This short history of Superior Camp in the post-war years comes from Pat Nightingale, who says...
“This article is dedicated to my late parents, Ron and Joyce Filsell, whose memories enabled me to write much of this story”.
During the war, Canadian soldiers were housed in several "camps" of wooden huts on the commons of Hampshire. Each was the size of a small village and named after one of the great lakes of Canada. Superior Camp was sited on 72 acres of Ludshott Common, which was the property of the National Trust. Technically it formed part of the parish of Bramshott, Hants, but was actually closer to Grayshott, on the Surrey border.
Petersfield Rural District Council requisitioned the site in 1946, converting the army huts to make 146 units, capable of housing some 650 people and also providing a shop. They obtained some funds from Central Government to enable these conversions to take place, on the understanding that half the lettings would be made available to employees of the Engineers Supply Depot at Liphook.
The site was renamed "Superior Estate", but this seemed so pretentious that it was usually known locally as "The Camp". The Camp filled with families, many with young children. Some families would today be known as "travellers", but were known then as "didakais." The men and youths seldom had regular jobs and many ended up in prison or Borstal institutions. The reputation of this minority gave everyone else a bad name, so that no-one ever liked to admit that they lived on the Camp. The powers of requisition ceased in 1956 and by 1962 all the tenants had been re-housed, the huts demolished and the land returned to the National Trust.
The huts were made of Huon pine, a Tasmanian wood that weathers well and is slow to rot. The interior walls were made of soft-board and were not difficult to re-arrange. Some rooms still had army pot-belly stoves, but in the winter the houses were so cold at night that in the morning the insides of the windows were found to be covered in ice, forming beautiful fern-like patterns.
A ledge ran round all the rooms at hip height, which was the soldiers’ gun-rack. All the window frames, doors and ledges were painted dark green. The kitchen floors were concrete but the others were boarded. Coupons were needed to be able to obtain linoleum, so the kitchen floor was covered with cardboard cartons and roofing felt.
Prior to living on the camp Ron, Joyce and their children, Pat and Ivan, were living at "Thornbury", near Liss which Joyce said was the worst place she ever lived. After Linda was born in February 1946, Joyce worried the council to be re-housed, sometimes staging a "sit-in" with the children, in the council office until she got to see the housing manager. In 1947 they were allocated 51, Superior Rd. and Joyce went to see it with Linda, aged about 15 months, in the side-car attached to her bicycle, while Pat and Ivan were at their day nursery in Petersfield. The rent was about 15 shillings per week and 1s 6d for rates and water. When they moved in, Pat remembers a window, still covered in black paint from the black-out, and her father scraping it off. There was no proper hot water system, only a geyser in the bathroom, from which hot water was carried into the kitchen. There were a few young birch trees in the small garden but soon a lawn and flower beds were made.
Ron was still cycling to work in Guildford, a distance of about 14 miles, rather than the 24 miles from Hillbrow, but even so, each journey home, at the end of the working day, involved a long, winding climb uphill, around the wild and lonely Devil’s Punchbowl to Hindhead.
Ron’s next job was with Vokes filter manufacturers at Normandy, near Guildford, which lasted for about 18 months. Again he went by bicycle, even in snow. After losing that job, he found another with Carrier Engineering in London, which he kept for several years, commuting by rail from Haslemere Station.
Haslemere was only a few miles away, an easy downhill ride in the morning, but a very steep hill to ride or walk up at the end of every working day: the 1:3 Glen Lea, used by the cycling club for their hill-climbs.
On 26th December 1948 Karen Mary was born at "The Grange" Nursing Home, Liss, to which Joyce had travelled by taxi. It was next to St. Mary’s Church, hence Karen’s second name. Joyce began to foster other children, so soon a larger house was needed and in 1949 the family moved to 100, Superior Rd., where in 1951 the rent was £1-0s-8d per week including 2d a week for the Nissen Hut which was used as a shed. By the time the family moved out in 1957, the rent, rates and shed together came to £1-10s-5d.
