“MEMORIES OF EFFINGHAM COMMON”
Charles Edward William Crouch MBE and Jessica Elizabeth Page
Charles Edward (“Eddie”) William Crouch MBE was born in 1926 to parents Joseph E. Crouch and Rose (née) Knowlton.
Jessica Elizabeth (née Harrold) Page was born in 1930.
Interviewed jointly on June 15th 2010 ; recorded and transcribed by Yvonne Shaw
Themes : The Common before the War ; saving the Common ; Cricket Club ; Effingham characters
Memories of Effingham Common
Hello, my name is Jessica Page, and at the time of the beginning of the war we had just moved to Effingham permanently. I think it was late ’38/’39 and we lived in High Barn Road which is at the south end of Effingham going up to Ranmore. We lived in a house called Fiddlers’ Green which is still there and still called the same name. My parents lived there for over 30 years. These are my memories of the common at that time just before the second world war when I was nine years old and used to play down with some friend in that area, because otherwise we were always up at the Ranmore side to play. These memories are rather disjointed, I have mainly memories of Effingham Common Eastcourt.
My recollection is that it was quite close rather nice grass which had been obviously browsed by sheep so it was really rather close grass and to begin with it was really rather pleasant and I think I can even remember seeing some harebells. It had large May bushes and blackthorn all over it. But by 1939 the bushes were getting more and more huge and there was less and less grass in between and you really had to thread your way through. We used to come down to play sometimes with some other children. The Lee Brook then wasn’t a straight line, but it was reasonably straight from the corner of Lee Brook Farm and it went roughly along the north boundary of the cricket pitch and ended up where there is a pipe under the road, and I imagine that’s always been there. It goes on to Norwood farm and ends up in the water at Norwood Farm. We used to once or twice paddle in it, so that late spring there was plenty of water in it. I don’t remember if it dried out in the summer, but I think possibly not, I think there was more water. It was definitely more of a stream and it was very attractive. The whole common looked quite different because it was so overgrown rather attractive, but I do remember thinking, ‘Oh it’s a pity that these bushes are now getting so big you can hardly get through’. Then the war came and I remember seeing these big machines on the common and they just tore everything up. I am particularly talking about Effingham Common Eastcourt because we didn’t seem to go up to Hooke Common, I actually lived in High Barn road which is at the top part of Effingham. It was a long way away so we only saw it when we came down to play with friends who lived down here and if we were going to the station. But I do remember the machines all over it and it looked so different because the whole thing was flat and open. It was then ploughed and for the rest of the war it was used for Dig for Victory and there were various crops.
My name is Eddie Crouch and I came to Effingham in 1946, straight out of the army and interestingly enough, my first lodgings were with the village blacksmith because we did have a village blacksmith in 1946 which is now the MPS Mower Repairs in Church Street. But in those days it was a proper working blacksmiths.
Effingham Common as I knew it then had been cultivated during the war and leased to a farmer called Skinner who continued to farm it for a number of years – not all of the common as we see it today was cultivated. Merely the bit if you’re travelling towards the junction on the left hand side beyond the cricket field. Other areas to the south of that and on the other side of the road were still usable by Commoners if they wanted to, although a lot of those bits have been sold off to different owners and there was always a bit at the front at the northern end of the common which was reserved for those commoners who still had rights to be exercised.
When the war began, the War Agricultural Department commandeered land for the Dig for Victory and when the Effingham Common was grubbed up and ploughed the contract was given to a farmer called Murrells who lived at Leewood Farm and had fields in that area. He took over the farming but there was another farmer called Hinde who came from Bookham and he felt that he should have been given the contract and so there was bad blood between them which resulted in all sorts of misdeeds which I’ll leave Eddie to tell you about.
Well Hinde used to ride his horses over Murrells’ farmland which upset him no end, as a result of which Murrells got his tractor and drove it at Hinde on the Common one day – luckily everyone escaped unhurt but because of this Murrell tried to put some fencing round the common. But a Brigadier Faviell and Adrian Estler used to go out at night and cut this fencing for two reasons; they had Common Rights and being a Common it couldn’t be fenced, and ultimately, Murrells was forced to take the fencing down.
