Home Front – Yateley 1914

World War 1 – Yateley’s Story

Yateley 1914

Written by Valerie Kerslake from oral histories collected by her over the last 40 years and with material from privately published memoirs.

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A visitor to Yateley in 1914 might have been struck by the number of new buildings in this small village.  Right in the middle, the old Dog & Partridge — long, low and cream-washed — had been replaced in 1912 by the high new building with mock half-timbering that is still prominent near the church.  The ancient tithe barn stood between them, and alongside the church a track led up through an orchard of apples and pears to the cottage that had been the parsonage a hundred years before, and was now the home and shop of JohnHills, a “master butcher” who employed several lesser butchers.  When pears were in season he would offer one to any child who came into the shop – after checking with the nursemaid that they had been good.  Across the road a pair of rather ramshackle thatched cottages had been demolished two years earlier and new, neat, brick Cherry Tree Cottages built in their place.  One side now held the telephone exchange, the other the village policeman.

A few minutes’ walk would have brought you to Coronation Road, constructed in 1911 – the year of George V’s Coronation – and the first new road in Yateley for some hundreds of years. The builder B A Fullbrook, originally apprenticed as a wheelwright, lived in Green Gables which he had built on the corner of Mill Lane and Frys Lane. He had bought the fields between these two roads and cut a new one through to join them. He was now putting up houses along each side of Coronation Road. (The new road had no pavements and was said to be intolerably rough until the council took it over many years later.) Elsewhere larger houses had been completed in the previous few years, including some by B A Fullbrook such as Fir Glen which he leased to Lt Col Hill-Climo.  Renting one’s house was quite usual then. Halfway up Vigo Lane were Kerala and Byways, while in Darby Green the architect J D Coleridge had just finished building Darby Green House for himself.

Most of Yateley’s houses, however, were around the Green or in clusters along the Reading Road, which wound round the top of Frys Lane and continued towards Blackwater by way of what is now Potley Hill Road.

Cricket Hill was another small community, made more important by the old BaptistChurch which had its own graveyard; and stables for the worshippers who came from afar (bringing their lunch with them), and by the cottage hospital a little further along the road. This was lovingly and enthusiastically supported by people all over Yateley with gifts of fruit and vegetables from their gardens and allotments, and donations raised through bazaars and fetes and sometimes Queen Alexandra’s Rose Day collections. There were several small shops here as well – Maynard’s (now Grasshoppers) opposite Handford Lane being the longest established, they sold freshly baked bread, groceries and “whatever people asked for”.  The common was open and treeless, and criss-crossed with narrow footpaths leading straight from point to point, house to house.

Between Cricket Hill and the Reading Road was Hilfield, a large property with a lake, extensive parkland cultivated over many generations, and its own farm.  It lay on the east side of Cricket Hill Lane, with that part of the Reading Road we now call Potley Hill on its north-east boundary and Stevens Hill (at one time known as Rookery Hill) on its south.  The house had been rebuilt when a disastrous fire in 1905 destroyed the earlier one.  It belonged to J P Stilwell, a London banker, and indeed he owned a good deal of property in Yateley, buying when it became available.  He took a prominent part in church and village affairs even down to the point of planting alternate red and white horse chestnuts along the north edge of the common, and was sometimes regarded as the “squire” — who expected the lads to raise their caps to him.

His children had long since grown up but three daughters still lived at home and they too were much involved in Yateley life.  Beatrice, the youngest and about 39 in 1914, had undertaken some years earlier to be Quartermaster of the Hampshire VAD 94.  This entailed extracting promises from residents of Yateley and Eversley to provide equipment and supplies for an emergency hospital in the very unlikely event of some future war. She was a devout churchgoer, walking to St Peter’s for three services on Sundays, and was a regular bell-ringer there.

Back at Church End, the most easterly point of the Green, the village would have seemed fairly busy.  Yateley Supply Stores, right beside the church and usually known as Gadd’s Stores, was a large and flourishing shop catering for the carriage trade as well as the villagers.  Groceries, spirits, hardware, drapery and patent medicines (there was no pharmacy in the village) could all be bought here, and fresh bread was baked daily. There were three delivery carts that went all around Yateley and the neighbouring villages and even delivered to Camberley.

