Peaslake W.I., 1918-1922

Contributed by Wendy Cruxton

“The Women’s Institute (WI) was formed in 1915 to revitalise rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War” (National Federation of Women’s Institutes website). The Peaslake Women’s Institute (WI) was founded in March 1918, one of Surrey’s first WIs.


On 7 March 1918 at 3pm, at the Hut, Peaslake WI took its first breath. It is recorded that “Mrs Ayres read a telegram and letter from the President Mrs Smeaton giving her good wishes to the Institute and her regrets at being unable to attend the meeting.

Voting papers were distributed and Mrs Ayres, Miss Collard, Mrs Elms and Mrs Pullen were elected to serve us committee. Miss Paine proposed Mrs Ayres as a Vice President of the Institute which was seconded by Mrs Pullen and carried by all present by show of hands.

Tea was served and 50 members enrolled”.

In the first Committee meeting one week later (14 March 1918): “It was decided that members of the Institute may bring a friend to the meetings and have tea at a charge of 2d. Regular meetings of the Institute to be held on the first Thursday and committee meetings on the second Thursday of each month. […]”

First full meeting (4 April 1918): “Mrs Ayres read a telegram from the Chairman Mrs Smeaton of good wishes to the Institute then gave a short talk on the use of the Suggestion Box and some ways in which members might help each other and on the possibility of cooperation in canning fruit and vegetables. Mrs Abram offered to make enquiries about the apparatus and cans. Mrs Gregory promised to enquire about pig clubs and how they were managed. Some useful leaflets on the seasons for planting vegetables were distributed[…].”

These two meetings establish the format for meetings in the years to come: business, demonstration/lecture, tea, entertainment (usually by members), and the national anthem to close. In December, a competition was included, with two prizes: 1st prize was 2/-d, 2nd prize was 1/-d […].  Subjects ranged from the practical (a child’s garment from an adult’s), to amusing and fun ones (a hat made in five minutes from a sheet of newspaper and 10 pins). The judges for the competitions we usually invited from […] neighbouring WIs, the speaker at the meeting or someone who suited. For example, one year a member, Mrs Webb from Fulvens Farm, was asked if she would allow Mr Rennie to judge the potatoes which had been grown from the 1lb. of potatoes purchased earlier in the year for the competition.

The Suggestion Box requests helped plan the programme, which, in the early days, was half yearly, and continue to do so for many years. Funds were obviously very limited but, from time to time, outside speakers were engaged. Together with a wealth of knowledgeable and talented members upon which to draw, the subjects of the lectures/demonstrations were numerous and varied with much emphasis on being self-sufficient and making do.

In these formative years, the names Miss Moberley, Mrs Webb and Miss (Sylvia?) Drew are much in evidence, possibly the equivalent of today’s WI Advisers. If a lecture/demonstration for a specific subject was acquired Surrey WI was contacted, by letter, for a recommendation (as there was no yearbook at this time) and these three ladies came themselves on numerous occasions.  It also of note that Peaslake WI members were not immune to the influenza outbreak of 1918, with some members reported absent from meetings due to illness.

The Government (WI) Organiser came in May and “gave a little lecture on the work of Women’s Institutes in other villages and reason for joining the Federation and announced that Peaslake WI was formally affiliated.”

Throughout the year, demonstrations/lectures covered “Herbs and Herb Collecting for the Market”, “Fruit Preserving and Bottling”, “Fruit Drying and Canning”, and the work done by St Dunstan’s [Hospital for the Blind, set up to rehabilitate blinded soldiers] with photographs showing the blinded men working on netting frames invented by Miss G H Weatherby, the speaker.

“At Mrs Smeaton’s request, Mrs Ayres gave a short talk on Independence Day on 4 July, and what it means to 2 Americans and then all stood and sang the Star-Spangled Banner. This was followed by the most interesting address by Mr Heffer, on the war and how the civilian population could help win it by economy, particularly of food and the prevention of all waste.”

By September, the Peaslake WI was well established with increasing references to contact with neighbouring WIs, especially with Ewhurst and Shere; there seemed to be a particularly close bond with Ewhurst. Requests from County and National [WI Federations] for items exhibitions held that year to be declined as time was too short to prepare anything, but, when possible, that was in attendance. […]

The need for more housing was as relevant in 1918 as it is today, as recorded in October: “Mrs Ayres spoken rural housing and the necessity for more and better cottages to be built after the war”. Papers were handed round the suggestions that could be forwarded to the Housing Committee of the District Council, which the Housing Committee requested be returned by 18 November.
Note: interestingly, Miss Ayres is listed on the committee as ex-officio Agriculture Committee.

In December, WI Headquarters sent a directive to all WIs that their meetings must not be used for political or electioneering purposes. Fast forward to September 1920, Miss Austen of Reigate, on behalf of the National Political Union, asked that an emergency meeting of Peaslake WI should be held to protest against the miners’ strike, that delegate should be sent to a meeting of protest in London, and that a resolution of protest was enclosed should be signed by members of Peaslake WI and sent to the Secretary of the National Political Union at once. After due consideration, the committee felt it might savour party politics, but agreed that every effort should be made to stop the strike. Instead, the Resolution from the Union was altered, signed by the members present, and return together with an explanation direct to the chairman of the meeting. Surrey WI was informed of their action. In reply, the County Secretary wrote to apologise to Miss Austin’s letter and stated that the letter the letter should not have been sent.



On our first anniversary of the March records and committee minutes clearly show that the ladies of Peaslake had fully embraced the opportunity to come together the friendship; to learn; share knowledge; to support each other and the community; and to enjoy themselves and be involved in all things WI at local, Federation and National level.

