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This page is for bits and pieces of interesting local history that are too short to warrant a page of their own. Unless otherwise stated the source of the information is Jeremy Harte, Curator, Bourne Hall Museum (Opens in a new window).

Index

Click on the name to jump to the relevant entry
Abstract Realism
Anarchist-cum-Teacher
Animal Welfare
Anyone for Cricket?
Archery
Bang!
Blind Guide
Bonesetter
BottomsUp
Canadian Connection
Catholic Painter
Copycats
Derby Day Riot
Drunk & Disorderly
Epsom Salts
Epsom World First
First Response
Ghostly Prophecy
Great brushwork
Hello, Hello, Hello what do we have here Dobbin?
Illustrations
It's a fair cop
Let there be light
LocalHero
Location, Location, Location
Look after your pennies
Men in white coats
Midnight flit
Missionary to Epsom
Not Robin Hood but...
Number Please
Prince Monolulu
Refugee
Sanctuary
Sinner
So much for equal rights
TheAlbanianConnection
The Plague
The Space Race
Too good for his own good?
Travellers
Trouble and Strife
Two angels and an owche (New 20/12/2009)
Two Left Feet
Victoria B.
Vroom Vroom
Wash Day Blu
Yiddish Timetables
 

Derby Day Riot

"Sir John Easthope, the chairman of the London and Southampton Railway, was a keen follower of horses, and within a week of the opening of the line from London to Kingston, in 1833, the company had scheduled eight special trains to take spectators to the Derby. At Kingston, there was a long walk from the station to the racecourse, but such was the enthusiasm that, after the seventh train had left Nine Elms station in south London, 5,000 would-be spectators were still waiting to board the final train. (When they realized that most of them were not going to reach Kingston, they staged a riot.)"

Source: Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain by Judith Flanders, published by HarperPress (2006) ISBN 0007172958
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Yiddish Timetables

Refering to the 1920s : "The Derby was popular enough in the East End for the railway company to print the timetable for summer trains to Epsom in Yiddish; less mobile gamblers handed over their wages to bookies' runners, who slipped illegally into the sweatshops to take bets during tea breaks."

Source: The Earl of Petticoat Lane by Andrew Miller, published by Heinemann (2006) ISBN 0434013307
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Epsom Salts

The powders that are famous throughout the world as Epsom Salts do not come from Epsom. They are magnesium sulphate, which is present in the Woolwich and Reading Beds under the clay of Epsom Common, and percolated into the water of the Old Wells there. But since 1698, the salts have been made artificially. They are good for more than a trip to the loo - Epsom Salts are used to prevent dangerous conditions in pregnancy, and can do wonders for the health of roses.
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Copycats

The Derby and the Spa made Epsom famous, and scattered around the world are many other Epsoms, all named after the Surrey original. The earliest of these was founded in 1727 in New Hampshire, and the largest is in New Zealand - established in the 1840s, it is now a suburb of Auckland. The Epsom near Bendigo in Victoria has a racecourse, and the one in Indiana was known as Tophet until the early nineteenth century, when a bitter well was discovered there.
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Midnight flit?

The whole country was shocked by the runaway romance of Henrietta Berkeley and Forde, Lord Grey. He was a peer destined for high office, and a well-known seducer; she was a hot-blooded teenager, and an earl's daughter. She was also his sister-in-law, which gave them ample opportunity to spend time together at the Durdans. When the news became public, Henrietta fled from the house wearing only a nightgown and petticoat, and took refuge with her lover in London.
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The Plague

The summer of 1665 saw London terrified by the plague, and many left the city. Robert Hooke, the scientist and experimenter for the Royal Society, had planned to follow the Exchequer to Nonsuch, but Lord Berkeley offered him lodgings at the Durdans instead. Here the virtuosos spent their days devising new patterns for ships' rigging and wheeled vehicles, and lowering a board stuck with candles into the well, to test the gases which made them go out.
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Drunk & Disorderly

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, was the most frantic, drunken and witty rake of Restoration England. Epsom, with its fine company and loose women, attracted him; in 1676 he was in the town, tossing fiddlers in a blanket for refusing to play, when he seized one of the locals and demanded that he find him a woman. Rochester was taken to the constable's house instead, and in the resulting brawl one of his companions was killed by a watchman. In the confusion, the Earl fled.
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Bonesetter

Sarah Mapp the bonesetter flourished in the twilight years of Epsom Spa. Born in Wiltshire, she took to the road under the name of Crazy Sally, but her eccentricities were only advertisements for a very real skill in setting fractured bones. In 1736 she came to Epsom, where she was offered more than £100 to stay and help revive the fortunes of the town, but instead she left to marry a London footman. When he deserted her the next year, she was left to die in poverty.
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Too good for his own good?

