Mystery in the woods, World War 2 and a Famous British Racing Team

Many years ago whilst walking through some woodland called Brockhurst Woods which borders Farnham Common and Stoke Poges, I noticed some concrete fence posts which seemed unnecessarily secure for just a bit of farmland or forest. They were canted over at the top with three strands of barbed wire. I puzzled about it a bit but didn’t give too much thought. Then, around Christmas/New year 2018 I noticed what appeared to be a concrete trough in the woods a few yards to the south of the public footpath. Further investigations showed it to be mounted on a concrete platform, nearby where the remains of a building with breeze block walls and some very rusty old pipework. The concrete in the breeze blocks was of very poor quality. There also seems to be some graffiti in a style suggestive of cartoons from the 1940’s. These building seem to lie outside the area protected by the fence. Following the fence along there seems to be an old entrance which you can see as it abutts the drive to the house currently at the edge of the wood, at the end of Rickmans Lane.

The fence posts which drew my attention initially


Latrine trough?

Ruins

Graffiti. Reminds me somewhat of wartime nose-art from aeroplanes

What was the origin of this? Were the building and the fences related? I knew that in other local woodland (Hodgemoor Woods near Beaconsfield) there had been some POW camps and work camps. The building being outside the wire suggested a guardhouse / barracks. However in a comprehensive online list of POW camps I couldn’t find any reference to these woods.During WW2, the nearby woods at Burnham Beeches had been a vehicle storage area before d-day and a POW camp after, are they related? After emailing the Stoke Poges Society an “old boy in the village” put forth the suggestion of a “Tank Factory” and the House at Brockhurst Park being owned by a family called Vandervell. Was this the Vandervell family that became involved in the Vanwall GP racing team in the 1950’s & 60’s? I found references in an online profile of Tony Vandervell, the family money being founded on producing starter motors that were later used in Tanks and later formed the basis of Lucas who produced a lot of components for the automotive industry – we all must have driven a car with Lucas components on it at some point.   Tony Vandervell had a business in Maidenhead and there is a Vanwall Road and Vandervell Business Park there to this day.   The Slough Trading Estate was active during WW2 and would have been an obvious place to fabricate parts for vehicles (over in Langley was the Hurricane factory).   Was some production moved to a discrete area outside Slough to keep it away from the bombers?

Abandoned machinery

I was also pointed in the direction of some documentation held at Kew, a report by the War Damage commission, which I am currently seeing if I can get a copy or go to Kew and see it in real life. If there is anyone who knows more about these buildings, their purpose or the Vandervell family history, please get in touch. There are fewer people around with first-hand memories of the second world war, so id it isn’t documented our ability to find out about it will vanish forever.


So. I had written that much and was about to post the blog, when I had an update from Dave at the Stoke Poges Society, after their Chair, Harvey  had raised the topic on their Facebook page, one of their members Sue said:

“The structures that are in the woods were where my mother worked during the war making bearings for anything from ships to tanks to jeeps for the war effort, the factory was owned by the vanderville family that lived in the main house. after the war Mr vanderville developed the vanwall and thinwall special racing cars of the 40’s and 50’s. my dad was his chauffeur after he came out of the army, I don’t know what happened to the structures after the war or how they became abandoned, but I’d love to find out more though”

Additionally I came across an account of a wartime plane crash which must have been pretty adjacent http://aircrewremembered.com/paul-thomas.html

If  anyone who reads this is able to provide any further information on these events, please get in touch, I would love to flesh out this story.

~ by @mmonyte on January 20, 2020.

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