The Slaugham Archives

Armoured cars at Tilgate
The Slaugham Archive
Armoured cars at Tilgate

An unusual event took place at Tilgate on Saturday 8th June 1935, the Whitsun weekend, when about 25 vehicles of the Armoured Car Squadron of the 12th Royal Lancers arrived and parked in an orderly manner in the back yard. The notes indicate that they departed on the Sunday, but the reason why they chose to visit Tilgate is not given. Please can anyone assist?
The Large Version shows another scene of the same event but has been included here as it is the only image of the huge glass house with an even-taller chimneystack used in heating the building. By heck, you could grow a lot of tomatoes in there!

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Picture added on 12 August 2012 at 09:57
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I seem to remember that the lake at Tilgate was also known as "Campbell's Lake". Could Malcolm or Donald Campbell have been living there hence the invitation for the armoured cars to meet there?
Added by Arthur Shopland on 27 September 2012
I think the Campbell connection with Tilgate is too modern for the 1935 armoured car assembly. The plaque at Tilgate Lake says “In the late 1930s and 1940s Sir Malcolm Campbell 1885-1948, world water speed record holder, tested and developed Bluebird on this lake known locally as Campbell’s Lake”. The Nix family, who had lived at Tilgate since about 1863 moved to Freechase in Warninglid in 1939, and one assumes that the “late 1930s” above means that Sir Malcolm moved in then.
I have now found a photograph of Charles Luke Nix, son of Charles Nix and known as Luke, dated 25th September 1933, the day he left for India. He was a member of the 17th/21st Royal Lancers, and it seems most likely that the armoured cars were assembled at Tilgate following some sort of invitation from the Nix family.
As an aside, the version of events described on the blue plaque is hotly disputed by archivists and enthusiasts who say that if Tilgate Lake was used for testing Bluebird it would have been recorded in Leo the engineer’s meticulous logs, which it wasn’t.
Added by Barry Ray on 28 September 2012
Tilgate was owned by Sir Malcolm Campbell from 1932. He had a summer house on one of the islands in the biggest lake.
Contary to popular belief, no development work on any Blue Bird was done at Tilgate. Between the wars, Campbell and his team developed an armoured car (indeed Campbell wrote a book, "The Danger From Above" on the dangers of air raids) and invited others to develop armoured vehicles, as cheaply as possible, for what he could see was a fast-approaching war. I would guess this is what this picture is about.
Sir Malcolm died on New Year's Eve 1948, having suffered a series of strokes, the first on his way to Tilgate to deliver Christmas presents to his staff there.
For more on the Campbells, my book "Leap Into Legend" is available from Amazon, and was written with the assistance of the Campbell family and those that work with and for them.
Added by Steve Holter on 03 December 2014
The summer house mentioned was on the island nearest the waterfall. When the Crawley council purchased the park in the 1960s, the local children named the two islands at the end of the lake "Bamboo Island" because of a clump of it growing there, and "Hut Island" because of the ruined summer house. There was a bridge to the latter island from the western bank, but all that was left then were two iron stanchions (the walkway had vanished). It was possible, as a child, to inch one's way across to explore, and also to pick one's way through the mud to Bamboo Island. That was before the council dredged the lakes, and dumped the mud on the banks.
The edges of the lake used to be covered in flowering bogbean, and below the dam the marshy area was literally pink with spotted orchids. The council dumped excavated clay from Furnace Green there, and killed all the old oak trees by piling it on their roots. They left the swamp cypress alone, but it was literally smashed out of the ground by the 1987 storm.
Added by Basil Watkins on 31 July 2015
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