Ancient Roads and Fields – A Wander around the Newdigate Countryside

ancient roads and fieldsNewdigate_for_news_itemOn a mid-September day, village historian John Callcut led more than 20 members of the Surrey Hills Society on a walk around the ancient fields and trackways of Newdigate. Newdigate means “the gate to Ewood”, where a gate implies a road, and the road in question led to the deer hunting lodge at Ewood. But first we sat in the spiritual heart of the village, the parish church of St Peter’s, to hear about the Newdigate family, and to inspect the magnificient wood carvings on the pews and the four angels below the high altar. We stopped off at the village pond to see where the horse drawn carts were driven in, to soak the wooden wheels thus preventing them shrinking and the iron tyres falling off. Then it was over our first stile, towards the medieval patchwork of fields, John Callcut had kindly mapped out on a handout. Our first field is Swampet field, a very wet field, followed by Fox Causeway, which had a ridge of high ground, allowing the foxes to run across this field in the dry. Then onto Church field, and a glimpse of St Peter’s steeple in the distance. We arrived at the ancient dirt track called Green Lane, bordered by a stream full of common soft rush (Juncus Effusus ). This ancient track runs north-south, a major transportation route until the Victorians built their roads in the 1870s. On the cusp of autumn, the trees around us were still green. The hedges full of crab apple fruits, dog rosehips, red hawthorn berries, and clutches of elderberries and sloes. We passed the old marl pits of Kiln field and Field Platt, where they made fertilizer by firing up chalk from Betchworth Quarry, to create lime and spread over the fields. The next field Stoney Furrow, named because of it’s soil type, followed by Beechen Field surrounded by beech trees. In front of Home Farm (originally named Newdigate Place), we heard how the Newdigate Family came to re-locate to Nuneaton in Warwickshire, where they run a successful conference centre in another of their ancestral homes (said to feature in George Eliot’s novels). . Tanhurst Farm was our next visit, once used for leather tanning, but now renowned for its catering. The tea shop is popular with cyclists and the playground outside attracts families. The newly built extension shows what a popular stop it has become. The farm shop sells its own frozen dinners . They even supply an evening dinner party service in your own home to take the strain out of all that defrosting. Waitresses from Tanhurst Farm serve the first course whilst the main course, and pudding are self service. Tanhurst Farm staff then return to collect the dirty washing upƒ?? what a really original and fantastic idea! In this way, Tudor farms can remain viable as micro-businesses into the 21st Century A few fields away, Greens Farm has won an outstanding reputation for wedding receptions, which has increased the congregation at St Peter’s. As couples booking the wedding venue also opt to get married in the local church, and attend services ahead of their wedding day. The many restored outbuildings alongside Greens Farm are also put to good use. I liked the scented lavender path leading to the barn door of the village osteopath. The surrounding lakes, are stocked as fisheries. As we walked by, a tractor mows the grass to keep the path wide enough for those pack-loads of equipment that the modern fisherman finds essential. Turning for our last look at the beautiful farm house, John points out the garderobe, a small overhang on the first floor, used in Medieval times as a toilet. We ended our walk at some new affordable eco-housing, clad in spruce panels, with solar panels on the roof. Built on poor farmland for people with a strong connection with the village, it has yet to establish a proper visual connection to the native timber and brick cottages surrounding it. Given its chequered history of boom and bust, it’s heartening to see that the renewed investment of incoming Victorians continues to this day as Newdigate continually reinvents itself as a thriving village that has held on to its identity.

Ride London Cycle challenge to benefit the Surrey Hills Society

Nick-and-Chris-with-Chairman-Training-for-Bike-event-June-13-011-2-750x750The Surrey Hills Society is going to be represented at the Ride London cycle challenge on 4 August by two riders and members, Nick Jubert and Chris Holyoak. The lucky pair are hoping to notch up a good time on the day, whilst raising funds, which will mean that the Surrey Hills AONB will ultimately benefit from the fact that the race is coming through the county. They say “The Surrey Hills have been at the centre of our sporting efforts for the last 30 years. With other friends, our Sunday morning runs were a must – even when the night before might have left us feeling like we needed a lie in! Over the years we discovered more and more routes from Send and Clandon where we lived up to Newlands Corner and onwards. It always amazed us just how many paths there are and we would need another life time to do all of them justice”. Cycling has been a natural progression which allows us to continue our sporting endeavours. Our knees now remind us of our age and the bike allows exercise to continue whilst sitting down! But hills are hills whichever way you try to get up them and the London 100 has a couple of real tests with Leith and then Box Hill to conquer. Coming as they do after 50 and 60 miles they will probably feel longer and larger than usual! The idea that the race allows us to use 100 miles of London’s and Surrey’s roads WITH NO VEHICLES makes it the ultimate “must do” event. We both failed to get places in the ballot for one of the 20,000 entries and did not hesitate to say yes when the places became available through the Surrey Hills Society. There is no short answer to being fit for this race without doing a lot of road miles which means doing repeated training rides of more than 50 miles in the hills. We’re well into this training regime now and caught up with the Society chairman, Christine Howard, on one of our recent training trips just after we’d climbed up to Ranmore Common”. Both riders see this as a massive personal challenge and are really hoping to raise funds for the Society through sponsorship. All contributions to their cause would be greatly appreciated and knowing there are supporters out there will encourage them to focus their efforts on 4 August. If you’d like to support them, please pledge your donation (including gift aid if applicable) at

