The Medieval Park, Ewood Ironworks and Schermulys

Start at the Surrey Oaks.

The name ‘Newdigate’ means ‘on Ewood gate’, and ‘gate’ is Middle English for a road. So Newdigate was the village ‘on the road to Ewood’, and Ewood was named before Newdigate. The first known use of the name Newdigate is c.1164.

The name ‘Parkgate’ is less clear. If it was named when ‘gate’ meant a road, Parkgate was the hamlet on the road to the park. If it was named later, when ‘gate’ meant an entry, it was the hamlet by the park entrance.

The hamlet was small: in about 1800 it had only six houses: the blacksmith’s & wheelwright’s, 3 cottages and a farm. Another farmhouse opposite the Surrey Oaks had vanished by 1731 and possibly much earlier.

Major events in the history of Ewood:

1.Medieval hunting park.

This was probably created soon after 1089, when William de Warenne was created Earl of Surrey and granted the manors of Dorking, Reigate etc., including Ewood. It could be earlier.

2.Ironworks c.1550-1604, possibly replacing an earlier bloomery.

Replaced by two farms with coppice woodland and a watermill.

3.Bought by Duke of Norfolk 1786. He had the Great Pond drained, the old mansion house demolished, and the mill closed.

4. Sale of building plots from 1928.

5.Schermuly Pistol Rocket Factory 1933-1981.


         The Surrey Oaks in the late nineteenth century

 Start at the Surrey Oaks, and walk to corner of Broad Lane.

On the corner of Parkgate Road and Broad Lane there is a plaque which indicate the site of a lime kiln.

In the 18th & early 19th centuries there was probably a lime kiln on every farm in the parish, producing powdered lime to improve the soil.

Several cart-loads of chalk were dug at Brockham or Betchworth and carted down to the kiln; furze (gorse), grown on the farm, was cut as a hot-burning fuel and made into faggots. The kiln was loaded with chalk – a skilled job – and burnt in the kiln, taking about 36 hours to reach a temperature of 900oC, when it converts to quicklime. This reacts with water to produce slaked lime, which is a powder and could be spread on the fields, making the soil less heavy to work and improving plant growth.

This particular kiln appears to have served several farms belonging to the Lee Steere family, and was built on a corner of their land which was convenient to all of them. It was built to a local design, set about two feet into the ground at the top of a slope (so that water could run out through a gap in the wall at the lowest point). An earth ramp against one side allowed the chalk to be barrowed up for loading through the top of the kiln, six or eight feet above ground level. A short tunnel on the road side allowed the faggots of furze to be forked in to feed the fire. The fuel was stacked on the present grassed area. One firing required up to a thousand faggots, and produced enough lime for about three acres of land.

The Duke of Norfolk Cottages were sited on the corner of Parkgate Road and Broad Lane opposite the site of the lime kiln. These cottages were demolished in 1966.

Duke of Norfolk Cottages - 1 Demolished 1966

                    Duke of Norfolk Cottages

Continue a few yards to the end of Mill Lane or just beyond, to look up Broad Lane.

It can be seen that Broad Lane is quite wide. It’s not the best place to appreciate this, but there was enough width on both sides for houses to be built after the road was given a narrow stone surface (so fixing its position) in about 1820.

Broad Lane was a King’s Highway (i.e. a route between places, not just a local lane), and had woodland on one or both sides. A medieval Act of Parliament required that where a highway passed through woodland, it must have a clear swath of specified width [40 feet?] on either side to reduce risk of ambush by ‘lawless men’. [This was probably the 1285 Statute of Winchester, which also made the manors responsible for road maintenance within their manor, but I haven’t been able to check it.]

Turn left and walk up Mill Lane.

Note the width of the road between big banks and ditches on either side: it was a major route at one time.

This is the area of the medieval hunting park. Ewood was part of the land given by William the Conqueror to William de Warenne in 1088 or 1089 when he was created Earl of Surrey as thanks for his help with the conquest.

