People:  we are adding some of the colourful characters from Bletchingley's Past.

The formatting may not be best suited  for display on a phone.     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 Articles on Lord Palmerston and the Rotten Borough of Bletchingley (work in progress).

One of the more successful wives of Henry VIII – in that Anne of Cleves may not have been married to him for very long but at least she 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 (work in progress)

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 during the war 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 - Prime Minister
Anne of Cleves - Queen
Archbishop Desmond Tutu - Assistant Curate
Pigeon - Bird of Mystery
Richard of Tonbridge - Land Owner

Born before 1035, Richard FitzGilbert of Tonbridge was a Norman lord who participated in the invasion of1066. He was also known as Richard de Clare.

Richard was the son of Gilbert, Count of Brionne (in Normandy), who had been the guardian of the young William (later William the Conqueror). Richard and his brother, also called Gilbert, fled to Flanders after their father had been killed but eventually returned to Normandy. Richard then accompanied William to England in 1066 where he was handsomely repaid with lands and titles for his support at the Battle of Hastings.  This included the land around Bletchingley. In return, Richard had to supply William with sixty knights – he therefore split his land into units called manors. Each owner of a manor then had to promise to serve as a knight when the time came.

Amongst others, Richard built castles at Tonbridge and Bletchingley. The former was much admired leading to him being called Richard of Tonbridge. Likewise he was also known as Richard de Clare from the castle and land he owned at Clare (in Suffolk)

Richard died in 1091. The logo of this Society is that of Richard de Clare and is also replicated on the Village Sign.

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William the Conqueror and the Domesday Book

An early visitor to the village: William the Conqueror (or at least his army) was known to have made camp just to the west of the village.

After his success at the Battle of Hastings, William needed to know how much his new kingdom was worth – primarily so that he could make money from it through a system of taxation. In 1086 he ordered the “Great Survey” of most of England. The main purpose was to look at the taxes which were owed under Edward the Confessor and how they would become due following the redistribution of estates and land after the Norman Conquest. The comparison between “before” and “after” is very helpful to see the impact of the Conquest on a local area.

Two areas in our locality were examined in depth

The main settlement appears in Domesday Book as Blachingelei. It was held by Richard de Tonbridge. Its Domesday Assets were: “... 10 hides now 3 hides; land for 16 ploughs. There were three manors, now it is in one. In Lordship, 3 ploughs, 20 villagers and 4 smallholders with 9 ploughs, 7 slaves. Meadow 14 acres; from the woodland, 40 pigs, from grazing 18 pigs. Also 7 houses in London and Southwark. Value of whole manor before 1066 £13, later £8; now what Richard holds £12; what his men hold 73s 4d”.

Chevington (the houses at the western end of Ivy Mill Lane) is also mentioned and was in fact valued much higher than Bletchingley: “.... was 20 hides, now for 6 hides. Land from 12 ploughs. In Lordship 2 ½ ploughs, 23 villagers and 1 small holder with 9 ploughs, 9 slaves, a mill at 32d, from grazing 12 pigs, woodland 50 pigs, meadow 16 acres. Value before 1066 £11, later £6 now £10

Hide was a unit of land – maybe 120 acres but often different.

This all means that the assets in our local area had been reduced from Edward the Confessor’s time by about half. No-one is absolutely sure why there should be such a big reduction but Uvedale Lambert suggests that it was because some of the manors had been combined and this reduced the number of hides. It is also possible (very likely) that as a major encampment was made nearby, the ravages of the invasion had caused some decline in the value of some manors.

Other sources suggest that as Richard and his family made significant contributions to the upkeep of monasteries and abbeys in France, then the burden of taxation was reduced considerably in return.

Each area was expected to work the land for the King and the local Lord in accordance with the valuation and then they could get on with working it for their own benefit. Certain individuals were assigned to make sure the payments were made – the villagers apparently liked this idea as they knew when they had done their bit and they didn’t have the local tax collector on their back all the time.

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Copyright BCHS

Copyright BCHS

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Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein

Picture from wikipedia

Sir Thomas Carwarden - Master of the Revels

“Master of the Revels and Tents” to Henry VIII and who also had the job of administrating all of the estates held by Anne of Cleves at Bletchingley. After Anne’s agreement to move to Penshurst Place, Henry moved into Bletchingley Palace. He had previously lived at Hextalls, a fine house (but not as fine as a Palace) in Bletchingley. He was also elected as one of the two MPs for the village. 

