last updated 22 May 2017
(for previous years see links further down this page)


We meet on the third Friday of each month, September to May, in the Dixon Hall of the Letherhead Institute, (top of) High Street, Leatherhead for our lecture programme.

At all meetings, Members pay £2 - the same for visitors, who are most welcome. Coffee is served at 7.30pm, the lecture is at 8pm and we aim to finish around 9.30pm.

Lectures are a mix of local and wider topics, whilst some of the visits and walks are arranged around an earlier lecture. The October meeting has in the past been nominated as the Dallaway Lecture, held in memory of the Rev. Dallaway, a noted 19th century Leatherhead clergyman and academic who was vicar for thirty years and published the first history of the town in 1821.

Occasional visits and walks have taken place during the Summer. It is hoped that these will be revived.

The diary below may include events and talks taking place elsewhere which may be of interest to members.

Friday 20th January 2017 Professor Patricia Wiltshire  on How Science can Tell us about the Use of Land.

Friday 17 February, 2017: Professor Richard Selley on The Birth, Life and Death of the River Mole.

Friday 17  March, 2017: AGM followed by a short talk by Nigel Bond on My Work as Archaeology Secretary

Friday April 21st, 2017 Pat Jenkins, Archivist of the City of London Freemen’s School on A History of Ashtead Park

Friday 19 May, 2017: Professor Peter Edwards on The History of Eastwick

Wednesday 7th July 2017: Summer Talk and Tour by Vivien White at Fetcham Park House (ticketed event)
As bookings roll in for the special Leatherhead and District Local History Society talk and tour at Fetcham Park on Wednesday 5 July, this is the last week of priority for Society members. There is still space for the second talk at 8pm. Don't miss out. Contact Fetcham Park this week and book your free tickets to explore and learn the history of one of our most spectacular local buildings. Email hello@fetchampark.co.uk or call 01372 371000.

Historian Vivien White will be talking about ‘Mr Moore’s Fine House on a Hill’ and its historic landscaped gardens. This replaces the usual monthly meeting and lecture at the Letherhead Institute. Registration and refreshments from 6pm onwards and plenty of time to explore the house and grounds. Vivien's lecture title refers to Arthur Moore MP who bought Fetcham Park in 1705 and invested a fortune in it, commissioning the prestigious French artist Louis Laguerre to paint the murals and ceiling paintings still to be seen today. The house itself was designed by English architect William Talman, a rival of Sir Christopher Wren, and the landscaped gardens of the time by Talman's close collaborator, George London.
Moore owned most of Fetcham but over time virtually all of the land was sold off. From the 1920s to the 1960s it was the boys’ boarding school Badingham College and when that moved away, nearly all of the remaining grounds were sold too, leaving just a few acres. The Wilky Group, which bought the property in 1999, now uses it for offices, conferences and weddings.

Museum Open Days 7-10 September
Leatherhead Museum is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Leatherhead & District Local History Society. For Heritage Open Days it will feature our own transport-related items, the story of Venthams Motor Cars and possibly a horse-drawn carriage.
Directions: The museum is located at the junction of Church Street and The Crescent.
Open: Thursday 7 September: 13:00 - 16:00.
Friday 8 September: 13:00 - 16:00.
Saturday 9 September: 10:00 - 16:00.
Sunday 10 September: 10:00 - 16:00 (special additional opening)
No booking required.
Please note that whilst there is step-free access in the courtyard of the Museum, inside the building there are narrow passages, low headroom and a steep stairway to the upper rooms.

Friday 8 September, 3pm, St Nicolas Church, Bookham: Member Bill Whitman will talk about the origins of the Howards of Effingham and their involvement with the Spanish Armada of 1588. (Heritage Open Days)

Friday 8 September: 14:00 - 15:00. Leatherhead Institute, 67 High Street, Leatherhead KT22 8AH
EARLY MOTORING IN SURREY Gordon Knowles, past President of the Leatherhead & District Local History Society, will give an illustrated talk on all aspects of the early motoring scene in Surrey; the roads, the pioneers, the vehicles and their manufacturers, and the legislation that tried to keep pace. He will cover the founding of the RAC and the AA, and the opening of Brooklands. There is a lift to the 1st floor which is suitable for wheelchairs. Max 100 people. Parking is available in the nearby town centre pay and display car parks.
Directions: The Institute is a large Victorian building at the top of Leatherhead High Street at the junction of Epsom Road, High Street and Leret Way.
No booking required.