'Eclipse first and the rest nowhere'. It was a staggering bet, for it meant that the rest of the field would trail more than 240 yards behind the winning horse, but O'Kelly made it with confidence, and he was right. Eclipse was bought for more than £1,800 in 1769 by Dennis O'Kelly, an Irish adventurer. After nine races the great thoroughbred's career was over, for nobody would bet against him. He retired to stud at West Hill in 1771, and remained there until 1788.
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Ghostly Prophecy

Thomas, Lord Lyttleton, was a wicked man and a seducer. Among his mistresses were the two Miss Ampletts, whose mother fell into a decline after they had been dishonoured. She came to Lyttleton after her death, dressed in white, and told him he had only three days left to live. He laughed, and on the third day left London for Pitt Place, where he stayed up until late at night to beat the ghost: but before midnight he was dead of a fit.
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Anyone for Cricket?

Epsom Cricket Club goes back to 1783 at least, and its members often played at Lords. In 1815 they took on the Gentlemen of Middlesex and won (one innings and 358 runs) while later matches against Kent and Sussex were also successful. Until the 1850s, they played on the Downs; after that they came to their present site off Woodcote Road, known since 1935 as the Francis Schnadhorst Memorial Ground after the father of their chief benefactor.
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Anarchist-cum-Teacher

School mastering might not seem an ideal profession for an anarchist, but it was the chosen career of William Godwin, a political thinker who saw government as the corrupting power in society. In 1784 he published a prospectus for his Epsom school, which emphasised a respect for the children's autonomy, and a programme of child-centred learning. He had thought more about the theory of education than its practical details, and too few parents enrolled for the school to open.
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Sinner

A wave of religious fervour, independent of the established churches, swept through the country in the 1770s. Many new chapels were founded, like the one which William Bugby built in 1779 in the working-class district of Prospect Place. His son, another William, preached a stern Calvinist doctrine here. Other Epsom seekers crowded around William Huntington SS of West Ewell. When they asked what the initials stood for, he answered 'Sinner Saved'.
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Archery

The Royal Surrey Bowmen were founded on St. George's Day in 1790. They met at the Rubbing House on Epsom Downs - then a building for racehorses, afterwards a pub - and were a very distinguished group, attended by the Duke of Clarence. The society lapsed in the Napoleanic wars but was revived (without the Royal) in 1937. They shot at Tattenham Corner Stables until Sybil Grant offered them the use of her grounds at the Durdans.
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Refugee

In the years after 1789, refugees from the terror of the French Revolution became a familiar sight in Surrey. Those at Epsom found a sympathetic listener in Jonathan Boucher, who himself had escaped the revolution in America. In Woodcote, the Duchesse de Gontaut found employment in a cottage, making little paintings on stone or ivory. It amused her to see the crowds going to the races, where the English seemed for once to lose their customary phlegm.
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Great brushwork

The rear of Hylands in 1939
The rear of Hylands in 1939
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection

John Constable stayed in Epsom between 1808 and 1811 with Mr. Gibbins, his uncle, at Hylands House in Dorking Road. The great landscape painter never produced any major works while in Epsom but he did paint several pictures of Epsom Common and Hyland House, along with views of St. Martin's church and Pitt Place. He returned to stay with Sir Richard Digby Neave at Pitt Place in 1831, sleeping in the haunted room there.
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Hello, Hello, Hello what do we have here Dobbin?