After Henry’s death, Thomas received the not inconsiderable sum of £200 via Henry’s will – a real sign that he was indeed a favourite. Afterwards though his fortunes varied. He added various positions to his portfolio including improving security at the Tower of London. As an active Protestant reformer he supervised the removal “of much of the furniture, carving, rood screen and other ‘idolatry’ from his own parish church and had it carted to the Blackfriars”. However, he was also involved with providing tents for Lady Jane Grey during her very short reign – which did not go down well when Mary took the throne.

Before the Wyatt Rebellion (1554) he was instructed by Bishop Stephen Gardiner to arm his servants in readiness for suppressing the insurgents. However, he was mistrusted by Lord Howard who issued a warrant for Thomas’ arrest and the seizure of the arms at his home at Bletchingley. However he was released a month later. He was later implicated in the plot to replace Mary with Elizabeth and later on suspected in the murder of a Robert Paris. However, he managed to hang on to his office and was able to amass other estates; under Elizabeth he returned to royal favour. Unfortunately he died very shortly afterwards.

Even after death, things didn’t go well for him: he is buried at Bletchingley Church but the plaque for his tomb was not found until the 19th Century at Loseley Park.  

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Tomb of Sir Thomas Carwarden in Bletchingley Church

From Uvedale Lambert: A Parish History

Sir Robert Clayton - Lord Mayor of London

Like several politicians who have represented Bletchingley and allowed “the little Surrey village” to punch above its weight, the MP, Sir Robert Clayton, has left his mark on the village.

Born in 1629, he made his fortune as a partner in the bank, Clayton & Morris which he had set up with his fellow Scrivener, John Morris. Scriveners would take on debts (at a discount) and then either make money on the interest or by foreclosing the debt if the debtor could not pay. After making deals on a number of properties including Marden Park (owned by the Evelyn family near Godstone) Robert Clayton had made a considerable fortune.  At one stage, he was able to lend £30,000 to the King in order to pay the army.  He was also an “Assistant” to the Royal African Company between 1672 and 1681 which was controversially involved in the slave trade.

He was late in formally entering politics; it was not until the age of 50 that he became MP for the City of London and later Bletchingley in 1690. He served the Borough for three terms interspersed with representing the City until his death in 1707.

  • See Article on the Rotten Borough of Bletchingley (work in progress).

He also served as Lord Mayor of London and, from 1692, as President of St Thomas’ Hospital (now) in Lambeth.

St Thomas' Hospital had been set up in the 12th Century as the “sick house” attached to the Church of St Mary Overie in Southwark. By the late 17th century, the hospital was in a dilapidated state and Clayton employed the architect (and another St Thomas' governor), Thomas Cartwright to undertake the complete rebuilding which was finished in 1709. A statue by Grinling Gibbons of Sir Robert stands at the entrance to the hospital.

A much more elaborate statue to Sir Robert and his wife, Martha can be seen in St Mary’s Church. It is the only signed monument of Richard Crutcher and has been described as “the finest monument of the Baroque in England” (Sacherverell Sitwell). Both statues are listed Grade 1.

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Lord Melbourne. From Wikipedia

Lord Palmerston - Prime Minister

Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston represented Bletchingley as one of the two Members of Parliament for the Rotten Borough from 1831 – 32 when the constituency was abolished under the Reform Act.

At the time, he was serving as Foreign Secretary under the Prime Minister, Charles Grey. William Lamb, former Bletchingley MP, was serving as Home Secretary in the same Government – he was also Palmerston’s brother-in-law through his sister, Emily Lamb. 

It is said that Palmerston stood on the steps outside what is now Lawrence Antique Dealers in the High Street  to make one of his election speeches though we do not hold documentary evidence to confirm this.

  • See Articles on Lord Melbourne and the Rotten Borough of Bletchingley (work in progress).
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A young Lord Palmerston. From Wikipedia

Jarvis Kenrick - FA Cup Scorer

Who would have thought that Bletchingley was the home of one of the unsung heroes of early Association Football? 

Born in 1852 in Chichester, Jarvis’ early life was spent at Caterham but he later moved to Pendell Court where he lived for 29 years with his wife and their nine daughters.

