Leatherhead & District Local History Society
2015 Programme and Calendar

for other recent years, see towards the end of the current programme page

Friday 16th January - Ian Bevan on THE CRYSTAL PALACE

The Crystal Palace was built to house the Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park in 1851. Subsequently it was moved to South London where it formed the centre-piece of the first theme park. This illustrated talk traces the history of the building from its inception, its role in the Great Exhibition, the entertainments on offer in the Sydenham Crystal Palace and Park, and its demise in the tragic fire in 1936. Ian Bevan MA is a City of London Guide and lecturer in history at various Colleges and for various organisations (WEA, U3A etc.) with a particular interest in the Crystal Palace. He is author of the book To the Palace for the Cup and other titles. He spent 20 years as an IT/Management Consultant.

At 17.40 on Fri 16th, we were informed by the Leatherhead Institute that they had been obliged to close the building because of a flood of sewage in the car park and the consequent loss of toilet facilities. This talk has now been rearranged to be given at our September 18th meeting. Our best wishes to the LCA in resolving the problem!

Friday 20th February - Dr Julie Wileman on CRIME AND MURDER IN SURREY'S PAST

Dr Wileman has been researching for a new book on archaeology and crime. This talk brings together some of the archaeological and historical evidence for some notorious Surrey crimes, as well as some less well known incidents. Also evidence for the ways in which judicial punishments were carried out. Examples will include murder, highway robbery and theft, as well as crimes like recusancy and barratry. Find out what these were!

Friday 20th March - Annual General Meeting

This will be followed by short presentations by Lorraine Spindler, Curator of Leatherhead Museum, and Roy Mellick, Records Secretary on work they are doing and planning in connection with their respective responsibilities.

Tuesday, March 24th Outing to Christ's Hospital Museum, Horsham

The visit to Christ's Hospital School Museum on Tuesday 24th March is open to all Friends of Leatherhead Museum, L&DLHS members and Leatherhead Museum Stewards.
Travel is by car and so we are hoping that car sharing will work.
The arrival and registering time at Christ's Hospital is 10:30. At that point we will be able to buy coffee and then when we are all ready the tour will start. It is thought it will end by 12:30-13:00. We will be booking a table at a nearby garden centre with newly built interesting barn for those who would like to eat and socialise after the visit.
We will need to know numbers to give Christ's Hospital by 17th March as security is very tight. J Lack's number until 03/03 is 01372 386050, after that please contact G Hoad from 03/03 until 17/03 on L273934.
There is a lift up to the museum for those who find stairs tricky and those with walking difficulties can be dropped off near the door.

Friday 17th April - Dr Peter Edwards on the HISTORY OF GREAT BOOKHAM THROUGH LOCAL NAMES

Peter Edwards is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Humanities at the University of Roehampton. Apart from local history he has particular interest in the history of British Agriculture, especially horse and livestock. He is a member of our Society. This talk looks at the history of Great Bookham through local names. For instance, Saxon Bocham, the settlement by beeches, indicates that the invaders settled here early. Minor names, such as those of farms, fields, tracks and even pubs provide additional evidence and often reveal the 'hidden history of the community'.

Friday 15th May - John Morris on LEATHERHEAD & INDIA

John Morris has for many years been involved in researching the history of the Leatherhead area and those who lived here. He will tell us about the most interesting of the several hundred suspects he is investigating. Some Leatherhead people have devoted their lives to India. From ordinary seaman to Chairman of the East India Company is quite a career. Running Bombay is another. Pioneering Women's education in India is a third.

This will be the final talk in the 2014-2105 series. Your Programme Committee is busy seeking talks for the 2015-2016 season, which will begin in September.

Saturday 27th June L&DLHS Coffee Morning 10am to noon in the LCA Library at the Letherhead Institute.

Free entry to all, members - please bring along a friend. There will be displays and information on lectures and museum information

Friday 18th September - Ian Bevan on THE CRYSTAL PALACE - see January

Friday 16th October - JANE AUSTEN - A NEW REVELATION  - by Nicholas Ennos
Jane Austen's novel Emma was published 200 years ago. Nicholas Ennos has discovered at least ten places in the book correspond with real places around Leatherhead, many illustrated by the watercolourist John Hassell.