Note: it also became clear as the years passed that Peaslake WI did not hesitate to speak out and show support, or disapproval, when deemed necessary.

In July, the committee was read an extract from the Toronto Daily News on Women’s Institutes in Canada and England. In addition, there was a letter from Mrs Watt OBE asking for samples of work to be sent to Canada by 1 August. [Mrs Margaret (Madge) Watt was the energetic Canadian Women’s Institute member who brought the WI to Britain.]

Mrs Smeaton read the editorial on Peace from the August Home and Country and then gave an account of her experience and impressions of the [19 July Peace Day] procession in London, and at the Royal Garden party at Buckingham Palace. A vote of thanks was proposed for the interesting and vivid story, which the whole room seconded by hearty clapping.

In the September meeting, members heard on account of the work of our women police. [The first women police were employed earlier in 1918, to assist in the maintenance of law and order with many male officers away with the Armed Forces]. Three years later at the June committee meeting, Mrs Smeaton reported on the May National Federation of Women’s Institutes Annual Meeting in London. It was decided to ask Miss Sutherland (Federation Secretary) to draw up a letter and have it signed by all the WI presidents and secretaries in Surrey, to be sent to Mr Edgar Horne MP, to urge the government “to give facilities for the passing into law of the Bishop of London’s Bill, the Guardianship Bill and to retain the women police”. The following month the Peaslake WI secretary was asked to send a letter to Mr Horne urging him to oppose the bill for the abolition of women police. Three years later, in October 1925, the subjects surfaced again, when Chief Inspector Champney spoke at Peaslake’s meeting: “she gave strong appeal in support of women police and suggested a resolution, which was proposed at this meeting and carried by a large majority”. Referred to again at the November meeting, members agreed by a large majority that it should be sent to our MP, the Home Office and the Surrey Clerk of Peace. It was also agreed to join the Women’s Auxiliary Service as an Associate. The December meeting unanimously agreed a resolution was to be sent to Surrey to come before the Annual Meeting in February. Peaslake WI sent 2/6d. a year to the Women’s Auxiliary Service as a token of sympathy for the work done by them.



In the February meeting, a letter was read from the Village Clubs Association and the Federation of women’s Institutes in conjunction with the Soldiers Clubs Association. The answer sent by the Secretary was to the effect that Peaslake had a Men’s Club, a parish hall and a new Hut, so that the village was well provided for.


The Annual Report: “The Institute has had lectures on the ‘Devastated Areas of France and Flanders’*, ‘Citizenship’, ‘Character Learning of Children’ and ‘Lantern Lecture on Burma’. Lectures and demonstrations on home nursing, tinkering and soldering, chair caning, skin curing and glove making, and millinery. The Institute also made 54 comments for the Save the Children Fund. An entertainment was arranged to raise funds to start a library for the Institute**.


*“Mrs Calvert Spensley spoke mostly about the Belgians. It was most pathetic to hear of the hardships and cruelty they had endured the hands of the Germans.”

**A library for the WI had been requested in the suggestion box. Following the successful fundraising entertainment on 15 December at an extra committee meeting on the 17th a letter was read from Mr Holt saying that if the Peaslake WI would agree to include Peaslake ex-servicemen as members of the new library, under the same conditions as Institute members, a grant of 5 pounds for the purchase of books could be obtained from the United Service Fund. It was agreed unanimously to cooperate with the ex-servicemen.



The Annual Report for 1921 detailed a year full of activity and variety. There were demonstrations; travel talks on Russia and Serbia*; and the Rector spoke on the reasons a necessity for the League of Nations, among others. The biggest and most successful undertaking of the WI was the starting of the WI library in conjunction with the ex-servicemen; the volume is now numbered over 400.

*The speaker gave an account of her experiences of the impossible life in Moscow and the Bolsheviks. At a later date a donation was sent to the Russian Famine Fund. Miss Drew spoke of her journey to Serbia the previous year, after which all felt they wished to know the Serbians personally. She asked the small gifts for the Serbian orphans of war. Nearly £1 was collected.



In March, the Library Committee had asked the Peaslake WI committee if it was possible for a deputation to meet the committee of the War and Spottiswoode Memorial to ascertain whether and when they would stop building, and whether they would incorporate into their building accommodation for the WI meeting room, library, etc. the Committee agreed and added to request to the Memorial committee that if it thought there was any definite prospect the members would work hard to get funds. It was announced at the August meeting that the trustees declared that women were certainly meant to participate in the benefit of the new Village Institute. Miss Payne, who was a member of the War and Spottiswoode Memorial, proposed to try and get three members of the WI Library Committee co-opted. The Peaslake WI Minute Book holds a vast amount of information on the ongoing dealings between the WI and the Memorial committee, and the hard work the members put in to raise funds

May Margaret Stevenson OBE (1875-1922)

Surrey in the Great War Jenny Mukerji

May Margaret STEVENSON OBE (1875-1922)

Buried in Plot 31 of Brookwood Cemetery and in her family’s grave, lies May Margaret Stevenson OBE. May was born in Bournemouth on 9 May 1875 the daughter of Archibald Stevenson (1838-1877) and his wife Margaret Jane, nee Anderson (1841-1893). She was taken up to the family home in South Shields, near Newcastle and baptised in the Laygate Presbyterian Chapel on 20 June 1875. Her father was a partner in the Jarrow Chemical Works, manufacturing alkali and a partner in the Tyne Tug Company Limited in South Shields.

