Well-met by daylight

So. I have a lead. A document held in the National Archives at Kew. I apply for a Readers Card and arrange to visit and see the papers.

The Building at Kew is part 1970’s neo-brutalist concrete, part Saddam Hussein palace and part 1990’s kinder gentler less brutal concrete.

The National Archives, Kew
The National Archives, Kew

I pick up my card and make my way to the reading rooms. At the information desk I show my card and tell them the reference code for the document. I am told to go down a long corridor and ring the bell beside the door at the end.

A room of about six tables with stands to allow photography of documents, a large CCTV camera dome hanging from the ceiling and locked doors. I am handed a folder tied up with a cotton lace. I can see other documents on the shelves awaiting their readers. One catches my eye as it has “S.O.E” on the cover. Dare I sneak a look later? *

I sit down, untie the lace and start reading. The file is quite thick, comprised of pages of all sizes, some hand written, some typed. I read with a measure of disappointment and excitement. Disappointment because it quickly becomes apparent this will not end my quest, excitement since it is, well, just amazing to be one of the very few people to have looked at this for the past 50 or so years.

The file basically documents Tony Vandervell’s attempt to get compensation for damage caused to his house in Brockhurst Park by a 150 kilogram bomb which fell 200 yards south-west of the house on 12 October 1940. Through a very protracted series of wrangles that went on until 1961(!) he argued that the damage was more extensive than the official assessors thought, that the bomb was larger and closer and that other wartime bombing including a V1 and V2 in the area contributed to the damage.

They counter by plotting the location of all the wartime bomb falls in relation to the house, and the map shows a factory to the north east of the house about 100 yards from it with a note to the effect it was built after the incident which lead to the claim. And that is it. The only reference. No explanation of what the factory was doing or why you’d build a factory in your own back garden.

reference to the factory

The rest of the document is comprised of arguments and counter arguments by surveyors solicitors and builders regarding the extent, cause of, and cost of repairs. And to these eyes it looks as if Tony Vandervell basically wanted the whole place renovated at government expense, where as, they just wanted to replace a few window frames. He argues that the building was a very solid construction and they give a 1940’s version of “meh” and point out how thin the walls are. It had been constructed by an architect to show off their talents and the implication is that it had been thrown up quickly and cheaply.

Vandervell had claimed up to £4,500 pounds, but in 1961 he settled for £1,095. He did like a good lawsuit, and in 1961 began a struggle with the Inland Revenue about taxes on a donation he made to the Royal College of Surgeons for a Chair of Pharmacology. Maybe that is why he gave up the fight over the house that year.

So after reading through the papers several times I admit defeat, ring the bell to be let out and head off to the research department to seek advice. A very nice man shows me how to do a web search on their archives, but crucially, how to search various county archives they are connected to, and after running a range of search terms I find that in Aylesbury are lodged the papers of Eric Bernard Barnes who served in the Home Guard, and who seems tho have kept notes on local military activity, so next week the Lysander will be depositing me in a moonlit field near Aylesbury for further investigations.

* No I wasn’t brave enough.

~ by @mmonyte on February 11, 2020.

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