Byfleet is an inland island village forming a suburb of Woking in Surrey, England. It is in the east of the borough between the Wey navigation canal and the River Wey, and is within the M25 motorway.
Byfleet is close to the A3 and M25, and is located next to the former Brooklands motor circuit and aerodrome and the foot of the St George's Hill estate, just to the south of Weybridge, to the west of Cobham and to the east of West Byfleet. The village is served by the Byfleet and New Haw railway station.
July 2012 marked an historic moment in Byfleet's history, becoming a host of the men's and women's cycling road races for the 2012 Summer Olympics Games.
The village lies within the Godley hundred, a Saxon administrative division. Byfleet appears in Domesday Book as Byeflete. It was held by Uluuin (Wulfwin) from Chertsey Abbey. Its domesday assets were: 2½ hides; 1 church, 1 mill worth 5s, 1½ fisheries worth 325 eels, Template:Convert of meadow, woodland worth 10 hogs. It rendered £4.
The historic St Mary's Church dates back to at least the 14th century, as does Byfleet Manor
In 1895, 20 year old Hampshire-born Walter George Tarrant started a new carpentry business, W G Tarrant Ltd, in Byfleet and later expanded into housebuilding. The company built extensively in Pyrford and West Byfleet in the early 1900s.
In 1898, the village gained an impressive new village hall and club thanks to the generosity of wealthy benefactor Frederick C Stoop who lived at West Hall (between Byfleet and West Byfleet).
By 1911 the Tarrant Works covered over five acres and included workshops for joinery, wrought iron and leaded lights, a stonemason’s yard and a timber mill with drying sheds. The firm also owned nurseries and brickfields elsewhere and was Byfleet's largest employer for many years.
Byfleet expanded considerably after the opening of the Brooklands motor circuit in 1907 and when major aircraft factories opened there during World War I. A large housing estate for Vickers aircraft workers was built between Chertsey Road and Oyster Lane in World War I and although sold off by the early sixties, these houses still exist today. The Tarrant Tabor bomber, the largest aeroplane built in Britain during World War I, was constructed in Byfleet by W G Tarrant Ltd but crashed fatally at Farnborough on 26 May 1919 on its first attempted take-off. Several other aeroplanes were built in Byfleet by Glenny & Henderson Ltd in the late 1920s.
The influence of the aircraft industry on the village's development continued between the wars and during World War Two and most of the new aeroplanes built at Brooklands took off over the centre of Byfleet on their first flights - the most spectacular being the first flight of the huge Vickers VC10 airliner in 1962. The urgent need to supply the Vickers Valiant V-bomber to the RAF notably led to the removal of the central section of the race track's Byfleet Banking when a new hard runway was built in 1951.
Various aircraft crashed in and around Byfleet during the first half of the last century; these include a Vickers Viking amphibian (on 13/4/22, flown by record-breaking England-Australia Vickers Vimy pilot Sir Ross Macpherson Smith and Lt Bennett - both men died), the prototype Vickers Wibault (in June 1926, flown by chief test pilot 'Tiny' Scholefield - he baled out and the aeroplane crashed on the Vickers Sports Ground), an RAF Taylorcraft Auster (on 12/3/43, flown by Capt W Whitson who hit a barrage balloon cable on bad visibility and crashed) and an RAF North American P-51 Mustang III (on 6/4/44, flown by S/Ldr Szawblowsky who struck a balloon cable and crashed near Oyster Lane). On 2 January 1945 a Vickers Warwick flown by test pilot Bob Handasyde crashed beside Rectory Lane in Three Acre Field close to St Mary's Church and just missed road-sweeper Jack Smith with a wing-tip. Another Vickers employee named Bob Rampling (who lived in nearby Hopfield Avenue) was also on board and was reputedly sent on another test flight that same day.
During July 2012 Byfleet became a host of the London 2012 Olympic Games when the mens, and ladies, road race passed through the village. The races took place on 28th (mens), and 29th (ladies), of July 2012. The route passed west along the A245, Parvis Road, from Weybridge towards West Byfleet. The route was lined with London 2012 Olympic banners, making the event a real spectacle as it passed through.
World War II
World War II affected village life in many ways with evacuees, British and Canadian soldiers and even German prisoners of war all being accommodated locally and, after the Vickers factory on the East side of Brooklands was badly bombed with heavy loss of life on 4 September 1940, barrage balloons and other military defences were deployed throughout the local area. The Hawker aircraft factory on the Byfleet side of the aerodrome was attacked two days later with major damage to its premises and other buildings nearby but Hurricane production was not seriously disrupted. The importance of Brooklands to the war effort was emphasised by the construction circa 1941 of a large anti-aircraft gun tower just east of the village at Manor Farm. Together with two similar structures on the north side of Brooklands, Byfleet's gun crew manned a 40mm Bofors gun against further enemy air attacks. A fatal accident in the centre of Byfleet around 1942/43 saw a military Bren Gun Carrier operated by the Welsh Guards collide with the corner of The Plough pub killing a regular lady customer. She visited the pub regularly around midday and was co-owner of 'The Log Cabin' (a small shop opposite nearby Binfield Road) but sadly she died outside the premises having been pinned against the pub's bay window. This part of the building was then shored up with timbers for a considerable period of time afterwards. In 1944 many troops stationed locally departed for France on D-Day and older residents still recall a column of American tanks which passed through the village at that time with a long tail-back of tanks running between the War Memorial and The Clockhouse. Byfleet also came under attack from V-1 'Doodlebug' flying bombs - two fell beside Byfleet Road on 21 August and slightly injured two people. That same year a new Vickers flight test airfield opened just South of Byfleet at Wisley.
