Wartime in Hartfield

These photos, collected by several people including Mike Parcell, Tommy Mitchell and Laura Medhurst are so redolent of another age with the preparations for war and the Victory Celebration tea party for VE Day are simply worthy of a larger audience. With the 75th Anniversary of VE Day in 2015 can you add any names to the few written on the back of the photos which will be added below. A better copy of the tea party photo has been uploaded – June 2016 – which can be further enlarged by clicking twice.

Dedicating the new Armstrong Siddeley Ambulance.

New-Ambulance-blessing New-Ambulance-blessing-group



Two new pictures of the same event showing the scouts

Double deck spartan ambulance interior!
The Fire Brigade with Tender and Water Pump Trailer
The Fire Brigade in Tin Helmets at the Fire Station behind Central Garage


This large group is a panorama stitch of 3 photos and is probably from the same occasion as the picture below. One young man sitting far right in the bottom row is also standing at the left in the photo below and maybe Edwards. CLICK to enlarge.

We think this is the Volunteers Group photographed at the top of Church Street


The children of Hartfield and parents at the VJ+1 Day August 16th 1945 celebration meal. CLICK TWICE to enlarge and see if you can recognise anyone! Initially we know that the man 4th from the left with his hands on his hips is Mr Chapman the butcher whose shop is in clear view. His wife is next to him nearer us. The first young man at the table on the left who was identified as Edwards by Tommy Mitchell appears to be the same as the young man on the left of the Volunteers Group in the picture above and may be wearing the same clothes so could date the pictures to within hours – or possibly days!

Names written on the back of a copy of this picture held by Tommy Mitchell:
From left standing, Mr & Mrs Cadell, Edith Knight, Miss Jarrett, Mr & Mrs Chapman, Mrs Edwards (snr), Mrs Holman.

A Story of Evacuation to Hartfield

At the beginning of the war it wasn’t only children and families that were evacuated from ‘target’ areas such as London but also companies. One particular company that arrived in Hartfield early on was Alex Lawrie and one young man of 16 who arrived to join the business wrote a reminiscence of this time many years later in 1996 when he was living in Crowborough.  This was amongst the collection of wartime items belonging to Tommy Mitchell that was copied to ensure the survival of important memorabilia and to remind later generations what life was like for their ancestors.

The story was initiated by a request on our Facebook site from Janette Lett in March 2018
“I would be interested to know anything about Hartfield House. I have a photograph that was taken in the early forties but can’t find anything about it on the Internet. Please help. My in laws met there. My father in law worked for Alex Lawrie who moved his company to Hartfield from London just before the Second World War. My mother in law’s parents moved there because her father worked for Alex Lawrie. They lived in the cottages and mother in law’s sister went to the Hartfield primary school for a while. Any information would be good. Thank you”

Those of you who have read the Village Guide would know that Hartfield House was the name of what is now known as St Marys and is the last house on the left up Church Street before the Lychgate. The name was changed when an order of Nuns moved in during the 1930’s so this clearly did not tie up with the wartime date and, although a substantial house, did not seem large enough for a business relocation.

St.Marys on the right looking down to the High Street from the top of Church Street. Named by an Order of Nuns in the 1930’s after the Church, previous to which it was known as Hartfield House.

One of our history ‘makers and collectors’ and long term resident of Hartfield, is Tommy Mitchell, whose family has been associated with Central Garage since the beginning. Amongst his wartime collection there is a letter from Ron Leach with his reminiscences of working at Alex Lawrie which sets the scene beautifully as to how the name Hartfield House was used again.



Along with this letter there is a page of annotated pictures which is shown below. CLICK to enlarge.

The original page! CLICK TO ENLARGE

One of our other Facebook members, Richard Stuart-Pennink turned out to have a close connection with the Alex Lawrie Company as he explained:

“My grandfather, A N Stuart, was MD at Lawrie before, during and after the war. It would have been his decision to move the Company out of London during the war and Hartfield was chosen as it was very close to his home at Chuck Hatch. Lawries were instrumental in maintaining the supply of tea during the war – an essential commodity!”

“AA Milne and my grandfather were friends and colleagues in the Home Guard ( Stuart was Colonel and Milne his Adjutant).

And here we have a unique ‘twist’ to the story when AA Milne penned a poem to Stuart on Lawrie headed paper that clearly uses Hartfield House as the address.

“The poem refers, lightheartedly, to my grandfather’s responsibility for blackouts and rationing of electricity etc.”

At a stroke we have confirmation that Lawries referred to their ‘country wartime retreat’ as Hartfield House – probably quite unaware that there was, or certainly had been, another Hartfield House. We also know from Ron Leach that it was a good walk from the village and that the location was Hartwell Farm – which does have a long drive!

The poem is copied below along with a transcription for ease of reading and, because AA Milne has used somewhat archaic language, a few lines of explanation from Richard Stuart-Pennink are added.

“The Lawrie business is still very much alive and is now Camellia plc. Lawries always operated from houses rather than office buildings and, as Camellia plc they still do. They are now at Linton House, in Kent, a former stately home and, prior to that, at Wrotham Manor.”

