Toland, John (1670-1722)

The only known image of John Toland
The only known image of John Toland

John Toland was a freethinker and philosopher. He was born on 30 November 1670 in Co. Donegal, Ireland. His parents are unknown and it has been suggested that he was the illegitimate son of a Roman Catholic priest. Toland became critical of Catholicism at an early age and at sixteen converted to Protestantism. He was supported by Presbyterian sponsors who sent him to Redcastle School in Londonderry. In 1687 he enrolled in the University of Glasgow but after two years he moved to the University of Edinburgh where he received a Master of Arts (MA) degree in 1690.

After receiving his degree, he became a tutor in London and met many prominent figures whom he impressed. They sponsored him to go to the universities of Leiden and Utrecht where he learnt biblical criticism. Again impressing his hosts, he was given a letter of introduction to John Locke which described Toland as a "freespirited ingenious man" and an "excellent and not unlearned young man ... frank, gentlemanly, and not at all of a servile character".

In 1693 he returned to London and then moved to work at the Bodleian Library Oxford on an Irish dictionary. Here he was recognised as a promising scholar and gained a reputation as "a man of fine parts, great learning, and little religion" but he upset the Vice-Chancellor who ordered him out of the city.

Back in London Toland wrote his most famous work, "Christianity not Mysterious" which he initially published anonymously in 1695. A second edition appeared in 1696 under his own name. In it he argued that Christianity should not go against human reason, otherwise the religion would be unintelligible. This contradicted Locke who had argued that some Christian beliefs may be above, but are not contrary to, reason. Toland countered criticisms of his work by saying that parts of the religion are not essential to the faith and are merely puzzles that can be solved or are devices used by priests to exercise control over the faithful. The book immediately caused an uproar and it went before a Grand Jury in Middlesex.

Early in 1697 Toland returned to Ireland and met William Molyneux who found Toland a "candid free-thinker and a good scholar". However, Toland talked about his brand of radical thinking in taverns and eating houses and upset the locals. His book was denounced as an attack on the divinity of Christ and for reducing faith to mere knowledge. The Irish House of Commons condemned the book and issued an arrest warrant. Toland fled back to London defending his comments as "juvenile thoughts" and "unadvised expressions". He was dogged by his comments and in 1702 resolved to "never hereafter to intermeddle in any religious". (Is this quotation incomplete?) But his notoriety, learning and free-spirit attracted many, including politicians. The Whigs liked him for his support of religious toleration for dissenters and the protestant succession.

To earn a living Toland wrote biographies and papers for prominent people putting a new 'spin' on various issues. His work enabled him to get a post as a secretary to the Embassy of Hanover. Toland presented the Act of Settlement and a copy of his book to the Electoress Sophia. This lead to him being introduced at Court in Berlin and Sophie Charlotte, Queen of Prussia, was amused by his looks, wit, knowledge, linguistic skills (he claimed to speak ten languages) and he often walked and talked with her.

In 1702 Toland and G. W. Leibniz began a philosophical exchange that would last for years. Later when back in England, Toland set to work on Letters to Serena (Queen Sophie Charlotte), which set out his thoughts on prejudices and superstitions, hypothesised that motion was essential to matter and argued against Newton's reliance on divine agency.

Toland needed a more stable income than he earnt writing the occasional political piece and sought out patrons but to no avail. In 1707, desperate for money, he went to Düsseldorf where he was commissioned to write a justification for the Elector Palatine's claim to have the right to curtail religious liberty, even if that meant the submission of Protestants to Catholics! Having moved about Europe by 1708 he was back in Berlin but he upset members of the Court for presuming status he did not have and irritated Leibniz by drawing little distinction between superstition and true religion. He moved to Holland and worked on various articles mainly with the theme that primitive Christianity was not characterized by pomp or religious doctrines. He proposed that early Christianity celebrated fellowship, freedom of conscience, and egalitarian values and were free from institutionalized superstition.