St Peter’s church was probably busy too for much of the week.  Most people in the village – apart from the Baptists – could expect to be married and buried here and their children to be baptised, and there were choir practices and bell-ringers practices each week.  On Sundays the gentry usually went to church in the morning, most of them sitting in the pews in the front that they had paid for and reserved with a visiting card in the slot on the end of the pew.  At least one village boy resented having to sit at the back (and also having to doff his cap to the gentry).  On Sunday evenings it was the turn of the villagers and the domestic servants to attend church – a great opportunity for meeting up and courting – while their employers supped on cold meat and beetroot.

Opposite the church was Manor Farm with its barns and outhouses. The old farmhouse had been renovated and now, as The Croft, was home to the Miss Masons whose family had lived at Yateley Manor from 1840 until 1887.  On the other side of Cherry Tree Cottages was the blacksmith.  There were other smithies in the village; all were in constant demand to make or mend every sort of agricultural or domestic implement.  They would be asked to put iron rims on cartwheels, fix a gate or mend a child’s iron hoop and his mother’s kettle. Two blacksmiths, Fred Yeomans and Christopher Maybanks in Mill Lane, also worked as farriers, but people often took their horses to Blackwater for shoes.

Next to the old forge was the Post Office run by William Bettesworth.  He had previously been William Gadd’s manager in the store next to the church.  Being Yateley’s postmaster he had decided to branch out in business for himself, renting Trythes from Miss Norah Stilwell, taking the Post Office business with him. In the 20s his Post Office crossed the road again to the wooden building next door to his new bungalow. In Darby Green the Post Office was run by Alfred Beeson.

Between the Post Office and the White Lion Mr Newman of Crowthorne had established a saddlers shop in the front room of one of the houses just before WW1. In the 1915 Kelly’s Directory his business is listed trading as Newman & Sons. Henry Hilton is also listed in the same directory trading as a boot maker.  The Hilton family had been established for at least 50 years as boot and shoe makers. When Henry Hilton died in 1918 aged 81 his obituary did not mention his business but lauded his achievements serving as parish clerk for 47 years under five Vicars, apparently inheriting the role from his father and grandfather. He had founded the Yateley United Friendly Society in 1865, served as Haywarden, and even Parish Constable before the establishment of the police force.  He had risen to the rank of Colour Sergeant of the old Yateley Volunteers. His coffin was carried to his grave by members of F Company of the 4th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, the direct successor or the company he had joined in 1859 and faithfully served for 40 years.

The White Lion also had a small shop on one side.  Here you had long been able to hire a horse and carriage, and by 1914, a taxi; this was the first place in Yateley where one could do that.  The innkeeper, George Higgs, was a go-ahead man.  He was also keen on cricket, and alternated with the Dog Partridge in hosting the annual cricket lunch.  It was he who five years earlier struck his stick on the ground and said “This is where we should build the pavilion”.  Today the Tythings stands on exactly the same spot.

The outbreak of war had an immediate effect upon Higgs and his livelihood.  Many Yateley men belonged to the Territorial Army, and as soon as war was declared they were ordered to report for service. This meant that the White Lion lost almost all its customers.  Distraught, he had to tell his eldest son that he could no longer afford to keep him at home. A post was found for the son, aged 14, as hall boy in a large house near London, and this was the start of a spectacular career in service in which he was eventually working as butler in some of the grandest establishments in the country.  Meanwhile George Higgs added geese and more poultry to the cow and hens he already kept behind the pub to try to augment his income.

Traffic on the Reading Road would seem light by contrast with today. Now and then motor cars would have driven by; a number of Yateley people owned them – Miss de Winton Corry was said to have been the first. Pony traps and carriages would have been quite frequent and plenty of horses and carts delivering everything from coal to clean linen from the laundry of Mrs Elisa Davies at Brandy Bottom.

As well as Gadd’s Stores there was Tyler’s, another old-established baker and grocer whose shop and bakery was at Little Halt, then Burroughs Cottage, in Frys Lane. Harry Tyler had a reputation for delicious confectionery, in particular for his lardy cakes made with lard from his own pig. He would also for one penny bake your own cake in his oven.  Like Gadd’s, Tyler’s delivery carts went out each day in all directions with fresh bread and other orders, bringing back local news — or gossip.

