Leatherhead & District Local History Society

for other recent years, see current programme page

2006 Programme Fred Meynen

Friday, 20 January. "The River Mole" by Charles Abdy
Charles Abdy is secretary of the Epsom and Ewell History and Archaeology Society, formerly the Nonsuch Antiquarian Society. His talk describes various places along the Mole from its source to Molesey and is illustrated by slides taken by himself and shown by his wife Barbara. Anyone who has seen Charles' superb slides will know they are in for a treat.

Friday, 17 February. "Management of Norbury Park Estate" by Graham Manning
Graham is Head Ranger of the Estate and he has been in estate management since attending Merrist Wood College. His talk will include the history of the Estate and control of its flora and fauna.

Friday, 17 March. Surrey Vineyards, ancient and modern by Prof. Richard Selley
A wealth of information exists about wine growing in Britain, a history which goes back to pre Roman times. Richard Selley who is a geologist and consultant in viticulture will highlight the many sites in Surrey where wine has been produced over the past millenia. His expertise led to the development of the Denbies estate as a vineyard.

Friday, 21 April. AGM of the Society followed by Time and Tithe by John Morris
Time permitting, subjects will include Leatherhead tithes and the friends of William the Conqueror; who owns the tithes - the Rector or the monks? Tithe collector plots against the Vicar; the end of the tithes and the map of 1841; and a new way with old maps - pioneered in Leatherhead.

WALK: Sunday, 30 April Guided town walk led by Linda Heath
Leaving from the Leatherhead Museum promptly at 14.15, this walk, taking between 1 and 1 ½ hours, will proceed from place to place of historical interest . No booking is necessary. Come and find out things you didn't know about the town. There will also be an opportunity to visit the museum at the end to see the new displays and exhibits.
No charge, but donations to the museum would be welcomed.

Friday, 19 May. Selborne and Gilbert White by Gwen Hoad
Until recently, Gwen had been our Librarian for many years. It was from reading a very old copy of Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne belonging to her father that she first came to learn about the author. Over the years she has visited Selborne a number of times and enjoyed the grounds in different seasons. Gwen is a very keen photographer and her talk is illustrated by some beautiful slides. We are planning to follow up this talk with a visit to Selborne in June - see below.

WALK: Sunday, 21 May Guided walk round Norbury Estate led by Graham Manning, area Ranger for East Surrey
Following on from his talk in February, Graham will be showing us flora, fauna and points of historical interest relating to the estate. Meet at 14.30 in the Fetcham Park estate car park at the top of Young Street. Walk will take approx. 2 hours -wear stout shoes and dogs are welcome provided they are controlled on a lead.
Fee payable on site £3.00 , part of which will be donated to the Surrey Wild Life Trust. Please fill in the enclosed form if you would like to come, indicating if you would like a lift.

WALK: Tuesday 21 June. Combined visit by cars with Friends of the Museum to Selborne, home of Gilbert White
Arranged, following Gwen Hoad’s talk in May, to avoid weekends. It is a pleasant drive of 1 – 1 ½ hours along the A3 to Alton, then B3006 – house well signposted. We shall meet in their excellent shop at 11.15am (opens at 11am) and hope to have short introductory talk before being free to wander round house and grounds at our leisure. The house also includes the Oates Museum in memory of the Oates family. (Lawrence Oates died on Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.) Lunch can be obtained in a nice restaurant (quite small) in the house, or there are several pubs nearby.
Cost £5.00. Applications and cheques to Linda Heath by the end of May please.

July, Advance Notice. Visit to Slyfield Manor
Actual date to be announced. Limited numbers, so look out for details in May Newsletter and book early.
Fred Meynen

Thursday 7th - Sunday 10th September Mole Valley’s Heritage Open Days.
Brochures are available in the Museum, the Help Shop in the High Street and local libraries. Members of the History Society will be leading a history walk around Leatherhead on Sunday 10th September leaving the Institute, top of the High Street at 2pm. Booking details are in the brochure together with further details of local activities during the week- end: -

Opening talk Changing Faces – New Futures for Historic Buildings will be given by Nigel Barker of English Heritage. It will take place in the new Menuhin Hall at The Yehudi Menuhin School and tickets will need to be booked in advance.