May was the youngest of her parents five surviving children and was only nineteen months old when her father died at sea on 19 January 1877. By 1881 her mother had moved her family of young children south to 58 Ladbroke Grove in Kensington, London. In 1891 May was living with her aunt Mary Adamson Marshall MD (1837-1910) in Upper Berkeley Street, Marylebone. Dr Marshall was one of the first women to qualify as a doctor and by 1891 she was entertaining female medical students at her home.

May went to Girton College (Ladies’ College), Cambridge and graduated with a Third Class BA and in 1901 she was living with her mother’s cousin Ruth Anderson in Clarincarde Gardens, Kensington, not far from her mother’s home. In 1911 she was living in her own accommodation in Wandsworth with her own housekeeper, Mary Troup. May was now on an Apprenticeship Committee and a Social Worker.

During the Great War, May served in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) until they became the Queen Mary’s Auxiliary Army Corps (QMAAC) in April 1918 and continued with them. She was Administrator-in-Charge of their depot at Folkestone, Kent from March 1917 until May 1918. It was for her duties during the Great War that she received her OBE.

As May died on 5 February 1922 in the Mundesley Sanatorium in Norfolk, it can be safely assumed that she had suffered from tuberculosis. Her funeral service took place in one of the Brookwood Cemetery chapels on 8 February 1922 and she was buried in her mother’s grave and beside that of her aunt, Mary Adamson Marshall. Her death was announced in The Times on 7 February with a request that there should not be any flowers sent. Her name appears with that of her siblings on the kerbing of the grave.

Her photograph, in her uniform is in the collection of the Imperial War Museum. There was also a book published in London in 1922 In Memoriam May Margaret STEVENSON OBE.

Arthur Ralph Notley

Arthur was born 1890/1 in Australia.  At the outbreak of the First World War he was living in Surrey; he was employed in a family business as a master stone mason.

Before the outbreak of hostilities, he had served in the Territorial Army as a member of the 5th Battalion, Queen’s Royal Regiment. Following the outbreak of war in 1914, this unit was posted first to India and then, in December 1915, to Mesopotamia (Iraq), presumably to take part in the operations against the Ottoman Turks who had allied with the Central Powers.  Alone of the Great Powers, Britain relied on volunteers as a source of recruitment for its armies.  As a result of what was becoming a global conflict, the enormous demand for recruits meant alternative means had to be devised to meet demand (Derby Scheme 1915).  In January 1916, conscription was finally introduced, first for unmarried men between the ages of 19-41.  Exemption was permitted including on grounds of conscientious objection; individuals applying for exemption had to convince a tribunal.  Tribunals were often unsympathetic and, initially, 6000 men whose cases were rejected, were imprisoned for refusing  to serve in the armed forces.  In response, the Home Office introduced a scheme (HOS) whereby those imprisoned would be released on condition that they agree to undertake what the authorities deemed to be essential work necessary for the war effort.  This might involve labouring or service at the front in a non combatant role such as stretcher bearers.  There is an image of quaker stretcher bearer team at the Somme 

Ralph must have been unmarried at the time of the act, as he had to appeal to a tribunal.  According to the Pearce Register on Conscientious Objectors, his motivation was listed as Quaker (religious grounds).  Ralph also used in his defence a legal loophole, that as an expired member of the Territorial Army he was exempt from service.  This was initally granted, but the military authorities appealed and under the terms of the conscription act, the authorities were, indeed, allowed to call up former members of the Territorial Army.  He made further appeal, again on conscientious grounds and his father also appealed on his behalf on business grounds. On 12th July, he was granted exemption from combatant (not military) service on conscientious grounds only. This meant he was still liable for military service and, therefore, was ordered to report for duty.  He was eventually arrested on 24th September 1916, having ignored four notices to register for enlistment issued between 31st July and 22nd September 1916.  At his trial in early October, at the Guildford Borough Police Court, he admitted to having received call up notices but refused to pay the 40 shilling fine and was remanded into custody.

As an ‘absolutist’, Ralph  did not apply for the Home Office Scheme and spent the second half of the war in prison.  On 23rd March 1917 he was sentenced to two years, hard labour at Wormwood Scrubbs, later commuted to six months.  However, on 3rd September of that year, he was sentenced again to  two years hard labour at Wandsworth Prison.  At the war’s end, Ralph was still in prison; under the two-year rule, he was released from  Wandsworth Prison on 8th April 1919.


Derby Scheme

Peace Pledge Union

Queen’s Royal Regiment

Surrey Advertiser 02/10/1916: ‘Ex Territorial’s Conscience, Guildford man called to join up’

Surrey men in the Pearce Register of Conscientious Objectors

Territorial Army

Two Year Rule

Christmas card to Hester Godfrey

Image of a Christmas card to Hester Godfrey: ‘The Season’s Greetings and Best Wishes for Christmas and the Coming Year’.

Woking’s Housing Problem in 1918

Taken from an article in the Woking News & Mail, 22 March 1918

The following article shows the shift in attitude towards refugees in the county, both Belgians who had fled their homes at the start of the war and those who had left areas of London prone to zeppelin air raids for the safety of Surrey.  As the war entered its last year, residents faced severe shortages of food, materials and various resources; this contemporary news article looks at the impact these shortages had on attitudes of Woking’s residents.

“The Housing Problem

Aliens to be Turned Out?

The police have been busily engaged during the week finding billets for soldiers and members of the W.A.A.C.  Great difficulty has been experienced in finding sufficient accommodation and as there are some 400 odd more soldiers coming into the town we hear that the authorities are considering a scheme to turn out all those aliens who have come from air raid areas and paying exorbitant prices for accommodation, in order to find the necessary housing accommodation for those engaged on National Service.

