Memoirs of Ron Bromley

9 The top

I enjoyed my time at Leamington and therefore did not think of looking for promotion for some time. There was a lot of talk of the formation of a South Warwickshire Water Board, a combination of all the local authority works. The BE was very interested but only if he could be the Engineer Manager, ie the top man. The alternative would be an organisation on local government lines, ie with a Clerk and then the engineer would be second in line. I knew I stood a good chance of getting the BE's position if Innes Jones went, but there were too many imponderables. First the Board had to be formed with the Engineer as top man, secondly Innes Jones had to get it, and thirdly I had to get the BE's position. I could not risk it for too long as I was getting past the age when most top jobs got filled. I got hold of the Municipal Year Book and extracted the names of all the authorities where I would wish to work. Nothing north of Leamington. Lena never complained but I knew she considered anything further up the map as the frozen north. Also going south would be getting nearer to her mother. Population to be between 50 and 150 thousand with a full list of responsibilities: planning, parks, recreation and housing. I can not remember which authorities I put in for, I get confused with Chief Assistant and Deputy posts. With some hesitation I put in for Chertsey and was disgusted not even to get a shortlist. Tunbridge Wells comes to mind, where I declined to go for interview after Lena and I had looked the place over, housing, education, etc. I asked the clerk to give my apologies to the Committee. This he declined to do, just said, "I will just report that you have not shown up". Nice man, good escape.

Walton was completely different. I knew from the start it was the place for us. Not only did we already have friends, the Alexanders and the Philpotts, but everyone else was so nice. On the night of my appointment Lena (with Clive) and I had a very jolly party at the Alexanders with the Philpotts and we drove home late very happy.

Just before leaving Leamington I had a very different but interesting job refurbishing the Pump Room tea rooms. I had a builder Frank Wallsgrove as a consultant, he taught Art and Design at the Technical School. It was decided not to close the place, but as it was so large to do half at a time. It worked out very well as the dear ladies enjoyed watching the workmen as they had their coffee. In fact trade improved. It was a high-class job, I cannot recall how many books of gold leaf we used on the capitals of the columns. The wallpaper was some astronomical price, £5 a piece springs to mind. Compare this with maid's bedroom quality at one shilling. Frank and I visited what must have been all the carpet manufacturers in the Midlands before choosing Brintons. I took one of the samples home to show Lena and the remainder were collected without comment before I took it back. It made a very nice fireside rug. We also made several visits to furniture manufacturers in the area. We received many compliments on our work, most of it due to Frank's good taste. On leaving I established another first in that the Council gave me a leaving present, presented by the Mayor at a Council meeting.


Looking for a house in Walton was a bit of a problem, largely due to the high prices in Surrey compared with the Midlands, about 25% more. I did not appreciate this at first and at the price bracket I gave the agents we were offered some houses in roads that Lena would not even drive down. One morning before we moved, the post brought an offer that looked attractive and listed as in Oatlands Park. Lena, Clive and I dashed down to find it an old house badly refurbished with three new houses squashed in what was originally a fair-sized plot. Also it was approached from Oatlands Drive at the far end of Anderson Road, built 70 to 100 years ago and mostly terraced housing. I took the opportunity to call and see Mr Lister, whose position I was taking over. In the course of conversation he mentioned that his daughter June was moving and was selling her house in the environs of Burwood Park. "It is worth about 3½ thousand but she will probably want 4½". At that he called his deputy Samuel (Sam to all) and told him to take me to June's house. As soon as we drove into the road, Lena turned to me and said "Why have you not brought me here before?" It was May and the trees and shrubs were in flower, the road looked a picture. The house did not stand out, that is if you ignored the black front door, garage and side gate. Decorations were very mucky for a 4-year-old house, but Lena was blind to everything. This was the home she wanted. The price, however, was far from 4½ thousand, six thousand three hundred. On negotiation with the husband I got it down to £5800, which I could manage. The opening salary was £1750, which meant a £5000 mortgage was possible and I could find £800 as deposit. Things seemed to be proceeding OK when at one Council meeting the caretaker burst in and said I was wanted on the phone. I was furious and told him to take the number and I would phone later. When I did it was Jowett the owner wanting to put the price up as he had had a better offer via an estate agent. It was a small sum. I told him that he would be worse off as he would have to pay agent's fees which did not apply in my case as it was a direct sale, a fact that Jowett admitted. I said that £5800 was still my offer and I would phone him again in the morning when he had had time to reconsider it. It was not a very happy man who drove over to Ealing that evening (I was staying with Ella), perhaps having to tell Lena that we had lost the house she longed for. Thankfully the next morning Jowett agreed to £5800. The next problem was the mortgage. I went to my life assurance firm who had an office in Kingston, but he was not at all helpful saying money was short. I said that his firm when seeking business said it would be helpful the more insurance I had, and I would phone his boss in Edinburgh and complain. His reply was to the effect that he did not think it would help much. My retort was I think it might as Mr Wallace was an old army friend. He immediately sprang into action and came back in a couple of days saying he could get £5000 from a Leicester office. By this time I had secured it with the council at five-and-three-eights percent fixed for 25 years. The insurance man said come with him as his interest is variable and the average over the years is under 5%. I declined any offer and the rate was never lower throughout the period, rising at one time I think to 15%. The Clerk of the Council Mr Hubbard did the conveyancing for me, he said to give his clerk a nominal amount by way of renumeration, so everything worked out well. Andrews, a local firm, moved us in one day for about £27, it would be over £3000 today. We moved in, put the beds up for the night, and to the surprise of the neighbours then went on holiday for a fortnight.

