Discovering Newdigate’s Socialist Past
This guide has been drawn up to enable you to remember some of the places that will be viewed during this walk and the pictures give a feel as to how the village used to look. Newdigate is unlike many villages in that it does not have a central green but is a long and straggling parish. The distance around the borders is 18 miles, thus it is not possible to take in the entire village.
Situated in the heart of the Weald, Newdigate was originally a desolate and remote place with very few track-ways passing through. Ewood (Yew Wood) to the north of the village was described as a ‘park’ which was an enclosure for the purpose of deer hunting and is mentioned in patent rolls of 1312. The area is known as Parkgate and it is believed that Newdigate takes its name from ‘on-Ewood-gate’. There were four early manors, Marelands, Cudworth, Newdigate Place and Greens and we will be visiting one of them, Cudworth. By the late 1500s the area of Ewood became a major iron-making site and the village became prosperous which explains the reason for there being so many timber framed houses from this period.
The iron-works closed in about 1604 and Newdigate went into a steep decline. Farming was difficult and unprofitable on the wealden clay and communications to the outside world consisted of a few tracks which became quagmires during the winter and solid and deeply rutted during the summer months. In 1794 the curate, Thomas Duncomb, wrote that Newdigate was ‘the last place in the world I would choose to farm in’. The farmers were mostly tenants and the absentee landlords had little interest in the maintenance of their properties which had become badly run down and unsanitary.
The introduction of the railway to Holmwood encouraged wealthy people to find suitable sites to build their country homes and as a result a number of large estates were established in the locality. This increased employment and the people had to be housed, thus we see a series of late Victorian houses springing up around the village and a new ‘middle class’ setting up home in the country and commuting to work. This is how the village evolved right up to the current time.
The beginning of the twentieth century saw the growth of the labour movement and a desire for universal suffrage. Even remote Newdigate was not immune to the stirrings of ordinary people wishing to improve their lot and have a better life. As we walk away from the centre of the village we pass the house of a prominent suffragette and the former home of the left wing author F.E. Green. We enter what was the Cudworth Small Holders’ Association and the site of the very first holiday camp which became a magnet for left wing and even communist thinking. Our route back takes us through the site of the former Newdigate Brick Works which was established after the First World War by a local man, who was an orphan and had been brought up by … one of the suffragettes.
Head down Church Lane with the church on your left
1. The Church of St. Peter – The earliest dateable feature of the church is from c1200 at the time when hunting would have been popular at Ewood. This is purely a supposition, but Ewood would have been quite remote and impossible for the nobles to return to their palaces at Kingston and Richmond, so they would have needed somewhere to pray. They would also have needed a place to stay. Greens Farm has some spectacular carved timbers, far too grand for a farm house. So was this a hunting lodge and was the church a hunter’s chapel? We will never know. If you have time to visit the church, just wonder at the timbers in the spectacular bell tower and marvel at the skill of the craftsmen who felled the timbers in 1525. The church fell into disrepair but in 1876 major renovations took place which included the building of the north aisle, the vestry and the porch. Newdigate had a thriving carving class in the early part of the 20th century and examples of their work can be seen throughout the church.
2. Medlar Court – This is formerly the rectory and was built at the same time as the church renovations on the site of a Tudor rectory which had become dilapidated. It has now been considerably enlarged and renovated and divided into apartments.
3. Dean House Farm – This house dates from about 1630 and is unusual in that the end facing the church is jettied. Note the Horsham stone roof. Traditions of secret passages to the Six Bells public house have lingered in folk memory.
4. George Horley Place – This was the site of the old school house which was demolished and replaced by these old folk’s homes in the 1960s. George Horley was the former postman and stalwart of the village and held 32 public service offices. He died in 1974.
5. Simons – This was formerly known as Horsielands Farm and is a medieval hall house. (The name derives from horse ey – i.e. ‘land among the waters’ or ‘marshland’ – nothing to do with horses). When the farmhouse was separated from the farm in 1922 it was stipulated that it should never be named anything that implied a connection to Horsielands Farm. It was named Simons in 1924
6. Oakfield House – This house was formerly called Fairholme and was built on the site of Loompits which which wsa believed to have been built in 1728. We do not know what the house looked like.
7. Hatchetts – This was the home of Miss Marion Leighfield and Mrs Caroline Aspland Jones (née Lawrence) who moved here in 1907. They took in five orphans, one of whom, Fred Corroyer, founded the Newdigate brick works. Caroline Aspland Jones was the sister of Frederick Pethick Lawrence who together with his wife, Emmeline, were leading members of the WSPU (Suffragettes) and lived at The Mascot on the A24. Marion Leighfield had been an active suffragette and had been previously arrested.