During the past week or two the town has been besieged with panic stricken Jews, who are paying from 5 guineas to 20 guineas a week for furnished apartments and also buying houses to turn the tenants out. This is a grave scandal and we rejoice to learn some property owners who are unworthy of being called Englishmen have had their fingers badly burned in their eagerness to sell their houses and turn tenants out to have been living there for years.

Other tenants, however, of the more timid and peace loving disposition, have given up possession and are now living in rooms under conditions which are against the principles of true hygiene, and lest the authorities take active steps this overcrowding is bound to lead to an epidemic of disease.

Profiteering in houses is not the prerogative of the small owner; the worst offenders other wealthy people acting through solicitors, and we know of several cases in which the application of the term “bloodsucking profiteer” is a very mild one.

When the town was invaded with refugees last August we were told there was no need for anxiety, and that if needs be the various churches, chapels and mission halls would be available for them. Those arrangements were for the refugees – we ask the authorities what arrangements have been made for the local residents who are being rendered homeless by reason of the influx these refugees?

We say it is imperative that a special meeting of the Council should be called to consider the whole question before it is too late. If the officials want data let them approach the house agents, and some of the residents in the Maybury, Walton, Eve Arnold and Chertsey Roads. They will learn not only of houses having been sold but of rents raised 20 per cent.”

Rev John FAIRBOURNE (1852-1915)

Surrey in the Great War                                                                                                                                    Jenny Mukerji

Rev John FAIRBOURNE (1852-1915)

Wesleyan Minister Rev FAIRBOURNE was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1852 the son of Edmund and Jane FAIRBOURNE. His father was a corn factor. His early years were spent in Manchester and by 1871 he was living in Stretford, Lancashire where he was a salesman of cotton goods.

He married Elizabeth Jessie WATERER (1851-1935) in the Guildford area in 1880. By 1881 Elizabeth and John were living in New Road, Burnley with Elizabeth’s mother, Harriet. Harriet WATERER, nee CHANDLER (1825-1888) was an annuitant and a widow of Thomas WATERER, a farmer and nurseryman of Knaphill, Woking. John was now a Wesleyan Minister. Elizabeth and John had two daughters, Ethel Waterer FAIRBOURNE (1882-1952) and Adela Irene FAIRBOURNE (1886-1953) and in 1891 they were living in Newark Road, Lincoln. The nature of John’s vocation meant that the family moved around the country and Harriet WATERER died in Wellington, Shropshire. In 1901 the family were living in Walsall, Staffordshire.

However, by 1911 the family had finally settled and made their home at Epworth, Heathside Park Road, Woking. It was here that John died on 18 March 1915 and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery on 22 March 1915. Elizabeth Jessie FAIRBOURNE also died at Epworth, on 9 April 1935 and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery on 15 April 1935. Neither of the daughters married and they were both living at Epworth when they died. Ethel died on 29 August 1952 and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery on 2 September 1952. Adela died on 29 March 1953 and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery on 2 April 1953.

The Surrey History Centre holds a glass plate negative and image of a photograph taken before 1920 of his grave in Brookwood Cemetery SHC 9524/2/43

Dora Richards (nee Coombs)

Dora Coombs was born on 29 March 1889 to her parents Charles and Clara Coombs (nee Osey), who lived in Weybridge. The 1891 census shows the family at Redfern Cottages, New Road, Weybridge, with Charles and Clara being 27 years old at this time. Her parents had two further children Ernest and Herbert, who appear, aged 6 and 2, on the 1901 census with the family at 5 Redfern Cottages, New Road, Weybridge.

By 1911 her parents were still living at this address, however Dora was by this time working as a domestic servant at a house called Kings Wood, in Ashley Road, Walton-on-Thames for a lady called Julia Lawrence, whom the census shows was a 53-year-old widow.

At the time of the First World War Dora was working as a nurse and it was through this that she met and nursed Alfred Joseph Richards VC, a Sergeant in the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, who had lost part of his leg as a result of injuries he received going ashore at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Sergeant Richards was invalided home and was sent to the Princess Christian Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Woking (Stafford Lake Road, Knaphill). It’s believed that this was where Dora nursed him in his convalescence. Due to not having other family in England, Sergeant Richards was dubbed by the press “The Lonely V.C.”

In September 1916 Dora married Alfred in Chertsey and they settled in Wandsworth and they had one child, a son called Harold, who was born on 14 October 1919.

The 1939 register shows the family, Alfred, Dora and Harold, along with Dora’s widowed mother Clara (who was born on 25 November 1864), living at 69 Astonville Street, Wandsworth. By this time Dora is shown as doing unpaid ‘Domestic Duties’ work, Alfred was a Chief Cost Clerk at a woodworking factory and Harold was employed as a motor driver for a garage.

Dora lived until 1967 and the age of 78, and was buried on 6 April that year in Wandsworth. Alfred died on 21 May 1953 and was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in London.

Of the other family members, her father Charles died in Weybridge on 13 June 1925, but at this time it is not known when her mother Clara passed away. Her brother Ernest appears to have died in Weybridge in June 1924 and brother Herbert died in March 1980. No further information about Dora’s son Harold is known at this time.

