown bear, plus beef marrow and a perfume. The best grease was said to come from Russian bears. In the 19th century, demand exceeded the supply of bears and so manufacturers substituted pig or veal fat, suet and lard. Green dye was added to make it look better, plus herbal fragrances such as thyme and lavender. An article in the London Journal and Weekly Record of Literature, Science and Art of July 1847 noted that ‘There is no medicinal property whatever in what is termed bear’s-grease, except that of moistening the scurf, and goose-grease will be found equally useful for that purpose’. Nonetheless, it remained in fashion up to World War 1.
This lid is 3 inches across and made from sturdy white ceramic. The date is probably late 19th or early 20th century. This little pot retailed at 6d, almost certainly sold by a village pharmacy or barber shop. It was found amidst other bits of broken household and farm debris, in the garden of a 1907 cottage which was built by Alexander Whitaker for his estate workers. The cottage was built in a field at the edge of the farm, and the nature of the other things found nearby give the impression that this furthest corner was once used as a dump, perhaps for the farm in general.
The pot would have been a luxury purchase for a farm labourer. I rather like the possibility that it might have once been liberated from the squire’s dressing table by a valet or housemaid, perhaps nearly empty, then sampled by the farmhands and the evidence disposed of in the midden.
Pretty much every part of lowland Britain has been exploited by humans at some point. Even if your house is new, the land it stands on may hold little stories of its past waiting to be uncovered.
‘Tracco’ Waiting Room, Bramshott Camp
The rapid expansion of the military camp at Bramshott , spread out on both sides of the Portsmouth Road both north and south of the ‘Seven Thorns’ public house , meant that by the spring of 1915 there were some 24000 troops and 6000 horses stationed there . Local ‘bus operator the Aldershot and District Traction Co was soon to capitalise on this, running services to and from the camp. By 1916 a small waiting room had been built at the Bramshott terminus. This rare image of it has recently been acquired; after the closure of the camp during 1919 it was soon to disappear. The ‘Tracco’ would have been based at Clay Hill, Haslemere at the time, moving to a new depot at Hindhead in 1931, and became a major employer in the area. In addition to running bus services the company also had military contracts for the cartage of forage using Foden steam wagons.
Porcelain Tourist Souvenirs
It may be difficult to imagine now, but for half a century up to WW2 Grayshott was a popular tourist destination. Beauty spots such as Waggoners Wells, Ludshott Common, Whitmore Vale and the Devils Punch Bowl attracted visitors from far and wide. They came by train, with works outings by charabanc, with cycling clubs and by motor. Grayshott was a central point from which to explore, and thrived on their trade, providing a pub, tea rooms, guest houses and shops.
Naturally, like businesses everywhere, their proprietors sought to extract the maximum possible cash from the tourists and offered all manner of souvenirs for purchase. These little porcelain objects, recently acquired by one of our members, are a small selection of such. The crests are entirely imaginary – an attempt by the maker or retailer to add grandeur. That of the Cenotaph has a humorous reference via cannonballs to the ‘shott’ of our name. The Wealden iron industry certainly made most cannons for the army from the 16th century up until the end of the 18th, but there is no truth in the rumour that the ‘shott’ in many local place names derives from it. (In fact, it’s an Old English (ie Saxon) word which approximately means a corner or portion of).
They were sold in places such as the Post Office and Madame Warr’s four shops, which included a milliner, a costumier and a stationary & artists supply outlet. Alexander Whitaker also gave little crested jugs to the village schoolchildren. If you find a small jug with a Grayshott Hall crest upon it then it’s probably one of these.
A Victorian Ordnance Survey Map
One of our members has just acquired this 19th century Ordnance Survey map of Grayshott. It was surveyed in 1869, engraved in 1871 and printed in 1872. It therefore captures the village in the decade following the Headley Inclosure but before very much in the way of new construction had started.
At a scale of 6″ to one mile, and printed from an engraving on copper, these large scale maps are regarded as the best work ever produced by the OS. They were surveyed county by county, hence we don’t here see the Surrey side, and unfortunately a sheet-line runs right through the middle of the village. Nonetheless it gives a very accurate portrayal.
We hope eventually to produce some high quality scans so that we can put the whole map on this site. For the moment we’ve just chosen a few points of interest to illustrate here.
Above, you can see the blank part which is Surrey. Grayshott is at the top right, Ludshott Common at top left and Bramshott Common at the bottom. The diagonal line of the A3 and the Seven Thorns can just be made out at the bottom, beneath the word ‘COMMON’.
