People and Places: We are just starting to add some of the colourful characters and places from Bletchingley's Past. Check back here soon for more stories.


Those that have watched the Young Victoria television series may remember the first Prime Minister we were introduced to in 1837: William Lamb (Lord Melbourne).

William Lamb sat in the House of Commons as an MP for a number of constituencies including, from 1827 until 1828, Bletchingley. This proved to be the last area he was to represent, as Lamb inherited the title of Lord Melbourne upon his father’s death at that time. This meant that he could no longer sit in the Commons but had to continue his career from the Lords. As we have seen he eventually became Prime Minister six years later.

During the same years as he was one of the Bletchingley MPs he also held the title of Chief Secretary to Ireland (which at that time was part of the United Kingdom); the role was akin to the Secretary of State for Wales and Scotland now and one would expect took up a lot more time than his constituency affairs of Bletchingley.

See Future Articles on Lord Palmerston and the Rotten Borough of Bletchingley.

One of the more successful wives of Henry VIII – in that she may not have been married to him for very long but at least Anne of Cleves outlived him (and all his other wives too). She was the second wife to have been divorced.

After the death of Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, he was casting around for a new Queen. On the recommendation of Thomas Cromwell and after seeing a favourable portrait of Anne by Hans Holbein, he agreed to marry her. It was also an attractive political alliance which would aid Henry in his ongoing conflict with the Catholic Church.  

On her arrival in England, Henry went unannounced to Anne’s quarters but as she didn’t know who he was, she took little notice of him.  Feeling spurned, he started to take a dislike to her but by this time the wedding arrangements (and the political alliance) had been made. They married in January 1540 a few weeks after their first meeting. Six months later they were divorced with him considering her to be the “Flanders Mare” as he said she looked like a horse; nobody else thought she was particularly ugly though. One has to admire her confidence – she must have known Henry’s history but she was still prepared to marry him.

Anne did very well out of the divorce settlement – Henry was generous as he wanted the matter done and dusted as soon as possible. Uvedale Lambert states

On July 12th, the very moment that Parliament accepted the divorce bill, he wrote to her at Richmond to gild the pill, declaring how “we have appointed you two houses, that at Richmond...and the other at Blechinglegh, not far from London that you may be near us, and, as you desire, able to repair to our Court to see us, as we shall repair to you.”

Bletchingley Palace had come into Henry’s hands from Sir Nicholas Carew. Along with the house, Anne also received the two parks (Great Park and Little Park), the land called Hextalls, all Messuages (houses), lands, etc in the borough of Blecheinglie alias Blecheingleigh and the (area) between Blechinglie and Godstone, belonging to the said manor. All this (plus numerous other properties in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Essex and Sussex plus Richmond) was allocated to Anne for life – as long as she did not leave the country. It is nice to see that even in 1540, Bletchingley was spelt three different ways within one document.    

However by March 1547, things had changed. Henry had died and Edward the VI was now on the throne. A Thomas Carwarden had earlier been appointed as the administrator of all the estates held by Anne at Bletchingley. Though he lived at Hextalls, it is thought that this was probably not a smart enough address for him and he had more or less moved into the Palace. He was appointed as Master of the Revels (the person in charge of putting on entertainments for the King) and to reflect his new position he was given the Palace of Bletchingley and all the lands previously given to Anne. Anne was accordingly asked if she would move to Penshurst Place which she duly did especially when she was reminded it was close to Hever Castle – still a prominent house even after the demise of Anne Boleyn.

See Bletchingley Place for more information on Bletchingley Palace

Some may think this is an unlikely name to include in the list of famous residents of Bletchingley but Desmond Tutu acted as Assistant Curate at St Mary’s from 1965 to 1966. He was in the United Kingdom to study theology at Kings College, London. Whilst at Bletchingley he encouraged co-operation between the Anglican community and the Roman Catholic and Methodist congregations.

Desmond Tutu was the first black curate to ever hold the office in Bletchingley and his children were (at the time)the only black children  at the local schools. They enjoyed life in the village – they had a nice house and a larger income than they had had previously.

 He is fondly remembered by a number of local residents and in return a message sent from him to the village in recent years showed that he fondly remembered the village and the welcome he and his family received. A portrait of him hangs in St Marys Church.

He is specifically remembered for his impromptu dancing outside “in the starlight” after a midnight mass one Christmas. Others remember his laugh – he was full of joy. Bletchingley is credited with showing the young curate that black and white people, whatever their background,  could live in harmony and respect each other  even if they were unable to under the regime of his home country at the time. 

When it was time for the Tutu family to return to South Africa there was great sadness on both parts. A farewell party was held, attended by many people from the village and the family were  showered with presents, including a car that the family would take with them.

Source: Desmond Tutu: A Biography by Steven Gish ISSN 1540-4900; Greenwood Publishing Book 2004

Not his real name. And for many years no-one knew he was here until David Martin decided to do some work on the chimney of his house in the High Street, which is when “Pigeon” made his appearance.

In the rubbish removed from the chimney was an ancient pigeon skeleton. David was somewhat intrigued because he noticed an equally ancient red message capsule on Pigeon’s leg. On opening it he found a somewhat official looking form entitled “Pigeon Service” with nothing but letters  set out in twenty seven groups of five. It was sent from a “Sjt W Stot” to “XO2” on June 6th 1944 - D-Day.

David showed the message to his friend, Biffy Dunderdale, who had had had a career in UK Intelligence – particularly during WW2. Biffy returned the message to David with the somewhat cryptic comment that the meaning of the message will never be revealed.

Several years later in 2012, the story of Pigeon and his secret message suddenly became top news both nationally and internationally. Newspapers and TV stations ran the story of how the true message had never been deduced. Even the Pigeon Museum at Bletchley Park had not been able to break the code nor could the sender (Sjt Stot) or the recipient (XO2) be identified. A system of one-time code books was in use but this requires both parties of the communication to know which code book is being used. All pigeons used in the war were given identity numbers; two such numbers are clearly shown on the slip. It is thought that the Bletchingley Pigeon was one of these two. It fits with the additional information on the slip that two copies of the information were sent – each via pigeon.

So how come Pigeon ended up as a resident of Bletchingley? Probably he was just resting on David Martin’s chimney en route from Normandy to London when he accidentally fell in.  Pigeon (his remains) has travelled far since,  including to Germany for an exhibition and is now at Bletchley Park.

The GCHQ website was updated in 2019 stating that they have followed the story of Pigeon with interest but really they are no further forward in deciphering the information. The system of one time code books was meant to be secure – and it looks as though it worked!

See also Wilfred “Biffy” Dunderdale

Lord Melbourne
Anne of Cleves
Archbishop Desmond Tutu