Byfleet inevitably had connections motor racing at Brooklands too - record-breaking racing driver J G Parry-Thomas and motorcycle racer Bert Denly both lived in Byfleet in the 1920s and the renowned race-tuner Robin Jackson lived at St George's Hill and had an engineering works in Byfleet after World War 2. Also post-war, Brooklands motorcycle engineer Francis Beart had a small workshop beside the garage opposite the post office in High Road and specialised in tuning Nortons there. The village had many garages and petrol stations during the 20th century and postwar racing driver Duncan Hamilton's old racing workshop that was the base for his Jaguar Le Mans assault survives today as a car showroom & workshop at 7, High Road, opposite the old fire station. The modern 'Cobb House' in Oyster Lane is presumed to have been named in memory of record-breaking racing driver John Cobb who lived in Esher and the modern 'Birkin Court' in Chertsey Road is assumed to commemorate another racing driver, Tim Birkin.
St. Mary's Church
St Mary's Church interior features some very rare wooden crosses (grave markers) recovered from the Continent shortly after World War I and among notable graves in the churchyard, are those of Brooklands-based racing driver J G Parry-Thomas who died at Pendine Sands in Wales in 1927 while attacking the world Land Speed Record and Bert le Vack, one of the greatest ever motorcyclists to have raced at Brooklands. Also buried there were Scottish aviation pioneer and Vickers' first test pilot Harold Barnwell who was killed flying a new prototype fighter at Joyce Green Aerodrome near Dartford, Kent, in 1917 and Ebeneezer Mears, who founded a well-known construction company which was based in the village for many years. One of the first British women pilots to die in a flying accident is also buried in St Mary's Churchyard - Honor Wellby, who lived with her parents at nearby St George's Hill, died after crashing an Avro 504 on take-off from Brooklands in 1928. At least three victims of the 1940 bombing of Brooklands are also buried here - 17 year old Irene Coleman, 36 year old Edward Eastwood and 21 year old Gwendoline Goddard, who all worked for Vickers at the time.
The history of the Sanway area of Byfleet is largely unrecorded and therefore currently being researched by local historians. Among its original residents in the early 20th century was record-breaking racing motorcyclist Bert Denly who lived in Richmond Cottages.
The Sanway Laundry was a major local employer from the early 1900s until the 1960s with its distinctive green and white delivery vans. One of several late 19th century laundries established in the Sanway area of the village, it relocated during World War 1 to occupy part of the former Byfleet Brewery in High Road until closed and redeveloped c.1970 as 'The Willows' housing estate. Another smaller laundry located in Binfield Cottages (beside Top Field in Sanway) provided a laundry service for Byfleet Manor and was managed by Mrs Amelia Bailey (later Harling) but closed soon after she died c.1936.
Despite many new housing developments in recent decades and a number of flats for older residents such as 'Barnes Wallis Court' opened in 2009 at the junction of Oyster Lane and Parvis Road, Byfleet Village still has character and a number of interesting old buildings today including 12 nationally designated Listed buildings. Nine others are Locally Listed and the West end of High Road is also a Conservation Area.
Byfleet is an ancient parish. It was included as a civil parish in the Chertsey Rural District in 1884; it was added to the Woking urban district in 1933 under a County Review Order, thus extinguishing its parish council. Byfleet constitutes a civil parish. The most recent parish council was formed in 1989. In June 2005, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister refused to abolish the parish, despite its own request. In May 2007, a group standing under an "Abolish Byfleet Parish Council" banner won election to the Parish Council and again proceeded to seek its abolition. This was ultimately achieved and reported in the Byfleet News and Mail on 17 December 2009.
The War Memorial commemorates military personnel and civilians who died in both world wars who came from the local community. In the lead up to Remembrance Sunday the memorial is lit up each night. The memorial includes, public benches, flower beds and a beautifully simple, yet empowering stone wall naming each hero that gave their life for justice and freedom.
Property values of Byfleet have been reasonable in comparison to its adjoining affluent neighbours of Weybridge and West Byfleet. This is unusual for a Surrey village located less than a mile away from Britain's wealthy estate of St George's Hill - which was itself first developed by Byfleet builder, Walter George Tarrant.
