K07: Park Road

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Two tales from World War Two

Trying to understand today what it must have been like to be a civilian during the Second World War in Kingston is quite impossible. The continuous threat from bombardment, the rationing, the worry for loved ones on the front, carrying your gas mask everyone, queues for the buses, houses destroyed down your street, patches of intelligence about the atrocities in the East – the sheer pressure of the situation, and the only consolation that it least it was shared by everybody, and we were just “another south-west suburb” (Surrey Comet, 1944). This blog is about two aspects of the war experience in Park Road, Kingston: bombardment and war time manufacturing.

“V Bomb Kills Five”

There were a number of HE (High Explosive) bomb strikes on or near Park Road early in the war recorded by the ARP Wardens of Kingston Council on a ‘Bomb Map’ available at Kingston History Centre. They were at 20:43 on 30/10/1940, 19:19 on 12/11/1940 and 20:33 on 29/11/1940. The Park Road – New Road junction was also the location for the only V-2 rocket to land in the former Borough of Kingston, the present monument at the site erected in 1995.

V-2s were retribution weapons, the first long-range guided ballistic missiles, sent over London by the German Luftwaffe as payback for the effective bombardment of German cities by the Allies. According to Wikipedia, modern reconstructions estimate that they create a crater of 20m wide, by 8m deep, ejecting around 3000 tons of material into the surroundings.

The bomb landed at 14:35 on Monday, 22nd January 1945. The article to the right is how the Surrey Comet wrote about it in their issue of 27th January 1945, page 7.

Later, A.W. Forsdike, Town Clerk and ARP Controller, wrote a report on the incident. There were 5 immediate fatalities, and 3 later in hospital as well as 120 injured. The injured were treated at the Aid Post and Kingston Hospital: “at one period it was thought that the hospital may become congested”. In total, 40 people were hospitalised. Kings Road, Tudor Road, New Road and Elm Road were also damaged with a total 2004 houses affected (33 demolished, 80 seriously damaged).

His report describes how “the most severe and widespread incident in the Borough” was managed by a mixture of civilian volunteers and service personnel. ARP Wardens, the National Fire Service and Police were in action by 14:42. British soldiers from the nearby barracks and American Forces from encampment in Richmond Park cleared the roads within 3 hours. A mobile First Aid post was set up by the Women’s Voluntary Service and Housewives. Dangerous work was carried out to rescue those under rubble by Wardens and the Heavy and Light Rescue Parties from the Borough’s Villier’s Road Depot, led by a man called Coulton: “All the living casualties were extricated within about an hour”.

Incident Control was set up in houses opposite Alexandra Hotel for three weeks, manned by ARP Wardens. An Enquiry Point was managed by the WVS for one week after the event and they also managed a large number of curved asbestos huts later erected to meet the housing shortage on the road. Forsdike wrote that: “Owing to the tremendous demand for labour in the London area, we are only permitted to repair houses up to a standard laid down by the Ministry and known as “reasonable comfort”. Plastering, painting and distempering (except patching) at the present stage, is entirely prohibited, except under exceptional circumstances.”

For me, the most evocative and poignant description in the newspaper article is the call by rescuers for silence. Silence. Silence, in order to listen for life, rescuers ‘holding their breath whilst…bent low and strained to hear a noise which would guide them to a rescue’ (Surrey Comet, 27/1/1945). It is unsettling to imagine the scene, as children were dragged alive from the rubble.


Park Works, 16 Park Road

One way in which we remember the past is through the designation of the built environment as having some sort of historical interest: this could be through identifying conservation areas, or protecting certain buildings from adaptation and demolition. This is done at local level by the Council and at national level by Historic England (previously English Heritage).

The south of Park Road is in a conservation area and ‘area of special local interest’, designated in June 1989 by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. In April 2015, a planning application was made by Countywide Design to convert Park Works, 16 Park Road (a site on the junction with Borough Road) from multiple occupancy industrial estate into homes and white collar office accommodation. The application was withdrawn in November 2015.

In the early part of the 20th century Park Works was used by Jabez Summers and Son who were builders. From 1922 to 1971, H D Symons & Co Ltd used the works and in war time they were involved in producing glass fabric insulation used in the aircraft industry. This activity was considered of national importance, damage or destruction to/of the factory was to be reported to the Ministry of Home Security (ref.Emergency Control File).