Sunday 10 September, 2pm, from Ashtead Peace Memorial Hall: Member Huw Jenkins will lead a walking tour of Ashtead Village. (Heritage Open Days). Enjoy a two hour guided walk around the village of Ashtead. We will walk around the village centre, visit the beautifully restored Parish Church of St Giles and see many of Ashtead’s oldest buildings. We will discuss some hidden aspects of Ashtead’s life in the 19th and early 20th century. Max 25 people.

Directions: The walk starts from Ashtead Peace Memorial Hall off the main A24 road by the Brewery Inn pub at the south end of Ashtead Village. There is a car
park. Ashtead Railway Station is half a mile away on Woodfield Lane.
Pre-booking essential via Dorking Halls.  When booking places through the Dorking Halls requests should be submitted by email to: boxoffice@molevalley.gov.uk marked ‘Heritage Open Days’. Please ensure you state the event you wish to book, the number of places you would like, when you
wish to visit, your name and postal address and a contact telephone number.

Friday 15th September 2017: (after a short Special General Meeting, details of which have been provided in the September 2017 Newsletter) Tony Matthews on The Society's Oral History Service

Friday 20th October 2017: Chris Stagg on Leatherhead's Pop Scene - The Bluesette Club

Friday 17th November 2017: Bamber Gascoigne on West Horsley Place: this is a fast booking ticketed event at The Theatre, Leatherhead. Booking details and information

Friday 8th December 2017: A Christmas Miscellany: short talks by members

Some Society members give a number of talks to other local groups and societies and we sometimes lead walks around less familiar parts of Leatherhead during MVDC Heritage Weekends.

Members willing to give talks

Seeking potential speakers, walk guides, visit organisers

Calling All Members!

Friday 20 January, 2017: Professor Patricia Wiltshire  on How Science can Tell us about the Use of Land.

At our January meeting, Professor Patricia Wiltshire, a forensic ecologist and botanist (and former environmental archaeologist), described how science can provide information about past environments and climate.

Her particular speciality is palynology, the study of pollen grains and other spores. These can be extracted from peat, lake sediments and buried soils, identified and quantified, and then used to build up profiles of biological communities. This enables an understanding of the landscapes of the past, and the lifestyles of the people living in them.

Environmental archaeology involves many scientific disciplines – biology, botany, geology, mycology, and statistics among them. Soil analysis is important in environmental archaeology because vegetation is so affected by it and, as animals rely on plants, the nature of the soil can affect the character of the whole biological community. A description of various soils and their parent rocks was given as well as an outline of the methods used to analyse them. Soils are developed from underlying rocks and drift material left by glaciers.

Knowledge of soil was essential to ancient people because of their reliance on both wild and crop plants. A soil may be a loam, sand, clay, podsol, redzina or even transitional between these extremes. Methods for analysing them were outlined, particularly the way in which former activity of earthworms can be detected in a buried land surface through micro-morphological analysis. Because earthworms have specific requirements, it is possible to predict the kind of soil represented by an ancient buried layer and, thus, to some extent, the potential vegetation at a site.

Our speaker showed the ranges of organisms which can give the environmental archaeologist information, illustrated by many pictures of various wild mammals, flies, lice, mites, ticks, and soil micro-fauna. Shealso showed us pictures of the microscopic and macroscopic parts of plants which give clues to the past; these included pollen, spores, diatoms, foraminifera and fungi, as well as seeds, fruits, wood, and even plant hairs.

Our speaker explained dendrochronology (study of tree rings). This technique is largely used for dating timbers, especially in old buildings, but it can also be used to determine past events such as hurricanes, bad winters, volcanic eruptions, and even pollution and air chemistry in the past.

She then told us about the study of pollen grains and spores, and the way it has been used to give very detailed information about the history of vegetation going back to the last Glacial period. Vegetation gives clues to the climate in the past; the nature of landscape and archaeological settlements have been worked out in detail in many parts of the world by analysing fragments of preserved plant material, pollen and spores.

Professor Wiltshire told us how plants were put to good use by previous peoples; mosses, such as Sphagnum, were used to staunch bleeding, as toilet paper, and as padding. Some ferns, such as bracken, were used as bedding, roofing, and as a source of potash for making gunpowder and soap; others such as nettle and hemp were woven into fabrics and to make rope.