Above, a closer view of the area which was to become the modern village. Towards the top, Headley Road runs from left to right. The road with a kink in it, top right, which joins with Headley Road, is the remnant of Pitfold Way, now Avenue Road. Where they join is the site of our Co-Op. The clear space to its left, where the word ‘Hill’ is written, was owned by William Lawrence of Whitmoor Vale Farm. Nowadays it’s the site of the Fox & Pelican, car park and Village Green. The paddocks to the left of Kingswood Firs also belonged to Lawrence; now they form the grounds of Hunters Moon. The dotted line under the words Kingswood Firs has become the modern road of that name.
More detail is revealed when we look closer still. The dash-dot line running from top right diagonally to the bottom is the county boundary. Its middle portion – the third side to the triangle of Headley Road and Crossways Road – is our Boundary Road. In the 16th century this line across the open heath, between the heads of Whitmoor and Stoney Bottoms, was marked by a row of oak trees. Most of this triangle had been bought by James Baker of Pitfold, a land speculator. The southern part of Pitfold Way has already been closed off preparatory for building. At the bottom right can be seen the cottage of John and Mary Lawrence (spelled Lurance then), built around 1809 but including older remains, and is now Yew Tree Cottage. The county boundary ran right through their garden, with the house just on the Surrey side.
Above, zooming right in, we can see Stoney Bottom. Crossways is at the top right. Almost every house had a well in those days, or a tank for collecting rainwater. Mount Cottage was home to Henry and Hannah (‘Granny’) Robinson and was the first village store. Although most of the land had by now been bought by investors such as James Baker and Edward I’Anson there was still very little construction. All of the houses on this part of the map are those of the original villagers, some of them being broomsquires cottages such as the one just visible between the words ‘at Bottom’.
Above, at Waggoners Bend, the straight line of the recently made Headley Road contrasts with the wiggly course of its predecessor, the medieval Graveshotte Lane, which skirted around the fields then across the common and down into Whitmoor. At the top, by the number ‘604’, can be seen the entrance to old Canes’ Farm, formerly Highe Graveshotte Farm, and by 1869 just used as field barns. Nowadays it is crossed by the footpath beside Baillie Cottage. Note the dew ponds. The small triangle of land beneath is now The Dower House, which in the years around 1600 was the site of a cottage and garden of John Newman, the miller at Barford. From the centre, just above the word ‘Well’, a track heads off to the left, occupying a narrow strip of land between the fields and the boundary with Bramshott parish (the thick dashed line). This is still a bridleway, a very ancient one. Its original purpose was a driftway – a short-distance livestock route – to allow the local farmers to drive their animals between the commons of Headley and Grayshott without either trampling the fields or trespassing into the adjacent manor of Ludshott.
The second sheet, above, shows the northern part of Grayshott. The county boundary runs along the Southwater stream, beside which cottagers have colonised the bottom and set out meadows and small market gardens.
This close-up shows Bulls and Grayshott Farms. Grayshott Farm was home to John Rouse Phillips, a part of the Wishanger Estate, which he’d purchased the year before the survey from the Miller family of Froyle. He began the process of gentrifying the farm and turning it into Grayshott Hall. The Estate included the Land of Nod, which prior to the Inclosure was Headley Common. Sir Thomas Combe Miller purchased this area during the enclosure and converted it into a hunting estate. He planted driveways of ornamental trees which you can see at the top left, many of which survive in private gardens, including an avenue of sweet chestnut trees along Long Gut Bottom. The patchwork fields of Grayshott Farm are ancient, perhaps pre-dating the Norman Conquest, and most of them are now beneath the Applegarth Vale housing estate. The field at the bottom with the number ‘598’ in it was called Water Hall Field. Hall means ‘hollow’, indicating a dew pond. This pond was at the kink in the field boundary, to the right of the letter ‘8’, and this marks the site of the medieval farmstead of Barnelands.
These are just a few things that these maps can tell us. From time to time we’ll run little articles exploring other parts in more detail.
A First World War Map
One of our members has just acquired this Ordnance Survey map of the Aldershot District army manoeuvre area from the time of the First World War. Grayshott had been within the area of the Army’s Aldershot Command since it was formed in the 19th century.
