There had been Gypsies on the common for generations. While numbers were limited, they lived in harmony with the woodland and with their village neighbours. But when The Hurtwood became overrun by Gypsies, some of them criminal, action had to be taken. Reggie Bray allowed a maximum of 100 to stay in what became known as ‘the camp’. He issued a five shilling (25p) licence to each head of a family, allowing them to stay provided they behaved and disposed of their rubbish. The gypsies spent their money on drink and there were subsequent fights – so much so that the Windmill Inn was forbidden to serve them, as the men used to encourage the women to fight each other outside, resulting in crowded magistrates courts the following week.
There were valiant attempts by Cranleigh men to educate the gypsy children and in 1926 Surrey County Council founded the first gypsy school in England near Wickets Well, due north of Jelley’s Hollow, in what is now part of Winterfold Forest. It had a round 70 children.
Hurtwood cottagers whose memories go back to the early 20th century recall the gypsies of Peaslake and Holmbury as friendlier folk. These were the settled gypsies, but the sheer number of travellers moving into The Hurtwood after the war created real problems, terrorising local residents and despoiling the common to such an extent that the landowners, led by Reggie Bray, formed a committee to organise a patrol of the common, with a retired policeman to enforce order and keep the Gypsies under control. The committee was enthusiastically supported and was soon a great success though an article in Cranleigh Afternoon Women’s Institute’s scrapbook in 1949 begins:
“A line of larches defines the boundary between the Manors of Shere and Albury. The ranger of the Shere Manor would chase the gypsies of the common and they would go through the larches and be safe on the Albury side. The Albury ranger would chase them away and they would mover their camp back through the larches to the Shere side and so it went on.”