Examples of Professor Wiltshire's archaeological work included projects on Hadrian's Wall. Before the Romans built a turf wall near Birdoswald in the far north of England, they cleared the mixed woodland, particularly of oak. Furthermore, their impact on the terrain around the wall varied because at a fort just a mile away, the landscape was very different from that at Birdoswald. At Stanway near Colchester, the implements in the grave of a Roman 'druidic' doctor included a vessel, and a plug in the spout contained pollen of mugwort as well as that from plants normally exploited by bees. The pollen evidence demonstrated that this ancient doctor was using mugwort to treat his patient for intestinal worms and, because the infusion was so bitter, he had added honey as a sweetener - hence, the pollen of bee plants.

A pit had accumulated sediment in Saxon times and that pollen analysis showed it had been used for retting hemp to obtain the plant fibres.

Our speaker also introduced the work carried out by Professor Martin Waller on Ashtead Common. A series of cores from the sediments in an infilled pit near the Roman buildings revealed a fascinating sequence of vegetation change. When the Romans abandoned the pit, the surroundings were much as they are today, with oaks, grasses, and bracken dominating that part of the Common. There was evidence that the local shrubs and trees had been used as a resource but, after about 1200 AD, the shrubs (underwood) were being so severely exploited that it was obvious there was a shortage of wood. That was when the pollarding of the oaks was allowed, and the area was managed as wood pasture. The pit was completely filled in by about 1850 AD so there was no more environmental information for the site after that date.

In responding to many questions, Professor Wiltshire explained that palynology was hard work, involving the identification and counting of thousands of pollen grains and spores in order to get a good picture of past vegetation. This was also the case with forensic cases, and she answered one or two questions on the forensic aspects of her work over the last 24 years. She regretted the decline of expertise available to archaeological units and the limited opportunities to learn her disciplines which were both powerful and useful.

Derek Renn: an illustrated account of this talk can be seen in our Newsletter

Friday 17 February, 2017: Professor Richard Selley on The Birth, Life and Death of the River Mole.

In February, Professor Richard Selley, Head of Geology at Imperial College, London, (right) drew the biggest audience for many years to one of our monthly talks. His lecture to a packed house also drew many questions afterwards.

DEREK RENN reports: A record size audience poured into the Letherhead Institute's Abraham Dixon Hall last week to hear Professor Richard Selley, one of Britain's leading geologists, tell the story of the birth, life and death of the River Mole.

It was the February meeting of the Leatherhead & District Local History Society and the hall was packed as the audience listened to Professor Selley, Head of Geology at London's Imperial College, explain how the river was formed, its links with worrying swallow holes, and finally how one day it will disappear altogether.

Professor Selley was born and brought up at Home Farm, Effingham. He rose to his position at Imperial College and is a leading authority on the application of geology to petroleum exploration and production.

Demonstrating his local credentials he began his talk by showing a pint milk bottle labelled Curtis Dairies, his great grandmother's family firm.

He explained that the rocks of south-east England were layers of Wealden clay, greensand, gault clay, chalk, London clay, and Ice Age sands and gravels. After tectonic plate movement forced the stratum upward about 60 million years ago, the chalk dome collapsed and the River Mole was one of the streams draining the Weald, passing through a gap carved in the North Downs at Box Hill.

Lateral dry valleys like Juniper Bottom and Polesden developed, with two gravel river terraces. Local water supplies came from springs fed by rainwater percolating through the chalk. He repeated a local yarn that a duck once placed in the River Mole at Mickleham emerged at the Fetcham millpond, surviving its submerged experience but without its feathers.

The earliest name recorded for the River Mole was Muleseg, dating from the year 672 AD. In the 11th century Domesday Book it was called Y Melyn. Camden's Britannia (1586) first recorded the name Mole, attributing it to the river’s habit of apparently disappearing underground between Dorking and Norbury, and so it was shown on maps for nearly 200 years.

Rocque's county map of 1752 was the first to show a continuous stream-bed for the River Mole. This phenomenon was caused by rainwater percolating through acidic soils into the chalk stratum, dissolving it into caverns which normally remain full of water, although in dry weather like the prolonged drought of summer 1976 they act as a drainage sump.