Image of the front cover of Tolands In Reasons for Naturalizing the Jews 1714

Toland returned to England early in 1711 and moved into a house in Epsom. For the next few years Toland concentrated on issues of religious tolerance and civil liberty. In 1714 he wrote "Reasons for Naturalizing the Jews in Great Britain and Ireland" in which he proposed that Jews should be afforded the same rights as other citizens.

Toland clearly enjoyed living in Epsom and wrote a description of the town, which is reproduced below. Later Toland went on to consider pantheism - the belief that God is everything: the belief that God and the material world are one and the same thing and that God is present in everything. Toland is attributed with coining the word Pantheism. Toland linked pantheists with methodological toleration, limited to what can be observed i.e. bodies in motion. He concluded that, if life itself is nothing more than such motion, a pantheistic attitude would provide peace of mind.

It is not known when he left Epsom for London but Toland lost what little money he had in the South Sea Bubble of 1720 and with failing health due to drinking heavily and kidney stones, he moved out of the city to Putney. He became bedridden in December 1721 and died on 11 March 1722 in a cluttered room of a carpenter's house. He was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in Putney churchyard two days later.

Toland was called a 'freethinker' by Bishop Berkeley (the first recorded time this phrase was used) and went on to write over a hundred books. Toland challenged authority and liked controversy, his beliefs generated great hostility. He was a complex mix of polemics and toleration, he defended liberty, and criticised religious excess. His importance in understanding the political and religious intrigues of the early eighteenth century is still debated today.

This article was researched and written by Peter Reed, 2006

Skip "IN A LETTER TO EUDOXA" and jump to Addendum

John Toland, writing under the pseudonym BRITTO-BATAVUS and in the style of a letter to female acquaintance, wrote his Description of Epsom. The first edition is reproduced below, without a preamble and a section not relevant to the story of Epsom and Ewell, paragraphed and using a modern typeface with mainly modern spelling.

of the Place:

LONDON: Printed for A BALDWIN in Warwick-Lane 1711.             Price 6 d.

MADAM,                     Epsom, May 30. 1711

EPSOM, a village in the county of Surrey, much frequented for its most healthy Air and excellent mineral Waters, is distant about fourteen Italian miles from London-bridge, and twelve from Fox-hall (Vauxhall). It is deliciously situated in a warm even bottom, between the finest Downs in the world on the one side (taking their name from the village of Banstead seated on their very ridge) and certain clay-hills on the other side, which are variously chequered with woods and groves of oak, ash, elm, and beech, with both the poplars, the intoxicating yew, and the florid white-beam. The wyche tree, the hornbeam, and the correcting birch are not wanting. I need not mention the numberless copses of hazel, thorn, holly, maple, and other trees and shrubs of dwarfish growth, that agreeably diversity all this country: nor that, for the most part, they are amorously clasped in the twining embraces of ivy and Honey-suckles. The Downs, being covered with grass finer than Persian carpets, and perfumed with wild Thyme and Juniper, run thirty miles in length, tho under different appellations, from Croydon to Farnham: and for sheep-walks, riding, hunting, racing, shooting, with games of most sorts for exercise of the body or recreation of the mind, and a perpetual chain of villages within a mile or less of each other beneath, they are no where else to be paralleled.

The form of this our village, as seen from thence, is exactly semicircular; beginning with a Church, and ending with a Palace: or, lest our stile here should offend you (MADAM) it has a Palace for its head, and a Church for its tail; Mr. Whistler's far-conspicuous grove making, as it were, a beautiful knot in the middle. EPSOM never misses of the eastern or the western Sun, and is about a mile in length; the area, within the bending of the bow or half-moon, being a spacious plain of cornfields opening to the Downs. To these evergreen mountains of Chalk you may out of every house insensibly ascend, without as much as a hedge to obstruct the air or the passage. Indeed the Risings are many times so easy, that you find your self got to the top, without perceiving that you mounted. From the circumference of the semicircle there branch out two or three pleasant Lanes, being the extremities of the roads which lead to the town from the slow declivities of the neighbouring hills. These are preferred to the principal street by such as are lovers of silence and retirement; and are known by the names of Clay. Hill, New-Inn-Lane, and Woodcot-Green, in which last place your humble servant has his Hermitage. There are other Al'ees and Outlets of meaner note. Among them I don't reckon the Avenue leading up the hill to Durdans, the Palace I just now mentioned; nor yet Hudson's-Lane, which I remember for the sake of Epsom-Court, that ancient Saxon seat (long since converted into a farm) the mother and original of our subject.