The factory expanded in 1939 to a design by A.P. Starkey, better known as an Odeon Cinema architect, to house 260 workers, of whom 230 were women. The two-storey facade to Borough Road was added at this time, with a pillbox or fire watching post incorporated into the design in early 1941, after the previous winter’s bombardments of the local area (as detailed above). To avoid disruption to production, factory owners would often build their own watchtowers which would  allow work to continue below as the air raid sounded. Employees would keep a look out above and warn of likely incendiary devices, at which point workers would rush to the shelters. The factory therefore represents a number of interesting historical themes: the significance of local, small scale manufacture to the war effort, women’s roles in the war, and wartime design. The Borough Road facade is now listed Grade II thanks for the efforts of a man called Nigel Bailey, who has kindly written the following:

When I was alerted to the fact that Park Works was under threat of demolition, I was motivated to get it listed for two reasons, firstly because it is a rather unique building, secondly because it was clearly part of Kingston local war time history. The building had a story to tell. I started with the Pillbox-study-group.org.uk. I was surprised that despite them not being aware of it, they seemed unintererested. I wondered if they thought it was a folly, not a genuine pillbox. When I discovered that the original drawings for the building described it as a fire watch post, it convinced me that the building was all the more unique. After all, there are lots of pillboxes dotted about the countryside.

It still irritates that I couldn’t establish exactly what was manufactured at the factory. Insulated electrical wiring seems most likely. Not quite the story I was hoping for, but I was pleased that Historic England agreed with my supposition that it was supplied to the Hawker Aircraft industry for use on the Hurricane fighter planes. The high point in my research was when I found a letter in the Kingston Emergency Control File, kindly retrieved by Kingston Local History, which described Park Works as being of national importance during wartime.

My pleasure at Park Works being grade II listed was slightly dampened by the fact that Historic England only listed the front section of the building- the canteen- and fire watch post. The saw tooth roofed workshops, where the manufacturing took place, remain unprotected despite the delightful architectural interiors.

 It is only through the effort of local people, that the past can be remembered and preserved and I personally feel that Park Works story is worth looking after. I visited the site yesterday and can appreciate that it isn’t the tidiest part of our shared borough, but factories are messy places, they are where things are made which demands a certain amount of chaos. Park Works also remains an important facility for small local businesses.


Both stories – one of destruction and the other of production – seek to illustrate the human experience of war in Kingston, and how we attempt to remember, understand and protect it in the present. This blog is written in remembrance of the eight casualties from the V-2 rocket strike, of whom we only know five names.

 Amy Ethel Dormer
Patricia Land
Winifred Gertrude Maton
Mary Read
Vera Styles


Bailey, N (2015) Park Works: A case for its Ptotection  Unpublished, available at Kingston History Centre

Built Heritage Consultancy (2015) Park Works Kingston upon Thames: Heritage Statement  Available here.

Burford, R (2015) ‘Small businesses fact the boot as developers plan Kingston industrial park redevelopment’ Your Local Guardian Available here.

Butters, S (2013) ‘That Famous Place’: A history of Kingston upon Thames Kingston University Press

Forsdike, A W (1945) Town Clerk’s Air Raid Reports 1940-1945 Unpublished, available at Kingston History Centre, reference KT189.

Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (2015) Planning Database Available here.

Royal Borough of Kingston (2016) List of Conservation Areas Available here

Surrey Comet, 27th January 1945, p.7.

Wikipedia (2016) V-2 rocket Available here.


K06: Gordon Road

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The story of 155-157 London Road, Kingston

The present site of Wickes Superstore was previously Norbiton Bus Garage and before that the site of Snapper’s Castle. Snapper’s Castle wasn’t actually a castle, but its history was really interesting, and Snapper wasn’t a king, dragon or monster, but a man called Michael who sold antiques. The failure of Norbiton Garage is linked directly with the move towards privatisation of public bus services, a move which was not welcomed by passengers or staff at the time and had to be semi-reversed in London at least when it failed to deliver. The following story is one of opportunity lost, of destruction both of material heritage and the livelihoods of some local bus workers.

Hertingtoncombe Manor House

The origin of two semidetached houses on London Road, Nos.155 and 157, with their Gothic facade and roof crenelations date back to the 17th century. In 1644 it was the residence of Sir Robert Wood, a Cromwellian supporter. Later, John Rous resided there – he was sugar plantation owner and a Quaker who was imprisoned and publicly flogged for his beliefs. Later still, a resident called Edward Belitha left money to Kingston Corporation to education “20 poor persons’ daughters”; the chief clark of the House of Commons, Nicholas Hardynge resided there and so too for a time the Reverend Richard Wooddesson, Head of Kingston Grammar School. From 1774 to 1839 it was the Parish Workhouse, extolling virtue, sobriety, obedience, industry and labour upon its residents.

In 1841 it underwent extensive alterations made by Charles Molloy Westmacott, a publisher, art critic and historian who came from a family of sculptors, artists and architects. He installed wood paneling formerly used in Kensington Palace, whilst incorporating many of the earlier buildings’ features and fittings. The ground floor was 2 main rooms split by sliding doors, its facade had oriel windows, elaborately carved oak doors, corner turrets, and 4 tall ecclesiastical windows;. It was successfully listed Grade II in 1975 for architectural and historic interest.

In its final years it was affectionately known as Snapper’s Castle due to the distinctive nature of Michael Snapper’s antiques shop. Meanwhile, next door a local firm of automotive suppliers Derrington’s ploughed their trade.


