Westcott Local History Group






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Future Programme, Newsletter and Past Reports

The Group meets every other month, usually on the second Tuesday in the Westcott Reading Room at 7.45 for 8.00pm. Meetings are free to members. Visitors are welcome on payment of a One Pound entry fee. In addition to the Reading Room meetings, the group organises walks and outings.

The future 2017-2018 programme includes : 

Tuesday 11th July, The Doodlebug and Rocket Campaign, by Bob Ogley
Tuesday12th September (AGM at 7:45) The Wey and Arun Canal by Kevin Crowley
Tuesday 14th November, Fetcham Park House, by Vivien White
Monday 1st January, New Year’s Walk
Tuesday 9th January, The History of Brooklands, by Tim Morris
Tuesday 13th March, "Time to Thank Them", A history of the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) during the 1st and 2nd World Wars by John Drewry
Friday 30th March, Good Friday Walk
Tuesday 8th May, ‘Then and Now’, a photographic evening

For more information about the Group and its activities contact John Clachan (01306 887858). To pursue family or local history enquiries or to volunteer your services to help our research programme contact Terry Wooden (882624) or enquire at info@westcotthistory.org.uk



Newsletter No. 73 - Autumn 2016 has been issued to all members.

Please refer to the Publications page for news of Village Walks.

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Reports of Past Presentations

     Index: (Full reports are at the end)

November 2014 - Westcott and The Great War - Peter Bennett

September 2014 - Sex & Scandal In The Sussex Weald - Jane Le Cluse

July 2014 - A Look Round Our Church

May 2014 - Pillboxes: Surrey's WWII Defences - Chris Shepheard

March 2014: Timber-Framed - Materials and Construction Houses - Martin Higgins

January 2014: The East India Company - Janet Bateson

November 2013 - Bishop's Move - Chris Bishop

September 2013  - Votes For Women; Suffragettes in Surrey - Kathy Atherton

July 2013 - A Fresh Look At John Evelyn - Peter Bennett

May 2013 - The Pilgrims' Way; Medieval Holiday Route or Victorian Myth? - Elyot Turner

March 2013 - Surrey Roads - From Turnpike to Motorway - Gordon Knowles


January 2013 - Magicians & The Music Hall - Robin Maddy

November 2012 - Newdigate Church & Its Carvings - Jane Lilley

September 2012 - Gomshall Tannery - Colin Woolmington

July 2012 - A Sporting Miscellany - Peter Bennett

May 2012: Thomas Hope & the Deepdene - A Lost Landscape:  Alex Bagnall

March 2012: The Life of a Steeplejack: Peter Harknett

January 2012: Pre-Victorian Policing and The Surrey Constabulary: Robert Bartlett

September 2011: Landscape Archaeology: Judie English

July 2011: Charles Darwin & Russel Wallace: Richard Selley

May 2011 Powell's Stained Glass

January 2011: Television - John Logie Baird: Jon Weller
November 2010: Ockley and Lowfield Heath Windmills
September 2010: A History of Westcott

May 2010: May Day.
March 2010:
The Kohler Darwin Collection
January 2010: Beavorbrook and Bennett : Mike Hallett
November 2009: Pewter : Roger Barnes

September 2009: Operation Pied Piper.
July 2009: A Bastille Day Special : Jaqueline Bannerjee
May 2009: Surrey Trade Tokens : Mary Alexander
March 2009: Surrey Union Hunt: Julian Wormersley

January 2009: The Dorking Underground: Professor Richard Selley
November 2008: A Remembrance Day Special. Andrew Tatham

September 2008: Thomas Cubitt, Master Builder:Mike Hallett
July 2008: Victorian Leisure and Pleasure: Ian Bevan
May 2008: The Golden Age
of Postcards: Michael Miller
March 2008: Barn Construction: Joe Thompson . 
January 2008: Frost, Freezes and Fairs: Ian Currie
November 2007: The Holly and the Ivy: Chris Howkins

September 2007: Brick-making in Westcott:Ian West
July 2007: Mole Valley's Literary Heritage- Jacqueline Bannerjee
May 2007: The Wey and Arun Canal- Jim Phillips
March 2007 : Surrey Privvies - John Janaway
January 2007 : Crystal Palace - Ian Bevan
November 2006 : The Development of Denbies
September 2006 : Tree Dating Surrey Buildings - Rod Wild

July 2006 : The History of Letterboxes
May 2006 : The Abinger Watercress Story
March 2006 : The Life and Legacy of Walter Rose
February 2006 : 'Local History' : The Prince of Wales, Westcott
January 2006 :The Geology of Westcott
November 2005 : Barn Restoration
September 2005 : Ralph Vaughan Williams
July 2005 : Summer Outing to Rake Manor
July 2005 : The Overlord Crossword - Ron Smith
June 2005: Visit to The Observatory at Bury Hill

May 2005 : The Leith Hill Music Festival
March 2005 : Good Friday Walk - Landowners Limited

March 2005 : Suburban Surrey - Alan Jackson
February 2005 : 'Local History' : The Crown, Westcott
January 2005 : Malthus and the Rookery - Peter Bennett and Terry Wooden

November 2004 The North Downs - Dr Peter Brandon
October 2004 The Westcott Reunited Weekend
September 2004 The History of Westcott School - Terry Wooden
May 2004 The Dorking Emigration Scheme - Dr Sheila Haynes
March 2004 The History of Local Gardens - Brenda Lewis
January 2004. The Battle of Dorking: Alistair Meldrum
November 2003 Edwin Lutyens
September 2003 St John's Free Church, Westcott
July 2003 'Professor' Den Basten on the History of Punch & Judy.
May 2003 Visit to Milton Court

March 2003 Secrets of the Tillingbourne Valley
January 2003 The Arts and Crafts movement in the Surrey Hills.
November 2002 The Life and Times of William Mullins
September 2002 Westcott in 1901
July 2002 Leslie Howard and Stow Maries
May 2002 Sir Gilbert Scott and the building of Holy Trinity Church
March 2002 The Railway comes to Dorking
January 2002  Stane Street
November 2001. The Early History of Cycling in Surrey
September 2001 Charcoal Burning and other local woodland industries
June 2001 The Chilworth Gunpowder Trail


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November 2014 - Westcott and The Great War - Peter Bennett

This talk, held on Remembrance Day, marked the centenary of the Great War and looked on how the war affected Westcott and what life was like during the war years.  The year 1914 began well.  The football team came top of the league, but grim events were to follow. By August the nation was at war; 327 Westcott men went off to the war; 36 did not return.

Apart from this appalling loss, the war affected Westcott in many other ways, some of which were quite unexpected. Our school woodwork master was in Berlin when war broke out - he was interned and returned safely for the Spring Term of 1919! We gained a railway halt for troops coming to fire on a range north of the village - for military use only, it was demolished in 1928. The Army took over the Isolation Hospital, and the school billeted a battalion on its way to the front. The school also helped to ease food shortages. Gardening classes cultivated the plots of absent men to grow food for their families and a notable event was the great 'Horse Chestnut Gathering' which ultimately led to the creation of the State of Israel!

An early event after the war was the construction of The Hut as a place of recreation for returned servicemen; this later became the village club which continues today to the great benefit of the village.  Mr Geake put up the village sign and the thatched bus shelter in memory of his son and both these have been a focal point for the village ever since.

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September 2014 - Sex & Scandal In The Sussex Weald - Jane Le Cluse

Jane's research into Sussex church court records provided the basis for her talk. The records, now held at Chichester, are extensive, unlike those of Surrey which have largely been lost (or were Surrey people better behaved?). Jane described how the courts worked and took us into some of the cases.

The courts dealt with misdemeanours against the church (allowing hogs to roam in a churchyard), immoral behaviour, and disputes over tithes property pews and the like. One person sat in judgement with a beam between him and the accused to protect him from violence - a court room with this arrangement still exists high above the south transept at Chichester cathedral. Witnesses travelled surprisingly long distances to give evidence and those found guilty of moral misdemeanours had to wear a white smock, carry a lighted candle, and repent in front of the congregation, a humiliating experience. Jane then entertained us with extracts from the records of a number of cases. People's behaviour then was much the same as today!

The weakness was that one man sat as judge and jury. After being suspended by Cromwell, the courts were restored but their role was gradually taken over by the civil courts. They still exist however and can be used to consider certain cases involving the clergy.

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July 2014 - A Look Round Our Church

This "Members' Evening" took place in our Parish Church. Knowledgeable members gave 'mini-talks' on different features of the church to give us an informative and most enjoyable evening. Designed by George Gilbert Scott and built in 1852, the church is a near-replica of a church in Sudbury, near Harrow. Most of the stone came from the Rookery estate, but some came from further afield including a small quarry at Trowlesworthy on Dartmoor. The clock was installed in 1887 to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.  The east window has an almost-identical twin in Port Stanley cathedral in the Falkland Islands!

We also learned about a painting, now safely kept in the Treasury at Guildford, and also about the organ the sounds from which provided a nice finale. The mini talks yielded a mass of information, some of which was quite new. This will be used in a new set of notes we will be producing on the church and its history.


May 2014 - Pillboxes: Surrey's WWII Defences - Chris Shepheard

In the Surrey Hills we frequently come upon the remains of pill-boxes. Chris Shepheard, who is the Director of the Rural Life Centre at Tilford, told us their story. When Britain faced invasion in May 1940, the appropriately named General Lord Ironside was put in charge of the nation's defences.  Woefully short of trained manpower and equipment, he created defences along the south and east coasts with a series of defence lines behind them. One of the most important ran through Surrey along the North Downs. Pill-boxes were a key feature of the defence system and were completed in just two months, a remarkable achievement.

The pill-boxes fortunately never came to be tested.  After the war farmers were given £5 to demolish the pill-boxes, but most simply pocketed the money.  It is believed that about 28,000 pill-boxes were built and that some 6,000 remain today; many are in Surrey.  In 1985 Henry Wills did a study of UK Defences and it was recognised the pill-boxes were important historical relics. They were deteriorating and local surveys were carried out to help decide which should be conserved. Today quite a few have new uses - as cattle sheds, storage buildings; bus stops and bat sanctuaries - and a number are protected.

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March 2014: Timber-Framed - Materials and Construction Houses - Martin Higgins

We are lucky to have some fine timber-framed houses in Westcott. This meeting was the opportunity to learn how these houses were built; how the trees were grown, prepared and selected, shaped and put together. Our speaker, Martin Higgins, Surrey Historic Buildings Officer, took us through the process.

Oak was most frequently used, because of its resistance to damp. It was worked while still green, within two years of felling; after that it hardened and working it became difficult. Trunks were split along their length into baulks and roughly squared to use the heartwood for the main timbers of the frame. The timbers were then cut and shaped and the frames assembled on the ground. Joints had to meet the need; sometimes quite complex and always pegged. The joints were numbered using carpenters’ marks; frames were then dissembled and re-erected on-site before being infilled (wattle-and-daub, and later, brick) to create the walls of the house. The roof timbers followed in a similar way.

Martin then showed us pictures of timber-framed houses in Surrey, including our own Brook Farm, to illustrate the techniques he had described. These demonstrated the superb workmanship of the medieval carpenter and showed what a wealth of timber-framed heritage we have in the county. We are very fortunate. This was a fascinating talk.


January 2014: The East India Company - Janet Bateson                                                                                                  Top of Page

Many of our ancestors worked in India and their lives would have been touched by the East India Company which started in 1639 and became one of the most powerful companies in the world. It not only engaged in trade; it even had its own Army and actually governed parts of India. Much of its prosperity came from enlightened enterprise, but there was also a darker side, particularly in the opium trade and war with China, a shameful episode in our history.

Jane surprised us with the Company's connections with our area. It owned a gunpowder mill at Chilworth, created its own school to train boys for the company's service and an early master was Thomas Malthus, the economist who was born in Westcott. Arthur Brook of Brook Bond Tea, who later lived in Westcott, obtained his tea in India. Finally Mr Denison of Dorking, MP for Surrey, brought in the Bill that eventually ended the Company's monopoly!

November 2013 - Bishop's Move - Chris Bishop                                                                                                              Top of Page

'Bishop's Move' has been based in our area for many years and Chris Bishop gave us an interesting and amusing talk about the firm and its history. It started in 1854 when Joseph Bishop moved from Norfolk to London to be a policeman and started a removals service. Now it is the largest family-owned removal firm in the country with depots from Aberdeen to Gibraltar. In the 19th century horse-drawn vehicles were used to move customers’ chattels - the horses were kept on the company's farm at Morden. Longer moves used the railways. Containerisation has long been in use. Steam traction engines were used before motor transport became the norm.

Famous customers? Who else but Bishop's Move should move the Archbishop of Canterbury from Lambeth Palace? And who wanted to move that very day - an outgoing Prime Minister from No 10! Unusual loads were the contents of an Art Gallery and a spotter plane to the Falkland Islands. A convoy of some 30 vans was used to move a factory in the 1950s. Chris spiced his talk with some amusing quotations from customers' letters and concluded with some tips for moving house - most importantly, discuss it with the company well in advance.

September 2013 - Votes For Women; Suffragettes in Surrey - Kathy Atherton                                                                  Top of Page

One hundred years ago the Dorking area was a hotbed of protest during the Women's Suffrage Campaign and a number of leading activists, including Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence. Their home at Holmwood was a centre for the movement; meetings and demonstrations were planned there and they even had a platform in their garden for activists to  practice their speeches!

In 1912 the Pethick-Lawrences were imprisoned, went on hunger strike and were forcibly fed. The Government auctioned their possessions to recover costs and some 3-4000 people turned up to buy the goods back for them - a great publicity coup. Dissension then arose within the movement. The leader, Mrs Pankhurst, planned to step up the militancy; the Pethick-Lawrences spoke out against it and were expelled. They were devastated and the WSPU was never the same again - the increased militancy merely stiffened the Government's resolve. Women got the vote after the First World War, but only in two stages and had to wait until 1928 to get full equality. Right eventually prevailed, but the WSPU's influence has remained controversial ever since.

Kathy's talk gave us a vivid picture of the struggle for the vote and the hardships the activists went through to get it. She also gave us an insight into the anti-suffrage movements in our area and what happened to the Pethick-Lawrences afterwards. It is a remarkable story.

July 2013 - A Fresh Look At John Evelyn - Peter Bennett                                                                                                    Top of Page

Much more has become known about John Evelyn in recent years. Famed for his diary, his real contribution to history lies in the fields of landscape design, gardening, architecture and town planning. His views were formed while travelling in Europe as a young man. While abroad he met Charles II who was in exile.

Back in England John met Christopher Wren; the two later were founder-members of the Royal Society. John was asked to looked the problems of pollution and he proposed a clean air zone and green belt round London - 300 years ahead of its time! He wrote his famous book Sylva on trees, designed the first landscaped garden in England at Albury, drew up plans for rebuilding the city after the Great Fire and talent-spotted Grinling Gibbons, the great wood-carver who worked on St Paul's and other city churches.

John later oversaw the building of the naval hospital at Greenwich. He suggested putting an inscription round coins to prevent forgery; the words appear on our pound coin today. Near the end of his long life he returned to Wotton and it was largely his influence that left us with the beautiful woodland landscapes we enjoy today. He was a man of vision and ideas and we have much to thank him for.

May 2013 - The Pilgrims' Way; Medieval Holiday Route or Victorian Myth? - Elyot Turner                                           Top of Page

Elyot Turner took us on a fascinating tour through his research into the origins of this historic route, now the North Downs Way. Was it used by medieval pilgrims on their way from Winchester to Canterbury, or does it have less romantic origins?

Chaucer's tales were based on the route from London to Canterbury. Much has been written about our route, but only since the 1800s. Hilaire Belloc and others promoted it as a pilgrims' route, and Diana Webb identified hundreds of shrines between Winchester and Rochester, but there is no evidence of groups of people setting out in a consistent way on pilgrimages. Early maps make no mention of the "Pilgrims' Way".  The term seems first to have appeared on a 1769 map for a short section near Otford. The Ordnance Survey used the term from 1854, but only in Surrey. Later OS maps showed the route as Pilgrims' Way (course of) - perhaps it was this that fired the public's imagination.

There is plenty of evidence of a trading route along the Downs and there is no doubt that it was used for this purpose for thousands of years, but its fame as a pilgrims' route seems to be founded in a clever marketing ploy by the Ordnance Survey. It certainly helped to sell their maps!

March 2013 - Surrey Roads - From Turnpike to Motorway - Gordon Knowles                                                                  Top of Page

Gordon gave us a good survey of how the county's roads have developed over the last 300 years. We learned that the term 'turnpike' originated from the tollgates which often had pikes mounted on them. Until the 17th century most roads were only wide enough for packhorses. Then the Turnpike Acts obliged parishes to maintain roads to a width of 8 feet with powers to charge tolls to meet the costs. Despite this roads remained in poor condition; dust in summer, mud in winter. The first Turnpike was from London to Portsmouth and was completed in 1663, but it still took up to two years to move timber from Farnham to Deptford Dockyard.

