West Ashford Rural District Council took a “brave initiative” to open gypsy camps, and is a “pioneer in this throughout the country”


Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)I make no apology for raising once again the subject of gipsies and travellers, although I am sorry to have to bring the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to the House on a Friday afternoon.

Numerically, this is a very small problem; administratively, it is rather a big one. That it should be a big problem may be in one sense a reflection of our times. In this very well-organised age we have nearly everyone so tidily arranged that a tiny minority of bold spirits who elect not to conform to residential standard patterns cause undue disturbance. I am not sure whether this is a reflection on them or on us. But I do not want to philosophise about the right to roam.

The centre of the problem is Kent, and that is what I want to discuss briefly. We have tried hard—harder than most other places—to deal with the problem sensibly. When I first raised the matter some years ago in a debate of this kind, the difficulty was of a rather different kind. The West Ashford Rural District Council had taken a rather brave initiative and had provided a camp for gipsies and travellers, though not without a good deal of local protest and pressure. Because at that time little else was being done in the county of Kent, this proved a magnet to travellers over a wide area, and the rural district council found itself in difficulties. I shall return to the result of that experiment.

Today the position is almost exactly the same, except on a different scale. The county is now taking action, or has taken action, and, because very little, if anything, is being done in the surrounding counties, Kent is suffering the embarrassments which formerly befell the West Ashford Rural District Council.”

“It will not be easy, but I should like to mention one factor which I think is helpful and encouraging. It should be made clear to local authorities that they will not be asked to provide these sites in perpetuity. These sites ought to be regarded, if not short-term, then as medium-term policy. The long-term policy must be to rehouse all these 1043people and eventually to integrate them, to use the abominable word, into the community. The Minister is aware of this, because he limits planning permissions to 14 years. Local authorities should be made aware of it and encouraged to realise that they will not be landed with permanent sites for caravans through the years.

What has been done by my own rural district of West Ashford, which was the pioneer in this throughout the country, is an illustration of what can happen. On its site, at one time or another, something like 20 families of gypsies or travellers had to be dealt with. Today, all but one family have been rehoused, and the site is about to be closed down.

This is not a wealthy authority, it is a rural district council of rather smaller than average size. So, given a start the sites, this problem is not intractable. But we must get a start, and it is only the Minister who can achieve it. Can he do it by persuasion? I shall be glad to have his views about this. If not, how else will he do it? What he must not do—and this is the reason why I have asked for this short debate—is to rely on the good will of the county of Kent to solve this problem not only for itself but for everyone else as well. Up with that we positively will not put, and I look forward to hearing the Joint Parliamentary Secretary’s plan of campaign.”

About John Griggs

Born 1920 in Kettering, Northants

Died 2007 in Ashford, Kent

Friend of:
Ex England football captain – Eddie Hapgood, and
ex Daily Telegraph editor Bill Deedes

Quoted in the House of Commons

Relative of:
John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim’s Progress),

Sir Alfred East (world famous artist who came up with the saying “Paint a sky a day”),

Max Griggs (millionaire owner of Doc Martins shoes, and major investor in Rushden Diamonds Football Club)

Member of: Association of Certified Accountants

Was for many years clerk to West Ashford Rural District Council , and he also set up many businesses including “Kennington International”, and “Jobs”

Did the designs for, and organised the purchase of land, and construction of Holly Trees.

Married to Hazel Griggs, and pater familias of the Griggs dynasty


By 1942 when the bombing of Germany started in earnest, Germany had invaded and devastated parts of Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium Greece, Yugoslavia and Russia all without any provocation. She had bombed Warsaw Rotterdam Belgrade Moscow and dozens of other towns. She had bombed in Britain London for a whole winter and many British Towns. She had killed millions of civilians.

Britain was not out for revenge, but felt that the lives of German civilians should not prevent it helping Russia. In 1942 Russia was on the point of collapse, Germany had destroyed its air force and thousands of its guns and tanks and had conquered a large part of its territory including its industrial heartland and its best agricultural land and had killed or taken prisoner millions of its soldiers. Without Russia the war could not be won, and both Britain and Germany thought that Russia was finished.

