Visit to Shere Museum to learn more about the Tales of the Tillingbourne HLF project

“What a lovely way to spend a grey March afternoon!” commented the Society member, Joyce Jessop at the end of our afternoon learning about the Heritage Lottery Funded  (HLF) project that was developed over several years, from its early beginnings in 2012, to showcase the industrial history of the valley. The project was inspired by the amazing industrial heritage of the Tillingbourne River. The River’s source is on one of the highest places in Surrey – Leith Hill. Here the natural springs provide a constant flow of water down the valley, through Wotton, Abinger, Shere, Albury, Chilworth and on to Shalford, where the river meets the River Wey.

Its constant flow made it ideal for the development of water powered mills that drove many different industries including, paper, wire, flour and gunpowder.  In fact, this sleepy valley was once home to one of the most industrialised valleys in the country during Tudor times.

With the Surrey Hills Board leading on the project, it harnessed the support of all the Parish Councils along the valley, the National Trust, Surrey Wildlife Trust, Chilworth Together, Chilworth Gunpowder Mills Group, Guildford Borough Council, Shere Museum and the volunteers of Surrey Hills Society.

The talk followed the development of the project, including the recruitment of River Wardens to monitor the River Wey in partnership with Surrey Wildlife Trust, and the recruitment of walk leaders to develop a series of seven walks that told the stories of some of the industries and mills along the river.

The project also included the development of seven characters to represent each of the industries from the villages along the River Wey.  These characters were based on real people from history and were identified by the project’s co-ordinator, Dr Anne Sassins, along with her volunteers. The characters were then transformed into real life-like models that are now housed at Shere Museum in a new exhibition which showcases the lost industrial heritage of the valley.

The day also included the opportunity to get a rare look at Barnes Wallis’ WWII Bouncing Bomb that is currently on display in the Museum.  Barnes Wallis lived in Effingham and worked at Brooklands – now Brooklands Museum.

In true Surrey Hills Society form, the event was ended with an enjoyable traditional afternoon tea.

Exploring Blackheath

Would it be on? Would be off?  As the “Beast from East”, Siberian weather battered the UK in the week running up to The Surrey Hills Society Free monthly walk for March, this was the topic of debate among organisers. A very pleasant winter wonderland walk was had on Monday 26th February by Walk Leaders, Chris Howard and Jeff Holliday. “Looking at the weather forecast we realised this was probably the only day we had to check the route before the snow really set in”, said Chris. “It was very pretty walking in the flurries of snow, as the bad weather set in that afternoon.”

And on the day, it was definitely worth putting in the preparation as the day dawned bright, with a “barmy” 8 degrees predicted. With all the snow virtually disappeared,  a muddy, rather than snowy, walk was had.  Jeff said” It was so good to get out again after being stuck indoors since Tuesday, due to adverse weather conditions”.

The heathlands of Albury and Blackheath are incredible wilderness areas that until the 20th century were wide open heathlands or heather and gorse.  The poor sandy soil means the area was never great for farming, but peasant farmers did graze the land with their cattle and sheep, which always kept the trees at bay.

After the First & Second World Wars the government incentivized landowners to plant pine trees on the heaths. The pines, invasive birch trees and other species have spread to cover most of the heathlands in Surrey now, as farming became more and more challenging in Surrey.

Albury Heath sculpture celebrating 60th anniversary of the Albury Produce show.

This walk had a variety of landscapes. Starting on Albury Heath amongst the heather it quickly enters birch woodland.  After dropping down off the hill, you traverse around the rolling grasslands of a farm, before enjoying a stiff hike up the hill to Blackheath through a pretty pine plantation.

“We passed trout fisheries, quaint cottages and even a small training race course. The William IV pub, nearby is a really pretty historic pub that is very popular with walkers, where some of us retired for a quick drink” added Chris. “Some went off to visit the ancient Saxon church nearby, while others headed for the Drummond Arms in Albury for a well- earned Sunday lunch.