Friday 20th November - RUTH ELLIS - THE LAST WOMAN TO BE HANGED IN ENGLAND - by Monica Weller
Some details of Ellis's secret life and her Leatherhead connection.

Friday 4th December: CHRISTMAS QUIZ - quizmaster Frank Haslam
Those of you who came last year will we hope be encouraging friends come with you to really fill the Abraham Dixon Hall at the Institute this year. Tickets are £10 including a Fish and Chip Supper. BYO glasses and drinks. There is a booking form in your November newsletter. Alternatively you can click on this link for a booking form:

Friday 20th February - Dr Julie Wileman on CRIME AND MURDER IN SURREY'S PAST

At this well-attended meeting our speaker Julie Wileman spoke of her research into the history of crime in Surrey. Thanks to her efforts to prise out details of Surrey's record over hundreds of years the audience was able to gauge the extent that society has changed as each century has unfolded. We can take comfort from the fact that we live in a relatively peaceful age in contrast to the way life was lived long ago. Horrendous crimes and gruesome punishments were revealed to have existed making us glad that we live in the present.

From her study of Surrey records she painted a picture of how things were, although she added that in fact England was less violent than many other countries at the time. Much could be found from a study of graves at 'execution sites' dating back to Anglo-Saxon times. There were eight of these in Surrey including those at Banstead, Leatherhead, Ashtead and Guildford. There, criminals met a grisly end, the bones being found randomly buried, often distorted and sometimes still manacled.

Hanging was the fate of many found guilty of what we would count as minor offences such as stealing. The gallows was a very public place and crowds turned out to witness executions. This was still occurring well into the 19th century. Some of the pictures accompanying the talk showed scenes of executions in all their morbid details.

Plotting the history of crime over the centuries revealed much that is now only a memory. Witchcraft, for example, appears in the records between 1560 and 1700. It occurred only rarely in Surrey, a total of 112 cases resulting in only 5 executions. Smuggling, organised by local gangs, was notorious in the Dorking area, the caves there playing a part in the concealment of the contraband, although several local farms were also involved.

Riots frequently broke out on Shrove Tuesday, the miscreants being drunken apprentice boys. There were highway assaults; one notorious one being at Coulsdon in 1586. Prosecutions for poaching in the Royal Parks appeared in the Kingston records. One case involved a red deer poached from Richmond Park.

One or two offences were described by words unfamiliar to the modern ear: for example barratry. This meant stirring up discord among neighbours. Assize records from the Tudor era noted cases of this. There was also recusancy. This was a penalty imposed for not attending church services, the fate of Catholics who resisted the changes brought about by the Reformation. There are records of duels taking place. These were illegal and at Egham where a Frenchman was shot, several Frenchmen were apprehended off a train and found to be carrying swords and pistols.

1842 was revealed as the year when the Detective Department was created. It was staffed by two inspectors and six constables.

The famous Hindhead murder occurred in 1786, and there followed descriptions of several other Surrey crimes with details of what took place and how evidence was obtained to unmask and eventually to convict the miscreants. The talk ended with a lively question and answer session followed by a well-deserved vote of thanks to the presenter. In closing Julie mentioned that the book covering her research would be appearing soon.
John Wettern

Friday 17th April - Dr Peter Edwards on the HISTORY OF GREAT BOOKHAM THROUGH LOCAL NAMES

Peter Edwards, Professor Emeritus in the Department of the Humanities at the University of Roehampton, gave a very lively talk on the hidden history of Great Bookham through local names at our April meeting. The name Bocham, the settlement by the beeches, showed that the Saxons settled here early on, probably before spreading further up the Mole valley. Our speaker remarked that it might equally have been called 'Oak settlement' since oaks are as prevalent as beeches here! Great' as opposed to 'Little' Bookham might acknowledge to either relative area or population. Horsehead Furlong referred to a pagan cult of horse-worship (hence the Padstow 'Obby 'Oss) and Elfare Lane used a Saxon lady's name.

The parish boundary followed natural features like streams and the river, but sometimes a tree had to be marked, hence Markoak Gate where the straight boundary turned south through woodland to Commonside. Slyfield (like Sole Farm) meant a slippery or muddy place.The hundred (as in Hundred Pound Bridge) was not a number but an Anglo-Saxon administrative district, notionally of 100 families. Halfway House was midway between Effingham and Bookham. Goldstone Farm got its name from fields beside the Dorking road. Preston was the home of the priest put in by Chertsey Abbey, who owned the manor until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII.