We can safely assume that it was then woodland, and that William had it managed from the beginning as a hunting park. It is possible that Ewood was already an enclosed hunting park before it was annexed by King William and given to the Earl of Surrey.

A park was a relatively small area of enclosed woodland in private ownership, carefully managed for deer and possibly boar. It was probably coppiced woodland with open glades.


            Examples of coppicing can be seen to the side of the road and for many centuries this provided a vital source of wood. Modern coppice is usually hazel, but many hardwood trees will coppice well. Parts of Ewood have huge hornbeams which were formerly coppice stools, grown because it made excellent charcoal.

A coppice wood is divided into between five and fifteen sections, and each winter one section is cut to the ground and the wood removed. It regrows well (provided there are not too many deer eating the new shoots), and the base of each original plant becomes slowly larger, producing a large number of strong stems.

Coppicing had two purposes. It ensured that the woodland always contained a mixture of habitats for the game, from open areas through regrowth of varying heights and densities of scrub to deep cover in the dense, dark areas which were ready for cutting again. It also provided the owner with a good supply of wood, for burning and for sale as firewood and to local craftsmen.

Coppice was often grown with a scatter of ‘standards’, usually oak trees, grown for timber. These were very valuable at a time when buildings and ships required timber frames.

 A hunting park was surrounded by a ditch and bank, and the bank topped with a paling fence to keep the deer in. (Pales of split oak, secured against a horizontal rail supported by stout stakes, with their pointed tops projecting.)

Deer can leap very well, but are reluctant to risk a big paling fence, where a mistake will cause terrible injury or death. The surviving boundary bank is still up to three feet high and 8′ or 9′ wide; it must have been considerably higher originally.

Hunting was a favourite occupation, but the primary purpose of the park was probably as a larder for the lord’s table. A messenger would be sent requesting five good fresh deer carcasses to be sent to Arundel for the Feast of St Michael, together with ten barrels of salted venison; the park-keeper would arrange for suitable animals to be killed and carted down.

There are few early records of the park. In 1312 & 1314 there are references to the right of ‘free warren’ there. This means that the owner had permission from the king to kill small game, and there is mention of rabbits. These were delicate and very valuable creatures which needed a purpose-built warren with a warrener to care for them (they have since adapted much better to our cold damp climate!).

There are later references to the park of Iwood in 1337 and 1365.

A hunting park needed a lot of labour to maintain the boundary bank and pales, and to cut the coppices. There were major outbreaks of the Black Death in 1349-50, 1361 and 1375. It is likely that the population here was very much reduced and the park fell into disuse then because there was insufficient labour to work it.

A footpath leaves Mill Lane on the left, and a little later another crosses Mill Lane. Between them on the left is an overgrown field which was Lodge Field.

 This was the site of the park lodge, where the owner and guests lodged when hunting there. It may also have been the park-keeper’s house.

Either before or after the Black Death, a large and very fine house was built further on. This was later called Ewood Place, and must have replaced the lodge as accommodation for the owner and his guests.

Once the hunting park fell into disuse, the lodge became a farmhouse and part of the land was converted to farmland, providing produce for the big house.

The lodge and farmstead were demolished in about 1605.

We know that Ewood remained in the de Warenne family and then passed, through daughters, to Lord Abergavenny.

The primary reason for owning land was to provide the owner with an income.

A large acreage of coppice woodland interspersed with timber trees was valuable. There was steady local demand for fuel, and for the wood needed by craftsmen (making everything from wheels to tool handles, wattle fencing, trug or wicker baskets, tubs and barrels, and much more). Coppice wood could also be converted into light-weight charcoal and sent to London for sale as fuel. At long intervals, when a capital sum was needed, some timber trees could be cut and sold.

The farmland would provide produce which could be sent to supply the lord’s table or sold.

Apart from these obvious uses, it is possible that an iron bloomery was established at Ewood. Bloomeries were an old technology. A heap of crushed iron ore and charcoal was covered with clay and smelted, then broken open to remove the soft iron. This was hammered to remove impurities and produce wrought iron, and a new heap made. Ewood’s old coppices would have supplied the charcoal, and there were iron nodules in the clay. If the landowner leased the land to an ironmaster, he would have a good income for no outlay.

