Past Reports

November 2014: Westcott and The Great War – Peter Bennett

This talk, held on Remembrance Day, marked the centenary of the Great War and looked on how the war affected Westcott and what life was like during the war years. The year 1914 began well. The football team came top of the league, but grim events were to follow. By August the nation was at war; 327 Westcott men went off to the war; 36 did not return.

Apart from this appalling loss, the war affected Westcott in many other ways, some of which were quite unexpected. Our school woodwork master was in Berlin when war broke out – he was interned and returned safely for the Spring Term of 1919! We gained a railway halt for troops coming to fire on a range north of the village – for military use only, it was demolished in 1928. The Army took over the Isolation Hospital, and the school billeted a battalion on its way to the front. The school also helped to ease food shortages. Gardening classes cultivated the plots of absent men to grow food for their families and a notable event was the great ‘Horse Chestnut Gathering’ which ultimately led to the creation of the State of Israel!

An early event after the war was the construction of The Hut as a place of recreation for returned servicemen; this later became the village club which continues today to the great benefit of the village. Mr Geake put up the village sign and the thatched bus shelter in memory of his son and both these have been a focal point for the village ever since.

September 2014: Sex & Scandal In The Sussex Weald – Jane Le Cluse

Jane’s research into Sussex church court records provided the basis for her talk. The records, now held at Chichester, are extensive, unlike those of Surrey which have largely been lost (or were Surrey people better behaved?). Jane described how the courts worked and took us into some of the cases.

The courts dealt with misdemeanours against the church (allowing hogs to roam in a churchyard), immoral behaviour, and disputes over tithes property pews and the like. One person sat in judgement with a beam between him and the accused to protect him from violence – a court room with this arrangement still exists high above the south transept at Chichester cathedral. Witnesses travelled surprisingly long distances to give evidence and those found guilty of moral misdemeanours had to wear a white smock, carry a lighted candle, and repent in front of the congregation, a humiliating experience. Jane then entertained us with extracts from the records of a number of cases. People’s behaviour then was much the same as today!

The weakness was that one man sat as judge and jury. After being suspended by Cromwell, the courts were restored but their role was gradually taken over by the civil courts. They still exist however and can be used to consider certain cases involving the clergy.

July 2014: A Look Round Our Church

This “Members’ Evening” took place in our Parish Church. Knowledgeable members gave ‘mini-talks’ on different features of the church to give us an informative and most enjoyable evening. Designed by George Gilbert Scott and built in 1852, the church is a near-replica of a church in Sudbury, near Harrow. Most of the stone came from the Rookery estate, but some came from further afield including a small quarry at Trowlesworthy on Dartmoor. The clock was installed in 1887 to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The east window has an almost-identical twin in Port Stanley cathedral in the Falkland Islands!

We also learned about a painting, now safely kept in the Treasury at Guildford, and also about the organ the sounds from which provided a nice finale. The mini talks yielded a mass of information, some of which was quite new. This will be used in a new set of notes we will be producing on the church and its history.

May 2014: Pillboxes – Surrey’s WWII Defences – Chris Shepheard

In the Surrey Hills we frequently come upon the remains of pill-boxes. Chris Shepheard, who is the Director of the Rural Life Centre at Tilford, told us their story. When Britain faced invasion in May 1940, the appropriately named General Lord Ironside was put in charge of the nation’s defences. Woefully short of trained manpower and equipment, he created defences along the south and east coasts with a series of defence lines behind them. One of the most important ran through Surrey along the North Downs. Pill-boxes were a key feature of the defence system and were completed in just two months, a remarkable achievement.

The pill-boxes fortunately never came to be tested. After the war farmers were given £5 to demolish the pill-boxes, but most simply pocketed the money. It is believed that about 28,000 pill-boxes were built and that some 6,000 remain today; many are in Surrey. In 1985 Henry Wills did a study of UK Defences and it was recognised the pill-boxes were important historical relics. They were deteriorating and local surveys were carried out to help decide which should be conserved. Today quite a few have new uses – as cattle sheds, storage buildings; bus stops and bat sanctuaries – and a number are protected.