For many years, Epsom and Banstead formed the furthest beats of the Metropolitan Police. Soon after the force was set up in 1830, they were invited to police the Derby, and in 1840 V division was extended to cover the town, replacing the old horse patrols who had guarded against footpads and highwaymen. The link with horses remained, since the mounted branch of the Met was based at Mannamead in Langley Vale. Epsom was transferred to the Surrey Constabulary in 1999.
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Missionary to Epsom

David Livingstone the missionary wanted his children to grow up away from Africa, and sent them with his wife Mary to England, where the Directors of the London Missionary Society found lodgings for her in Epsom. Livingstone paid several visits to the town, preaching at local churches. Otherwise Mary was left on her own, and began to drink heavily. The children were educated at the Cedars, in a school run by the Misses Eisdell.
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Look after your pennies

Public banking came to Epsom in 1836, when the Guildford firm of Mangles opened a branch in the town, although it was to collapse thirty years later in a commercial panic. Steadier investment came from the London & County Bank (now part of the NatWest) and the Capitol & Counties bank (now absorbed into Lloyds). Commerce was a risky business in those days, and one bank kept a loaded rifle standing in the corner during race week.
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Bang!

In 1859 an invasion by the French, under the Second Empire of Napoleon III, was widely feared. Volunteer movements of riflemen sprang up all over the country, and Epsom hosted the 8th Corps of the Surrey Rifle Volunteers. They trained in Rifle Butts Alley, beside a long valley leading up to the Downs, and relaxed afterwards at a pub in East Street, still called the Rifleman. In 1881 the volunteers became a territorial detachment of the regular East Surrey Regiment.
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Catholic Painter

James Collinson was a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Shortly after converting to Catholicism, he married and moved to Woodcote Road. Epsom was one of the few rural areas with a Catholic church, since St. Joseph's had just been built. Collinson used several local characters for his paintings, including Tom Worsfold, the blind basket-maker, and Edward Scott the postman, who lived off a small army pension in Pikes Hill.
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Animal Welfare

After the town pond was drained in 1854, there was nowhere in Epsom for a thirsty animal to drink until 1876, when two water troughs were put up by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association. These were at the foot of Upper High Street, for the use of livestock being driven to the railway. The Association was a major charity installing water throughout the country; they also provided drinking fountains at Court and Alexandra Recreation grounds, and at Rosebery Park.
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Blind Guide

Tom Worsfold of Church Street was one of the local characters of Victorian Epsom. Worsfold had lost his sight, but as he knew the town well this did not inconvenience him, and he used to earn money showing visitors the way to their lodgings - much to their surprise when they found that they had been guided by a blind man. His main trade was basket-weaving, and in 1862 he was painted by the Pre-Raphaelite James Collinson in a work (now lost) called The Blind Basket Maker.
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Not Robin Hood but...

Old-world figures dressed in Lincoln green could be seen at most Epsom events until the 1930s. They were members of the Ancient Order of Foresters, established in the town as Court Wellington in 1860, a friendly society providing financial help in sickness and bereavement. Right from the beginning, there was an emphasis on ceremonial - candidates did not just join, they were initiated, and a variety of sashes, medals and costumes were in evidence.
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Trouble and Strife

Few writers has as troubled a domestic life as the Victorian novelist George Gissing. He was expelled for college for stealing to support a prostitute, who afterwards became his first wife. When he moved to Worple Road in 1894, he had just married his second wife, whom he met in the street, and who turned out to be violent and mentally unstable. The countryside around Epsom and Ashtead was a blessed relief, and features in his posthumous novel Will Warburton.
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Wash Day Blues?

Laundries provided much of the employment on Epsom Common in the 1890s. One laundry, run by the Lewins family, was to give its name to one of the roads on the Common. Many of the women would wash or iron just one kind of garment, some doing only sheets, some shirts, some even specialising in handkerchiefs. Washing could arrive from London on the first morning train and be washed, dried and returned the same day.
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Illustrations

Erotic, sophisticated, and faintly sinister, the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley thrilled decadent society in the 1890s. His last masterpieces were produced at the Spread Eagle, where he came in 1896 to convalesce from the tuberculosis that was killing him, and to illustrate Lysistrata, the ancient Greek comedy of sex and politics. Subconsciously, Beardsley may have hoped to spin out his last days by returning home, for his childhood was spent in Ashley Road.
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Bottoms up

In the nineteenth century, Epsom drinkers could choose from the products of two local breweries. Bradleys traded from the industrial area between South Street and Ashley Road, and in 1900 the brewery was prosperous enough to be rebuilt. Pagdens had a more unusual location - they were just outside St. Martin's church, in the building which is now the Church House. Both firms were taken over by other Surrey breweries in the 1920s.
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Two left feet