Now, all these By-places are so separated from each other by fields, meadows, hedge-rows, plantations, orchards, and the like, that they seem to be so many distinct little villages, uniting into one considerable town at the large street, in the middle of which stands the Watch-house. Several persons, who have chosen this sweet place for their constant abode, are distinguished from the rest by their habitations, as they are either by their birth or fortunes. But the houses of the very Townsmen are everywhere mighty neat, built most of 'em after newest manner, and extremely convenient, being purposely contrived for the entertainment of Strangers, and therefore beautified by the owners to the utmost of their ability. The fronts are adorned throout with rows of elm or lime-trees, in many places artificially wreathed into verdant Porticos, cut into variety of figures, and close enough wrought to defend those, who fit under such hospitable shades, from the injuries of the sun and the rain. Here sometimes breakfast and supper are taken, as at other times a cheerful glass and a pipe: for these vegetable Canopies, in the very heat of the day, yield a grateful and refreshing coolness, by the fanning breezes they collect from the delicate air of the Downs. The finest of 'em all is that which shades the pav'd Terrass in the centre of the town, extended quite along before the chief Tavern and Coffeehouse.

By the conversation of those, who walk there, you would fancy your self to be this minute on the Exchange, and the next minute at St. James's; one while in an East-India factory or a West-India plantation, and another while with the army in Flanders or on board the fleet in the Ocean. Nor is there any profession, trade, or calling, that you can miss of here, either for your instruction or for your diversion. Behind the houses are handsome tho not large Gardens, generally furnished with pretty walks, and planted with variety of salads and fruit-trees; which in several of 'em are all left free for the Lodgers. Such as neglect their gardens, find their error in the emptiness of their rooms. Thus when you are on the top of the Downs, 'tis one of the loveliest: prospects imaginable, to view in the vale below such an agreeable mixture of trees and buildings, that a stranger is at a loss to know (as it has been observed of my beloved city Leyden in Holland) whether it be a town in a wood, or a wood in a town.

One thing is wanting, and happy is the situation that wants no more! For in this place (notwithstanding the medicinal Waters, and sufficient of sweeter for domestic use) are not to be heard the precipitant murmurs of impetuous cascades; there are no purling streams in our groves to temper the shrill notes of the warbling choristers, whose never-ceasing concerts exceed Bononcini and Corelli: the woods are not frequented by the unhappy, that they may listen to the soft whispers of some gentle rivulet to beguile and mitigate their cares; the valleys are not divided by the curling waves, and sporting whirlpools of rapid rivers; neither are the flowry meads refreshed by gliding meanders, cool bubbling springs, or stagnant lakes. I leave you to guess, whether in these periods I designed to show how well read I am in bombast - romance, or rather to exhibit the various images under which Water naturally delights us in the country.

Ewell, an ancient market town within a short mile, has a most plentiful Spring, the head of a crystal brook; capable, were it here, to furnish a thousand ornaments and conveniences. And I am persuaded from physical reasons, that the digging of a trench about four or five foot deep, for a quarter of a mile (along the rivulet over Epsomcourt-Meadows) from the now-uncertain springs in Church-street, would quickly produce a stream, that in three quarters of a mile further should fall in with the other, and give it the more dignified name of Epsom-river. But this present defect (for I augurate an approaching remedy) is amply recompensed by every thing besides).

