Leatherhead & District Local History Society - 2003 programme
source: The Society's Newsletters

for other recent years, see current programme page

January - Archaeology through Aerial Photography
February - Reigate and other Building Stones
March - New epoch of monasticism in England immediately after the Norman Conquest
April - The Story behind the Story of the Old & New Atlas Works in Bookham
May - The Story of Woodfield Farm Ashtead
April and May visits - Southside House in Wimbledon and Reigate Priory.
June - Visit to Horsley Towers
July - Evening visit to Westcott
August - Visit to the Rural Life Centre at Tilford
September - Guided walk around Ripley
September - Sir Christopher Wren
October - Pigs, Pastures and Pleasures at Polesden Lacey
November - Epsom Past and Present
December - Christmas Miscellany

JANUARY- Archaeology through Aerial Photography 
This talk was given by John Hampton who was Head of the Air Photographs Unit, Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England from 1965 to 1985. The Commission is now subsumed in English Heritage. The objective of the APU was to build up a record of man-made features in the landscape, ranging from the earliest times to the recent past, using air photography. The aerial photograph requires translation and specialist interpretation as the physical scene changes with season and time. The potential of the technique can only be realised with constant observation and photographs over many years. John illustrated his lecture with examples of the unit's work, particularly that on Bodmin Moor and the Yorkshire Wolds. Surrey unfortunately does not have this intensity of  'surviving' antiquities. [a full report has not been published in the Newsletter]

FEBRUARY - Reigate and other Building Stones
Paul Sowan, President of Croydon Natural History & Scientific Society, gave the February lecture to the Leatherhead & District Local History Society. His subject was Reigate and other Building Stones and it attracted a large audience of members and visitors. Paul cleared up several confusing points for the layman. Reigate is the generic term for stone from the Reigate - Chaldon - Godstone area and may not indicate its actual source, whereas Chaldon or Merstham stone definitely came from quarries in those areas. It is possible to schedule a hole in the ground as an ancient monument, a number of the Surrey quarries have been after prolonged attempts.

Today a quarry is an open excavation for stone, sand or gravel, a mine is an underground excavation reached by a vertical shaft or horizontal adit. In mediaeval times in Surrey the term quarry was used to define an underground site where large building stones were extracted. A mine was where small irregular stones were extracted for hearthstone, often from the same beds.

The last Surrey stone quarry closed at Colley Hill in 1960, some had been used during World War II to store valuable paintings and wines and afterwards as mushroom farms. Reigate stone was soft and did not weather well but was nevertheless used extensively in London and the south of England, for example in Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court and the Tower of London. It was always considered inferior to Caen stone from Normandy and Sir Christopher Wren only used it internally in St Paul's Cathedral.

At least 50% of quarried stone never reached the surface, the rubble was used to back-fill the excavated tunnels. Hand tools and wedges were used, no explosives, tool marks and some tools have been found abandoned as well as remains of tramways, some of which used rails from the Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Railway, an extension of the Surrey Iron Railway, after it ceased to work in 1836.

The Historic Royal Palaces and English Heritage have recently worked with Paul taking samples from Merstham quarry to see if it is suitable and possible to extract stone to use to repair the ravages of time in some of the capital's historic buildings. None of the quarries are accessible by the public for safety reasons, but access can still be made to a number of quarries by Paul and his colleagues from Subterannea Britannica and the Wealden Caving Group. A fascinating story well told and illustrated by Paul.
Gordon Knowles

MARCH New epoch of monasticism in England immediately after the Norman Conquest
Lionel Green, chairman of the Merton Historical Society, was our speaker. He told us of the new epoch of monasticism in England immediately after the Norman Conquest. The Augustinian Order had been founded in France with its first house in England probably at Huntingdon. Few of the 276 Augustinian foundations in England were larger than eleven canons under a prior, all being priests who could serve hospitals and parishes, but each had a special duty to the priory: the granger, for instance, had to ensure corn supplies, their milling and the issue of flour to the bakehouse.