Maps like this are fairly common survivors, they were printed in their thousands, issued to every officer on manoeuvres and they are still being found in sheds and attics. This is a lovely copy, and has obviously been used in the field, being worn, grubby and tea-stained. It was issued in 1912, and thick red line and the paler turquoise area were printed on, to show the Command’s boundary and Longmoor Ranges as they were immediately before the war. The interesting thing for us is that its owner then hand-coloured turquoise and yellow areas to show extra training lands, some of them outside the Command, that were added during the war.
Around Grayshott we can see that Ludshott Common, Waggoners Wells, Land of Nod, Golden Valley, Devil’s Punchbowl and Hindhead Common are all thus coloured. Most interestingly, so is Kingswood Firs, which at the time was owned by James Mowatt. Mowatt’s son Osmond served in the army and died of wounds in 1917.
The nearby heaths had long been used by the army, as described in our article The Battle of Ludshott Common. And the Rifle Brigade was just one of many units that were billeted her. The map is a reminder of just how close the villagers must have felt to the war – as well as their own sons, fathers and husbands in uniform, they were surrounded by the sight and sound of thousands of young men in training.
One such, Rifleman JE Taylor of the Rifle Brigade, wrote in a letter to his local newspaper of his time here.
‘Last Friday we left Blackdown and marched to Grayshott . They paraded us at 9am and, on marching off, we were joined by three more battalions ….. When we had all got into our stride it was a grand sight. On arriving at Grayshott at 5, after marching about 20 miles, we were marched to our billets.
I was rather disappointed to find that ours was a schoolroom. We had to sleep on the floor the first three nights with only three thin blankets ….
We are training with the Battalion now, and the last three days they have fairly put us through it. On Wednesday we paraded at 6:30, and had marching and doubling till breakfast. After that the recruits had some more marching and doubling in a field four inches deep in snow, and also an hour’s drill with the rifle. I thought my fingers would have dropped off with the cold …..
On Thursday we had a field day, another big march and more skirmishing. Then we halted for dinner; water, dry bread and cheese ….. After dinner we had some battalion drill, then marched back arriving about five o’clock. Today we paraded for breakfast at seven, and later formed up for a route march of sixteen miles ….. through some grand country. The trees around here are nearly all firs, and there are plenty of them ….’
So if you are walking across the commons on a sunny spring day, please spare a thought for Rifleman Taylor with his frozen fingers and dry cheese sandwich.
Grayshott Hall Nurseries
We have just obtained an interesting postcard of Grayshott Hall. The card itself is quite a common one, but its interest is in the message on the back. It appears to be from the Whitaker family’s nanny, and she has marked on the card the position of two nurseries.
The photograph was taken by Walder of Grayshott, we think around 1912/13. It was sent to a recipient in Herefordshire, presumably a friend or relative, and it shows how the domestic service employment of these big houses, of which there were dozens around Grayshott and Hindhead, drew people to the area from far and wide.
A WW1 Military Funeral
This postcard shows quite a common view along Crossways Road. However, the message on the back is more interesting. It reads:
‘The little village where we often make purchases. There are only two streets. The place is about fifteen miles from Aldershot. A military funeral passed thru today while we were there. The coffin was on the gun limber. The poor fellow, a French Canadian of a battalion in our own lines in camp, was killed by a motor lorry while walking along the road in the dark.’
Obviously written by a soldier, probably from the camp at Bramshott, we think the deceased was a Catholic going for burial at St Joseph’s. Unfortunately there is no date to help us further identify the victim of the accident.
Great War Postcards
One of our members has acquired a most interesting collection of postcards from the Great War. We know that Belgian refugees were housed in Grayshott, at Bulls Farm, Glenn Road, Homeside (Headley Road) and nearby at Bramshott Chase. These cards appear to be addressed to the sisters Marthe and Viviane d’Huart, at Gorsemount, so they add a further family to those already known. They are from their father, an officer in the Belgian Artillery, dated 1916 and marked ‘Belgian Active Army’. In one of them d’Huart writes:
‘Dear Marthe, This scene will interest your mummy as the mansion belonged to our family. It is now as flat as the ground and impossible to photograph. Yesterday our cook was killed in the cellar by a shell, and my best interpreter killed by an enemy bomb. I hope this week brings us better luck. Goodbye, dear Marthe. I send you my most heartfelt affectionate kisses. Write to me often.’
He must have been at or very close to the front.
Gorsemount is in The Avenue, built circa 1900. Of it’s owners during the Great War, or of the d’Huart family, we currently know nothing further. Time permitting, we hope to translate all of the cards and discover more about their story.