On getting back we quickly settled in. I have to confess that I did the inspection of the house, this saved a bit of money which was in short supply, but I failed to notice that there was no gas in the house. Fortunately Roy Braebaum was able to get an electric cooker from a friend in the business at a favourable rate which came to us still in its packing case. We fitted in very well. Having only one living room at Leamington helped although the one at Walton was somewhat smaller. Two loos and your own back garden were great assets.

I had managed to get Nigel into Bell Farm School (our local) where I thought he would carry on from Rugby Road Leamington. This was not to be, more later. Clive was to wait two terms. At work, the Clerk seemed ready to help, not one to set the Thames on fire but sound on administration, no errors in the printing of minutes. My deputy Sam was a gem. Not as disappointed as his wife that he did not get the job, trustworthy and loyal. We could have a good night out together but everything was back to normal in the morning. My first problem was the Walton film studios site. It was one of the first, if not the first, studio to make films for public showing, but it had fallen on hard times and was closed down and the site was for sale. Edward Hubbard was very worried about it as the designation was for industry (of a sort) which would have not been a good thing so near the centre of a growing residential town. It already had Amalgamated Dental just off the High Street which was being extended and modernised. The site was west of the High Street and south of Manor Road. Immediately south the Council owned land to provide a link road from the High Street Church Street junction through to New Zealand Avenue, with shops on one side and a public car park on the other. Just imagine that!

Shopping centre

I had a quick think about it and curved the road northwards to meet Manor Road just before it reached the junction with New Zealand Avenue and Oatlands Drive, and the road to Walton Bridge. The area to the south would then be much larger and could accommodate a shopping pedestrian precinct and a multi-storey car park. "A multi-storey car park and a shopping precinct, what next?" A stunned Council accepted the idea and as Surrey County Council could not think of a better idea they agreed the alteration to the Town Map. The problem then was to come to an agreement with whoever bought the film studio to enter into a joint development plan. It was a touch unfortunate that we did not get the high-grade developers interested. A man whose name I cannot recall, who started life as a bank cashier and got tired of handling other people's money and set about getting some of his own. He managed a large loan with I think the Co-op, and with a partner who I think was a lawyer set up a company and engaged R Seifert and Partners as architect for the scheme. Richard Seifert had the largest practice in London and was doing the majority of the commercial work in the south-east. In my opinion, too money oriented.

