Charles G. (Charles George) Harper.

The Brighton road : the classic highway to the south online

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cleared away by order of the Parliament in 1648. Now, after many centuries
of change in ownership, the hill on which that fortress stood is
contemptuously tunnelled, to give a more direct road through the town.

[Sidenote: REIGATE HILL]

In this connection, Cobbett, coming to Reigate through Sutton in 1823, is
highly entertaining. The tunnel was then being made, and it did not please
him. "They are," he vociferates, "in order to save a few hundred yards'
length of road, cutting through a hill. They have lowered a little hill on
the London side of Sutton. Thus is the money of the country actually
thrown away: the produce of labour is taken from the industrious and given
to the idlers. Mark the process; the town of Brighton, in Sussex, fifty
miles from the Wen, is on the seaside, and is thought by the stockjobbers
to afford a _salubrious air_. It is so situated that a coach which leaves
it not very early in the morning reaches London by noon; and, starting to
go back in two hours and a half afterwards, reaches Brighton not very late
at night. Great parcels of stockjobbers stay at Brighton with the women
and children. They skip backward and forward on the coaches, and actually
carry on stock-jobbing in Change Alley, though they reside at Brighton.
The place is, besides, a great resort with the _whiskered_ gentry. There
are not less than about twenty coaches that leave the Wen every day for
this place; and, there being three or four different roads, there is a
great rivalship for the custom. This sets the people to work to shorten
and to level the roads; and here you see hundreds of men and horses
constantly at work to make pleasant and quick travelling for the Jews and
jobbers. The Jews and jobbers pay the turnpikes, to be sure; but they get
the money from the land and labourers. They drain these, from John o'
Groat's House to the Land's End, and they lay out some of the money on the
Brighton roads."

Cobbett is dead, and the Reform Act is an old story, but the Jews and the
jobbers swarm more than ever.


The tunnel through the castle hill was made by consent of the then owner,
Earl Somers, as a tablet informs all who care to know. The entrance
towards the town is faced with white brick, in a style supposed to be
Norman. Above are the grounds, now public, where a would-be mediæval
gateway, erected in 1777, quite illegitimately impresses many innocents,
and below is the so-called Barons' Cave, an ancient excavation in the soft
sandstone where the Barons are (quite falsely) said to have assembled in
conclave before forcing their will upon King John at Runnymede. Unhappily
for that tradition, the then Earl Warenne was a supporter of the tyrant
king, and any reforming barons he might possibly have entertained at
Reigate Castle would have been kept on the chain as enemies, and treated
to the cold comfort of bread and water.

[Illustration: THE TUNNEL, REIGATE.]

There are deeper depths than these castle caves, for dungeon-like
excavations exist beside and underneath the tunnel; but they are not so
very terrible, exuding as they do strong vinous and spirituous odours,
proving that the only prisoners languishing there are hogsheads and

Reigate, dropping its intermediate name of Cherchefelle on Ridgegate,
became variously Reigate, Riggate, and Reygate in the thirteenth century.
The name obviously indicates a gate - that is to say, a road - over the
ridge of the downs; presumably that road upon which Gatton, the
"gate-town," stood. Strongly supporting this theory, Wray Common and Park
are found on the line of road between Reigate and Gatton. If we select
"Reygate" from the many variants of the place-name, and place it beside
that of Wray Common, we get at once the phonetic link.

When Reigate lost the two members it sent to Parliament, it lost much more
than the mere distinction of being represented. It lost free drinks and
money to jingle in its pockets, for it was openly corrupt - in fact,
neither better nor worse than most other constituencies. What else, when
you consider it, could be expected when the franchise was so limited that
the electors were a mere handful, and votes by consequence were
individually valuable. In short, the best safeguard against bribery is to
so increase the electorate that the purchase of votes is beyond the
capacity of a candidate's pockets.

Modern circumstances have, indeed, so wrought with country towns of the
Reigate type that they are merely the devitalised spooks of their former
selves, and Reigate would long ere this have been on the verge of
extinction, had it not been within the revivifying influence of the
suburban area. It is due to the Wen, as Cobbett would call it, that
Reigate is still at once so old-world and so prosperous. It is surrounded
by semi-suburban estates, but is in its centre still the Reigate of that
time when the coaches came through, when royalty and nobility lunched at
the still-existing "White Hart," and when fifty miles made a long day's

Reigate town was the property, almost exclusively, of the late Lady Henry
Somerset. By direction of her heir, Somers Somerset, it was, in October,
1921, sold at auction in several lots.