On the 11th November 1871, aged just 19, Jarvis scored the first ever goal in the FA Cup. He was playing for Clapham Rovers against Upton Park, and scored twice in a 3-0 victory. One week after scoring that goal, he was selected to represent England in the fourth of the unofficial internationals against Scotland, a match played at Kennington Oval.

He played 4 times for Surrey against Essex, 4 times for London against Sheffield and served on the FA Committee 1877 to 79. He also had a brief stint as first class cricketer in 1876 – one match for Surrey scoring 11 runs and one wicket

Comments on his general football performance (though they do read rather like a "could do better" school report):

  • "A very promising forward, played very well for London at Sheffield in the third match of last season, wants rousing at times” Football Annual 1875
  • "Fair down a side, rather slack at times but generally near the goal when the ball is there” - Football Annual 1879 Cricket XI 1868 -69 

 

There is a blue plaque, placed by The Bourne Society, on Jarvis Kenrick's childhood home in Caterham commemorating his football achievements.

His other great love and for which he is more well-known in Bletchingley was photography. In 1889, a National Survey was set up, initially in Birmingham, to document changes in society, especially where the built landscape was changing through rapid industrialisation. The main aim was to use the new process of photography to show the changes – to use the “camera as an historian”. In 1902 a meeting was held in Croydon to set up the Photographic Survey of Surrey.  

Jarvis is listed in the Photographic Survey’s gospel, The Camera as Historian,  as the official contact for the Surrey Photographic Survey when the collection was stored at Croydon. At the time of publication, the group had 6805 prints, 1434 lantern slides, 2500 negatives and a few cinematograph films. He is also credited with designing a number of camera apparatus or accessories such as the rostrum camera (built by Mr. Maynard, carpenter of Bletchingley).

As part of the Photographic Survey, Jarvis Kenrick documented many aspects of village life – there are over 900 of his pictures currently stored at Surrey History Centre. There are so many of his pictures that if you happen to be looking at an old photo of Bletchingley it is fairly likely to have been taken by Jarvis Kenrick (though other photographers are available!)

Jarvis lived on until 1949 and died, aged 97, at East Blatchington, East Sussex, where his daughter Audrey was living. 

We hope to have a separate article on the Photographic Survey shortly.

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Jarvis Kenrick as a young man.

From Wikipedia

Jarvis Kenrick in older life.

He appears to be reading the Byelaws of the Borough of Reigate - perhaps nothing else was to hand at the time of the picture?? 

From Bletchingley: A Parish History by Uvedale Lambert

William Bell - US Railway Builder

Owner of Pendell Court and local benefactor to the village of Bletchingley. 

In the 1890s William Bell moved to Pendell Court (now the home of the Hawthorns School) with his wife, Cara Georgina Whitmore (nee Scovell), and their four children. There were three girls: Cara Rowena (later Mrs HV Pearce), Margaret Angela (later Lady Montagu-Pollock) and Hyacinth Mary (later Viscountess Kelburne) plus one son, William Archibald Juxon (Archie); a fourth girl, Rosita, died as an infant.    

After graduating in medicine at Cambridge, in 1867 William Bell travelled extensively in North America, acting as an official photographer for the Union Pacific Railroad’s expedition  despite having zero experience of photography. For his new job, he purchased a camera and darkroom equipment and took a two week course in the subject. The railroad took a dim view of his efforts (they described the pictures as badly finished and one picture of a soldier killed by Native American  Indians was considered to be bad publicity for the new railway). He eventually left the expedition and published a book on his travels. This was well received in both the US and the United Kingdom.  

He gave up medicine and from 1870 he used “his powers of mind and body”  to concentrate on helping to open up the area of Colorado by building railways; in particular with his business partner, General William J Palmer,  the Denver and Rio Grande Railway System which eventually stretched to 2000 miles. A spur of the railway was made through to Manitou Springs, Colorado where Bell and Palmer vigorously advertised the health benefits of the new resort. William Bell and General Palmer unsurprisingly became exceedingly wealthy through their enterprises.

William returned to England for a visit where he married Cara. They returned to the USA and by all accounts continued life following many adventures – Cara’s one stipulation was that all children had to be born in England (which they were – a remarkable feat given the times). In 1872 they built a home called Briarhurst Manor at Manitou Springs but which was rebuilt in 1886 when the original burnt down  - the house is now listed on the American National Register of Historic Places. Cara made sure that her home became the social centre of the area with both President Grant and President Teddy Roosevelt staying along with a visit from Oscar Wilde.

