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Valerie Dewhurst - guest contributor


As indicated in our last post here in July 2022, we are handing these pages over to guest contributors whilst we prepare for the publication of a book, or books, based on our work over the last three years. Our first guest is Denham Village resident for 36 years, Val Dewhurst.




My history


I was nine years of age when World War II started. I remember well, when an airplane crashed into our house while we were in it. I was in Devonshire, living with my grandparents, mother and brother. While in the garden, my mother saw an airplane come around, then stutter as a German plane was shooting at it. The airplane crashed into our large house. At the time my brother was in the bath. Soon, bullets were flying everywhere because the magazine in the downed airplane had exploded.


My mother ran back into the house to get us children with loud instructions to hold onto her hand and not let go. With my brother wrapped in a towel under her arm, she stepped over the dead men and got out of the house. Our house burned for three days! Suddenly, we were homeless and without any possessions, so we went back to London.


The government gave our family £400 pounds to start over. When school began again, I went to Richmond to finish my grammar school education.


I do have a special memory of my childhood. “Black Doll” was my favourite toy, a gift from my mother. I loved Black Doll for her smile. And I never realized it was black while I was a child. Clever of my mum to do that.


I qualified as a teacher, after studying at Froebel College in Roehampton for three years. The College is now part of the University of London, and it was decided that any three-year course should now qualify for a degree. So in 2016 I was finally awarded my degree.


I taught in Southall for a year, before we were married, then I taught at Chiswick where I could cycle to work, which I did for 1½ years. My husband Alan and I were married in 1954 after which I was not allowed to teach. That a married woman might teach required a law change which happened in 1956.



Alan's story


Alan had been in the merchant navy for 6 years during WWII. In his professional life, Alan worked at Dewhurst PLC in Hounslow, an electronic engineering company. He designed the ATMs that are outside banks; he designed it first on the back of a cigarette box. Alan got a special award for the design and millions have been sold. He subsequently made some changes to the ATMs, making them thinner and adding braille.

The business was begun by Alan’s father in 1919 and held its 100 year anniversary in 2019. Alan became the chairman of the company in 1962 and both our sons and a grandson are now involved. Alan would have been thrilled. Now the business is in Feltham in a purpose-built building, designing a range of electronic devices.


When we married in 1954, we did buy a little refrigerator, not a washing machine, no central heating - we had a boiler that had to be fed with coal. We did have electric lights but we did not have a telephone before moving to Swandane.



Our Swandane



We bought Swandane on Old Mill Road in 1969. We had lived in a house under the flight path at Heathrow airport before we moved to Denham. Alan’s parents had given that house to us because it was too big for them.


I think the origin of the name Swandane was because the whole of that area of the two fields down the middle of the village used to flood. Dane, I think is a field and the swans used to land on it. When the gravel was extracted, the field no longer flooded.


We went to see Swandane on a Sunday, put in a full price offer which was immediately accepted; it included 8 acres and an acre of garden as well. Over the years many neighbours wanted to buy part of the field; however, it still exists with the property.

Swandane was designed by Mr. Francis Bacon the architect who lived on Ashmead Lane who designed many buildings in the village. The house was built in 1907. One of its previous owners Miss Cecil Leitch. She was the premier woman golfer in England lived there with her companion and housekeeper. She was a member of Denham Golf Club founded in 1910. She won many golfing awards while playing in her long skirt. Golfers still play each year for the Cecil Leitch trophy which was… and is… a nude woman in bronze.



We kept the name of the house but built on a 30-foot drawing room which meant altering the windows in the bedroom above it, putting in a shower and a new kitchen and that’s all at first. There were two rooms on the 3rd floor in Swandane; however, we could not put in big windows because of planning restrictions but we could look onto Ashmead Lane.


The house on the left was where an elderly man with a gun lived and he shot the crows and the rooks; he was a recluse. We took “Meals on Wheels” there. When he died, someone built two or three houses where the one had been. The Hadfields lived just before the bend and were very much involved with the Village activities.


Over the years, we enlarged the garden as well. Where the swimming pool is now, we also had an apple orchard. We kept the large number of apples in the garage and we were lucky if we had enough to last until Christmas. Yes, I wore a pinnie when cooking.


Donald and Rosie Chilvers lived in the house before us. They had four children and when they moved to the Priory, they took all their stuff in a wheelbarrow…many trips. We did not know the owner of the house before them. We became very good friends with Donald and Rosie…played bridge regularly and kept up with them after they moved. They lived at the Priory and were our neighbours for about 10 years.


We put sheep and cows in the field. Once one of the cows got into the swimming pool and drowned. Two farmers came with a sling thing and got it out.


Foiling the burglars


I once caught four burglars…I had left some meringues in the oven and I went to deliver “Meals on Wheels”. When I returned, I was sitting in the car when I heard a noise. I hurried into the house and four burglars were emptying drawers and piling everything up on the patio out back. I ran into the house and they ran out and ran back to a car on Ashmead Lane. I chased after them with a notebook and pencil to copy their license, so I could (and did) notify the police.


Later, it was discovered that the burglars were actually three men and a woman in trousers. The police caught the burglars as they were throwing silver out the windows. I went to Aylesbury Court and they were sentenced to two years, except for the woman. "Brave woman foils burglary" was the headline in the local paper: The Buckinghamshire Advertiser.