Merton Priory was founded by Gilbert, sheriff of Surrey, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, to whom king Henry I gave the vill of Merton in 1114. Gilbert persuaded some of the Huntingdon canons to move to Merton and a new site was chosen two years later, not only for the church (with a long nave) and cemetery, but also a mill and vineyard; the river Wandle was re-channelled for this. Guy the Italian set up a song and priestly training school, whose pupils included Nicholas Breakspear (the only English Pope), Thomas Becket (the martyred archbishop) and Walter de Merton. Walter set up a school at Merton which later moved to Oxford and became Merton College.

By 1150 Merton Priory had set up nine daughter houses in towns as far apart as Bodmin and Edinburgh. The priory held estates in sixteen counties. Local manors included that of Ewell, with Little (West) Ashtead, Fetcham mill, Pachesham and Polesden. Many momentous events took place at the priory, including several great Church councils. Stephen Langton resolved the Church's
differences with king John and John himself issued the letters from Merton which eventually led to Magna Carta. Henry III maintained his own lodgings and chancery at the priory. Hubert de Burgh (his disgraced justiciar) sought sanctuary here and some important laws were passed at Merton a few years later. Henry IV was crowned in the priory in 1437.

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Merton Priory was rapidly demolished and over 3,000 tons of stone were carted to Cuddington to build King Henry VIII's Nonsuch Palace in 1538. A wall and chapel survived to become a calico printing factory in 1734. In 1814 an elaborately-decorated Norman doorway was found when pulling down Abbey House and re-erected next to the parish church. Excavation of the priory began in 1921 between the sleepers of the railway line which ran across the site and extended to the infirmary and chapter house in 1976. Today the site is largely covered by a supermarket and roads, but a memorial service is held annually at the site.
Derek Renn

APRIL The Story behind the Story of the Old & New Atlas Works in Bookham
Following the Society's AGM held on Friday 25th April, Peter Tarplee gave a talk "The Story behind the Story of the Old & New Atlas Works in Bookham". In the latest Proceedings there is an article by Peter on the two Atlas works. His talk gave us much interesting background as to how he went about his research, but more it laid down a useful approach that any of us could follow if we undertake a similar project. It also confirmed what I and others have found, that research is 90% hard work, 5% inspiration and 5% good fortune.

One outcome of publication of such a project is that it stimulates others to come forward. Peter has already been contacted by a member stating that "my father worked for Gillett Stephens, I'll ask my mother about it". Peter first studied street directories, in the Society and local libraries, the Surrey History Centre and the London Guildhall Library collection of Kelly's Directories. The local Rate Books, of which the Society has a good number, were also used. He also studied existing publications on Bookham by Fortescue and Culley, always trying to avoid repeating research already done. He also contacted Dr Jake Alderson in Sheffield, who had corresponded earlier with Bill Culley. He is archivist of the Morgan Motor Club, one of many manufacturers using Blackburne engines. Alderson referred Peter to someone in Dorking who had an aerial photograph of the new Atlas works. A copy was duly obtained. There was an article in Motor Sport magazine in 1948 which was referred to in the Morgan Magazine. Copies of these are held in the Brooklands Museum; Peter obtained a lot of information from this source.

Texts quoting Blackburnes were lent by a number of Society members and others, all of which provided further information. A visit to the National Motor Museum archives at Beaulieu added to the data available. From these various sources Peter was able to compile a list of 11 aircraft manufacturers, 70 motor cycle makers, 24 car makers, 2 fire appliance makers, 3 agricultural machine makers and 7 lawn mower firms, all of whom used Blackburne engines built at Bookham. Even this list may not be complete, further information may yet come to light!

Peter also mentioned two unsuccessful approaches to museums he had made, accepting that often volunteers staff libraries and archives and that they may be inundated with requests. But it does add to the frustration of the researcher, particularly when it is known that one of them has a Blackburne engine on display.