Miss Hester Mary GODFREY

Hester Mary GODFREY was born 16 October 1866 Moldgreen, Yorkshire. Her parents were George Brown GODFREY, an Engineer (b: abt 1837 Liverpool d: 1911 buried 2 May 1911) and Hester Ann GODFREY Nee Cochrane (b: abt 1846 Ireland  )

She was the eldest of 5 siblings

Joseph James (b: abt 1870 Hungary ), George C. (b: abt 1872 Ireland ),  Alfred Grice (b: 26 August 1873 ), Adeline Eleanor (b: 12.11.1879 Yorkshire  d: 1962, Sussex) and Florence Maud  (b: abt 1882 Yorkshire ) (Ref: Ancestry. com Census )

In 1881 Hester lived with her family in St Anns Villas, Bridlington, Yorkshire. Ten years later the family had moved to Brompton, London and had a cook, parlour maid, housemaid and a maid. From here Hester moved with her parents to West Gables, Cranleigh, Surrey where she stayed for many years. (Ref: Census )

In 1894 her brother Alfred sent her a letter from Neville’s Masonic Hotel, Dordrecht*, Cape Colony dated 25 November.

‘Thank you very much for your letter, also for the papers which are most acceptable as reading matter is not too plentiful wen (sic) in Dordrecht. We expect to remove to Sterkstroom*  in a day or so and in fact are only awaiting orders to move camp. We intend to live in camp in Sterkstroom  if we can make it convenient as it is so much nicer and less expensive, just now we are only two in camp as some are off for a holiday. I intend to take one soon and get to Queenstown which is only about 2 hours from Sterkstroom  which is their country is like going from South Kensington to Temple and in fact you hear of people going there for afternoon tea.

 Adeline’s birthday was on the 12th and I quite forgot if I wrote to her or not. I am afraid I cannot get hold of that paper for …(unreadable), but will have one other try. It is so annoying because I could have had that paper I saw it in, and nearly sent you the cutting. Yesterday I had a game of tennis with two awfully nice girls and got beaten each time, which makes one feel foolish, with the best player we were 5 games all, and vantage all so I made a good show of it and I played better than I ever have done before, but she was too strong for me. I consider she plays nearly as well as Mrs Hilliayard and would do so with more practice.

 Kind love to all …. included from your loving brother Alfred J Godfrey’ (SHC Ref: 6520/4)

 *(Dordrecht, Cape Colony is in South Africa- Sterkstroom is a settlement in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.)

Hester started working at Oatlands Red Cross Hospital, Cranleigh as Quartermaster on 17 December 1912, during which time she was still living at West Gables Cranleigh. (Ref: British Red Cross web site) As well as her work at the hospital she helped in the organising of concerts and table top sales. (SHC Ref: 6520/65)

For Christmas she was given an autograph book and the patients and staff in the hospital signed it. Some people drew pictures and others wrote poems. (SHC Ref: 6520/1)

In November 1917 she was given a Certificate of Application for War Service Bar dated 5 Nov 1917 stating ‘This is to certify that Miss Hester M. Godfrey Member of V.A.D. No 8 County Surrey has served thirteen months 1st year twelve months second year in Oaklands Red Cross Hospital as Quartermaster and is recommended for the War Service Bar’   Signed head of hospital C.E.H. Rowcliffe Commandant  (SHC Ref: 6520/20)

After two years service as Quarter-Master at Oaklands Red Cross Hospital she was presented with a fountain pen and scent bottle on Christmas Day 1917 signed by 42 colleagues. (SHC Ref: 6520/22)

It appears she was not only good at her job but also well regarded by her colleagues as during her time at the Hospital she was given a card stating:

‘Presented to Miss Godfrey by the members of the Cranleigh Branch of the Red Cross Society as a token of appreciation of the kind help she has always given them’ It was signed by Mrs Rowcliffe and 19 other ladies. It is not known if there was a gift with the card but Hester must have appreciated such a kind thought. (SHC Ref: 6520/23)

She also received thank you letters from patients as the one dated 13 January 1918 from Mr A.J. Osgood shows:

‘Excuse me writing these few lines to you, but I thought I would like to thank you for your kindness to my wife at Xmas time she wrote and told me you went and saw her also I must thank you for the present you gave her’. (SHC Ref: 6520/24)

After the war she was recognised by the Secretary of State for War for ‘ WAR SERVICE IN SURREY HOSPITALS’. The newspaper article states ‘The names of the following have been brought to the notice of the Secretary of State for War for valuable services rendered in connection with the war in Surrey hospitals:

Miss H. M. Godfrey, Oaklands Auxiliary Hospital, Cranleigh now closed: (SHC Ref: 6520/62)

Hester died: 1953 Cuckfield, Sussex


 The following material can be found at the Surrey History Centre

Programme of Knowle Fete on May 22nd 1918 – SHC Ref: 6520/27/1

Programme Oatlands Hospital Dec 26th 1916 Various songs and sketches  – SHC Ref: 6520/14

Printed postcard about Blandford Camp in rhyme to E. Godfrey.   – SHC Ref: 6520/17

Envelope to Miss H.M. Godfrey with a 2 page letter inside from G Lennie AB.- SHC Ref: 6520/18/2

Coloured greetings Card depicting 7 servicemen Xmas 1915  – SHC Ref: 6520/12

Post Office Telegraph dated 26 Nov 1914 from Lieutenant Barwell – SHC Ref: 6520/9

Postcard addressed to Mrs Godfrey – SHC Ref: 6520/13

Letter  dated  31.10.1915 – SHC Ref: 6520/11/1 and 6520/11/2

Programme of Music, dated  16 July 1912.  – SHC Ref: 6520/7

Card printed invitation to invite Miss Godfrey to a Reception of the British Red Cross Society – SHC Ref: 6520/6