When the Mickleham by-pass was built, some swallow holes caused by this dissolution of chalk had to be concreted over. Many of them were studied by the Juniper Hall Field Studies Centre while others have been identified as darker green areas on aerial photographs. In 1937 there were press reports of a 60-foot oak tree suddenly rotating and vanishing down a swallow hole. Another hole 200 feet deep opened just in front of a witness in 1911.

Professor Selley drew attention to the mystery chamber at the bottom of Dorking’s famous South Street caves, where a rusty coloured tidemark indicated the river's palaeo-water table, demonstrating its fluctuations over time.

Alarmingly, Professor Selley forecast that the river's future was likely to be far shorter than its past, although its demise could be expected after that of everyone in the audience. Rising sea levels were a sign of dramatic geological change. Indicative of this was the number of times in each of the last three decades that the Thames Barrier had had to be to be closed. During the 1980s a mere four times but 35 times in the 1990s and 75 times during the first decade of the new millennium.

It was Professor Selley himself who originally identified the site of Denbies as ideal for a vineyard. However with climate change, the varieties of grapes grown had altered over the last 30 years in response to rising temperatures.

Answering questions from the audience, he confirmed that the Fetcham spring water was drinkable at source but photosynthesis turned the surface water green. The oxbow lake near Westhumble was not a natural feature but the result of human action to reduce flooding. The river itself had been canalized near Slyfield House and elsewhere for mill races. The man-made cave systems in the upper greensand at Dorking and Reigate might be interconnected.

The mineral Epsom salts existed in a spring on Ashtead Common.

an illustrated account of this talk can be seen in our Newsletter

Friday 17  March, 2017: post AGM - a short talk by Nigel Bond on My Work as Archaeology Secretary

to be added

Friday April 21st, 2017 Pat Jenkins, Archivist of the City of London Freemen’s School on A History of Ashtead Park

In April, Pat Jenkins (shown left), archivist of the City of London Freemen’s School, told us about its home, the 16th century City of London Freemen's School, then a teacher and author of a history of its first 150 years, she is now its archivist, collecting documents, memories and memorabilia from past pupils in two basement rooms.

Started in 1854 as the City of London Freemen's Orphan School in Brixton, the school moved to Ashtead in 1925, dropped the word ‘orphan’ and admitted fee-paying and girl pupils. Mrs Jenkins once met one of the first pupils to arrive there, recalling his exhilaration at travelling on an open-topped bus through the suburbs to the open Surrey countryside.

A fragment of the Tudor manor house survives in St Giles' churchyard wall. Samuel Pepys the diarist visited family connections in the village. In 1680 Sir Robert Howard (above right) bought the manor from a distant relative and built a house on a new site with a lake, enclosing the park with a wall and stocking it with deer. Sadly, the boathouse and horse-powered well-house have now gone. So too the great centuries old wych elm which eventually had to be felled. An avenue of wonderful beeches suffered badly in the 1987 great storm.

We saw a 1689 view of the house with many windows and chimneys.

Sir Robert entertained three kings there - Charles II, James II and William III - and the iron park gates were erected in honour of the last. Shown above right, Lady Diana Howard, his daughter-in-law, had almshouses for six poor widows built on the Epsom Road. They are still there today.

Richard Bagot married the estate’s heiress and had the new three-storey house shown above, designed by Bonomi and built by Samuel Wyatt around 1790. A century later, Sir Thomas Lucas, builder of the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, added a one-storey wing to each side of the house and created an Italian garden with balustrade. A sundial in front of the house is listed by Historic England and time capsules are buried in the garden.

When Mary Greville Howard died in 1877, the Howard line in Ashtead came to an end. She was loved in the village, having created a new school and extended the almshouses. A memorial to her shown left remains today. The North Lodge was used for a time to educate the best scholars, who acted as unpaid gatekeepers.

The mother of Pantia Ralli, last resident lord of the manor, gave him Ashtead Park as a wedding present. He installed electric lighting and had Teddy Bear Cottage, shown right, built in the stables for the chauffeur of his eight cars. This now contains school classrooms.

Mrs Jenkins showed us pictures of the game larder, fitted withheavy doors to shield its grisly contents from the gaze of refined visitors, and of the main house's interior, with its ornamental plaster work and columns. The Old Library contained a triangular paper stand brought from the school at Brixton and was once filmed for one of comedian Benny Hill’s shows.