Norbiton Bus Garage

The garage originally opened in May 1952 on a site behind the Car and Antiques shops on London Road. Its opening wasn’t covered in the local press, but it was big enough for 75 buses and included a maintenance area. Routes 65,131,201, 206, 213 and 264 were based there.

By 1973, the London Transport Executive believed that the only solution to improving bus operations in the Kingston was by expanding Norbiton Garage, for which a Transport Act was granted in 1975. This gave them compulsory purchase powers among other things and they wished to use these powers to demolish Hertingtoncombe Manor. There was local opposition so a public enquiry took place, London Transport versus Kingston Council, Kingston Society, Kingston upon Thames Archaeology Society, Surrey Archaeology Society, and the Ancient Monuments Society, with the additional backing of the Greater London Council. The arguing was extensively covered in the local press, but in the end, London Transport won out. In giving permission for the demolition,  Mr John Eyre, Inspector for the Department of the Environment who conducted the public enquiry stated that “the public good would best be served by a better transport system”. The site was eventually cleared in 1978, but then in 1980 plans for the garage were shelved and the site left derelict.

Eventually, Norbiton Garage extension was built and opened officially on 13th January 1984 (and for operations the following day). It had accommodation for a fleet of 115 vehicles, and 400 staff over three areas – an operating block with workshops, administration, lockers, WCs, a games room and canteen (for 56 people at a time), a dock area and ancillary block. Kingston  Garage remained in use as a station for passengers. It had cost £4.6 million and the Brick Bulletin No.1 of 1985 wrote that is featured “a textured facade of considerable dignity”, it was also described as ‘the jewel in the crown of the London Bus Service’. Grade II listing hadn’t saved the Manor House but interestingly, 3 tree preservation orders had to be adhered to and water mains to the south of the site had to be left accessible, severely limiting the layout of the design.

Sadly, Norbiton Garage was shortlived. Everything changed in 1987 when the  Conservative government decided to privatise London’s bus services, creating London Bus Ltd, a process of deregulation which is against my own political standpoint and seems to involve running a fairly efficient public service into failure through a lack of investment and by disenfranchising your dedicated workforce (nobody is in the public sector for the money!), offering privatisation up as salvation, a process which I see repeated elsewhere today. London Bus Ltd tendered operations at Norbiton as a lower rate of pay which led to a reduction in drivers wages by £37 per week (equating to -25%) and increased working hours, plus a worsened pension deal. If the workers didn’t agree to contract changes then they would be made redundant at the end of June 1987 without redundancy pay, affecting drivers, mechanics, cleaners and other staff. Staff naturally went on strike, with disruption to services and graffiti appearing throughout Kingston at bus stops, and regional television coverage. Watch this video which explains the changes to contracts in 1987, and follow the links to other exerts including interviews with affected drivers. One of those was Graham Burnell who said:

I was a driver at Kingston and Norbiton garages from 1975 until 1990 … Unfortunately in June 1987 Norbiton became the first London bus garage to become a low cost unit where all routes were put out to tender and were won by reducing the drivers’ pensionable pay to £3.20 per hour whilst the London fleet rate was £4.17 per hour. We were also given decrepit vehicles to drive and the 39 hours week became 45 hours. Instead of the economical operation of a garage each end of the route i.e. Sutton and Norbiton, the tender trap meant all buses must come from one operator and consequently Norbiton ran empty buses to and from Sutton and West Croydon as positioning journeys whereas previously all buses ran in service. Our pay cut helped pay for this uneconomic operation.

The routes were re-tendered in 1990 and all but the 57, 71 and X71 were lost by London United to operators based at other garages. Subsequently, it was uneconomic to keep Norbiton Garage open and the last service ran just after midnight on 6th September 1991. The Surrey Comet described it as “the most visible casualty of privatisation” (6/9/1991), for the 100 staff still based there in 1991, it probably felt pretty personal. London Transport went on to sell the site for redevelopment, and Wickes opened there in 1995, “the finale to a sorry story of instransigence and needless loss” (June Sampson, in Surrey Comet, 7/4/1995).


  • Brick Bulletin: ‘Norbiton Bus Garage’ No.1/85 p.9-13
  • Burnell, G (July 2013) personal correspondence
  • Butters, S (2013) “That Famous Place”: A history of Kingston upon Thames Kingston:Kingston University Press
  • Surrey Comet: ‘Buses: Just who is thoughtless?’ 8/5/1987 p.2; ‘Bus Service attacked by Chief’ 17/7/1987 p.3; ‘A Crazy Plan on the Buses’ 31/7/1987 p.2; 16/7/1977; ‘Castle loses fight against bus invasion’ 11/2/1978; 20/1/1984 p.13; ‘Bus Garage to close in autumn’, 28/6/1991 p.1; ‘Snappers Castle loss still rankles’ 7/4/1995 p.18