By 1890 William and Cara decided to sell up most of their property in the USA and return to England where they purchased Pendell Court though they still made many trips back to Manitou Springs. He told reporters in 1920 that he was now retiring permanantly to the UK and would not return again to the US; he died the following year from a heart condition aged 81. Cara lived on to 1938.

The influence of William Bell on the village of Bletchingley is wide-ranging and reflected in his title of Lord of the Manor . One of the most important was the funding of the new Village Club with adjacent Hall – his portrait still welcomes visitors to the Hall.    

The family were also well known for their entertainments. The picture alongside is indicative of the type of parties the couple were known for. We also have a copy of a newspaper article celebrating the marriage of their youngest daughter, Hyacinth, to Viscount Kelburne in 1906. 

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Aerial view of Pendell Court with glass houses and lake

Invitation to one of Mrs Bell's parties - dancing at 9.50 and on a Wednesday!

Uvedale Lambert (Snr) - Local Historian

Bletchingley has an immense (and lengthy) documentary record of parish life – the village has also been very fortunate to have had Uvedale Lambert to put much of it into good order.

Alfred Uvedale Miller Lambert was born in 1871, the son of Henry Thomas and Georgina Emily Miller. They had made their home at South Park after purchasing the property from the Clayton Family in 1875.

Uvedale Lambert married Jane Frances Cecily Hoare and later became a Justice of the Peace. They had one child, Uvedale Henry Hoare Lambert (see below). In recognition of the young Uvedale’s arrival, Uvedale( Snr) converted an old estate building at South Park into St Mark’s Chapel . He lived at Bletchingley until his death in 1928.

Uvedale is most known for his book: Bletchingley: A Parish History written in 1921 but not published in its current format until fairly recently with the help of members of this Historic Association.

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Frontispiece of "Bletchingley: A Parish History" by Uvedale Lambert

Note the reference to Jarvis Kenrick's illustrations

Copies of this definitive history are occassionally available for sale - usually online but a copy can also be found at Redhill Library (OCLC 5385147)

 

Uvedale HH Lambert (Son) - Local Historian

Son of Uvedale Lambert (Snr) and Jance Frances Cecily Hoare,  Major Uvedale Henry Hoare Lambert claimed that the Lambert family only established the Bletchingley “Line” in the 18th Century. However, the Uvedale family line (who the Lamberts were connected to by marriage) had a much longer local connection: they were Lords of the Manor in the 14th Century. This Uvedale Lambert (HH) was the 35th generation in direct descent (often through the female line) from Richard de Clare to whom his cousin, William the Conqueror, granted the Manor in 1066.

He served in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps in the Middle East during WW2. Whilst he was on active duty in Africa on July 21st 1944, his wife, Diana was killed at the home they shared at South Park, just to the south of Bletchingley Village. A flying bomb had exploded in mid-air and destroyed much of the house and nearby Chapel. Their two children were found safe and sound in the adjacent air-raid shelter.

He had a strong interest in religion – he was a Guardian of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham (Norfolk) from about 1952. He was also heavily involved in the setting up of Southwark Diocesan Training Centre at nearby Wychcroft in Bletchingley.

Uvedale HH Lambert was a founder member of our Historic Association and a member of the Surrey Archaeological Society from 1932 until his death in 1983.

Henry Allen Rolls and his younger brother Charles

There is some debate as to whether Charles ever actually lived in Bletchingley – some people say he did, others not. If he did live in the village it was at Tower House in Outwood Lane.

It is also possible that he may have been confused with his brother Henry Allen Rolls who again may or may not have lived in Bletchingley. Henry is listed as a resident at Tower House in Kelly’s Directory of 1913 but how much time he actually spent in the village is not known.

Henry was born in 1871 and died, unmarried, in June 1916 at Bexhill. Tower House had been purchased in August 1896 by John Maclean Rolls for the use of his younger brother, Henry Allen. John died from wounds sustained at the Battle of the Somme in October 1916. In his will, he left Tower House to his sister, Eleanor, apparently on the understanding that Henry could continue living there. Presumably John had not had time to update this will as Henry, who had required constant medical care all his life had died just four months beforehand. Tower House was subsequently sold by Eleanor in 1919 for £3,000.