If there was a bloomery here, the evidence was destroyed by the later ironworks.

Junction with bridleway.

The bridleway was the original Ewood Lane, and was a proper road.

It runs from Ewood Place and the ironworks straight through Hammonds Copse to Parkhouse Farm. The name ‘Parkhouse’ implies a connection to the park, which could have extended across Broad Lane, taking in Shellwood Cross, Parkhouse Copse, Parkhouse Farm, and Hammonds Copse.

The lane continued fairly directly to the river crossing and main road at Sidlow Bridge, so it may have been a fairly important route at one time.

Junction with the ‘new’ Ewood Lane (surfaced road). On the right, the new section runs back towards Broad Lane; on the left, the old Ewood Lane continues to Ewood.

 The Dukes of Norfolk owned Ewood from just before 1800 until the early twentieth century. With the start of the Depression after WW1, there was a failed attempt to sell it in 1921.

A second sale in 1928 was more successful, as Londoners were looking for country homes. There was a railway station at Beare Green, mains water was newly installed in Broad Lane, and gas and electricity were expected (they arrived in 1933-4). So Ewood had potential.

Some building plots on Broad Lane were sold to individuals, but much of the land was bought by a speculator. He divided it up into large plots – three acres minimum, later increased to five – which were advertised in London. They were sold with various restrictions designed to ensure an exclusive development, including that there could be no more than one house on each plot.

To provide access to the northern part of the land he built a new road, the present Ewood Lane from Broad Lane to where you are standing. It was built in the traditional way, with a base of faggots topped with stone. It was privately surfaced very recently.

Purchasers of plots cleared sites and built themselves houses. Often the original was a shack (the council usually it as a garage), which would provide shelter while a proper house was built. There was no planning permission or building controls, and the houses vary wildly in size and form.

Turn left and follow the road to Ewood

On the left is the site of Ewood Place ….. it is the square field with a footpath to the side.

 Ewood Place c. 1400

This is how Ewood Place might have looked in 1400

Ewood Place c1769

….and in 1769

 Ewood Place was called a manor house, and built possibly c.1300 or even earlier.

The evidence suggests that it was built to an extremely high standard, with huge exposed timbers in the main hall. Was it built as a convenient stopping-point between the Earl of Surrey’s estates in Sussex and London, where he could entertain noble visitors, perhaps?

A medieval aisled hall at this time was just like the nave of a church, but built of massive timbers of pale oak, not yet darkened by smoke and time. Vertical posts topped by horizontals supported the roof timbers, stabilised by tie beams extending across the space. They formed a rectangular building with a high, steep roof which was probably thatched.

A church aisle is formed where the nave wall is replaced by columns and the roof extends out beyond them to a lower side wall beyond. An aisled hall did exactly the same, with the roof extending beyond the great timber posts to form aisles on three or even four sides.

The hall was a communal area where everything took place. The fire was in the centre, and the smoke rose into the high roof and seeped out through the thatch. At one end was a raised dais where the lord and his family or guests would sit, while everyone else ate at trestle tables further down the hall. Food storage and preparation was in the aisles, and everyone slept in the hall.

Gradually the idea of private spaces developed, and the hall was modified. Probably one aisle was removed first and replaced with a two-storey wing containing rooms where the lord could entertain and sleep. Later, probably when it became the ironmaster’s house, a floor was inserted in the hall, allowing a number of chambers upstairs accessed by a stair turret at the back, and a second wing was added at the front.

Continue to the site of the ironworks at Mill Cottage: large flat working area.

This is where there may have been a bloomery ironworks in the 1400s and early 1500s.

In about 1500, a new ironworking technology arrived from the Continent: the blast furnace. Instead of heating the iron ore in batches to produce soft masses of iron in the hearth, using hand-worked bellows, the furnace used water-powered bellows to generate enough heat for the iron to become molten. It could then be run out into moulds, while more ore and charcoal was fed in at the top. A blast furnace could run continuously for long periods.