Other talks at our end of the District will be given as follows : –
- at the Institute by Brenda Lewis on The Glorious Gardens of Surrey
- at the Parish Church Hall, Leatherhead on British Parish Church: Saxon to Modern by Jane Kelsall;
- at St Michael’s Church, Ashtead on Roman Surrey by David Bird.

Our Society is involved in some of the activities and, as usual, our museum is extending its opening hours over the weekend. We are also leading some walks and will be providing guides at some properties. We have also produced an exhibition in Letherhead Institute.

Over 90 events are arranged for the weekend and these are all detailed in the brochures which are available at the Visitor Information Centre, Public Libraries, the Help Shop and many other places in Mole Valley. The brochure also gives full information about which events need to be booked in advance, but many do not. All of them are free. Peter Tarplee

LECTURE: Friday 15th September Roman Surrey by David Bird.
Until recently Dr Bird was the County Archaeologist for Surrey. He is a leading expert on Roman Surrey and his book was published last year. He has now co-coordinated a research framework for Surrey which should be launched at the Institute on 7th October.

Friday 20th October: The Dallaway Lecture by Stephen Fortescue
Stephen is a founder member of our Local History Society and of the Museum. To mark the Diamond Jubilee of the foundation of the Society we are holding a reception with refreshments at the Institute for all members and their friends at 7.30pm prior to the lecture. Details are on the invitation slip in the Newsletter. Please come and help to make this a special occasion.

Friday 17th November - Surbiton through the Centuries by David Bowell
Mr Bowell is a member of the Surbiton and District Historical Society. He has lived in the area all his life and is a Kingston Town Guide; also a keen walker.

Friday, 15th December - Christmas Miscellany
Coffee and mince pies will be served at 7.30 prior to the meeting
Two of our members will be giving a short talk on a topic of their own choosing, namely Goff Powell on Leatherhead’s old clock tower and Brian Hennegan with a talk entitled ‘Along the Lines’.
A slide quiz will follow, given by David Hartley.
There will also be a display about the Society and copies of old Proceedings will be on sale.

Report of the January Lecture, Friday, 20 January. "The River Mole" by Charles Abdy
Charles Abdy’s talk on ‘The River Mole’ on 20 January was to a really packed audience. He described the course of the river first and how it starts south-west of Crawley, near Gatwick Airport where it runs under the main runway at one point. It is about 50 miles in length to where it joins the Thames at East Molesey, and has quite a number of tributaries. He explained how the Upper Mole from its source towards Dorking goes through sandy soil; then our section coming up through the Mole Valley is chalk; then the Lower part soil is clay.

We were treated to some beautiful slides of the river and its surrounds; quite a number of mills, of which the one at Cobham is the only one still in working condition; several bridges of interest, including all the Leatherhead ones; and lots of enticing old inns along the way!

We saw a view of the famous ‘swallow holes’ between Leatherhead and Dorking. In very dry weather this used to cause the river to disappear under the soil in places along this stretch, and on some old maps it says ‘Here the river runneth underground’. Some of us like to think this is how the Mole obtained its name, but we were told that historians tend to favour the more prosaic connection with Molesey.

The talk ended with some pictures of where the Mole joins the Thames and a stunning aerial view of Hampton Court across the river. Linda Heath

On Friday, 27 January our third Annual Dinner took place at Bookham Grange Hotel, again arranged by Fred Meynen. As before, it was a most enjoyable occasion and, as we were celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Society, the dining room was decorated with festive balloons and Margaret Meynen’s pretty floral table centrepieces. The meal itself was excellent, with plenty of time to enjoy both food and conversation.

We were delighted that our sole remaining founder member, Stephen Fortescue, and his wife Henrietta, were with us to celebrate the occasion. Our guest speaker was Audrey Monk, President of Surrey Archaeological Society, who gave us an excellent and thought-provoking speech after the dinner. She congratulated the Society not only on reaching our Diamond Jubilee, but on its achievements and its excellent reputation, not least for our annual Proceedings. She remarked also on the close associations linking our Societies, citing Captain AG Lowther FSA, our first Chairman, and John Harvey as two members both renowned for their archaeological research.

