Recollections of the Trust’s Early Days

In 2018, the Farnham Trust celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its foundation in October 1968. To mark the occasion, at the 2018 Annual General Meeting in July, four people who had been either founder members of the Trust, or who had become Trustees a few years later, were invited to speak on their recollections of the early days.

These four people were Michael Blower, now the Trust’s President, Alan Windsor, Laurence Kinney and John Wainwright. Michael Blower and Laurence Kinney were both present at the meeting. Alan Windsor was away, and John Wainwright hoped to be there but was prevented at the last minute. Alan Windsor sent a letter which was read out at the meeting and John Wainwright provided written recollections. Here are John Wainwright’s recollections and summaries of the contributions by Alan Windsor and Laurence Kinney. They are preceded by some notes on the founding of the Trust by the chairman Martin Lloyd and followed by some closing remarks by the president Michael Blower.

Brief notes on the founding of the Farnham Trust

In the 1960s many smaller old buildings were being swept away because it was thought easier to replace with a new build, and one of the Trust’s initial aims was to save these buildings, which often had no listed status or other protection, recognising that in an old town like Farnham they formed an essential part of the street scene. A contemporary leaflet published by the Architectural Association stated: “These everyday buildings, the dwellings and workplaces of successive generations, are the mortar binding past to present, ensuring continuity in the midst of change”. That sums up so much that is important about our work.

In the course of the next 50 years, the Farnham Trust has saved, restored and handed back to the community with a viable future many buildings large and small which could otherwise have been lost. Bigger projects include the late 15th century Tanyard House facing Bridge Square which won several local and national awards; the New Ashgate Gallery; No. 31 Lower Church Lane with its timbered late 16th century wing, named “Dufty Cottage” after Richard Dufty, one of the Trust’s founders; the Farnham Pottery in Wrecclesham where 12 years of restoration work were carried out before its sale in 2012 to Guy and Elaine Hains; and now of course the 16th century Old Yew Tree Cottage in Wrecclesham, the Trust’s present project.

I would like to mention the names of past chairmen of the Trust who all contributed so much to its work: Richard Dufty, Michael Blower, Chris Mansell, David Graham, and finally myself. Sir John Verney was the Treasurer of the Trust when it was founded. We must also acknowledge the work of many Trustees, and I think that the Trust has been very well served throughout its 50 years.

Alan Windsor
Mr Windsor recalled that in the early 1960s he shared with Sir John Verney concerns about the quality of new buildings then being constructed in Farnham. Sir John felt that as the Farnham Society was limited to comment, criticism and advice, there was a need for an organisation which could buy up and restore threatened buildings. He invited Mr Windsor to join the Executive Committee of the Trust, and Mr Windsor had continued to serve until he left Farnham many years later. In that time he had been able to photograph early projects, and had made drawings of buildings including the group of old buildings on the site of what became The Woolmead. Mr Windsor concluded his remarks by emphasising that he continued to follow the Trust’s activities with great interest, and that he had nothing but admiration for all that had been achieved.

Mr Laurence Kinney
Mr Laurence Kinney, also a founder member of the Trust, said that he had met Sir John Verney because they were both members of the committee formed to save the Farnham Maltings. This committee had been led by Raymond Krish, whose vital contribution Mr Kinney felt had been somewhat forgotten. Mr Kinney reminisced about the work carried out on Farnham Maltings and surrounding buildings, and remembered that they had had great enjoyment in this work, and also that of the Trust. He recalled the discovery that the Headmaster’s and Headmistress’s houses at St Andrew’s School, which were semi-detached, had been linked by a door on the first floor. He said that the Trust work was fun, and he remembered Sir John Verney as a lovely man. He was also very pleased to hear that Richard Dufty’s name had been preserved in the name, Dufty Cottage, of the rear house at 31 Lower Church Lane, which had been restored by the Trust in the early 1990s. He expressed the hope that Farnham Maltings would celebrate its own fiftieth anniversary, that of the acquisition of the buildings. He asked all present to spend a moment remembering Sir John and Raymond Krish.

John Wainwright Recollections

Although not a founder member, I was elected to the Trust in 1972 and have followed its activities with great interest ever since. I had hoped to be at the 50th anniversary AGM celebrations but unfortunately I was unwell on the day and unable to travel. I had been invited to give my recollections of the early years and, thinking about that time, I felt that my memories might be of general interest to all members of the Trust.

I was appointed as Town Planning Officer to Farnham Urban District Council in January 1969 and it proved to be a fascinating time to arrive in the town. I had come from the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames where there was no publicity for planning applications other than being recorded in the public register, and planning meetings were held in private. I was once even in trouble for telling a local resident, wanting to complain about a development taking place, who his local councillor was! Publicity for planning applications and public access to meetings was not a requirement until 1974 as a result of the Skeffington Report, but all Farnham applications were listed in the Farnham Herald and open planning meetings, with a committee comprising all the Council, were already well established. It told me how seriously Farnham took its planning.

It soon became apparent to me that there was a serious schism in the town between those who wanted its current character unaltered and those who supported economic development. Within weeks of my arrival, there was a debate on ITV centred on Farnham, called “Future of Towns”, from which I first got to know something of the personalities I was to be working with/for. Raymond Krish and Sir John Verney were among those who spoke for the preservation of the town, with Ken Chandler and Norman Dane wanting development and change. Councillor Dane was angry with the “Preservation Committee” (?) which he said was holding things up (I am not sure whether he was talking about the then recently formed Preservation Trust or the Farnham Society?). The Surrey and Hants News then got in on the act and proposed a ‘Civic Society’ comprising the Farnham Society and the Chamber of Commerce, to establish a common ground. I also got the message from within the Council when a colleague advised me it would be unwise for me to join the Farnham Society as it was not all popular with quite a few councillors (my wife and I soon became life members!).