1948 saw the start of the National Health Service. Because the Camp was in Bramshott parish, it came under the Hampshire Health Dept., and was served by the District Nurse based at Liphook, Sister Vickers. On her days off, the District Nurse from Grayshott, Nurse Cuff filled in. It was usual for first and fourth or more babies (the higher risk ones) to be born in hospital, otherwise they were born at home. Women from the Camp had to attend the ante-natal clinic at Liphook until the eighth month, after which the nurse came weekly to the home. Joyce either walked there via Bramshott or took the No. 18 bus to Grayshott and then the No. 24 to Liphook. There was no privacy at the clinic. Women had to queue in a passage and if a sample was wanted had to go behind a screen. Drs. Droop and Mc.Nicol from Grayshott also called when they could. If anything unusual was found, such as high blood pressure, women would go into hospital for the birth. Many babies were born on the Camp without difficulty, and Joyce was often there to help.
When Mrs. E`s 16th baby was on the way, Joyce phoned Nurse Cuff and they went there together. Nurse Cuff had told her what was needed: clean sheets and towels, a rubber sheet, boiled water and a "receiving cloth" so Joyce had these ready and together they made up a clean bed. The nurse said that as Mrs. E. was only in early labour, she would go and give someone an injection and then come back. Joyce went home and was just peeling some potatoes when one of E’s daughters came knocking on the door saying that her mother wanted her. Joyce washed her hands and went over to find the baby`s head visible.
Mrs. E. had removed the clean bedclothes and was sitting on a pile of old newspapers! A baby girl, Sandra Joy, was delivered with the next contraction. Nurse Cuff arrived to cut the cord, and together they remade the bed.
Mr. E. came in after the birth, wagging his finger at his wife and saying "When you get over this, I’ll give you what for!" It was said that in her bedroom, Mrs. E. had a locked dresser full of food, but the children were only given dry bread. Their school dinners kept them going. When Mr. and Mrs. E. ate fish or meat, the children only had fish or meat stock and bread, sitting on the floor as there were no chairs or table. Mr. E. died of lung cancer and some years later Mrs. E. married again.
Joyce continued to foster other children. Maureen Ann Rowland came to stay in 1950 at the age of 6 weeks, never to leave, as Ron and Joyce adopted her in 1954. Another son, Kevin Anton was born at 100, Superior Rd. on 3rd April 1952.
Joyce was a good neighbour to those around her and was often looked to for advice about the children and the source of small loans. She was often entrusted with some-one’s Family Allowance book, to collect their money, pay their rent for them and keep what she was owed. She kept many of the little notes she received, such as these (reproduced with their original spelling and punctuation):
Please would you lend me your Pushchair just for a couple of hours to take my boy down to the doctors, only he cries to be carried and hes to heavy for me now.
“Dear Mrs Fissell
Would you please loan me a loaf. I will return it or the money in the morning.
I have not a slice for the children’s Tea.
“Dear Mrs. Filsel
Will you please take 5/- out of this 10/- I don’t know how much I owe you. Also could you weigh Allison for me. Thank you
When you could weigh her for me will you be able to pop down and fetch her Just in case Mcnicol Calls has STEPHAN has had a Terrible Face. he Came every other day last week to see him.”
In later years Joyce said it brought tears to her eyes to read these notes and think of the hardship endured there. The family were among the first to have a telephone installed, (number Hindhead 200). She took so many phone messages for people that she considered it a community service! The older children remember the knocks on the door and children asking “Me Mum says can your Mum lend us a cup of sugar”, or “a sep’rate shilling” (needed for the electricity meter).
Joyce said “All that we lent or gave – it all came back again, one way or another. The only way to live on the Camp was to have an open door to all, to be one of them, but not to let your standards slip”
Though times were hard for many families on the Camp, it became a tight-knit community where every-one knew everything about everybody else and they all helped each other. Life was further enlivened by the many clubs which were formed, both for adults and children. Mr. Fraser, a Canadian who stayed on after the war and married a local girl, started the Social and Welfare Club. A meeting was called first to decide whether to form the Club, then another to decide how it should be run, for which Ron drew up the rules and constitution. They formed a General Committee, on which Ron sat and a Sports’ Committee. Ron played in the football team which met at his house to choose a name, but it did not last long. One of their first games was against an army team from Bordon, fielding a scratch team that had had no practice, on Grayshott playing field.
