Walter Roker was one of 11 children who grew up in a crowded council house in Guildford. It was when he was born at Guildford hospital that he was first nicknamed ‘Bunny’ by his brothers and sisters; this is how Walter has been fondly known ever since.
Bunny started work young, at 10 years old he helped with a milk round for 5 shillings per week and at age 12 (during the war) delivered newspapers to Pirbright Army Camp after school and on Saturdays. Bunny took the papers to the soldier’s tents; they used to give Bunny chocolate and would throw a boot at him if he got too cheeky!
Bunny left school at age 14 and went to work at the Surrey Agriculture Executive Committee as a tractor driver, paid £1.32 per week. Bunny enjoyed travelling around farms in Surrey ploughing, sowing and harvesting.
In 1947 Bunny went to work for Douglas and Watson Farm Contractors at Shamley Green. In 1951 Bunny used the workshop at Douglas and Watson’s to start building a caravan to live in. With help from his friend, Rex Harding, Bunny completed the caravan in a year and moved in with his wife, Ann.
In 1958 Bunny sold the caravan for £200 and bought a cottage for £400 which needed renovating. Bunny’s father, who had started his own business, rented a yard at Gravett’s Lane where Bunny worked for 3 years. Bunny was then hired out to the Caswell Loader Company where he made loaders and sold them around the country. Bunny also made wrought iron gates in his spare time to make money to pay for the renovation of the cottage.
In October 1962 Bunny sold the cottage for £3,500 and bought Fairlands Farm (the current Rokers site) for £12,500. At that time Bunny grew potatoes, wheat and barley; he hired people to pick the potatoes which were sold at the farm shop. It had been an arable farm for years and Bunny turned it into grassland for cattle. At the time developers were building lots of schools and houses in Guildford; Bunny would buy the top soil from the building sites for £1 a load and sell it for £8 a load – it was a real money spinner! Bunny soon diversified into animal feeds, which he sold from the same farm shop.
Over the years Bunny used the land at Fairlands Farm for many events and was an active member of the community. In 1968 the Pirbright Pony club used the land for rallies and shows and continued to do so for the next 4 years. The Scouts and Guides also held their week-long jamboree at Fairlands Farm – young people from 10 different countries came and camped in the fields. Bunny and his wife Ann joined in the singing at the camp fire.
In July 1975 Bunny set up his first Midnight Steeplechase – a ¾ mile course with 3 sets of floodlights and jumps which Bunny built himself, there was a licensed bar, a BBQ and a barn disco – it was a wonderful night, about 1,000 tickets were sold to local people. However, 2,000 people gate crashed the event, so beer and food ran out fast! Even so, everyone had a fantastic time. Bunny held 2 further steeplechase events after that night.
In the 1980s Bunny set up a Sunday morning market on the site, there were 200 stalls out in the fields. Bunny had his own stall selling his potatoes; he could sell 4-8 tonnes every Sunday.
Sadly Ann passed away in 1985 and Bunny met his current wife, Thelma, who he married in October 1986. With Thelma at his side, Bunny continued to expand the business. As farming was in decline Bunny decided to diversify and sought planning permission for a golf course; the course was built in 1992 and officially opened in 1993. Three years later the golf was extended to include the driving range.
During the 1990s Bunny took his grandchildren to different play centres which gave him the idea to set up his own. Bunny travelled all over the country looking at different play facilities before designing the play frame for Little Angels which Bunny had tailor made. In 1999 the Mayor of Guildford at the time, Jack Patrick, officially opened Little Angels.
Over the years Rokers has gone from strength to strength, diversifying from a farm selling potatoes in 1962 to the animal feeds, country store, tack shop, golf course and playworld that are here today.
I hope that you will come to visit soon to see what we have to offer!