Audrey Monk went on to tell us that Surrey County Council is making considerable cuts in their staff in places such as the Surrey History Centre at Woking. Because of this the Council is devolving much of its work onto local borough councils, particularly in relation to matters of local historic interest. It is therefore essential that Societies such as ours should make sure that local councils are fully aware of the importance of places and buildings of historic interest - unfortunately, this is by no means always the case. We then returned to festive mood by drinking the Society’s health. Our thanks to Fred Meynen for arranging the dinner – let’s hope we can continue to make it an annual event. Linda Heath

Report of the Friday, 17 February lecture "Management of Norbury Park Estate" by Graham Manning
The February lecture was given by Graham Manning, who is the Area Ranger for the South East Region of the Surrey Wildlife Trust, his interest in woodlands and wildlife starting an early age when his parents read to him Winnie the Pooh with stories about the wilderness, 100 acre wood and the characters that lived there. From a farming community in Lincolnshire he went to Merrist Wood College and then into countryside management, joining Norbury Park 16 years ago.

He works for Surrey Wildlife Trust Countrywide Service Ltd. which manages the land, three farms and a sawmill on the estate, the income generated being paid to the parent company, the Surrey Wildlife Trust, a charity which reinvests the money back into the infrastructure. The land is on a 50-year lease from Surrey County Council, the company receiving a grant which is decreasing annually and due to end in 17 years time. Every county in England has at least one Wildlife Trust and Surrey is regarded as a model for its successful operation. The Surrey countryside is rich in its diversity of woodland, heaths and farms, being the most wooded county in England with 60% of the woods in private ownership.

The history of the estate goes back to the Domesday Book of 1086 with the Manor of Norbury first being recorded. People returning from the Crusades were given tracts of land as a reward by Richard the Lionheart, the taxes in return being paid to the monarch. The original manor house was located at Norbury Park Farm until 1774 when William Locke bought the estate and built the new house on the hill at its present site. Some of the original paperwork of the transactions is missing and Graham would be interested to hear from people doing research on the estate so that the details can be completed.

The Locke family had a private chapel built in Mickleham church and records show an icehouse near the railway, the ice being obtained from the river Mole and also transported in blocks by road and rail. Over the years various owners have extended the house and landscaped the gardens employing a fulltime brewer to produce wine and beer for the house. In 1868 the railway was extended from Leatherhead to Dorking and Horsham, the owner at the time insisting that it should not be visible from the house. A tunnel 3/4 mile long was built under the grounds with the proviso that there should be no visible air vents. Dr. Marie Stopes of family planning fame lived there in the 1940s with her husband Humphrey Vernon Roe, the brother of the well-known aircraft designer and engineer, A.V. Roe. The present owners have lived there for the last 17 years, the house now having 40 rooms and containing painted walls and ceilings done by the landscape artist William Gilpin.

The estate is bounded by the A246, the A24, Westhumble village and The Polesden Lacey Estate, and Graham spent his first year walking with a clipboard noting the seasonal cycle of the vegetation, flora and fauna and talking to local residents and farmers. Dying beech hangers through lack of water and fallen trees after the storms in 1987 and 1990 needed to be replaced together with thinning out of dense woodland to allow bluebells and orchids to flourish. Coppicing provides hazel sticks for bean poles, hurdles and hedge-laying and the sawmill produces rustic benches and tables using kiln dried timber. The estate of 1300 acres has three farms producing income and Norbury blue vinney cheese. Public access is an important part of estate management catering for walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers. Where possible, stiles are being replaced by self-closing gates and carparks surfaced with natural materials and kept clear of litter, fly tipping and burned abandoned cars. Sheep and cattle are encouraged to graze and heavy horses used to clear stumps and timber.

