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Grove Green, Maidstone

The Wingroves at Grove Green Farm

I'm very grateful to Barbara Reid (daughter of my grandfather's brother Edward Wingrove) for the information that contributed to this article.

The Wingrove family in the garden at Grove Green Farm

Between 1930 and 1938, the economic situation in England made it hard to survive as a farmer and Charles Wingrove senior couldn't afford to pay the wages of his son Edward, who consequently left Nine Elms Farm in Yiewsley. It seems likely that William Wingrove (my grandfather) was in a similar position and with a wife and two children to support (Norah having been born in 1924 and Margaret, my mother, in 1928) it appears that he found work at Maygoods Farm in Cowley which was at that time owned by the Cox family. Maygoods Farm was a dairy and sold milk all around Cowley and Cowley Peachey. Family knowledge has it that William and Constance ran a market garden at Maygoods Farm so it is possible that they either leased a small piece of land or the Cox family also had an interest in a market garden and William was an employee there.

Charles had another farm at the same time, this one being in an obsolete sewer. The boundary to Nine Elms Farm ran along the main road in Cowley Peachey and at some point, houses were built along the road and it was in one of these (at number 16) that William, Constance, Norah and Margaret lived. The Grand Union Canal also ran parallel to the farm, between Uxbridge and West Drayton.

In 1938, Charles sold Nine Elms Farm and, with Charles J, William and Constance (plus Norah and Margaret), Lawrence and Norah, all moved to Kent and rented Grove Green Farm, part of the Vinters Park estate, from Lady Whatman. Prior to this move, during the 1930s, William, Constance, Norah and Margaret had lived in various houses in Cowley. Following the move to Kent, William, Constance and their two girls lived in the house in Ashford Road, Maidstone at which Constance remained until she moved to Hale Place in the 1960s and which still exists.

The Wingrove's farm from 1939 onwards was part of a large area of land owned by the Whatman family which included both Grove Green and Newnham Court farms. Lady Whatman had a large house at the rear of Newnham Court Farm and visited Grove Green Farm regularly to collect rent and discuss tenancy business. She travelled by horse-drawn carriage, always dressed in black and was of a very stern appearance. Barbara remembers being told to sit quietly on a chair in the kitchen and "Only speak when you're spoken to!". Although referred to as "Lady Whatman", a descendent of hers confirmed that in fact, Louisa wasn't titled ... "but perhaps she gave herself a few airs!".

Charles senior, William (known to Barbara as "Uncle Bill") and Lawrence ("Lol") all ran Grove Green Farm but around 1947 there was a family argument and William and Lawrence left the farm. William subsequently farmed Huntsman's Farm, the boundary of which backed on to their house in Ashford Road. At the end of Grove Green Farm there was a path across New Cut into Vinters Park which was a short cut to Maidstone. Barbara regularly walked this route with Norah Wingrove and they would often see Charles, William and Lol working in the fields.

As a consequence of the row, Charles called Barbara's father Edward down to Kent to help him run the farm. During 1948/49 Edward spent Monday to Friday running Grove Green Farm and the weekends with his family in Middlesex.

Charles senior died in 1949 when Barbara was 18. Following his death, his wife Emily and Norah Wingrove (her daughter) stayed on at the farm but managed to spend all of the money that remained. When this debt (running into £1,000s) was discovered, Barbara's parents Edward and Edith left Cowley, bought a double-decker bus and had it converted to provide accommodation. They moved to Grove Green Farm and worked to pay off all of the debts that had been built up.

The Whatman Estate wasn't sold to the farm tenants as it had a large seam of Fuller's Earth running through it that was mined by La Porte Industries during the period 1973 to 1979. When the mining had finished, the land was due to be sold for housing so there was little point in sowing for crops. It was therefore used for grazing sheep and not really farmed.

Eventually, La Porte sold the farm house and oast houses to Barbara's parents and these are still in existence and still privately owned.

In addition to all of the Wingroves that moved to Kent, there is also a branch of the family in Darenth. Alfred (the brother of Charles senior) had a son who was head of that household and he had four daughters, the eldest called Ann, all of whom were educated at Roedean. When Alfred died in March 1938, his death was announced in The Times and in his will he left £3,000 - a significant sum at that time. He was buried on 7 March 1938, that information coming from a memorial booklet in Barbara's possession.

