Settlers to Knaphill

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Nearly all of Knaphill’s residents near the end of the 19th century were new settlers who had come from all over the British Isles – many returning from spells overseas. Out of a total of 52 people, mostly children who were said to be born in Knaphill, only one family, that of John Cheeseman a nursery worker aged 47, could claim to be “Knaphill born and bred”, while over 50 mostly older people stated as born in Knaphill, had moved away from the village around that time.

According to an advertisement in a copy of the Reading Mercury dated 3 November 1873, the village of Knaphill held a regular cattle market and livestock fair. These dated back at least 200 years and rivalled a similar fair or fayre in Blackwater, near Camberley which ran until the 1920s.

It is not clear where the site of the ‘Knaphill Fair’ actually was, but further investigation shows that there are a number of references to Bisley which suggests that the fair took place on or near the Knaphill/Bisley border, perhaps on the edge of Knaphill Common at Limecroft Road. Interestingly, cattle are now regularly grazed near the site at Stafford Lake as part of a Surrey Wildlife Trust project to protect and restore natural habitat.

Knaphill’s first school which was situated in the High Street opened in the early 1860s and by 1881 had expanded to accommodate up to 200 local children. The school was expanded further in 1884 and again in 1906 with enough places available for 450 children. The school was originally run by the Woking School Board from March 1877 before transferring to Surrey County Council in 1903.

Knaphill First School
Knaphill school classroom around 1914

At the beginning of the 20th Century Knaphill was a small hamlet of just a few houses and farms clustered at the foot of Anchor Hill. At the top of the hill was the Anchor Hotel with its stables and a small thatched farmhouse. Apart from a few houses that were starting to emerge along the Broadway and what is now Chobham Road there was nothing except common land between the village centre and Brookwood Station. Various tracks and paths led across what remained of Knaphill Common. In summer these tracks were very sandy, but in winter they became extremely muddy. It was an ancient practice to cut gorse, heather and shrubbery from the common to lay upon the tracks to make them suitable for horse traffic.

Squatters, usually gypsies, would pitch little wooden shacks on part of the commonland. If they remained there for a long time without attracting any attention, then they would attempt to legally claim the land from the authorities. By 1905 a number of brand new terraced and semi-detached cottages were selling for an average price of £450. The very same properties now command a selling price of around £450,000.

By the 1920s Knaphill was a detached rural village surrounded by rolling lush countryside, woodland and important heathland. There were still fewer houses in Knaphill itself but it could boast a vibrant village centre that attracted many people from the surrounding areas.

One of four local butchers in the village was Grimditch & Webb in the High Street. They owned two slaughterhouses which meant that cattle, sheep and pigs were a common site as they were herded through the village to meet their fate. To the rear of the High Street was Highclere Farm. Part of the farmhouse still stands today and was occupied by Pets Kingdom in the High Street. The farm consisted of stables, cowsheds and agricultural land where it joined with Blue Gates Field at Waterers Nursery (now Waterers Park).

The Co-operative Society owned the small iconic building at the junction of High Street and Broadway where Mann’s estate agents are now situated. The single-storey shop was built around 1905. Other retailers were Mingays the fruiters which also sold fresh fish and vegetables, International Stores, Wilsons and Ruglys the draper’s store, which later became Boormans, the jewellery shop.

Another slaughterhouse in the village centre was Moore’s with livestock pens and a huge yard to the rear. One of the busy village bakers was the Embledon Bakery across the High Street from the Anchor Hotel. Another was Pickards also in the High Street further up towards The Crown Inn. Opposite the Crown stood W.Johnson the greengrocer and fruitier shop which later became Knaphill Butchers. The building still stands today and is now occupied by a takeaway kebab shop. A large furniture store was situated in Anchor Hill and stood at its junction with Barley Mow Lane.

There were also a number of confectioners in the village and the Post Office was called Belchers at the time. Belchers stood between the High Street and Fosters Lane near to where the Total petrol station is situated today. The Post Office contained a telegraph room where telegrams could be sent and a mail sorting office was situated at the side. The village ironmonger was F.G. Rice who sold a huge range of tools and gardening ware, as well as fixings and fastenings, all sold by weight. China and glassware was sold upstairs and there was a coal yard to the rear.

The cycle repair shop was Trotters who also recharged the large crystal batteries that were popular at the time and the cobblers and shoe shop was run by a Mr Hill. The Forcett family owned the village rag-and-bone yard.

Some houses had small ‘shops’ in their front rooms and many gardens in the village had plots for vegetables and orchards, while beehives were common in the open spaces between the cottages. Of course it was all so very different from how the village looks now.

Taken from Knaphill (All in One Place) © Mal Foster

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