It was an exciting day for Victorian schoolchildren when Lord George Sanger's circus came to town and pitched camp behind Hook Road school. There were coaches and horses, elephants and clowns; in 1900 a young footballer from East Street, George Challis, played a match against one of their elephants. The elephant won 2-1. Afterwards the circus moved to Fair Green, taking advantage of the old charter which had granted a yearly fair, but they left in the 1950s.
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Let there be light

The electric age came to Epsom in 1902, when a small generating station was set up in the Council yard off Depot Road. At first this was used for street lighting; then in 1913, new diesel plant was installed for pumping water to the reservoir on the Downs. Domestic consumption remained low until the 1920s, after which it grew dramatically with 20% more customers being connected each year. When the High Street was rebuilt in 1937, shops were all-electric.
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Number Please

At 3 pm on 18th May 1912, Epsom became the first British telephone exchange to go automatic. As the 340 subscribers threw a switch, they became able to dial each other directly, although outside calls still had to be connected manually in the old way, by operators. London followed suit two months later, but Epsom had been chosen by the newly nationalised industry to test the system. There was a wide variety of users, and the switchboard came under heavy use in race weeks.
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So much for equal rights

Errand boys stopped and stared at the figure with a bag and Post Office badge. It was 1915, and a postwoman was a rare sight - in fact there was only one in the country, and she was at Epsom. Nora Willis, from Horton Lodge, had volunteered for the job to so that a man could be freed for service in the army. By the end of the war the novelty had worn off, and there was a large female staff at the Post Office - all of them sacked when peace came.
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Local Hero

Sydney Martin was born in Epsom in 1883, and learnt horsemanship at Richard Wootton's stables in Treadwell House. In 1914 he was called up with the rest of the Army Reserve, and because of his practical experience with horses he was assigned to the Cavalry Field Ambulance. In September he won the Medaille Militaire for rescuing companions at the crossing of the river Aisne. He returned to Epsom for a hero's welcome at the Public Hall.
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Abstract Realism

The artist John Piper combined realism and abstraction in his views of the English landscape. They owed much to Epsom, and the Victorian villas of his childhood home in St. Martins Avenue were lovingly drawn in The Castles On The Ground, a study of suburbia. In 1917 Piper went to Epsom College, where the craggy towers confirmed a taste for Gothic architecture. He also sang in St. Martin's choir, and painted theatre scenery for the Congregational Lecture Hall.
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Prince Monolulu

No visit to the Derby in the 1930s was complete without seeing Prince Monolulu, the exotic tipster dressed in a garish costume of robes and feathers, shouting 'I gotta horse'. At a time when there were few black people in the country, he played endless variations on the theme of colour, saying 'White man for pluck - black man for luck'. If anyone asked, he was an Abyssinian prince, wearing the uniform of his country, but in fact Monolulu came from St. Thomas in the West Indies.
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Sanctuary

In 1936, Gypsies were banned from their traditional stopping place on the Downs - but they found an unexpected champion in Lady Sybil Grant. She was the daughter of Lord Rosebery, herself fond of caravanning, who held a hawker's licence so that she could sell from door to door for charity. She immediately let the Gypsies into a field, called The Sanctuary, in Downs Road. It was near the Downs, and ideal for horses as it was thick with grass.
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Location, Location, Location

The first British film shot in Technicolor, Wings of the Morning (1937), had a climactic Derby scene complete with Gypsy Queen. Tom Walls made a Derby Day (1952) and when the novel Esther Waters was filmed in 1947, the Downs were populated by tin people who were cheaper by the day than crowd extras. More recently, the Queen's Stand has been in demand as a film setting. It featured as St. Petersburg airport in the 1995 Bond film GoldenEye.
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Canadian Connection

Surrey hosted many men from the Canadian Army in World War 2; many of those in Epsom were from 2 Army Field Workshop of the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps, with headquarters in Ashley Road. The racing industry provided most of the premises, with the major assemblies section at the Durdans stables and training at Tattenham Corner Stables. Some of the men were billeted in the Grandstand, while their officers slept in the (presumably more distinguished) Prince's Stand.
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First Response

