Leonard Keir Hett FRIBA

Leonard Keir Hett was born on 9 Sept 1887 at Stoneleigh, built on the site of Bowling Green Farm on London Road, Ewell, Surrey, close to the site of Nonsuch Palace. He was the second son of Henry and Matilda (neé Powell) Hett. He was educated at Bilton Grange (until 1901) and Rugby schools (1901-1905). His sporting career began at school and he was 1st XV Captain and Captain of the Cricket XI in 1901.

The family moved to Hapstead House, Ardingly, in 1899 and Keir remained there until 1948. He then moved to “Culpepers” in College Road, Ardingly until his death in 1978.

Architectural Career

He studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London from 1905 to 1909, where he also played on their 1st XV team. During his training, he was articled to Francis (Frank) William Troup who also designed Hapstead Hall and was a distant relation of his mother Matilda. He became a member of RIBA in 1910 and was admitted as an associate of RIBA in 1911. He was elected as an Honorary Fellow in 1920.

His obituary (RIBA Journal, vol 87, no 6, Jun 1980, p17) states that he was in partnership with the late Carus-Wilson, a Scottish architect and possible contemporary of his at the Architectural Association School. (See also the Sussex Parish Churches website.) This is confirmed by the Post Office Directory of 1915 in which the partnership of Carus-Wilson & Hett is listed at 74 New Bond St. In Kelly’s Directory of 1921 he is in his own practice at 34 Paternoster Row. The archive of his drawings show that he worked for the firm of Searle and Searle from around 1923, the first drawing with the name of that firm being “Home for Village Nurse” dated 26/xi/24. He become a partner of S&S in the 1930s.

A list of his work can be found on the Architecture page.

Army Career

World War One

1914-1915 Star (OMD 791) (SEE) OMD 110 Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30007058
1914-1915 Star

Keir served in the rank of 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal Engineers Signal Corps. He was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals having served at the Battle of Gallipoli 18/8/15. His service was cut short by illness on 1 Sept 1915 and sent by hospital ship from Cape Helles on 3 Sept arriving in hospital on Malta on 19 Sept, when he was granted leave. He left Malta on 27 Sept aboard HMA Hospital Ship “Karoola” and arrived in Southampton on 5th October 1915.

A Medical Board assembled at the 4th London General Hospital, Denmark Hill, Camberwell, (Formerly the Maudsley Memorial Hospital) on 15/10/15 declared him unfit for duty having contracted dysentery at Gallipoli. A further Medical Board assembled at the 2nd Eastern General Hospital, Brighton, renewed his unfitness for duty on 11/11/15 but said he was fit for light duties at home. On 12 Nov 1915 he was transferred to the Rest Camp, Bletchley, for duty with the Signal Service Training Centre.

World War Two

During the second world war, Keir served as Captain of B Company of the Home Guard in Ardingly. He used his draughting skills to produce many informative sketches of weapons, planes, fortifications and firing distances for his men. He also created a number of maps showing defences and patrol routes. The following account of an exercise led by Keir gives the flavour of the times.

Captain Hett had us on parade and said we were going to have an anti-tank exercise and were going to march down to Avins Bridge, put the concrete cones across the road and get behind the hedges on the side of the road. He was going to Haywards Heath in his little Austin car and would act as a tank. When he stopped at the concrete cones we were to lob grenades at the car. Our grenades were balls of screwed-up paper, but if it had been the real thing we would have used our Molotov cocktails, which we had made. They were in the care of Nimble Ayling, our storeman.

Afterwards, we moved the concrete cones back to the side of the road and had a ”forced march” back up to the Avins Bridge pub for a tactical lecture? After this we had another ”forced march” to get to the Greyhound pub before they closed and another tactical talk!

We had just had our Blacker Bombard delivered and we were to go down Buster Hill to the field just the other side of the river and see how it worked. This weapon was a metal pipe about 3½” dia. on a stand and it fired bottles of phosphorus. You placed the bottle in first, followed by a sorbo pad, and then the explosive, then took aim and fired. It was a bit primitive, but very dangerous. I got a pinhead-sized piece of the phosphorous on my hand and it smoked for over twelve hours.

Leslie Simmonds; Ardingly, Sussex, at War 1939-45 and the Evacuee Experience, (Ardingly Evacuee Experience Committee, 1999)

Village Life

St Peter’s Church

Keir was an active member of the church in Ardingly and was a member of the choir for 61 years. He worked on numerous drawings for the church and produced the first Church Guide for visitors. He designed the WWI memorial in the North Aisle, which was featured in The Builder journal in 1921. Other designs and drawings he created for the church include:

  • Canon Black Memorial
  • Cremation Centre
  • Church Key holder
  • Kneelers
  • Church Notice Board
  • Rood Screen
  • The church buildings through history
  • Design for the New Rectory
  • Headstone for Mary Holgate, historian.

British Legion

Keir was a committee member from 1926-1951 and produced the drawings for the original Legion and its subsequent extension to provide stewards living accommodation. This was adjacent to Hapstead Hall, which was given to the community by his parents following WWI.

Ardingly FC

He played football for the team for a couple of years after WWI. He was made Secretary for a short time from 1919 and later elected President until his death.

Ardingly CC

Having been a keen cricketer in his earlier years, he became President of the local club in later life.

Around the Village

Keir Hett occupied his retirement with many local projects including a new bus shelter, for which he made a number of proposals to the Parish Council. Sadly none of these were realised and a pre-fabricated shelter was built instead.

He also designed the base for the memorial to the former owner of his house, Viscountess Wolesley. The memorial is sometimes known as the “Village Sign” and is featured on the home page of this website. The memorial itself was designed by Sir Walter Godfrey CBE FRIBA and Keir lobbied for it to be placed on the site of the Toll House, which was demolished in 1923, at the junction of College Rd and Lindfield Rd.

In the recreation ground, the land for which was given to the village by Lord Arthur Hill, he designed a sheltered seat. This was for the Coronation of King George V in 1911 and had a thatched roof, later replaced with tile.

Keir opened up his property, “Culpepers”, for village fêtes and even designed the posters for them. He drew the artwork for other events, children’s parties and fund-raising appeals.

He painted some locals scenes in watercolour and sketched many buildings. He made a sketch during the demolition of the Old Rectory, which had become derelict and dangerous.

Keir was known for his hand-drawn Christmas cards including local scenes and those from his travels in Greece, Jerusalem, Austria, Switzerland and Egypt. One card in 1965 included a stylised local map, which was later used for directions given to guests at his niece’s weddings. On the back was a poem, “Christmas Bells” he had penned himself.