During a lively discussion Graham showed his enthusiasm and love of the countryside by emphasising the need to preserve the habitat for butterflies, the need to control the deer population humanely and his evident pleasure in sitting for hours on end in a tree watching a badger sett with its young at play!
Fred. Meynen

Report of the Friday, 17 March lecture - Surrey Vineyards, ancient and modern by Prof. Richard Selley
Wine drinkers love to talk about the past : about great vintages of yesteryear. But seldom does the future come into their conversation. The story of wine must have a future though, and the progress of climate change suggests that the next decades will see changes in vineyards’ geography that few have conceived. Could there ever be vineyards on the fell sides of the Lake District, or even a Chateau Loch Ness ? This startling suggestion came at the conclusion of an enlightening talk by Professor Richard Selley, speaking at a recent meeting to the Society and its guests.

The title was Surrey Vineyards, Ancient and Modern, and to this end the speaker charted the ebb and flow of wine growing activity which did indeed follow a pattern dictated by climate change. He explained that it was possible to trace this from historical and archaeological records spanning many centuries. A pre-Roman coin depicting a vine leaf suggested that the early Britons cherished the drink, and certainly the Romans left traces of vineyards, particularly in the South East. The period that followed brought about what has been termed The Little Ice Age, and until the advent of the mediaeval monasteries English vineyards disappeared. Even in the Middle Ages only the south east of England had a sufficiently warm climate to allow grapes to ripen.

Professor Selley explained the circumstances that favour the cultivation of the vine. Ideal for this was a south facing slope and a well drained soil permitting the plant roots to penetrate without becoming waterlogged. On this account Surrey has offered many beneficial sites for vineyards, both on the chalk and on the Greensand slopes. He instanced sites established in the 18th century at Deepdene, Painshill and others stretching westwards on south facing aspects of the North Downs. Geology plays an essential part in determining the sites most favourable to viticulture. Chalk, for instance, has characteristics most suited to grape growing; its porosity permits easy drainage yet it has water retaining properties which allow the vine roots to thrive. Many excellent slides with diagrams, maps and photographs were shown illustrating these points.

In the last 150 years the English climate has gradually improved, and there has been an increase in the establishment of vineyards initially in the South, though now spreading further north. Commercial wine growing has become a reality, and on this topic Professor Selley had much to tell us. As consultant to the owner of the land on which the Denbies vineyard was created he explained how this provided an ideal situation for wine production. He gave fascinating insights into decisions which were to determine the pattern of planting and the choice of grape varieties.

The history of English vineyards could be summed up as falling into four periods : the warm years of Roman Britain followed by the “Little Ice Age” : next the Mediaeval renaissance and now the Modern era which brings us to today. A future phase, stimulated by global warming, would undoubtedly bring a significant expansion of England’s wine growing opportunities enabling the speaker to make some fascinating predictions to terminate a most informative and enjoyable lecture. John Wettern

Report of the Friday 21st April lecture - Time and Tithe by John Morris
At our meeting in April, John Morris described how the local study group on the 1841 Census had led him on to tithe maps. Tithes were a tax of one-tenth of all produce (grain, animals and wood) paid to support the church structure, the parish priest and the poor. Where there was a rector - as at Fetcham - the tithe was paid to him directly but otherwise most of the tithe went elsewhere: much was swallowed up in costs of collection, and very little remained for the vicar put in by the owner of the right to tithe, usually the lord of the manor or a monastery. Thus in Leatherhead, the two Domesday manors, (Pachesham and Thorncroft) were held by relatives of William the Conqueror, who gave two-thirds of the tithes to different abbeys (St. John's Abbey in Colchester and Bec in Normandy respectively).

King Edward I recovered the first grant in 1297 and Edward III gave it to Leeds Priory (near Maidstone) in 1341, who put in a vicar. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Bec's rights passed to St. George's chapel, Windsor, and Leeds to Rochester Cathedral, both staffed by lay canons. Rochester appointed agents to collect their tithes, and Mr. Morris gave a spirited account of the legal battle in 1609 between Richard Levitt, vicar of Leatherhead for over 50 years, and Edward Rogers over the tithes and the latter's attempt to oust the former and to institute a cheaper vicar.