Despite construction improvements, roads were second to railways until the motor age took hold. Being close to London, Surrey led the way in highways development and the number of Surrey 'firsts' was surprising; Dorking was the first council to have its own road-laying plant; the RAC and AA both began in the county and pioneered road signs and traffic controls. As traffic levels increased, the county had to respond - the Kingston by-pass, the Purley Way and the Dorking and Leatherhead by-passes were all built in the 1930s. Mickleham, Shere and others were to follow.  Later came the M25 and M23.  Surrey has coped with the motor age remarkably well over the years and will have to continue to do so.


January 2013 - Magicians & The Music Hall - Robin Maddy                                                                                                   Top of Page

Robin, who is a member of the Magic Circle, took us back to the 1900s to show us the amazing world of magic which so enthralled our grand-parents and great grand-parents when they went to the music hall. The cinema was in its infancy; variety theatre was the most popular form of public entertainment and great magicians were big celebrities of the day.


Magic became popular when John Maskelyne started his performances in 1873 at the Egypt Hall in London. He was joined by David Devant who continued through to the 1920s. The tricks they performed were astonishing - from the 'Levitation of the Lady' through to 'Sawing the Lady in Half' - all performed with great aplomb and immaculate precision. Others included Chung Ling Soo - highly successful until his bullet catching trick went wrong - and the escapologist Harry Houdini, who also died in tragic circumstances.


These were the greats. Many others sought to emulate them and the popularity of magic spread across the western world. It remains so today in venues ranging from theatres to cruise liners. This was a highly entertaining talk, well-illustrated by slides and tricks performed at intervals along the way.



November 2012 - Newdigate Church & Its Carvings - Jane Lilley                                                                                            Top of Page


Jane gave us a fascinating talk about an ancient Surrey church and its changing fortunes. Newdigate was a poor parish, but its church is a story of triumph over adversity. It began as a timber chapel around 1150, but by 1525 had become much as it is today - a stone church with one of the finest timber towers in the county.


The interior was altered in the Reformation and the Civil War, but by 1800 was in a poor state - the Victorians saved it; box pews were replaced and a new organ installed. In the 1890s a Mrs Janson formed a wood carving class for men and boys who over the years, provided a rood screen, pews and other fittings, all superbly carved in the Arts and Crafts Style. They continued their work through to the 1930s.

A major crisis arose in 1910. The tower was found to be nearing collapse. Without consulting anyone the rector commissioned repairs costing £1400, a huge sum, expected the villagers to pay it and scorned their efforts to raise the money. The rector was replaced by Rev Bird who rescued the situation. Eventually the tower was saved.

In 1980 the village faced another challenge. The oak shingles on spire had to be replaced. Local men learnt how to make them and eventually produced over 50,000 shingles from local oak to do the job. The surplus timber made a new lych-gate. This was the latest chapter in a remarkable story of a village and its determination to preserve its church.



September 2012 - Gomshall Tannery - Colin Woolmington                                                                                                   Top of Page


Colin, who had been a manager at Gomshall Tannery, told us that tanning at Gomshall went back at least to Tudor times. It was owned by various families up to the 1890s when it was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt and became part of the Vestey group of companies whose business was based on their cattle and sheep rearing interests in Brazil and New Zealand.


Hides and skins came to Gomshall in their millions; skins from New Zealand came in barrels, each containing 48 dozen skins - hammered in tight! All the skins were different and the challenge was to turn them into a product which had the consistent quality required by the customer. Each worker's judgement and skill was crucial and the industry was very labour-intensive. Much of the output was for the fashion industry and Colin had on display a range of their products; the quality was superb.


Skins and hides had to go through a whole range of processes and Colin's pictures gave us a vivid impression of the tannery at work. About 120 people worked there and one could easily imagine the noise, heat, dirt and smells - some of the work was unpleasant. Operations ceased in the early 1980s; the tannery was sadly destroyed by fire in 1988 and an era of industrial and social history came to an end. All that remained was the Tanyard Hall which is now a thriving community centre. 

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July 2012 - A Sporting Miscellany - Peter Bennett


With the Olympic Torch and Road Cycling Races coming to Westcott, this talk looked at the history of sport in Surrey and particularly in our local area. Close to London with poor soils useful for little else, Surrey was ideal for sporting venues and events. Many of sport's movers and shakers came from here and wars, technology and changing social attitudes all shaped the way things developed.

An early influence on sport was perhaps George Evelyn of Wotton. When he brought the gunpowder industry to England, the longbow became obsolete and men compelled to practice archery were free to play what sport they liked. Racing began at Epsom. A cricket scene at Dorking, one of the earliest, hangs in the Long Room at Lords. William Caffyn of Reigate improved cricket in Australia and Henry Jupp of Dorking played the first ball bowled against England in a test match.


Subsequently Wimbledon, Bisley and Brooklands became venues of intenational importance.  The Surrey Hills became a cyclists' paradise and it was here that the battle of the 'rationals' was fought, an important step for womens' righs.  By the early 20th century a wide range of sports

flourished in Dorking and Westcott and a surprising number of local sportsmen, sportswomen (and horses!) have got to the top.

This talk was our unofficial contribution to the cultural Olympiad so we also discovered how the modern Olympics began and why the 2012 mascot is called 'Wenlock'! We now look forward to the torch and the bike races coming through our village.

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May 2012: Thomas Hope & the Deepdene - A Lost Landscape: Alex Bagnall

The subject of this talk is currently of heightened local interest. Thomas Hope was a remarkable man descended from a Scottish family who became very successful merchant bankers in Amsterdam and acquired enormous wealth. Instead of joining the family business, Thomas followed his passions for the arts and architecture. He went on the Grand Tour, returned to Holland, but then had to flee with his brothers to London to escape an invasion by Napoleon's forces. This setback seems not to have unduly affected his wealth; he went on another Grand Tour, this time to the Middle East, and on return bought an Adam house in Duchess Street, London, which he re-modelled and furnished to his own designs. Although not to everyone's liking the result was a unique and remarkable house in the heart of London.
Thomas then married, bought the Deepdene and he spent a fortune on it. The estate had been owned by the Earls of Arundel. Under Thomas's direction the House was radically changed to his own classical style, the gardens were enhanced and the grounds embellished with temples and other structures. His brother Henry bought next door Chart Park which, on his death, came to Thomas who built the family mausoleum within its grounds. After Thomas's death, his son added Betchworth Park and the result was one of the finest landscaped estates in the country.
Sadly this was not to last. The estate declined and was eventually sold. The house became a hotel and in 1939 was requisitioned for the railways. In the 1960s the house was demolished, Kuoni Travel bought part of the site for their offices and Dorking council acquired key surrounding areas, including the mausoleum which was later buried to make it safe. The area became overground, but it was always hoped that 'the lost landscape' and the mausoleum would be recovered. For some years now the council has been working with other groups to nachieve this aim which will create a Deepdene heritage trail from Cotmandene to Brockham and bring into being a major new amenity for our area. Alex who acts for the council on the project, outlined the plans for us and the outcome of a lottery bid is now awaited.  We very much hope it will be successful.
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March 2012: The Life of a Steeplejack: Peter Harknett


This was a richly entertaining talk. Peter is the oldest working steeplejack in the country and has worked for over 60 years in the profession - he replaced the shingles on the steeple of our own church 40 years ago. He began by relating some of the history of the trade. In early times work on spires was done by touring acrobats. Since the 15th century 'lookout' doors were placed high up on spires to give access from inside and to provide a position from which ropes and ladders could be suspended. In modern times the usual practice is to access the work area from the outside and he told us something of the techniques of this.

Peter gave us a selection from some of the more memorable incidents in his career, most very amusing, some hair-raising! This brought home to us the immense range of tasks that steeplejacks carry out - from inspection and repairs to demolition - and the variety of structures they work on, from spires and steeples, to clock and bell towers, chimneys and cooling towers. He had worked on Big Ben, Guildford Cathedral, the Post Office Tower and the 700' cooling towers of Ferrybridge Power Station in Yorkshire - every job is different! It was work he wanted to do from boyhood and he had enjoyed every moment of it.

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January 2012: Pre-Victorian Policing and The Surrey Constabulary: Robert Bartlett


We were in good hands for this talk by Bob Bartlett, a former Chief Superintendent of the Surrey Constabulary and police historian, whose talk covered the period 1800-1851. Early 19th century policing arrangements were haphazard at best. Magistrates were generally local vicars or persons appointed by the Crown who nominated people to be their local police constable. Wrongdoers were dealt with at hearings convened in public houses and the victims of crime often had to meet the costs of dealing with criminals.

Bob related three notorious cases to illustrate how serious crimes were dealt with in those early days. These were the case of the 'Fetcham Murder' of John Akehurst and his wife in 1823, the 'Banstead Murder' and the notorious Isaacs gang in the late 1840s. Despite the problems of movement and communications in those days, all the culprits were successfully brought to justice by diligent policing and convicted. It was however notable that 95% of convicted murderers were pardoned with admonition unless there was compelling evidence of their guilt. The law was not as harsh as popular history leads us to believe.

The Metropolitan Police were formed in 1829; the Bow Street Runners were effectively detectives and would support County parishes if needed for serious cases. The Dorking Watch - a three man patrol - was formed from the local citizenry in 1825 and a Dorking Police Force existed from 1838 to 1851 when the Surrey Constabulary came into being.

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September 2011: Landscape Archaeology: Judie English

At our meeting in September landscape archaeologist Julie English and our local historic exhibits curator, Dudley Sparks provided an enthralling tour de force! There was even a first-rate handout which explained, with pictures, when the Paleolithic age morphed into the Mesolithic age - and much more besides!

Julie lectures at Sussex University and must be used to explaining things in such a way that even the most poorly motivated and the least knowledgeable student becomes engrossed.  So we were a doddle!  She demonstrated how aerial photography could clearly identify bronze-age field systems and magnetometry could show where kilns had been built.  Local archives could help locate hill forts and Priories could indicated the way the local community lived; there was a wealth of knowledge that could be gained without even starting a dig!  But if you did start to excavate around Westcott you found yourself amongst some intriguing, and puzzling, evidence of Romano-British settlement.

Dudley was able to show us some of the amazing things that he and his metal detector had found belonging to these early residents of Westcott.  From an early Roman pendant, through Anglo-Saxon artifacts and Medieval items to 'souvenirs' from World War ll: they could all be found around here, although you had to know where to look and been doing it for around 25 years!


July 2011: Charles Darwin & Russel Wallace: Richard Selley

Our AGM was rapidly followed by Richard Selley talking on the two men who independently proposed a theory of evolution based on natural selection, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, and their connections with Dorking.  We know Wallace stayed in Dorking, but not where, and the work of Darwin at Leith Hill Place is well documented.  These men were working when the majority of country believed the world was created in seven days in 2004 BC!  The difficulties they faced and their journeys of exploration made an intriguing tale.  Professor Selley is a highly entertaining and succinct speaker and this talk was no exception.  As always he dealt with his subject in an amusing way and introduced new ideas: for example, did you know about John Hutton and his work of 1795 on natural selection that remained unexamined till 1947? 


May 2011: Powell's stained glass: Dennis Hadley

Denis Hadley is a well regarded speaker who has recently talked in St Martin's Church, Dorking, on the stained glass windows there and their makers, Whitefriars Glass. Unfortunately on the day he had his problems with our projector and was working against the clock because of his transport arrangements.  He covered the family history of the founders of Whitefriars, the Powells, (and their links to Mr Baden) and the business difficulties they ran into.  The story of Whitefriars glass is an interesting one when well told and there are strong local connections as the last owner of the company is a member of the History Group.   We hope we are able to develop these aspects at some future date.

March 2011:  Betchworth Castle: Martin Higgins


We expected the story of Betchworth Castle would be an interesting one - and it was.  But we had not anticipated what else we would learn: for example that Westcott was the home of one of the few fortified manor houses in Surrey, a house known as Black Hawes.  And it seems that much of the stone for Betchworth Castle when it was built around 1377 could have come from Westcott.  But that is a bit of a parochial view of the exciting story of a 'castle' that rose, declined, and rose again, with famous names like Sloan and Hope passing through the narrative.  Martin Higgins gave us a fascinating insight into what it is to be the owner of a local castle – bought for £1!

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January 2011: Television & John Logie Baird: Jon Weller

Our first meeting in 2011, the talk by Jon Weller about John Logie Baird, was a cracker.  JLB can come across as a rather dour person, someone who would now be referred to as a 'geek', who developed the idea of a 'hand knitted in Scotland' type of mechanical television.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  JKB was a charming and savvy entrepreneur who turned his hand to many diverse and sometimes strangely amusing ways of making money.  The 'jam from Trinidad' was not the most successful, nor the glass razor blades, but the (mainly caustic) soap was and helped finance his subsequent work on television.  Jon brought the story to life, providing an understanding into the personality of the man and deep insight into the development of television. We were treated to museum class exhibits including the world's oldest off air TV recording, not viewable when made in 1934 but there for us to see now thanks to Jon's technical expertise.  A truly enthralling evening.

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November 2010: Ockley and Lowfield Heath Windmills

Elmer's windmill at Ockley was a smock mill built in 1803 and run by successive generations of the Coldman family for over a century until it ceased working about 1912. It then fell into disrepair and finally collapsed in 1944.

Peter James gave us an absorbing account of his project to rebuild the mill to look as it did in its heyday, whilst creating a modern home within its walls. The brick base was all that remained in 2003. Fortunately a detailed description of the original mill still existed and this, together with some fine photographs, gave Peter the starting point for his project.

Peter then took us through the project with superb photographs showing each stage of the reconstruction. We not only saw how the mill was put together but also gained an appreciation of the skills and ingenuity of the builders and millwrights of the past. The main structure of the mill is now almost complete; it will now be fitted out internally and the final stage will be to fit the sails.

Peter then showed us the restoration of Lowfield Heath mill with he had also been involved. This post mill had ceased working about 1880 and then steadily deteriorated until a rescue started in 1987 when it was dismantled (just before the great storm!) and moved to its present site. Its subsequent restoration by dedicated volunteers and professionals showed just what can be done, given the will, to save our industrial past.

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September 2010: A History of Westcott

Due to a bereavement, our scheduled speaker was unable to come, so Peter Bennett gave this talk which had been given to a neighbouring group earlier in the year (thank goodness for memory sticks!).

Present-day Westcott is really the merger of two former single-street hamlets known in medieval times as Westcott Street and Milton Street. The talk began with a look at how these may have become settlements, determined - as always - by the geology. Separate Manors in Domesday; they eventually passed to the Evelyns of Wotton who still hold the Manor of Westcott today.

Three big estates were created around Westcott - Milton Court, the Rookery, where Robert Malthus was born, and Bury Hill which absorbed Milton Street. The estates were the main employers, mainly through farming, forestry and domestic service. Estate owners, such as the Fullers and the Barclays, were great benefactors and did much for Westcott. The coming of the railways brought rapid growth. John Worsfold gave us a chapel. The parish church and school soon followed, and by 1900 there were three watermills, a brickfield, forge, wheelwright, six pubs and ample shops to serve the community. We are fortunate that photographer Walter Rose recorded it all to leave us such vivid pictures of life at that time.

The twentieth century saw great losses through the wars and the decline and demise of the estates. But there were also gains. Sport, music and drama flourished, and for a time we even had a swimming pool! Actor Leslie Howard and broadcaster Jonah Barrington were notable residents. New houses were built, but later years saw a loss of shops and pubs, although the M25 brought some relief to our traffic congestion. The millennium has seen renewal. Reading room and chapel, both under threat, have been saved, youth facilities improved and school expanded. These and other voluntary efforts even brought us a 'most improved village' award in the Britain in Bloom competition! Like all other villages, much has happened over the last thousand years.

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May 2010: May Day: Matthew Alexander

At our regular 'Second Tuesday' meeting in May we welcomed Matthew Alexander to tell us something of the significance of May Day in the social life of England and in particular the merry-making in Surrey.  The tradition of fun, festivities and fundraising probably reached its height in Georgian times when local parishes raised much of their money on that day.  By mid Victorian times that form of merriment had begun to decline but the 'climbing boys' who went up the inside of chimneys to sweep them, were still allowed the day off work for 'collecting'.  They visited the local large houses and solicited donations, holding poles with floral decorations. 


The exploitation of children for sweeping chimneys came to an end in1864 and by the time of compulsory education in the 1870’s, May 1st was not regarded as a holiday. 

A more mild form of celebration with May Queens and dancers circling around a maypole platting ribbons took hold in the early twentieth century but the advent of WWI marked the effective end of this 'new tradition'.  Now it remains for Morris Dancers to uphold the tradition of revelry and fundraising on May Day.  Matthew Alexander presented a fascinating insight into past activities on the first day in May.


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March 2010: The Kohler Darwin collection:  Chris Kohler

Chris (and Michele) Kohler are not the sort of booksellers who you might find in Charing Cross Road.  They started there but went on to become specialist antiquarian booksellers and subsequently the owners of the largest collection of works by and about Charles Darwin.  The number of books by Darwin and their different editions is truly amazing but just how you track them down and finally obtain ownership is in itself an extraordinary story. 

Almost equally surprising are the links to this area.  Darwin's sister Caroline lived at Leith Hill Place and Charles spent several holidays there visiting his relatives and conducting experiments on earthworms in the local countryside.  One of the most outspoken critics of 'On the Origin of Species', Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, died following a fall from his horse on White Down, while on a journey between Burford Bridge and Holmbury St Mary.  (A supporter of Darwin is reported to have quipped at the time that Wilberforce's brain had at last come into contact with reality, and the result had been fatal.)