Letter to Miss Godfrey dated 31.10.1915 – SHC Ref: 6520/10

Letter  dated July 2 – SHC Ref: 6520/15

Surrey Red Cross Week programme May 20 – 26thSHC Ref: 6520/26

War Poem  dated Whitsunday 1918  – SHC Ref: 6520/25

Newspaper report about Queen Alexandra at a Garden Party – SHC Ref: 6520/8


Chilworth Gunpowder Mills in the Great War

Written by Marion Edwards

Until the mid-19th century, when high explosives were developed, gunpowder was the only explosive available for military use. Water-powered manufacturing mills were established in England from the mid-16th century, although powder had been prepared by hand for at least 200 years before that.  From the 19th century, steam engines and water turbines were developed for more efficient production.  Basic gunpowder – also known as black powder – was made from saltpetre, charcoal and sulphur, pulverised and mixed in the proportions 75:15:10, forming first a damp paste known as ‘mill cake’, which was then pressed into hard sheets of ‘press cake’ before being grained and dried.

Demand for gunpowder centred on the London area (for military supply), other ports (for trade), and the main metal mining areas. The first water-powered mills were built in south east England from the mid-16th century onwards, and many of the major technological improvements were pioneered in those mills, one of which was at Chilworth, in the Tillingbourne valley near Guildford, originally established in 1626 by the East India Company to supply its forces abroad and at one time operating as the only authorised gunpowder producer in Britain.

Cordite cannisters (Wiki Commons)

German-led technological change inspired the formation in 1885 of the Chilworth Gunpowder Company Ltd, with close links to German powder manufacturers and to armaments firms such as Krupp, the Nobel companies and Armstrong’s. The Chilworth works were adapted for the manufacture of the compact and slow-burning prismatic brown powder (which replaced wood charcoal with the less smoky brown charcoal, made from straw), with state-on-the art German steel incorporating mills and cam presses.  In 1892 an extension to the factory allowed the company to manufacture in addition the chemical based smokeless propellants cordite (a mixture of nitro-glycerine, guncotton and mineral jelly, consolidated with the solvent acetone) and ballistite.

At the outbreak of war, the demand for explosives soared. At Chilworth, a new factory area, the Admiralty Cordite Factory, was built in 1915, which finished cordite paste, brought in from elsewhere.  Despatch notes and receipts covering 1914-1915 show explosives being carried on the barges of Messrs Stevens, barge owners of Guildford, via the Wey Navigation, to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, or to Rainham in Kent for onward conveyance to the Naval Ordnance Depot at Upnor; some was destined for Australia.  A single barge might carry over 30,000lb of freight (50,000 being the largest quantity), with up to 400 cases of cordite or 418 barrels of ballistite (G137/12/27).

Chilworth workers before the war (Surrey Archaeological Society collections ref 337/1)

During the war years the site was guarded by a military detachment, originally part of 2/5th Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, and later restyled No.59 Company, Royal Defence Corps, and anti-aircraft guns were installed to protect the site.  In October 1915, a German Zeppelin attempted to locate and bomb the gunpowder works, but although it was seen to circle the site several times, wartime ‘lights out’ precautions worked and the airship continued west towards Guildford, where it dropped 12 bombs. (Apparently the only casualties there were a swan on the river, and 17 chickens.). Eric Parker, the naturalist and journalist, spent much of the war in the Chilworth factory guard (commanding it between November 1917 and May 1918), a time, he recalled of ‘almost unbearable monotony, the wearier for the long hours of night duty’.  Parker’s unit had to undertaken regular patrols around the 3½ mile perimeter; for him the tedium was alleviated by the opportunity to observe the local wildlife and the odd moment of excitement as when two butterfly hunters were interrogated.  He also noted other measures taken to safeguard the works, describing buildings ‘camouflaged with all the colours of the rainbow’ and St Martha’s church high on the Downs disguised with brushwood and heather.

Once, while on patrol and standing by the south door of the church, ‘in my ear, as I stood was the war in France. Close to my ear were the sounds of battle, field guns, heavy guns, the shaking boom, the rattle of musketry, as if we were fighting Germans in the next parish.  All came to me in repercussion of sound from the oak door behind me. I stepped a yard to the side and I was in the silence of Surrey; a step to the right, and I was in France’.

Remains of brown powder incorporating mills (Geograph)


The Manager of the Chilworth Mills during the war was Captain Tom Tulloch, who before the war had had contacts in Germany’s armaments industry, passing details of weapons and explosives, gathered during convivial dinners with high ranking German military personnel (for example in 1904, he had learned details of the introduction of a revolutionary new bullet, in 1911 of the stockpiling of thousands of machine guns, and later of the use of Maxims produced by Vickers and of TNT), to the Admiralty and War Office. They, however, took no notice of this intelligence, the British military attaché in Berlin declaring that all of this must be untrue as he had not heard of it!  Tulloch also earned the nickname ‘Trinitro Tom’, from his promotion of TNT at the site.

The close connections of the Company with Germany manufacturers, meant that several of the personnel associated with the Chilworth works at the outbreak of war were German: joint manager of the Chilworth Powder Company at its inception was Edward Kraftmeier, a German settled in England, who became the Company’s London agent and who in 1915 became naturalised as Edward Kay; other Germans were the factory chemist Willi Fischer (who was interned during the war) and foreman Heinrich (later anglicised to Henry) Walter Wirths (whose son died in 1918 while serving as a mechanic in the Royal Flying Corps).

