Past Reports

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

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

‘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

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.