Memories of Denham


Old Mill Road is much the same now as it was when we moved in. We had three children: David, Elizabeth and Richard when we lived at Swandane. Though I had a Ford Anglia after our son was about a year old we walked almost everywhere in the village. I have a few memories of how it was.


When the railway was built, horses and carriages stopped under the train viaduct (arch) to let people off at the train station as well as for the shops in Denham Green.


When the children were small, it was not safe to walk on the Pyghtle; people were attacked and handbags stolen.


I remember the shops on or near Village Road. There was a grocery operated by Cullens; when that closed a year after they came, it became a shop featuring antiques, which Margaret Elmes used. Mavis Archer and her husband Bryan opened the Forge as a garage. There was a blacksmith next door. During several of those years, Mavis ran a taxi service with her car. I visited Bryan often when he had motor neurone disease. Very sadly he died within five years.


Valerie Evans had the newsagent’s shop. The pubs and Da Remo's seem to have been here forever. There was also a Post Office and one-stop-shop on Oxford Road; I used to go there too.


There were a lot of families with teenage children when we moved here. It was lovely. I can remember organising a walk and there were 18 who came back for lunch.


Our very special memories



Most people who were employed used to have had only two-week holidays in August and sometimes it was a dilemma as to what to do with the children for the four weeks in August. I offered to open our garden on Thursday afternoons from 2-5 and give everyone tea and cake after playing games and relaxing. At the time there was a little Toddlers Group in the church extension. I borrowed the toys from there so the children could play in the garden and then I would take the playthings back. We had a team of people who used to help. One man from church sat near the pool, and we had a team of people helping with teas.


We never had to produce any more than one cake per family…because everyone chipped in…always. And we served over 100 cups of teas each Thursday afternoon for the 4 weeks in August. Throughout 11 years, we never cancelled because of the weather. Irene Courtenay-Luck took over the August teas from me, continuing it for three more years.


Barbara Randall and many, many others came to help. When we started, we created tickets to get in, but soon the house was open to come in and out. There was a changing room and toilets in the pool area. These were and still are wonderful memories for our family and other families who came to enjoy those summer Thursday afternoons! The Buck’s Advertiser advertised the event and the Village Voice also noted the event in its social pages too.


Our daughter Elizabeth was married in the garden, complete with a marquee; two days after we took the tent down, the whole area flooded because of so much rain. We had been so lucky.



Our village life


We were always members of St. Mary’s Parish Church. In fact, when it was very unusual, Lady Vansittart was the first lady warden and I became the second lady warden. I held the post for four years, from 1980 to 1984 when Peter Crick was the Rector.


My daily routine when the children were home included getting up before 7:00 and serving breakfast to the family. Son David would catch the tube in Uxbridge for an early train to Colet Court school which was founded in the 1300s. Alan left early for work too.


In Denham, I trained and practiced as a bereavement counsellor with the Thames Valley Hospice for 20 years, retiring when I was 80 in 2010. In the interim, I was a Governor at the Denham Village Infant School.


Through St. Mary’s Church in Denham, I helped start the Fish Scheme (FS)…every person who lived in any area of Denham had someone who was an FS member who would pop a card through the door offering help to shop, etc. We managed to find enough people to have a coordinator on every street. The Fish Scheme died out because eventually not enough could/would participate; nevertheless, we kept an eye on the older residents…had tea parties at Swandane and many homes in Denham, Savay Farm, and Randalls. Within five or six years after dissolution of the Fish Scheme, it became a natural thing for the neighbours to watch out for one another.

Entertaining times were happy times.



Not so happy memories


During the 1970s the electricity was turned off three times (whole days) during every week!! This happened in order to keep the factories going because of a coal strike. No lights, candles only. Small gas stove available for cooking. We had a generator for lights which had to be started by a pull-cord like a mower…in the winter even. Alan was among many who found this a stressful time.


I had had whooping cough and other childhood diseases. For some time whilst I lived at Swandane, I had a terrible cough. Some doctors thought it was TB; however, when my cousin, a consultant in London, in Royal Marsden saw me, she put me in hospital in isolation. I had been diagnosed with bird flu… so contagious that I was hospitalised for six weeks. Alan barely coped back in Swandane. Visitors had to wear masks. Even after I returned to Swandane, the cough lasted for 15 months. It was ultimately discovered that I had caught bird flu from a neighbour’s parrot.



Special indeed


I remember my 36 years in Denham as very special and happy times. My niece lived with us for 18 months and a young man from the United States whose parents had been transferred back to the US still keep in touch. They too remember their happy times here. Denham is very special indeed.


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Photo of Cecil Leitch from Wikimedia Commons Images in public domain

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We are inviting guest contributors to these pages whilst we prepare for the publication of a book or books based on our work over the last three years - and also a walking guide to the village which we hope to have printed quite soon. Already we have a few guest contributors lining up to tell their own stories and we will welcome more.


We do have a few rules to ensure that we do not publish anything inappropriate and of course to protect the privacy of current and recent residents. So we do reserve the right to refuse or edit contributions, but we'll aim to publish as much as we can and we are enthusiastic about encouraging stories from contributors about the community history of Denham Village.


To get in touch email denhamcommunityhistory@gmail.com.

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