The two rival Bowling-greens are not to be forgot, on which all the company by turns, after diverting themselves in the morning according to their different fancies, make a gallant appearance every evening (especially on Mondays) music playing most of the day, and dancing sometimes crowning the night. The Ladies, to show their innate inclination to variety, are constantly tripping from one green to the other; and the Men are not more sure to follow 'em, than glad of the occasion, to excuse their own no less propensity to change. Here the British beauties, like so many animated stars, shine in their brightest lustre; not half so much by their precious jewels and costly apparel, as by the more pointed glories of their eyes. Here every old man wishes himself young again, and the heart of every youth is captivated at once and divided between a thousand deserving charms. A fairer circle was never seen at Baix or Cumæ of old, nor of late at Carls-bad or Aix-la-chappelle, than is to be admired on the High-green and in the Long-room, on a public day. If the German baths outnumber us in Princesses, we outshine 'em in Nymphs and Goddesses, to whom their Princes would be proud to pay adoration. But not to dissemble any thing, bountiful Nature has likewise provided us with other faces and shapes, I may add, with another set of dress, speech, and behaviour (not to mention age) Ordained to quench the cruel flames, or to damp the inordinate desires, which the young, the handsome, and the accomplished, might undesignedly kindle: so necessary is an antidote to Love, where the disease is so catching and so fatal!

In the Raffling shops are lost more hearts than guineas, tho Cupid be nowhere so liberal as in England. And the greatest order, that in such cases can be expected (however to me it be a rout) is preserved at the Gaming-tables of every kind; where it is very diverting for a stander by to observe the different humours and passions of both sexes, which discover themselves with less art and reserve at play, than on any other occasion. There you'll see a sparkish young fellow of twenty-five, sitting right over a blooming beauty of eighteen, but so intent on gain and the dice, that he never exchanges a word or a look with her: while a little lower you may smile at an old hunks, that loves his money as well as any in the city, yet losing it as fast as he plays, by having his eyes wholly off his cards, and fixt on a green girl of thirteen, that cares as little for any man there, as he does for his wife at home. The rude, the sullen, the noisy, and the affected, the peevish, the covetous, the litigious, and the sharping, the proud, the prodigal, the impatient, and the impertinent, become visible soils to the well-bred, prudent, modest, and good-humoured, in the eyes of all impartial beholders. Our Doctors, instead of prescribing the waters for the vapours or the spleen, order their patients to be assiduous at all public meetings; knowing that (if they be not themselves of the number) they'll find abundant occasion to laugh at bankrupt fortune-hunters, crazy or superannuated beaus, married coquets, intriguing prudes, richly-dressed waiting maids, and complimenting footmen. But being convinced (MADAM) that you dislike a malicious insinuation, as much as you approve an instructive hint, I abstain from all particular characters; sparing even those) who spare none but themselves. From this account it is plain we are not quite in Heaven here, tho we may justly be said to be in Paradise: a place cohabited by innocence and guilt, by folly and fraud, from the beginning. The judicious EUDOXA will naturally conclude, that such a concourse of all ranks of people, must needs fill the shops with most sorts of useful and substantial wares, as well as with finer goods, fancies, and toys.

The Taverns, the Inns, and the Coffee houses answer the resort of the place. And I must do our Coffee houses the justice to affirm, that for social virtue they are equalled by few, and exceeded by none, tho I wish they may be imitated by all. A Tory does not stare and leer when a Whig comes in, nor a Whig look sour and whisper at the sight of a Tory. These distinctions are laid by with the winter suit at London, and a gayer easier habit worn in the country. Religion, that was designed to calm, does not ruffle men's tempers by irreligious wranglings: nor does our moderation appear by rude invectives against persons we do not know, no more than our charity does consist in fixing odious characters on such as unwillingly dissent from us.