Over the years, it became less and less convenient to assess and to collect tithes in kind, and in 1836 an Act of Parliament provided for the conversion of tithes into money payments based on the average price of corn over seven years and apportioned according to the area of land held. Consequently large-scale maps were made, showing all the roads, hedges, ditches and buildings, together with the names of the owner and tenant and the use to which each plot of land was put. Over the next century most tithes were commuted for a lump sum.

Mr. Morris had photographed the huge tithe maps of 1839-41 for Fetcham and Leatherhead, cutting them up into smaller sections and making a grid with a transparent overlay so that every modern house and road could be identified in its early Victorian locations. He also showed us parts of earlier estate maps of Thorncroft and Fetcham. When completed, his gazetteer will be available at the Leatherhead Museum (open on Thursday and Friday afternoons, all day Saturday).

At the Annual General Meeting which preceded Mr. Morris' talk, the President, Linda Heath, presented the retiring Chairman, Peter Tarplee, with a gift and a bouquet to his wife, Margaret. Linda spoke of the many activities of the Society in which Peter had been involved during his ten years as Chairman of the Executive Committee. David Hartley is the Society's new Chairman, Vivien Hollingsworth the Secretary, Goff Powell, the Sales Secretary and Lindsay Trim joined the Executive Committee as well. Derek Renn

Despite the Society having had two successful and well supported visits to Slyfield House it was evident that several members wanted another chance to see this historic place. Thankfully the owners, Mr and Mrs Richards consented to yet another visit which took place on a steaming hot Saturday early in July.

Small groups were given a personally conducted tour of the house and the extensive garden. One could admire the beauty of the external architecture and marvel at the exquisite interiors. The hospitality of the hosts even extended to an invitation for us to picnic in the garden after the tour.

Our president, Linda Heath gave a speech of thanks on our behalf, and presented Mrs Vanessa Richards with a cheque as a contribution towards the Friends of the Yehudi Menuhin School of which she is chairman. The money, she said, will be used to help in supporting talented young musicians at the school who lack the means to meet the full fees.
John Wettern

Report on the Friday 15th September 2006 lecture Roman Surrey by David Bird.
At our September meeting David Bird, the former County Archaeologist, described the evidence for the four centuries of Roman rule in the county, demolishing many myths in the process. He pointed out that Surrey did not then exist as a unit. London only became a town after the Roman army arrived: the Iron Age tribal centres were at Silchester and Chichester.

The Surrey region had a small population, mostly living in round houses near the hillforts to the west and south. Dr Bird said that Julius Caesar's expedition of 55BC led to increasing Roman influences in southern Britain and the Claudian Conquest a century later was not entirely unwelcome. It was uncertain whether the army had landed on the Kent or the Sussex coast, and the battle fought south of the Thames might have been beside either the Mole, Wey or Medway Rivers.

The most obvious survival was the Roman road system. The first to be built linked the old tribal capitals. One ran direct from Silchester to Colchester, 'island hopping' across the Thames at Staines, just like the later roads from the south converging on London across the islands at Southwark. The settlement which grew up here was subject to flooding (early climate change?) and recent excavations have uncovered whole timber floors, mosaic pavements and wall paintings. Roads were only straight in sections: Stane Street has a 'dog-leg' at Ewell, around a sacred spring-head site with a series of ritually-filled shafts at Hatch Furlong, being reinvestigated this year and next.

A little further south, the road had to negotiate the slopes of Box Hill. The equivalent of a 'service station' probably existed at Burford Bridge since the finds at Dorking suggest a large private villa. The road from Winchester to London has been traced through Hampshire but not into Surrey.

Roman villas were usually found below the chalk ridges, with good views. The best excavated one in Surrey is Rapsley (Ewhurst), a working farm unit using high quality Cologne glass and Samian pottery from Gaul.

The villa and bath-house in Ashtead Woods was being studied afresh 80 years after its excavation by the society's first president, Captain AWG Lowther. Unusually, its rooms overlap one another and the walls were jacketed in box flue-tiles. An unusual tile stamp had figures of a dog and stag, together with the initials of the villa's owner and his tileworks' manager. There was a second villa near the later parish church. The tiles were fired in bonfire clamps, but properly-built kilns have been discovered at Horton (Epsom), Tilford and recently [the one at] Reigate [has been] moved for permanent display.