A licensed bar was installed in what had been the Red Cross hut and a stage was built (though Mr. C. was “done” for “acquiring” the wood.) Dances were held on Saturday nights, which were packed with people at first, but after there had been a few fights, numbers dropped off until there was no dancing until the bar closed. This hall, or another nearby, was used as a cinema once a week and was usually full each time.
Miss Letitia Chilton-Thomas, known to all as “Brown Owl”, went round the Camp on her black, loop-framed bicycle looking for recruits for her Brownie pack in Grayshott and Pat was one who joined them. In time there were enough Brownies to start a new pack on the Camp. They met at first in the Social Club Hall and later in the Youth Club hut, but in the summer they met on the lawn of Brown Owl’s home, “Yaffles” at the entrance to the Camp. Her large wooded garden was a favourite place for children to play and had a steep hill down to the Waggoners Wells’ road that was the best place for sledging, resulting in a few bones being broken every winter. Mrs. Campbell from Superior Way became Guider to the Grayshott Guides.
A minister from the Methodist church in Haslemere started a chapel in a brick hut in Superior Crescent, holding services every Sunday. Helped by the Clasbys, he ran youth clubs during the week in another hut off Superior Road. Together, the Social Club and youth clubs organised concerts and other entertainments, the rehearsals helping to occupy adults and children alike and the performances hugely enjoyed by all.
To celebrate the Queen’s coronation in 1951 a Fete and Sports Day was organised by the Social Club committee. Pat remembers going round the Camp, getting entries from the children for the different races and then taking part in some of them. Ron won the obstacle race; there was a vertical greasy pole to climb and a lot of fun was had by all, greatly envied by school friends from Grayshott who had been confined in their Village Hall all day bored stiff.
At intervals along Superior Road were huge brick tanks holding a reserve supply of water in case of fire. They also held a lot of rubbish and though the top of each tank was surrounded by barbed wire, children liked to walk around the top, holding onto the posts. One day, a little boy, aged about seven fell in while trying to retrieve his brother’s ball and became trapped by the rubbish. Despite everyone’s best efforts he was only pulled out after the fire-brigade arrived and could not be revived.
Other hazards were the fierce dogs that roamed the Camp, snapping at one's heels when riding a bike and the rougher children who delighted in “bashing up” others for the least excuse. Pat went to Petersfield Girls County High School and was taunted with “Goes to a ‘igh school on a ‘ill!” as her scarf was pulled tightly round her neck.
A branch of the “Young Wives” was started by Mrs. Monk and Mrs. Walter (or it may have been Mrs. Joan Burroughs) from Grayshott Church of England, who cycled round the camp visiting young mothers. The first meeting was in Mrs. Burroughs home, New House, on Headley Road, when Joyce became a founder member. Joyce wrote “It was all very homely and friendly as we sat round her open fire. There were only 5 or 6 of us to start with, later on it became too big and they moved to the new Church Hall in Grayshott. I can only say, they were good and compassionate people and concerned to help in any way they could. I was thankful for them as they lifted me out of the `camp mentality` which was usually pretty low. The snobbery we received was from the Council House people – not the better off and educated people.”
The arrival of so many children to live on the Camp gave the authorities more problems to solve regarding their education. Although in the parish of Bramshott, no proper road led directly to that village from the Camp and Grayshott School could not at first accommodate them all. At first Pat, with many others had to travel several miles by bus to Headley school, but when Ivan was five, they were able to go to Grayshott school together. Linda in turn also started school at Headley before transferring to Grayshott. One of the teachers was Fanny Foster, a real old-fashioned school ma`am for whom the children learned their tables by heart and recited them in front of the class.
After every break the children had to queue to wash their hands and then for her to brush their hair (presumably all with the same brush!). As she did so she would give them messages to tell their parents - that their hair needed cutting, or their skirt was too long, for example. Pat remembers a wonderful music lesson, with Fanny Foster playing the piano and every child with some kind of musical instrument, including several triangles and a pair of cymbals, making a joyful cacophany of sound.
Another teacher, Miss Miles, ruled with a rod of iron, meting out a painful "rulering" to anyone whose work was unsatisfactory. However, in after-school classes she gave extra tuition to those with some hope of passing the "eleven-plus," and thus helped many children, including Pat, to go to Grammar School. At some stage an extra classroom was provided over the Village Hall, at some distance from the main school.