Britain's first response to the nuclear threat came in the 1950s, with the formation of a column which could be rushed to the scene of action to deal with serious incidents. This Experimental Mobile Column was formed in the beginning of 1953, at Kiln Lane. It had five officers, a small number of instructors and about 160 national servicemen: all the serviceman were volunteers in their last year of service. They were drawn from the RAF and the Army.
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The Space Race

Colonel Daniel MacGregore Dare of the Interplanet Space Fleet was the front page star of the Eagle comic, launched in 1950. Frank Hampson, his creator, worked at studios in 1a College Road. 'The work-load was horrendous and Frank a perfectionist; every detail of every frame had to be just-so'. Each frame of the strip was based on carefully posed photographs, so Hampson and his staff spent hours blazing away at each other with imaginary space guns.
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Men in white coats

Many famous Londoners spent time in the mental hospitals at Horton, but few were as notorious as gangster Ron Kray. Already serving time in Wandsworth Prison, he was transferred to Long Grove in 1958 when signs of his paranoid schizophrenia became obvious. The family were unhappy about this, and during a visit his twin brother Reg substituted for him, while Ron walked out through the gates, a free man. The trick made criminal history, though later he was re admitted voluntarily.
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It's a fair cop

Considering the vast crowd, it is surprising how little crime happens at the Derby; but there are exceptions. Race gangs have slashed and brawled, bookmakers have run away to welsh on their customers and been beaten up when caught, and pickpockets preferred to do their work right under the eyes of the less observant constables. One plain-clothes officer, Charles Vanstone, caught record numbers of dips when he hit on the dodge of dressing up as a policeman.
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Epsom World First

The world's first purpose-built homes for blind people were built at Swail House, off Ashley Road, in 1952. The name commemorates Martha Swail, who ten years earlier had given £34,000 to the London Association for the Blind (now Action for Blind People). They bought a Victorian house called Worple Lodge, and added fifty flats in long wings on either side. There were guest rooms and a communal dining room, with gardens laid out for the convenience of the tenants.
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Travellers

Born in 1921 at the foot of a waggon beside Walton Lane, Jasper Derby Smith came from one of the great Gypsy families. He mastered many crafts and was an accomplished folk singer, making several records. In 1966 he was a founder member of the Gypsy Council, set up to get a better deal for his people in an increasingly hostile world; through his work, the Borough was encouraged to set up its two Gypsy sites at Cox Lane and Kiln Lane.
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Vroom, Vroom

Every year in March, the Downs host one of the largest assemblies of veteran motorcycles anywhere in the country. The Sunbeam Pioneer Run brings in more than 300 machines, all dating from before 1914, which set out to Brighton; the first run took place in 1938. Riding old bikes is something of an art - there is no clutch, to start with - and many have to be stripped down and put back together by the roadside before the end of the run.
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Victoria B.

From stage school in Epsom to singing superstar in the most successful UK act of the 1990s, from fashion icon and marriage to the most famous footballer in the world. In September 1990, Victoria had joined a three year course at the Epsom school because it was the most professional academy - and even now she professes to be able to tell a 'Laine's girl'. Six years later the Spice Girls cut a record deal, and 'girl power' had arrived.
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The Albanian Connection

The national comedy hero of Albania is an occasional resident of Epsom. Norman Wisdom, the actor and comedian, stays in a flat close to town when not at his other home in the Isle of Man. Wisdom began his career in the army, where his clowning entertained other troops, and made a stage debut in 1946, followed by a series of film roles as a slapstick comedian. In the 1970s he began appearing on television and continues an acting career at the age of 90.
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Two angels and an owche

William Saunder, Lord of the Manor of Batailles was a wealthy man and, in his time, the largest local landowner in Ewell. By his will dated 2 October 1570 he made a number of bequests including "two old angells" to his wife and "my owche of gold with a murrions face" to a younger son, Francis. The angels were coins each worth 10/- or 120 pence. An 'owche' is a late mediaeval term for a brooch which fastened a garment at the front.

In turn, Francis Saunder, describing himself as 'a miserable and sinful caytiffe [wretch]', made his will in 1613. Having died childless, the beneficiaries were mainly nephews and nieces, including, Dorothy Spellman who received "a tablet of gold with a morion's face therein". A 'morion' was a crested metal helmet with a curved peak , front and back, worn by soldiers in the 16th century.
Brian Bouchard © 2009
Member of Leatherhead and District Local History Society
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