Thomas Gillett was the founder of Burney & Blackburne and Peter also researched his history. The archives of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the Royal Aeronautical Society, both of which he was a member, were most helpful in this respect, Discussions with his niece cleared up some issues as to where he went to school and where the family lived before Bookham. An example of 'good fortune' was when some old material cleared out of a loft was brought to the Society museum. In it were some copies of 'The Motor Cycle' from 1928 which contained Blackburne advertisements which in turn provided more information about the business.

A very interesting talk which will perhaps stimulate others to undertake similar research into local business or families.
Gordon Knowles

MAY - The Story of Woodfield Farm Ashtead
Last Autumn [2002], Gwen Hoad, our Librarian, gave an excellent talk to members of the Leatherhead Community Association on former farms in Ashtead. In the course of her researches she gathered so much information about Woodfield Farm that she felt it merited a talk on its own, though she referred to other farms in Ashtead too. [a full report has not been published in the Newsletter]

In April and May we had two very enjoyable visits - the first to Southside House in Wimbledon and the second to Reigate Priory.

Southside was an amazing house - not least because of its delightful garden at the back, laid out in a series of small 'hidden' gardens. Also because it has been lived in by the same family since the 17th century. The Prince of Wales stayed there in 1750 and later on, William and Emma Hamilton and Nelson were frequent visitors and we saw the salon where Emma performed her famous 'attitudes'. One of the Pennington descendants married the author Axel Munthe who wrote The Story of San Michele there. We had a marvellous tour of the whole house with an excellent guide who really brought everything to life for us.

The visit to Reigate Priory was also extremely interesting. The building is now a school, but the Orangery is a Museum, and Eileen Wood, who is in charge of the Museum, gave us a very good introductory talk about the history of the building from when it was founded as a Priory to its conversion to a private house. We were then taken all round the house, which is now a school and then to the Museum itself where there was an extremely good exhibition about World War II called We'll Meet Again which was very evocative to those of us who remembered those days!
Linda Heath

On Sunday 8th June, 22 members of the Society and Friends visited Horsley Towers at East Horsley and were given a conducted tour of some of the more interesting parts of the building. It was built as a private house in the late 18th century and acquired some forty years later by the first Earl Lovelace, who made many additions to the building. These included an ornate chapel with spectacular roof trusses. Although never consecrated it was used regularly for prayers by the family and their servants. The 'secret garden' now rather overgrown, must have been a delightful retreat when first made.

The Earl's wife, Ada, daughter of Lord Byron, was a brilliant mathematician and worked with Charles Babbage, designer of the analytical engine, the forerunner of modern computers. The house remained in the Lovelace family until early in the 20th century, since when it has had a variety of uses, including a house for Sir Thomas Sopwith of aviation fame, a girls' boarding school, a training centre for the electricity industry and now as a business conference centre and serviced offices. The extensive grounds provide effective insulation from the noise of traffic on the Leatherhead-Guildford road.

The visit, made on a sunny afternoon, appeared to be enjoyed by all present.
Jack Barker

As one drives westwards out of Dorking one comes upon Westcott, and it seems that no sooner has one entered the village than you are out the other side. But the fourteen or so Society members who attended this visit on a glorious summer evening, soon discovered that there is far more about the village than they would ever have imagined.

Our host, Terry Wooden of Westcott Local History Group, escorted the party on a circular route away from the main road. He opened our eyes to many interesting and attractive sights besides being a mine of information about the village, its buildings and inhabitants.

We learned that there were two churches (we set out from one and concluded the tour in the second); also three pubs - there formerly were six. Curiously one now has a Thai restaurant called Beau Thai. The large parish church, Holy Trinity, was built in the 1850's. The architect being none other than Sir Gilbert Scott. We were told of several other notable people who had been residents including the actor Leslie Howard, the civil engineer Costain and a Mr Brook who gave us "Brook Bond tea". Our walk took us across the green, along the attractive and peaceful The Street: we then met and traced the Pippbrook stream behind a large estate of 1950's houses. Returning towards the centre of the village we visited the church of St John's, perhaps better described as a chapel with an intriguing history going back to the 1840's.

