Kay Eames


6th June 1979

In 1925 the Ideal Home Exhibition had a model of Richings Park on display with the plots marked out, some houses built in Somerset Way, Wellesley Avenue, Old Slade Lane and North Park. There was to be a marine between Syke Ings and Syke Cluan where the gravel pits were and a recreation ground donated to the Estate by the three Sykes brothers who had bought the land, mostly turnip fields, from the two Meakin sisters - Lady Violet and Lady Charlotte Meakin, who owned Richings House, Old Slade Farm, Thorney and the surrounding area. Their two elder brothers had been killed in the Boer War. Advertisements appeared in the Underground in London - 'Come to Richings Park and Walk on the Grass'. In fact it was a sea of mud, in common with most building sites. The water pipes were laid in a deep ditch where the paths now exist and the earth piled up where the verges are. You reached your house over planks. The ditches filled with water and the children had to be on reins. Two small children in Old Slade Lane, aged 3 and 2, were with a nursemaid and fell in. The nursemaid went to get help and sadly they drowned. Then the ditches were filled in. The Estate nearly lost the recreation ground as they had not put the legal once a year barrier up across the entrance. It was put up for the first time for sale by Friend Sykes who was short of money and wanted to marry Helen Burnett who had accompanied him from Yorkshire and lodged at 39 (or 49) Wellesley Avenue. The auction was to be in Liverpool and a resident went on the train with the Estate's Deed of Ownership and we won the battle to keep it.

There were originally 15 types of houses on offer - you could modify the drawings - and there was a view across ploughed fields (shire horses) to Windsor Castle with nothing in between with fields of blue scabrous flowers. The Windsor Hunt went through the Estate at will, crushing plants and bushes and jumping the early fences. The hounds in full cry were very noisy and frightening. We got it banned after a few years. We were beset with gypsies selling pegs for several years. Houses were viewed and sold from a kiosk in the middle of the road in Wellesley Avenue by the newsagents.

Everyone worked in London and could see the signals at Langley and avoided waiting too long at Iver. This was a 20 minute first stop Iver service - 8.20am and return on the 5.40pm.

People came from Mansion Lane and Iver Village to work on the Estate and food came in vans from West Drayton and Uxbridge and milk from Richings House home farm with a cart, churn and dipper, drawn by Mary the horse. The Recreation Ground was rolled with a huge roller pulled by shire horses.

Richings House was fascinating. It consisted of a central block with a portico and two curved wing extensions on the sides. There was a huge Victorian conservatory on the right end where the Estate held their horticultural shows every year. There was a garden full of flowering bushes, a walk to a grotto past the 980AD St Leonards Chapel of Ease (Pilgrim route from Oxford to Canterbury - reference the Chief

Archivist, St George's Chapel, Windsor) now with the grass covered mounds where the walls were, marked on ancient monument maps. There was a ha-ha to keep the farm animals out, a Regency brick ice house and a complicated weir and pump house system for the river which had carried guests from their coaches on the Bath Road up to the house. The Halidon House school bus used to call in at the house to pick up two girls whose family lived in the Richings House, we waited by two large tulip trees by the front entrance. The house bedrooms all had a powder closet attached (used for powdering the wigs) a grand staircase and a ballroom - mostly bombed flat by a "bread basket" of bombs. The House was used as Bomber Command's headquarters at the start of the Second World War whilst the huge HQ at High Wycombe was being built.

Captain Harry Haw (before the war)flew the Atlantic with great acclaim and bought the land from the Meakins to build hangars, offices and a large airfield,now covered by Langley houses. He formed Hawker Aircraft Ltd (later Hawker Siddeley) to manufacture and assemble fighter aircraft, at first the Hurricane and drew the staff from Kingston HQ and Brooklands Experimental Department, who were working on the Sop with Camel aircraft. I worked for the Chief Test Pilot for three months and then the General Manager until the end of the war. We worked through the raids, no warning just red flashing lights when enemy aircraft crossed the Channel, bliss when they stopped. We all had a medal for not going to the shelters. We were surrounded by barrage balloons to stop the dive

bombing, and artificial black smoke stoves up the Richings Park roads on moonlit nights to provide cover. The sludge oil came from tramp steamers and smelt dreadful. Later the whole factory, aerodrome, offices and hangers were covered with camouflage netting and the windows blanked out all day. It operated 24 hours a day with shifts of 5000 people, all called up from Al Johnson's wife to ballet dancers to University professors. Now we had a few women working on electrical systems for the planes and this increased.

'Flying Fortresses' and all the big bombers were flown in for repair by ATA pilots, mostly women, and I had the chance to take them to lunch, particularly Amy Johnson and Celia Thompson, two charming people. My one fear was that I should have to open a brown envelope stuck to the bottom of my desk containing "Authority to blow up and destroy all planes, hangers, offices and supplies if engines and fuel before they fell into enemy hands". It was thought the men would be shot first if the Germans parachuted in. I didn't think I could get away with it; thank goodness I never had to use the Authority from the Government. On VE Day, my boss and I burnt it.

This last item is included as Richings, Thorney and Sutton were formed the south of the Parish of Iver.