Vigo Parish Council
The Village of Vigo may not be as modern as some would think. Although the existing village originates with the first planning consent in 1962, a hamlet of Vigoe is recorded on an early 18th century map and it may well be that this hamlet took its name from the Vigo Inn. The Inn, dating from 1471, is reputed to have been renamed by a local man after he purchased it with ‘prize money’ from his time under Admiral Rooke at the battle of Vigo Bay during Franco/Spanish War in 1702.
Little is recorded about the area until the 1870’s when Sir Sidney Waterlow purchased large areas of land including the Village of Fairseat, and a good proportion of Stanstead, together with land from Wrotham to Meopham. The parts of the estate were linked by a small bridge bearing the family crest over Trottiscliffe Road still in evidence today.
In 1887 he built Trosley Towers on the crest of the escarpment to the east of Trottiscliffe Road. It was approached by two drives and was surrounded by wooded grounds. Other private drives were constructed, one of which is Hamilton Drive which still survives in Trosley country Park and runs from the site of the old House to Commority Road.
Sir Sidney died in 1906 and the estate passed to his son Sir Philip. When he died in 1931 the estate was sold off. Some of the houses were bought by tenants, one of these was Pilgrims House, with six acres of land, at the
bottom of Trottiscliffe Road which went for £600. Trosley Towers and the woodlands were sold to Mr E. E. Shahmoon in 1935, this was also the time of the chalet building.
In 1936 Mr Shahmoon had Trosley Towers demolished and had Hamilton Lodge built along with adjoining stables. One story suggests that the Lodge and stables were built to accommodate the Shah of Persia and his racehorses on his visits to England.
The whole area was still owned by Mr Shahmoon when it was taken over by the army 1942 and Hamilton Lodge was to be the HQ of the Brigade that was stationed here.
1942 - 1946
Perhaps the majority of those who live in or near the village of Vigo and who have moved here since the war were only vaguely aware that this area of the North Downs had been the scene of intense military activity during the last war. Some had had tangible proof when digging in the garden had revealed tarmac roads or the foundations of buildings only just below the topsoil. The children often returned with 'relics' found in the woods and on more than one occasion army bomb disposal teams were called in to deal with the more 'exciting' finds.
With the outbreak of war and the subsequent increase in size of the army, the need for large numbers of suitable candidates to train as officers soon became apparent. This training was normally under-taken at an Officer Cadet Training Unit (O.C.T.U.) which was attached to that arm of the service in which the cadet would eventually serve e.g. R.A., R.E., Infantry etc.
Because each O.C.T.U. was required to teach basic army skills, duplication of resources occurred, also standards varied from unit to unit and most importantly the levels of skill and basic army training of individual cadets varied considerably.
In the early part of 1942 it was decided therefore to standardise this basic training and send all potential officer cadets to a pre-O.C.T.U. for up to eight weeks prior to their attendance at their 'specialist' O.C.T.U. With a few exceptions, all officer cadets would now be required to attend this newly formed pre-O.C.T.U. ‘Wrotham Camp’ which was to be situated on what is now the site of Vigo Village. Training areas would extend northwards through all of ‘Happy Valley’, almost to Meopham, and south to farmland beyond the Pilgrims Way. It would handle the vast majority of officers for the British Army for the next four years. It would be big – up to 10,000 men at any one time.
The task of forming and administrating this new camp would fall to the 148th independent Brigade Group. This Brigade would now be known as the 148th Training Brigade
Three battalions of the Brigade, The 8th.Btn.Sherwood Foresters, the 4th.Btn.Royal Berkshire Regt and the 1/5th.Btn.Leicestershire Regt. formed the three infantry 'Wings'[A, B and C].which were operational by August 1942 Two other Wings would also operate, D Wing which would be Driving and Maintenance, and E Wing which consisted of elements of the Royal Artillery.
The Sherwood Foresters [A Wing] would be responsible for the administration of the whole camp and set up the Brigade Headquarters in Hamilton Lodge on the Harvel Road.
The selection of potential officers from the ranks of the Army was done in the first instance by the individuals own C.O. followed by a War Office Selection Board, W.O.S.B ( known as WOSBEE). This procedure involved everything from a mini-battle course to a psychiatric interview. On arrival the grading and testing done by 'A' Wing would determine the length of time the cadet would stay (the courses were designed to bring all officer cadets up to a similar standard prior to entering their specific O.C.T.U.)