Traffic over the downs cut into the chalk (hence Whiteway) and Hale Pit provided marl for the fields. Bagden, Hogden and Pigden were Pole's (den), pasture for swine. The parish of Ranmore (uncultivated ridge) was created (partly out of Great Bookham) by the wealthy Cubitt family for their new estate village and church. Tanners Hatch (the youth hostel) was mentioned in1664, when widow Tanner was excused hearth tax because of poverty. Phoenice Farm was voenace (wine estate) centuries before Denbies!

Eastwick was Bookham's old dairy farm. Henry Keswick, MP for Epsom, lived in the big house. The Surrey pack of foxhounds were kept near Kennel Lane. The Dawnay family sponsored the original village school. Lower Shott and Townshott Close commemorate two of the shotts or furlongs, bundles of narrow strips which made up the old agricultural system.
The evening ended with questions on the names of Crabtree Lane (which can be followed on foot to West Humble), and of the 'Isle of Wight' hamlet on Bookham Common. Professor Edwards pointed out that the spelling 'The Laurells' followed that of the previous house there.

At our next meeting on Friday, May 15th, John Morris will tell us about some of the many Leatherhead people who have devoted their working lives to India. One pioneered the education of women in the sub-continent, another ran Bombay/Mumbai, and a third rose from Ordinary Seaman to Chairman of the East India Company. We meet in the main hall of the Letherhead Institute in the High Street, at 7.30 for tea or coffee for an 8pm start, and visitors are always most welcome.
Derek Renn

Friday 15th May - John Morris on LEATHERHEAD & INDIA

One of the earliest maps of the world, compiled about 220BC by Eratosthenes showed Britain and India at the far edges. Around AD1550 England began to seek a part of the ancient spice trade and in 1600 Queen Elizabeth I gave Thomas Smith a charter to found the East India Company. James Lancaster set up a trading centre at Bantam, and the Company later took control of most of India.

This set the scene for John Morris' talk at our May meeting, describing some of the people with Leatherhead connections who had made an impact on India. John had identified more than such 400 people, and his talk could only cover a few of them. He had researched those whose memorials were in the parish church, those born in India (according to the censuses) and the pupils of St John's School who were born or served in the sub­continent.

John began with his home,Wood Dene (the 'French château' near the church), next door to which is The 'Little House' built for Colonel Strachey of the Indian Army, who once served as a temporary Viceroy.

Born in Bombay, William Lewis (d.1817) was buried in a large family tomb in Leatherhead. The son of Jane Dacres of the Leatherhead family, he was involved with Warren Hastings as an officer of the Company in Bombay.

Captain Richardson (of Belmont, where Fairmont House now stands opposite Lidl) was the third generation of Company sea captains.

Captain William Stanley Clarke (of Elm Bank) rose from able seaman (RN) to chairman of the Company.

An 1857 stained glass window in Leatherhead church commemorates Robert Henderson of Randalls Park, the first Chairman of the Borneo Company, which was the largest jute grower in Bengal.

Henry Crabb Boulton who lived in Thorncroft Manor, although an MP and three times chairman of the East India Company, is described only as 'lord of the manor of Leatherhead' on his memorial.

Turville Kille, whom many of us will remember as a local councillor, went to India during his Army service between the Wars. On the way there, he ran a profitable bingo game, and another by exploiting the favourable rate of exchange for rupees on board and then changing them back onshore for pounds.

Colonel Barltrop, a former pupil at St John's School, was Commandant of the Indian Army academy at Dehra Dun at the time of Partition (1947). He got the cadets who wished to serve in Pakistan rather than India safely away.

There will be an exhibit by John Morris on 'Leatherhead and India' in the Letherhead Institute as part of the Heritage Weekend in September. The Museum in Church Street (next to the traffic lights) is now open free on Thursday and Friday afternoons (and all day Saturday) for the summer with several new displays.

Our next meeting will be on Friday 18 September when Ian Bevan will tell us the story of the Crystal Palace. We meet in the main hall of the Letherhead Institute (top end of the High Street) at 7.30 for 8pm, and visitors are always most welcome.