There are some in Reigate who dwell in imagination upon old times. Not by
any means the obvious people, the clergy and the usual kidney; they find
existence there a vast yawn. The antiquarian taste revealed itself by
chance to the present inquirer in the person of a policeman on duty by the
tunnel, who knew all about Reigate's one industry of digging silver-sand,
who could speak of the "Swan" inn having once possessed a gallows sign
that spanned the road, and knew all about the red brick market-house or
town hall being built in 1708 on the site of a pilgrims' chapel dedicated
to St. Thomas à Becket. He could tell, too, that wonderful man, of a
bygone militant parson of Reigate, who, warming to some dispute, took off
his coat in the street and saying, "Lie there, divinity," handsomely
thrashed his antagonist. "I like them old antidotes," said my constable;
and so do I.



Reigate Church has been many times restored, and every time its monuments
have suffered a general post; so that scarce an one remains where it was
originally placed, and very few are complete.

The most remarkable monument of all, after having been removed from its
original place in the chancel to the belfry, has now utterly vanished. It
is no excuse that its ever having been placed in the church at all was a
scandal and an outrage, for, being there, it should have been preserved,
as in some sort an illustration of bygone social conditions. But the usual
obliterators of history and of records made their usual clean sweep, and
it has disappeared.

It was a heart-shaped monument, inscribed, "Near this place lieth Edward
Bird, Esq., Gent. Dyed the 23rd of February, 1718/9. His age 26," and was
surmounted by a half-length portrait effigy of him in armour, with a full
flowing wig; a truncheon in his right hand, and in the background a
number of military trophies.

The especial scandal attaching to the fact of this monument ever having
been placed in the church arises from the fact that Edward Bird was hanged
for murder. Some particulars are gleaned from one of the many catchpenny
leaflets issued at the time by the Ordinary - that is to say, the
Chaplain - of Newgate, who was never averse from adding to his official
salary by writing the "last dying words" of interesting criminals; but his
flaring front pages were, at the best - like the contents bills of modern
sensational evening newspapers - indifferent honest, and his account of
Bird is meagre.

It seems, collating this and other authorities, that this interesting
young man had been given the advantages of "a Christian and Gentlemanlike
Education," which in this case means that he had been a Westminster boy
under the renowned Dr. Busby, and afterwards a scholar at Eton. This
finished Christian then became a lieutenant in the Marquis of Winchester's
Horse. He married when twenty years of age, and his wife died a year
later, when he plunged into a dissolute life in London.

One evening in September, 1718, he was driven "with a woman in a coach and
a bottle of Champain wine" to a "bagnio" in Silver Street, Golden Square,
and there "had the misfortune" to run a waiter, one Samuel Loxton, through
the body with his sword. "G - d d - n you, I will murder you all," he is
reported to have threatened, and a farrier of Putney, called at the
subsequent trial, deposed to having once been run through the body by this
martial spirit.

Greatly to the surprise of himself and friends, Lieutenant Bird was not
only arrested and tried, but found guilty and sentenced to death. The
historian of these things is surprised, too; for gentlemen of fashion were
in those times very much what German officers became - privileged
murderers - and waiters were earthworms. I cannot understand it at all.


At any rate, Edward Bird took it ill and declined the ministrations of the
Ordinary, saying "He was very busy, was to write Letters, expected
Company, and such-like frivolous Excuses." The Ordinary does not tell us
in so many words, but we may suspect that the condemned man told him to go
to the Devil. He was, indeed, an altogether hardened sinner, and would not
even go to chapel, and was so poor a sportsman that he tried to do the
rabble of Tyburn out of the entertaining spectacle of his execution,
taking poison and stabbing himself in several places on the eve of that
interesting event.

He seems to have been afraid of hurting himself, for he died neither of
poison nor of wounds, and was duly taken to Tyburn in a handsome mourning
coach, accompanied by his mother, by other Christians and gentlemen, by
the Ordinary, and three other clergymen, to see him duly across the
threshold into the other world. He stood an hour under the fatal tree,
talking with his mother, and no hour of his life could have sped so
swiftly. Then the chaplain sang a penitential psalm and the other divines
prayed, and the candidate for the rope was made to repeat the Apostles'
Creed, after which he called for a glass of wine. No wine being available,
he took a pinch of snuff, bowed, and said, "Gentlemen, I wish your
health," and then "was ty'd up, turned off, and bled very much at the
Mouth or Nose, or both."

