Carpenders Park History
by Neil Hamilton
Updated on Monday, May 26, 2003 04:16 AM
Hi, a bit about me to start with as requested – I’m (gulp!) nearly 45yrs old and am married to Maggie and have two sons, James – 13 and Alistair – 8. I’ve been with the Hertfordshire Police since the age of 17 and retire in 4 yrs.
I was posted to Oxhey Police station in 1979. This station covers a large area including Carpenders Park. We didn’t see much of the U.S.A.F. residents at that time as the quarters were walled off from surrounding houses. We used to patrol the site to look at the big flashy American cars. There were some real big ones there, as I believe each family could have one car shipped over from the states free. I remember some of them having sensors fitted so that the white wall tyres wouldn’t get scuffed. In later years the cars tended to be European or Japanese cars.
I became the local foot patrol officer for the Carpenders Park area in 1988, which is when I got to know Harry Wynn, the site caretaker really well. He had a small building on site, which consisted of an office, a workshop and washroom. Usually on a day shift, I would make Harry's place my first stop. We would talk and drink gallons of tea and I recall nursing many a hangover from the night before in there. Harry is a great character and is thrilled that this website exists. He still keeps in contact with some families in the states. He has heaps of photos of friends from the quarters, which he took over the years.
Harry would get regular visits from many residents during the day and he would be able to sort out many of their problems for them. Many would supply him with his meals during the day. He became great friends with a number of them and was always there if a shoulder to cry on was needed. Many of the residents wanted to install water beds in the quarters – illegal at the time due to their weight upstairs in the houses – Harry would sort it out for them.
I got to know a number of residents through my visits to Harry who eventually retired. After the cold war finished, more and more of the quarters fell empty and the decision was made to sell the site off. The site of 11 acres cost the Ministry of Defense £65,000 in 1960 and they were sold in 1997 for £9.5 million to a large building company for the site to be redeveloped.
The site consisted of 70 quarters in total made up mainly of two story three and four bedroom brick built houses. There were several bungalows, the largest being massive with stone fireplaces. All were fitted with 110 volt and 240 volt electrics. They were built to a higher standard than most u.k. houses of the period and upstairs had polished maple flooring fitted as per squash courts. The Ministry of Defense spent a lot of time and money keeping them maintained
A high-level water tank was fitted to provide water to the quarters. In the middle of the site was a large grassed area which eventually contained tennis and basketball courts. In the early 80’s a community centre was built.
After the last family moved out, the site was gated and ‘Keep out’ signs posted. I still have the original metal signs you can see on the photo of the small back gate to the site I posted. A security guard was employed and he took up residence in Harry’s office. I used to visit regularly and over a period of months watched the site deteriorate as grass and weeds grew, though the quarters remained in good condition till the day the demolition company moved in.
The demolition company moved in on Friday and the first house demolished was that of Michelle and Denise Webb. The outside bricks were stripped off for resale and the rest of the house demolished with only the roof panels, upstairs flooring and aluminum from the window frames salvaged for resale. The houses had been built on massive concrete foundations, which caused many problems for the demolition crews.
As part of planning permission in the U.K. developers must have sites inspected by archaeologists if old buildings have previously existed in an area, therefore a couple of digs were carried out on the site. The original basements were found from the old mansion, which had been in filled with rubble. I still have some pieces of old stone balustrade, floor tiles and an army issue teaspoon - dated 1942, from the rubble. I had got to know everyone involved on the site so was allowed to roam and take as many photos as I wanted during the course of demolition and subsequent building of the new estate.
After being posted to the area, I became aware that an old house had previously existed on the site and was known from the last war as an army camp so I began to carry out some research.
I discovered that a house had been on the site since the early 1700’s and was built by a Samuel Moody. After his death in the early 1800’s the house changed hands many times and was purchased, with 250 acres of land by a Robert Russell Carew who had made his fortune in India growing sugar and producing gin and rum. I know that ‘Carews booze’ was popular with B.29 crews in India during WW2.
After the parents died, the family sold the estate off and in 1914; the house became a school for ‘the daughters of gentlefolk’. At the outbreak of WW2 the house was requisitioned by the government for war use, and became part of the HQ for anti aircraft command and was used for social functions. It had a large, fancy ballroom. The predominantly female personnel stationed there who were engaged in signals and early secret radar development work filled the grounds with temporary accommodation for use.
After the war, in the early 1950’s the military moved out and the house fell derelict. The owner at the time, a building developer who had purchased the house and estate in the 1930’s hoped to develop the site himself, but, again, the military stepped in.
Housing was needed for USAF personnel from nearby USAF Ruislip. Amidst local protests, the site was subject of a compulsory purchase by the Air ministry on behalf of the USAF. I believe the site was purchased under the tobacco-housing scheme whereby the U.S. government paid in tobacco as the U.K. still owed millions from WW2. Local headlines read – ‘Housing plan for American airmen’.
Demolition was commenced and the new quarters built. One block was built right over the old mansion and after demolition it was discovered that massive concrete walls had been built down into the old basements to support the new house.
In July 1960, personnel of the 3rd air force occupied the first of the quarters. Maj. Gen. Ernest Moore performed the official opening and local papers featured the story.
After 30yrs, the quarters, in turn were demolished, and again there was great local concern over what was to be built on the site. 130 new houses were built and sold for prices varying between £140,000 and £250,000. All that remains of the old quarters are some sections of concrete wall around the perimeter.
Hope this information is of interest. Its by no means comprehensive but gives an idea of the history of the site. Feel free to publish or pass any of it on.
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