What we do know is that Charles was a pioneer in the nascent motoring and aviation industries. He was the co-founder of the Rolls Royce car manufacturing firm producing in 1904 the first automobile to carry his famous name. It is perhaps not unfanciful to think of Charles taking a spin down to Surrey to see his brother in one of his many vehicles. What a stir that must have caused.  Unfortunately Charles also holds the unenviable distinction of being the first Briton to be killed in an accident involving a powered aircraft, in 1910. Some people have suggested that the presence of a Rolls Royce garage in the village for many years was as a result of the residency of these two brothers – possible but unlikely.

  • Information taken from Rolls Royce Club Enthusiast bulletin Issue 217,  1996
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No pictures of either Henry Allen or Charles Rolls in Bletchingley have been found to date. This picture, from 1900,  shows Charles Rolls (driving) with his and Henry's father, Lord Llangattock, and the Duke of York as passengers in Charles' autocar - not a Rolls Royce as the company was not founded until 1904 ..

Picture taken from Wikipedia

Maurice Allom - England Test Cricketer

In 1929 a rather tall young man and his wife, Pamela, moved into Glenfield House in the High Street (which must have caused bit of a stir in the village). Maurice James Carrick Allom was the England cricketer who had taken a hat-trick on his Test debut.

He played cricket for Cambridge University from 1926 to 1928 and for Surrey from 1927 to 1937. He toured with the English Test team to New Zealand in 1929-30, where he played all four Tests, and to South Africa in 1930-31, where he played one Test.

The Glenfield House front gate (now sadly gone) had a cricket bat fashioned into the design.

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Maurice Allom. 

From Wikipedia

Wilfred "Biffy" Dunderdale - Real Life James Bond?

Well, it is generally thought that ex-Bletchingley resident, Wilfred “Biffy” Dunderdale, made up a good part of the final version of the fictional James Bond. Biffy knew Ian Fleming through mutual membership of their Club, Boodles, in St James Street, London  and probably from an earlier career.

In later life he was a  well-known figure in the village, often seen walking down the High Street  with a bottle of champagne in hand, greeting people with a tip of the hat and a friendly “Good Morning”. His past was an enigma and difficult to pin down but various books and articles have revealed a life worthy of the  international spy, James Bond.

Born on Christmas Eve, 1899 Biffy was brought up in Odessa, on the Black Sea. He was therefore a good choice to be smuggled into Russia after the First World War by the Royal Navy to try and establish whether a number of mini-submarines had been built from kits supplied by Vickers. He was only 19 at the time and chose (the slightly unlikely sounding disguise) of a school-boy, complete with school uniform, visiting his ex Latin teacher. The latter had relatives in the dockyard and was able to find out about the submarines. Whilst waiting for the information Biffy had to stay in the teacher’s attic rooms brushing up on his Latin – as apparently he had been so bad at it whilst actually at school.

Later as the UK Intelligence station chief in Paris between 1926 and 1940 Biffy had the brief to “establish and enhance contact in future occupied countries, prepare for guerrilla warfare, forment insurrections and develop destructive devices.” He had a bullet-proof Rolls Royce as his run-around. During WW2 he moved into a small hotel which had a special type of safe in the room – one with only one key. He was then to play a crucial role: the acquisition by the British of two Enigma machines.

Biffy and his French contact, Gustave Bertrand, received the two machines from Poland and smuggled them back to France – where they were placed in the specially built safe with the key kept by Mr. Bertrand. However, the safe was even more bespoke in construction in that it had a hidden panel which was accessed, through the wall, from the “back service  stairs” of the hotel. Biffy removed the machines and took them back to Britain on his own. Such was the importance placed on the machines, a war-ship was sent to meet Biffy and the machines were handed over to Bletchley Park for investigation.  Other reports have it that both Biffy and Gustave together handed over the machines at Victoria Station to the Intelligence Services. Just one example of the smoke and mirrors world that Biffy inhabited.  Biffy received the CBE for his work.

He moved to Bletchingley after the war making many friends in the village. He died in 1990, aged 91, in New York where he had moved with his third wife. There is a plaque in St Mary’s commemorating his connection to the village.

  • This information taken from an article in the Daily Telegraph by Duncan Gardham  27th September 2010 and the book, “Boodle’s Apocrypha, a Story of Men and their Club in London”  by Stephen Smith.
  • See also “Pigeon”: another famous wartime activist
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Wilfred "Biffy" Dunderdale: a true enigma.