The mystery of his being accorded a monument in Reigate Church is
explained when we learn that his uncle, the Rev. John Bird, was both
patron and vicar. A further inscription beyond that already quoted was
once in existence, censuring the judge and jury who condemned him.
Traditions long survived of his mother, on every anniversary of his
execution, passing the whole day in the church, sorrowing.

The date of the monument's disappearance is not clearly established, but
old inhabitants of Reigate have recollections of the laughing workmen,
during the rebuilding of the tower in 1874, throwing marble figures out of
the windows, and speak of the fragments being buried in the churchyard.

For the rest, Reigate Church is only of mild interest; excepting, indeed,
the parish library, housed over the vestry, containing among its seventeen
hundred books many of great interest and variety. The collection was begun
in 1701 by the then vicar.

A little-known fact about Reigate is that the notorious Eugene Aram for a
year lived here, in a cottage oddly named "Upper Repentance."


The road leaving Reigate, by Parkgate and the Priory, passes a couple of
cottages not in themselves remarkable but bearing a curious device
intended to represent bats' wings, and inscribed "J. T. 1815." They are
known as "Batswing Cottages," but what induced "J. T." to call them so,
and even who he was, seems to be unknown.

Over the rise of Cockshut Hill and through a wooded cutting the road comes
to Woodhatch and the "Old Angel" inn, where the turnpike-gate stood, and
where a much earlier gate, indicated in the place-name, existed.

Woodhatch, the gate into the woods, illustrates the ancient times when the
De Warennes held the great Reigate, or Holm, Castle and much of the
woodlands of Holmesdale. The name of Earlswood, significant to modern ears
only of the great idiot asylum there, derives from them. Place-names down
in these levels ending in "wood" recall the dense forests that once
overspread Holmesdale: Ewood, Norwood, Charlwood, Hartswood,
Hookwood - vast glades of oak and beech, where the hogs roamed and the
prototypes of Gyrth, the swineherd, tended them, in the consideration of
the Norman lords of little more value than the pigs they herded. The
scattered "leys" - Horley, Crawley, Kennersley, and the like - allude to the
clearings or pastures amid the forest. Many other entrances into those old
bosquets may be traced on the map - Tilgate, Fay Gate, Monk's Gate and
Newdigate among them; but the woodlands have long been nothing but
memories, and fields and meadows, flatness itself, stretch away on either
side of the level road to, and beyond, Horley, with the river Mole
sluggishly winding through them - a scene not unbeautiful in its placid

The little hamlet of Sidlow Bridge, with its modern church, built in 1862,
marks the point where the road, instead of continuing straight, along the
flat, went winding off away to the right, seeking a route secure from the
Mole floods, up Black Horse Hill. When the route was changed, and the
"Black Horse" inn, by consequence, lost its custom, a newer inn of the
same name was built at the cross-roads in the levels; and there it stands
to-day, just before one reaches Povey Cross and the junction of routes.


Povey Cross, of whose name no man knows the derivation, leads direct past
the tiny Kimberham, or Timberham, Bridge over the Mole, to Lowfield Heath,
referred to in what, for some inscrutable reason, are styled the "Statutes
at Large," as "Lovell" Heath. The place is in these days a modern hamlet,
and the heath, in a strict sense, is to seek. It has been improved away by
enclosure and cultivation, utterly and without remorse; but the flat,
low-lying land remains eloquent of the past, and accounts for the humorous
error of some old maps which style it "Level Heath."

The whole district, from Salfords, through Horley, to near Crawley, is at
times little more than an inland sea, for here ooze and crawl the many
tributaries of the Mole. The memorable floods of October, 1891, following
upon a wet summer and autumnal weeks of rain, swelled the countless
arteries of the Mole, and the highways became rushing torrents. Along the
nut-brown flood floated the remaining apples from drowned orchards, with
trees, bushes, and hurdles. Postmen on their rounds were reduced to
wading, and thence to horseback and wheeled conveyances; and Horley
churchyard was flooded.