In fact, a tremendous amount had been and was going on in the town at that time. There had been much anguish about the replacement of the range of buildings on the north side of East Street by the uninspiring Woolmead development and even more recently, Send House at the corner of West Street and Crondall Lane had been controversially demolished. Craven House at the bottom of The Hart and the Police Station in Longbridge were still new buildings and, in an attempt to end the appalling traffic congestion in The Borough, a one-way system had been introduced. There had also been extensive flooding in the town that autumn including the planning department’s office in South Street which had been under four feet of water. (That was while the bridge at Longbridge was being rebuilt.)

Outside the town centre, Farnham Trading Estate was just becoming established and the development of Hoghatch was still then only under consideration. These were the first big issues I faced, particularly the large scheme for some three hundred houses on the area of smallholdings behind Folly Hill. A scheme had been approved but this was designed on what was known as a ‘Radburn’ layout with the houses fronting footpaths and vehicular access from roads at the rear. A small area in this style had already been built at Oast House Crescent but this larger site was then bought by Eden Developments who wanted a traditional design. I supported this because I felt what might have been successful in New Jersey would look terrible on the steep contours of Hoghatch. Fortunately, this view proved uncontroversial although it took many months and the abandonment of the idea for a small area of local shops at the centre before Drover’s Way was completed.

There were quite a few other significant issues surfacing in the new year of 1969: the new Post Office in West Street was under construction, the Castle Theatre was to be replaced on land behind East Street, there was the possibility of Roses’ shop fronting East Street being demolished and endless talk about an under/overpass at Hickley’s Corner. Above all, there was Messrs Courage’s offer to sell to the town its former maltings in Red Liion Lane, adjoining the River Wey. It had been the intention to demolish these buildings for a small housing scheme but there had been a strongly supported public meeting opposing this idea.

So it is not surprising that the Trust’s activities were not particularly drawn to my attention when I first came to Farnham. The restoration of Cemetery Lodge had been completed but not occupied and work at St Andrew’s Church Cottages was also drawing to a close. However the first event I attended after joining the Council was the historic second public meeting at the Boys’ Grammar School in January 1969 when the decision was taken that an appeal should be made to raise the necessary £30,000 to acquire the Maltings for the town. The role of the Trust in that acquisition was to become hugely significant and there is no doubt in my mind that without its agreement to purchase the cottages forming part of the site for £12,000, the project would have failed and Farnham’s loss immeasurable.

My other memories from 1969 are of the many unforgettable personalities active in the life of the town at that time. The one I would have most liked to have met, Harold Falkner, had died a few years earlier but his impact was still being felt. I was privileged to see many of his completed projects but the most intriguing was the uncompleted Black Barn in Dippenhall, in respect of which the Council had commenced legal proceedings over a failure to comply with building regulations. The plans and documents for this project (sadly, lost with many other invaluable records in 1974), were the most unintelligible and inadequate I have ever seen and the uncompleted work the most hair raising! It remained in its unfinished state for many years. I often wonder whether it was a missed opportunity for the Trust not to have tackled its (proper) completion?

I must resist meandering into recollections of the town’s many other characters at that time – councillors, businessmen, local reporters and regular objectors – but in thinking of the early years of the Trust, I mustn’t forget my memories of John Verney. He was an Independent local councillor throughout my five years as Farnham’s Planning Officer and hardly a week went by without him calling into the office to inspect or discuss one planning application or another which was giving him some concern. The Farnham Conservation Area was also adopted in the spring of 1969 (only the second in Surrey after Chertsey) and the Council appointed a small working party of members, including Sir John, which with officer support, considered, street by street, the need for further listing of buildings in the town. Michael Blower was a member of the group.

The possibility of pedestrianisation in The Borough or Downing Street was also under consideration at that time (when was it otherwise?) and we took Sir John (and the rest of the members) by coach to Norwich for a day to see London Street where it had been successfully achieved. However, I remember best our respective involvements with the Maltings project which found us jointly sweeping up in the Great Hall for market day, setting up and taking down stalls in the courtyard each month, and later at St Andrew’s School and Church House.

Quite separately, included in the planning permission for the conversion of the site to an arts and community centre, was the provision for nine garages at its western end intended for use by the occupants of the houses bought by the Trust. Sir John and I had a number of discussions as to how this might be achieved and from this came the idea of a liaison between us to help identify possible properties suitable for the Trust’s future involvement. An appropriate location for the garages was never determined and I do not recall any particular success in identifying any new potential site for restoration but it did lead to me being elected as a member of the Trust.

My five years as Farnham Council’s Planning Officer before Waverley was formed remained the happiest of my career and also the most memorable. I was sorry to have missed the chance to share some of those memories with you at the recent celebration and hope the endeavours of the Trust continue to be successful long into the future.

Mr Michael Blower, President of the Farnham Trust

Mr. Blower thanked Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Kinney for their words and thanked all the Trustees for continuing to maintain the work of the Trust. He said that anniversaries relate to people with vision, and that the Trust was a conservation pioneer in many ways, citing the annual exhibitions of its work put on during the annual Heritage Open Days events, also a competition held at the University for the Creative Arts, inviting submission of plans for the use of the Redgrave Theatre after its closure in 1998. He referred to the Trust’s vital work, in partnership with the Farnham Society, in preparing a long and detailed formal Objection to Waverley’s application to de-list Brightwell House, which had been so successful that the application to de-list was not only refused, but the listing entry was strengthened. He said that a human factor was often involved in the Trust’s work, relating that he had helped a Trust tenant in one of the Church cottages, who had broken his leg. He said that the Trust had often had to work on a shoestring, as in the restoration of Cemetery Lodge in West Street. Overall, he spoke with pride about the work of the Trust both past and present.