Lloyds TSB is now the only bank in Byfleet, but there are still three pubs (a fourth - The King's Head in Chertsey Road - closed in April 2010 and was demolished a year later), a post office, Co-op, Budgens and a large variety of other local shops and businesses.
A village market is held on the green on the first Saturday every month except January, and the traditional Byfleet Parish Day is held on the recreation ground with supporting events in the nearby village hall and St Mary's Day Centre every July.
Other recent developments include The Clockhouse in High Road at the east end of the village; this 18th-century mansion has a significant history and was converted in the 1960s into a retirement home for the elderly before its latest renovation as flats for the over-fifties was completed in 2009.
Parvis Road was part of the 2012 Olympics Cycle Road Race route in July 2012 and also for the practice race for 150 entrants on 14 August 2011, which was won by British team member Mark Cavendish.
In the centre of Brooklands in September 2012, Brooklands Museum installed the 40% scale model of the iconic Concorde airliner previously displayed near the entrance to London Heathrow Airport's Central Terminal Tunnel. Repainted in authentic 1970s airline colours, the model now sits proudly beside the junction of Wellington Way and Sopwith Drive as an impressive symbol of Brooklands' aviation and industrial heritage.
Byfleet Heritage Society
The Byfleet Heritage Society formed in 1996 and has detailed historical displays in Byfleet Library's Heritage Room and popular monthly meetings in the former Victorian school, now the St Mary's Centre. Society projects include making oral history recordings with older residents, recording gravestones and memorials in St Mary's Churchyard and researching specific subjects such as Byfleet's numerous shops and businesses, village life in World War 2 plus the Stoop family and West Hall.
Byfleet Fire Station
This rare surviving example of a rural Victorian fire station was built at the West end of High Road in 1885 by notable local MP and former Lord Mayor of London Sir John Ellis and served the village until closed in 1963. Still owned today by Surrey County Council, it was designated a Grade 2 Listed building in 2008 and a partnership of Brooklands Museum, the Byfleet Heritage Society and other local organisations is actively working on long term plans to restore the historic building for a heritage-related community use. Since 2008, project volunteers have secured grants and sponsorship, organised professional conservation and condition surveys, carried out priority repairs, staged regular open days and generally improved the building's interior and exterior. In November 2009 a new development of retirement flats (appropriately named Ellis Court) was completed beside the fire station.
Byfleet is mentioned in chapter twelve of The War of the Worlds (1898) by H. G. Wells, viz;
Byfleet was in a tumult; people packing, and a score of hussars, some of them dismounted, some on horseback, were hunting them about. Three or four black government waggons, with crosses in white circles, and an old omnibus, among other vehicles, were being loaded in the village street. There were scores of people, most of them sufficiently sabbatical to have assumed their best clothes. The soldiers were having the greatest difficulty in making them realise the gravity of their position. We saw one shrivelled old fellow with a huge box and a score or more of flower pots containing orchids, angrily expostulating with the corporal who would leave them behind.
- Sir George Barnes; Controller of BBC Radio and Television in the 1940s and 50s. Principal of the University College of North Staffordshire, now Keele University 1956-60
- Bert Denly - engineer and record-breaking racing motorcyclist
- Harry Dodson - born in Byfleet; presenter of 1987 TV series The Victorian Kitchen Garden
- Sir John Ellis - former Lord Mayor of London, MP and founder of Byfleet Fire Brigade, lived at Petersham House in High Road in the late 19th century
- Sarah Miles - lived in Byfleet in the late 1960s - early 1970s
- J G Parry-Thomas - engineer and record-breaking racing driver, lived in The Hermitage inside the Brooklands Track
- Joseph Spence - 18th Century historian
- Walter George Tarrant - lived at Lake House, Chertsey Road
- Flower, Stephen (1994) ‘Raiders Overhead – The Bombing of Walton & Weybridge’ (Air Research Publications, Walton on Thames)
- Gardner, Charles (1956) ‘Fifty Years of Brooklands’ (Heinemann).
- Gilbert, James (1975) ‘The World’s Worst Aircraft – A Rogue’s Gallery of Flying Follies’ (M & J Hobbs Ltd & Michael Joseph Ltd) – see chapter on the Byfleet-built Tarrant Tabor bomber.
- Norris, Richard (2008) ‘The Life and Works of Walter George Tarrant’ (self-published).
- Stevens, Leonard R (1977, Reprinted and Revised edition) The Parish Church of St Mary The Virgin Byfleet’ (printed locally).
- Stevens, Leonard, E, (2nd edition reprint, 2001) 'Byfleet - A Village of England'(Byfleet Heritage Society).
- Wakeford, Iain (2000) ‘Byfleet – A Heritage Walks Guide’ (AK, HR & DA Wakeford, Old Woking, Surrey).
- Byfleet News and Mail
- Byfleet's Community & Social Networking Website
- Byfleet Heritage Society website