The Place where I lived

Guildford, in Surrey, holds many memories for me as it is the town in which I grew up.  Last week I had a lovely visit  there, which brought back memories.

A relaxing boat trip on the river Wey from the National Trust site of Dapdune Wharf took us into the heart of Guildford.  The Crown Court stands where the cattle market once was.  I remember my Dad taking me to the cattle market and getting a badge with a David Brown tractor on it!  I think the old Employment Exchange was nearby, and I have the impression of a horse chestnut tree near the bus stop there.  Further along the road was a row of large terraced houses, one of which was our doctor’s surgery, before it moved into its current premises in Wharf Road.  The large Methodist Church which stood on the corner of that road has just been demolished, to make way for more luxury flats I believe.

We passed the Odeon cinema on the boat.  On that site there was previously a sports centre, long before the Spectrum was built.  I remember it opening, and we went there for swimming lessons from school.

Our very knowledgeable skipper on the boat informed us that a building just past the odeon used to be the R Whites factory.  I have to say that I did not know that drinks such as lemonade had been bottled in Guildford before the company’s merger with Britvic.

A little further along was the site of the twin bus stations – one either side of the river.  My bus home from school arrived at one bus station (where the Electric Theatre is now) and I then had to race over the footbridge in time to catch the Alder Valley bus in the other bus station (now a car park).  Oh the times when you saw the bus pulling out while you were still racing down the steps!

The original ford of the river was apparently around about where the old town bridge now stands at the bottom of the High Street.  Some sculptures on the river bank now commemorate Lewis Carroll’s association with the town (the house he lived in is near the castle).

Few shops still occupy the same premises.  Boots is in the same place, though.  I bought my first record there:  Tchaikovsky’s 4th symphony!!   I bought that because they used some of the music for a TV series called ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ and I knew my Dad liked the music.  Boots is almost on the corner of Swan Lane, and along there was the shoe shop where Mr Leakey who lived across the road from us was the manager.  Further along was the Doll’s Hospital, an amazing toy shop and THE place to go to spend birthday money.  At the other end of Swan Lane, on the corner with North Street, was a fish shop, and Mum used to buy some coley there to take home for a treat for our cat Whiskey!

Just past Debenhams is the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, where I have been many times.  I don’t know whether or not it is still there, but there used to be a marker on the wall of the alleyway nearby that marked the height of the floodwater in 1968.  I do remember that flood.  I was 6.  I remember being taken down to the area called Weyside, near where PC World is today, to see the flood.  And I remember photographic negatives hanging up to dry in our garage at home, being what Dad had managed  to salvage from the flood waters at his work: British Aerospace at Brooklands.  I’ve found a link to some great photos of the flood taken by Alan Edwards on flickr at

In those days all the buses also had a bus conductor, who wore a ticket machine across one shoulder and a leather money bag across the other.  They called out the names of the stops (such as “Weyside”) as you approached them, and rang the bell to signal to the driver to stop.  How times have changed.  I’ve just downloaded an app to my phone, to enable me to buy a bus ticket in Brighton next week!

Well it was a lovely, relaxing boat trip and a trip down memory lane too.

River Wey at Millmead
River Wey at Millmead
Town Wharf, Guildford
Town Wharf, Guildford
Dapdune Wharf, Guildford
Dapdune Wharf, Guildford


The Battle of the Somme

The recent commemorations of the start of the the WW1 Battle of the Somme, both in France and elsewhere, have deservedly had a lot of air-time on TV.  I found it very inspiring in particular to watch the ceremony held at Thiepval and to see that so many people cared enough to make that journey and to be there to mark the occasion.

We were fortunate enough to be able to visit Thiepval a few years ago.  It was very moving to see for the first time the name of my great-uncle, William Neighbour Wakefield, inscribed on the huge Lutyens memorial.  This was, of course, built to commemorate the missing of the Somme.  Ironically, my great-uncle was nowhere near the Somme when he was killed in action on 12 April 1918.  He was in Belgium at the time and it was an administrative error which led to his name being on the Thiepval Memorial rather than on the Menin Gate at Ypres (which we have also visited).  Nevertheless, on our return home I submitted information and a photograph to those who compile the information for the database available in the Thiepval Visitor Centre and felt pleased that I had been able to contribute in this way.