The butcher too delivered, and of course the milkman who had a one-pint and a half-pint ladle (to fill your own jug).  A much larger cart would carry milk churns out of the village to nearby towns.

Chandlers Farm, near the northernmost tip of the Green, would be the chief source of milk.  In 1913 the farm had been sold by Fred G Fullbrook to George Greaves who already had a dairy in Camberley High Street. He styled himself “Cowkeeper and Dairyman” giving the addresses of both farm and shop on his bill head.  Others, such as the builder B A Fullbrook, kept a cow as a sideline as well as for household use, and the milk had to be carried to a local retailer or put on a train to go further afield. Fullbrook’s went to London.

ne regular user of this road was Maybanks the carrier. There were in fact two of them, Edward and Percy, father and son. Their depot was in Mill Lane, opposite the forge where Christopher, another son, worked. The carrier’s job was to go shopping and do other business in Reading for his customers in Yateley. He would spend a few hours there where prices might be lower and choices wider and then return with a loaded van. Sometimes Mrs Maybanks went too, and there was room for a few passengers as well – a cheap if not very comfortable ride. Percy took over the business in 1915 when his father died, aged 54.

The main road was narrower then, and gravelled, and there were no pavements.  The grass verges were wider and children played beside the road or played ‘pooh-sticks’ by the HighBridge (there were white railings but it was not high) opposite the White Lion where a stream ran down beside Hall Lane and under the road.  Grass, heather and other vegetation was kept short all over the Green by grazing animals that could be led up each day by anyone with common rights.

At this time almost all the animals were in the charge of Esther Harris, the daughter of Frederick Edward Harris and his wife Charlotte who farmed Moulsham Farm.  Sometimes a boy took her place, or nobody at all, but usually Esther, dressed in black, with her bicycle and geese, goats, sheep and three cows might be seen on any part of the Green except for the cricket pitch, which alone was out of bounds.

One of Fred’s brothers, Nigel Harris of Kiln Field Bungalow, used his common rights to graze some 200 sheep and 30 to 40 cattle and a donkey on the common, housing them overnight at Catches Piddle near Vigo Lane (where Wordsworth Avenue is now) . He had a ladder leaning against a tree there and from time to time someone climbed up to make sure the cattle were not getting too close to the A30. If they were, a dog was sent across to bring them back.  The sheep however required a full-time shepherd.  Fred and another brother, Jack, also cut peat and dug gravel both before and after WW1.

On the Green there were a few trees, including the slender young Coronation Oak ceremoniously planted in 1911 to the west of Hall Lane.  (Nowadays Hall Lane lies still further to the west.) The spades were wielded by the two oldest inhabitants, Dr John Mills and Captain John Masterman RN.  There were four ancient pollarded limes opposite The Limes (now Lime Tree Cottage), and a few poplars near The Poplars (now called Crondall End) but almost none of the dense scrub and woodland that today covers the Green to the north of the main road.  However, even the goats could be defeated by gorse if it had got away, and here and there it grew prolifically.  From time to time people set fire to it to the disapproval of the Parish Council who from time to time would allow villagers to cut it for firewood and would also sometimes summon all fit men to come and hack it down.

Yateley’s ponds were even more numerous than now, and also more useful – not just for thirsty animals but for refilling steam engines – the cumbersome steam plough came into its own in the war when the Army commandeered all the horses it could – and for soaking cartwheels in dry weather to keep them fitting snugly into their iron rims.  Some ponds were so regularly driven through that there was an in-lead and an out-lead.  Blake’s pond, though so boggy that some parents forbade their children to play there, was used by cart drivers, and once at least the cart was stuck there.  Goose Green pond was larger and deeper before main drainage arrived; they called it Gadd’s Ocean as he owned so much property in that area.

Opposite that pond was Goose Green Cottage which had a small shop in the front that claimed to sell bread, grocery and provisions, ironmongery, china, glass and earthenware.  Behind the cottage was the bakehouse, stabling for the horses and space for two delivery vans.  All this was owned by W B Tice who won various awards for his bread and who later bought “Gadd’s Stores”.  Tice appears in many guises in Yateley: he was a chorister at St Peter’s and a Licensed Lay Reader at the Darby Green Mission Room (sometimes known as the tin tabernacle and much later to become St Barnabas’ Church.  It had been founded by Dr Mills who had felt deep concern over the people of Darby Green being so far away from any place of worship.