Apart from the excellence of Terry's narrative what perhaps struck us most was the diversity of the architecture that we found on every section of the walk. Elizabethan brick, well restored half-timbered houses, attractive 19th century cottages and a gem of a white-painted weatherboard 'semi' said to have been constructed the wrong way round: these and many others told us of Westcott's rich and diverse heritage. We had walked for nearly two hours when the tour came to an end. We left as the light was fading but not before giving a hearty vote of thanks to Terry for an informative and stimulating evening.
John Wettern

Twenty history Society members and Friends of Leatherhead Museum braved the hottest day of the year to visit the Rural Life Centre, which fortunately is in a beautiful woodland setting which enabled us to keep relatively cool. We all enjoyed stepping back in time and in many instances taking a nostalgic look into the past.

This interesting museum has a wide variety of attractions which include a chapel, a village hall and a cricket pavilion. Many of the buildings from surrounding Surrey villages were heading for demolition but instead have been painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt at the Rural Life Centre. This work is mainly carried out by the band of volunteers called 'The Rustics', and their role is vital to the continued success of the Centre as these members have many craft skills to offer.

This is a living museum, and the village hall is still used by local people, and services and weddings have been held in the chapel. There is also an arboretum with a hundred tree species from around the world.The cafe serves delicious meals as well as snacks and drinks which can be enjoyed in the open air or inside the cafe. So if any Members are looking for an interesting day out whilst not travelling too far I am sure you will not be disappointed. This was incidentally the first time that the History Society and the Friends of the Museum have joined forces on a visit.
Joy Parsons

On Saturday 6th September about 15 of us met outside the Ripley & Send History Society Museum to go on a guided walk round the village, led by Les Bowerman. There were a few clouds, but the sun was shining as we set off, yet within minutes the sky went black and torrential rain fell! While we were standing huddled under our brollies, Les told us all about what a popular place Ripley had been for cyclists at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. Fortunately, the rain stopped after about 10 or 15 minutes and the sun shone all the time after that.

Les then took us a little way down the Pyrford road and showed us some interesting cottages (one row had been the Parish Poorhouse) and other buildings, including the little Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, one of the two fire 'stations' and the former Stansfields' Mineral Water factory. We then walked across the common, with cricket on the green, to the far end of the village, saw Elm Tree House (partly timber framed of 1675) which was Mrs Gall's' Seminary for Young Ladies' in Victorian times and then we walked back along the High Street, finishing up outside the parish church. There are quite a number of pubs along the High Street, but there used to be many more, as of course it is the old Portsmouth Road and there were plenty of sailors coming up from Portsmouth. Even nowadays, nobody is likely to die of thirst in Ripley!

We returned to the Museum. Les' wife, Ann, had prepared most welcome cups of tea and biscuits for us and we looked round some very interesting exhibits in the tiny little Museum (a nineteen thirties mock Tudor building formerly a bank in the village) before returning home after a most enjoyable afternoon.
Linda Heath

Dennis Ashbourne, a retired Chartered Architect and town planner, talking about Sir Christopher Wren - Our Great English Architect had a large audience engrossed for well over an hour at our September meeting. Wren inherited his father's scientific interests and demonstrated remarkable and varied talents from an early age - he was Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College, London and at Oxford and a founder member of the Royal Society before he was aged thirty.

