Out of The Past, January 1995

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In turning out old papers I have come upon a forgotten manuscript, about the Cedar Tree tea-rooms in Ripley. The place was discovered in 1918 by two people seeking a fresh way of life. The husband, subject to fevers from serving in the Boer War, had worked on aeroplanes during the 1914/18 conflict, being unfit for active service, and was able to design and build small yachts. Seeking a post-war occupation, he took his wife in the sidecar of his motorcycle combination (make, alas, not divulged) and, having found no premises on the Bath Road, after a night at Chiddingfold, they then explored the Portsmouth Road. Cobham yielded nothing, so a return was made to Ripley.

Here the couple discovered The Cedar House, in the High Street, a large Tudor building, formerly The George Hotel. It had been divided into two parts, that on the corner being Grimditch & Webb, the butchers. At the front were four bay windows, at the back four gables, tile-hung walls and a cobbled yard dominated by a giant cedar tree. Motoring? Well, bear with me. The house was thought too beautiful to be used as a garage, which was the husband’s idea of finding profitable post-Armistice work. But vetted by some friends, who might have taken the house themselves had it been suitable for breeding Alsations la period touch here?), the couple leased it themselves, moving in on New Year’s Eve, 1919.

Rather than spoil this fine house, with its great staircase, oak panelling, gallery and fine beams, dating back to the 16th century, which had once been a Coaching Inn from which the news-sheets for London and Portsmouth were distributed, an ugly building opposite was leased to make into a garage. The husband ran the garage, obtaining a Jowett agency, which became a main distributorship for Surrey; members of the original Jowett CC apparently visited the Cedar Tree. The garage foreman was hardworking Harry Freheck.

One early visitor to this tea-shop run by the wife was Bunty Scott-Moncrieff, prior to his entry into the motor trade. He soon livened the place up and suggested putting packets of Twining’s tea and oranges in the windows, to attract custom. The tea-shop flourished, all manner of famous people calling in, from Ramsey MacDonald, the Prime Minister, on his way to watch the Schneider Trophy race, to poets, actors and actresses, writers and painters, whom the proprietress had known when she was living in Kensington, Cecil Audin, Sax Romer, even the Sultan of Johore — what, I wonder, became of the visitors book in which they wrote their names? On the motoring front — we are there at last! — the visitors included the Longman brothers, AJS riders, Claude Temple of OEC fame, the Douglas racer Jack Emerson, Kaye Don, later with his sister Rita Don, Capt “Archie” Frazer-Nash’s mechanic Chadwick, Violet Cordery who drove Invictas at Brooklands and Monza, and motor-boat pilot Betty Carstairs. Capt (later Sir) Noel Macklin would arrive in a Stanley steam-car, on which he was to base the Invictas, and, we read, even Henry Ford himself, brought by Sir William Letts. The proximity of Brooklands made this a rendevous for these racing drivers; C A Vandervell came with his nephew Tony, long before the Vanwall was thought of, Nicholson, the yacht designer, was a regular tea-taker, and the old Earl of March would call in on his journeys from Goodwood to London; by then an invalid, he was helped by his devoted chauffeur.

Many handicapped war-victims were among these visitors, including David Drummond, who would come in a small sports car, presumably an Astral, for he was surely the Drummond who drove such a car on the Track in 1923. He came at other times on a motorcycle outfit; in spite of having artificial legs he would carry a similarly wounded sidecar passenger in to tea, Dr Wyler who had lost a leg at Jutland also came, on a Sunbeam sidecar outfit, with his “spare” leg in a spring-clip on the footboard. A Daimler Double-Six would bring “old Mrs Wireless”, so-called because she ran a mail-order radio components business — another period touch. . .

I do not know whether this delightful little mss was ever published; it has many splendid anecdotes and snatches of the history of Ripley, close to where Lord Lovelace grew fine cedar trees at Oakham Park. I somehow associate him with the Locke-Kings who built Brooklands Motor Course. I have a selfish purpose in recalling the Cedar Tree. I used to know the Portsmouth Road quite well — the Connaught premises at Send, a near-by garage with a 25/50 hp Talbot breakdown truck outside, the White Lion at Cobham where S F Edge rested before his 24-hour record run on the Napier at Brooklands in 1907, the barn-like tea place owned by AC record-breaker T Gillett — but I do not remember the Cedar Tree. It was taken over by a Miss Mysie Taplin and the garage by a man named Tanner, in the late 1930s. Does it still exist? If I still lived in Hampshire I would get out the Ford and drive over to check. But Wales is rather far away. So will someone please go and see if this fascinating tea-shop has survived?