Local History, Memory Lane – Knaphill

Welcome to Memory Lane Knaphill, a special view of Knaphill’s history. Over the years the Residents’ Association have met many of Knaphill’s ‘senior citizens’. Based on their memories of the Knaphill of their youth, KRA put together a series of articles in our quarterly Newsletters called Memory Lane, Knaphill. These articles look at the history of Knaphill through the recollections of people who lived in the area during the last century.

1. Memories of the life in Knaphill in the early years of the last century – from 1912

When Alan Frost was born at home in Sunnyside Terrace in 1912, Knaphill was a rural village with fields and countryside all around, far fewer houses and a bustling village centre. Alan was the second to youngest of 13 children. They had ‘two and a half bedrooms’ (with the living room making space for extra beds at night), one tap with only cold water, no bathroom, (but a galvanized bath for use on ‘bath night’), an outside ‘privy’ but a good size garden where they grew vegetables throughout the year. Daily life was simple with none of the comforts we take for granted, but Alan remembered his Mother preparing chunks of bread and dripping for supper and the cosy warmth of their small house.

Sadly Alan’s father died when Alan was only four and a half years old. His father had been a postman, working from Belchers, which was the Post Office in Knaphill village (shown in the postcard above). Widow’s pensions were very small and ‘benefits’ non existent in those days, so the family and good neighbours had to rally round and help each other. Alan remembered his older brothers and sisters having to look after the little ones, so when he started school later that year he walked across the common to Knaphill Council School with his big sisters keeping a watchful eye on him.

Alan had clear memories of his school days, the inkwells and straight nib pens, the daily arithmetic and times tables to be learnt and the strict discipline. Alan didn’t think he really liked school very much and as soon as he was able to he knew he wanted to earn some money to help at home. By the time he was ten he had an after school ‘job’ chopping wood for kindling, bringing in the coal and gardening for the Doctor at the Knaphill Surgery. Of the one shilling a week he earned most went to his mother, but one penny was for Alan to keep. He remembered that he usually spent it on creamy toffee from one of the many confectioners in the village.

In those days full time work usually started by the age of fourteen and Alan went out to find a job for himself by asking the local farmers if they had any work for a lad. He found a job at a small dairy and mixed farm in Pirbright, helping to milk the cows and then going round delivering the milk to the local houses. He learnt to drive a pony and trap, loaded with churns, and carefully ladled the fresh milk into a jug at each kitchen door on the morning milk round. He had to get up at 5.30 a.m. and walk to Pirbright ready to start at 7.00. He remembered his hob nail boots and frequently getting winter chill blains on his cold feet. Later on he saved up to get an old bicycle and that gave him an extra bit of time in bed and warmer toes!

After two years Alan went to work at ‘Grimditch & Webb Butchers’ on the High Street in Knaphill to learn a trade. In the 1920’s and 30’s when Alan started work there were about fifty shops in the centre of the village, with four butchers alone. There were also two slaughterhouses, so cattle, sheep and pigs were a common sight in ‘Mr. Moore’s’ yard at the back of the High Street. Alan explained that there was plenty of demand for fresh meat as shopping habits were different then; with no refrigerators in people’s homes, households would usually buy fresh food a ‘day at a time’.

Alan met and courted his wife May in Knaphill. Like many young girls at that time she had moved to the area to work in domestic service. They spent most of their married life in Highclere Road, living, working and bringing up their family in Knaphill and Alan stayed in the meat trade until he retired.

Mrs Marjorie Kingsbury (nee Harding b.1913) also remembered growing up in Knaphill, and spending many hours helping on the family farm. The farm house was ‘High Clere’ (illustrated to the left; where the pet shop is now), with agricultural land, stables, cowsheds and fields close to the centre of the village. There was no electricity when she was a young girl so what lighting there was came from paraffin lamps and gas lights.

Listening to Mrs Kingsbury’s vivid recollection of the layout of the village and the wide range of shops spread along the High Street and piecing together the images captured in postcards and photographs of those years it is easy to image that very different Knaphill of the years around the First World War and the early 1920’s.

There were several providers of grocery provisions, including the Co-operative Society, Wilsons, Means and ‘The International’. Grimditch & Webb and Moore’s were just two of the butchers shops,  with Moore’s large slaughterhouse and yards at the back and livestock in pens awaiting their fate. There was a small dairy selling fresh milk, and Miss Mingay’s shop sold wet fish and fresh vegetables. The main bakers was Pickards, with ‘bake houses’ behind the shop, so there was sometimes a sweet smell of cakes and bread being baked to compete with some of the less pleasant smells of  the farms and animals. (The Knaphill memories we hear are not of a ‘picture postcard’ village, it seems to have been a working centre, with ‘muck and manure’ to avoid stepping in when walking through the centre).