After amassing their collection over more than 20 years Chris and Michele finally sold it to the Natural History Museum in 2006 - for £985,000.  So now you have to get on a train and go to Kensington to see it: but the fascinating story of how it came about still resides in Dorking.

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January 2010: Beaverbrook and Bennett: Mike Hallett


On a snowy evening we heard the fascinating tale of a young Canadian wheeler-dealer, born near Beaver Brook railway station in New Brunswick, and his early mentor, a staunch Methodist lawyer known as R.B.B. Their only common interest seemed overriding ambition.   RBB went on to be the Prime Minister of Canada but chose the wrong time, the middle of the 30's depression: his protege Max Aitkin, after a scandal concerning cement shares left Canada for London.  Max became a press Baron, member of the war-time cabinet and owner of Cherkley Court at Mickelham.  He persuaded RBB to leave Canada also and set up home next-door at Juniper Hall.  So it is that the only Canadian Prime Minister not buried in Canada rests, as he wished, at St Michael's Mickleham.  By contrast, on his death Lord Beaverbrook's executors claimed that his Canadian citizenship exempted him from UK death duties and his ashes went to Canada!  An amazing tale very much worth a walk through the snow.

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November 2009: Pewter - Roger Barnes

One of our members noticed a pewter tankard engraved 'P. Greathurst Westcott' for sale on e-bay. He found that Philip Greathurst was a member of the family running the Butchers Arms opposite the village green in the 1840s - and so he bought the tankard. Following from this we all were treated to an enthusiastic talk on the history of the pewter by Roger Barnes of the Pewter Society.

The tankard in question had mysteriously found its way to Pennsylvania but from the Excise markings on it had clearly started its life around 1855 near Dorking. The story of the metal itself starts around 2900BC with the use of tin, a relatively soft metal. The addition of lead results in a much stronger material better suited to making vessels and this became known as pewter. The earliest existing example of a pewter vessel is one found in an Egyptian tomb dating from 1450 BC. Subsequently antimony, bismuth and copper were all used - and by 1974 lead itself had been phased out.

The history of pewter in England starts from the 15th century when its composition was carefully protected by the Worshipful Company of Pewterers in London. The Company set standards of quality and controlled the constituents. Roger brought a museum-full of pewter tankards, plates, bowls and chargers to illustrate his talk in addition to a prodigious number of slides. He was able to describe every aspect of design and subtle change in detail since the foundation of the Pewters Company. Members had responded to the invitation to bring their own examples to create our very own 'Antiques Roadshow' with Roger providing the accurate historical background to the sometimes apocryphal provenance.

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September 2009: Operation Pied Piper - Terry Wooden and cast.

Our venue, the Westcott Reading Room, was taken back to 1st September 1939 with the sound of the air raid warning - and the story of the young evacuees from London who arrived here began. Then there was widespread fear that the war would start with a 'blitzkrieg' and massive destruction so the Government decided to evacuate all schoolchildren from inner cities.

In Westcott, as in similar villages, a billeting officer had sought out suitable accommodation (in spite of the objections of many pillars of the community who resented having to share their large houses!) and on 1 September, instead of going to school, London children found themselves sent to the rail station and thence to an unknown destination - with only a label pinned on their coat showing their name and home school. How they found life in Westcott and fitted into the community was superbly illustrated by present day school children from Westcott school who read from the contemporaneous accounts of the evacuees - and experiences of members who had themselves been evacuated.

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July 2009: Bastille Day Special - Jacqueline Banerjee

Our regular meeting fell on the 14 July so it was entirely appropriate for us to hear something about the French royalists who fled their homeland following the storming of the Bastille. Many came to Surrey and in particular to Juniper Hall where there was a group of well known emigres.

The reason for the popularity of this part of England for the royalists went back to the sixteenth century and the Huguenots who set up mills for dying and weaving in the region. Voltaire had fled to England in 1725 and was greatly impressed by the constitutional monarchy he found here - in contrast to the absolute monarchy in France. His writings in defence of civil liberties and freedom of religion created a widespread impression in France that England was a welcoming place for exiles

The English novelist Fanny Burney married in 1797 the exiled General Alexandre D'™Arblay, a dashing and romantic figure who she had met in the Templeton Room of Juniper Hall, and they set up house in Westhumble. So it was that this area became closely associated with the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille.

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May 2009: Surrey Trade Tokens : Mary Alexander

Mary Alexander, curator of Archaeology at Guildford Museum, spoke about the trade tokens used in Surrey in the 17th century, and Ted Molineux brought samples from his collection.

The tokens were used for the payment of low value goods and services. Typically they were small coin-like items made of brass, copper or lead, slightly smaller than the current penny. Wear and age means that by now they are usually almost black with markings that are difficult to photograph. This was well illustrated by our speaker.

The execution of Charles l in 1649 ended the monopoly of of the King in minting coins and the need for trade in low value items was met, not by coins of the realm which were primarily high value gold or silver but by traders issuing their own tokens. Thus candle makers, millers and other prosperous figures in the community had tokens produced that depicted their business. Typically these had a value of a farthing, from whence came the saying 'not worth half a brass farthing'. The tokens were never part of an 'official' currency and by 1672 their use had ceased.

Mary's talk provided a useful insight into the nature of these local tokens.

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March 2009: History of the Surrey Union Hunt

As the author of 'The Surrey Union Hunt - Our History Unbuttoned', no-one could have been better qualified to give us this talk than Julian Womersley.

In the late 18th century there were two packs of hounds in the area to the east and west of Guildford, one kept by a Mr Leach near Godalming, the other by a Mr Godsall at Albury. The two merged in 1799 and this lead to the adoption of the name Surrey Union. In 1802 the pack went to East Clandon and later to Fetcham Park, Cobham Court and Bookham. The hunt's territory gradually moved south and today the pack is housed at Ockley.

Julian's talk gave us a vivid picture of how the hunt was managed and its ups and downs over the years. It was a talk richly sprinkled with eccentric characters and their stories, romances and rows. The talk was well illustrated with pictures of meets and masters; we learnt about the complexities of buttons, boots and uniforms, and it was interesting to learn that special trains were used to convey horses and hounds before the onset of road transport.

Julian's illustrations featured a painting of the hunt crossing open country south of Betchworth in the 1930s, with the sweep of the North Downs beyond. The hunt makes an important part in keeping the countryside well maintained; this was well borne out by photograph of the same view today - the scene had hardly changed.

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January 2009: Dorking Underground - Prof. Richard Selley.

Richard Selley is well known to us from his previous talks to the Group. These have covered aspects of local history that are a little beyond our normal time-scale, starting in the Cretaceous age around 140 million years ago - but they have always covered local matters. Indeed, if members can not give a reasonable account of the effects of local geology on viticulture they have not been listening! But on this occasion the time-line came closer to the present day to enable us to explore the caves, tunnels and a subterranean river below Dorking.

The caves, probably from the 17th century but possibly from Roman times, are now mostly under Sainsbury's car park but Bookends basement was probably the location of a cock-fighting pit. The tunnels include the one under the High Street that would now, if open, allow discreet transfer between the Lighthouse and Viva restaurant but was previously used to facilitate patrons of the ale house on the southern site visiting the bawdy house on the north. And maps from 1594, 1610, 1729 show the strange comings and goings of the River Mole as it disappears into 'swallow holes' which were still active in the 30s.

Prof. Selley gave his usual entertaining and informative talk but this time the audience had clear memories on the subject: not of the Cretaceous age but the boat in the lake at the bottom of the caves under the War Memorial.

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November 2008: A Remembrance Day Special - Andrew Tatham

Andrew Tatham found a photo of a group of WWI officers when he was researching the history of his grandfather. His relative was one member - but who were the others and what was their history, he asked himself. The result of this chance find was to take Andrew on a long journey of discovery. He told the fascinating storey he found by means of an audio-visual display, showing the 'family tree' of each member of the group as it grew up till the 48 officers came together for the group photo in May 1915.

In August 1915 they were sent to fight in the battle of Loos. Immediately 'trees' were felled: the first few days leaving many dead and more injured. By the end of the battle only 21 officers had survived although, perhaps remarkably, those few remained till the end of that war. At the beginning of WWII there were 18 members of the group still alive - and one at the end.

Andrew took some of the individuals and followed there lives in detail, discovering long forgotten personal effects in Johannesburg and photos of carefree young men enjoying summer days in 1914: it was an entirely appropriate evening for the Eleventh of November.

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September 2008: Thomas Cubitt - Mike Hallett

Thomas Cubitt is known as the Master Builder and is the person who developed much of the London we now recognise, in particular Pimlico. Even by the standards of Victorian industrial entrepreneurs the rise of Thomas Cubitt from ship's carpenter to the man who laid out and built large tracts of London is a truly remarkable tale.

Cubitt, with a series of inspired moves, gained access to both contacts and capital. By completing on time and under budget a contract for the London Institution, where he was the first to undertake the complete building task, organising the sub-contractors etc., he became recognised by London society as the developer of choice. He rapidly progressed to work on Polsden Lacy, the development of Dolphin Square and the fetid marshes that became Pimlico. For his country home he decided to build Denbies House. His son George bought land locally and built Ranmore Church; hence the strong links to our area.

Although not covered in Mike Hullet's excellent lecture, George, who was created the first Baron Ashcombe in 1892, has gained recent interest as the great-grandfather of Camilla Parker Bowles.

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July 2008: Victorian Leisure and Pleasure: Ian Bevan

Ian had subtitled his talk "What the Victorians did for us" and by the end of the evening it was clear the answer was "quite a lot!"

He set off at a fast canter through the activities we take for granted, seaside holidays, public parks, novels and exhibitions and showed how they developed during the mid 1800's. Some activities followed from technological developments, for example the railways brought travel to the masses leading to the idea of 'going away' for a holiday. But the age of the novel and the enjoyment that came from hearing Dickens read from his works was not dependant on novel engineering, although there was much of that about. It was the Victorians being as innovative in the way they organised themselves as in the way they organised the industrial face of the world.

Ian's delightfully illustrated talk covered the spectrum of  'Victorian fun' with both the broad context and the fascinating detail analysed. For example, can you guess what sort of costume was worn by the trapeze artist Jules Leotard?

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May 2008: The Golden Age of Postcards: Michael Miller

In Edwardian times cards portraying holiday scenes were collected in albums but the 1840 postal reforms brought the cost of sending a card down to a halfpenny and message cards became a favourite means of communication. They had the address on one side and the message on the other and could be delivered within the day. "Can't come for tea today" was a reasonable message to send!

In the 1890's lithographic pictures were introduced firstly in Germany then Britain. Initially the Post Office decreed there could be a small picture with a message on one side and the address and stamp only on the other. By 1902 the P.O. had relented and allowed a full picture on one side with the address and message on the other: the Golden Age of postcards had begun.

Michael showed us a wealth of examples produced by artists who in their time became household names. By the end of WW1 the telephone and telegraph had superseded

the messaging role of the card and, bar a minor revival in the 1970's, the sending of picture cards has now gradually diminished.

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March 2008: Barn Construction: Joe Thompson.

Joe Thompson from the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum explained how the oak barns once such a familiar part of our landscape were constructed. They were built between around 1200 and 1900 and were fabricated off site and transported packed flat to be assembled on site.

Joe knows pretty much all there is to know about building oak framed barns.  He explained that contrary to modern myth the constructors hardly ever used old ship's timbers and didn't even seek out the largest trees.  They chose logs that were just large enough to produce the desired size timbers to minimise wastage and handling problems.  They worked on '˜green', not seasoned, wood to ease the drilling and cutting and, although the majority of joints were made with oak pegs hammered into pre drilled mortice and tenon joints, iron nails were used for some specialised joints.

The frame was laid out and constructed horizontally: the bays were formed, the joints marked and numbered and when it was complete it was taken apart.  It was then shipped flat packed to site.  Here it was reassembled, the frames filled and finally the building topped-out with an evergreen branch fixed to the highest point.

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January 2008: Frost, Freezes and Fairs: Ian Currie

Ian Currie, known to Advertiser readers for his weather reports, told us something about the weather in the past and the effect it had on local customs. There were times in the 1650's when winters were in general very much colder that now, with 22 'severe' winters in the space of 50 years. Prior to that in the1564/5 winter the Thames froze over from December until spring and the custom of setting up tents and organising fairs had become an established way of life for watermen who needed alternative employment. In the 17th and 18th Century these fairs had grown to include circus, theatre, and elaborate shows: almost any activity 'on the ice' was enough to attract large crowds.

Ian brought copious material showing old paintings and drawings of freezes and fairs. A substantial series of publications were his own work and his talk was amply illustrated with slides showing the great Frost Fairs. In 1814, the year Kingston Bridge was severely damaged by ice, these fairs came to end. The replacement of the old London Bridge allowed salt water higher up the Thames and the dredging and embankments of the Victorians had sped up the water flow, meaning the river did not freeze so often.

But there are still some cold winters. Many of us could remember the winter of 1947, although selective memory had retained charming recollections of picturesque snow scenes and mercifully forgotten shortages of everything, especially food and the coal still used by most of us for heating.

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November 2007: The Holly and the Ivy: Chris Howkins

Chris Howkins started by enthusiastically demolishing some popular myths, for example that Prince Albert introduced Christmas trees into the UK. His approach was that of a historian: search for documentary evidence and be very wary of myth and hearsay. It also helps to have, as he does, a wide perspective of many religeons and to understand the significance of mid-winter to many ancient civilisations. Chris explained how evergreen trees were pruned to encourage the growth of deciduous ones, how mistletoe was an indication of fertility and the role of the 'Yule log', all in times that pre-dated Christianity. Indeed Christianity assimilated many of the symbols of earlier religions including the use of holly which was used in pagan times to crown the 'Winter King'.

Chris was able to link the early uses of holly and ivy, for example why Bacchus is shown with an ivy crown, to later social developments, particularly those in Victorian times when Christmas became much more associated with the family and children. By then the role of celebrations for the passing of the shortest day had been forgotten as had the banning of all such festivities in 1643!

At the end of a most entertaining evening we could approach Christmas with far greater knowledge of the role of the feast of Saturnalia, the date of the celebration of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, and the background of the winter festival to our present celebrations.

Top of Page September 2007: Brick-making in Westcott:  Ian West

Brick-making, how the Romans dug out the clay and fired their bricks etc. is an interesting topic in itself and Ian covered this and subsequent developments well, but there is even more to learn from the use of bricks in existing buildings. You can often trace the development of the structure from the materials used. The Romans had a standard size for their bricks and the classic 1¼ inch thin examples are easy to spot. In Medieval times, when there were no standards for size and pattern, materials were reused, so if you know what you are looking for you can spot a medieval building based on an older Roman one.

In the 1500s, when timber was the popular choice, if a building was built of brick it was something special, for example Sutton Place in 1520 was a landmark building. Ian was able to show us by reference to local houses how you could trace the history of a building by the materials used, for example where the Victorians had 'improved' Milton Court and how the workmanship of the local artisans who moulded the bricks for Crossways farm was easy see.

Ian read the story in the bricks of our local buildings and how they reveal the attempts to mask changes and alterations. He introduced us to mathematical tiles, gauge bricks and set us in search of alphabet house numbering in bricks. An amazing story told by a true enthusiast.

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July 2007: Mole Valley's Literary Heritage- Jacqueline Bannerjee

Jacqueline Bannerjee is a highly qualified speaker who has written widely on the topic of those authors who are associated with Surrey. The Mole Valley is such a lovely area so it should come as no surprise that authors have long chosen it as the place to live and work. Jacqueline covered the work of some 'local' authors in particular John Evelyn, Fanny Burney, and Mathew Arnold. Evelyn is perhaps the nation's first true diarist as he wrote for a wide audience intending his diary to be read by the following generations. He was also a first rate gardening writer!

Fanny Burney, who used the proceeds of her writing to buy Camilla Cottage in West Humble, preceded Jane Austin as one of England's notable romantic novelists. Her own life makes a classic romantic story and Jacqueline directed us to Volume 3 of Fanny's journal for some intriguing letters. Mathew Arnold, not noted for his letters, wrote many when he lived at Painshill covering apparently mundane topics as walking his dogs around Cobham and his thoughts on Evelyn's notes about herb gardens. These provide a wonderful insight to life here at the time.

Jacqueline's enthusiasm for the Surrey authors rubbed off on her audience who snapped up copies of her publication on the topic.

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May 2007: The Wey and Arun Canal- Jim Phillips

The bald facts of the history of the Wey and Arun Canal 'the link that enabled boats to go from the Thames at London to the English Channel at Littlehampton' make for very interesting reading: see for example http://www.weyandarun.co.uk/hist1.htm. But the history told by a great story teller, expert and enthusiast on the subject makes for a truly fascinating evening. Such it was when Commodore Jim Phillips started his story with the Napoleonic Wars and ended with today's battles with landowners over rights of way.