Changes occurred only slowly: the irregular Iron Age fields were only replaced by rectangular Roman ones (twice as long as they were wide) in the third century AD. The Roman army brought in various new religions as well as official ones (Christianity only became paramount in the fourth century). As well as private shrines, large rectangular temples have been excavated at Farley Heath and Wanborough, with priestly regalia-like sceptres and head-dresses. There was an earlier round Romano-British temple at Wanborough, both looted by modern treasure hunters of nearly 10,000 coins. This scandal led to the changes in the law of treasure trove. Burial took place outside settlements, often beside a road. Stone and lead coffins have been found at Beddington but cremation (with grave goods) was more usual. Changes were slow to occur in the countryside.

The irregular shape of Iron Age fields was only replaced by rectangular ones (twice as long as wide) about AD200. By the time that the army (mainly then German units) left in AD410, all freemen in Britain were Roman citizens (at least in theory) and some elements of Roman civilisation survived for many years.

Dr Bird fielded many questions, on land ownership, logistics of tilemaking and forms of transport.

The society was founded 60 years ago this month and in celebration, Stephen Fortescue, a founder member will be giving the Dallaway Lecture after refreshments in the Dixon Hall of the Letherhead Institute at 7.30pm on Friday 20 October.
Derek Renn

Report on the Friday 20th October meeting
THE DALLAWAY LECTURE – Our Diamond Jubilee: Stephen Fortescue

There can be few people who were founder members of any Society who give a lecture to celebrate its 60th anniversary, but such was the case on Friday 20th October. Stephen Fortescue, local historian and author, former President and founder member of our Society gave our annual Dallaway Lecture on ‘The First Sixty Years’.

After explaining that the lecture was named after James Dallaway, an avid historian who was vicar of Leatherhead from 1804 to 1834, he gave a fascinating picture of life in Bookham before World War II and then went on to describe how the Society began. A notice appeared in the Leatherhead Advertiser asking people who were interested in setting up a local history society to come along, and about thirty turned up at its inaugural meeting on 10th October 1946, of whom Stephen was one. Two of its original intentions were to produce histories of Leatherhead, Ashtead, Bookham and Fetcham, and to set up a local museum. It had been intended to keep membership restricted to those who were actively engaged in research, but it was quickly realised that this would not provide enough revenue to cover administration costs, so membership increased rapidly over the next few years.

The first chairman of the society was Captain A W G Lowther, a renowned archaeologist who led various excavations, including an area to the north west of Leatherhead near Pachesham Farm This had revealed the foundations of a Manor House which existed from about 1200-1350 . Another excavation produced the foundations of a Manor House at Effingham. Stephen also has carried out a number of local ‘digs’, in many cases by using dowsing methods to determine the sites. This is scorned by many archaeologists, but almost invariably produced results by Stephen. Examples of his successes with dowsing include a water tank and two wells at Effingham, an ice house and the foundations of a Roman villa at Abinger and another ice house at Juniper Hall.

It was thought that there were Saxon foundations under part of Great Bookham parish church, and Stephen located these by dowsing, but without excavation there was no proof. However, correspondence about this between Stephen and Surrey Archaeological Society (SAS) went to the British Museum and came into the hands of a Dr. McCann. He offered to do a survey at the church with new Ground Penetrating Radar equipment at a cost of £900. (A bit different from dowsing rods at no cost!) This sum was raised by donations from SAS, our own Society and two of our members, and the findings were virtually identical with Stephen’s. This certainly seems to support his dowsing methods.

Stephen felt that perhaps one of the most remarkable achievements of the Society has been the annual issue of the Proceedings of the Society, providing articles based on research carried out by members each year. He pointed out that The Proceedings contain a wealth of historical information which has not been equalled by any Society for both the quality of its content and that of its appearance.

A significant landmark in the Society’s history was the acquisition of Hampton Cottage in Church Street as a Museum of Local History. This had been one of the original aims of the Society, and when Hampton Cottage came onto the market in 1976 it was Stephen who was the leading light in campaigning to buy it and in undertaking to raise funds for the purchase and restoration of the building, of which it was greatly in need. The vast majority of this was carried out by volunteer members of the Society who worked tirelessly at weekends to get it into good condition. It opened as a Museum in 1980. We remember its silver jubilee last year.