The village ironmongers were F.G. Rice’s. They had all manner of tools and garden implements, nails and nuts and bolts, (sold by weight) downstairs and china and glassware upstairs, plus a coal yard at the back. Most ladies made their own clothes and sewing was a valued skill so there were several suppliers of cloth and sewing items. Ruglys’ was one of the popular drapers and also had a newsagent. There were several gent’s outfitters (including Humphries) and for the ladies a number of dressmakers who made clothes to order, often working from home.  Other shops included Harvey’s the pharmacists, Belchers which was the Post Office and stationers with a small telegraph office (to receive telegrams) inside and the sorting office attached to the side of the shop. Trotters was the cycle repair shop, where you could take the early ‘batteries’ for the old crystal sets once a week to be ‘recharged’. The cobblers and shoe shop was Mr Hill’s and Forcett’s had the rag-and-bone yard.  There were also several churches and public houses at the top of the hill and out along the roads leaving the centre of the village; there seemed to have been almost everything a family would need within walking distance of home.

There were open spaces between the shops, with a few cottages, houses (some with small ‘shops’ in their front room), gardens, plots for vegetables, bee hives, orchards and then fields out to Chobham Road and down Anchor Hill (see the postcard to the right). Listening to Alan and to Mrs Kingsbury’s memories one builds up a picture of Knaphill as a thriving rural village with Woking and the wider world too far away to be of very much concern to those who grew up in the Knaphill of the 1920’s.

We have also met other residents who remember other aspects of village life……. Knaphill people have many wonderful stories to tell which can help us to understand the history of our ever-changing village….the sports clubs, churches, school days in Knaphill, the hey day of the Brookwood Hospital and much more……. We will tell you about them in future articles…….


Sadly in the years since the original preparation of this article in 2006, Alan Frost and Mrs Kingsbury have died. KRA were pleased to have been able to share some of their memories and to go on to share our notes of their memories with you.

8 Comments on “Local History, Memory Lane – Knaphill

  1. I lived at Herbert crescent between 1950 until 1960 I would like to if some one remembers me .just a little thing you might like to add to your wedsite I can remember the big build up to the conflict in middle east crices back then


  2. In the article on local history there is a picture of 3 High Street with comments from Mrs Marjorie Kingsbury. 3 High Street was her home and it was a farm house. You will see from the picture that the majority of the features remain today. Developers want to knock it down and replace with a 4 storey block of flats.


  3. I remember living at the bottom of Anchor Hill in Gloucester Cottages (I think it is now called Corporation Cottages). Next door was Mansfields Stores and further down was Barley Mow Lane. If you went up the lane you came to recreation fields on the right.
    Bordering these fields was a Nursery with lots of bushes and trees and we would spend hours in there playing and climbing trees.


  4. Hello,
    I am working on researching my grandfathers family the Wards who resided in Knaphill in the early 1900s. My grandfathers name was Frederick William Ward, he was born in 1910. For some reason my grandfather never really talked about his family. I think he may have had a sister Miss M. R. Ward who wrote music and poems. I think my grandfathers family lived at Abergeldie House, Knaphill, Woking. I wanted to know if my grandfathers, father was involved in World War I, since on the Woking Memorial Monument a Frederick William Ward was killed in The Great War.
    Any information would be greatly appreciated.


    Steve Rainsbury


  5. Hi, the Alan Frost that was interviewed was my Grandads brother.
    Any chance of finding out if he lived at No8 Highclere rd?


  6. Hi again.
    I found out Alan Frost lived at No2 Abergeldie villas.
    My nans in Highclere rd was No8” the villas” as on my fathers birth certificate.
    Why were they called “ villas”? A name that has obv been dropped.


  7. My dad and his brother bought the old post office which had been empty for years and it became Woods Bros . We sold tv radios and bicycles and everything in between. This was in the early 1950s and I can remember The Broadway Cafe and Mingays fish shop and Rices and Wades fish and chip shop. Wally Boormans jewellers was next door to us
    Mr Turner was my favourite teacher at the junior school. He had 50kids in his class half of which were being coached for the 11+ exam, wonderful teacher


  8. GG West. My nan and grandad lived at No15 Herbert Crescent.
    Keith and Lily Frost.
    My nan was the local midwife, she often got a police escort to visit expectant mothers on her bicycle.


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