Pat remembers the caretaker knocking on the schoolroom door one day, walking soberly up the length of the classroom to Miss Miles and informing her that the death of the King had been announced on the radio. When he left, Miss Miles explained to the class that Princess Elizabeth was visiting Africa with her husband, Prince Philip, and that he had had to explain to her that her father had died and she was now Queen.
Joyce and Ron had been members of the YHA (Youth Hostels Association) from their cycling club days before ever starting their family. They had even stayed at the hostel in the Devil’s Punchbowl at Hindhead and the one at Waggoners Wells long before they lived in the area. So it was natural that all the children had bicycles from an early age and rode the lanes for miles around. As the Camp extended about ½ mile from one end to the other, they were a most useful form of transport. In due course the children were introduced to the world of Youth Hostelling by making weekend trips to the hostels within easy reach, usually riding out on Saturday and home on Sunday. Either Ron would take Pat and Ivan, or Joyce took Pat and her friend June Mercer. In this way Ewhurst Green, Holmbury St. Mary, Arundel, Winchester and many other places were visited.
One summer Joyce took Pat and Linda on a tour of the Isle of Wight. Another year Ron, Pat and Ivan took the ferry from Dover to Calais and toured Northern France, Belgium and Luxembourg, where they were thrilled to be shown around the Radio Luxembourg building. Ron and Pat rode a tandem which drew many curious stares and Ivan his single. When she was old enough Pat went Youth Hostelling in the school holidays with her friend Alison Spinney, making longer trips to Salisbury plain, Stonehenge, Avebury and the Isle of Wight.
Ron joined the Haslemere Cycling Club taking part in road races every weekend or joining club outings for Sunday tea somewhere a suitable distance away, sometimes joined by Pat or Ivan. Club tea on the occasion of Ron’s 40th birthday was held, with a great deal of hilarity, at 100, Superior Road. When Ron rode in longer races – lasting 12 or 24 hours – Pat and Ivan would be roped in to hand up drinks at various places to him and his friends. Ron won a lot of medals during this time, which were presented at the annual Club Dinner, as did Ivan when he was older.
Ten years after the war, Petersfield Rural District Council had to start placing families from the Camp in council houses elsewhere, so that the land could be returned to the National Trust. Tenants were asked where they wished to go and given several choices such as Grayshott, Liss and Liphook.
However, Joyce had set her sights higher than this; she wanted the family to have their own house and convinced Ron that they could do this. So, over many weekends they went out on their bikes, looking at houses. Eventually Joyce heard of some new houses being built at “Rockdale”, Grayshott and they negotiated to buy the middle one of three for £2,500! Ron was able to have a bike-shed and extra toilet built onto the back of the house, instead of having a garage at the bottom of the garden and all the family had the pleasure of seeing the house being built. An even greater pleasure in 1957, after moving in, was when council-house friends asked if the family now lived in “the new council houses” and they could proudly say “It’s not a council house, it’s our own house!”.
Looking back at her time on the Camp, Joyce called it her “ten years hard labour”. It was not a particularly happy time for her, but it was a healthy place for children to grow up. As it was surrounded by Ludshott Common, the children played all day among heather, birch and pine, climbing trees and making dens. One pine tree in particular, just called “The Tree” was a favourite for them to climb and to have pine-cone fights in! Lizards were a common sight and sometimes kept as pets, but adders were treated with a great deal more caution. In summer they could feast on bilberries and in autumn on blackberries, chestnuts and beechnuts. When lying in bed at night, it was not unusual to hear nightjars churring in the woods.
The three lakes of Waggoners Wells were just down the hill, with little streams from one to the other which children could play in for hours. Years later, Joyce recalled the lovely walks - the back way to Liphook with bluebells and beeches, the Common, purple with heather or yellow with gorse, the sweet chestnut trees along the road to Grayshott and the peace of Waggoners Wells.
PAT NIGHTINGALE, Dec. 2006, modified November 2008 and March 2011
In addition to those in her article, Pat has sent us some pictures to show what life was like in Superior Camp