Stephen concluded by saying that looking to the future, new material is always becoming available, so if the Society is not to become merely a social club with a monthly dose of local history it is essential for members to continue and publish research. He has just carried out this advice, His latest book Great & Little Bookham, The North End has just been published and is on sale, price £5, in Leatherhead at Corbett’s Bookshop and at the Museum.

After the lecture, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations continued with wine and refreshments, making a festive conclusion to the evening.
Linda Heath.

Report on the Friday, 17th November lecture- Surbiton through the Centuries by David Bowell

‘Queen of the Suburbs’ is not a title we associate today with Surbiton, but David Bowell (a lifelong resident there) explained its story at our November meeting. Surbiton’s coat-of-arms alludes to Chessington Zoo, Elmbridge, Kingston and Coutts’ Bank. David then took us back half a million years when the area was covered by shallow seas, then gravel terraces, and the Thames pushed southward by ice. Man first appeared here about 13,000 B.C., leaving behind crude flint hand-axes and the points of his arrows and spears. At Ravens’ Eyot in the river, Bronze Age pottery has been found, with early wharves. A group of five huts had been excavated at Old Malden near the head of the Hogsmill River, and an early Iron Age settlement at Alpine Avenue, Tolworth.

There is little trace of the Romans at Surbiton although Gallo-Roman coins had been found at Chessington. Kingston came into prominence in the Saxon period - the name Surbiton - the South Bittoms - might mean ‘look-out place’ or ‘granary’. The earliest written reference to Surbiton was in a lease by John Hog to Merton Priory of land here in 1179 A.D. Ravens’ Eyot was traditionally the site of peace negotiations with the French after Magna Carta (1215). Ravens were bred here, and may have been the origin of the ‘four and twenty blackbirds’ rhyme.

Moving forward five centuries, Surbiton Common was the scene of the death of Lord Francis Villiers, a leader of an attempt to free King Charles I in 1648. Under the pretext of a race meeting at Banstead, a royalist force advanced on Reigate Castle but had to retreat to Dorking, and were surrounded. Villiers’ Elm and King Charles’ Road commemorate the event. A century later much traffic passed along the turnpike road to Portsmouth. Troops were often billeted here (for example at the Oak Tavern) en route between Aldershot and Woolwich. Southborough House, built in 1808, was designed by John Nash.

The Kingston-on-Thames borough authorities saw railways as a threat to their coach and shipping trade, so the 1838 line from Nine Elms to Woking (and eventually Southampton to Waterloo) was taken through Surbiton Common. Half a million tons of earth had to be removed, and a very small station built at the bottom of the cutting, soon replaced by one on the site of the present one. This adjoined the Southampton Hotel whose bar opened on to the platform. Kingston tried to take over ‘the district of St. Mark’s’ as part of the ancient parish, but the inhabitants obtained a ‘Surbiton Improvement Act’ and managed their own affairs for forty years until the district council was created at the end of 1894.

Thomas Pooley, a Cornish ship owner and maltster, bought 100 acres at Maple Farm beside the railway station, laid out roads and began building villas, some of which survive at Cottage Grove and on the Ewell and Victoria Roads, however he over borrowed and was forced into bankruptcy, Coutts Bank completing the estate after much litigation. Pooley’s brick maker, John Selfe, was ruined by a rival’s successful complaint of the fumes of the brickworks. The Coutts’ influence was very benevolent. The first church on St. Mark’s Hill had to be enlarged and rebuilt within ten years, and several others were built in the district, including two successive Congregational ones in Maple Road. Alexander Raphael paid for a Roman Catholic church to be built, but prevaricated over its opening since he had a (correct) premonition that he would die soon after. The ‘Seething Wells’ were believed to be a cure for eye ailments. The Lambeth and Chelsea Water Companies took adjoining sites before combining. The spoil from their excavations was dumped to form Queen’s Promenade on the riverside. Queen Victoria, returning from a visit to Claremont, was not amused to be diverted along it in 1856. The Cottage Hospital was staffed by local G.P.s for a century before it was taken over by the N.H.S. and converted into flats.

