Closure of Tweedsmuir Camp (Page 3 of 3)

From Chapter 4 of a book called The Polish Community in Tweedsmuir Camp, Surrey after WWII, published by The Old Kiln Museum Trust. The book is part of The Tweedsmuir Camp Exhibition at The Rural Life Centre, Tilford, Surrey, England. It is available from The Rural Life Centre, Amazon, Waterstones-on-line and other reputable book sellers.

Progressing Towards Closure

Like other county councils HRDC relied heavily on the work managed by various committees, and the dissolution of Tweedsmuir was no different in that it was overseen by a housing committee. Captain G Davies was its Chairman and Major-General W Cave-Browne Vice Chairman. Intriguingly, Cave-Browne was present at the meeting held on 19 March 1941 when the construction of Tweedsmuir was being discussed with Canadian Corps Commanders (see 'Construction of Tweedsmuir Camp' section of this website). Other members of the committee included such dignitaries as Commander R Slayter, Lady Midleton, Brigadier G Portman, The Honourable Mrs B Loyd and The Reverend Stanley Hide. They met at the Council Offices in Bury Fields, Guildford, Surrey.

Having taken over Tweedsmuir as a housing estate, HRDC started by dismantling unoccupied huts and rehousing some of the families in private accommodation as they could. In truth the process of dismantling the camp had several effects. First, it sent a message to those who remained that the camp's life expectancy was short-lived. Secondly, it prompted the Tweedsmuir community to gain confidence in seeking a life outside the camp. And thirdly, it demonstrated to the WO that the matter was finally being resolved and that it was only a question of time until the whole site was demolished. Nonetheless in May 1950 Major Green (WO) telephoned Jones (NAB), saying that "he had been talking to the (demolition) contractors who stated that we could not dismantle all the huts for twelve months!" Although there are no reasons given as to why, the housing committee's minutes for 1951 provide a tantalising insight into a possible explanation.

At about the time when demolition of Tweedsmuir's barracks was temporarily suspended, the housing committee received two letters from the MoH and LG. The first, from the housing minister himself, referred to the council's housing programme for 1952 and 1953. It urged "the use of bricks, particularly local bricks, in the construction of houses." The second letter was sent by the Principal Regional Officer of the MoH and LG, "asking whether the council proposed to include Cornish Unit houses (from precast concrete) in the 1953 or 1954" building programme. The housing committee appointed a sub-committee to investigate, and report back their findings on, the use of Cornish Units. Towards the end of 1952, on 8 December, the sub-committee tabled its findings, saying

"that in their opinion there was nothing to recommend the erection of these houses in preference to traditionally built houses apart from the speed of erection."
As a consequence the housing committee
"resolved that such houses be not built in the Hambledon Rural District."

{Housing Committee minutes / HRDC papers - Surrey History Centre, Woking in Surrey}
But building houses from traditional materials would have required more careful planning over a longer period of time. Thus for HRDC to have dismantled the barracks in Tweedsmuir with no suitable, alternative accommodation for the Polish families to move into would have caused further chaos. In addition, since Tweedsmuir was one of four such sites in the Hambledon Rural District (Laurentide Camp, Algonquin Camp and Dunsfold Aerodrome also housed Polish families at the time), the problem of providing suitable accommodation would have become unmanageable. So despite the War Office desiring to close Tweedsmuir by the 31 December 1949, when the issue of rehousing Polish families was "becoming one of urgency", it wasn't until the end of 1952 and the start of 1953 that HRDC sought a solution to the problem in earnest. In the meantime the housing committee was resolving a number of issues concerning accommodation generally. For example,

The housing committee considered many sites upon which to erect houses. Clappers Meadow in Alfold, Portsmouth Road in Milford and Roke Lane in Witley were three such locations. Two other sites comprised the "Nursery site, Elstead" (as referred to by the housing committee) positioned between Ham Lane and the B3001 Milford Road, and the Springfield Estate situated directly opposite the junction of Ham Lane and Milford Road.

Understandably, several owners were at first "unwilling [...] to sell to the council, by agreement, land in the vicinity of the Nursery site" and an adjoining estate called Elstead House. In these cases the council consented to issue compulsory purchase orders as required and, in one case, to serve a notice to treat (a formal request from a local authority to agree a price for a property). After reviewing the issue, Messrs Smallpeice and Merriman (solicitors) advised the committee "to take no further action in the matter" and the Engineer and Surveyor was "asked to report to the next meeting of the general purpose committee in order that a date might be agreed upon for taking possession of (the) land." Ultimately, in 1953 HRDC purchased the site "at a negotiated price thus saving the need of a compulsory purchase order." A similar situation arose at Roke Lane, Witley where the acquisition of land came to a temporary halt because of an objection from the authorities "of St. George's College Preparatory School", which called for the housing committee to recommend that "a compulsory purchase order be made in respect of the reduced area of land now required."

