Langley Vale - A Village In A Valley

Photo of Epsom, from Langley Bottom 1927, ref. 79663
Reproduced courtesy of Francis Frith.

Epsom, from Langley Bottom 1927

This short article about the village includes items originally collected by Langley Vale Womens' Institute History Group for a Millennium exhibition at the Vale School and subsequently enlarged and published as 'Langley Vale - Memories of a Surrey Village'. The book is available from any library.

Langley Vale, originally called Langley Bottom, is a small village in the Borough of Epsom and Ewell. It is situated on Epsom and Walton Downs approximately South of the Racecourse.

The exact history of Langley Vale is difficult to ascertain accurately. Jeremy Harte, Bourne Hall Museum Curator, thinks it is likely that it was farmed before the Black Death of the fourteenth century. Robert Morden's map of about 1695 shows 'the race' but no houses.

Drawing showing the field layout in 1802 - based on the map in The Surrey History Centre reference 239S/4/1
Drawing showing the field layout in 1802 - based on the map in The Surrey History Centre reference 239S/4/1

Langley Bottom is marked on a map of 1802 commissioned by Richard Bagot of Ashtead (Surrey History Centre 239S/4/1) as 'a farm in the parish of Epsom the property of Richard Howard'. The outline of the farm is recognisably the village of the twenty-first century. The tithe map of 1838 and the tithe returns of 1843 demonstrate that it was still being farmed. The Warren is marked and buildings listed. The Warrener's cottage and part of the wall are the only remaining parts visible today and English Heritage has listed them as Grade II buildings. The wall is believed to be one of only two surviving in England. The Hare Warren is marked on Rocque's map of 1768.

Village legend had it that Charles II had a hunting lodge at The Warren but no definite documentary evidence has so far been found. There is a reference in a 1910/1915 survey to an area of the Warren 'dating from Charles II', but it has not been possible to find any mention at all of it in the relevant State Papers in the National Archives at Kew. Patricia Berry's book contains a picture of a well which claims to date from Charles II. Again, no other evidence so far - was it Victorian 'spin'? Maybe we shall never know but it makes a nice story.

1888 Sales Particuars
1888 Sales Particuars

The land was part of the Ashtead Park Estate of the Howard family and came into the possession of Mary Howard of Ashtead in 1819 when her father died. She died in 1877 and the land reverted to the Bagot family trustees. The land was sold in 1888.

The 1888 sale documents show the line of a proposed railway line (exactly which one is not clear) running approximately N-S through the village and plots are priced. These were eventually sold to various individuals. Some purchases appear to have been speculative and some re-possessions took place with part built houses were sold on for completion. It is not known when the more genteel name of Langley Vale was adopted suggestions include the 1920s, 1930s and 40s.

The community was fairly self-sufficient so far as entertainment and social groups were concerned. Scouts, Guides, Cubs & Brownies, a Play Group, Horticultural Society and The Langley Players Amateur Dramatic Group and a football team meant there was plenty for all to do. There was a tin church on the same site as the present St Stephen's Church. Central to the village were the shops - a general store and post office, greengrocer, butcher, newsagent.

Most large houses have either been demolished or the garden sold and developed, but it remains a friendly place to live and there are always the Downs for exercise and fresh air.

Council minutes suggest life was rather hard for some residents. To start with there was no individual water supply and only cesspit drains. The water was brought up and sold from a water cart during shortages. One individual was fined for taking water from a trough on the Downs. The Council installed stand-pipes where water was collected in buckets - often by children. Piped water finally arrived but one resident told how her father didn't trust taps - if they were left running, the cess pit would fill up and it cost too much to have it emptied more frequently. Although life seems hard by today's standards, everyone we spoke to considered their childhood to have been happy.

The children went to school in Ashtead - either walking or, for the little ones, by horse and cart. Eventually a temporary village school opened in 1923 - it closed in 1999!

Village School 1923-1999
Vale School Opened Sept 1999
Top Image - Village School 1923-1999,
Lower Image - Vale School Opened Sept 1999
Images courtesy of Hazel Walker.

Some of the older villagers had wonderful tales to tell about the old school - a headmaster who wanted the racing results, a boy who arrived smelling of stables and a stove catching fire to mention a few. Butterfly bombs and days in the air-raid shelter, old fashioned horse drawn gypsy caravans, characters among the villagers and children playing in the road with hoops.

The Old Tin Church which stood on the site of the present Village Hall car park
The Village Hall
Top Image - The Old Tin Church which stood on the site of the present Village Hall car park,
The Village Hall
Images courtesy of Hazel Walker.

At one time there were at least five race-horse training stables in the village and during WWII a mounted section of the Home Guard was set up, based in George Duller's yard. Phyllis Dixey lived in Strand House - one lady recalled her brother peeping through the fence watching her showering under a bucket in the garden!

65 Rosebery Road formerly a hut on the Woodcote Camp
65 Rosebery Road formerly a hut on the Woodcote Camp
Image courtesy of Hazel Walker.

Now most of the large houses have gone - replaced with small groups of houses and tiny gardens. The whole appearance of the village has changed, as has happened throughout the country.

This article was written by Angela Clifford 2007

For accounts of growing up in Langley Vale do read our Langley Vale Remembered page.