His first architectural commission was to design the chapel of Pembroke College, Cambridge for his uncle. The next year he designed the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford on the lines of a Roman theatre, but with a ceiling and a roof. The features of galleries and clear glass, allowing everyone in the audience to both hear and see well, he carried over into his churches. The next year was Wren's only foreign trip, to meet Bernini in Paris. He was an excellent leader of men, practical and yet pragmatic, willing to abandon ideas and alter designs. After the Great Fire, Wren rapidly produced a radical plan for the rebuilding of London. Unfortunately his idea for straight roads of three standard widths and churches on corner sites was too late, since piecemeal restoration had already begun. Of the 87 parish churches burnt down, 52 were rebuilt from the proceeds of an increased tax on coal. Their fittings, however, had to be replaced by the parish funds, supported by the livery companies. Wren designed each church differently, often to fit into a very small site, managing to make them a focal point in a narrow alley with a steeple or spire.

Mr Ashbourne confessed that his favourite Wren church was St Stephen Walbrook, with its Henry Moore 'Camembert' altar. Wren experimented here with one of his parish church domes which culminated in that of St Paul's cathedral. The cathedral took 35 years to rebuild, only starting ten years after the Great Fire, yet Wren lived long enough to visit it regularly for 13 years after that. As well as the churches, Wren redesigned royal palaces at Hampton Court, Whitehall, Kensington, Marlborough House and Winchester. Chelsea Hospital was a smaller version of the Invalides in Paris, with 476 pensioners instead of 4,000 and Greenwich Hospital cleverly incorporated the earlier Queen's House there. Mr Ashbourne reminded us of the many artists and craftsmen whose skills added so much to the results. Wren was dismissed from the Surveyorship of the King's Works after 49 years in the post by political jobbery (his supplanter lasted less than a year).
Derek Renn

There was a full audience at the History Society's meeting on Friday, 17th October, but those present must have wondered what this strange title signified. Our lecturer, Heloise Collier from the Regional Office of the National Trust provided the answers and in addition she showed a magnificent collection of slides to illustrate her talk. It was about the history of Polesden Lacey from earliest times - not just the house but the estate and its surroundings.

We learnt how Polesden fitted into the Surrey landscape and how its inhabitants led their lives from pre-history up until comparatively recently. Traces of the past have been found in many parts of the property including Neolithic and Roman finds. The topography had an important bearing on the pattern of settlement in this strip running south from the village of Great Bookham. Ranmore, then called South Wood, was a densely wooded area, encroached upon from time to time to yield more land for cultivation or grazing, each slice of cleared woodland being described as an assart. In mediaeval times the commoners brought their pigs to feed on the acorns from the abundant oak trees, a practice called pannage. Wood from coppicing and bracken were further products from this part of the estate.

Grazing was strictly controlled and only a certain number of animals were permitted to pass on to the pasture belonging to the property. There were gates or hatches staffed by a keeper beside the track. Some of these later developed into farms bearing a name reminiscent of their origin, e.g. Tanners Hatch. There are still traces of the roads which ran through Polesden, most important of which was the one running from Bookham to Dorking. Most of this 'disappeared' when the house was enlarged.

The later history of Polesden could be said to have begun in the reign of Henry VIII when, at the dissolution of the monasteries Bookham ceased to belong to the abbey of Chertsey and a succession of private owners took possession. Mrs Collyer gave an excellent summary of how the estate developed under these various owners. Polesden's heyday was during the life of Mrs Greville in the early years of the last century.

Through her it became a magnet for high society. A golf course, a croquet lawn, tennis courts, stables, gardens and orchards catered for the amusement and pleasure of her many guests. She died in 1942 after which The National Trust became the owners.
By the end of her lecture we now saw how the title Pigs, Pastures and Pleasure was a truly valid title for this absorbing and stimulating talk.
John Wettern

Members were greatly entertained by Ian West's talk on 'Epsom Past and Present', illustrated by slides on two screens showing the past and present simultaneously.

He began by showing us old photographs of the Derby, attended by literally thousands of people in the days before television, with all traffic in Epsom brought to a standstill and dozens of special trains and buses from London for the event.

He took us on an imaginary walk round the outskirts of the town, and we saw the old pond behind the hospital, much bigger than it is now, and we went on to Woodcote Park, now the RAC Club, used as a camp during the First World War.