Among questions after her talk, one audience member asked who was responsible for the upkeep of the Mary Howard Memorial Column now on the A24. It was felt that the City of London Corporation already contributed so much to the village that it could not be expected to take on more and perhaps the Ashtead Residents' Association should do so as successor to the original builders.

In response to other questions, Mrs Jenkins defined the term ‘foundationers’ as those given free education. She said the school was administered jointly with Christ's Hospital at Horsham and the Boys and Girls Schools still in the City of London. The music department catered for almost every instrument and also had banks of computers that were used for composition of new works.

an illustrated account of this talk can be seen in our Newsletter

Friday 19 May, 2017: Professor Peter Edwards on The History of Eastwick

At last week's meeting, Peter Edwards, Emeritus Professor of Early Modern British Social History at Roehampton University, described the changing face of Eastwick over the last 400 years. Eastwick lies between Fetcham and Great Bookham, centring on the Anchor pub at a crossroads, with heavy clays to the north and thin chalky soils to the south.

Chalk, dug from a large pit nearby, was used to improve the clay for agriculture. Wagons moving the chalk were exempt from the usual limit on the width of wagon wheels, designed to prevent excessive wear on roads. Oxen were better than horses on heavy soils and could live on hay and grass. They did not need oats and their residual value as meat was greater. The pit owners were ordered to fence it in to prevent accidents.

In 1614, Great Bookham belonged to Sir Edward Howard, while Eastwick was owned by John Browne. Professor Edwards showed from early maps how fields and intermingled strips, once part of a jigsaw, became separated and boundaries were marked on trees like that at Markoak Gate.

The probate inventory of John Hibbart (1588) listed residents of his houses and his small possessions. Many of those benefiting on the death of Henry Wilkins in 1576 were illiterate. Henry had a 14 -acre farm and lived in Woodcote opposite The Anchor. The south part of the house dates from his time, with an enclosed stair running around the back of the inglenook fireplace. The Poulter family who later lived there carted goods to London and back three times a week. Beyond Finch's yard, the 19th century schoolhouse survives.

Professor Edwards showed extracts from the school log book of 1869, a class of 66 pupils who had to pass an oral examination to move on to the 'big school' in Bookham. An outbreak of scarletina caused much illness and a death and one naughty boy was 'named and shamed'. The children's changing moods were well expressed.

At the top of Eastwick Road, the tall pair of Ralph's Cross cottages designed by William Butterfield stood alone for many years.

The 18th century creation of Eastwick Park closed off the northern arm of the crossroads which was replaced by the carriage drive to the great house. This obliterated most of the original hamlet. Although the later great house of 1841 has gone, its gates on Lower Road survive.

Derek Renn

an illustrated account of this talk can be seen in our Newsletter when available

Calling All Members!

As part of our remit the Programme Committee arranges visits to places of historical interest. Where possible these are local and include venues not normally open to the public. In most cases the visit will have a specially arranged guided tour. Unfortunately in the last few years we have had to cancel visits and walks through lack of support. This inconveniences the host and is disappointing for us when we have spent a lot of time and effort in arranging the event.

We would like to know from you whether we should continue to arrange walks and visits and, if so, have you any ideas for possible venues and also whether the day of the week is important. Your comments will be most welcome and can be made in a letter to John Wettern L459277 johnwetternATntlworld.com (replace AT with @ before sending)
John Wettern, on behalf of the Programme Committee

Previous years
















We are always looking out for potential speakers for our lecture programme.

The Chairman of the Programme sub-committee would welcome offers and suggestions - enquiries in the first instance to the Lectures Secretary via the Society's email address staff@lheadmuseum.plus.com . A Windows 7 laptop and computer projector can be provided at the talk, under the supervision of a qualified member of the Society.


Members of the Society are willing to consider giving talks to other local organisations and groups.

Many organisations have taken advantage of the talks on offer from our members. There are now well over thirty subjects to choose from. Please click here for a list of speakers and topics.

Anyone who has a contact with another society in Leatherhead and the surrounding district might wish to mention to them that the full list of talks is now available. This gives advice on how to contact the presenter of each talk.


Leatherhead High Street, showing the original Swan Hotel