But (that I may not digress too far, tho in a place where you may ramble long enough without searing to lore your way) I am pretty sure I shall be forgiven this transport for unity by our Governor himself. So we usually call, MADAM, a Gentleman of our Society here, that for good humour, good breeding, and good living, is esteemed by all those who possess or understand these qualities. He's a professed enemy to all party disputes, he's the arbiter of all differences; and in promoting the interest of this town, which he has frequented for many years, 'tis plain that he looks upon virtue as its own reward. His choice of the place is of a piece with his judgment in every thing: for as England is the plentifullest country on earth, so no part of it is supplied with more diversity of the best provisions, both from within itself and from the adjacent villages, than EPSOM. The nearness of London does in like manner afford it all the exotic preparatives and allurements to luxury, whenever any is disposed to make a sumptuous banquet, or to give a genteel collation. You would think your self in same enchanted Camp, to see the peasants ride to every house with the choicest fruits, herbs, roots, and flowers, with all sorts of tame and wild fowl, with the rarest fish and venison, and with every-kind of butcher's meat, among which Banstead-down mutton is the most relishing dainty.

Thus to see the fresh and artless damsels of the plain, either accompanied by their amorous swains or aged parents, striking their bargains with the nice Court and City Ladies, who, like Queens in a Tragedy, display all their finery on benches before their doors (where they hourly censure, and are censured) and to observe, how the handsomest of each degree equally admire, envy, and cozen one another, is to me one of the chief amusements of the place. The Ladies who ate too lazy or too stately, but especially those that sit up late at play, have their provisions brought to their bedside, where they conclude the bargain; and then (perhaps after a dish of Chocolate) take t'other nap, till what they have thus bought is got ready for dinner. Yet there rounds of the Haglers (which I would have by no means abolished) are not incompatible with a daily Market in the middle of the town, not only as a further entertainment for the Ladies, who love occasions of coming together; but likewise because a greater choice of every thing may be had there, and at all hours, than possibly can be at their doors: nor would it be more advantageous to the meaner sort for cheapness, than convenient for the neighbouring Gentry on many accounts.

The new fair during the Easter holydays, and that on the twenty fourth of July, are as yet of little moment, tho capable in time to be highly improved. So much for the Town. Nor is my pleasure diminished by excursions out of it: for nowhere has Nature indulged her self in grateful variety, more than in this Canton. The old Wells at half a mile's distance, which formerly used to be the meeting place in the forenoon, are not at present so much in vogue; the waters, they say, being sound as good within the village, and all diversions in greater perfection. The view from the fertile Common in which they ly, is, as from every elevation hereabouts, wonderfully delightful; especially so distinct a prospect of London at so great a distance. But the fortuitous cure of a leprous shepherd (an origin attributed to these in common with other such Wells) appears even hence to be fabulous, that they have never since had the like effect: tho otherwise there aluminous waters are experienced to be very beneficial in gently cleansing the body, in cooling and purifying the blood, the sale that is chemically made of 'em being famous over all Europe. Yet the cold Bath, lately erected on the bottom of this pretended miracle, meets with as little encouragement, as the old story it self does with belies; it not being the fashion in this, as in some other countries, to have all salutiferous waters under the inspection of the parson, or the protection of a saint.

The hunting of a pig there every Monday morning when the only knack consists in catching and holding him up by the tail, is infinitely more becoming the boys that perform it, than the spectators that employ 'em. As for a cold Bath, Ewell would by much be the properest place; since, by reason of the spring, the water may not only be changed for every new comer, but a basin be likewise made adapted for swimming, which on such occasions was the practice of the ancients. But to shift our scenes : from the Ring on the most eminent part of the Downs, where I have often counted above sixty coaches on a Sunday evening, and whence the painter must take his view when he represents EPSOM, you may distinctly see nine or ten counties in whole or in part. Besides the Imperial city of London, very many considerable towns, and an infinite number of countryseats, you also see the two Royal palaces of Windsor and Hampton-Court.