By one of those strange quirks of fate Jim Phillips and Our Leader, Terry Wooden, were contemporaries in the Ministry of Defense. This enabled the story to be peppered with T.L.A. (three letter acronyms) like PDU (pretty dammed unusual) without any loss of sense. Just how such major civil engineering works as canals could be dug by hand in 1813 is difficult to imagine but Jim Phillips brought the challenges to life, both those of the original construction and the current recreation. By 1850 the canal was being used to transport material for building the railways and its days were numbered. Today £5m has been spent with £1.5m being needed to go under Loxford High Street alone. But the problems are in essence the same now as when the canal was originally conceived: water, money and landowner permission. Just how the Canal Trust is overcoming these makes for a fascinating story.

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March 2007 : Surrey Privvies - John Janaway

Many of us were surprised to learn that John's book on Surrey Privies is part of a series that started with a book about Cotswolds privies and has now expanded to include a county by county collection by Countryside Books with various authors. John started with an explanation of the term 'privy', derived from the French word for 'private', and got many of the double entendres out of the way before going on to describe the function of the small building at the bottom of the garden. Technically that was pretty straightforward but the changes in fashion since the Roman times, when this was a public event shared by 40 or so people, made for an interesting story. Now-a-days these little buildings are routinely destroyed, even in preservation areas, so the photographs that John has produced represent a useful record of the way life was before the arrival of running water.

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January 2007 : The Crystal Palace - Ian Bevan

Ian Bevan opened his talk by asking how many of us remembered the night of 30 November 1936 when the Crystal Palace burned down: many of us could. He then asked how many could remember its first opening in Hyde Park: considerably fewer hands went up! Ian started his story before then with an introduction to the exciting times of the 1840's; railway expansion, the Empire and the young Queen Victoria. The role of Prince Albert as president of the Royal Society of Arts in plans for the Great Exhibition, the establishment of the Building Committee and its rejection of designs by I K Brunel, the interests in water lilies of Joseph Paxton, gardener at Chiswick House to the Duke of Devonshire, all made for a better appreciation of the story that was to follow of the 'crystal palace'.

That you are reading this now means that the history of the building, its size and structure all well illustrated, are just the click of a mouse away. No need for Wikipedia, you will find an excellent description at http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/features/history/crystal_palace . You can also learn of efforts to preserve the history of the palace at http://crystalpalacefoundation.org.uk/   and the RHS library has maps and much history of the park - so I wont' attempt to repeat the story here. But although these are excellent sources of information they can not convey the enthusiasm and insight provided by Ian Bevan in his talk on the fascinating history of the Crystal Palace.

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November 2006 : The Development of Denbies - Christopher White

Chris White, General Manager, Denbies Wine Estate, opened his talk by noting that there was a Doomsday record of a vineyard on Ranmore hill and joked that in 1086 a planning application was submitted for the winery. The name derives from the first owner, John Denby, who was a farmer. The farmhouse was purchased by a Mr Wakeford who then sold the property in 1754 to Jonathan Tyers, the founder and proprietor of Vauxhall Gardens. He transformed the farm building into a modest Georgian House, which could be regarded as the first '˜Denbies' House.

On Tyer's death in 1767 the Estate was purchased by the Hon. Peter King and then in 1781 '˜Denbies' was sold to James White. Subsequently it came to William Joseph Denison who in 1818 became the Speaker to the House of Commons. He enlarged the estate and created extensive gardens. From him it passed to his daughter Elizabeth whose son, Lord Albert Conyngham sold it to Thomas Cubitt in the Autumn of 1850.

Thomas Cubitt came to Ranmore at the height of a successful building career. He had developed Belgravia, designed Osborne House on the Isle of Wight for Queen Victoria and built the old east front of Buckingham Palace. He also helped to promote the success of the Great Exhibition in 1851. Thomas Cubitt set about improving the Estate by planting thousands of trees and shrubs and modernising the farm and estate buildings. He demolished the old house built by Jonathan Tyers and erected on higher ground to the south a palace in the style of Belgravia. It was built of brick and stucco with flat Italianate detail and a Portland Stone balustrade round the first floor roof.

Thomas Cubitt built every modern facility into the house including the insulation of the ceilings with snail and other shells and improved the access to it by having his own siding built at Dorking Railway Station and three entrance drives, one from Dorking a second on to the Downs and a third to the west across the Railway. Thomas Cubitt's eldest son, George, inherited in 1855 and in 1892 became the first Lord Ashcombe. He created his own Village on the Hill and the estate extended northwards as far as Admiral's Road at Polesden Lacey and included parts of all the surrounding parishes. In the Tithe Map of 1898 Lord Ashcombe is recorded as owning 241a.3r.2p in Bookham.

In 1859 George Cubitt built the church, St. Barnabas on Ranmore, to the design of Sir Gilbert Scott RA which was consecrated on All Saints Day of that year. He also built a School, St. Barnabas, and a School House near the Church in 1858 and an Infant's Department was added in 1874. The School was enlarged in 1909 and closed in July 1972. At its peak it could accommodate 124 pupils.

Lord Ashcombe died in 1917, and was succeeded by his only son, Henry, who had moved into Denbies well prior to his father's death. Henry (second baron) had six sons but sadly lost three of them in the Great War of 1914/18. His fourth son, Roland, became the third baron on Henry's death in 1947. It was Roland who had his forefather Thomas Cubitt's house demolished in 1953. The demolition contractor is alleged to have failed financially just prior to completion of his work such that the basement level existed till 1990 adjoining the current Denbies House which itself dates back to the middle of the last century and served as the laundry, staff quarters and coach house to Thomas Cubitt's home.

Lord Ashcombe the fourth, Henry (Harry) was Roland's eldest son and he inherited the title on his father's death in 1962. Henry and his father, who were limited by the restrictions on building imposed after the Second World War, undertook a refurbishment of '˜the laundry' and created an impressive Regency style residence. In November 1984, Adrian E White CBE DL, a Dorking based businessman and engineer purchased the Denbies Estate from the fourth Lord Ashcombe, and embarked upon a complete refurbishment of both farms (Denbies and Bradley) the Denbies House and its Estates properties.

Christopher White completed his talk by telling us more about the Estate (which now comprises 627 acres, 200 of which are woodlands, and includes 10 estate houses) and the wine it produces. There is no known connection between the current owner and his name-sake James White, who owned Denbies 200 years earlier. 

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September 2006 : Tree Dating Surrey Buildings - Rod Wild

At our last meeting Rod White explained that there is more to aging than counting rings! We were talking about the age of timber buildings and the 'fingerprint' of the ring structure of trees, dendrochronology. In a good year a tree will grow rapidly, causing wider spacing between the rings than in a bad year. This creates a pattern in the growth rings that is common to trees grown in the same area. If you identify this pattern in one tree you will be able to recognise it in another. With progressive overlap between trees of increasing age you can accurately date timber over two thousand years old and go back to the thirteenth century with relative ease.

That is the science of dendrochronology: interesting enough in itself but even more interesting when applied to finding out which is the oldest timber building in Surrey. There are trees around 500 years old in Albury Park so we can get good data on the growth patterns and for example we know 1461 was a pretty hard year for tree growth. We also have some buildings that we can tell are old by their structure, for example '˜open hall houses' where the smoke from a fire in the middle of the room rose up to the roof before finding its own way out of the eaves. Later a '˜smoke bay' was built to contain the smoke, at least at ground floor level. Finally, around 1600, chimneys were used, although it seems the Mole Valley was one of the last regions to use these new fangled inventions, furthering the suggestion that there are some slow learners in Dorking.

So what is the oldest house? Rod carefully concealed this fact until he had shown us some of the spectacular buildings that are old, but not the oldest. Westcott's Stow Maries has many fine architectural features including a 'front jetty' and a smoke bay. It has been dated at 1572. Lower Springfield Farm, also in Westcott, at 1539 is the last open hall building dated in Surrey, and Brook Farm dates from 1407 making it the oldest in our neighbourhood. But the oldest accurately dated building in Surrey is Forge Cottage, Dunsfold: not the prettiest but built in1254 it is the oldest.                                                                  

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July 2006 The History of Letterboxes

John Smith started his talk by introducing us to the terminology. A 'pillar box' is a particular type of letterbox: it is built as a freestanding pillar, and a 'post box' is so called because it is fixed to a post, not because you post mail in it. And the boxes have changed and evolved much since the Victorians first introduced them.

When the concept of a national system for sending a letter first developed, you paid on receipt for your letter. The sender had handed it in at his local Post Office and you went to yours and paid to collect it. If you were well off, instead of collecting it yourself, you could pay a fee to have it delivered. In 1840 this changed. A fixed charged (one penny) was introduced and the sender paid. To show payment had been made a label was attached. The next development was to enable the sender to avoid going to the Post Office each time he wished to send a letter. It allowed the labels, or 'stamps', to be brought in advance and the letters put into special boxes where they could be collected. The letterbox was born.

Initially local foundries were commissioned to cast these letterboxes; the earliest still in use was made in 1853 and is at Sherborne in Dorset. By 1866 the design was standardised and a year later it was decided to include the initials of the monarch (then VR) on the boxes. Subsequently the colour changed from olive green to the now familiar red, and from then on there was a series of small changes in design as well as the changes in the initials of the current monarch.

The '˜Letterbox Study Group' documents these changes and the gradual evolution of the familiar letterbox. John Smith detailed these changes for us with copious slides to illustrate the developments. Since then none of us who heard his talk have been able to pass a letterbox without noticing whether it had a slot in the door or if it was a rare Edward VII box!

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May 2006 The Abinger Watercress Story

Barry Arminson, a popular speaker on watercress farming in the region, described the history since the first farm was founded at Abinger in 1850. The founder, an Irishman called William Smith, quickly passed ownership to the Coe brothers Richard and John and the industry has remained in the family ever since. (And Barry is a member of that family).

Times were never easy. In summer the typical working day started at 4.30am to enable the first crop to catch the 6.30 train to London. This meant that in the thirties London greengrocers could be selling watercress on the day it was picked, something no longer achievable. Horses, which have less tendency to get bogged down than modern agricultural machinery, were kept in operation until 1957 to get around the watercress beds.

The Tilling Bourne still has some of the purest water in the region but the farm uses water from their own boreholes, originally drilled by hand. The water comes up at around 100C all year round but picking in winter is still a finger numbing business!

The company name was originally 'Gomshall Cress', which was fine for local markets but could cause difficulty elsewhere. The solution was to adopt the name Kingfisher, suggested by the buyers in Birmingham. And the name remains even though there is hardly enough cress produced now for the farm shop and certainly not enough for Birmingham markets. Thanks to Barry Arminson who took us on an interesting, amusing and nostalgic journey amongst the watercress beds.

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March 2006 : The Life and Legacy of Walter Rose

Keith Harding was able to show us some of the extraordinary photographs by Walter Rose who lived in Westcott 1857-1954. After growing up at Westcott School and taking employment as a gardener, by 1900 Walter was working as a photographer at the forefront of the technology. He was also a painter but it is his artistic interpretation of what was then a novel medium that is so impressive: it is still as modern today as it was then. His pictures are enthralling just for the sheer beauty of their composition, never mind the local historical interest '“ which is immense.

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February 2006 : 'Local History' : The Prince of Wales, Westcott

The history of local pubs and inns is always closely intertwined with the history of the community they serve. At our last meeting Terry Wooden provided us with an insight into the role of '˜The Prince of Wales' in the life of Westcott.

Griffin Beall, the son of a baker, was born in Headley in 1822. He moved to Westcott in the 1840's where he set up as a baker in a cottage on the main road. He also brewed his own ale and this proved sufficiently popular that in 1849 he was able to build a small Inn beside his cottage, describing himself in 1861 as an Innkeeper and baker.

Twenty years later in 1882, aged 60, Griffin Beall retired with his wife to Devon. They returned to Westcott to welcome in the 20th century with their family but shortly afterwards Griffin was taken ill and Mary caught a bad cold. Both died within days of each other and they are now buried together in the churchyard.

Back in 1882 Griffin Beall had been succeeded as landlord by his son in law, John William Tucker who remained in charge until his death in 1907. The running of the pub then passed to his son William Griffin Tucker who stayed until 1954: for over 100 years the PoW had been in one family.

Before the Reading Room was built there was no '˜village hall' and any village indoor event that was unsuitable for the School would be held at the Crown or the Prince of Wales because they both had '˜function rooms'. This included both social events and less enjoyable ones such as the 1862 inquest on Charles Whitburn, aged 2, who died when he overturned a teapot and was scalded. There was also the occasion when William White, a sawyer, was sent to prison for a month for stealing a bottle of whisky, value 3/6 from the Prince of Wales. In the same year PC Wotton arrested Robert Mansfield for using obscene language and creating a disturbance when he claimed that he had ordered a pint but somebody took it and drank it. He was fined 10/-.

On the lighter side, The Prince of Wales was a popular stop for those cyclists using the Dorking Road to and from Abinger, Shere and Newlands Corner before the Great War. It displayed a sign '˜Cyclists' House' alongside one advertising '˜Luncheons and Teas'. In 1922 Griffin Beall's old cottage and the inn he built alongside it were virtually demolished and the present building erected in its place. But the Prince of Wales continued, and continues, to be a key element in the development of the local community.

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January 2006: Mole Valley Rocks: Professor Richard Selley

Prof Selley from Imperial College London commenced his talk 'Mole Valley Rocks' by describing the landscape around Wescott in its regional setting. The dry valleys of, for example, Polsden Lacey were eroded when water flowed over the permafrost: it now drains through the chalk. The sight of a dinosaur wandering amongst the ferns of the Weald is slightly unusual nowadays but to geologists, who work on a longer timescale than most of us, that was only yesterday. "Civilisation occurs by geological consent '“ and is subject to change without notice" Professor Selley reminded us.

The Weald clay has been used for brick-making (e.g. the Dorking Brick company) and yields the so-called 'Purbeck marble', often used for ornamental cladding inside churches. Above the clay there is the lower greensand, given its name because of the presence of green crystals of iron gluconite. These can decompose to release iron, creating the more familiar brown sand colours. These Folkestone sands range from the soft material used for building and glass-making to the hard 'carstone' used as a decorative feature in pointing walls - and reputed to have powers to repel witches.

Above the greensand, the material of Leith Hill and Deepdene, lies another layer of clay (Gault clay), then a thin layer of greensand followed by the familiar chalk of the North Downs. Professor Selley is widely known for his geological advice on planting vineyards, hence Denbies on the south facing slopes, but there have been other uses for the North Downs, for example the lime quarries in Betchworth. The caves at Westhumble which were created following extraction of the chalk as building material are now the home of a large colony of bats.

We will now look at the Mole valley with far greater understanding thanks to this highly entertaining and informative talk by Professor Richard Selley.

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November 2005: Barn Restoration, Graham Capel

Graham Capel told us the history of his Marelands field barn. It had been '˜tree dated' as being built in 1603 and in 1977 English Heritage included it in their survey of historic agricultural buildings. The survey identified 24 barns in Newdigate but now there are only 11: most that are not part of a farm complex have been converted into houses.

Over the centuries barns have followed a well-defined design standard, for example the width of the bays is between 9ft. 6in. and 9ft. 9in. the space needed to turn a close-coupled pair of oxen. The methods of construction were also essentially similar, with the main supporting columns, the Jowl posts, constructed from upside down oak trees! By using the roots builders were able to easily form the connection pieces to the rest of the structure.

Corrugated iron had proved the saviour of many historic buildings and Marelands was no exception, it had been used for weather protection for many years. The foundations consisted of two courses of bricks, as was common to such buildings, with the sole plate on top of these. Essentially the building floated on a raft over the clay, allowing it to heave and sag without damage. But the downside of this construction technique became apparent when, due to the inept installation of a drain, there was a flood. The barn floated off its foundations and then settled back askew, with no support. The building then folded in on itself, collapsing into a pile of broken timber and tiles.

This pile of rubble presented a problem for English Heritage and Mole Valley District Council because the law requires such historic buildings to be maintained. Here this in practice meant rebuilt - which did not make economic sense to the farmer who owned it. His response was to give it to the council. MVDC, not accustomed to receiving such gifts, decided rebuilding barns was not their forte, so they sold it to somebody who would rebuild it, Graham Capel. And so, with the encouragement and support of Rod Shaw, the council's preservation officer, work commenced.

Graham used a technique that maintained as much of the original construction methods as possible but used modern fixings and materials where these were essential for the structural integrity of the building. Thus the build incorporates a concrete floor, cement to retain the sole plate and screws in key timber joints. But all these new materials are concealed and, for example, wooden pegs are still visible on all joints.

Oak is an extraordinary hard and durable material but the collapse of the barn had broken many timbers and many had rotted. Replacements are almost unobtainable in the UK but in France, which has similar geology and hence had similar oak forests, they can still be found. Using French oak for structural timbers and local green oak for weatherboard the barn was slowly and carefully reconstructed over a period of six years.

Now the barn is complete: Graham Capel had shown us how determination and massive enthusiasm had enabled one of our historic buildings to be saved from certain destruction and put to a very good use.

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September 2005: Ralph Vaughan Williams 

RVW first came to public notice with a performance of his '˜Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis' at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester Cathedral in 1910. Tony Richardson, our speaker, used this piece as an introduction to RVW's work and continued his talk with both sound and slide presentations.

