A journey through time:
The ancient trackways linking settlements at Ewell, Epsom, Ashtead and Leatherhead
Images courtesy of Brian Bouchard ©2011
In discussion of possible reasons for the curious double bend in Stane Street, it has been suggested that a settlement at what became Ewell (from the Saxon aewell - 'river source') was established by the Pre-Roman Iron Age: evidence indicates a native religious centre devoted to the worship of the Celtic gods of wood and water and a later ritual site. Stane Street crossed the district on its way to the Downs and, in particular, has been identified by excavation behind St Martin's Church, Epsom. That edifice stands on a chalk knoll from which a spring once issued and, because sweet water meant life, the place is likely to have become a sacred site in common with Ewell where votive offerings have been found.
This article is intended to explore local routes along other tracks, which could pre-date Stane Street and still survive in short sections.
The Register or Memorial of Ewell in 1408 made it possible for Philip Shearman to draw up conjectural maps of Ewell as the Parish might have been about that date. West Street, as Gallows Lane, is shown connecting at the parish boundary with a way running North to South from Kingston towards Epsom. A deed from the time of Henry VII (1485 - 1507) mentions 'the royal road called Gallowstrete that leads from Ewell to Epysham'. C S Willis describes this part of the route, in reverse, as: - 'Windmill Lane, leading from the direction of Epsom Church to Half-mile Bush and on to Gibraltar'. It is now represented by the wide footpath ascending from Larby Place, alongside the Kiln Lane trading estates, to Fairview Road - where the latter meets the present A24 'Half Mile Bush' appears on the 1866 OS. [If any further information can be provided on the exact nature of that landmark, the writer would be interested to receive details.]
Section of the 1860s OS Map showing the section from Gibraltar
to Windmill Lane - Click to enlarge
Photograph taken approximately from point A on the above map towards Gibraltar
Images courtesy of Brian Bouchard ©2011
Presumably having passed north of St Martin of Tours church, the itinerary continues as Worple Road ['Worple, Whapple or Warple' means a bridle path, often one connecting villages, which in the present case ran through the town's common fields following the ancient subdivisions of Mackerell and Farmy Furlong Shots. It may have been 'the King's street which is between Ebbesham and Estede (Ashtead)' mentioned in a 13th century quitclaim relating to property in Epsom to be found in the cartulary of Chertsey abbey.] Beyond the bend into Avenue Road, Epsom, is a long red-brick wall, listed Grade II (NGR: TQ2094860031), with imposing gate-piers, topped by ashlar capitals, flanking gates which once provided a back entry to Woodcote Grove. In Ancient Epsom, the Common Fields and Ancient Roads, the late Reginald White remarked that originally the way continued through an avenue of mature trees - a fine double row of elms. Evidently the public 'worple' was diverted away from the mansion-house because previously it would have gone very close to the main entrance to reach Chalk Lane.
The Avenue, Woodcote Grove, Epsom c1900
R. White also reported that a 'Mr Garland' had been responsible for the re-alignment and, although he does not say from which generation [Link to Woodcote Grove
], the brick wall has been dated to the 19th century to suggest that it was the younger Nathaniel Garland (1774 -1845). This length of Worple Road became known by locals as 'the New Road'.
The track continues as Woodcote End, passing (after a considerable length of 'clunch' - chalk block - wall, a gateway into the coach-house courtyard of Durdans. Further on, one reaches Upper Woodcote Green on the right, a piece of verge, containing a small pond, presumably once used to water passing animals, which has been registered as a Surrey common. The old lane proceeds, with The Grove behind a wall on the left, to Worlds End, a cul de sac.
Composite 1860s OS map showing approximate location of photos
Click on the red numbers to view the photos.
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Images courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011
The dead-end is closed by a fence around Woodcote Park with tumble-down gate-pillars that once provided access to that estate. Henry I granted the abbot of Chertsey Abbey leave to keep dogs on all his land inside the forest and outside, to catch foxes, hares, pheasants, and cats, and to enclose his park there and have all the deer he could catch, also to have all the wood he needed from the king's forests. Thus the hunting park came to be created in 1155 by enclosure of the south - western corner of the manor of Epsom and the deprivation of public use of ways across the land, including what had been Stane Street. Traces of the old Roman road were discovered by S E Winbolt on 30 May 1936 by the gate mentioned earlier.
Section of the 1860s OS Map showing the section from Ashtead House to Chalk Lane - Click to enlarge
A line may be extrapolated from the stopped-off way at Worlds End across Woodcote Park to an ancient gate in the parish boundary with Ashtead at the junction of Pleasure Pit Road with Wilmerhatch Lane [The latter itself representing a detour around the emparkment back to Woodcote Green]. Close by, in the grounds of Ashtead House, rose a spring which was the source of the Rye Brook and possibly the site [Link to Sytus
] of yet another cult centre. The trackway (mentioned by the late Reginald White in The Ancient Roads of Epsom and District as 'the old pack horse road') had then extended through what became Ashtead Park past the Roman site on which St Giles church and the earlier manor house were built in the 13th century. Another remnant exists as Chalk Lane (described by White as 'a very old piece of lane bordered by exceedingly ancient hedgerow timber), petering out as a footpath to Crampshaw Lane.
Photograph taken approximately from point C on the above map
Images courtesy of Brian Bouchard ©2011
Chalk Lane, Ashtead, by R. White circa 1928
Section of the 1860s OS Map showing the southern section - Click to enlarge
In the 17th century the way continued beyond Ashtead's marling pit (in which the hospital now stands) to what became the turnpike road/A24 - 'the highe way to River Crosse hill' in 1638. Nearby had been the Saxon centre of Ashtead - the stede (great hall/homestead) on one side and the associated cemetery on the other. The road afterwards continued a descent to Leatherhead [Celtic Letorito meaning "grey ford" or Old English Leodridan, a public ford] on a crossing over the River Mole.
The line of Stane Street across Woodcote Park, is considered by Alan Hall in Surrey Archaeological Collections Vol. 94 on pages 232 -234. Dorothy Nail drew inferences about its diversion, in The Meeting Place of the Copthorne Hundred , from the references in 1540 (National Archives LR 2/190 - Epsom Manor rental) and 1679 (Surrey History Centre 31/4/1 - Epsom Manor Survey) to 'Dorking Way' and the association of that name with Langley Vale Road. A plan of Woodcote Common Field from the early 18th century, however, shows in addition to Dorking Way Shot, Dorking Road passing Crick Lane Close to meet Chalk Lane. In Epsom Court Rolls, the latter is described as the way to Durdans or the chalk lane leading to Walton. The 'King's highway leading from the town of Epsom towards the downs (or unto Dorking)' now appears to have continued to Upper Woodcote Green; and further southwards, according to the recently discovered plan of Woodcote Park Estate dated to 1726 , up Thursley Hill to reach Langley Vale Road opposite the approach to Langley Vale Farm. This comes very close to the triangular piece of land, described in the Ashtead Tithe Award as Juniper Green, thought to have been the actual meeting place of the Copthorne hundred. At that stage the only 'lost' section of Stane Street could have been a relatively short link from a known point at Woodruff Stables to the track descending Thursley Hill. Only following land acquisitions by Charles, 5th Lord Baltimore, in the first half of the 18th century would Dorking Way have been enclosed in Woodcote Park to become an estate track. At that stage public use would have been denied beyond Worlds End.
Brian Bouchard © October 2011