The school (now village hall) was on the north-east corner of the Green — with a particularly high, dense forest of gorse outside it — good for hide-and-seek and for less reputable games after school.  There were several classrooms and children as young as 2½ were accepted; if these infants misbehaved they might be moved into a class of older children to sober them up.  Older children would get the cane. Canes came in bundles of 144 from Reading and the bolder boys would endeavour to seize and destroy them by fire or by throwing them into a pond. Usually there was a large proportion of gipsy pupils, their families camping on the common.

Towards the end of the school year in 1914 there was an enquiry at the school from the Reverend Dr G H Oakshott for a leaver to be odd job boy, and the post was given to 12-year-old Bill Liddiard.  Dr Oakshott, who served in WW1 as a Royal Naval Chaplain, lived in The White House, the grandest of the five large houses on the Green to the west of the White Lion. Bill would receive ten shillings and sixpence a week, twelve and six after two years.  An errand boy’s bike went with the job but no meals.  When food began to be rationed in 1917 Bill would be required to bicycle to Yorktown each Monday to collect the butter and tea from the Home & Colonial, and he would also cash £25 for Dr Oakshott at Barclays Bank on the corner nearby. Sometimes he was sent to buy bread from the stores beside the church in Yateley and the manager, Mr E C Webley, might offer him a piece of cheese and a biscuit for his lunch but he always took it home.

Home was one of four small cottages on the north edge of the common at Cricket Hill, facing the old Cricketers. It would have been like many other cottages: a pump outside near the back door, perhaps shared with the next door household. An outside earth closet would be emptied from time to time and spread as fertiliser on garden or farmland. The kitchen had a bread oven and heavy iron hooks for hanging joints of bacon on, for his family, like many others, kept a pig. Usually it was sold to the butcher in the end. Behind these cottages and their gardens were allotments – six acres of them running down the west side of Cricket Hill Lane.  Another ten and a half acres of allotments lay on the west side of Mill Lane. Yateley sounds to have been amply supplied with them but everyone expected to grow their own fruit and vegetables, and on some allotments there were chickens or beehives.

A girl leaving school at the same time might go into service as an under-housemaid or scullery maid or with luck as a nursemaid. It was not just the well-to-do who had domestic staff; housework was heavy and tiring and anyone who could afford it would try to have some sort of help. There were no electric appliances – indeed no electricity – and fuel and water had to be carried around the house each day. There was gas lighting, though some people preferred to use oil which was cheaper, but cleaning the lamps each day was a very tedious job. With no mains water, taps needed a tank in the roof and this needed to be filled. Nine-year-old Frank Bunch was employed to pump up the water each day for a house near Chandlers Farm built in 1908. Frank received twopence a day; he grew up to be a plumber.

There were other openings for girls. Molly Bunch was 14 when apprenticed to the shopkeeper Mr Webley. Others might be trained as seamstresses. Mrs Mary (Molly) Searle was a highly skilled dressmaker who in 1914 worked in a small way from her home at Rosebank on the Reading Road near Frys Lane, but gradually expanded her clientele, especially after the death of her husband in 1928 who had been gardener for Col. and Mrs Gill off Hall Lane. She was then employing two assistants and was patronised by some of the grandest and smartest ladies in Yateley and beyond.

There were other dressmakers in the village. One was Miss Mary Rackley, known as Polly. When their father died, she and her sister were left with small incomes, and Polly, lame from birth with a “congenital’ hip, had a bungalow built for herself and her mother on Cricket Hill.  Its single floor enabled her to get around it on her crutch, and here she not only looked after her mother and the house and garden but worked as a dressmaker and took in lodgers as well.

The children of the gentry did not attend the village school.  Some, like the two Miss Guggisbergs of Yateley Hall had a governess, sometimes shared with other families. Boys usually went to school at 7 or 8. There were plenty of boys’ schools in the area, or they might be sent further away. Jack Stilwell went to Winchester, his brother Christopher to Gresham’s in Norfolk.  For girls there were private schools in Camberley including St George’s, also known as Mrs Wilding’s School for Young Ladies, which had moved a few years earlier from Cricket Hill Lane to the larger premises at Dullatur in London Road, Camberley. One ex-pupil from the Yateley days was Margaret Chrlstisson, daughter of Dr Mills, who became a doctor herself. Looking back, she had the highest praise for every aspect of the school – with the exception of the sanitation.