Within a mile and a half is the place where that other splendid palace of Nonsuch lately stood: a fit subject of reflection for those, who are inclined to moralize on the frailty, uncertainty, and vicissitude of all things. The great number of Gentlemen and Ladies, that take the air every evening and morning on horseback, and that range either singly or in separate companies over every hill and dale, is a most entertaining object. You can never miss of it on the fine grounds of the new orbicular Race, which may well be termed a rural Cirque. The four-mile course over the Warrenhouse to Carshalton, a village abounding in delicious springs as much as we want 'em, seldom likewise sails to afford me this pleasure: having all the way in my eye (like some cynosure) the tufted trees of the old Roman fortification Burrough, properly situated to crown the Downs, and once in my opinion reigning over all the groves. I except not that of Durdans famous for Love, nor even Ashted-mount the mansion of the Graces. Sutton and Cheam, is not too low, are yet too dirty; as Walton and Hedly are too windy in winter, too woody, and therefore too close, in summer. This I insert for your information, noblest CHERUSCUS, to whom I'm confident EUDOXA will communicate this letter; since you have wisely resolved (as you do every thing) to purchase a summer retreat, cost what it will, somewhere in this neighbourhood.

But whether you gently step over my favourite Meadows, planted on all sides quite to Woodcot-seat, in whose long grove I often converse with my self: or that you walk further on to Ashtead-house and Park, the sweetest spot of ground in our British world: or ride still further to the enchanting prospect of Box-hill, that temple of Nature, no where else to be equalled for affording so surprising and magnificent an idea both of heaven and earth: whether you lose your self in the aged yew-groves of Mickle-ham, as the river Mole dos hide it self in the Swallows beneath, or that you had rather try your patience in angling for trouts about Leatherhead: whether you go to some Cricket-match and other prizes of contending villagers, or choose to breath your horse at a Race, and to follow a pack of hounds in the proper season: whether, I say, you delight in any or everyone of these, EPSOM is the place you must like before all others. I that love the country entirely, and to partake in same measure of most diversions (except gaming) have fixt my residence here, where I continue the whole summer, and whither I withdraw frequently in winter. Nor are these I now named my only inducements: for as I prefer Retirement to Solitude, and so would have it in my power to be alone or in company at pleasure, I could be no where better fitted besides; every body meeting his acquaintance on the Bowling-greens, in the Coffee-houses, or on the Downs, and few visiting others at their houses unless particularly invited, or where friendship has made all things common. 'Tis otherwise among themselves with chance-lodgers, who come purely for diversion. In two or three hours time I can be at London, whenever I will, at my ease; and, if I have no business in town, I can receive all the public news as well, and almost as soon, at EPSOM: several stage coaches going and returning every day, with town and country wagons more than once a week, not to mention the ordinary post.

Here then, EUDOXA, let me have Books and Bread enough without Dependence, a bottle of Hermitage and a plate of Olives for a select friend, with an early Rose to present a young Lady, as an emblem of discretion no less than of beauty; and I ingloriously resign (from that minute) my share of all titles and preferments to such as are in love with hurry, pay court to envy, or divert themselves with care, to such as are content to square their lives by the smiles or frowns of others, and who are resolved to live poor that they may die rich. Let some therefore hide their aking scars under laurels, or raise estates to their children by ruining their clients, or squander the gettings of their fathers in corrupting elections against their country, while' others kill whom they can't cure, or preach what they don't believe: but grant me, ye powers, luxurious Tranquillity!