One of the biggest changes was, of course, the recent appearance of The Haywain on the site of the Sacred Heart Convent, with the Snug Bar on the site of where the Mother Superior's office had been.

Epsom was at its height of fashion when it was a Spa town, from the 1660's till the mid-18th century, with its gracious Assembly Rooms, now converted into a Weatherspoons pub.

Ian showed us many slides of the shops and inns all down the High Street, a lot of the buildings have been demolished, but quite a few remain there behind new facades.

We saw the original railway station in what was then Station Road, now Upper High Street, and the actual building is still there, converted into shops.

St. Martin's Church used to be approached by a narrow alley way, as there was a brewery in front of it. Just before the First World War the vicar had plans to extend the church into an enormous building with a view to its being made the cathedral of the Diocese rather than having a new cathedral built at Guildford. However, the war put an end to that scheme.
Linda Heath


An intellectual menu of four talks in one evening was interspersed with seasonal mince pies at our December meeting.

Derek Renn reported on the members' survey of nearly one hundred Post Office letterboxes in the district. Pillar boxes first appeared in England in 1853, but the earliest remaining in the district were of the 1880's or 1890's. The Victorian wallbox opposite the Star public house on the Chessington Road (just inside our boundary) had been closed recently. There were two pillarboxes of each of the reigns of Edward VII and Edward VIII and many of the reigns of George V and VI as well as of the present Queen, including the Royal Mail (no longer Post Office) fibreglass one inside Tesco's supermarket and the double-sized ones in the industrial parks.

Professor Tim Northfield described his research into the social history of Charlwood, a parish which still had more than fifty houses built before AD 1600. Probate inventories could seldom be matched to houses, and classification of wills by their form and also the status of the testator gave better insights. Witnesses were usually of similar social standing, the top people (including widows of independent means) often wrote the best wills and owned more than one building (the kitchen might be entirely separate from the main house).

Jack Willis told us about the varied enquiries he received as parish archivist for Ashtead, having his spare room filled with 600 photographs and 400 documents belonging to the Society. Local inhabitants were a great resource too, not least a 99-year old blessed with a remarkable memory. Enquiries came from all over the world, often through the local library as the first point of contact. Family history was the most popular subject: he instanced the Howard family and their successors the Bagots, and Commander Gould, the prewar BBC Children's Hour 'Star Man'. Television company researchers looked either for locations or eccentrics!

The evening was brought to a rousing conclusion by Brian Hennegan, who took us on a mental walk through North Leatherhead as it was between about 1948 and 1955. He took us, almost house by house, along the Kingston Road of his childhood. Leatherhead Common was regularly coppiced for timber. Dobbie's Nursery stood at the road fork, and Brian recalled for us the garage there - one of several along the road - with its green pantiled roof and rows of pumps facing both the Chessington and Oxshott roads. At the far end was a depot of 35 road-making steamrollers which set forth each towing a water bowser and a caravan. There were many small shops run by characters such as the Cockney grocer forever insulting his wife, the confectioner who sold 'Spanish Wood' which tasted horrible and turned the teeth black. Middleton's laundry, expanding its services from the Ace of Spades with a new works and houses here, dried clothes on lines across the fields before wrapping them in brown paper for collection. Brian described the great oak studded with six inch nails to help climbers and the iron maypole with its permanent ropes. An old Nissen hut without a door served as a games changing room.

Near what is now the entrance to Therfield School was a wooden tearoom on iron wheels, popular with the drivers of Sentinel steam wagons, moving gravel between Kingston and Horsham. The old engine shed, later a schoolroom and a church, still faced the last vestiges of the original Leatherhead railway station across the lines. Over the bridge, there were gasholders on both sides of the road. The whistle on the gasworks, used to summon the employees, was also used as an air raid siren to supplement that at Burton's shop in the High Street. Downer's, still today a family business, then had a travelling shop which sold loose paraffin, much of it ending up in the gutter rather than in the can!
Derek Renn