People walked a good deal, and thus knew all their neighbours and most of their business as well.  If you did not see someone for a day or two you might send a child round to enquire. With no fridges, food had to be bought almost daily; the shopkeepers were used to weighing out small quantities of rice or sugar, biscuits or butter into a folded paper cone or bag. While they waited the customers chatted.

Walking to the next village was normal.  The station at Sandhurst Halt was only a mile away, Blackwater not much further.  Bracknell was more like seven miles but it had a regular cattle market and for some that made it worth the walk.  Many people walked to Camberley, sometimes pushing a pram, but if you had sixpence you could hire a bicycle from Harry Oxlade’s shop, near the school, that hired and repaired them. Punctures were fairly common from the flints on the gravelled roads. Harry, though a small man, also delivered coal, and his wife ran a sweet shop close to the school.

Cycling was popular with all classes and possibly all ages. Miss Florrie Shute was one of two or three older ladies who rode tricycles around this time; she was said to have ridden with great panache, cornering on two wheels at high speed while holding aloft an umbrella or sunshade. The man who delivered paraffin for the lamps depended on his bicycle, as did the midwives and Mrs Martha Collins, the district nurse from Frogmore. She was consulted more willingly and frequently than the doctor who often came from another village, although Dr Alexander Petrie, who lived at Barclay House until he died in 1917, did attend some cases.

In Camberley the cinema (silent) was an attraction.  In the High Street it was the Electric Theatre, while on the Saturday before war was declared the Academy Cinema opened in Yorktown. The cinema was not the only entertainment. Yateley had plenty of home grown amusements. At the Drill Hall (about where the Parade is now), which was owned by the Territorial Army, there were dances, concerts and amateur dramatics by the end of the war.  W B Tice led an amateur concert group – the Snowflakes – that performed before the war in the NationalSchool and in villages all around.  There were annual occasions like the Horticultural Show at Yateley Hall which included sports and sideshows, and similar events to visit at Eversley, Hawley and elsewhere.

The Vicarage was the site of many special occasions.  It was the fifth of the large houses west of the White Lion and later gave its name to the road known then simply as “The Green”.  The village fete was held in the field behind the Vicarage; this was the glebe, providing grazing for the vicar’s horses and other domestic animals.  Sunday School treats, prize-givings and Christmas parties and other church-centred events could have been celebrated here, in or out of doors.  One little girl long remembered the enchantment of a girls’ dancing display in the extensive gardens of the Vicarage, and also running eagerly along the cinder path to cookery classes in the Parish Room on the edge of the garden.  Another, just a few years later recalled Sunday School in the morning and yet again in the afternoon, and having to change for dinner and then back again afterwards.  One hopes the treats at least were enjoyed.

All such occasions ceased when war was declared; The Reverend John Beardall, immediately offered his vicarage to be used as a hospital.  He and his wife moved along the road to Simla (Gayton House).  Now was the moment for the Quartermaster of the VAD to call in the promises made five years before and within a short time the Vicarage was equipped and furnished as a hospital for the wounded soldiers who began to arrive at the beginning of October.  Dr Petrie became medical officer to the hospital established in the Vicarage next door.

Among diversions for children was the smocking class set up by Mrs A G Gulland of Littlecroft in Handford Lane “to amuse the little girls who lived on Cricket Hill”. It was a popular class; they met at her house and while they were taught by a skilled needlewoman, Mrs Gulland read “good” books to them.  They had a Christmas party, and a picnic in the summer on HaylingIsland.  The finished garments were sold for charity.

For boys there was the Boy Scouts, started by one of the Stilwell girls, and on winter evenings Beatrice and Ethel Stilwell held woodcarving classes for boys.

The etiquette for welcoming newcomers to the area (assuming they were classified as upper) was precise.  They were left alone for three weeks to settle in.  Then you could visit them between 3 and 4 o’clock, for not more than 15 minutes.  No food or drink would be offered.  On leaving, you laid the appropriate visiting cards on the silver salver in the hall. After a week, but no later than three weeks, the newcomer should return the call, leaving her cards. After that the newcomer would be asked to tea to meet a few people she was unlikely to know. (With so many army – and some naval – families in the district they would often have known a few.)  The newcomer would need to return the invitation and now all would be square, and you could drop each other if you did not get on.

