Thamesweb Logo

Gordon Cullingham
1915 - 1999

Gordon Cullingham, retired Borough Engineer of Windsor and well-known historian and campaigner, died at the age of 84 on Wednesday 3rd November 1999.
  ThamesWeb would like to record his significant contribution to Windsor affairs, which spanned a full sixty years, since coming to the Borough in 1939. This article takes a look at his career at Windsor and his interests in his subsequent retirement.
   We have made available several of those stories that he researched and wrote about the history of the town and the personalities that lived here such as The Floods of 1947 and The Royal Windsor Tapestry Works. The ThamesWeb History Zone is respectfully and gratefully dedicated to his memory.
  This article is based upon letters that Gordon Cullingham himself wrote for his grandchildren in 1998 and 1999.

Gordon Cullingham

The Early Years
1915 - 1939

Gordon Cullingham was born in Beckenham, Kent on July 10th 1915. In a letter written the day before he died, he describes for the benefit of his grand-children how he "could still recall the sounds of the First World War, when German bombs rained down on SE London".
Apparently, every so often, a Zeppelin (nicknamed "The Baby Killer") would fly over Croydon dropping bombs as it passed overhead. Gordon describes how his mother told him that the resulting explosions were the sounds of trains going over a nearby bridge!

A 'Baby Killer' (Zeppelin) over London
when Gordon was 2 months old. (8th September 1915)

In 1924 the family bought their first car, a Singer 10 with overhead valves - a great advance - but still only with rear wheel brakes. Gordon writes "This 4-seater Open Tourer took us - just about - to the Sussex coast and Suffolk and to Buckinghamshire where my father must have had connections."
  The family home was probably typical of the time, gas lighting down stairs, candles in the bedrooms and a kitchen range that provided, "more or less, heated hot water, but the bathroom was not often used. A galvanised bath served in front of the kitchen range fire, with its steel parts that had to be brightened by emery rubbing, the black being black-leaded. Our steel knives had to be cleaned until they shone on an emery board, a chore that my elder brother disliked."
  "The milkman came round with a handcart and brought a churn daily to the back door where a jug would be filled with a pint (or two) of fresh milk - which in summer often went sour. There were no fridges. The baker called with his horse and cart, which reminds me that the horses were the source of much energy, and must have been fed from acres of fields of grass and corn, later to be replaced by steam Foden wagons and petrol engined lorries and cars."
  In 1927 Gordon moved to a nearby house in Beckenham which had electric light and a garage for their next car, an Austin 12 Tourer.
  Gordon lost some time at school due to illness but studied hard in his teenage years in the early 1930s to gain his qualifications for the Institute of Chartered Surveyors (ARICS). By this time the family had moved to Herne Bay, Kent, where Mr Cullingham senior built a new family house in Queensbridge Drive at the junction with West Hill Road.

Ambleside 1931

'Ambleside', Queensbridge Drive, Herne Bay built in the summer of 1931, seen here on completion in November of that year.

In 1931 his father bought a new Austin 12 saloon, a car that Gordon was later to use around Windsor until 1956, and with which they towed a magnificent caravan, 'Curlew', which weighed almost a ton and a quarter! Not surprising - it even had leaded windows!

Car and Caravan, Bexley St, 1953

Bexley Street, Windsor, at the time of the Coronation in 1953,
and the Cullinghams have a newly fitted out pre-war caravan
ready to depart for their holidays at Selsey Bill.
The caravan has leaded windows, I promise!

Gordon's mother

Gordon's mother, Lilian Margretta Gordon, at Herne Bay in the 1930s

Gordon's first employment was in Colchester in the Town Planning Office, the journey from Herne Bay being made in, as Gordon describes, "a decrepit Morgan 3 wheeler" which included a river crossing at the Woolwich Ferry. He would make this journey regularly, travelling from his 'digs' to his parents' home back in Herne Bay.
  Soon after he worked in the Borough Engineer's office in Canterbury and met his wife-to-be, Mollie. Only later were they to discover that they had been born in the same road, Mackenzie Road, Beckenham! In the run-up to WWII Gordon worked at Bexhill.
  Gordon recalls that he remembers seeing the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace near Croydon on 30 November, 1936. He drove over to witness this major loss to the London skyline. Although the Crystal Palace was not quite the size it had been when originally erected in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851, Gordon would have been very interested in the building, both from a historical and an engineer's point of view.