Latest Loss – The Golden Hind Cafe
The latest building to succumb is the Golden Hind Cafe at Hindhead, more recently known as Cooper Brothers furniture shop. Time and decades of pounding from recent traffic had taken its toll, and the building was sadly beyond economic repair. It was demolished in May 2018.
New Loss – Woods Tiled Shopfront
The latest loss to Grayshott’s history is the beautiful Edwardian tiled frontage of Stainton House, more commonly known as Woods the butchers. The latest proprietor, of a shop named ‘Bells and Whistles,’ has decided to cover this village signature feature in a coat of vinyl. The tiles are said to be intact beneath the vinyl but have nonetheless been removed from the everyday enjoyment of villagers and passers-by. Despite the property being within the Conservation Area it currently seems that no planning enforcement to reverse this action is possible.
The property was built in about 1897. In about 1904 it was bought by Mr Woods and altered to make a double-fronted shop by infilling with the adjacent Coxhead’s. The tiled front would have been added at this time, a typical period feature for butchers. Since 1983 the premises were used as a restaurant, still known as Woods and until recently Wings Woods. As small compensation to those who loved this place we show below a picture of the premises in their heyday.
Three Old Photographs
This month we have some photos of varied interest.
First, a nice picture of Donec in the 1960s.
The second shows the signwriting shop of the bus depot in Aldershot, with finishing touches being applied to the local Hindhead & Bramshott board.
Finally, the Chapman and Puttick shop in Headley Road. If anyone knows more about this building or business we would be interested to hear from you.
A Pair of Old Grayshott Deeds
These two old deeds relate to property once owned by the Cane family. The Canes were yeoman farmers who had lived in Headley and Grayshott for centuries. Technically they were copyholders, meaning that they held their land as tenants of the lord of the manor. When a tenant was admitted to a property, two deeds were made at the manor court on one sheet of parchment, which was cut in half. One part was held by the lord and the other by the tenant – hence known as the copy-holder. The proof of authenticity is that only the original copy would match the cut. These are the original tenant’s copies.
High Grayshott was a farm in the area that is now the Waggoners estate and the eastern end of Applegarth. The farmhouse and yard were located in the area behind Baillie Cottage and Saddler’s Scarp. If you take the footpath by Baillie Cottage towards the Hanger, you will walk right over it. It was first recorded in 1349 when Agnes sister of Robert atte Grevette was fined 10/- for a messuage and 5/- land. Robert probably died of the Black Death. For a long while called Cane’s Farm, the house is shown on a map from 1739. In 1813 it was absorbed into Grayshott farm and by 1846 the buildings had become an unoccupied barn-yard. One old barn survived until the 1950s.
Bulls Farm is the area to the west of Hammer Lane, now mostly used as horse pasture, and almost the last of Grayshott’s medieval fields that are still used for at least some form of agriculture. It’s first mentioned by name in 1552, in the occupation of William Graveshott jnr. The earliest record is from 1274 when Julia of Graveselate was fined 3/4d for land conceded by her father. In the same year Walter of Graveselate was fined 3/4d for the above Julia and her land. Julia was given the land as her marriage dowry and as unfree tenants – villeins – Walter had to pay the lord for permission to marry her. Bulls found its way to Richard Cane by his ‘customary right’ to inherit his mother’s land. His stepfather, Richard Missingham, built the old portion of the house now called Grays Farm around the year 1772. Bulls Farm was modernised by Alexander Whitaker in the 1890s as a model farm, and his stable, dairy and four pairs of workers cottages still exist, along with Richard Missingham’s farmhouse.
The deeds read as follows:
Transcription of a Copyhold Deed to High Grayshott & Brightness, Grayshott, 1773
Bps Sutton Manor
Granted by copy of Court Roll at the Turn of Hock with the Court Baron of the said manor there held the first day of April in the thirteenth year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Third by the Grace of God King of Great Britain etc and in the twelfth year of the Translation of the Right Reverend John Lord Bishop of Winchester 1773.
Fine xs Robert Mayhew for one Messuage and twenty two Acres of Customary land called High Grayshott by the yearly rent of vs and five acres of purprestureland by the yearly rent of iiid in the Tything of Heathley Which came into the hands of the Lord on the surrender of John Cane. To hold to the said Robert Mayhew and his heirs according to the Custom of the said Manor.