There was another story concerning Hinde and Murrells in that Hinde was aware that Murrells was paying far too much attention to Hinde’s wife and as a result of which Hinde and his sons chased Murrells round the common with a horsewhip.
I’ll just say a few words about Adrian Estler who lived at Lee Brook Farm and is very much bound up in the history of Effingham Common. He was a commoner and Lee Brook Farm is just beyond the cricket pitch and he at that time very early in the war was married and had a daughter, but that marriage broke up and for most of the time he was on his own. He had a horse called William which was a piebald and he grazed this horse on the Common, mostly on Eastcourt; I think only between Wise Folly and the road and sometimes on the other side nearer The Willows.
My recollections of Adrian are bound up with the cricket club. Cricket has been played on that part of the Common reputedly for more than 100 years. The site was given to the Parish Council by the Lord of the Manor, Mr Calburn, to be held for use by the cricket club and be known as the “Calburn Field” and of course it continues to be used today. Adrian was a great supporter of the club and he played for them and he used to give us transport to away matches. This transport was in the form of a very battered and ancient Rolls Royce the doors of which didn’t open, and I can’t remember a top, but there might have been one. Anyway we had to climb over the doors to get in it and we also had all the kit in it as well. There was usually about half a dozen of us in this ramshackle vehicle and if you can visualise Adrian being a somewhat tall man, never immaculately dressed in any shape of form and wore an enormous hat, and we’d turn up for away matches in this ramshackle vehicle. Adrian was quite a good cricketer and in home matches we’d turn up with wives to do the teas and children to be amused and when we were batting, Adrian used to get hold of the horse, William, and most of the, well certainly all my children and most of the other player’s children had rides on this horse during the course of the afternoon.
Talking about the Cricket Club, it’s reputed to have been there for 150 years, but I’m not sure of this, but I played there from the late 40s to the early 60s when the ball was hitting me more than I was hitting it. But to have a half days fielding in the outfield at the beginning of the season was quite hard work and you needed a good day’s rest afterwards and I remember also fielding one day and a kestrel caught a vole and came and perched on one of the stumps, not one of the cricket stumps, one of the fence stumps within a few yards of me and religiously ate it while I was trying to concentrate on the fielding. It’s just one of those things that happen.
It was very boggy in the outfield. We later had it mole drained which was a bit better but it was pretty sticky stuff early in the season. And it was also a while before we got the square into any sort of proper condition, bearing in mind we didn’t wear helmets, in those days, you had to duck and weave quite a bit if a fast bowler was on.
The pavilion in those days was just a hut. We did get planning permission later on to build what is virtually there now with a bar and changing rooms with running water inside instead of a cold tap, would you believe?
We had nets in those days. And the sight screens – in the good old days, the Denbies Estate had their own estate cricket team but with the demise of the Estate they had sundry things left over and that’s where the Effingham team acquired their sight screens.
The Cricket Club had considerable problems because as it was common land they couldn’t fence the whole cricket pitch off. They had a fence of sorts round two sides and some posts along cricket pitch road. The problem was we got horse riders who totally disregarded any proper horse riding paths. There is only one bridleway which runs along the edge of the common and they used to ride across the cricket area and out on to the common. This was eventually stopped because the county council put in a stile and proper fence across a footpath which runs along the back of the pavilion which stopped the horses going through. Also I believe they had trouble with motor cycles who even rode across the square and as it was very soggy, even after the mole draining, there was considerable damage done.
While we were talking about the Common, we quite forgot to mention that there was a pound for straying animals which was situated just above the village pond which is on the Effingham Common Eastcourt on the south end, we don’t know the exact location but we think it was between the pond and what is now Lower Farm Road. Also there was a gate, the common was gated at both ends and we think the gate was in the pond area, possibly slightly to the south of the pond. There was another gate, we have an old photograph which shows it quite clearly and it was just before Effingham Junction Station. When we come on later to the battle for Effingham Common, one of the people who gave evidence there said that as a young boy, he remembered opening the gates for the gentry to go through to the station which was a wonderful link with the past.