A blast furnace needed three things: a source of iron ore, water to power the bellows for the furnace, and charcoal for fuel.

Ewood does not look like an ideal site. The only water came from seasonal streams, and the iron ore was in nodules scattered through the clay, which had to be laboriously dug out of muddy pits. But it had a very large area of old and highly productive coppiced woodland, which could supply the enormous quantities of charcoal required. This must be why Ewood became the site of a furnace in about 1550 (it was sold as a going concern in 1554).

It required a huge capital investment.

The estate had to be bought from Lord Abergavenny, doubtless for a very large sum. Unless he paid to set up the ironworks, confident of a huge profit when he sold it as a going concern.

A Great Pond of about 80 acres winter extent was constructed, by digging clay and making it into a huge earth dam called a ‘bay’. It must have taken an army of labourers with spades and wheelbarrows.

If you walk on just past Mill Cottage, you can see the remains of Floodgates Hole, which must be where the clay was dug.

There was always a shortage of water, and at least eight additional ‘bay ponds’ were built on the feeder streams, each with its own earth bay. These bays were smaller than the pond bay, but still major constructions up to about ten feet high.

The furnace had to be built, and all the associated buildings and working areas: storage for the charcoal and nodules of ore; dumps of slag (which by law had to be used to repair the roads used – and damaged – by the ironworks), and so on.

Iron workings

Cottages had to be built for four skilled iron-workers, ‘aliens’ brought over from the continent.

The manor house was probably extended and heavily updated to provide a suitable house for the ironmaster who ran the site.

The main pond bay now has two culverts through it. One was original, the other was constructed later when a forge replaced the furnace. Each culvert had a set of sluice-gates and a huge waterwheel to power the bellows of the furnace or the hammers of the forge. There was a third culvert close to Floodgates Hole, where a set of sluice-gates allowed excess water to escape during floods. They also allowed the pond to be drained periodically so that it could be dredged.


                                         Ewood Ironworks would have looked something like this.

Ewood Mills

 Walk on to just before Ewood Old Farmhouse: this is the site of four cottages for expert iron-workers.


Ewood Old Farmhouse at the beginning of the twentieth century (note that the Victorian extension to the north has been demolished)

 The ironworks were closed in about 1604, and the estate sold to speculators. They demolished the cottages, and replaced them with the farmhouse and farm buildings which they called Ewood Park. This is now Ewood Old Farmhouse, which must date from about 1605 and contains some reused timbers.

Walk back to Mill Cottage.

The whole site was cleared when the ironworks closed. The furnace and all the associated buildings were swept away, and the site remodelled into two farms, each with extensive coppice woodland. One was Ewood Place Farm, based on the new farmhouse which was built onto the back of Ewood Place; the other was Ewood Park, now Ewood Old Farmhouse.

There was one addition to the two farms: Ewood Mill.

Some time before 1575 a corn mill had been built downstream of the ironworks, damming the waste water to power it. [The very flat field opposite Mill Cottage is the site of the mill-pond; the mill was beyond, right on the parish boundary.] When the ironworks were closed, the mill was rebuilt against the pond bay, immediately to the right of the right-hand culvert. The old mill-wheel was probably replaced with a smaller one, but the miller now had direct access to the water of the Great Pond to power his mill.

A little cottage was built for the miller close to the mill. In 1681 it had a small hall with a chamber above, a tiny brewhouse, a buttery where the casks or ‘butts’ of beer were stored, and a storeroom above the buttery.

So Mill Cottage almost certainly also dates from about 1605.

Mill Cottage.

Walk back down Ewood Lane, and pause again at the site of Ewood Place.

 When the ironworks closed and the area was remodelled in about 1605, the farm buildings and Old Lodge on Mill Lane were demolished and replaced by a little farmhouse built onto the end of Ewood Place. A whole new set of farm buildings was added between the house and the pond bay.