Crystal Palace

The Crystal Palace, reconstructed in South London

The Windsor Years
1939 - 1999

Gordon came to Windsor in May 1939 as Assistant Engineer to work in the large drawing office at the Windsor Corporation 'depot' in Alma Road, no. 16, since demolished to make way for Ward Royal in the late 1960s. With the outbreak of war with Germany in September 1939 some territorials had been called up and the rest "registered" at intervals. Gordon was at first "reserved" but he was never called up, possibly because of the nature of his work in the borough.
  In 1941 Gordon and Mollie married and towards the end of that year their first son, Mark, (1941-1995) was born. Graham Mark Cullingham web page.
  Meanwhile F.N. McRae, the Borough Engineer, was becoming ill from asthma. He was in charge of the Rescue and Decontamination parties, but had done no training, and the gear was still in the store room. Gordon had done some training at Bexhill and found that he had to take over. There were three Rescue parties and three Decontamination parties, all from Borough workmen. The County ARP was at Steventon, and Gordon recalls a rare opportunity to drive a Ford ambulance full of men being taken for advanced training. This was the first chance to drive for months - his father's old Austin 12 was laid up for the duration of the War, with virtually no petrol available. Gordon describes how driving at 70 mph was great fun!
Then came the Baedecker air raids and Gordon's call up to the Royal Engineers but Mr McRae was ill and somehow Gordon was deferred "for three days or until a substitute was found". He kept his kit bag under the stairs beside where his wife Mollie used to shelter their baby son, Mark, in case of air raids. This was at "Nancledra," 6 Maidenhead Road, opposite the newly built Grammar School. Gordon and Mollie had set up home at No. 6 in April 1941 and were to live there until 1948 and the move into their own, newly built home, 112, Clarence Road.
  Throughout this period, Gordon's deferred call-up to the Royal Engineers was never cancelled and lasted after the war, until the call -up ended. Most of the borough staff had in fact been called up. Eventually Gordon had to work a double shift on housing plans and other planning matters, sometimes until midnight. But he was still holding his rail pass to the Royal Engineers.
  In 1945 Mr McRae died and Gordon was appointed to take over but this was not to endure, despite his significant qualifications, because when the Labour Party took over from the Conservatives one of their objectives was to have a qualified architect in charge of housing, resulting in the appointment of G.S. Baker. But he was not an architect, so it was a shock to Gordon as his housing plans had been approved by the Ministry and he was eminently qualified and capable.