In 1965 the Government had found that many Commons and Village Greens were being lost to development and they decided that it would be a very good thing to have all these tracts of land registered, so they passed an Act; the Commons Registration Act in 1965 whereby all these pieces of land should be registered and claimed for perpetuity. Effingham PCC registered Effingham Common. All Commons and Greens are nearly always owned by a private owner and Effingham Common was at that time owned by a Mr Charles Calburn who was the Lord of the Manor. He did not support the claim; he said that he rejected the claim and that it was no longer common land, so we had to go to court; we had solicitors and a QC and we had to raise £6000 which for a small village like Effingham was an enormous amount of money.
One can’t let the story of the registration of the Common pass without reference to the work of Dora Worthington. Dora Worthington was a Parish Councillor at the time who lived in Byway Cottage, Heathview which although it has a Horsley address is in Effingham and in fact backs on to the common. She was tireless in obtaining written statements of evidence from various people researching this and that and helping with the briefing of solicitors. In fact the greatest credit goes to her that the Common is now in the safe status that it is and I hope the village will be forever grateful to her for all she did.
We finally got the acknowledgement that we had won our Common’s rights and our rights for our Commoners in 1976 and there was much celebration. This restored the rights that Adrian Estler lost over William in 1959 so the four Commoners were; Lee Brook Farm which was at that time Adrian Estler so he won his rights back, Slater’s’ Oak, Huckamore and The Willows.
It is interesting to note that the Commoner’s Rights go with the property not with the owner of the property so the four properties have the rights in perpetuity and the fact that the properties have all changed hands since those days has no significance whatsoever.
In recent years the Calburn family have sold off most the Common, retaining a little piece we think. The bulk of it is owned by the Borough Council and the rest by people whose property fronts on to the Common and we think there may be 6,7,8 different owners.
One of the more serious consequences of this sell-off and buying by different individuals pieces of the common was the land bought by the Willows on either side of Lower Farm Road. Unbeknownst to them they bought the land because they had polo ponies but they also bought the road and this gave them the opportunity to see if they could make some money over charges for people who lived in Lower Farm Road and whose deeds for access were not so clear as some of the older houses. Lower Farm Road had been part of the Easton Estate and had been sold off in the 1920s and 50s.
There was company called the Surrey Land Development Company who owned all the spare frontages and part of the old Denbies Northern Estate.
I remember back in the 50s would you believe it at £5.00 per foot frontage. That estate has now changed hands and the original freeholders no longer exist, but Lower Farm Road is a private road. There was an attempt of the freeholders of the road trying to obtain access fees from the freeholders of property in the road.
The road itself is owned by Peter Skinner who at one time after the war had the managership of the common and farmed the common for the Calburn family. He also put manure [from a sewage works] on either side of Lower Farm Road to the horror of the residents as it was particularly unpleasant stuff. Anyway he owns the part of the road from the houses down to the end and he owns the fields beyond, he made lakes in the fields beyond. The Willows bought the front piece from the road to where the houses begin and there was quite a problem for some people whose deeds were not clear and who wished to move and were forced to pay quite considerable sums of money to the family who owned The Willows so that they could get their title to pass over this piece of Common Land. This had been going on up and down the country and the government were horrified at some of the prices that were being charged and passed a law saying that people in these houses could establish their own right and this put a stop to this ransom for the access.
The Common in my mind has always been associated with a good deal of colourful characters. We’ve mentioned Adrian Estler. I believe he was educated at Eton but he spent most of his life as a tree surgeon.
In The Willows there was a woman called Miss Meacock, and she had on her grand piano a picture of her with her Prince of Wales feathers when she’d been presented at court; she was a very large lady as I remember her. She rode a white horse which was rather highly strung and on several occasions it used to go all over the road rearing and carrying on, with traffic building up on either side and Miss Meacock rather red in the face but well in control.
Then opposite her in Lower Farm was Miss O’Hagen who unfortunately was a bit of a drinker and she owned a shot gun. In her worst moments, if anyone turned up in her drive, she used to fire on them with the shot gun so she was someone people fought shy of. As Lower Farm house was in very poor condition she managed to get the Borough Councils to allow her to build a very small two up two down house at the back of her property. This over the years has become a very large mansion. Anyway when she moved from one house to the other and then died people going into Lower Farm opened the cupboard doors and were covered in empty gin bottles which fell out on them and also round the house, various doors were peppered with shotgun pellets.