Turn left into Cudworth Lane
As we move into Cudworth Lane we enter an area the development of which was based upon left-wing idealism and a desire for town folk to move into the countryside and become self-sufficient. Cudworth was described as The Garden Village of ‘The Smallholders’ Association Limited’ and its objects were laid out in an advertisement which read ‘The Cudworth Colony is 3 miles from Holmwood Station, 28 miles from London Bridge and 7 from Redhill and Dorking. Land is sold at £20 to £30 an acre, on a ten years’ system of payment, to deserving working-men; the object being to promote the repopulation of the land by the provision of small farms in a district in which very little is grown, and in which fruit, vegetables, poultry, etc. are dear.’ Thus the Small Holders’ Association purchased land from Cudworth Farm for £4500. The public bought the plots but the Association did not survive as it went into liquidation in 1912.
8. Baring’s Field – In 1904 the author Frederick Ernest Green bought a five-acre plot and built Barings Field. He described his purchase: ‘The situation charmed me, for from this hilltop holding, horizoned by trees save where the long line of the Downs stretches across the skies like greyhounds ‘in full career’ as George Meredith says, I could gaze at Leith Hill throned against them like a queen, sometimes robed in blue, sometimes in purple, and at times shrouded in gossamer mist or of brooding clouds which, when uplifted at the call of the sun on an early spring morning, reveals herself radiant in the vivid emerald of the larch.’ F.E. Green spoke in Newdigate at the first meeting of the Workers’ Union in 1917 when he pointed out the scandalously low wages being paid to men and boys at a time when profits were being made as a result of the war. He was a prolific writer producing such works as The Tyranny of the Countryside, A Few Acres and a Cottage etc.
9. Oulton – F.E. Green received income from his books and had a romantic view of his smallholding but for others life was much tougher. William Hawkins, at the age of 47, bought this plot. He put up fencing, planted fruit trees and spent every hour erecting his farm buildings. After two years he had exhausted every penny of his savings and borrowed the hard-earned savings of his two daughters. Soon after his cottage was finished he did additional building work around the village to help to repay his debts. Whilst up some scaffolding, with the sun beating mercilessly down, he accidentally slipped and was killed. No sooner had he realized the dreams of his life than death claimed him.
10. Brooks – James Winfield was a dairyman and took on Brooks along with his son, Henry. James died in 1909 but Henry continued the business which must have been thriving as in 1924 he rented a further 12 acres from Cudworth Manor Farm. He delivered milk daily around the village and was Chairman of the Parish Council from 1934-1946. Winfield Grove was named after him.
11. Cudworth Manor – Cudworth Manor is on a moated site and the name derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Cudda’s Ford’ which makes it possibly the oldest settlement in the area. ‘Cudiford’ appears in a transaction of 1229 and as the earliest surviving parts of this house date from the 1550s, presumably an earlier medieval house was demolished. By 1872 it was described as ‘run down’. The house has grown massively around the core of the earlier house. The stream entering the moat is called the Beam Brook.
12. King John’s Barn – Traditionally known as King John’s Barn, but could not have been as old as that. Some of the timbers are square in section and there are jowl posts which are typical of the early medieval period. Many old timbers have been used. The barn was badly damaged during the 1987 gale but it has now been renovated and converted into living accommodation. Between the wars Col. French of Cudworth Manor produced pickle, chutney and cider in this barn in an initiative to provide work for ex servicemen. At its zenith over three tons of product was produced per week!
13. Cudworth Holiday Camp – Just before 1910 Charles Almond and John Aitcheson started a holiday camp which was believed to be the first in England. The land was formerly called Brotherhood Farm. They had strong Socialist views and advertised in the Lansbury Gazette, a left-wing periodical. It was not uncommon for Russians to stay; indeed in July 1914 a teacher from Moscow attempted to commit suicide here. The camp had a shop, dining room and a common room and the campers slept in bell-tents. An early photograph shows the campers dressed in smart clothes sitting round a camp fire. After the war, old railway carriages were used for accommodation but these were gradually changed to caravans and now it is a well-landscaped area of park-homes with its very own community spirit.
14. Old Beam Brook – In 1900 the local inspector described this building as being foul and with holes in the floor and external walls. A small bedroom of 840 cubic feet was occupied by four children with just a thatched roof as a ceiling. There was a fireplace and no stove and only one bedroom window opened. Downstairs there was just a living room paved with bricks and a wash-house paved with stone. There were no drains and the closet was just a seat with a wooden roof on four poles. Such was life in parts of Newdigate during the early twentieth century! Originally the house was a four bay, central smoke-bay house.
Just to the east of the Beam Brook was a small spring called ‘Chilson’s Well’. The water was deemed to have great healing powers and there was even the hope that Newdigate could some day become a second Epsom. The stories were debunked in 1906 by the Dorking chemist, Mr Beetham Wilson, who said that the presence of ammonia rendered it unfit for consumption and that as the spring only produced about four gallons per hour the project was not worth pursuing.
15. Beam Brook Field Station – An aquatic farm was set up here in 1903 and specialized in the importation and breeding of alien species. At one time the site provided animals for scientific research, including leaches. It also supplied animals to schools and educational establishments for dissection.
16. Sturtwood – This house was re-built in 1777 and was probably the first wholly brick-built house in Newdigate. The name is very old as there was a Richard de la Sterte living hereabouts in 1291. Apparently the name derives from the Anglo-Saxon steorte i.e. a little tail of land. The house was re- built by the Wonham family.