Fine xiid the said Robert Mayhew for one Close of land called Brightness containing three Acres by estimation lying in Grayshott in length between the land of John More on the North part and the waste of the Lord on the South part late parcel of the customary lands called Hurlebutts containing sixty Acres in the Tything of Heathley / Which came into the hands of the Lord as aforesaid. To hold as aforesaid
Examd by: James Serle Dep Clerk of the Bishopric of Winchester
Sir T. Miller was admd to this 22 March 1792
Transcription of a Copyhold Deed to Bulls Farm, Grayshott, 1804
Bps Sutton Manor
Granted by copy of Court Roll at the Court Baron of the said manor there held the twentieth day of September in the forty fourth year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Third by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland King Defender of the faith. And in the twenty fourth year of the Translation of the Honourable and Right Reverend Brownlow Lord Bishop of Winchester 1804.
Fine iis iiiid Richard Cane only son and heir of Mary Missingham Widow deceased who survived Richard Missingham her late husband and also deceased and was at the time of her marriage with the said Richard Missingham the Widow of John Cane father of the said Richard Cane for fourteen acres of land / whether more or less / parcel of one toft and eighteen acres Acres of land called Bulls in Greyshott in the tithing of Heathley by the yearly rent of iiis iiiid Which came into the hands of the Lord by the death of the said Mary Missingham To hold to the said Richard Cane and his heirs according to the custom of the said Manor.
Examd by: James Serle D Clerk of the Bishopric of Winchester
The fine in the deeds was not a punishment for wrongdoing but an entry tax, like modern stamp duty. It was paid by the new tenant every time a property changed hands. The stamp on the deed is actually another tax on the parchment itself. The rent was then the annual charge. In Grayshott these prices were absolutely fixed for centuries so the lord’s income gradually became less and less in real value. People could sell their tenancies, and in 1773 Robert Mayhew paid £600 for High Grayshott – the equivalent of 2,400 years of rent. Richard Cane sold Bulls in 1820 for £400 – again the equivalent of 2,400 years of rent. Both of these farms are much older than the dates on record. Most likely the land has been continuously occupied and worked since Saxon times. These deeds preserve a snapshot of the human activity that has probably exceeded a thousand years.
A New Loss – The Closure of Lloyds Bank
Lloyds Bank, the last proper bank in Grayshott, finally closed its doors on Tuesday, October 10th 2017, ending the presence of a purpose-built bank in the village for 110 years. Starting as The Capital and Counties Bank at the corner of Crossways Road and Hill Road, they moved to the present site as a new building in 1924.
The Original War Memorial Cross
We have been given the original cross from the village War Memorial.
At the end of the First World war there was a profound feeling of national grief and the need for remembrance. As a result nearly every town and village constructed a memorial, which eventually came to commemorate the dead of subsequent wars, and which remain prominent in communities today.
Grayshott’s cross was designed by the architect Mr Sharp of Hereford and dedicated at a ceremony conducted by Reverend A E N Simms on July 17th 1921. The formal unveiling was by Col- Commandant A C Day, CB, CMG, officer in charge of Bordon. It was originally located on the village green, approximately where the Millennium sculpture now stands, but in 1932 it was moved to its present site which was thought “more fitting and worthy where the beauty and dignity of the monument could be seen”.
Recently it was noticed that the cross was cracked and potentially dangerous. It was removed, a replacement made and installed, and the memorial was rededicated at a ceremony on Sunday 29th October 2017.
Grayshott Heritage will now repair the original cross, and we hope to mount it with an explanatory plaque in a suitable public spot.
A Postcard of Whitmore Vale
This lovely old postcard shows Whitmore Vale in the early 20th century, perhaps before the Great War. The landscape is much more open than today, there are less conifer plantations, and the hedges are all well kept. Whitmore Vale was farmed by smallholders and market gardeners and supplied fresh produce into Grayshott, Hindhead and local villages. We think this photo is taken from the north, on the Hampshire side looking up the valley towards Grayshott, maybe somewhere in the area of Dingley Dell Cottage. If you can place the spot please let us know.
A Cream Jug from the White Heather Dairy
Recently purchased is a small cream jug from the White Heather Dairy, one of three such businesses trading in Grayshott pre 1920. Situated in Headley Road (opposite the present Co-op), and built about 1899, the first advertisement for the establishment appeared in the Grayshott Magazine for January 1900. The 1901 census records Ada bridge as ‘dairy manager’. Subsequent advertisements also include ‘tea rooms’ as part of the business. By 1936 the shop had become a hairdressers of which it still remains as such today although during the 1970/80s it was the Victoria Wine off-licence. This lovely little jug reminds us of a time when almost all fresh produce was local. The milk most likely came from cows that grazed in the fields of Whitmore Bottom, or perhaps the farms of Headley.