You have here (MADAM) the description that you demanded of EPSOM, and my reasons for liking the place. But the main attractive is still unsaid. I have other Mistresses that charm me in the neighbourhood, beside those which may be gained with some address and pains in a town so well stockt with beauties. I make no question but you'll presently think, I mean the lonely Shepherdesses on the wide downs, or the plain farmers daughters as they go to hay-making, to harvest, nutting, a milking, or perhaps to turn in or out their harmless cattle: amours that Gods and Heroes have not distained. This, I repeat it, will be your first thought, which would be uncivil to me to contradict. But I know your next reflection will be, that I allude to the nine Muses, which meet me in every lawn and every grove, in every shady bower and solitary glade. Minerva is to be met on our Downs as well as Diana: and is ever I go a hunting, 'tis always (as a learned Roman has recorded of himself) with a packer-book and a pencil, that is I happen to take nothing, I may yet bring something home. Nor is this all. To us lovers of the country, the towing of oxen, the bleating of sheep, the pipeing of shepherds, and the whistling of hinds, are charms for which the men of noise and business, with the men of pleasure falsely so called, have neither taste nor ear. O refreshing Zephirs, bearing odours and spices on your wings, sweeter than all artificial perfumes! O ye wild fruits and berries, ye tender buds and fragrant flowers, cropt with my own hands, preferable to the repasts of Bishops! O cooling shades and grots, ye retired caves, mossy springs, and awful woods! ye spacious plains, echoing valleys, and majestick hills, far more pleasant than the well known Courts of Princes! I call you all to witness, that, tired with sport or study, and sleeping on the grass under a spreading beech, I enjoy not a more solid and secure Repose, than the proudest monarch in his gilded Palace? In such places, MADAM (is I dare flatter my self that I am sometimes happy in your remembrance) you'll imagine to see me wandering as void of care as of ambition, and always a book in my hand or in my head: yet still with a design of returning more entertaining to private conversation, or more serviceable to public Society. But wherever I am, or however employed, you may depend upon it (and I know you'll generously do so) that as none is higher in my esteem, so none is oftener in my thoughts, than I the every way incomparable EUDOXA. Of this the consciousness of her own worth assures her: and therefore 'tis purely from obliges me to add, that with a zeal and sincerity not possible to be expressed, I am,


Your most faithful, obedient, and devoted servant



I forget to tell you, MADAM, that we have prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays, and two Sermons every Sunday, not to speak (unless among friends) of Dissenting Meeting-house.

A Specimen of LETTERS out of PLINY.
SIR, Epsom, Aug. 4. 1711.

If you had as much amusement in reading, as I had in writing the Description of Epsom, I can for once forgive your compliments, and so will answer your three questions. The old Saxon name of this place was EBBISHEIM, which is to say EBBA'S home or palace, afterwards Ebbesham and Ebs-ham, the pronunciation of this last word occasioning the present name of EPSOM. I am not the first, as you intimate, that 'made Burrough a Roman fortress ; for if you look into Dr.Gale's posthumous edition of Antonin's Itinerary, you'll find there were Roman garrisons not only at Burrough (called by the Saxons Burgh from the old fort) but likewise at Gatton, Bensbury, Wimbledon, and such other advantageous posts near the city NOVIOMAGUM on Woodcote-warren, whereof there are yet to be see considerable remains, as Roman coins, tiles, several deep wells, and, as he says, the vestiges of the very streets, which I shall soon examine. As for your complaining, that of all county enjoyments I have past over or but slightly mentioned Agriculture, the principal and the best; be pleased to understand, that my silence on this subject is not the effect of forgetfulness, but of express deliberation, having engaged to furnish EUDOXA with one hour's entertainment more out of Surrey, where Art and Improvement will bear as great a share, as Nature did in the other.