17. The Red House – The original house was built in the late nineteenth century by Leopold Goldberg, a prominent London solicitor, of Prussian origin. He lost two sons during the First World War and died in the early twenties, a devastated man. During the Second World War the house was requisitioned by the Canadian Army and left in a derelict state necessitating its demolition. A new house was built in the 1950s using many of the old materials.
18. Hound House Farm – This farm was previously called Twittenhams. In 1981 a disastrous fire swept through the building killing the occupant, Henry Eggleton, who had become a recluse who had never been able to accept modern farming methods. The house was rebuilt using as much material as could be salvaged from the original building.
We now take the footpath heading westwards back towards the village.
19. Newdigate Brick Yard – In 1928 the two ladies from Hatchetts, transferred four fields, including a lake and the ‘New Barns’ to one of the orphans called, Fred Corroyer. He started brick-making and developed a successful business. It closed down during the Second World War and Fred joined the army. Upon his return he sold the business and went to live in Kenya. A skilful brick maker could produce up to 2000 bricks per day. The works closed in the 1974 and the site became overgrown and derelict until developed by the builders, Charles Church. The lakes are now a much loved nature reserve and are carefully managed.
Walk through the Mulberries and turn right into Hogspudding Lane (New Barn Lane) to the end of the road
20. Work House Green – Prior to the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 the poor were the responsibility of the parish and the overseers. This house, which was built in 1796, was the poor house and inmates were given work to do. In 1800 a cloth named Newdigate ‘Frizzle’ was manufactured here and was used for making waistcoats, great-coats and blankets etc. When the act came into force the overseers wrote to the Board of Poor Law Commissioners saying that, in their opinion, they were quite able to look after the poor of the parish, but their pleas were turned down and the spectre of the Dorking workhouse became a reality to the parishioners of Newdigate. The 1841 census records eleven persons living in barns and sheds. They were probably residing temporarily in the village: tramps, itinerant basket-makers etc. The Church Commissioners described the area as ‘wretchedly poor’.
Turn right n Parkgate road back towards the village
21. Gaterounds Farm – This is a timber-framed house of two builds using many timbers from older buildings. Recent research suggests that the parlour wing was originally built in 1579. Apparently one of the outbuildings was designed to withstand a serious bomb attack as it was used, amidst much secrecy, as a planning office for the ‘mulberry harbour’ of D-day fame. Herbert Morrison apparently visited.
22. Brooklag Farm – This is a four-bay medieval house of the late 16th century and became a laundry in the 19th century. It gave its name to Laundry Hill.
We now come back into the centre of the village. The large field is called the Brocus. Originally consisting of Buckhurst Meadow, East Buckhurst and West Buckhurst the fields were purchased by the village as a memorial to those who had fallen during both world wars. The Village Hall was built by Mrs Farnell-Watson in 1901 in memory of her husband, William, and the Village Club was built in 1935. The whole site is administered by a registered charity called the Newdigate Community Centre and there are vibrant cricket, football, tennis and bowls clubs together with active scout and guide groups.
Looking westward there are several medieval cottages, and it is possible that on this site is an area of land described as of ‘ancient demesne’ which means that it was written in the Domesday Book as having been royal land under Edward. This may be the land in the village still known as ‘Kingsland’.
23. Bob’s Shop – This building was erected at the beginning of the 20th century by the Ancient Order of Foresters and is called Foresters Villas. The left hand side was a butchers shop until 1997 and the right hand side was a saddlery until Charles Bettesworth opened a newsagents shop in 1954. Today it is the only shop in the village and is still run by the same family.
24. Wirmwood – This building started life in the late sixteenth century as a central smoke-bay house and a further bay was added in the seventeenth century. Note the construction of the north chimney away from the house. This was a butcher’s shop and the door is extra wide to accommodate the sides of meat. In Victorian times the building was extended to provide a shop which continued as the village stores right up until the 1990s. To the south of the shop there used to be an old, derelict bakery which was dismantled by the Weald & Downland Museum in 1988 and is still awaiting re-erection.
25. The Old Post Office – This house was used as a Dame School until 1873. It then had a variety of uses – a drapery, a stationery store, post office, a hairdressers, a needlework shop and a café called the Copper Kettle. During the war it was the warden’s post. It was converted into a private house in about 1960.
26. Yew Tree Cottage – A small symmetrical timber-framed cottage dating from the early 17th century with a cross-wing built in 1966.
27. The Six Bells – So we return to the church and the Six Bells which was originally called the Bells and then the Five Bells which corresponded to the number of bells in the church at the time. We have evidence that it was first licensed in 1783. Although the pub was built with a central chimney, characteristic of the early 17th century, the timber framing is not substantial and some of it is machine cut indicating a later date. Buildings were adapted and modified to suit contemporary uses so there might have been an older building on this site or alternatively the ‘Bells’ has simply been subject to constant modification over the centuries. What has not changed is the warm welcome and convivial surroundings, and to this day it is still used for meetings and gatherings, just as it was in the late 19th century when the last Manorial Courts of Cudworth met in this very building.