There is also a "Wingrove's Farm Shop" at Shredding Green Farm, Langley Park Road, Iver, Bucks SL0 9QS. This is possibly owned by the descendents of a brother of John Wingrove (who was married to his cousin May Wingrove) as John came from Iver. The farm shop featured in a recently published guide to farm shops and organic food in The Independent newspaper.

Following his separation from my grandmother Constance, William Wingrove lived with his partner Kate Seager at Chapel Lane Farm in Chapel Lane, Bearsted until her death. Apparently she had a speech impediment and was regarded by the family as "a little strange".

I'm also very grateful to Andrew and Jerry Sargent who have provided me with copies of some rare images of Grove Green Farm taken shortly before the farm's redevelopment for housing in the 1980s:

Image 1: Grove Green Farm in approximately 1974

Image 2: Looking across the fields to the farm in about 1981 or 1982

Image 3: Looking down New Cut Road from Andrew and Jerry's house, 1982

Image 4: Looking up the track from New Cut Road to the farm, 1982

As a teenager in the 1970s, Andrew used to earn pocket money by working for Ted and Edith Wingrove at Grove Green Farm in the school holidays, picking everything from carrots to cabbages. At the time his family lived at New Lodge on New Cut Lane.

Intriguingly, Andrew mentions that in the very early 1970s, there was another old man living at the farm who was referred to as "Gramps". He had lost an arm in an accident many years before and died not long after Andrew and his family moved into the area. Andrew believes he would have been Barry and Barbara's grandfather, although he's not sure on which side of the family.

As Andrew says, the farm looks rather bleak in these pictures, but when the fields were full of crops and the trees in bloom, it was glorious. Sadly, all of these views have now been lost due to the housing redevelopment that took place in the 1980s.

Inevitably, all of the remaining farm buildings have now been converted into very luxurious dwellings! However, it is fascinating to get a flavour of what the Grove Green area was like in the past.

I've also been contact by Paul Passey, who has clear memories of his childhood spent in the area between 1943 and 1956.

As a child, until he was about 13, Paul lived at Gidds Pond Cottages near to the New Cut Road on the edge of land owned by Newnham Court Farm. His grandparents lived at the Whatman (Vinters Park House) gatehouse.

The Wingroves farmed at both Newnham Court Farm and at Grove Green and Paul knows this because he used to roam their fields and outbuildings with his then best friend Peter Brissenden, whose father worked for the Wingroves. He remembers Bev Wingrove and also Ted (Edward, Bev's father).

Two of Paul's neighbours - the Brissendens and the Warlows - worked for Ted Wingrove on both farms. Paul spent most of his free time at Newnham Court where he was friendly with a family called Underdown who lived in the large house, which he thinks is now a restaurant and part of the redevelopment into Notcutts Garden Centre. Paul remembers riding on a cart pulled by Dobbin (yes really!) a great cart-horse and also picking up wurzels. There were pigs in sties around the farmyard and a great barn, which one night was ablaze and everyone went to watch the firemen at work. He remembers being told that it was a case of arson.

Paul can also remember a large steam driven threshing machine coming to the farm. The children used to skate on the large pond at the top of the driveway and his father used to park his Foden artic lorry at the top of the drive to get a rolling start on cold mornings.

Paul and his friends went over to Grove Green less frequently, but he does remember one particular tractor that was started up by putting what was probably a shotgun cartridge into some part of the engine and then hitting it with a hammer to make the engine turn over and start!

The long-distance picture of the Grove Green farm taken from New Cut Road on this website reminded Paul that he went to Sunday School in a little tin/wooden chapel building in that hamlet. In one of the houses lived a family called Price.

East Gate (House) had the main connection with Paul's family. He and his mother would walk - in the middle of the road - from Gidds Pond Cottages and hardly see a car, until they came to his granny's house. Paul's Uncle Les lived with them and he believes they had the gatehouse as a 'tied' cottage, because Les was gardener/handyman to Miss Whatman at Vinters House. On occasions, Paul would go with Les to wind the clock in the clocktower.

In the garden was a well with a bucket and also a large holly or yew tree. The family probaly lived there from 1947 until about 1956.

I'm grateful to Paul for providing this fascinating insight into life in this area of Maidstone while it was farmed by the Wingroves.