[Illustration: The Floods at Horley.]

A repetition of this state of things occurred in February, 1897, when the
dedication of the new organ in the church of Lowfield Heath could not be
performed, the roads being four feet under water.


[Sidenote: CHARLWOOD]

The traveller does not see the true inwardness of the Weald from the hard
high road. Turn we, then at Povey Cross for a rustic interlude into the
byways, making for Charlwood and Ifield.

Few are those who find themselves in these lonely spots. Hundreds, nay,
thousands are continually passing almost within hail of their slumberous
sites, and have been passing for hundreds of years, yet they and their
inhabitants doze on, and ever and again some cyclist or pedestrian
blunders upon them by a fortunate accident, as, one may say, some
unconscious Livingstone or Speke, discovering an unknown Happy Valley, and
disturbs with a little ripple of modernity their uneventful calm.

The emptiness of the three miles or so of main road between Povey Cross
and Crawley is well exchanged for these devious ways leading along the
valley of the Mole. A prettier picture than that of Charlwood Church, seen
from the village street through a framing of two severely-cropped elms
forming an archway across the road, can rarely be seen in these home
counties, and the church itself is an ancient building of the eleventh
century, with later windows, inserted when the Norman gloom of its
interior assorted less admirably with a more enlightened time. In plan
cruciform, with central tower and double nave, it is of an unusual type of
village church, and presents many features of interest to the
archæologist, whose attention will immediately be arrested by the
fragments of an immense and hideous fresco seen on the south wall. A late
brass, now mural, in the chancel, dated 1553, is for Nicholas Sander and
Alys his wife. These Sanders, or, as they spelled their name variously,
Saunder, held for many years the manor of Charlwood, and from an early
period those of Purley and Sandersted - Sander's-stead, or dwelling. Sir
Thomas Saunder, Remembrancer of the Exchequer in Queen Elizabeth's time,
bequeathed his estates to his son, who sold the reversion of Purley in
1580. Members of the family, now farmers, still live in the parish where,
in happier times, they ruled.

[Illustration: Charlwood.]

[Sidenote: NEWDIGATE]

One of the prettiest spots in Surrey is the tiny village of Newdigate, on
a secluded winding road leading past a picturesque little inn, the "Surrey
Oaks," fronted with aged trees. It is, perhaps, the loneliest place in the
county, and is worth visiting, if only for a peep into the curious timber
belfry of its little church, which contains a hoary chest, contrived out
of a solid block of oak, and fastened with three ancient padlocks.

[Illustration: A Corner in Newdigate Church.]

But few go so far, and indeed the way by Ifield has its own interests and
attractions. Here a primitive pavement or causeway is very noticeable,
formed of a row of large flat blocks of stone, along the grassy margins of
the ditches. This is a survival (not altogether without its uses, even
now) of the time when

Essex full of good housewyfes,
Middlesex full of stryves,
Kentshire hoot as fire,
Sowseks full of dirt and mire

was a saying with plenty of current meaning to it. In those days the
Wealden clay asserted itself so unpleasantly that stepping-stones for
pedestrians were necessities.

The stones themselves have a particular interest, coming as they did from
local quarries long since closed. They are of two varieties: one of a
yellowish-grey; the other, greatly resembling Purbeck marble,
fossiliferous and of a light bluish tint. Charlwood Church itself is built
of Charlwood stone.

Ifield is just within the Sussex boundary. A beautiful way to it lies
through the park, in whose woody drives the oak and holly most do grow. It
has been remarked of this part of the Weald, that its soil is particularly
favourable to the growth of the oak. Cobbett indeed says, "It is a county
where, strictly speaking, only three things will grow well - grass, wheat,
and oak-trees;" and it was long a belief that Sussex alone could furnish
forth oak sufficient to build all the navies of Europe, notwithstanding
the ravages among the forests made by the forges and furnaces.

[Sidenote: IFIELD]

In the church of St. Margaret, Ifield, whose somewhat unprepossessing
exterior gives no hint of its inward beauty, is an oaken screen made from
the wood of an old tree which stood for centuries on the Brighton Road at
Lowfield Heath, where the boundary lines of Surrey and Sussex meet, and
was cut down in the "forties." The tree was known far and wide as "County

[Illustration: On the Road to Newdigate.]