Of the many projects underway during these years of commemoration of the WW1, the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War   is a fantastic initiative.  Over seven and a half million life stories have now been uploaded to the site by members of the public.

Many projects are also underway at county level, and Surrey has recently launched Surrey in the Great War . When I first met the enthusiastic team behind this project I was inspired to send them some information on the Woking Wakefield brothers.  Unfortunately the total lack of acknowledgment rather dampened my enthusiasm for sending in anything further, but I should probably now put that setback behind me and see what else I can share now that the website is up and running.  Perhaps I’ll make that a summer project!

It is many years since I last visited Surrey History Centre, but we did so on 2 July for the screening of the film ‘The Battle of the Somme’.  This film was hugely popular when it was shown in UK cinemas in 1916:  many watched it in the hope of spotting a loved one.  Now the film has been remastered by the Imperial War Museum, with a new music score by Laura Rossi which works incredibly well with the silent film.  The screening was preceeded by a talk by Dr Emma Hanna of the University of Kent and the Gateways to the WW1 project , in which she gave very useful background to why and how the film was created and how it was subsequently viewed.  Although some of the scenes were staged before or after the event, the scenes of wounded men and German prisoners cannot fail to have an impact.  Despite the fact that we know it is a sanitised version of conditions, the film nevertheless conveys something of the life of the troops both behind and on the front line and is therefore of great interest to those of us with personal connections to those who fought on the Western Front.

I would certainly recommend seeing the film if you can – you can find out more at

Thiepval Memorial
Thiepval Memorial

More Combridge Butchers in Brighton

Following our discovery back in February that there were even more Combridges in Brighton and Hove than we had realised, we journeyed back there last month to photograph more of the places where they all lived and worked.

Thomas Combridge had moved his family to Brighton from Southborough, near Tunbridge Wells, in 1842, in the hope that the sea air would improve the health of his wife.  We know that he set up his butcher’s shop at 26 Western Road, which today is one of the main roads linking Brighton and Hove.  Daniel Thomas, his son, who was already following in his footsteps as a butcher, albeit somewhat reluctantly (see blog of 27 February), appears on the 1851 census at that address along with his two younger brothers, James and William, but also with his older sister Esther, who is described as a ‘schoolmistress’.

Western Road Hove
26 and 27 Western Road Hove

Daniel’s eldest brother Caleb, born in 1823, had also relocated to Brighton, but had married  Priscilla in Edmonton before his appearance in the 1851 census working as a butcher and living at 77 Trafalgar Road. Confusingly, the business was at 72 Trafalgar Street. The couple had  a daughter Clarissa.  Seven years later, however, Priscilla died in Southwark.  Caleb went on to marry Charlotte Boon in Brighton in 1862.

Trafalgar Street, Brighton
72 Trafalgar Street, Brighton

Following father Thomas’ death in 1853, Daniel Thomas took over the business at 26 Western Road, and by 1861 the business had expanded into the adjacent property – number 27 – where his sister Esther and their widowed mother Philadelphia were now living, together with their brother William, also now a butcher.  At this point Esther was working as a governess.  Unfortunately I can’t find either Caleb or younger brother James in 1861, but by the 1871 census both of them had died – James in 1868 aged only 37 and Caleb in 1870 aged 47.

The pull of a career as a butcher was obviously a strong one with the Combridges:  Caleb’s son Frederick, born in 1853, also took up the trade, and can be found in Page’s Brighton Directory of 1884 at 5 Terminus Road, where he continued until his death in 1905.

Terminus Road, Brighton
5 Terminus Road, Brighton 

Esther, meanwhile, continued her career in education and can be found in the 1871 and 1881 censuses, still at 27 Western Road, working as a school mistress.  Esther died in 1895 in Brighton.

Tracing the movements of the Combridge butchers in Brighton, has thrown up a number of questions:  what was Caleb doing in London?  Where was James in 1861?  Why can’t I find Frederick in the censuses?  And where was Esther in 1891?  And as for Daniel’s other sister, Mary, we haven’t even begun to look for her…..