AA Milne poem on Alex Lawrie headed paper under the Hartfield House name. CLICK to enlarge

Lux ex Tenebris                                                 (Light from Darkness)

In good King Arthur’s golden days
(Which only idiots would praise)
The King as eke his humblest wight              (as even his humblest subject)
Took off his shirt by candle light
And even Guinevere it’s said
Groped an uncertain way to bed.
But when a later Arthur Chucks                     (‘Chucks’ is probably a skit on Arthur’s home, Chuck Hatch
His weight about & “fiat lux”                           (& let there be light)
Commands the trembling world behold!
A countryside completely poled                      (a countryside completely lit up)
Oh luxury, oh luck it is
This Arthur rules our destinies.

(line 7 The Arthur is my grandfather (A.N. Stuart) and Guinevere his wife Gwladys)

Colonel A.N. Stuart was commanding officer of the local Home Guard and Captain A.A. Milne his second in command (Adjutant). (Mainwaring & Wilson!)

The poem is a light hearted reference to Colonel Stuart’s apparent control over the supply of electricity and blackout rules etc.

The Stuarts and Milnes were neighbours and friends. My grandfather owned the farm (Tile Barn farm) that ran down to Cotchford and the river Medway (Upper Medway?) over which Pooh Bridge crossed.

After the war, A.N.Stuart was awarded the CBE for his efforts in maintaining tea supplies (he always insisted it should have been awarded to ALL of the Lawrie staff)

The Chuck Hatch home of A.N.Stuart, MD of Alex Lawrie and his wife Gwladys.
Arthur Stuart, MD of Alex Lawrie, at his desk in the barn at Chuck Hatch that he used as an office. CLICK to enlarge.

Finally this is a current picture of Hartwell House that was, for the wartime evacuation period, known as Hartfield House!



12 Comments on “Wartime in Hartfield

  1. I am Sheilah Fenton’s brother and lived at Upper Hartfield from 1936 till 1961 when I married and moved to Tonbridge as it was a more convenient train journey to London!!! Is it possible to e-mail me the war time photos as I feel that I must know some of the folk in them. During those war years you seemed to know everyone in the village. I was in the choir at Coleman’s Hatch and played cricket there, but played football for Hartfield. I was also in the Hartfield Players in the time of George Philcox, George Marchant,Jane Rooth etc.

    • Hello David, thanks for getting in touch. I will send you the pictures in the largest format I have – which is not very large along with the comments including some names on the back. Occasionally, as in the picture of the fire brigade I have 2 lists with slight variations! It would be good to have somebody on board with an intimate knowledge of those wartime years. I might ask you more questions! If you have a Facebook account I have just set one up for Hartfield History which is currently ‘private’ (can only be seen by people I add) but I can add you to this if you wish and we can correspond that way as well!

  2. I have just been made aware of a WW1 man called Percy Muggeridge who I believe was born in Hartfield c1892 he also had connections with Colemans Hatch. He was a member of the 11th. Royal Sussex Regiment, one of the Southdown Battalions and survived the war, do you please have any information about him or members of his family. If you have a look at my website you will have an idea of what I am trying to achieve.
    Best wishes, David.

    • David, I passed your note on some time ago but so far have not had any response. I will send a reminder!
      Further to above November follow-up:
      I understand from Mike Parcell that he has been in touch with the grandaughter of Percy Muggeridge who he knows very well and that she would be happy to correspond. In addition, Mike knows that Percy was a brick maker who built his own house with his own bricks – and a lot more besides! Mike even has one of the hand-made bricks. It seems that, although the name Muggeridge is well known in these parts, not one of them was buried in St Mary’s nor Holy Trinity.

  3. I am looking for any Info on Americans who worked on Aspidistra in 1942, a powerful radio transmitter built by RCA New York and the reason the wireless station was built on top of Ashdown Forest. The site was excavated by the Canadians. .A man named Harold Robbin was the engineer. I understand that the Americans lodged at the Hatch Inn and could possibly be RCA employees sent over in uniform to install the transmitter and Ariels

    • Hi, The Imperial War Museum hold some good photographs of the construction of the site including the some showing the Canadian troups and their excivators. The photos were taken by Cecil Williamson who I am researching. There is also a good recorded interview with Harold Robin the chief engineer of Aspidistra – he discribes how the Canadians were paid in beer and worked for about 6 weeks on the site. Also there is quite a lot of detail in Ellic Howe’s book The Black Game’
      The National Archives have a lot of documents relating to Aspidistra, most of which are now ‘open’.
      Robin went to America to learn about the RCA transmitter but I do not know of any other American involvement in setting up Operation Aspidistra.
      Hope this helps.
      If any one reading this has any information on Cecil Williamson I in the war I am interested.
      Graham King

  4. Cannot supply any information about Americans , but can say that the reason Aspidistra was installed in Ashdown Forest was as its first choice of location ; Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire; was vetoed by the RAF due to the height of its masts; potentially interfering with planes landing on the airfields.

  5. I now live in the house where A.N. Stuart lived all those years ago. I would be extremely interested if you had any more pictures of the house and surrounding area. Kind regards. James.

    • James, I have posted a reply to your query on Facebook but to confirm, there is a batch of Chuck Hatch pictures winging their way on a CD to Mike Parcell who will surely share them with you. He says that he has been writing a history of Chuck Hatch so these new pictures from Richard Stuart-Pennink whose grandfather lived there will be a great addition.

  6. I now live at Beeches Farm, Butcherfield Lane which is where Sergeant Thomas Henry Woodhams lived as cowman. I would be interested to know if there are any more photos available or if the Woodhams family are still in Hartfield

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