Space in the Surrey Hills

space in SHsSociety-MSSL-bThere is a sign-post in Holmbury St Mary with the cryptic initials MSSL on the finger pointing up a narrow lane into the hills above the village.?ÿ Following this lane one rises higher and higher and deep into wooded countryside.?ÿ Amongst the various properties along the way is one called Holmbury House.?ÿ Looking down the well-kept drive one can see attractive gardens and hedges.?ÿ?ÿ It seems like just another high value estate within the Surrey Hills.?ÿ However, if one is able to enter and approach the buildings, Holmbury House is very different.?ÿ It is the home of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory which forms part of University College London. MSSL was the destination for a group of 40 Surrey Hills Society members on a bright, sunny, evening early in June.?ÿ We were greeted by various MSSL personnel and encouraged to walk the grounds and through part of the house.?ÿ Most of the group had never been to MSSL before and the stunning views from the terrace were a wonderful introduction to the location.?ÿ Looking south there were views across to the South Downs and the Shoreham Gap whilst, turning round to face the house, an interesting 19th century building meets the eye.?ÿ But this was only the start of the evening ƒ??ƒ??ƒ??ƒ?? Moving into the wood panelled Common Room, we were treated to an introduction to MSSL and the work that they do as part of the global space science programme.?ÿ This was then followed by a brief history of the house by one of the design engineering staff who had discovered that his great-grandfather had been the chauffeur there when the house was owned by Arthur Guinness (of brewing fame). Two fascinating presentations by a PhD student and a member of the teaching staff rounded off the talks.?ÿ Being able to describe their work on solar flares and other astro-physical work in terms that a lay audience could understand was an achievement in itself.?ÿ The use of computer graphics and other images to help explain the subject really allowed us to gain an appreciation of the complexity and relevance of the research which is being undertaken. The evening was rounded off with refreshments and the social element which helps to make Surrey Hills Society events so popular with our members.?ÿ The MSSL representatives joined us for more questions and general chat and everyone lingered to explore the surroundings to the full. In summary, a marvellous evening and (due to the fact that MSSL is not normally open to the public) an excellent example of one of the benefits of belonging to the Surrey Hills Society. Society-MSSL-a?ÿ?ÿ?ÿ?ÿ Society-MSSL-c Right photo shows two of the PhD students – Jack Carlyle and Alice Foster.

SHS at the County Show

Society-county-showThe late May bank holiday Monday is traditionally the date of the Surrey County Show.?ÿ Each year the Surrey Hills Society has a presence within the Visit Surrey marquee and promotes the Surrey Hills AONB and the Society.?ÿ As the Society has grown, so the range of leaflets and activities on our stand has expanded.?ÿ This year we introduced a photo quiz to see how well the public knew the Surrey Hills.?ÿ This seems to be a great success so if you fancy having a go, come along to see us at one of the shows we are attending and test your skill. At this years?ÿ County Show, about 6000 people visited the Visit Surrey marquee and most of them seem to have spent time at our stand.?ÿ Consequently, this has been an important shop window for the Society.?ÿ Although the picture shows the stand without customers, this was a very rare occasion right at the end of the day.?ÿ From first thing in the morning until mid-afternoon it was incredibly busy and non-stop work for all our helpers ƒ?? to whom we extend grateful thanks . ?ÿ(Shown in the photo are Christine Howard (Chairman), Ken Bare (Trustee) and in the background, Peter Hattersley) Picture courtesy of David Rose, The Guildford Dragon News