RVW was born in 1872 in Gloucestershire with, as he put it himself '˜a very small silver spoon in his mouth'. This enabled him to withstand some of the hardship caused by the death of his father two and a half years later and the move of the remainder of the family to Leith Hill Place.

RVW's education was typical for a person with private means who intended to become a composer. He went to Charterhouse and then to the Royal College of Music where he was exposed to the '˜conventional', rather Germanic, music of the time. But his interest widened to include folk songs and country dance music and he was asked, in 1904, to help revise the English Hymnal. He transformed this by the deletion of many of the more ponderous Victorian works and their replacement by songs which, as Tony Richardson demonstrated, we all knew, if not by their title at least by the first line!

The Wasps overtures, the Tallis Fantasia, and what RVW called his '˜French polishing' by his time spent with Ravel, led to works such as Lark Ascending, his first Symphony and ballet music. But WW1 left an indelible impression on him, and his works, notably the ferocious 4th Symphony, reveal the sense of frustration and loss experienced by many at the time. He moved to White Gates, Dorking, in 1929 and by the start of WW2 was broadening his work to include songs and experiments with film scores. In the late 40's he wrote the music for feature films, composed concertos for tuba and harmonica, and in the 50's for saxophone and flugelhorn.

Ralph Vaughan Williams died in 1958. He had been born into the great power of Victorian England; he had sown the seeds of musical change at the beginning of the 20th Century and seen much wither with the loss of friends and colleagues in 1914-1918. He achieved widespread fame and recognition in the interwar years and broadened his appeal after it. When his life ended he was a full part of the Beatles era: an amazing journey! Tony Richardson took us through this impressive life feeding our enthusiasm for the music of this '˜local man'.

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July 2005: The Summer Outing to Rake Manor

The Group's Summer Outing in July was to Rake Manor, near Godalming, where we were guided by Alan Bott, part owner who gave a brief history of the Manor, and his wife Caroline who introduced the work of her Godfather, Alfred Bestall.

'˜Rake' is a Saxon word, meaning throat. This suggests that Rake manor should be in a narrowing of the local river, the Och, a tributary of the Wey. In fact it is in a shallow valley and the name relates to an early owner, a Robert de Rake, who owned the property and two local mills in 1321. From the 16th century onwards there are many documents relating to the water mill situated on the northern bank of the pond through which the river passes on its way to join the Wey.

In 1592 there is a record of Rake being transferred to a Henry Tanner, which marked a change in status of the property: previously it was owned by local workers, now it was to be owned by minor courtiers whose wealth derived from agriculture and industry. The house was rebuilt around 1600 by Henry Bell who is described in a monument in Witley Church as "Clarke Controwler of the Household to our late Soveraige Lord King James". It was Henry Bell who built the old part of the house, which still survives, and his initials appear on one of the carved fireplaces dated 1602.

Rake passed to Henry Bell's nephew, Anthony Smith, who built the walled garden. On his death he was described as "Lord of the manor, petitioner to Charles ye 1st". The estate then changed hands more than once and was tenanted, during which time it was extended by Ralph Neville around 1881 and by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1900. In 1892 Herbert Jekyll lived at Rake and his sister, Gertrude, evidently gave advice on planting the herbaceous border on the south side of the House.

The house was extended by Baille Scott when one of the daughters of William Perrin, a co-founders of the Worcestershire Sauce Company, lived there (1909-1930). He made many alterations, in particular the drawing room and the billiard room. This latter room now houses a collection of works by Alred Bestall, the artist of Punch, Tatler and, perhaps more notably, of Rupert Bear in The Daily Express.

During World War Two students from the French Military Academy of St. Cyr were billeted in the outbuildings and in December 1940 they were inspected by General de Gaulle, together with members of the local Home Guard. The house and estate were finally broken up into a total of 15 lots and sold in 1978.

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July 2005: The Overlord Crossword: Ron Smith

In the weeks running up to 6 June 1944 very few people would recognise the names '˜Utah', '˜Omaha' and '˜Gold', the names given to the beaches selected for the Normandy landings. And those who knew they referred to invasion landing sites would have no idea where the sites were, because total secrecy of the Allies' intensions was absolutely imperative.

Ron Smith began his talk by explaining the events leading up to the invasion and just why total secrecy was so important. To land an armada on the French coast required a port that could handle both the troops themselves and all the supplies and support infrastructure needed to sustain the advance. All the ports were securely defended, as was the entire coastline in the Strait-of-Dover and it was vital that the Axis powers had no inkling of the intended invasion. To maintain this secrecy, code words like Omaha, Mulberry and Overlord were used to describe the plans. Frequently even those involved had little idea of the objective they were working towards and only a very select few (the Bigots) knew the totality.

At this point Ron, one of our favourite speakers, departed from his story to tell us a little about himself; of his upbringing in the thirties, his schooling and evacuation to Gt. Bookham at the start of the war, and of whiling away time on fire-watch by filling in blank crosswords for the headmaster to write the clues and send to the Telegraph crossword editor. But we all know Ron Smith well enough to realise that these were not just innocent asides!

Three weeks before D-day the Telegraph crossword contained the word '˜Utah'; a week later '˜Omaha' appeared, then '˜Overlord' and finally '˜Mulberry'. At this point the author of the crossword was arrested by MI5 amongst fears that the entire invasion had been compromised! Ron's headmaster, for it was he who was the author, was not held long and the official interpretation was that this was one of those strange coincidences. Or was it that the boys had heard careless talk amongst the troops, mainly Canadian, billeted around Leatherhead and had written the key words?

Ron left us with just a few snippets to help us make up our own minds about the 'mystery'. His headmaster's brother was one of the select 'bigot' group, the Telegraph crossword contained the word 'Dieppe' just before that disastrous raid ' and there are 746 Watts in one horsepower. Well, you had to attend this intriguing and highly entertaining talk to learn the importance of that last factoid!

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June 2005: Visit to The Observatory at Bury Hill

Our summer 'Walk & Talk' was, as in the past, spread over two evenings. But in contrast to previous occasions it was not a walk around a village with a talk dealing with the history of that community. It was a journey of discovery around someone's back garden! The garden in question was that established by Robert Barclay at Bury Hill in the 1820s and our hosts were the current owners Keith and Avril Piper who have found much that was lost since the estate was broken up in the '50s.

In 1812 Robert Barclay, a brewer not a banker, bought the Bury Hill estate from the Evelyn family. The house had been built and grounds planted in the 1750s and Robert had been renting them since 1803. He was a plant enthusiast, supporter of 'plant hunting' expeditions and an associate of the director of Kew Gardens. So he set about creating a garden that was at the forefront of Victorian fashion, with hot houses and exotic plants, particularly rhododendrons and azaleas, brought back from the Himalayas. Robert's son Charles and grandson Arthur maintained this interest in the garden and it was Arthur who decided to build the observatory on the high ground above the house.

Like many county houses and gardens the Bury Hill estate could not avoid the changes that followed two world wars and in 1949 the estate was broken up. Fortuitously the gardens had become associated with the Observatory which came into the hands of the Pipers. A sensitive and sympathetic conversion to the building and a journey of discovery into the grounds has enabled at least the outline of Mr Barclay's achievements to be seen again. We have Keith and Avril Piper to thank; not only for their hospitality but also for the way in which they have re-discovered the gardens.Top of Page

May 2005 : The Leith Hill Music Festival

The first Leith Hill Music Festival took place on 10th May 1905 and exactly 100 years later Graham Muncy recounted the history of the event. His talk was illustrated with extracts from the minute book of the original festival committee, from old programmes, and by photographs of those most closely connected with the decision to establish a competitive choral competition to raise the standard of music in local villages. Lady Farrer and Margaret Vaughan Williams became respectively chairman and secretary of the Festival Committee and they chose the name Leith Hill to reflect their high aspirations. Success was assured when Margaret's brother Ralph accepted an invitation to become Musical Director, a position he was to retain until 1953.

Westcott, led by Mrs Carey Druce, was one of the seven villages that provided a choir in the inaugural competition, the others were Abinger, Albury, Capel, Coldharbour, Shalford and Shere, and Westcott continued to compete until 1979.

In 1912 the event was extended to two days and 12 choirs competed. From 1921 a children's day was introduced at which Westcott School achieved notable success throughout the 1920s and 30s. [Although there is still a Youth Day the original competitive element of the event has been abandoned as it is no longer felt to be '˜politically correct'. Similarly sight reading contests no longer feature in the programme.]

Graham noted that the event was originally held in the Town Hall in West Street before moving in 1922 to the Drill Hall, just up the road from Vaughan William's home off the Westcott Road. The opening of the new Dorking Halls in 1930 with a capacity of 700 gave the Festival greater prominence and attracted many well-known guest conductors, including Malcolm Sargent and Adrian Bolt.

Although across the country choral competitions have tended to be abandoned, the Leith Hill Festival remains popular and 650 singers were involved in this centenary year, organised in three divisions. In accordance with tradition the competitive singing was followed by performances by the combined choirs.

Graham sought to capture the choral atmosphere of the Festival by playing selected extracts from recordings, including the Old Hundredth, Easter Song and the St Matthew Passion, and members were encouraged to learn more about Ralph Vaughan Williams and the Festival by visiting the exhibition at the Performing Arts Library at Denbies and by taking the self-guided brochure-based RVW town trail starting from the Dorking Halls.

Top of PageMarch 2005: Good Friday walk - Landowners Limited

When the Rookery Estate was put up for sale in 1894 the principal purchaser was Arthur Brooke who used his '˜Brooke Bond' tea fortune to acquire the Rookery Mansion as a future home, and several hundred acres of land. Some continued to be farmed and some stayed as woodland, but a significant acreage was identified as potential building sites and the management of these was placed in the hands of a newly formed company - Landowners Limited. There were two main areas for development '“Westcott Mill and Coast Hill and both were visited by members of the Westcott Local History Group on their Good Friday walk.

The publicity for the proposed Westcott Mill Estate was persuasive: For a jaded City man to build his villa on one of the Mill Lake sites and to be able to sit in his own garden on a fine evening enjoying the pure air, the scenery, and, above all, the ability to angle in a fish-pond of exceptional value, is a charm in life's experience, which anglers will not fail to appreciate at its proper worth. In the event the first purchasers also bought most of the adjoining plots, to ensure their privacy and provide larger gardens, and so there never were very many commuting anglers. But as a result the Group were able to stroll around the millpond, visit Westcott Mill (now a private house) and enjoy the spring flowers in the adjacent Mead House and Meadow House gardens.

The Coast Hill Estate also failed to materialise, with no houses at all being built on the southern side of the A25 and only a select few to the north in Coast Hill Lane. One of these was also visited, courtesy of Alan and Lindy Reif, revealing '˜Rookhurst Castle' one of several follies built in the grounds by Arthur Palmer in the 1930s. A Japanese water garden and woodland walks leading to an ancient lime kiln added further interest.

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March 2005 : Suburban Surrey - Alan Jackson

In his talk last year Peter Brandon described how at the end of the 19th century Londoners had discovered the delights of the Surrey countryside. At our March meeting local author and historian Alan Jackson illustrated how the period of exploration was quickly followed by one of occupation, with the systematic development of Suburban Surrey.

The movement was initiated by the wealthy who built large and impressive mansions amongst the Surrey Hills, where inaccessibility was often regarded as a virtue, but it grew rapidly as the railway opened up the countryside to an increasing number of '˜middle class' commuters. The most impressive period of growth was in the 1920 and 1930s, reflecting the active promotion of '˜Southern Homes' by the newly created Southern Railway, and by the popularity and affordability of mock-tudor semi-detached houses (although there are no known examples in Westcott). The years before WWII were marked by the construction of thousands of semi-detached and terraced houses, for which innovative marketing slogans were introduced to encourage customers to spend the £1000 or so sale price. For those who wanted to be different, enterprising developers built international '˜moderne' houses'. Many of these survive today but their white rendered walls flat roofs never became very popular. After the Second World War the 1945 Town and Country Planning Act curtailed the further growth of suburban and semi-detached Surrey, but it is not clear what the future holds.

All the many developments described by Alan were illustrated with slides. These showed houses in most of those Surrey suburbs that are now part of Greater London, as well as in present-day Surrey villages. Of particular local interest were the pictures depicting the development of the Deepdene Estate by '˜Major' Chance, the construction of Givons Grove at Leatherhead and, slightly further afield, the comprehensive Stoneleigh Estate with its own shopping parade and railway station. In addition to the houses, most of which still exist, the slides showed empty roads, grass verges and open spaces that by and large are seldom seen today. In this respect the talk was nostalgic as well as being very informative.

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February 2005 : 'Local' History : The Crown, Westcott

Our last meeting was at The Crown, where we heard the history of the oldest surviving pub in the village, which probably dates from the 17th Century. The earliest documented record of its existence is just over 200 years ago and it was certainly the largest and most important of the Village Inns during the 19th century.

The Crown was where the Lord of the Manor convened his '˜Court Baron', the periodic meeting to convey property, organise the use of the common land and deal with '˜nuisances' such as straying beasts. The Crown was also important because it had a coach house and stabling for ten horses. It was here that travellers would change horses before attempting to take their coaches up the formidable Coast Hill. The stabling also resulted in the landlord establishing a substantial business hiring out horses and traps etc. that continued well into the 20th Century.

In the 19th century, before the Reading Room was built in 1876, it was at The Crown that club dinners, socials and village meetings were held; for example a Smoking Concert in 1897 for 100 members of the Dorking Cycling Club. It was also where village events tended to start or finish; for example, the torchlight procession on Guy Fawkes Night formed at The Crown and, headed by the Westcott Drum and Fife Band, marched to Westcott House, Bury Hill, Rokefield, Mill House, Rookery Farm, Holcombe and other houses of the chief residents.

It wasn't only on cheerful occasions that The Crown featured in village life. In August 1901 when Alfred Heaver, the wealthy property developer who lived at Holcombe Cottage, was fatally shot on his way to church by his son in law, the assassin subsequently shot himself and was '˜carried to one of the outbuildings at The Crown Inn where he was declared dead by a local doctor'. The inquest was held at The Crown on the following Tuesday morning. A few years later, in September 1908, it was claimed at John Fairbrother's trial that he had killed his wife by cutting her throat in St John's Road after taking exception to her having a drink in The Crown with Mr Dorothy, the local fishmonger.

Cricket features significantly in the Crown's history. In the 1870's the Surrey opening batsman was Henry Jupp, a local man who played at Cotmandene for Dorking Cricket Club before he made his name at the Oval. When not playing cricket he was the landlord of The Crown. There is no definitive record of all the owners and licensees of The Crown. The earliest recorded owner was Thomas Cooper, a Leatherhead brewer who died in 1800. Much later Bill and Maude Glass arrived in 1934 with their three children. They stayed 29 years and two son's returned for our meeting. They provided us with a wonderful insight into past visitors to The Crown, notably Ingrid Bergman who was visiting Leslie Howard at his home in Balchin's Lane and the Queen Mother, who paid a visit!

Paul Davies arrived in 1981 and is maintaining the traditions of fine hospitality and the historic associations of the Crown with horses and cricket.

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January 2005 : Malthus and the Rookery - Peter Bennett and Terry Wooden

People with an interest in population growth or Darwinism will know of the Rookery as the birthplace in 1766 of Robert Malthus, '˜Westcott's greatest son'.

Peter Bennett and Terry Wooden shared with us the story of the Rookery, from its early days as '˜Churt-gate'; its purchase by Robert's father in 1759; the three generations of Robert Fuller (bankers who's company eventually evolved into the NatWest Bank); Arthur Brooke the Manchester tea blender (who created the Brooke Bond tea brand) to its final demolition in 1968. Throughout the evening Peter showed the changes to the house and grounds (and the inexorable growth of the redwood tree) with slides from the WLHG archives.

But it was Robert Malthus and his father Daniel who were the subject of our story. Daniel, a keen traveller, persuaded Rousseau, who's writings laid the ground for the French Revolution, to visit the Rookery. But Rousseau did not stay and Daniel sold the house in 1768. His sixth child, Robert, was educated at Cambridge and entered the Church, starting as curate at Okewood Chapel near Ockley. In 1798 he published his '˜Essay on the Theory of Population'.

This essay is a substantial work. In essence it argues that population growth will only be checked by starvation unless four concepts; universal suffrage, state education of the poor, the abolition of the poor laws and unfettered labour markets are introduced. In their time these ideas were as revolutionary as those of Rousseau. The essay was credited by Darwin as providing a theoretical underpin to his own work on evolution and Robert went on to further writings on economics. In 1819 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society. Top of PageNovember 2004. The North Downs Dr Peter Brandon.

The North Downs extend from Farnham to Canterbury and Dover but for his talk Peter Brandon focussed attention on the area within the vicinity of Westcott, and included the greensand hills, such as Leith Hill and Holmbury Hill, to the south of the chalkland.

The physical geography of the area was touched upon, with reference to the extensive lime kilns that were a feature of Dorking in the late 18th century and the apparently never-ending supply of flints to construct Victorian buildings, but Dr Brandon's talk was primarily directed at the role that the North Downs have played in English life and culture.