Newspaper reports from the 19th and early 20th centuries show the dangers of working with a substance as volatile as gunpowder. There was a constant risk of explosions, and on numerous occasions fatal accidents occurred.  Even sparks from hob-nailed boots worn by the workers could cause powder to ignite.  As a natural consequence, Chilworth made innovative developments in safety measures – building banks of earth close to the buildings where gunpowder was being made helped to contain explosions and prevent other buildings from being damaged. These banks were strengthened with corrugated iron, and this invention, which became known as “Chilworth mounds”, was adopted at other sites where explosives were manufactured, in Britain and worldwide.  Onsite safety during the First World War appears to have rigorously applied, as no accidents to personnel were reported.

Extract from Rules 1916 (Surrey Archaeological Society collections ref 337/10)

Illustrations 5-6: Rules 1916 (cover and details of clothing) from SYA/337/10

During the war, production at the works ran in 12-hour shifts, with workers changing into clothing without pockets, buttons and trouser turn-ups (all of which could gather dangerous powder remnants) when they clocked on. Women in cordite production usually worked the nights shift for 4d an hour.  All workers generally complained of headaches, resulting from exposure to chemicals. On a lighter note, the factory had its own cricket and football teams (including a ladies’ eleven), which played matches against other local sides.

Chilworth women’s football team (reproduced from ‘Damnable Inventions’ – see bibliography)

Several files in The National Archives shed light on working conditions during the war. In March 1917, workers in the engineering shop were awarded a pay rise of 1½d per hour to fitters and 3 farthings per hour to labourers and apprentice (LAB 2/168/IC1504). If a workman worked more than 11½ hours in a day, Monday-Friday, or on Saturday more than 8¼ hours, he was to be paid a bonus for each additional hour calculated at a quarter of his ordinary hourly rate.  In May 1918, the fitters were at it again, demanding 1s 4d per hour plus a 12½% bonus with the usual allowances for overtime (time and a quarter for the first 2 hours and an extra quarter time for each completed hour over and above 11½ for five days of the week and 8½ on Saturdays, with double pay for Sunday working (LAB 2/426/IC3775).  The arbitrator appointed by the Chief Industrial Commissioner awarded the men an extra 1d per hour, his award detailing all the previous wage increases they had enjoyed during the war.  The fitters’ October 1918 demand for an extra 2d per hour as recently awarded to the skilled engineers at the National Aircraft Factory, Farnborough, was rejected, the Ministry of Munitions arguing that work at Chilworth did not compare to the ‘highly skilled and experimental nature of the work performed at the Farnborough Factory as distinct from other aircraft establishments’ (LAB 2/168/IC8290).

Two women war workers at Chilworth (reproduced from ‘Damnable Inventions’ – see bibliography)

Finally in March 1919, a claim by the Workers’ Union was decided by the Wages and Arbitration Department of the Ministry of Munitions (LAB 2/426/WA2096/1919). Originally the Union had demanded on behalf of its members an advance of 3d per hour to the men and women of the Smokeless Department and a grant of underclothing to those working in the Black Department similar to that made to workers in the Blending House (and if that was not practicable then a further 1d per hour).  By the time the hearing took place, the Smokeless Department was no more, but the claim for an extra 3d was extended to the Black Department, which no longer employed any any women (if it ever had).  The arbitrator rejected all aspects of the claim: the men had already received all the advances they were entitled to.  As for the claim for underclothing, this had been provided in the Smokeless Department ‘by reason of the very dangerous and explosive character of the cordite dust which settled on the clothing and could not be removed by washing owing to its being insoluble’.  This did not apply in the Black Department: non-inflammable working suits, caps and boots were already supplied by the Firm and the black (charcoal) was harmless and easily removable by water.

Present day walker’s map of Chilworth site, showing remains (from ‘Chilworth2gether’ website)

The high demand for explosives during the war resulted in a massive oversupply of cordite and after hostilities had ceased in November 1918, many sites found themselves surplus to peacetime requirements. After the war, the Admiralty relinquished their interest in the site, allowing the Chilworth Gunpowder Company to continue, now part of the British consortium Explosive Trades Ltd (Noble Industries Ltd from 1920); the Chilworth works finally closed in June 1920, bringing to an end almost three hundred years of explosive manufacturing on the banks of the Tillingbourne, although the final winding up did not take place until 1927 and British production of gunpowder and cordite did not effectively cease until 1976.  Today, the site of the old Chilworth gunpowder works is a scheduled monument. Its isolation has encouraged several important rare species to take up residence, including the endangered common dormouse.

Sources at Surrey History Centre

G132: papers relating to Chilworth Gunpowder Company and Earlier Gunpowder Makers at Chilworth, c.1710-1899

Z/10: plan of Chilworth Gunpowder Mills, c.1890

Z/475: photocopies of papers and newspaper cuttings relating to Chilworth Gunpowder Mills, c.1870-1920

SYA337: Surrey Archaeological Society material relating to Chilworth Gunpowder Mills


‘Dangerous Energy: the archaeology of gunpowder and military explosives manufacture’ by Wayne D Cocroft (English Heritage, 2000)

‘Chilworth Gunpowder works, Surrey’ by Wayne D Cocroft (English Heritage, 2003)

‘Chilworth Gunpowder’ by Glenys Crocker (Surrey Industrial Group, 1984)

‘Damnable Inventions: Chilworth Gunpowder and the Paper Mills at Tillingbourne’ by Glenys and Alan Crocker (Surrey Industrial Group, 2000)

‘Surrey’ by Eric Parker (County Books, 1947)

‘Memory Looks Forward’ by Eric Parker (1937)

‘South-West Surrey’ by Eric Parker (MacMillan 1937)

‘Great War Britain: Guildford’ by David Rose (History Press 2014)