Seifert managed the whole thing. The owner then did his sums and if he could not see a 10% profit it was not on and the architect had to think again. He was so insistent on 10% that I christened him Mr Ten Percent and it stuck. Eventually a scheme was approved and each side appointed London surveyors to work out the financial details. Walton appointed Gerald Eve and Partners and Mr 10% employed another well-known London firm. Hilary Eve, a young partner who conveniently lived in Burwood Park acted for the Council, so he ought to have had more than a professional interest. Sometimes I thought the opposition was getting the better of him particularly as we owned most of the land, but the Council accepted the terms. The Council were to own all the land and the developers were to develop the site other than the multi-storey car park which Walton would build. So that things would tie up, we appointed Siefert the architect for the park. He did nothing but appoint a structural engineer and then require the whole facade to be cloaked with tiles. I could foresee difficulties and suggested we chose other methods. Seifert was at the Council meeting and said to the councillors, "What does he know about it? He is only an engineer, I am the architect". He got his way, and after the first winter's frost the lot fell off. He forced the tiling contractor to do the job again, saying he had performed negligently, and the tiles continued to fall off right up to the time it was demolished. The trouble was that water got behind the tiles from the back and the frost did the rest. Once started, the whole development was completed in good time but not entirely in good order. Councillor Bromhead being involved in the film industry secured one of the stars in The Avengers, Honor Blackman, to open it and I had the pleasure of sitting next to her at the lunch, which was held at the Anchor Hotel in Shepperton Square.

Town Hall

Another scheme revised at this time was the Town Hall. This had been introduced by the Town Clerk (Mr Harris) before the war. The site for this was to be New Zealand Avenue and all the frontage land of Ashley Park was bought by the Council under a local government act to provide for the Town Hall, a fire station (W&W were the fire authority at that time) and a replacement for the Playhouse (late 1930s but still going today). In fact the Surveyor was the Fire Chief and the hat-stand on which his fire helmet perched was still in the office when I took over. The Treasurer told the story to me of the Surveyor, having a troublesome visitor to deal with, being delighted if the fire bell went off; he would get up, take his helmet, place it on his head and say "I must go, more important things to deal with". He would then go into the street and commandeer the first pair of horses that came along to pull the fire engine. I have had no confirmation of this story.

Edward Hubbard was keen to get going and obtained permission to start preparing plans. Local government had changed during the war years and new plans were necessary. The same architects were chosen but not the Quantity Surveyor; apparently the two had differences of opinion which finished up in the House of Lords during the war years. John Brown, Hanson and Partners were the architects of which Brown had retired and Col Hanson was in charge although one of his assistants did the work and made a very good job of it. It looked good, it looked like a Town Hall, and it worked excellently as a Town Hall. The Clerk took over from his predecessor as the instructing officer so I had little to do with it. Just as well for me as there was a good deal of opposition to the choice of site. The public thought it to be part of Ashley Park public open space. The reason for this was the site was used as allotments during the war and was left in a very untidy state. My predecessor was told to tidy it up and it was then presented as the Council's scheme to commemorate some event or other, probably the Coronation. He made such a good job of it that the public wanted it retained.

Two things spring to mind. One was we were called upon to straighten up the boiler house as Hanson's boys had got into a bit of a mess and the second was proving that the roof of the canopy over the front entrance would take the weight of a party which the Clerk would have assembled there when giving the results in various elections for which he was the returning officer. The architect did not like it and resisted the insertion of a door as it would spoil the fenestration. I had some steps built so that you could walk up through the window and down on the outside. I can only recall it being used once and that was when Councillors etc waved goodbye to Princess Margaret when she opened the place.

new town hall

The opening was quite a good day. One of Margaret's aides told us she was on one of her better days. Apparently she could be very awkward and bitchy when the mood took her. Each chief officer had to show her around a part of our department. My choice was the engineers' drawing office. We came out at a side entrance into the corridor right opposite the entrance to my own office and on looking in she saw a mass of orange which was my carpet. "How charming", she said, "not a bit like I imagine a local government office to be". She then called up her lady in waiting who was at the other end of a long corridor. "Have I to come?" the Hon Mary Smith responded, "my feet are killing me". She came and Margaret made one or two complimentary remarks. When asked who chose the colour of the carpet I said "My secretary, I gave her the choice of that or black". As soon as the Princess saw the Clerk's office her instant remark was "Just as I always imagined: dull with a dark grey carpet". Ted pointed out his black leather swivel chair in which he said he did his thinking. "And sleeping", was the quick retort. She then compared it unfavourably with mine. I was not exactly the flavour of the week with Edward. All this was relayed to me by a bystander.