The proximity of the Downs attracted increasingly adventurous Londoners as roads and railways opened up the area, and the countryside, in contrast to the slums of 19th century London, brought day trippers in their thousands. Enlightened landowners invited East End children to discover the delights of the countryside and '˜holiday camps' were opened in the Surrey Hills long before Billy Butlin built his seaside chalets. Amateur artists flocked to such places as Shere and Ewhurst. Their work has long since been discarded but the rural character of the area is preserved in the works of professional artists such as John Linnell and Helen Allingham and in the writings of George Meredith and others. [But just how country folk spent long winter evenings before the availability of radio, television and electricity remains something of a mystery].

The talk was illustrated from Dr Brandon's extensive collection of slides depicting the farmland, the woodland and the buildings that create the landscape of the North Downs, and his narrative also managed to mention Field Marshal Montgomery, Chuter Ede, Tennyson and Ellinour Rummin (a 16th century Leatherhead ale-house keeper) amongst many others.

Top of PageOctober 2004 - The Westcott Reunited Weekend

To celebrate the village school's 150th anniversary former pupils, teachers and governors were invited to return during the weekend of 16th and 17th October 2004. The Local History Group assembled photographs, attendance registers, log books and scrap books, and arranged video presentations based on films recorded by Mr Spring and Miss Barter in the 1960s and 70s. The '˜Weekend' also included a Supper in the Reading Room attended by Sir Paul Beresford MP, and a church service at Holy Trinity on the Sunday morning. Not everybody managed to sign the Visitors Book but in addition to former teachers, including Mr Dittert, celebrating his 93rd Birthday, Miss Beasley (Mrs Davies), Mr Spring, Mrs Illsley, Mrs Barkley, Mrs Trott and Mrs Tutt; former Vicar, Rev. Weyman and many past governors, the names of 300 former pupils were recorded.

Top of PageSeptember 2004 The history of Westcott School '“ Terry Wooden

In 1852 Holy Trinity Church was built on land provided by the Lord of the Manor. The Vicarage was built at the same time on land given by the Barclay family. In September 1853 the need for a village school was acknowledged and the third of the large local landowners, Richard Fuller of the Rookery, agreed to convey part of a field known as the Ball Field on the understanding that it would be used as the site for a School for the education of children of the labouring manufacturing and other poorer classes of Westcott and for the residence of a Schoolmaster or Schoolmistress. Raising funds for a new school proved difficult as the Rev Seymour explained when he applied to the National Society for a grant: The children are in a lamentable state of ignorance; by considerable exertions £580 has been raised which is quite inadequate to provide the requisite accommodation'¦'¦ and it must depend upon the amount of aid granted by your society '¦'¦whether the necessary work can be commenced. A grant was approved and was claimed on 22 June 1854 when it was certified that: The new School-house and Teachers' Residence has been built and finished in a satisfactory and workmanlike manner.

In 1882, following the introduction of compulsory education and as the size of the village continued to grow, there were 270 children on the roll and a separate Infant School was opened. In 1912 the school took on its present appearance when the living accommodation on the ground floor was converted to classrooms and two new rooms and a '˜school hall' were built. After the Second World War, with smaller families and the opening of new schools in Dorking, the number of pupils declined and in 1949, as part of a major reorganisation of local education, Westcott was given Primary School status to provide education only up to age 11. In 1971 following a further re-organisation, the School became, and remains, a First School for children aged 4 to 8.

The talk included references to the development of education in Victorian England and was illustrated by extracts from the school log books describing the many absences due to truancy and sickness, the successful focus on '˜manual instruction' and the problems caused by the arrival of evacuees at the beginning of the second world war. It was illustrated by photographs, many of them taken at the end of the 19th century by Walter Rose, an '˜old boy' of the School.

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May 2004 The Dorking Emigration Scheme - Dr Sheila Haynes

Our last meeting revealed that odd quirk of history: a tendency for it to repeat itself. Now the discussion is about skill shortages, welfare costs and immigration. Then the discussion was about excess labour, welfare costs and emigration.

Then was 1832, the excess labour was the number of unemployed craftsmen who were supported by a charge on the rates, and the Dorking Emigration Scheme was the proposed solution. Our speaker, Dr Sheila Haynes described how she, with the help of colleagues and supported by a successful emigrant to Canada, had investigated the scheme and followed the course of many of the participants.

In the early 1830s the Earl of Egremont had set up a scheme in Petworth to encourage emigration to the colonies in Canada. It was not long before Robert Barclay of Berry Hill concluded that it would be useful if Dorking had a similar scheme. A special meeting was called on 10th February 1832 and it was agreed that the sum of £3. 7/6 should be paid to families who emigrated. (The Petworth scheme paid £10).

The journey to Canada was arduous and some gave up in Portsmouth before they got on the converted timber boats sent to take them across the Atlantic. Typically they set off in April and travelled via Greenland to Quebec, finally arriving in Ontario in October. There they were granted five acres of land and given some assistance in establishing themselves. Some of the settlers were young single men seeking adventure and some were literally seeking a new life: they were avoiding the law and started on arrival with a new name as well! But many were large families seeking to better themselves and who subsequently encouraged other families and friends to join them.

By 1837 emigration to Australia had taken precedence over Canada and the Dorking scheme ceased operation. But to this day in Ontario there are people who can trace their links back to Wescott and Dorking, and the same street names exist on both sides of the Atlantic. Dr Sheila Haynes gave us an intriguing insight into this local scheme and the way it had contributed to the establishment of the nation of Canada.

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March 2004 The History of Local Gardens - Brenda Lewis

The powerful combination of local history and gardens brought a capacity crowd to the Reading Room to hear the talk by Brenda Lewis, from the Surrey Garden Trust, on '˜The History of Local Gardens'.

Brenda concentrated on just sixteen houses in the '˜bottom half' of the county. For each she analysed what went into the initial design and then what had changed in the intervening years. In many cases the house that lead to the construction of the garden had disappeared but the landscape still reflected the original design; in others the house remained but the landscape had slowly changed so that only a trained eye could distinguish the original features of the garden.

The first garden Brenda showed was Wotton House. The grandfather of the diarist John Evelyn had started work in 1579 but it was the travels and sketches of John that laid the foundation for the garden that we can see today. The recent restoration work has enabled the full splendour of this mid 17th century garden to be appreciated. It is one of the best examples in the country and will be probably be open this year as part of the National Gardens Scheme.

John Evelyn's hand can also be detected in the design of Deepdene gardens: he visited and wrote of them in the 1650's. But this is a much sadder story of twentieth century demolition and decay. It takes a very knowledgeable eye to see past the more recent destruction to what was laid out over 300 years ago. But in Betchworth the work of Christopher Phillips in 1773 can still be determined and at The Rookeries, although the house went in 1968, the layout of the garden can still be compared to the contemporary water-colours.

Brenda Lewis lead us though the trials and challenges faced by the great local gardens, Denbies, Norbury Park, Bury Hill and more the modern creations such as the Edwardian gardens of Polesden Lacey, the Jekyll design at Goddards, and the work of Cheale at Broomfield Park. The large audience gained a fascinating new insight into our local gardens.

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January 2004. The Battle of Dorking '“ Alistair Meldrum

Our first meeting in the Reading Room enabled Alistair Meldrum to recall for us the Battle of Dorking. Just over a century ago this battle, so crucial to the survival of Britain, was still fresh in everyone's mind. It occurred earlier in 1875 and the definitive report, indeed the only first hand account, was printed in Blackwood's Magazine published in Edinburgh in May 1871. The story was told by a Volunteer, one of the 170,000 who existed at that time and who were the predecessors of our present day Territorial Army.

In the early 1870's Britain was reasonably prosperous but our naval fleet was scattered and our regular army stretched, with troops in India, Canada and Ireland. Germany annexed Holland and Denmark then threatened Britain. After a feint towards Harwich which resulted in the British fleet being all but destroyed and our Army wrong-footed, the German forces attacked from the South, landing at Worthing. The Volunteers, now our last ditch defence force, were sent by train towards Horsham. They arrived too late and retired to Leith Hill. However German columns advancing to the East and West in a pincer movement caused a further retreat through Coldharbour and Dorking. The force finally attempted to defend the line of the North Downs and the key Dorking gap.

Determined to hold Box Hill to the East and Ranmore to the west, the Volunteers marched through Dorking (looting a baker's shop on the way). An initial attack was repulsed but, lured into a trap when pursuing retreated German troops down the slope from Denbies, our troops were driven back in confusion. After fighting along the road leading from Dorking to Ranmore our troops retreated through Leatherhead and Epsom to Surbiton, where they attempted to regroup. However the Volunteers were no match for the advancing German forces and they were quickly overwhelmed. In the resulting peace Germany annexed the colonies, Ireland became independent and, with the overseas markets for our manufactured goods gone, Britain was finished.

The Volunteer's account of this Battle of Dorking is not strictly accurate. Indeed, even in its totality, it is not in the least bit accurate for it is an imaginary account by Colonel, later General, Sir George Chesney MP. But the story was more than simple entertainment. It drew attention to the sate of British defences in the 1870's which had the effect of reinvigorating the British Navy and resulted in improved defences around London. With modern maps showing the lines of battle in red and blue (there was no mention of blue-on-blue fire in a 1875!) Alastair was able to describe the battle, identify some of the forts subsequently built on the Downs and assess the impact of this piece of fiction on the development of our Navy and our entire defence strategy. A stimulating talk for historians, military buffs and all who live near Dorking.

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November 2003 Edwin Lutyens '“ Ron Smith

Ron Smith provided us with a deep insight into the work of the architect Edwin Lutyens, the gardener Gertrude Jekyll - and the British class system. He showed us fine examples of Lutyens designed country houses in the region and their spectacular Jekyll designed gardens. He also gave some insight into the role Lady Victoria Sackville played in the life of the architect.

Edwin Landseer Lutyens was born in 1869 to a prosperous Victorian family. He grew up in Thursley, on the A3 just north of the Devil's Punchbowl, and this village was formative to his career, as was watching the local joiner using local materials in house construction. When informed that he would become a builder his father baulked, but a compromise was reached and Edwin went to the South Kensington School of Art to study architecture.

At Kensington Lutyens trained with famous architects such as Norman Shaw and Philip Webb. Ron Smith demonstrated their contribution to Edwin's evolving style with pictures of the village of Thursley and key examples of the work of these two architects. In particular the village hall shows the key Lutyens signature marks, the chimneys, gable ends and sloping walls that were to become so much a part of his later work.

Separately Gertrude Jekyll had developed as a professional gardener, popularising the large herbaceous border and natural planting schemes. In 1889 Edwin was asked to design a garden cottage for Harry Mangles '“ and the garden was designed by Gertrude. The lives of Jekyll, then 46, and Lutyens, 20, were to come together to create a partnership which lasted 40 years and transformed the design of English country houses and gardens.

The striking pictures taken by Ron Smith showed how Lutyens designs progressed in houses such as Vann, Great Dixter, Folly Farm and Hestercombe. His career had by now developed beyond designing country houses for private clients: he worked on major projects for government. He designed the government buildings in Imperial New Delhi including their fixtures and fittings. He also designed the new British Embassy in Washington.

One time Ambassador to Washington, Lord Sackville, the owner of the magnificent Knole House, had been a colourful character who married a Spanish dancer, Pepita, by whom he had a daughter Victoria. On his death Knole House went not to his daughter but to the next male descendant, a cousin of Lady Victoria. She promptly married this cousin and remained at Knole House, but her marriage was not successful. Earlier, in 1897, Edwin Lutyens had married Emily, the daughter of a Viceroy of India and a person with a deep fascination for Indian philosophy. This also was not to be a successful marriage. Lady Victoria and Edwin met and developed a relationship described as 'closer than just friends'. The relationship was to greatly expand Lutyens contacts and commissions.

Edwin Lutyens will also be remembered as the architect of the Cenotaph. This, like his work for the War Graves Commission, has no crosses to signify a particular religion and is built with striking simplicity. But it is in fact complex, with no vertical or horizontal lines: the apparently vertical sides slope outwards to the base and the 'horizontal' surfaces are part of a very large diameter cycle.

It was a truly remarkable presentation by Ron Smith: he provided a superbly illustrated talk on the development of Lutyens architectural style in conjunction with Jekyll's gardens and also gave us an intriguing insight into the links within this strata of British society at the time.

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September 2003 St John's Free Church, Westcott

Our meeting in September was a talk by Jonathan Clark, the last Minister of St John's, about the Chapel and the Countess of Huntington's Connexion. The talk took place in this most attractive little building which could accommodate easily the 60 or so members who attended. Jonathan covered the key events in the History of the Chapel; the development by Lady Selina, Countess of Huntington, of the denomination as it evolved from Methodism; and the special role of the Founder and patron of St John's, John Worsfold.

In the first part of 19th century Westcott had no formal place of worship. The Rev. Henry Lambert occasionally preached the gospel on the village green and it is said that John Worsfold, then in his seventies and a prosperous man described as an "extensive landowner" who behaved like "an old fashioned type of country squire", was so impressed by what he heard that he decided Westcott should have a church. He promptly donated 1.5 acres of land and the first £150 of the estimated £550 needed to build one. In all he donated £3,000 to the Chapel, a substantial sum in those days. The first Minister when the Chapel was opened in 1840 was the Rev. Lambert.

There are two marble tablets in the Chapel paid for by John Worsfold, one in his memory and the other giving details of his bequests. He is buried beneath the altar and until relatively recently his bust was placed so it looked down on his vault. Jonathan speculated that the Chapel's founder, Mr Worsfold, may have regarded it as something of his own. This could have contributed to decisions that led to the opening of Holy Trinity in 1852, the year John Worsfold died.

There are many interesting stories of John Worsfold. For example he is said to have planted an acorn when a small boy and lived to see it grow into a large tree. Prior to his death he had it cut down and had his coffin made from its timber. This he stored in the vestry of the Chapel as his wife would not have it in the house. Perhaps symbolically, in addition to his own coffin, in which he now rests under the altar, he had the base and cover for the beautiful font, which is also at the front of the Church, made from the same tree.

Jonathan Clark had many entertaining anecdotes to tell about both the '˜Squire of Westcott' and his role in the construction of the Chapel and its subsequent inclusion in the Countess of Huntington's Connexion. We thank him for a very enjoyable and instructive evening.

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July 2003 '˜Professor' Den Basten on the History of Punch & Judy.

Our last meeting was the Annual General Meeting and it was followed by a talk and show by '˜Professor' Den Basten on the History of Punch & Judy.

Many of us will remember Punch & Judy shows from our schooldays. Well, times have changed! It is no longer PC to whack wives or babies and even jokes about the crocodile loving children '“ for breakfast '“ are frowned on. '˜Professor' Basten put this down to '˜Brussels' but the characters have always changed with the times. The Negro Servant remained until the 1960's and for many the Hangman went with the abolition of Capital punishment. The Crocodile was a relatively late arrival in the story and has only been an important character for about a hundred years.

Mr Punch himself goes back a lot further and can be traced to Pulcinella of the Renaissance Commedia dell'arte. In England the name "Punch" is an abbreviation of Punchinello. Pepys mentions several different variations of the name in his diary, between 1666 and 1668, including the name Punch, which apparently became a nickname for anyone thick and short.

In the 18th century, puppet (that is marionette), shows were immensely popular but they declined as the century wore on, so Punch made the fundamental transition from string puppet to glove puppet. As a glove puppet initially he indulged simply in knock-about comedy and only slowly did a complete story evolve. By cutting Mr Punch's strings and making him a glove puppet, with a supporting cast of other glove puppets, a cumbersome travelling marionette theatre needing some half a dozen assistants became, at a stroke, a one-puppeteer show so simple it could be pushed on a handcart.

His new form gave Punch speed instead of grace; the comic timing that can come when one performer controls the entire cast; and, above all, the glove puppet's ability to pick things up and hold them. Looking around for something to grab, Mr Punch seized on a traditional theatrical prop - the slapstick. This is a device made from two pieces of wood that literally slap together to produce an extra loud noise when striking an object (or person!) quite gently.

As well as the '˜slapstick', the secrets of the silver '˜swazzle' were also revealed to us by '˜Professor' Den Basten: an entertaining and instructive evening!

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May 2003 Visit to Milton Court

Longstanding member of the Westcott Local History Group, Richard Ede, welcomed members into the former Dining Room of Milton Court (a 1870 addition to the original building) and described the history of the estate with the aid of a fine selection of slides.

The Milton estate is mentioned in the Domesday book and in the 14th century was owned by the prioress and nuns of Kilburn who maintained ownership until Henry VIII's reign. Towards the end of the 16th century it was given to George Evelyn by Queen Elizabeth I.

Milton Court remained in the ownership of the Evelyn family until the mid-19th century but during that time there had been numerous occupants and it was sinking into serious decline. It had been used as a poor house and a great deal of damage done, including burning original wood panelling and using a pony to make deliveries up the internal Jacobean staircase.

Ownership passed to Mr Douglas Biggar in the mid 18th century and he began some restoration work. However it was Mr Lachan Mackintosh Rate who really transformed the building during his ownership from 1863. He was a successful lawyer and banker and employed the eminent Victorian architect William Burges for the work. Much of what we see today, both internally and externally, is due to his work. However many original features remain visible, including much of the front façade, the front door, the staircase and several door cases and most notably the exposed roof timbers.