Permanent staff and instructors who lived in the area were allowed to return home at evenings and weekends whilst the remainder were either accommodated on the site or billeted in Meopham or Wrotham. For the cadet it was the Nissen hut. Staff kept their own Regimental insignia but all wore the Brigade flash, the letters N.M. (black on green) which stood for North Midlands, although some, when asked by young ladies of the village as to what it stood for suggested 'Not Married'! , The cadet would remove all Regimental insignia and any badges of rank and wear a white band of cloth around the lower part of their hat and strips of white tape on the shoulder straps of their battle-dress blouse to denote their cadet status.
Training consisted of lectures and demonstrations in a variety of subjects, tactics, map reading, field craft, camouflage and the operation of a variety of weapons including grenades and mortars. Field craft areas close to the camp were in 'Happy Valley' and night exercises took place in and around Luddesdown, Pilgrims Way, Addington and Ryarsh with a rifle range in the chalk pit, an assault course at the bottom of the escarpment and 2" mortar and grenade ranges to the south of the Pilgrims Way.
All instruction regarding vehicles was done at the D Wing [Driving and Maintenance]. The Wing had a large transport column of vehicles from 15cwt. trucks to 10 ton recovery vehicles plus hundreds of motor-cycles. The main motor pool was situated on what is now Vigo Rugby Club and motor cycle training was undertaken on a figure of eight course in the area of what is now Highview.
For recreation the local pubs and village halls were often visited, the Vigo Pub provided good beer and darts and skittles with the locals. The Cricketers was also popular and a collection of cadets regimental badges once adorned the walls. Dances were also held at Meopham Village Hall on Wednesday evenings and many ex-cadets still wonder if the famous 'Meopham Blonde' or 'Capbadge Kate' are still around, both apparently the talk of officers messes the world over!
The camp continued to operate through to the early part of 1946 but with the end of the war in sight and the future size of the post-war army already under discussion the days of the Training Brigade were numbered and the decision to abolish the Brigade was taken on the 8th April 1946.
Today little is left of what was at one time the largest pre-O.C.T.U. in the world. Only the outlines of some of the foundations in the surrounding woods, a concrete platform at the top of the escarpment which was a map reading point and a crumbling assault course wall at the bottom of the escarpment are now visible. Only one building remains, with its large, rusting double doors, it is situated behind Vigo School and was one of the motor transport garages.
The only other reminder left today is in the name of one of the roads running through the village, Erskine Road, named after the Commanding Officer of the 148 Training Brigade from January 1943, and the Brigade HQ, Hamilton Lodge,on the Harvel Road.
1946 – to date
With the departure of the army in 1946 ‘squatters’ moved in. These were people who, for the most part, had lost everything they had during the blitz. Here they found ready made accommodation in the form of Nissen Huts well made roads and soon a lively, friendly community was to form. The presence of some 1000 people in the area prompted the Councils of Strood, Gravesend, West Malling and Northfleet to improve conditions for the inhabitants. Roads were improved, WC’s were installed together with partitioning in the huts to provide three rooms. All at a price of course, the Council could now charge rent at the rate of 7/6p per week. It was now known as Vigo Village.
The old camp lecture hall, Erskine Hall [on what is now the School field], was still standing and served the community in a variety of forms and at one point it was used as a storage facility for props from the London Palladium.
A bus service was started along with a shopping centre, known as Piccadilly Circus, which provided a butchers, a Co-Op, Café, Bakers and drapery store. There was a library, housed in Erskine Hall, a barbers with a fully equipped salon, and Dr Jenman and Dr Haslar held a surgery in ‘Harley Street’ nearby. [This is better than we have today!]
The stables at the back of Hamilton Lodge were used as a Primary School from about 1948. Prior to this the children attended Meopham and Culverstone Schools. A Scout Group, the 17th Gravesend, was also started run by the Church Army.
To the East of the site on what was the old army motorcycle training course [now the area of Highview] was a caravan site.
By the late 1950’s many of the residents were re-housed in nearby areas and the land was to a certain extent cleared. The land was then sold by Mr Shahmoon to Croudace Ltd, a property development company, for a reported £65,000 and Vigo village as we know it today was born.
I have been researching the history of the camp for many years now and would be more than happy to receive any further information from former army cadets or staff or from those who lived in the camp post-war. Even the smallest piece of information would be gratefully received as it all adds to the history.