All that can be seen of the Town Hall today is a tree, a native of New Zealand, which is in the Homebase car park. New Zealand is commemorated a lot in Walton as Mount Felix, a large house, was during the First World War a hospital for New Zealand soldiers, some of which lie buried in the local cemetry. We also observe Anzac Day each year.

Enough of work for the time being, let us turn to domestic matters for a bit. Things went quite well. We were very busy decorating from top to bottom; we tried our hand at wallpapering but once was enough, in the future we changed to emulsion. How I had the energy I will never know, but when light permitted I would come home, dig in the garden until dinner and then two nights a week return to the office for a meeting, sometimes going on until midnight. The back garden had been hardly touched, it was just as left by the builders, and this for some years after completion. There were trees that had been felled and left, undergrowth three feet high, rabbits, squirrels, the odd adder and wasp nests. I do not think Lena reached the bottom of the plot for at least a year.

Clive eventually got to Bell Farm Infants. I took him, but as I walked into my office Lena was on the phone to say Clive was home. He had crossed two main roads. When asked why he said that a girl had been sick in his place and they did not teach him to read. He had been there all of three minutes. When he escaped a second time the teachers were wise to it and went after him, but he still reached home before they did. Meanwhile Nigel was very unhappy about schooling, he complained that they were trying to teach him stuff that he had learnt two years ago at Leamington. I was appalled how bad education was in Surrey compared with Warwick, or at least the part we knew. Fortunately a councillor introduced me to Kingston Grammar School which at that time had a Preparatory section. Nigel passed the exam and started at £33 per term. Clive was not doing well at Bell Farm, but when I tried private schools around you just had to mention Bell Farm and they did not want to know. Denmead in fact was quite rude with me. Eventually I got him into Arundel House in Surbiton. It did not have much of a reputation (and the most odd headmaster) but with its old-fashioned staff Clive did well and took to French and Latin very well. I knew an Alderman of the City of London who agreed to support Clive for entrance to the City of London School when the time came for the entrance exam. Clive took the exam for Kingston and failed to get a place. I don't know if this affected him but he said he did not want to attempt City of London but was keen to go to Rydens. At the time there was a rail strike, and when I saw on the TV the crowds milling around Waterloo station hoping to get a train home some time before midnight, I thought I would not like a son of mine to be amongst that crowd, so I reluctantly gave way. Clive was well into things in Hersham, especially the Scouts, and I think he wanted to remain with them. I found Mr Lee the architect and Alderman of the City very disappointed with our decision. As I discovered he was not only a governor of the school but also the Chairman. I do not think that Clive would have had much trouble getting passed in the Common Entrance.

Swimming pool

Mr Lister did not do a great deal in his last year and it took some time for me to get to know things. On my large desk there was a bundle of plans. When I got round to asking Sam what they were, he said, "They are the plans of the proposed swimming pool prepared by Arup Associates ready to be presented to the Council before going out to tender; Mr Lister said he would leave them for you to deal with." I looked them over and based on my experience with the pool at Leamington I was not impressed with what I saw. Full of confidence, but ignorant of the situation, I took the plans to Committee and suggested to the members that it was not a good thing to have a diving platform in the only pool and further a smaller learners' pool alongside was modern thinking. The Committee however had been well schooled by one of its members who was a Civil Engineer and friend of Arup. So nothing was changed. "This is what we said we wanted and that's what we're going to get." Strategically defeated, but there were technical points with which I was not happy. But how to achieve alterations with our Civil Engineer in the wings? Incidentally both he and his wife were quite charming.

All plans had to be vetted by the Government before the Council could apply for loan sanction. This was to ensure that the LA was not indulging in a worthless scheme but officials at the Ministry often saw an opportunity to get their own ideas into the scheme. This used to annoy me and I was usually opposed, but this time I thought I might use it to my advantage. The inspecting officer was a lady architect Miss Armstrong, and I let her know my misgivings on a number of points. She agreed with me and said she had one or two ideas herself, thus we were as one, quite a change. She suggested that we call the firm in to discuss the matter. It was great, me sitting alongside Miss Armstrong as she went through the scheme point by point. When Arup queried her opinion she would say, "But have you not seen the Ministry Design Notes on the subject?" and she would dig out notes from her drawer and give them a copy.