The Rate family owned Milton Court until 1936 by which time the garden had become one of the best known and most beautiful and the South of England. Just before the Second World War the property was bought by the Henley Telegraph company who added an office block and put up interior partitions. In 1965 the precursor company of UnumProvident bought Milton Court and in 1990 it underwent major restoration and refurbishment.

The rain held off long enough for us to make a brief visit to the gardens, laid out originally by Mrs Rate, and then to take a leisurely look at the inside of the building. Our thanks are due to Richard Ede for the arrangements and a superb presentation. We all thank UnumProvident for allowing us around their building and for the sympathetic treatment and care they have lavished on this local landmark.

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March 2003 Secrets of the Tillingbourne Valley

Dr Peter Brandon, experienced writer and lecturer on Surrey, introduced us to the '˜Secrets of the Tillingbourne Valley'.

Described as "The heartland of Surrey", the history of the valley is closely associated with the great land owning families of the region, particularly the Evelyns. In 1579 George Evelyn was granted by Queen Elizabeth I a monopoly for the manufacture of gunpowder and chose this area because it had water for power and transportation, wood for fuel and yet was sufficiently remote to allow manufacturing to proceed unhindered. Thereafter other industries sprang up, particularly around the numerous mills established on the river: along one 11 mile stretch there are records of a total of 31 mills. Richard Evelyn introduced wire making and the region produced nails, mousetraps and other products based on the material. There was leather tanning, flax retting, iron manufacture and brewing all underway in the valley. The valley was an advanced industrial community.

By 1620 and the time of John Evelyn manufacturing had declined. He was one of the first people to appreciate the importance of '˜technology transfer' for the development of the community and he introduced hydraulic technology from Italy together with the arts of planting and landscape design. His development of industrial forestry in parallel with the introduction of classical Italian landscaping established the basis for the valley to evolve into the area of outstanding beauty still loved by artists today.

Peter Brandon developed his theme with fine wit and some delightfully misty and evocative slides of the locality.

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January 2003 The Arts and Crafts movement in the Surrey Hills.

Our speaker, Nigel Barker, currently works for English Heritage but was previously Surrey conservation officer and is an enthusiast for Arts and Crafts architecture. He described how in the late 19 century some architects set out to return to their roots and the needs of the people. In the event this attempt to regain integrity led to them catering more for the needs of the wealthy house owner than the general public, but it resulted in some idealised concepts of the country house.

There was no formal '˜Arts and Crafts' movement, but it is generally recognised that the period between the changes led by Ruskin and Morris in the late 19th century and the First World War marked a definite age. The Surrey landscape was an ideal location for the movement, not only for its natural beauty but also for its location near London allowing professional buyers to build the house of their dreams. In the period 1870 to 1890 Richard Shaw, George Edmond Street, and Philip Webb were responsible for many of the key buildings in Gomshall, Holmbury St Mary, and Ewhurst. Nigel Baker showed examples of these, many of which are not normally open to the public. Late, around 1900, Edward Lutyens built Fullbook House and 'Orchards', arguably one of his best buildings.

Nigel Baker was able to show us a broad spectrum of classic buildings from the Arts and Crafts movement all within a short drive from Wescott. His enthusiasm and for the subject and stunning slides made for a most entertaining and informative evening.

Top of PageNovember 2002 The Life and Times of William Mullins

At the November meeting members were directed by Pam Hunter to Chippingborough, the 16th century business area of Dorking which we know today as West Street, and in particular to the former home of William Mullins, a prosperous shoemaker. The house is still there, at No. 58 '“ 61, and it bears a plaque commemorating the fact that it is the only surviving home of a '˜Pilgrim Father'.

We shall never know exactly why William Mullins chose to be a passenger on the Mayflower when it set sail for the newly founded colony of Virginia in 1620 but as a result of her research Pam Hunter was able to identify which members of the Mullins family accompanied him and to describe the circumstances that led his fellow passengers to leave the Old World for the uncertainties of the New.

Her talk introduced the '˜Saints' '“ a group of English Separatists from Lincolnshire, led by William Brewster, who sought religious freedom in Holland initially but in February 1620 negotiated with a group of venture capitalists in London for help establish a new life in America.

At that time the Government were promoting the opportunities offered by the vast undeveloped territory of Virginia and about 70 '˜Stranger's', mostly craftsmen, were persuaded to accompany the religious Puritans. The Mayflower was chartered and set sail from Plymouth on 16th September 1620, reaching Cape Cod two months later. Attempts to sail south to Virginia were unsuccessful and so a settlement was created at New Plymouth on the site of a deserted Indian village, and an historic agreement was drawn up by the settlers to seek retrospective Crown approval to their action.

Sadly William Mullins, and the rest of his family, were among the many settlers and crew who soon succumbed to sickness, save for his daughter Priscilla. She married John Alden, another Mayflower passenger, and helped establish the new colony by raising ten children. Her name has entered American folklore as the '˜heroine' of Longfellow's epic poem of The Courtship of Miles Standish, Standish having been a mercenary recruited to accompany and protect the Pilgrim Fathers (a relatively recent name, incidentally).

Pam Hunter went on to describe her own visit to New Plymouth, where a heritage site recalls the founding of the settlement nearly 400 years ago. Meanwhile, it is now clear why West Street Dorking is a mecca for American tourists.

Top of PageSeptember 2002 Westcott in 1901

The September meeting was based on the 1901 census, which revealed who was in the village on the night of the 31st March, how old they were, what they did and where they came from.

That there has been a substantial increase in houses and population in the past 100 years came as no surprise but changes in average family size (down from 4.4 to 2.4) and a comparison with the number of houses with a single occupant (negligible in 1901 but currently well over 25%) were highlighted, as were the reduction in the number of young children (from 20% to 10%) and the increase in the '˜over 80's'.

Throughout the 19th century agriculture and domestic service had provided the principal employment. In 1901 there were still 10 farmers, supported by stockmen, carters, millers and agricultural labourers, and the Bury Hill and Rookery Mansions and the smaller country houses continued to be looked after by numerous butlers, footmen, maids, cooks, housekeepers, grooms and a small army of gardeners. To reflect extensive new house building in the village, however, there were now 18 carpenters, 13 painters & plasterers, 6 plumbers, 11 sawyers and timber yard labourers and sundry apprentices trying to keep pace with the output of 40 bricklayers and bricklayer's labourers.

The census also showed how self sufficient the village was 100 years ago. There were at least three grocers, a butcher, two bakers and two fishmongers, a draper, two shoe repairers, a confectioner and six pubs. There were three blacksmiths, two whitesmiths, a coachbuilder and a wheelwright. There were no hairdressers but several dressmakers and over 20 laundresses as well as 40 or so jobbing gardeners and a similar number of general labourers. There were no chauffeurs as yet but a fly driver provided the equivalent of today's minicab. There were two schoolmasters, a physician and a district nurse. There was a clergyman (and there would have been another if the Minister at St John's had been at home on the night of the census), and a '˜Biblewoman' who was the social worker to the Bury Hill estate. There was a village policeman and a village postman, although he actually lived just over the parish boundary in Dorking. There was even an artist and, of course, a photographer '“ Walter Rose to whom the Local History Group are particularly indebted.

With the exception of Henry Johns, a solicitor's clerk, the Westcott workforce appear to have all been locally employed. Dorking was regularly visited, but for the weekly market and entertainment; not for employment. The concept of '˜commuting' had not yet arrived!

The census also recorded everybody's birthplace and here there were some more surprises. Of the 1302 inhabitants of Westcott in 1901 less than half were born locally i.e. in Westcott, Wotton or Dorking. A third of the inhabitants were not even born in Surrey. Some of the '˜outsiders' were the live-in servants at the larger country houses, whose owners tended to recruit nationally, and in some cases internationally. Others were visitors, including five at Westcott Hill Farm which doubled up as a Dairy Farm (producing much of the village milk supply) and as a Lodging House. There were also individuals and families who had clearly been attracted to Westcott by the opportunities for employment, or simply as a pleasant place to retire to. Lady Hertford at Brooklands had been born in Paris, Henrietta Davis, the wife of the new owner of Rokefield came from Tasmania and the vicar's wife was born in Buenos Aires. Other residents came from all over England, helping to create a much more cosmopolitan society than might have been expected at the end of the 19th century.

To supplement the census detail contemporary reports from the Dorking Advertiser and Parish Magazine helped build up the picture of village life, including references to Westcott miscreants at the Dorking Magistrate's Court, the annual parade of Court Rescue (Ancient Order of Foresters), the Westcott Torchlight Society's procession, various '˜entertainments' in the Reading Room, a suicide on the railway line and a murder on Westcott Common.

To conclude the evening members toured the village, called in at the school and some local shops, visited several houses and met the Barclay family and various other residents, all courtesy of Walter Rose whose photographs will always do more than any census or newspaper report to illustrate '˜Westcott in 1901'.

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July 2002 Leslie Howard and Stowe Maries

Over 100 people attended the Group's 4th Annual Meeting on July 9th. With commendable speed the business matters were dealt with allowing Ann Wickham to talk about her home, Stowe Maries in Balchin's Lane, and its association with film star Leslie Howard.

Leslie Howard Steiner, was born at Forest Hill in April 1893 the son of an Hungarian Jewish immigrant piano-playing father. In a fascinating story, illustrated with many photographs and recordings, we learned of Leslie's first steps on the stage after serving in the cavalry during the first world war, and the fascination with film that led initially to an association with A A Milne to make silent films and was to end in Hollywood. Reference was also made to many of the famous names with whom he was associated and, behind the scenes, the private life with his wife and family in Westcott. Leslie Howard became known as the perfect Englishman; slim, tall, intellectual and sensitive, a role that suited his performance as Sir Percy Blakeney in 'The Scarlet Pimpernel, and many of his other stage and film performances during the 'thirties that established him as a matinée idol, both here and in the USA. In 1939 he played Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, one of the great Hollywood films, but with the outbreak of the Second World War he returned to England to make radio broadcasts and direct patriotic films to support the war effort. He died in January 1943 when the civilian plane in which he was returning from a lecture tour in neutral Spain and Portugal was shot down over the Bay of Biscay. The circumstances whereby the plane was attacked by a German fighter have given rise to much speculation and the mystery has been heightened by a Government decision not to release official files relating to the incident until 2025. Ann Wickham's carefully researched talk highlighted Leslie Howard's complex character but recognised the close links he maintained with his family and the love he had for his Westcott home at Stowe Maries. She described how he set about restoring its original 16th century exterior whilst modernising the interior, the construction of 'the cinema' in the garden and the collection of motor cars and ponies that Leslie assembled. We also heard how he tried to avoid recognition when shopping in Dorking; not an easy task for somebody so well known and a potential problem for somebody who 'didn't chase women but who couldn't always be bothered to run away' - which may also explain why Ingrid Bergman stayed at The Crown! After the talk members of the audience were able to contribute their own memories and photographs of Westcott's favourite film star to conclude a most informative and enjoyable evening.

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May 2002 Sir Gilbert Scott and the building of Holy Trinity Church

The Westcott Local History Group's May meeting contributed to the 150th anniversary celebrations for Holy Trinity Church. Terry Wooden set the scene by describing Westcott in 1850; a largely self-sufficient community comprising 160 houses and a population of 850 or so who were mainly engaged as agricultural labourers on the man farms (Milton, Rookery, Hill, Taws, Florence, Springfield, Chadhurst etc.), or as domestic servants in the country houses (Bury Hill, The Rookery, Brooklands), located within and around the village. But there was no church, Westcott formed part of the large parish of Dorking and to attend morning and evening service each Sunday required a walk to St Martin's, or possibly to St John's at Wotton.

That there was a need for a local church was evident by the large attendances at St John's Free Church, founded in '˜The Furlongs' in 1840. This no doubt prompted the Revd James Joyce, the Vicar of Dorking, to convene a meeting in the Girl's National School Room in Dorking on 23rd March 1850 where potential subscribers were invited to form a committee to superintend the building of a new church in Westcott. Dorking Solicitor, Charles Hart, was appointed Secretary and the meeting resolved; that he should wait upon the inhabitants of Dorking for contributions to the new church, that permission should be sought from Mr W J Evelyn, the Lord of the Manor of Westcott, to enclose an acre of Common land and that when sufficient funds were available, Mr Gilbert Scott should be requested to furnish the committee with plans and drawings for their inspection. Richard Fuller of the Rookery was appointed Treasurer and Charles Barclay of Bury Hill, the principal subscriber was assigned the right of Patronage. Shearburn's of Dorking were selected to build the new church and on the 25th June 1852 it was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester. Three years later the builders were back to add a south aisle, increasing the capacity from 248 to 444.

Turning from the parochial to the national scene, Dr Peter Brandon, recalled that during the 18th century church building and repair had been neglected and that it was not until well into the 19th century, by which time it was evident that ancient parish boundaries no longer reflected the realities of population growth and distribution, that there was a resurgence of religious fervour and changes in government legislation to encourage the building of new churches. Enter George Gilbert Scott. As a young man he was greatly influenced by the great medieval cathedrals of France and was an advocate of what became known as the Gothic revival. He was responsible for the design of nearly 1000 buildings; not only new churches and the restoration of several cathedrals but also the Albert Memorial and St Pancras Station. He was knighted and when he died in 1878 he was accorded a '˜state' funeral and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Peter Brandon went on to draw attention to many of the design features of Holy Trinity Church, to the effective use of local stone and other vernacular aspects of the building. He also mused over the choice of Sir Gilbert Scott in preference to local architects such as Henry Woodyer.

During the course of the evening reference was made to the 3350 christenings, 1140 weddings and 2200 burials recorded in the parish registers during the past 150 years, and the meeting concluded with a slide show of early photographs of the Church.

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March 2002 The Railway comes to Dorking

The Railway Comes to Dorking was the subject of Westcott Local History Group's March meeting and the speaker was Alan Jackson. By the 1840's London had become the centre of the country's railway network. There were termini in the north, south and west of the city but no through routes. The Reading, Guildford and Reigate Railway (subsequently the South Eastern Railway) opened in 1849 as part of an enlightened initiative to avoid the cost and delay of transhipping goods across London by providing a direct link between the industrial heartland of the country and the channel ports. Although not yet achieving this objective, except in times of crisis when, for example, it was dedicated to moving the survivors of Dunkirk to Aldershot and beyond, the line has survived and Alan Jackson described its route, construction and current use.

He went on to record the opening, in 1867, of the London Brighton and South Coast Railway's rival line, linking Dorking with Leatherhead through the Mickleham gap and subsequently continuing south to Horsham and beyond.

Having set the scene, Mr Jackson used slides to illustrate the architecture and staffing of the Dorking stations, and maps to indicate their location and the implications of their existence on the development of Dorking from 1850 to the present day, with particular attention paid to the demise of Deepdene. In an entertaining and informative talk mention was also made of the part played by the railway in bringing day trippers to Box Hill, and Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria's coffin also managed to get a mention.

Because no station was provided for Westcott when the SER was built, local references were limited to the Signal Box that controlled the climb up to Gomshall and the two cottages at the Hole Hill and Milton

Crossings. All have now gone but many of those present remembered how the occupants of the isolated cottages, normally a railway platelayer and his crossing keeper wife and family, relied on the delivery of fresh water from Dorking by train each afternoon. Reference was also made to the short-lived Westcott Range Halt. This was built in 1916 for soldiers to use the rifle range on the north side of the railway line at Coomb Farm, but was demolished in 1928.

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January 2002  Stane Street

Ken Kilburn looked back to the 300 year period from the Claudian invasion of 43AD when most of Britain, and especially the Southeast, was occupied by the Romans. With the assistance of a large collection of slides he led LXXXVIII members and guests out of the walled city of Londinium, across London Bridge along a route which is familiar to us as the A24 and A29 but which was constructed by the Romans and became known as Stane Street. The journey led through Merton and Ewell and crossed the Mole by a ford close to Burford Bridge. Although distinctively straight for most of its length, Leith Hill necessitated a diversion through Ockley. The road crossed the river Arun by a bridge at Alfoldean and after 56 miles entered the town of Noviomagus, which we know today as Chichester, by the East Gate.

In addition to describing the route Mr Kilburn considered why the Romans should have wanted to conquer Britain, explained how Roman roads were made, described the various means of transportation and illustrated the sophistication of the Roman villa situated just off Stane Street at Bignor and the palace built at Fishbourne for Cogidibnus, the local Briton who found it much more profitable to work for, rather than against, the Roman occupation.

Nearly 2000 years later not only is the route of Stane Street still identifiable for much of its length, but its distinctive features, an embankment (agger) constructed with layers of gravel or flints between two parallel outer and inner ditches, can still be seen in those areas where the road survives as a bridle path. There were probably four '˜stations' along the road. Two have been located and excavated, at Alfoldean and Hardham. One of the other sites was almost certainly in Dorking but to date neither the precise route of Stane Street through the town nor the location of the '˜station' has been found.

Top of PageNovember 2001. The Early History of Cycling in Surrey

The speaker at the November meeting soon climbed on his hobby horse. He then mounted a boneshaker and at the end of the evening he and several Group members manoeuvred round the Westcott Reading Room on a penny-farthing! The cycles belonged to Les Bowerman who was particularly well qualified, as well as equipped, to talk about the early history of cycling in Surrey since he is Chairman of the Send and Ripley Local History Society and Past President of the Veteran Cycle Club.