The only way it could help Russia in 1942 was to bomb the industrial towns of the enemy. As well as reducing industrial production, it had a great effect on the morale of the Russian people. The first 1000 bomber raid was the only topic of conversation in Russia. Hundreds of fighter planes, 88m antiaircraft guns, searchlights and smaller guns, together with thousands of army personal had to be transferred to Fight the bombers. Speer, the German Minister of Production said it was a Second Front.

By 1945 London had once more been devastated by the Flying bombs and the V2 Rockets which were still exploding. Russia was on the point of capturing Berlin and winning this terrible war which every one wanted to finish. The British people felt a bit guilty as Russia had suffered the most and had done most to beat Hitler. How could we help her? The only way was to use its bombing force.

Dresden was an obvious choice, it was an important Railway Junction and had factories which were repairing war equipment including tanks. The occupied peoples of Europe who had suffered 5 yrs of oppression & hunger cheered as the bombers went over; POWs in nearby prison camps cheered as they heard the bombs falling. I do not think many people on the Allied side would not have sent the bombers. Would they have altered their minds if they had known it was full of refugees and had remembered about its historic buildings. It is doubtful. But it must be said that after Dresden Churchill stopped all mass bombings.

The verdict on Dresden must not be left to those who lived after. It must be made by those who lived through the devastating bombings in 1940/41 who saw the great fire of London from a hundred miles away in December 1940, who lived through the flying bombs, and who remembered the near victory of Hitler over Russia in 1942; for without Russia fighting three quarters of the German army in 1944 there would have been no D Day.

Was 1940 Britain’s finest hour?

In June 1940 after the fall of France we in Britain could not imagine that the war would be lost. Our history showed otherwise. All our recent conflicts; the Napolionic wars, The Crimean, The Indian Mutany of 1857,The Boer War and the Great War had all started badly but finished with a British victory. We felt that the fall of France was just one more obstacle to overcome.

How wrong we were. Rather than a defiant Churchill we should have appointed Hallifax to negotiate the best peace possible. Hitler had offered terms and we still had some bargaining strength.

I know there are strong arguments against. It would mean that Hitler could impose the Nazi doctrines all over Europe. But Germany had the most part of Western Europe to manufacture its weapons and to supply the raw materials. It had a triumphant battle tested army and it would be only a matter of time before it manufactured hundreds of submarines to close the sea lanes and bombers to devastate our cities. We in Britain had no army weapons, after Dunkirk they were now in Hitler’s hands We would starve on the food we could grow ouselves. We could not manufacture the tools of war and produce exports to pay for the raw materials and the food needed even if we could transport them across the submarine invested seas. Our foreign money reserves would disappear in next to no time.

America was in no mood to help. She still felt aggrieved about the slow repayment of the loans made in the Great War, a large amount of which was still outstanding in 1939.. In the 1920’s also, books had been written by British diplomats explaining in great detail how America had been manoeuvered into war. There was a great feeling that they had been tricked into a war that really did not concern them. That is why they decided that this wouild not happen again and passed the Cash and Carry Act which stated that all exports to Britain had to be paid for in cash and carried in British Ships. In any case in the remote possibility that she did enter the war it would be impossible to land in Europe in the face of a large triumphant German army. (It was touch and go in 1944 even when the main part of the army was in Russia.)

The only hope lay in Russia. But she had signed a pact with Germany and was determined not to offend her. Up to the last she supplied Germany with the raw materials promised under the pact. In any case Russia had made very heavy weather with the war against her small neighbour Finland. A large number of her senior officers had been murdered by Stalin. Her weapons seemed primative compared to Germany’s It didn’t seem that she could do much damage to the German army.

But as we now know miracles do happen. The Blitz on London changed American attitudes and they realised they could not afford to let Britain go. This led to Lease Lend. Hitler thinking that Russia was easy game invaded her in June 1941; and in December seized the opportunity of Pearl Harbour to declare war on the USA. One can understand this to some extent. America at this stage was supplying weapons and other goods to both Britaain and Russia She was fighting German submarines in the Atlantic. He thought the Russian war was about over, as the German army had swept all before it and was at the gates of Moscow. Two miscalculations by Hitler and two immense strokes of luck for us.

In 1940 the British were not heros but blind.