Mr Bowell showed us many pictures of past Surbiton. Mr Wait and Mr Rose each had shop in Putney or Surbiton before going into partnership. Now their supermarket, Waitrose, here replaced the 1500-seat Odeon cinema. J.D.Weatherspoons now occupy the Coronation cinema of 1911 - the previous coronation had been marked by the clock tower. The ‘Electric Parade’ near the railway station commemorated the first street lighting by electricity an 1904. The open-air swimming pool (the Surbiton Lagoon) was well known between 1934 and 1979. The Surbiton Club was very exclusive: James Bentall was refused membership because he was a tradesman. M.Georges Pigache, the kitchen supervisor at the Café Royal in London weighed 37 stone, and had to be carted to the station daily.
Derek Renn

Friday, 15th December, 2006
The Society’s pre-Christmas meeting stayed closely to traditional lines with stress laid on opportunities to socialise accompanied by plentiful supplies of mince pies. The proceedings that followed consisted of two short talks by members and a quiz event presented by our chairman, David Hartley. Both the speakers chose Leatherhead as their subject but seen from totally different angles and with differing styles of presentation.

Leatherhead’s Clock Tower, a history narrated by Goff Powell, author of the recently published book on our local Inns and Public Houses.
The talk, accompanied by some excellent slides, reminded us of the initial construction in 1859 at a cost of £129. The clock itself came later, having been donated by the nearby Congregational church who could no longer afford the tax then being levied on clocks. It housed the horse-drawn fire engine, and was often the focus of local celebrations. In World War I it became a shrine, and bore the Roll of Honour commemorating the fallen. The names of those lost in World War 2 were later added to the Roll.

The shrine still exists, and is now installed in the Chapel of Remembrance in Leatherhead parish church. The slides shown spanned the entire history of the structure : the location before its arrival ; many reminders of its early days ; the activities associated with it and the site viewed after its demolition in 1952 with the present War Memorial garden now seen in the background. Most memorable of Goff’s pictures were that of the Town’s fire brigade, its members wearing their shining brass helmets and the team of horses with glossy black coats, ready for departure. Next most impressive was the depiction from 1919 of the crowd attending the Peace Celebrations. One wondered if there was ever a larger concourse of folk filling the streets of Leatherhead.

Along the Lines, This was the mysterious title given to the talk by Brian Hennigan.
We asked ourselves : “What lines were these ?”, and soon discovered that railway lines was the answer, in fact with a very special focus. Equally mysterious was our speaker’s request that the lights be dimmed and without the aid of pictures we had to rely on our individual imagination to transport us to his world of the 1950s.

As a young boy in those days he would accompany his grandfather who was a permanent way inspector on the Southern Railway to view the stretch of line along Kingston Road towards the Leatherhead station. “Careful of the live rail” he was warned - “At 650 volts you would get seriously burned or worse”. An electric express went by – twelve corridor cars including a buffet, bound for Bognor and Portsmouth. There were lengthy sidings with all manner of goods vehicles including a ‘scenery van’. So many present-day buildings had to be ‘demolished’ in our minds for they did not exist in the picture he conjured up. We learned about the allotments, the gas works, the engine shed and the station once used by the London and South Western Railway, now all vanished. Brian showed us his eye for detail and invited us to recall the advertisement boards at the station including BRASSO and the week’s programme at The Crescent Cinema. Then the lights went up and it was over.

The Quiz, the final event of the evening. Each of those attending had been handed a sheet of pictures depicting mystery objects, together with an ‘answers’ sheet. It was in the nature of an Animal, Mineral, Vegetable competition. Our individual skill would be judged by our ability to identify as many as possible, stating which category they fell into and, if known, what they were. A hard task for most of us. One by one our chairman, the compiler of the quiz, told us what each picture represented : there were sighs of relief from the clever ones and groans from the rest of us. However there was all-round praise for the ingenuity with which the quiz had been compiled and satisfaction at having learned more about some of the mysteries of the natural world. John Wettern