The early 19th century hobby horse was simply a running machine comprising a padded wooden bar supported on a wheel fore and aft. The rider sat astride and propelled himself by kicking against the ground. The discovery that a two-wheeled vehicle could be ridden without the need to place a foot on the ground and the introduction of pedals to the front wheel produced the pedal driven '˜boneshakers' in the second half of the century. One of the first to promote the use of this new machine was Lewis Saubergue, an ironmonger of Dorking who toured Germany on one in 1870.

By the end of the 19th century bicycling had captured the public imagination and rapid developments in design produced the penny-farthing and then the chain driven rear wheel '˜Rover' and '˜Raleigh' cycles whose successors we still use today.

But it was not just the technical developments that made Mr Bowerman's talk so interesting. The social impact of bicycling affected everybody and especially those who lived in Greater London and who were able to venture out into the countryside with new found freedom. Obviously the better the road, the faster the speed that could be attained and one of the best surfaces was to be found on the old A3. It was for this reason that the Surrey village of Ripley, deserted by coaches, miles from a railway station and a comfortable 50 mile round trip from London, became '˜the mecca of all good cyclists'. The village pubs thrived on the custom and none more so than The Anchor, which was managed by the Dibble family who were also associated with the Wotton Hatch and Westcott.

In May 1897 '˜The Hub', one of several weekly magazines devoted to the new pastime, reported that '˜With the single exception of Ripley, there is no more favourite run with the average London cyclist than Dorking' and the local paper advised that on Whit Monday 1898 there was an "extraordinary number of cyclists. Several thousands must have passed through the town during the day." However, another report, in Bicycling News' a few years earlier had advised that '˜The condition of Coast Hill, which is covered with loose sand and stones, is dangerous to ride down in its present state.'

At the end of the 19th century much of the social and sporting activity on two wheels, or three since tricycles were also popular, was organised by Clubs and Mr Bowerman acknowledged the existence of the Dorking Cycling Club, based at the Wheatsheaf although it is known to have held '˜smoking concerts' at The Crown in Westcott, the Dorking Working Mens C.C. at the Queen's Head and the more exclusive Dorking and District C.C. Although not based in Dorking, the Mowbray House Cycling Association was also mentioned because it arranged for its mainly lady members to use The Venture, a gypsy caravan at Leith Hill.

The acceptance, or not, of lady cyclists was given special attention with references to much publicised disputes between the landlord of the Hautboy Hotel, Ockham and Lady Harberton in 1899 and between Richard Cook, proprietor of the White Horse Hotel, Dorking and a Mrs Arnold, a Chelsea artist, in the previous year. Both cases rested on whether '˜rational dress' which incorporated the sort of divided skirt advocated by Amelia Bloomer and also known as knickerbockers, was acceptable apparel to be worn in public. Many thought not but they were soon overruled.

Top of PageSeptember 2001 Charcoal Burning and other local woodland industries

The census return for 1861 records that in April of that year Robert and Hannah Gale were living in a cottage at Logmore. They had not been there in 1851 and it was apparent that the fsmily did not stay put for very long since the children had been born at several different places including Ewhurst, Rudgwick, Albury, Wotton and Dorking. James was a baby of four months, Sarah and Susannah, aged 10 and 7, were scholars, presumably walking into Westcott each day for their schooling. William (22), Benjamin (16), Thomas (13) and John (11) all worked with their father as charcoal burners.

At the September meeting of the Westcott Local History Group Chris Howkins vividly described the life that the Gale family would have lived in their woodland environment between Westcott and Coldharbour. Having negotiated terms with the local landowners, the winter would have been spent in the careful preparation of a site and the collection of wood to be converted to charcoal in the following summer. He explained how the wood of different trees possessed markedly different qualities. This was reflected in the charcoal it produced and used to meet the specific needs of the blacksmith, the gunpowder manufacture, the goldsmith and the artist as well as in the domestic kitchen in the days before the availability of gas, electricity and oil. He also described the meticulous detail with which charcoal '˜ovens' were constructed to ensure an even heat, the constant supervision that was required during the 2 or 3 days that they were alight and the way in which markets as far afield as Kingston and Chichester were served. The involvement of the whole family and the importance of the many by-products of the forest harvest were also entertainingly explained; the attentive audience learning about the invaluable qualities of the one legged stool, the wooden tent peg, primrose leaves and '˜one sniff' violets.

Top of PageJune 2001 The Chilworth Gunpowder Trail

Leaving the Pippbrook behind, members of the Westcott Local History group headed west into the valley of the Tillingbourne for their June meeting. Assembling at The Percy Arms, Chilworth they were introduced to Glenys and Alan Crocker who briefed them on the industrial heritage of the Tillingbourne. There were corn mills at the lime of the Domesday survey and fulling mills to support the woolen industry in the Middle Ages, but attention focused on the mills that provided gunpowder.

The Evelyn family fortunes were associated with the manufacture of gun- powder at Chilworth, as was the East India Company before production was regulated under royal warrant. Setting off on the 'Gunpowder Trail' the visitors passed the yards where the key ingredients - saltpetre, charcoal and brimstone (sulphur) - were assembled, before following the route of an old tramway along the river valley. This passed the locations where various water driven processes took place to produce powder with sufficient uniformity to meet the exacting demands of the Navy and Army. Of course, all did not always go according to plan and the Group were told of numerous accidents, often fatal, that confirmed the potential, if not the reliability, of the product.

In the second half of the 19th century the site was significantly enhanced by the construction of six steam-powered mills designed to German specification to produce new 'smokeless' powder. Later the Admiralty introduced a cordite factory allowing production to continue well into the 20th century, but vulnerability to Zeppelin attack and acquisition of the site by Nobel Industries in 1920 eventually led to its closure.

Much of the original area that was devoted to gunpowder (and also paper) manufacture has been granted protection as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and the Local History Group members were fascinated by the many features that remain of what was clearly a major industrial site throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. These included a wall of edge-runner millstones, the remains of the 1885 brown powder incorporating mills and the swing bridge that carried a branch of the works' tramway to Chilworth Station.

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ISSUE Issue 46 AUTUMN 2009
Moving Forward, Looking Back    Registered Charity 1118747

Tuesday 8th September: Operation Pied Piper. On the afternoon of Friday 1st September 1939 over two hundred London schoolchildren arrived in Westcott. They had not known that this was to be their destination. They did not know where they were going to stay that night or when, if ever, they would see their parents again. What did they think of Westcott? What did Westcott think of them? And why did the Government decide that they and a million other children (as well as expectant mothers, mothers with young children, hospital patients and blind people) should be moved out of London two days before the start of the Second World War? Find out when we look back seventy years, with input from records kept by the pupils of the two Dulwich schools who were billeted in Westcott, and the recollections of others who were evacuated. In the Reading Room at 8pm.

Thursday 10th to Sunday 13th September: Heritage Open Days. Make sure you pick up a Mole Valley brochure listing all the local attractions with historical interest that will be open. If you have not previously been guided along Milton Street sign up for Peter Bennett's walk on Thursday 10th (pm) and Friday 11th (am). And there will be another opportunity to recall, or discover, what life was like in wartime by visiting Tony Harcombe's air raid shelter as well seeing a working demonstration of his unique collection of static engines at The White House in Chapel Lane - all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday with teas provided by Celia Harcombe and Local History Group volunteers - offers of cakes please to Celia (01306 885312).

Tuesday 10th November: Pewter. We don't know how a one pint pewter tankard from the Bricklayers' Arms found its way to Pennsylvania (see the article in this year's Annual Report) but it is home now and Richard Ede will bring it along to this talk by Roger Barnes of The Pewter Society, who will be showing other examples of British pewter down the ages 'from the sublime to the cor blimey'. You are also welcome to bring along your own pieces of pewter for identification and advice as to age etc. In the Reading Room at 8pm.    

Friday 1st January: Looking ahead, following our 2009 visits to Bury Hill Home Farm, Rookery Cottage (now Springs), the Red House (now the Little Manor House) and The Elms (now the Old House) we start 2010 with a New Years Day Walk (and all being well some seasonal refreshment) including a stop at another historic Westcott property - Marianne Villa (now Springfield House). Meet at the Reading Room at 10:30am.

Tuesday 12th January: We will be looking back to September 1939 again when Mike Hallett returns to talk about 'Beaverbrook and Bennett'. Max Aitken and 'RB' Bennett grew up together in Canada and became close friends. Max came to England, became a Government Minister and proprietor of the Daily Express and, as Lord Beaverbrook, lived at Cherkley Court, Leatherhead. Bennett became Prime Minister of Canada but he was buried not far from Cherkley Court in Mickleham churchyard. A fascinating story and with one or two interesting Westcott connections.

Not a member? If you happen to be reading this but are not a member of the Local History Group you should note that our membership year runs from June to May and that now is the time to sign up. The annual subscription is just £6 per household and in addition to the activities outlined above and a quarterly newsletter you will receive our Annual Report - full of articles and photographs about the people and places of Westcott.

And if you are a member but reading a 'hard copy' I hope you won't mind being reminded that if you opt to receive future copies by Email we will save on envelopes and postage. If you were at the AGM in June you will know that our income last year exceeded our income by just 85p, and so you will appreciate that every stamp counts. Just send the message 'Newsletter' to info@westcotthistory.org.uk (with your name in the message space if it is not obvious from your Email address) and we will add you to our Email distribution list, and hopefully defer raising our ridiculously low annual subscription for another year.
A Westcott Tragedy: On the morning of Tuesday 19th July 1927 five year old Joan Dann was killed when she was hit by a motor car as she crossed the main road on her way to school. This sad event was recalled

School Lane entrance: the scene of the accident.    recently when Mrs Julia Dann visited Westcott with members of her family to scatter her husband's ashes on little Joan's unmarked grave. Her husband, David Dann (1926-2006), was only a year old at the time of his sister's death but throughout his life he believed that if he had not required his mother's attention at the time Joan's accident might have been avoided, and it was his dying wish that the tragedy should be remembered in this way. We were able to help the Dann family identify the site of the grave and provided details of the inquest into the child's death and a report of her funeral, with the names of family mourners and
the seventy village people who sent wreaths. In addition we produced a photograph of the wedding of Joan's parents - Charles William Dann and Sarah Gertrude Child. This tied in many others to the tragedy because the wedding, in June 1919, was a double one with Gertrude's sister, Frances Mary Child, marrying Edward Tunnell (whose son played for the football team mentioned below).

Gone Fishing is not an easy film to describe. It lasts only 13 minutes and one critic suggested 'Think Jaws, but for kids' which does nothing to explain why it was short-listed for an Oscar and has been picking up awards at film festivals round the world. The local interest is that it was filmed at Bury Hill Fisheries, in Milton Street and with a funeral at Holy Trinity attended by Local History Group members. We have a DVD version of the film and hope to show it during our 'film' night in June 2010.

Among other additions to our archives is this photograph, taken c1950. The little girl is Janet Noble (née Bowring) but who is the Cricket Club groundsman?

We have also received the programme for the Redhill & District Football League 'Footballers' Concert' held on Saturday 8th May 1948, when the Westcott 2nd XI were runners up in the Sir Arthur Glyn Cup competition. The programme identifies the team as H S Howell (Capt.), A F G Tunnell, G H W Stanton, D H Osborne, R Maughan, J Rose, C D Philpott, G F Clark, C Parrot, G T Kelsey and E H S Rivolta.   

    This Westcott FC photograph was probably taken c1950. Can anybody put names to the faces?

Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee after our next meeting in the Reading Room and judge whether it tastes better now that the kitchen has been given an impressive make-over. Our storage cupboards at the back of the hall are certainly much improved and so, hopefully, is the sound system - thanks to the efforts of the Reading Room Committee.

Having read 'The Assassination of Pimpernel Smith' in our 2009 Annual Report we have received from Mary Jane Sinclair of Houston, Texas, a copy of her definitive illustrated book of 'The Films of Leslie Howard'. Mary Jane has fond memories of Westcott; she came here just to see Leslie Howard's home at Stowe Maries in Balchin's Lane but was introduced to John and Ann Wickham, the then owners, by her taxi driver and they have been friends ever since.
Early Buildings and Domestic Life in Surrey 1100-1700: This is the subject of this year's Surrey Local History symposium at Chertsey Hall, Chertsey (KT16 9DR) on Saturday 24th October. The programme includes talks on life in Surrey's vernacular houses up to 1700, tree ring dating, Elizabethan probate inventories, a survey of local pottery and 'feeding Tudor and Stuart households'. There will also be displays by local history societies, but not from Westcott on this occasion. The doors open at 10am and morning and afternoon tea/coffee is included in the £11 cost (£10 if ordered in advance from Janet Balchin, Hulbrook Cottage, Cranleigh Road, Ewhurst GU6 7RN)

Dorking Local History Group meets at the Friends' Meeting House, Dorking on the first Tuesday of the month and the autumn programme includes:
Tuesday 6th October: A History of North Holmwood by Alan Barker
Tuesday 3rd November: The Diaries of Sarah Hurst 1759-1762 -the world of a young woman from 18th century Horsham. Meetings start at 7:30pm and visitors are welcome on payment of £1.

The Secret Gardens: Our 'Short stroll to a cool drink in a secret garden' on 28th July was well supported and we are grateful to Ros Kerslake at The Little Manor House and to Paul and Valerie Ridout at The Old House for allowing us to invade their territory.
Little Manor House. Dudley Cory-Wright's house retains its position on the Main Road (but is not readily visible to passers by and has had a change of name from its original 'Red House') but his estate which in the 1920's and 30's extended to Hungry Hill and included ornamental lily ponds, tennis and croquet lawns, a bowling green, a heather garden, alpine rock garden and a yew tree avenue known as Church Walk, is no more. Most of the grounds have    
Little Manor House when it was The Red House c 1910
been developed as Pointers Hill and the stables, laundry and other outbuildings have all been converted to self-contained houses. In its hey day the Red House featured prominently in village life. From reports in the Dorking Advertiser we know that in June 1910 'The 'Wood Bees' Follies Fete organised by Alice Cory Wright attracted 700 visitors and raised £80 for a new Charitable Fund for Westcott'. Other events included a 'Garden Sale and Fete' in 1917 as part of Westcott's efforts in aid of Red Cross Week, and in 1923 a successful 'Fete and Fancy Fair' included displays of folk dancing under the direction of Miss Rate, a Girl Guide exhibition organised by Miss Colam and the Westcott Fire Brigade being put through their paces by Chief Officer W Brooks. Mr & Mrs Carlisle and Miss Dunn entertained with songs and dramatic sketches while the Red Triangle Club supplied the music. There were races for boys and girls and a comic race for the firemen, who also competed with the Red Triangle Club and the British Legion in a tug of war competition. The many stalls and side-shows included a rummage sale, fairy circle, palmist, teas, croquet, cocoanut shies, Aunt Sally, Slinging the Booby and a raffle, where Mr Jeater won a tea service.
The White House, on the other side of the road, was known as The Elms. This photograph shows why.

Elm trees on the main road.    The trees were felled in 1925. Since then the coach house has been converted and the house (built at the end of the 18th century by John Worsfold) has been extended but the grounds have remained virtually unchanged for the past 200 years. What has altered, however, is the route of St John's Road which originally left the main road to pass directly in front of the Old House and behind Balchins Stores. Charles Cary-Druce wasn't very happy with this as traffic to the newly developed 'Furlongs' increased and in 1906 he arranged for a new road to be built on the Dorking side of the stores. The surprisingly
extensive garden of the Old House has survived behind its tall brick wall and we were entertained by tales of lion cubs and ghosts (well, one unhappy ghost who has now left) as we enjoyed our glass of wine.

[These notes have been taken from the leaflet produced for the visit, which in turn was produced from more detailed records that the Group is assembling in respect of all the older houses etc. in the village. If you have information that can contribute to the history of Westcott please let us know or bring it along to one of our meetings.]

Seventy Years Ago: We have been looking back to September 1939 and this map shows the development of Westcott and especially the extent of the Cory Wright estate at that time. The Red House is named but not The Old House although its garden on the other side of the road is clearly marked. The map also shows the 'new' approach to Chapel Lane and the 'Furlongs', Belmont School (now moved to Holmbury St Mary) and its playing field (now Cradhurst) and the old Reading Room - of which only the caretaker's house 'Draycote' survives, and the Post Office, at that time in Forrest Stores which has since been replaced by Westcott Court at the junction with Parsonage Lane. But not The Paddock or Parsonage Close.

Extract from 1938 OS map of Westcott

Want to know more - about the history of your house, your road, or your Westcott family? You will be welcome to look in at our headquarters - the History Room in the Reading Room - from 2.30pm in the afternoon or from 7.30pm in the evening - on Tuesday 13th October and we will see what we can find out for you from our collection of maps, sales particulars, school and church records, census returns etc.

For more information about the Group and its activities contact Don Rolt (01306 889416). To pursue family or local history enquiries or to volunteer your services to help our research programme contact Terry Wooden (882624) or Peter Bennett (884600) or enquire at info@westcotthistory.org.uk