A Rifle Brigade Cap Badge
Recently found in a garden on the western edge of the village, was this cap badge of the Rifle Brigade. The 8th Battalion of the Rifles was billeted in Grayshott from November 1914 to March 1915 and this well preserved badge must surely have been lost during those few months.
Formed in 1800 as the ‘Experimental Corps of Riflemen’, they were soon renamed the ‘Rifle Corps’ and then in 1803 became the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles). Under this name they fought with Wellington in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo. Selected and trained as marksmen, they were an elite unit equipped with the Baker Rifle rather than muskets. Fans of Bernard Cornwell will recognise the 95th as the unit of his fictional hero Richard Sharpe. They became the Rifle Brigade in 1816.
During the Great War the Rifle’s four regular battalions were augmented by several war-service battalions. The 8th was one such, formed on 21st August 1914 at Winchester as part of Kitchener’s First New Army. Its members were all volunteers, men who came forward to serve during the first rush of patriotism following the outbreak of hostilities. After basic training at Aldershot they were moved to Grayshott, where they continued their training on manoeuvres around the heaths and woods.
In Grayshott, our small country village found itself with 800 soldiers to accommodate. Most other ranks and the majority of officers were billeted at Grayshott Hall, which became the battalion HQ. The remaining other ranks were put up in the newly built Village Hall. The owner of our cap badge and how he lost it must remain unknown, but it was found just over the road from Grayshott Hall, a few inches under the soil amidst a layer of ash and small household debris. Perhaps this area, in a corner of a field, was some sort of campsite or hutment which suffered an accidental fire?
In March 1915 the 8th returned to Aldershot , from whence in May they departed for Bologne-sur-Mer. They marched towards the front, heading into the Second Battle of Ypres. They were held as a reserve force for a while, behind the lines but under shellfire, then moved to the front line for trench duties. By late July A and B Companies were at the ramparts, C and D Companies in dugouts.
A strategic point at this time was the area around Hooge Chateau. The British decided to take it by a mining operation, a huge explosive charge placed at the end of a tunnel under the enemy lines. At 7pm on 15th July the mine was blown, making a crater 120 feet across. On Thursday 29th the 8th was called to defend the crater, marching into position under cover of darkness beneath a waning moon and being in place by 2am. At 3:15 am, just hours after the 8th’s arrival, the Germans attacked, with the first use of flamethrowers during the war. At the same time there was a massive bombardment upon the communication trenches behind.
A Lieutenant describes the attack:
‘About half-an-hour before dawn there was a sudden hissing sound and a bright crimson glare over the crater turned the whole scene red. I saw three or four distinct jets of flame, like a line of powerful fire-hoses spraying fire instead of water, shoot across my fire trench. Then every noise under Heaven broke out, trench mortars and bombs, machine guns firing, shrapnel falling and high explosive shells….Those who had faced the flame attack were never seen again.’
Most of the 8th was overrun and the survivors retreated to the support line. Of the 8th’s 24 officers and 745 other ranks, within 24 hours 19 officers and 469 other ranks were killed, wounded and missing.
Another officer wrote that the worst casualties were in A Company, which had been billeted at the Village Hall, and C Company, formerly billeted at Grayshott Hall. These were right on the front line and C Company was described in the battalion’s war diary as non-existent.
The 8th was kept close to the line, billeted under shellfire and regularly digging and repairing trenches. Men were sickening with fatigue but gradually drafts of replacements arrived. Within a couple of weeks the battalion was back in the front line.
Later in the war the 8th fought in the Battle of the Somme at Delville Wood, and at inverness Copse during the Battle of Arras. It returned to England in June 1918.
Whether the owner of our cap badge survived these horrors is unknown. The odds are against him. The crater at Hooge was filled in after the war, still containing hundreds of bodies.
A Cast Iron Grave Marker From St Luke’s
We have been shown this object, which we believe to be a grave or row marker from St Luke’s churchyard. It is 15 inches long, made of cast iron, and carries the number 25. Probably, it dates from when the churchyard was first laid out and when many people couldn’t afford a headstone. How it came to be separated from its rightful place is a mystery.