Owners of large gardens, and they were quite numerous, usually had tennis courts (grass) and croquet lawns and they would hold garden parties and smaller tennis parties for their friends and acquaintances. Croquet was taken very seriously; you took your own mallet.  Keeping the grass in good condition was no problem, at least until the outbreak of war when so many local men were sent abroad.

In summer there were hay parties at Hilfield. Everyone took something to eat and drink after they had raked and stooked the scythed hay in the Stilwell’s meadow. It was required to feed their horses and cows through the winter.  The management of the Hilfield farm, which consisted of a small herd of Jersey cows and poultry as well as the carriage horses, was taken over by Beatrice Stilwell during the war.  Like her sisters, she had learnt to milk as a child and now she was one of a small team who rose at dawn or earlier throughout the year to milk the cows.  Much of the milk was turned into butter in the Hilfield dairy, and when butter was rationed they were able to supply 100 rations a week.

In winter there was hockey for the energetic, played at Yateley Hall or at matches in surrounding villages.  The players would return home in the dusk on bicycles or perhaps in pony traps. Yateley had no street lights for another 50 years.  With no radio, all sorts of games were played in the evening – whist drives and bridge, and play readings and amateur dramatics.  The Stilwell daughters were all amateur painters; Norah was especially talented and produced attractive watercolours of local scenes. No doubt others too spent time painting.

Winters were colder 100 years ago and Yateley’s ponds were often frozen over for weeks.  Skating on the Hilfield lake replaced hay parties. Yateley Hall also had a lake on its north side (St Swithun’s car park covers the site now) and was popular too.  Both these had small islands in the middle which made them particularly attractive.  If you were not invited to skate on these ponds there were plenty more on the Green or elsewhere, and children who had no skates enjoyed just sliding on the ice.

Wyndhams Pool on Cricket Hill was what drew the crowds in warm weather.  All the village boys were said to have learnt to swim there. (Perhaps girls too?)  There was a sandy beach on each side and seats around it with few of the trees that shade it nowadays.  Some ingenious boys would manage to construct “water wings” from old cans found on a dump (no rubbish collections then), and whole families would come to picnic and pick blackberries as well.  For fishing, one went to the pond behind the hospital; on operating days they said it smelt of chloroform.

The old Cricketers (some fifty yards north of the present pub) was also a centre of much entertainment.  Cricket matches here were more for fun than the serious inter-village affairs on the Green.  One of the most popular events was the old men’s cricket match on Friday evenings.  It was for the over-seventies but young boys liked to come and watch, even walking from Blackwater for the occasion.  They might earn a penny for finding a lost ball, while home-made ginger beer was available for three pence.

When nothing else was happening the landlord’s chickens had the run of the common, and he tethered his goats there too.  Anyone nearby would dash to release them if there was a grass fire.

Years later elderly people remembered with nostalgia pre-war summer days on the common, and these could well be the memories that Yateley men held on to when they went to war.

The hot summer of 1914 promised a good harvest.  But all over Britain men who had trained as Territorials were being called up to replace regular regiments being recalled from the far-flung Empire.  Local men who had trained at the Yateley’s Drill Hall were immediately told to report for duty on Salisbury Plain, leaving the older men and womenfolk to bring in the harvest.  Yateley’s dairy and cattle farms faced another problem: the Army took over the common to practice trench warfare.  If Farmer Harris had still climbed his ladder to watch over the common he was likely to have seen men digging trenches by day, or the glow of campfires at night.

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Valerie Kerslake, August 2014

Sources:

Oral histories included: Geoff & Dorothy Bunch, Molly Head, Guy Fullbrook, Sylvia Landon, Bill Liddiard, Michael Tice, Tom Dodd

Memoirs: Margaret Christisson, George Ives, Sydney Loader, John Mills, William Burrows Tic

Facts checked by P J Tipton against documentary sources including:

  • 1910 Land Tax assessments
  • 1911 Census
  • 1914 Electoral Registers
  • 1915 Kelly’s Directory
  • Yateley Parish Registers
  • Crondall Manor Court Books
  • Yateley Midwives’ Births Register