For the rest, the church is interesting enough by reason of its
architecture to warrant some lingering here, but it is, beside this
legitimate attraction, also very much of a museum of sepulchral
curiosities. A brass for two brothers, with a curious metrical
inscription, lurks in the gloom of the south aisle on the wall, and sundry
grim and ghastly relics, in the shape of engraved coffin-plates, grubbed
up by ghoulish antiquaries from the vaults below, form a perpetual
_memento mori_ from darksome masonry. On either side the nave, by the
chancel, beneath the graceful arches of the nave arcade, are the recumbent
effigies of Sir John de Ifield and his lady. The knight died in 1317. He
is represented as an armed Crusader, cross-legged, "a position," to quote
"Thomas Ingoldsby," "so prized by Templars in ancient and tailors in
modern days." The old pews came from St. Margaret's, Westminster. But so
dark is the church that details can only with difficulty be examined, and
to emerge from the murk of this interior is to blink again in the light of
day, however dull that day may be.

From Ifield Church, a long and exceeding straight road leads in one mile
to Ifield Hammer Pond. Here is one of the many sources of the little river
Mole, whose trickling tributaries spread over all the neighbouring valley.
The old mill standing beside the hatch bears on its brick substructure the
date 1683, but the white-painted, boarded mill itself is evidently of much
later date.

[Illustration: IFIELD MILL POND.]

[Sidenote: SUSSEX IRON]

Before a mill stood here at all, this was the site of one of the most
important ironworks in Sussex, when Sussex iron paid for the smelting.

Ironstone had been known to exist here even in the days of the Roman
occupation, when Anderida, extending from the sea to London, was all one
vast forest. Heaps of slag and cinders have been found, containing Roman
coins and implements of contemporary date, proving that iron was smelted
here to some extent even then. But it was not until the latter part of the
Tudor period that the industry attained its greatest height. Then,
according to Camden, "the Weald of Sussex was full of iron-mines, and the
beating of hammers upon the iron filled the neighbourhood round about with
continual noise." The ironstone was smelted with charcoal made from the
forest trees that then covered the land, and it was not until the first
year or two of the last century that the industry finally died out. The
last remaining ironworks in Sussex were situated at Ashburnham, and ceased
working about 1820, owing to the inability of iron-masters to compete with
the coal-smelted ore of South Wales.

By that time the great forest of Anderida had almost entirely disappeared,
which is not at all a wonderful thing to consider when we learn that one
ironworks alone consumed 200,000 cords of wood annually. Even in Drayton's
time the woods were already very greatly despoiled.

Relics of those days are plentiful, even now, in the ancient farmhouses;
relics in the shape of cast-iron chimney-backs and andirons, or
"fire-dogs," many of them very effectively designed; but, of course, in
these days of appreciation of the antique, numbers of them have been sold
and removed.

The water-power required by the ironworks was obtained by embanking small
streams, to form ponds; as here at Ifield, where a fine head of water is
still existing. Very many of these "Hammer Ponds" remain in Sussex and
Surrey, and were long so called by the rustics, whose unlettered and
traditional memories were tenacious, and preserved local history much
better than does the less intimate book-learning of the reading classes.
But now that every ploughboy reads his "penny horrible," and every gaffer
devours his Sunday paper, they have no memories for "such truck," and
local traditions are fading.

Ifield ironworks became extinct at an early date, but from a very
arbitrary cause. During the conflicts of the Civil War the property of
Royalists was destroyed by the Puritan soldiery wherever possible; and
after the taking of Arundel Castle in 1643, a detachment of troops under
Sir William Waller wantonly wrecked the works then situated here, since
when they do not appear to have been at any time revived.

It is a pretty spot to-day, and extremely quiet.

From here Crawley is reached through Gossop's Green.


[Sidenote: CRAWLEY]

The way into Crawley along the main road, passing the modern hamlet of
Lowfield Heath, is uneventful. The church, the "White Lion," and a few
attendant houses stand on one side of the road, and on the other, by the
farm or mansion styled Heath House, a sedgy piece of ground alone remains
to show what the heath was like before enclosure. Much of the land is now
under cultivation as a nursery for shrubs, and a bee-farm attracts the

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Online LibraryCharles G. (Charles George) HarperThe Brighton road : the classic highway to the south → online text (page 12 of 18)