Derek Renn

Friday 18th September - Ian Bevan on THE CRYSTAL PALACE

This was a lecture that was outstanding in many ways. A well-researched subject, superb illustrations and above all a wide ranging diversity of insights. The theme running through the entire talk was the history of the project: how and why it came about; the story of its construction, its many functions and its tragic loss eighty years later.

The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, opened by Queen Victoria in 1851 was its debut. It was a structure built of glass and steel in order to display industrial and cultural wonders from all over the world, the first ever of its kind. We learned how its unique style and appearance came about, the brain child of Joseph Paxton who began his career as a gardener. His greenhouses and glass structures created for the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth were the inspiration. Albert, the Prince Consort originally sceptical gave the project his blessing and support.

Ian’s pictures took us through these early stages then on to the construction and finally a marvellous insight into the contents of the exhibition. Britain and its far flung Empire dominated but many other countries of the world also had a place. The 1850s were a time of enormous industrial advancement so naturally this theme was emphasised in the exhibits. This wasn’t all however. The march of civilisation was depicted by displays showing how life was lived in times long ago. There were examples of how things were in the Egyptian, Greek, Roman and other past eras. People came flocking to see this wonder of wonders. Six million were counted and the eventual proceeds were sufficient to fund the construction of South Kensington’s three great Victorian museums.
The story might have ended when the exhibition closed in 1852 but even greater things were to come about. The structure was bought by Paxton and an ideal site was found on which to rebuild it. This was on a hilltop at Sydenham, South of London. It was an ideal venue because the recently built London to Brighton railway ran close by, ensuring that visitors would come flocking. The Palace went up even bigger than the original with two majestic towers at each end. In the grounds sloping down the hill there were gigantic fountains and water features, there were facilities for sport and recreation. Notable were large statues depicting dinosaurs. The vast interior became the venue for great assemblies, concerts and numerous events.

A firework display marked Queen Victoria’s 80th birthday. During World War One it became a training centre for the Royal Navy. In the early 1930s it was the scene of early experiments with the transmission of television signals.

But it was all to end in a tragic but spectacular way. On the evening of 30th November 1936 flames were seen shooting skywards as the Palace became consumed by fire. It was a national disaster. The conflagration was visible miles away in South London, Surrey and Kent. It was estimated that 100,000 people turned out to see it. All available fire brigades made valiant efforts to extinguish it but of no avail.

How could a structure of steel and glass be so vulnerable many asked. The answer was that the entire floor was of timber with a ventilation space below it. This allowed the flames to spread unchecked. Next morning there was just a smoking ruin with the towers however surviving.

It was not quite the end of the story however. The extensive park continues to serve a useful purpose for many outdoor activities. Motor racing began in 1937 and continued until 1972. Many shows and outdoor events took place and still do. Crystal Palace Football Club now has another home. The towers have since been demolished so none of the original structure remains. In place of one however there stands a modern television mast. A nearby museum and the base of the south tower are the only surviving memories of the once majestic Crystal Palace.

John Wettern

Friday 16th October - JANE AUSTEN - A NEW REVELATION  - by Nicholas Ennos

Was Jane Austen’s Emma based at Leatherhead? Members of the society considered this probability at their meeting in October, writes John Wettern.

Record numbers, including many guests, attended the lecture given by Nicholas Ennos. His subject was the writer Jane Austen, and in particular some interesting features concerning her novel Emma. Our speaker has researched this subject for many years and has in fact written a book entitled Jane Austen - a new Revelation.

Much of its contents supports his theory that Austen was not the author of these novels, but this talk dwelt largely with an aspect of considerable interest to those living in or near Leatherhead. It concerned the places mentioned in the story (which are given fictitious names) but which, he claimed, with proof, were in fact real places existing within our district.

It appears that he is not the originator of the theory because in fact a letter published in The Times Literary Supplement of June 13th, 1918 makes this very claim. Members of the audience were intrigued to find copies of that page distributed for them to study. In the novel, Emma and her father had a home called 'Hartfield' on the outskirts of a town named 'Highbury', a place located on high ground that is suggested as being in fact Leatherhead. Nearby a neighbour lived in a house given as Randalls, approached via “the common field”. Randalls does of course exist although no longer a dwelling place, and along the banks of the River Mole we can still approach it along a path bordering The Common Field.