After an exhaustive examination, the senior man present (a Principal, and an engineer I was pleased to note) said, "I feel Miss Armstrong it would be advisable for us to take the plans away and have another think about it." Miss Armstrong turned to me and managed a wink without it being noticed by the designers of the scheme.

We did not achieve all we wanted but it was certainly an improvement. The roof was a concrete marvel, typical for a firm who were reckoned to be the leaders in the field. Between the beams they had planned to have blue transparent plastic to cast a blue tinge on the water, but the manufacturer could not get it satisfactory so traditional standard glazing had to be introduced at the last moment - it leaked.

swimming pool

The heating was not without its problems. The heating engineer chose not to use 35-second (gas) oil but 45-second, which did not need storing at a high temperature but had to be inside the building with a slight boost in temperature by using an electric heating cable around the delivery pipe. It worked with care. As soon as I could get money we converted to gas oil which meant we could store it in the open, and in the space released we were able to fit in a learners' pool. Not environmentally friendly but many children were able to learn to swim in safety.

In spite of our problems the pool was a great success and well used by the inhabitants and fostered an excellent swimming club. Deputy Sam swan every morning, so kept an eye on the place.


Another problem very near the surface was sewage and sewage disposal. Not crisis, but not very far from it. Lister, my predecessor, obviously followed the line of thought of some concillors: "There are no votes in sewage". Much is buried below ground, and not visible to be admired: "That's what I have done for the ratepayers". I had a appraisal done and worked out a programme that would take 18 years. This I thought would soften the blow. When I was interviewed I was proudly told Walton had the lowest rate in Surrey. My response was it is not what you collect but what you do with the money. I reminded the council of this and the members agreed with my plan, probably thinking "All well in theory but we can still put it off for a good many more years". I also managed to get three extra staff to start on the scheme.

The worst element was Weybridge sewage disposal plant. These days called treatment plants but this could not be said of Weybridge - treatment nil. Had I seen the place on interview I would have had serious thoughts of not accepting the position. Initially it was based on land treatment - put into lagoons for air treatment and land drainage of the effluent to the river. The land used was a large area contained within the Brooklands race track. I think I can remember in the film "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines" a shot of a pilot going out from his HQ in a car towing a small boat - just in case he landed in the sewage ponds. With a well-defined circular perimeter it was a very obvious target for German bombers during the 1939-45 war so emergency works were carried out within the works so that treatment could be confined and the lagoons put out of use. Vickers were employing thousands of people building aeroplanes at that time and did not relish bombing attacks. The works had one major attack with many killed.

Owing to boundary changes in 1939 a large part of the area including quite a lot of the Brooklands works did not drain to Weybridge but went to Byfleet which was owned by Woking council. When Woking carried out large improvements to Byfleet, Woking sought a capital contribution from Walton and Weybridge. Lister did not like this and said it could be done more cheaply by pumping the sewage to his Weybridge works. This he did by installing a compressed air plant at the works and using Shone ejectors air operated to get the sewage to the works. This exacerbated the situation and the final effluent discharged to the River Wey got much worse. Thames Conservancy, the responsible body, send adverse analytical reports to Lister about every 3 months and were even threatening to sue the Council. The file got larger and larger but Lister did nothing - neither did Thames Conservancy except threaten. The only clean thing about the place was lime, liberally strewn around to try and keep things a bit sweet. There was always a shed full of bags of the stuff which turned out very useful one Saturday afternoon. I was at home nursing a cold and Lena had gone shopping with the boys. When they got home I was not there. I had been turned out as at the works an elevated culvert which conveyed sewage from the receiving chambers to the treatment works had collapsed - one wall was lying on the ground about six feet below. I looked around and my eye fell on the bags of lime so I decided that we would build a temporary replacement using one-hundredweight bags of lime. All pumping had been stopped and sewage was filling in the sewers of Weybridge. We estimated we had about three hours before Weybridge High Street became awash with sewage. I obtained a tarpaulin from Walton depot to line the culvert to try and prevent the lime getting too wet and sloppy. Needless to say it was raining the whole time. When it was finished and we told foreman Church at the pumping station to start pumping again he estimated we had about 20 minutes to spare. Strangely enough the air at the works cured my cold. Sewage works were always considered healthy places to work. At Canterbury we had father and son as pensioners.

©2004 Ron Bromley