According to council minutes, the MoH and LG authorised the demolition of Elstead House "in the interest of economy and increased housing accommodation." And on 6 June 1954 the housing committee minuted that "on receipt of this authority, the work had been commenced."

Other transactions regarding land in the locality of the Nursery site were less fretful. For instance, a successful meeting was held

"between the Engineer and Surveyor, Mr Gocher, his solicitor and the Clerk upon the acquisition of the piece of land next to Elstead House Cottage and the suggested settlement by the District Valuer was accepted."

{Housing Committee minutes / HRDC papers - Surrey History Centre, Woking in Surrey}
Notwithstanding the difficulties of acquiring land for redevelopment, preliminary plans were being pressed forward as rapidly as possible. On 9 February 1953, for example, the housing committee received a letter
"from Mr JB Proper upon sundry details relating to the development of the Nursery site at Elstead and it was resolved to hand a copy of the letter to the Engineer and Surveyor for his attention."

In the layout of the Nursery site [...] it was agreed that up to 25% of the area should be allocated for private building."

By the following month, on 9 March, a tentative layout plan
"was submitted by the Engineer and Surveyor for the Nursery site, Elstead which was agreed in principle subject to the acquisition of further land and to the access road being made under the 'Private Street Works Act' to ensure that half the cost (was) borne by the owners of the private properties benefitting thereby."

{Housing Committee minutes / HRDC papers - Surrey History Centre, Woking in Surrey}
Just as HRDC was getting to grips with the whole question of rehousing the Polish families, it received a letter from the MoH and LG, stating that "no further expenditure would be allowed upon the huts at Dunsfold Camp and the huts at Tweedsmuir Camp." This threw into disarray the council's plans for the use of non-traditional houses, expenditure and locating appropriate sites whereon houses could be constructed.
"After considerable discussion (the council) agreed that the letter be accepted and it was resolved to recommend that the occupants of the huts at Dunsfold Camp be rehoused in accordance with the policy already laid down and that the huts, as vacated, be demolished and that when the camp has been cleared, the same policy be applied to Laurentide Camp and to Tweedsmuir Camp. It was felt that to expedite this policy, some sites should be found whereon some non-traditional houses could be erected."

(Housing committee minutes agreed on 11 May 1953)

{Housing Committee minutes / HRDC papers - Surrey History Centre, Woking in Surrey}

The absence of financial support for Tweedsmuir brought with it a range of problems. Having lived in the camp as children of parents who were ex-PRC personnel, we witnessed the camp's infrastructure deteriorate over the last few years of its existance. For example, drains became blocked, lavatories failed to flush and barracks awaiting demolition fell into irreversible disrepair. The building programme undertaken by HRDC was now more urgent than ever before. In an endeavour to move the schedule forward, on the same date as it received authorisation for demolishing Elstead House (6 June 1954), the housing committee agreed names for the roads that were to be constructed on the Nursery site. The minute reads,
"Upon consideration of recommendations from Elstead Parish Council it was resolved that the principal road to be construc ted [...] be known as 'Broomfield', and that the cul-de-sac be known as 'Hazelwood'.

{Housing Committee minutes / HRDC papers - Surrey History Centre, Woking in Surrey}
The housing programme at Elstead was now moving at a brisk pace. In 1954, for example, the housing committee agreed,"in principle", revised layout plans for the Nursery site which included, A similar development was agreed, again in principle, for Clappers Meadow in Alfold. This was to include, Existing records reveal that layout plans for each site continued to be revised until the housing committee agreed that the number of houses proposed for construction satisfied demand. This in itself was quite an achievement as accommodation requirements varied from month to month. One consequence of this strategy, however, was that the building programme had to be extended over a period of years.

When, on 10 May, the above layout plans for the Nursery site and Clappers Meadow had been accepted by the housing committee, the Engineer and Surveyor tabled a draft design for a proposed one bed roomed bungalow "for erection in pairs", which again the committee adopted in principle.

The accommodation plans that were being prepared by HRDC had to fall in line with central government policy. On 24 August 1954 the housing committee discussed a memorandum it received from the MoH and LG, which asked for particulars that related to "the number of houses to be erected by the District Council during 1955 for the specific purpose of,

  1. rehousing 'hut dwellers' (as the Polish people living in camps were called by the council), and
  2. replacement of category '5' dwellings."
In response the council resolved to inform the Ministry that the estimate for these two purposes would be,
  1. 50 and
  2. 40.