By 1786, when the Duke of Norfolk bought Ewood Manor Farm, including Ewood Place and its farmstead, it is clear that the previous owners had failed to maintain it. The Duke had his property surveyed in 1791, and the house was described as:

Ewood Place Farm House formerly the Summer residence of a Mr Morton, contains Forty little inconvenient Rooms, Eight of which have no light but the Door Place, and all of them coming down. The ground Floor lays about four feet above the surface of the Pond at High Water. The Barns, Stables, Hovels etc. are inconvenient and falling down. The orchard is very old and decayed.

The Duke had the house and farm demolished in about 1800. The mill was also demolished, and the Great Pond drained and converted to farmland.

 Turn right down footpath and follow it to the point where it turns left. Here the very flat fields on the site of the pond are very clear.

 Follow the footpath until you have the fence of Schermuly’s on your right. There is then a place where the scrub is replaced by a small grassy area with a path through it, accessed through a wide gap in the fence. The path takes you to Grub Pond.

 On the left, very overgrown, is one of the bay ponds which stored additional water for the ironworks.

The path crosses over the bay of Grub Pond. Look down (cautiously!) on the right and you can see just how deep it was originally.

Grub Pond abutted the edge of the Great Pond. So in walking down the footpath you have walked down one side of the Great Pond – it was very large!

 Return to the main footpath and continue past the Schermuly site.

 Schermuly Pistol Rocket Factory moved from Cheam to a 14-acre field in 1933.


They were working with large quantities of gunpowder, and safety was a priority. The men filling the rockets worked in tiny one-man huts, built of corrugated iron and separated by earth banks. The idea was that if there was an accident, the earth would absorb the blast, and the remains of the hut would not be heavy enough to endanger other workers. The area containing these huts and earth banks was known as ‘Dead Wall City’.

The safety record of the company was impressive. In its fifty-year history here, there were only a handful of accidents.

The company expanded steadily until 1939, buying another 18-acre field.

When the war began, it bought a further 109 acres of land, including Ewood Farm. The factory expanded to about 60 acres with 1400 employees brought in by coach from surrounding villages. The rest was kept as pasture, one of which was used as a proofing field.

The buildings were camouflaged to look like farm buildings, and livestock grazed between the buildings. It worked: the site was never deliberately bombed.

Products included:

PAC rocket carrying a steel cable as defence against low flying aircraft.

Warding off low level bombing attack on a convoy by means of P.A.C. rockets

  •  Illuminating parachute flares used by the Pathfinder planes to illuminate targets for the bombers, and in hunting U-boats.
  • Line-throwing grapnel rockets for the D-Day landings.
  • Buoyant lines thrown by a rocket from lifeboats to help survivors reach them.
  • Rocket-launched kite-supported aerials for life-raft radios, to give them a much longer range for distress calls.

Post-war the company contracted greatly, but still produced marine safety products (line-throwing rockets, distress rockets, flares etc). Also huge numbers of Very Pistol cartridges used in signalling between aircraft and ground where there was no radio.

Ceased to be a family firm in the 1960s. Ended up as part of Pains-Wessex and closed when they moved the remaining production to their Salisbury factory.

The security fence was put in very late: reportedly there was no proper fence round the site for most of its life. But when it became known that the CS gas cartridges and grenades used in Northern Ireland was filled there, there were big demonstrations and threats of violence.

The footpath comes out into the open and runs along the edge of Becket Wood; the concrete path is one of the original Schermuly ones.

 At the road into Becket Wood, cross over and continue down the footpath (it’s the quickest way back, and the bluebells should be out). It comes out at Parkgate Road next to the Surrey Oaks.

 Pause for a moment on the pavement, looking back towards the village.

There is a very clear bank forming the front boundary of the properties. This is part of the medieval park boundary.

It appears not ever to have continued in front of the Surrey Oaks. Instead it ran up the side boundary and then through the woods to Mill Lane. This can only mean that the holding pre-dated the establishment of the hunting park (probably just after 1089), and was excluded from it. So Parkgate was already settled, and probably already a hamlet at the time of the Norman Conquest.

Jane Lilley

Ironworking pictures courtesy of the Wealden Iron Research Group