Village sign The Chalfont St Giles
village website

Squatters Camp at The Vache in 1946

"Orderly Lawlessness"

Post-war homelessness and overcrowding after the War sparked a nationwide movement of squatting. One of the first of these occurred at The Vache which had been commandeered during the War, and within the grounds many Nissen Huts had been built.


Here's an article from Time Magazine dated Monday 2nd September 1946:

Britain's Labour Government, long under fire for failing to straighten out the housing shortage, last week had a revolt on its hands. The leader was a lean ex-Commando-man, John Mann, of Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire. Mann had been sharing a small, unsanitary cottage with his wife, his five-year-old son, and ten strangers. At the local pub one night, Mann heard a Polish captain say that a deserted army camp at nearby Vache Park was being readied for Polish soldiers of General Anders' army in exile. Mann decided to get there first.

At dawn, he and a handful of homeless veterans bloodlessly routed three Polish guards and seized Vache Park. Next day, 120 families had moved into the spacious army huts. After a flurry of resistance, local authorities capitulated.

From Vache Park, the squatters' revolt swept over Britain. Near by, at Beech Farms, Chesham Bois, Polish soldiers raced squatters to grab empty huts, staked their claims by installing beds. When they returned with the rest of their belongings, the beds were on the lawn, the squatters in the huts. At Prestwick, Scotland, R.A.F. men were called out of movies and dance halls to guard their quarters. At Chandler's Hill Camp, Iver, Buckinghamshire, soldiers sent vain S.O.S. calls to the police when the squatters moved in, wound up amicably sharing the camp with them. At Hamilton, Lanarkshire, 19 squatters each paid a £1 fine for trespassing, then marched from court right back to their commandeered camp. Into the antiaircraft establishments at London's Cricklewood Park, a veteran named Arthur Bunce led 15 families. Said his major: "Jolly good luck to you, Bunce. I would do the same thing if I were in your shoes."

Death at the War Office. Most of Britain felt like the major. But the Labor Government squirmed. A reporter asked the Ministry of Works how it stood on the squatters' revolt. "Oh," said a spokesman, "we stand well back. But they must be going crazy over at the Ministry of Health, and they say at least 20 generals expired at the War Office." Timidly the Cabinet recommended that all squatters who were occupying camps essential for military or civilian training should move at once. Instead, veterans even began moving into empty private homes.

This strange new mood the BBC called "orderly lawlessness." The squatters were not just people who had grown tired of waiting for new houses. Many were people who had never had houses before. Said Squatter Violet Bree at Vache Park: "Is it not wonderful? So much space! We used to live in one room with my mother-in-law—I was terrified of her. They say it will be ten years before we get a house, but I do not mind if we can stay here. There is another room behind there (they are going to knock a door through) with a telephone. I never had a telephone before."

But afterthoughts, as they must to all refuels, came to the squatters of Vache Park; this week, they found themselves paying Leader John Mann seven-and-six a week against a rainy day.


Here's an old film from Pathé News:

Squatters in Chalfont St Giles (1946) - An army camp taken over by squatters.
CHALFONT ST GILES


Here is an old aerial photo of the village. (Close-up view here.)
See the Nissen Huts in the grounds of the Vache in the bottom right hand corner.


Memories of local residents who lived in the Squatter's Camp can be found here.


Here's an short article about the squatters movement.

(Sourced from here.)


Here's an extract from a book called "Villains' Paradise: A History of Britain's Underworld"

(The book may be bought from here.)


Here's a piece from the Reading Eagle, Sunday 20th April 1947.