Margaret Mary (née Nicholls) Biles

The late Margaret (“Maggie”) Mary Biles  was born in 1924 to parents Walter Nicholls and Florence (née) Power who had married in 1914. She married firstly in 1947 to Cecil James Pratley who died in an accident in 1955. She married secondly in 1974 to Arthur William Biles who died in 2001. She died in 2012.



Interviewed on May 4th 2011 by Yvonne Shaw and Christopher Hogger ; recorded and transcribed by Yvonne Shaw

Themes : Plough Cottages and Orestan Lane ; St. Lawrence School and the stuffed lion ; bus services ; post offices

Pre-War Effingham

[Mrs. Biles, could you explain to us why you were born in the Reigate Registration District?]

Because it was necessary for my mother to go to hospital. We were living in Effingham but the nearest maternity hospital was [at] Redhill. All my brothers and sisters were born at home and so was I to start off with, but I gave trouble and had to go to hospital, and Redhill was the nearest maternity hospital so that’s how they registered me different to the others. We were living here in the village, in Orestan Lane, which of course over the years [has seen] many houses pulled down.

[While viewing a photograph taken in Orestan Lane looking east towards Plough Cottages …]

Across the road in that picture is a bit of Westmore. Well, that cottage belonged to that house; and many, many years ago that used to be the laundry. We had a laundry there and by the side of it you went through a gate; we had our own coalman who lived in the village and that was his coal yard. And just below that was a farm which was West Farm, which has been pulled down now.

[What was the name of the coalman, can you remember?]

Mr. Forehead: and he lived in Plough Cottages, the furthest one away, so if you count from here he would be like number 3. And he had his coal yard just across the road. And Westmoor, that bit used to be the laundry. That cottage there, they pulled it down in the end because they said it stood out in the road [too much]. There were no cars in the village there was only my old father-in-law driving the cows up from here … to the field. But that’s where we were living, so that was Orestan Lane.

I was the smallest one of the bunch, but I gave the most trouble.

At the time I went to school that cottage had been pulled down and we were living in Church Street which was right next door to where they used to shoe the horses. [On my first day] I’d had enough by playtime so I came home and had to be taken back. They were happy days. And of course before they built the school on the corner there with the flat roof you could … just the very old building. The main room there, the class had to be divided by a big curtain that went across the room; so you had the two classes in the one room and that would be the seniors and the juniors; and that other little … you went into I think that was the infants.

[Can you remember the teachers and their names?]

Well, our headmaster and his wife Mr. Joseph Stewart Adams and his wife Florence. They ran the school between them. There’s a picture over there of their school in the Thirties – you can take that if you want to – and that is the senior school, that was his class. But Governess, as we used to call her, used to take the Juniors and then we had different teachers that came and took us over the years. We had a lady that was in the village, Miss Parker – at one time her father was the Vicar at St. Lawrence, they lay [lie?] in the churchyard – and she came and we used to do drama with her. She used to put on our plays and she was very good. We liked her very much. And different teachers would come but they’d come from other places. But on the whole all the teachers were very good, and they were very kindly people.

[Mr. George C.S. Pauling, a wealthy railway contractor who worked in Africa and later retired to Effingham Lodge, kept a live lion; when it died it was stuffed and donated to the school. Mrs. Biles was asked if she remembered it.]

I remember it well. I don’t ever remember it being brought here. But it had come because as you know Mr. Pauling’s firm was out in South Africa with the railways. And in our classroom around the walls we had animals’ heads, because they used to go out shooting. And I think that was the lion. We also had a snake and a monkey of some sort that was there, in different parts of the school,  but that lion I wouldn’t have known it coming here live but it was definitely stuffed.

[And can you remember whether it was a male lion or whether it was a lioness?]

No, I should say it was a male, the size of it.

[Did it have a mane?]

Mmm …

[And could the children reach out and touch this lion?]

Oh gosh yes, you could just touch it, very often you’d go by and you’d touch the old thing. I can remember it, it looked as though it had had its day, scruffy. But it was in the corridor of what we called the new school, it’s that one in the corner with the flat roof. While that school was being built – and the school then was beginning to grow a bit because you’d be surprised the children that came here from Bookham that didn’t go to the Bookham school, they came here – well of course then the school had to be enlarged, it was growing. Well, while that one was being built, Colets over on the other side of the road, over in one of their back rooms, they’d got quite a biggish room and there’s a stage there too, and we occupied that room, that was a class room. I can remember going there, having a class, while that school was being built. Well then, when that was all done and dusted and we were back, instead of just having Seniors, Juniors, Infants, we had Seniors, Intermediates, Juniors and Infants. And of course that was with the new school because was had an upstairs and a downstairs then; and we were spreading out then. But until that school was built we were housed in that … at the corner which was at Colets.

I left school when I was 14. When a boy was 14 he automatically went into long trousers. You were leaving school at 14, you had to go and get a job and you couldn’t very well go and get a job with short trousers on, could you? You had to look a bit ready for work, so at 14 they grew up and then they had to go looking for work.