Picture from wikipedia

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Can you decipher the important message sent by Sjt Stot on D-Day?

Answers on a postcard please

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu - one time curate at Bletchingley

From Wikipedia 

Ebrima ‘Ebou’ Dibba – Novelist and Missionary

Ebou came to Bletchingley in 1974 as a teacher of modern languages at the Adult Education Centre housed in the old village school at the top of Stychens Lane. He was also charged with organising classes for the disadvantaged in society; a year later he was made Director of the Centre in a post which he retained for nearly  twenty years. In 1993 he was awarded an MBE.

He had been born in the Gambia in 1943 and was described as being an exceptionally bright student – the first in the country to gain three A-levels. During his tenure in Bletchingley he wrote two novels and made it known that his mission in the village was “that of a missionary for African culture" After the closure of the Centre he moved to Edenbridge but was unable to come to terms with the ending of his job and he died there on the 29th December 2000.

His obituary in the Guardian in 2001 confirmed his view of his mission:

“At the centre, he created a realm the like of which neither Bletchingley or Surrey adult education had seen the like before; he saw his role as that of a missionary for African culture and values in the darkest of home counties. This was not a case of simply bringing African drummers and writers to the heartland of southeast England, but of sharing himself freely with an English community.

Dibba knew everyone; for him, a walk through the village, stopping and passing the time of day with everyone, turned into a pilgrimage. He also developed a remarkable network of contacts that he inveigled into visiting the centre. Yehudi Menuhin opened the new building in 1986, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of Cape Town, inaugurated a further new block in 1993. Judi Dench, Melvyn Bragg, Jonathan Miller, John Cleese, Mike Brearley, Ian Botham and many others also made appearances.”

Though the Adult Education Centre closed, the work undertaken there by Ebou Dibba is reflected in the now Bletchingley Skills Centre based at the same site and which provides lifelong learning to disabled adults.     

  • See the Bletchingley Skills Centre for more information (work in progress)
gallery/ebou dibba

Ebou Dibba 

From Wikipedia

A selection of the People (plus some visitors) who have inhabited Bletchingley Parish
Visitors

There have been a number if famous visitors to the Parish over the years. 

These include:

Henry VIII - visited Bletchingley Palace and it said "The Maid" - a fore-runner of the Red Lion

Ernest Shackleton - The famed explorer paid a brief visit to Bletchingley as the first speaker at the newly inaugurated Village Hall. Unfortunately the (original) poster which hung in the foyer of the hall was stolen a number of years ago.

He was a first cousin to the children of the Bell family at Pendell Court.

Frank Shackleton -  Younger brother to Edward, he also paid at least one visit to the Village. He too was a cousin of the Bell children who lived at Pendell Court. In 1906, he was one of the honoured guests at the wedding of Miss Hyacinth Bell to Viscount Kelbourne. The couple took up his offer of the use of his “delightful bijou residence” at Torquay as their honeymoon destination.

Unfortunately, in 1907 he became famous in his own right when he was publicly identified as one of the two perpetrators involved in the disappearance of the Irish Crown Jewels at Dublin Castle. He was never convicted of the theft – there has been some thought over the years that it was all a conspiracy by a) Republicans wanting to embarrass the UK Government in Ireland (Home Rule was very much to the forethought at the time) or b) Unionists wanting to derail the Home Rule process. Frank was caught up in whichever conspiracy you prefer by being a housemate of the person who had keys to the safe. It is reported that he was open to bribery by suspicion of being gay. He was nevertheless convicted of fraud a few years later in another case which resulted in a sentence of 15 months hard labour.  

Yehudi Menuhin - Visited the village in 1986 to open the new Bletchingley Skills Centre at the invitation of Ebou Dibba. A bust of Yehudi Menuhin marking the occasion of the opening of the centre has been donated to this Society alongside a number of photographs.

Melvyn Bragg - visitor to the  Bletchingley Skills Centre

Jonathon Miller - visitor to the Bletchingley Skills Centre

John Cleese - visitor to the Bletchingley Skills Centre

Mike Brearley - visitor to the Bletchingley Skills Centre

Ian Botham - visitor to the Bletchingley Skills Centre

Dame Judi Dench - not strictly a visitor as she has been a resident nearby for many years but boundary changes has taken her house out of the Parish. No further article is planned as this is a historical website and she is anyhing but!