    A total of 90 dwellings.

Three months later, on 8 November 1954, the housing committee discussed a letter from the Principal Regional Officer of the MoH and LG, which permitted the council to
"let contracts for 90 houses; a figure having been arrived at after bearing in mind
  • the amount of work the council (had) in hand;
  • their proposals for slum clearance and replacement camps, and
  • the other demands on building resources in the district."
{Housing Committee minutes / HRDC papers - Surrey History Centre, Woking in Surrey}
Despite the Regional Officer (MoH and LG) mentioning that he regarded these figures as "provisional and tentative", the council recommended that the best way to apportion the 90 properties would be to use 25 of them "for housing hut dwellers, 20 for rehousing the occupiers of Category '5' houses and 45 for ordinary housing applicants." Thus only 28% of the houses built on the Nursery site in Elstead were allocated to families from Tweedsmuir Camp.

There were three reasons why the percentage of houses assigned to Tweedsmuir families was so low. First, most family heads decided by this time to relocate to other parts of the UK; London being the preferred choice. Second, HRDC's policy towards rehousing these families focused on the fact that

"the occupants should be dispersed throughout the district so that each parish takes its share of the occupants from the hutments. The Clerk was instructed to discuss the problem with the Engineer to ascertain the estimated flow of completions of council houses so that a broad policy of dispersal be based upon his report."

(Housing committee minutes agreed on 7 March 1955)

{Housing Committee minutes / HRDC papers - Surrey History Centre, Woking in Surrey}

The third reason for offering such a small percentage of houses in Elstead to Tweedsmuir families stemmed from the council's 'dispersal policy' in which the core statement in the housing committee minutes, dated 7 May 1956, reads,
"where existing houses are vacated by tenants who purchase houses or plots at Elstead, such existing houses should be allocated to Polish families."

{Housing Committee minutes / HRDC papers - Surrey History Centre, Woking in Surrey}
From Planning Committee Minutes / HRDC Papers - Surrey History Centre, Woking in Surrey
The type of accommodation built at Elstead is described in the table to the right. As with all such developments, prepared plans required modifications to include a greater density of housing. On 21 June 1957, for example, layout plans for Springfield were modified and re-submitted. By the end of the year, on 31 December 1957, the planning committee accepted the modifications, allowing redevelopment of the site to go ahead. A similar scenario unfolded on the Nursery site at the beginning of 1958 {see 'Chronology of Noteworthy Events' (1948 to 1957) section of this website}.

The Agreement and Schedule of Conditions of Building Contract for constructing the final phase of Hazelwood (the cul-de-sac on the Nursery site in Elstead) and erecting houses thereon was signed on 29 April 1959 between HRDC and Benjamin George Merriman of Churt, Surrey. Later that year, and towards the middle of 1960, houses in Hazelwood were nearing completion and prepared for sale. Although the exact number of Tweedsmuir families who moved to Hazelwood has proved difficult to trace, the fact that a few had shows that Tweedsmuir Camp existed as a post war Polish family housing estate beyond 30 September 1957; the date by which HRDC announced Tweedsmuir would close.

Despite these last few gasps of Tweedsmuir's existance, one or two families continued to live in the barracks. As agreed by the council in 1955, these families were eventually relocated to other parishes in the district, Thursley being one.

Concluding Comments

From public records the issue of rehousing the families who lived in Tweedsmuir Camp immediately after World War Two by HRDC was part of a much larger scheme, which included a range of proposals and actions. Although most families' lifestyle changed for the better after leaving Tweedsmuir, many who once lived there still regard the camp as a special place. On a visit to the site in 2006, for example, we met a family who were picnicking on the edge of the parade ground. In conversation, the family head informed us that as an infant he lived in the camp for a short spell with his parents. Soon after he was born his family moved out of Tweedsmuir to live in Hammersmith, London, returning most years to spend their summer vacations with Mr and Mrs Keler who occupied the first barracks on the left of Tweedsmuir's southern entrance and who have since emigrated to Australia. In a recent telephone conversation, Mr and Mrs Keler's daughter admitted that on visits to the UK she still feels Tweedsmuir's magnetic influence, having to go there for no other than nostalgic reasons.

We know of other second generation off-spring who also visit the remains of Tweedsmuir Camp. They may simply take a casual walk through the area, pick wild, edible mushrooms, or take a detour to drive past the camp's entrances and glance at the now deserted place they once lived in. Like us, for some bizarre reason, they continue to have an affection for the piece of land that was once Tweedsmuir Camp.