Now did you know we had our own bus service down in the village? We had two [services].

[While looking at an old cutting and picture of 1926 about an Effingham bus …]

Well, that bus used to run from Kingston right round here, it would come along along the Lower Road, turn into Church Street, go down Yew Tree and come down the front and would stand outside the [Sir Douglas] Haig for about ten minutes. Always about an hourly service. The men were allowed to use the outside toilet of the Haig or if they wanted to smoke, they would be allowed to smoke, because they were not allowed to smoke and drive the bus as well. And you did at certain points have an inspector get on the bus, you never knew when he was going to come, you were not allowed to smoke and drive as well. So that one would come in and stand outside the Haig and would go out on the hour. In the meantime another bus – now that one [in the picture] has got a conductor with it – but this other one would come up from Guildford, up over Effingham Common. Now that was the bus that had just the driver, it was a smaller bus but it went all up round the back, and that stood there and that went out on the hour. So we had one bus that would get us to Guildford and we had one bus that would go through Bookham, Leatherhead, Epsom and whichever way they went up to Kingston. And that was an hourly service – very much before the war, yes.

If you lived down in the village, the other side of this road, what we would call villagers, you could have survived down there. You see the school was there, we had a police house. The Post Office used to be in Church Street.

As I say, where he [Mr. Henry Woods] shoed the horses, we were right next door. The other side of the other house was Mr. & Mrs. Butcher and their daughter Elsie that ran the Post Office [in Church Street].

[That’s the building that today is called the Old Post Office?]


Mr. Butcher was Head Postmaster. He was also a decorator if anybody wanted any painting done and he was also the undertaker for the village.

[Long and inconclusive exchanges, not transcribed here, concerning the subsequent location of the Post Office at Madge’s shop.]

During the war the Post Office was still in Church Street, I’m sure in 1947 … I can only remember when Butchers gave up … because they were elderly people then. And that little cottage [Madge’s] was, as I say, pretty derelict then, and that’s where the Post Office was until the one that was built – the present one that my husband built – where it is now. He built that for Mr. and Mrs. Green. Mr. Green used to be a postman, Mrs. Green used to work on the counter at Leatherhead Post Office.

I’ve been married twice. My first marriage was 1947 and I’d only been married eight years when my [first] husband [Cecil James Pratley, whom she married in 1947] was killed in an accident at his work which is now Vandenberg’s but that used to be Mizen’s the salad growers. He was electrocuted; and that was 1955.

Because where the Post Office is now, once they’d pulled that down and finished, that bit of land was quite open, rough land. Well,  Mr. and Mrs. Green asked my [second] husband [Arthur William Biles, whom she married in 1974] if he would build that one for them and the rest of that land was still rough. He didn’t build the shops, a  Mr. Johnson built the shops. Rosemary Johnson was married to Colin Gibb [Gibb the butchers] and it was her father who did the building of the shops. But not the Post Office, that was built by my husband; he also built Yew Tree Walk, it was just him building it. He used to work for other people. He had a brother and they started out working together, but it didn’t work out, but he carried on building because there wasn’t much doing round here, but it gradually grew. He was a bricklayer and any work that was being done was outside the village … In the summer period they had to get to West Wickham, they only had bicycles, and for a period of time, they rode from Effingham to West Wickham, start work at 7.30 in the morning until 5 o’clock at night, then ride home – and that’s where the work was. In the end, their employer had a truck and the boys used to wait on the corner to be picked up, so that was sheer luxury, then to be taken to work and home until that job was finished.

That was before the war, but after the war, he came home and started to do odd jobs; I believe he had some bomb damage to do when he first came home and then one or two people asked him to do places. Do you know the Hollies? Well they had more land, they sold some of their land and on that now is a bungalow. A lady doctor from Leatherhead, a Dr. Blair, asked my husband and he built that bungalow and I believe he also built Hawthorns which is the other side of the Post Office. Well then Yew Tree [House] was pulled down, because that was occupied by the Army during the War, and he built Yew Tree Walk. I think that as my husband was born and bred in the village, there should be a plaque up to say who built them. He built Yew Tree, he built Beech Close and he built the Paddocks at Bookham. It took off, you see – after the War, land became available.

[From this point there were difficulties in securing a good recording, but Mrs. Biles narrated the following in response to a question about Leslie Charles Payne, killed in the War.]

Lesley Payne lived in a little cottage near the Horsley Hills on the corner of Dirtham Lane. My mother in law was born there, it’s on the back of land of Horsley Towers. He came there with his father, I think his mother was dead. They weren’t Effingham people. I don’t remember him at the school but they were lovely people. He never came back from the war and it was so sad, his father could not accept it and he killed himself. They may have come out from somewhere, they may have been bombed out. The bungalow is in the grounds of Horsley Towers, so he may have been working there.