By way of commentary, it should be explained that Toland spent some of his time in London socialising with Huguenot refugees from religious persecution in France and, in particular, he became a friend of Pierre Des Maizeaux who, in 1726 published (re-printed 1747), The Miscellaneous Works of Mr John Toland: now first published from his original manuscripts. This compilation [accessible in digital form via Google books] contains a footnote to The Description of Epsom, which is lacking from the original reproduced above, as follows:
"The old Saxon name of this place was Ebbesheim, which is to say Ebbba's home or Palace, so called from Ebba a Queen of this Country: as afterwards Ebbisham and Eb's-ham, the corrupt pronunciation of this last word occasioning the present name of Epsom. Surrey, and Sussex, with part of Hampshire, made up the Kingdom of the South Saxons, founded by the valiant Ella, next after that of Kent, and continued in his posterity to Ethelwolf, the first Christian King, whose Queen was Ebba, of whom Thomas Rudborne, who wrote in the time of Henry III thus speals in his Manuscript Chronicle in the Cotton Library (Nero A. 17.) Regina vero nomine Ebbe in sua, id est Wiccianorium provincia, fuerat baptizata. Erat autem Gustridi filia, fratris Ruheri, qui ambo cum suo populo Christiani fuerant. [The Queen whose real name was Ebba, had been baptised in her own province, i.e. that of the South Saxons. She was, moreover, the daughter of Gustridus, the brother of Ruberus, both of whom in common with their people had become Christians.] Guildford was the summer residence of the South Saxon Kings."
Gordon Home, writing Epsom, its history and surroundings in 1901, however, asserts Toland's reference to Ethelwolf was inaccurate because Eidilwalch seemed to have been the first King of the South Saxons to accept Christianity.

In his Handbook of Epsom, published 1860, C.J. Swete advances Toland's story a little further by observing that "Saxon women of rank were frequently named after their inheritances" and so, when princess Ebba was baptised a Christian, by Bishop Wilfred in AD 660, she took her name from a "gushing spring" which flowed intermittently and then disappeared, "called the Earthbourn"- reflecting the Saxon word Ebbe meaning "ebb or recede" because the flow dried up during the Summer months. [Link to A Brief History] As Swete observes, poetically, the "very name bespeaks the presence of the 'fountain goddess'".

Toland mentions Hudson's Lane and Epsom Court, "that ancient Saxon seat long since converted into a farm" and, in Des Maizeaux's version, adds another footnote:
"In old writings it's likewise call'd Ebbysham-place: now only a great name and nothing more to be seen, but an oblong square area rais'd higher than the other ground on the south-east of the house. Abundance of wrought stone, of Roman bricks and tileas are often dug up about the farm and some of the fields do yet preserve the name of a Park".
The implication that a Roman villa one stood in this location could be supported by a ready availability of fresh water from a stream running north of the site and featured on the earliest OS maps. This was probably Toland's "rivulet over Epsomcourt-meadows" and his "trench", proposed to connect "now uncertain springs in Church Street", was intended to augment other feeders and establish an "Epsom River". The springs, already mentioned above appear to have emanated from the chalk knoll on which St Martin of Tours' Church stands. In 1690 a bridge needed to be repaired in order to maintain access to "the place leading to the church". In 1901, Gordon Home observed: - "This [Earthbourn] even in comparatively recent years used to flow down the Worple Road and across the meadows by the present Parade and flood the fields at the lower end of Church Street where the Town Hall, the Institute, and other buildings now stand, and at the present time it is carried off by drains."

Of further interest is Toland's reference to the "Warrenhouse" which would have stood on what became the Hare Warren, belonging to Frederick, Prince of Wales, situated above Langley Vale. This had been used as a viewing point above the old, straight, horseracing course, superseded by "the new orbicular Race, which may well be termed a rural Cirque". As to the letter, "out of Pliny", Woodcote Warren was in the parish of Beddington and should not be confused with Woodcote Park, Epsom, whilst the ancient Noviomagus is supposed by other writers to have been at Old Croydon.

John Toland lived at Putney from about 1716 because the place was close enough to London for him to go to there and get back home within a day. In anticipation of his impending death, he wrote his own epitaph, in Latin, but it was never inscribed upon any memorial stone. Consequently, it is perhaps worth adding part of an elegy, To the ingenious Mr Toland, published within days of his passing.

Toland's epitaph
Toland's epitaph

Addendum courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2009
Member of Leatherhead and District Local History Society