The theory concerning the identity of Hartfield was unfolded, and the speaker supported the contention that, as proposed in the newspaper, the house was none other than Thorncroft, quite close to Leatherhead church. The church and its vicar features prominently in the story and the latter is stated to live in “Vicarage Lane”. This again is a place that still exists although now a rather shabby cul-de-sac terminating on the banks of the Mole.

Notable events described in the book include a grand ball held at the town’s principal inn called The Crown. An early 20th century photograph shown to the audience depicted Leatherhead’s main cross roads, and in the foreground, The Swan Inn, well known in its former days as the place of all kinds of celebrations.

One of the events related in the book Emma was a picnic which was said to have taken place at Box Hill. An apparent anomaly, however, was that the distance travelled to reach the scene was said to be seven miles, a great deal more than the present distance as any local resident would affirm. However, it turns out that the hill could not have been scaled by ladies from those times and the present day paths did not exist. A route from Leatherhead to Box Hill would then have taken them by way of Headley which is, in fact, a distance of seven miles. Another so called anomaly accounted for.

Readers of Emma would have been fascinated with so much detail being explained and so many local places revealed to exist as actual locations - these with convincing explanation.

A great deal was also revealed about Jane Austen herself together with her family and close friends - too much to include in this summary but well set out in the book of Nicholas’ authorship. The audience appreciated the special care with which the Leatherhead connections were explained and it was no surprise that a deluge of questions came at the conclusion of his talk.

Friday 20th November - RUTH ELLIS - THE LAST WOMAN TO BE HANGED IN ENGLAND - by Monica Weller

Sixty years ago, in 1955, David Blakely was shot and killed outside a public house in Hampstead, north London, writes Derek Renn.

Ruth Ellis was arrested on the spot and confessed immediately She was hanged - the last woman to be executed in Britain. The murder made headlines at the time, and inspired lurid books and a film. The day after the execution, the Daily Sketch claimed that another man was involved. Was the motive jealousy, or was it to divert attention from some other crime?

When our speaker in November, Monica Weller, embarked on a writing course, she sought expert advice on her chosen topic from Ron Fowler, the local fishmonger, who mentioned that Ruth Ellis’s sister, Muriel, had been a customer at his earlier shop. Monica managed to track her down and wrote an article for a national newspaper about the case. Muriel believed that Ruth was innocent, but had been manipulated by the real murderer - Ruth’s other lover - to play a part in a deadly plot.

A publisher’s agent suggested to Ms Weller that a new book on this murder would be more successful than one on Monica’s preferred subject [the fish of the Outer Hebrides]. And he was proved right.

Our speaker spent three years researching the double life of Ruth Ellis; the first official document she selected at random contained an important fact about the victim which had never been made public. The chance survival of a microfiche at Companies House gave a lead to the “other man”. A letter to the Leatherhead Advertiser led to the discovery that he had lived in Garlands Road, Leatherhead, as a young Home Guard in 1941-2, just when Ruth’s father was recovering in Leatherhead Hospital nearby after being injured in the London Blitzkrieg.

At the time of the murder over 10 years later, Ruth was a divorced club hostess, on the fringe of the twilight world of the Secret Service. There were indirect links with the Burgess/Maclean and Profumo spying scandals of the Fifties.

Ms Weller helped Muriel to write a frank description of appalling family lives, setting out the evidence to support her claim that Ruth had been “framed” including:

■    a weak defending counsel (who said that he had “decided to subject witnesses to minimum cross-examination” despite Ruth’s not guilty plea “to make more of a show”).

■    No real witness of the actual shooting, doubts about the source of the gun and whether Ruth would have been able to aim or fire it.

■    A lack of fingerprints or other forensic evidence, discrepancies between sworn statements made by the same person but at different times.

■    Missing property, omissions from official records, a last-minute change of solicitor and a statement from Ruth implicating the “other man”.

Ms Weller’s new edition of the book of Ruth’s life and death includes newly-released documents which increase suspicions of a cover-up; the list of Ruth’s property on arrest; prison hospital records; and a number of badly-forged letters.

A relative in the audience asked why Ruth Ellis had lied about so much for so long. Ms Weller said the answer might be Ruth’s remark that “to do otherwise would be traitorous”.

Friday 4th December: CHRISTMAS QUIZ - quizmaster Frank Haslam

This contributed over £200 to the Society's funds. A good time appeared to be had by those attending and the event remains in consideration for repeating in 2016.