Ibstock Brickworks and Vann Lake

Ibstock-bricks-e1366286230356A recent Society event combined modern industry at a local brickworks and the SSSI at nearby Vann Lake. We started ?ÿat the Ibstock brickworks at Newdigate where we were given a comprehensive introductory talk about the manufacture of bricks.?ÿ The process includes extraction of the clay from an on-site quarry, blending the various clay seams (and rejecting some seams of material), blending with other materials to make different grade and colour bricks, drying, cutting and firing. We also heard about how Ibstock try to work in an environmentally friendly way, backfilling pits with rejected material as the quarry face moves and returning these areas to farmland, at the same level as the adjacent land. They are not able to leave large lakeland areas to attract migrating birds, since they are directly under the Gatwick flightpath. ?ÿ?ÿThe company also involves neighbours in decision making and endeavours to reduce any negative issues such as noise. We were then given a tour of the site, including the various factory processes, to bring the explanation into reality. After a very pleasant lunch at the Old School House at Ockley, we walked across fields to Vann Lake ƒ?? a particularly fine example of ancient woodland on Weald Clay surrounding an eight-acre lake and designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.?ÿ We were accompanied by Nigel Davenport (CEO of Surrey Wildlife Trust and a Trustee of SHS) and the local Ranger, to view the way that the woodland is coppiced and managed and to understand the repair and renovation work that is about to start on the dam. The Ranger explained how wildlife such as crested newts, snakes and toads have to be moved to a safe area to allow the work to continue. We were also shown a purpose built bat hide, which is being monitored for bat numbers. This was, all round, a fascinating day out and a wonderful example of nature working in harmony with industry within the Surrey Hills AONB.

Chairmans Day at Chilworth

Society-Chilworth-300Our former Chairman (now President) always managed to organise his Chairman’s Day on a lovely sunny day. Our current Chairman (Christine Howard) was not so lucky for her first Chairman’s Day!

Waking up to a grey rainy Friday morning, she could have been forgiven for wondering how many of the members, of our fully booked event, would actually turn up. She needn’t have worried – we had full attendance!

Whilst we all gathered at The Percy Arms for coffee and croissants, the weather improved so that when we left to drive up to a nearby car park, the weather was grey but almost dry. From the car park, we had our first leg stretch as we tackled the walk up to St Martha’s church where we were met by the Verger and had the chance to look round inside and also to identify the tombs of well known locals both within and outside the building. The sky even cleared enough for us to see distant views across Surrey and beyond.

Having walked and driven back to the pub, with many thanks to the members who helped with car sharing, we settled down to a social lunch. This was followed by introductions to our guides for the afternoon, Alan and Glenys Crocker plus Andrew Norris – who gave a synopsis of the history of the Chilworth Gunpowder (and other) mills.

Walking from the Percy Arms we headed back to Blacksmiths Lane and investigated the area around The Lower Works where many of the buildings have been given a new lease of life. Back across the road we then entered the gate to The Middle Works which are owned by Guildford Borough Council and where most of the investigation and conservation work has taken place. As we walked along, Alan and Andrew kept up a double act of providing information and anecdote which brought the whole area to life for us. As we moved through the extensive Middle Works section, Andrew gave us further information and background on the work that he and the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills Group have been leading on for a number of years and explained the relevance and usage of the various remains and structures along the way.

On several occasions, the wet weather came back to haunt us but our intrepid group just kept going and seemed fascinated by what they were discovering. There were many questions and conversations along the way to the extent that, by the time we reached the Lockner Road end of the site, we were well behind schedule. However, this did not stop most of the group from wanting to follow the rest of the route back towards the tramway swing bridge and the end of the walk.

Having stopped to thank Andrew, we then had the added treat of a brief chat by a local Parish Councillor who lived and played in the community (known locally as Tin Town) which sprung up in the Works between the 1920s and 1960s. From the fascinating picture he painted for us, it looks like we have the makings of a whole new event at some time in the future!

Congratulations to Christine Howard for a marvellous day out, in spite of the variable weather. Everyone seems to have had a wonderful time and learned more about this area which is currently the subject of an intended Heritage Lottery Fund bid supported by the Surrey Hills AONB and Surrey Hills Society.

February Walk Around The Polesden Lacey Estate

Surrey-Hills-PolesdenOn 17th February 28 Surrey Hills Society members set off in the mist from the top of Ranmore Common to slither down the muddy hillside through the woodland of the Polesden Lacey Estate, accompanied by Simon Akeroyd (Garden and Countryside Manager for the National Trust at Polesden Lacey) and Andy Goodwin (Senior Ranger). They gave us an insight into the challenges in managing the Estate, which includes an area of Special Scientific Interest and is within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They told us about an illegal mountain bike course, where substantial trees had been felled to make a path and about the conflict of managing a green lane which crosses the property. We were shown areas that were being cleared to allow more plants and wildlife to flourish and to enhance the view across the valley to Polesden Lacey House. We also saw fallen beech trees and were told how they would be managed to meet the needs for public access whilst allowing natural rotting and regeneration. Trees are inspected regularly in order to maintain the safety of the public. We then traversed some of the open fields on the estate through the warm sunshine, discussing the farming that takes place by the two tenant farmers. After lunch at the Polesden Lacey visitor facilities, we took a different route back up to Ranmore Common, viewing some of the fantastic sun soaked vistas across the slopes to the House and experiencing Simon’s favourite view from the orchard behind Yew Tree Farm. Back at Ranmore Common, the mist having cleared, we were now able to enjoy the magnificent view across Dorking, that had been obscured at the start of the walk.