Geoffrey Baker November 1964

Borough Engineer, Geoffrey Baker, November 1964

Gordon recalls that an alderman was critical of his plans because the "C" type houses faced in different directions. Gordon describes in his letter how " Doctor had given me a pill to take "in case of need". I took the pill at the Council meeting and this resulted in my being "in top gear" and "dealing with every quibble!!" There is no doubt that Gordon was highly qualified - he had continued to acquire additional qualifications throughout this period - but there were those who perhaps considered him too young, despite his experience in the Borough, or were less convinced than others by the value of qualifications. Gordon writes "It was experience rather than my qualifications that I could rely upon, but the latter was invaluable to those who doubted the value of qualifications. "Would you like to be operated upon by an unqualified surgeon?" flattened the doubters!
  In 1947 Gordon was closely involved with the Windsor Flood in March of that year. Mollie Cullingham describes how she went out into Maidenhead Road to see the flood waters creeping up from the west. Although the water reached their front door at No. 6, Maidenhead Road, the water remained just under the floor boards. Nevertheless, they were required to share the upstairs flat with another family for the duration of the flood. Gordon's history of the flood is available at The Floods of Windsor, 1947.
  In 1948 Gordon and Mollie built their own house, 112, Clarence Road, in conjunction with Mr Lilley, a director of Miller, Morris and Brooker, the builders' supplies company in Slough. A beautiful Silver Birch sapling was planted in the front garden, lifted from Windsor Great Park by Gordon's 7 year old son Mark at the time the house was built. Sadly the silver birch was cut down in 2006.
  Gordon described to his grandchildren how, while taking a weekend break with his wife Mollie and his family in Herne Bay in early 1948, he heard on the radio how building permissions were to be tightened up and that any applications received after Monday would not be granted. Gordon realised that plans for his new house would be scuppered if he did not get the relevant papers to the right department at Reading, Berkshire, in time for first thing Monday morning. He therefore jumped into the family Austin 12 and drove from Herne Bay to Windsor, grabbed his and several other people's applications from his desk and raced to Reading to beat the deadline. A day or two later he received a call from the officer in charge in Reading. "It's funny," the officer said, "I could have sworn that I had completed all outstanding applications on Friday night!!!"
  Fortunately Gordon's papers were passed and he received the necessary permits for the purchase of timber, etc. required for his house to be completed soon after the birth of their second son, Roger.
  In 1949 The Borough Offices were relocated to Kipling Building in Alma Road. Originally built for the Imperial Services College in 1939, the school moved away at the start of the war and the War Dept took over the premises, subsequently releasing them to Windsor Corporation in 1949. It is here that Gordon worked as Deputy and subsequently as Borough Engineer until the merger with Maidenhead in 1974. Kipling Building was demolished in 1981 to make way for the Rank Hovis McDougall office development, later occupied by Reckitt and Coleman and then by the The Six Continents Group. Gordon and Mollie moved from Clarence Road to a turn of the century house in Alma Road, directly across the road from Kipling Building, in 1967.

The family at home, 1954

Gordon with his two sons at his home in Clarence Road, 1954

Gordon with bass, 1956

A proud fisherman with bass - Lamorna Cove, Summer 1956

Gordon was the 'Responsible Officer' for a considerable variety of projects in the Borough throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, notably the Civic Trust Face Lift of 1961. The were numerous other events, some of them with Royal connections, with which Gordon was involved and which we will be featuring on this Web Site as the stories are completed and illustrated.
  Gordon was appointed Borough Engineer in 1966, a position he held until RBNW merged with Maidenhead in March 1974 and he could then retire to a life of local history research, family genealogy and taking up the cudgels when the need arose for a local campaign or five! It is probably this aspect that most Windsorians will remember him for.

Gordon in his office at Kipling Building

Gordon Cullingham at his desk in Kipling Building

Details of Gordon Cullingham's various campaigns are included on ThamesWeb. There are reference areas for the 1989 Vansittart Road Open Space and we shall be covering the attempt to turn The Bachelors Acre Burial Ground, now a peaceful area to the north of the Acre, into a Car Park for The Castle Hotel, a scheme that the Friends of The Old Burial Ground successfully scuppered after taking their battle as high as Privy Council. There was also the shadow cast over the houses in Alma Road, one of which was the birthplace of both Sir Sydney Camm, the designer of the Hurricane fighter, and Fred Camm, Editor of the 'Practical' series of magazines. [Alma Road Car Park Campaign.]
  We have also included a history of The Great Freeze of 1963, the story of which Gordon had made a start on in the months before he died, and The Royal Windsor Tapestry Works which was one of his earliest projects, completed in 1979, and published originally by The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. Gordon also wrote a book about Patrick Y Alexander, pioneer aviator for Cross Engineering of Bath, and a biography of Fred Camm, the Practical Magazine editor.
  Gordon, in his final year, and not nearly as strong as he would have liked, continued to campaign vigorously from a background of knowledge and experience that it will be impossible to replace.
  In the passing of Gordon Cullingham, Windsor is much the poorer. The love of his family, the respect and admiration of his friends and colleagues, and the grateful thanks of many thousands of Windsorians past, present and, I have no doubt, in the future, goes with him.
  With the kind agreement of his wife, Mollie, the ThamesWeb Windsor History Zone is respectfully dedicated to his memory.

Cullingham Genealogy: In his later years Gordon spent much time researching his family history. Enquiries from other Cullinghams would be welcomed, although his research has yet to be thoroughly organised and annotated.

The History Zone

Mark Cullingham web page

Royal Windsor Home Page

To contact us, email Thamesweb.