‘From the Land of the Huns to Albion’: the experiences of Gustave Pastor

Written by Marion Edwards

In February 1915, the Reigate Grammar School magazine ‘The Pilgrim’ published a letter from Gustave Pastor, a young Belgian who had recently fled Germany for England. Gustave later joined the Reigate Grammar School Upper Sixth Form and on leaving served with the Belgian army. From his references to the steelmaking firm of S A Cockerill, it is possible that Gustave was a relative of Gustave Leon Pastor (1832-1922), a German-Belgian metallurgist and industrialist who was born in Liege, and who served as Works Director of Cockerill under his younger brother George Octave Pastor (1835-1915), a Director-General. The brothers were sons of Konrad Gustav Pastor (1796-1890), also a Director-General of Cockerill in Seraing. The Pastors appear to have had close ties with the Cockerill family, as another Pastor, Conrad-Gustav, married an Adele Hodson-Cockerill during the 19th cent.

Refugees leaving Ostend, Belgium, 1914 (© IWM Q 14790)

In his letter to the school, Gustave writes:

‘For three days the town of Dusseldorf, where I was on holiday, was in a great agitation, the newspapers published contradictory reports, all was in an indescribable confusion, and although the mobilisation was not yet declared, the streets were full of soldiers in campaign attire, provisions increased in price and many shops closed in consequence. Assembled before the newspaper office was an anxious and agitated crowd. The bridge over the Rhine was guarded by the Military in consequence of two Poles having attempted to blow it up. On the eve of the declaration of war the mobilisation of the reserves was begun and things assumed a still more serious aspect. Popular manifestations took place and throughout the night music halls and places of amusement were kept open and the whole town disturbed by singing and shouting crowds.

It was on a Sunday, I remember, on my return from the low-mass that I found a policeman at home with an order of evacuation before twenty-four hours, and I had not yet obtained a passport. The Belgian Consul with whom I should have returned was taken prisoner, and I was obliged to return alone. The international train service was interrupted and I was forced to travel to the frontier in a compartment in which the passengers were packed like sardines. On arrival at Cologne we were delayed in the station for two hours to allow the passage of the troop trains to the frontier. On arriving at Herbesthal we were informed by the Customs Officers that after the examination of our luggage we must proceed to Belgium on foot. We were then led to a room in the Custom House and divested of almost all our clothing so that a thorough examination could be made. I became somewhat restless and attempted to argue with one of the officials with the result that I was placed in a prison cell for one and a half hours. After relieving me of my camera, photograph album, and my papers that I possessed, I was put with my baggage outside the building faced with the task of carrying my luggage (which weighed 45 kilos) half a mile to the frontier. I waited … five, ten, fifteen minutes and the people left the station loaded like donkeys now throwing me a look of irony, now of pity, probably because, sitting on my trunk I cut rather a strange figure. At last a young Frenchman, only carrying a small bag, passed. He was good enough to help me carry my trunk of 45 kilos.

One of the forts at Liege in 1914 (© IWM Q 50967)

At the Belgian Customs there was an incomparable disorder. People were coming in and going out, the stationmaster and his employees were running quickly in all directions. When the train arrived all the trunks were put in the guard’s van and we entered the first carriage. My journey from the Belgian frontier to Liege cost me nothing … the war is sometimes pleasant! The following night many houses and churches were blown up so as to give the guns of the forts a clear line of fire. As my brother and sister are very young we decided to go to Ostend where we had a villa, so as to spare them the horrors of a bombardment. A non-stop train was leaving at eleven o’clock for Ostend, and we decided to take it. Already Liege took a military aspect, all the motor cars had been requisitioned and divided into cars for officers, for transport, and others for the Red Cross of Belgium. All the cattle from the province were brought into the ring of forts, to provide against a siege, and all the workmen of the principal manufacturers were sent to make trenches around the forts, whilst the ammunition factories, the ‘Fabrique Nationale d’Armes’ at Liege and the artillery workshops of the Cockerill firm were directed by officers. At the station the station master told us that Verviers was already in the hands of the Germans, that a rencontre had taken place between the Belgian Lancers and the Uhlans and that probably before five o’clock in the afternoon the town would be quite surrounded, Foresight which, alas! was realized.

Ostend, 1914 (© IWM Q 14785)

At Ostend we remained one month and a half in constant anxiety, passing the greater part of the day in the hospital and also three nights a week from eight o’clock in the evening to eight o’clock in the morning, helping and replacing the nurses in their arduous work. There was one continual passage of English and Belgian aeroplanes, airships, and Belgian armoured cars, while a British squadron of warships was still off the town. The villas on the coast were empty, everybody had fled to England. The Germans arrived at Gand, and since most people had left, we also took ship to England. We were stopped three times by the warships patrolling in the Channel and when we arrived in the Thames, night began to fall and the stars to appear. Our destination was Tilbury and when we arrived, I was afraid: all things, were black and dull. The cranes extended their gigantic arms over us, all glistening with oil, and in the docks not a single light burned. Our ship passed between silhouettes of ships and all this blackness began to depress me. At the bureau of the Cockerill line an employee who attended to us, announced that the only hotel in Tilbury was full and that we must either sleep on the boat or take the train to London at eleven o’clock that night. At one o’clock we arrived at London and were rapidly conveyed by taxi from Charing Cross to the hotel. There the landlord, who took us for Germans, would not have us at first and finally banished us to the third floor where I spent a night full of nightmare. Once again I saw the black cranes, with their long arms at Tilbury. Happily this first bad impression quickly disappeared before the generous English hospitality.’