Stage 17 - Tatsfield to Merstham (11.2 miles)
The route is mainly off-road and undulating, along the Pilgrims and North Downs Ways. Expect a few good climbs and one of the most impressive descents of the whole walk. There are reptiles and dark secrets near the start. Along the route you’ll encounter: stately homes; Roman Villas; ancient Celtic Temples; one of the UK’s largest vineyards; an ancient Pilgrim fort; the highest point on the North Downs Ridge; some great views to the north over London and south across Surrey and the Weald; the odd helicopter parked in front gardens; relics from world wars; our industrial past and great storms; plus the oldest existing remains of a rail track in the world.
The start is from Westmore Green with its central pond and surrounded pleasant buildings including the Old Ship pub, the village hall, the Old Bakery and many more.
Start on the small green next to Ship Hill, just in front of the Old Ship Pub and next to the horse trough. Follow the footpath west to the road and cross over to Westmore Green. Stay along the southern edge of the green keeping Ship Hill to your LHS and the pond to your RHS. After 170 yards and at a T-junction, turn left to cross over Approach Road and then right along the LHS of the road (there is a footpath along the verge and now going south-west).
After 500 yards (at Furze Corner) and where the road turns left, turn right to cross over the road and go straight on along a wide track / lane, on the LHS of a white house and next to a Reptile Zoo and bus stop sign. Immediately entering the track stay right, next to the hedge of the house and through a gate, onto a signed footpath.
Tatsfield Cricket Club hides to the right and behind the white house. The entrance to Beaver Water World & Reptile Zoo is on the right 200 yards further south along Approach Road. The Zoo started in 1980, after an Indian Python was rescued by a local pest control officer. Since then it has grown and is now a rescue centre for abandoned reptiles and other animals. Over time it has become a major breeding centre and doubles as a tourist attraction, with the profits used to care for the animals.
Follow the footpath for 200 yards, when it opens out into a large crop field. Veer slightly right to follow a footpath directly west across the field. After 400 yards the path comes out onto a road (Beddlestead Lane). Turn left along the lane and now going south.
The 200 yards along the enclosed footpath before the field are in the southern tip of the London Borough of Bromley as it impinges into Surrey. The boundaries are marked by Approach Road going south from Furze Corner, and by the hedgerow as we enter the field. This hedgerow also marks the course of the old London to Lewes Roman Road. The route of old road continues south along the field boundary and behind Beaver Water World. After 300 yards its course turns eastwards to cross Approach Road and for about half a mile along the southern boundary of Park Wood Golf Club following the escarpment of the North Downs to Clarks Lane. It then turns south again and descends to cross the M25 at Clacket Lane Services. The course of the road can be picked up again on maps less than a mile south of the services. The Roman Road forms most of the parish boundary between Tatsfield and Titsey and further north a part of the boundary between London and Surrey.
On turning onto Beddlestead Lane the fields in front are planted with mobile phone masts and give the obvious statement that this area is one of the highest places along the Surrey Hills. There presence here record and relay calls and texts through the surrounding airways. To the right after another 0.25 miles (and at 1 mile into the route) is a metal gate blocking the access to a large metal mast and the driveway to something more substantial hidden in the woods. According to some conspiracy theorists, Pitchers Wood hides a sinister secret, which can be seen from above by following the link to Microsoft Virtual Earth (now Bing Maps and you have to zoom in).
In a further 300 yards at a T-junction with Clarks Lane, turn left for just a few yards, then turn right to cross over road onto way-marked path. Follow this downhill between trees. After 130 yards turn right at a fork in paths to join the North Downs Way (NDW). For the next 9 miles we follow the NDW to just before Merstham - it is waymarked by acorn signs.
Our route diverted from the North Downs Way late on the previous stage and has re-joined it early on this stage. It means we take a less direct route between these two points, but it also means we take a much more interesting and varied route. At 6 miles into the route, we do take another “minor” diversion from the North Downs Way, but it is for a good reason and you can read why later.
Just to the left of where we rejoin the North Downs Way there is a gap in the trees with good views looking down over Titsey Park.
The path soon descends some steps, at the bottom turns right to follow the NDW climb and run parallel to a road (B269, Titsey Hill) on our LHS. After 700 yards, where the footpath comes down to the road, cross straight over and turn right for a short distance towards a roundabout junction. On reaching the junction turn left and bear left past a small parking area. Follow the North Downs Way downhill along a lane (Pitchfont Lane) into Titsey Park.
Where we cross the B269, the area surrounding is named Botley Hill. Just off the course about 250 yards north along the B269 (Croydon Road) is Botley Hill Farmhouse. This is an old converted 15th Century farmhouse, originally owned by Henry VIII, with a reputation for good food and real ale. It became a pub in 1994 and claims to be the highest in South East England. Botley Hill (882 feet) is the highest area on the North Downs and the third highest in Surrey after Leith Hill (965 feet) and Gibbet Hill (892 feet). The exact position of the trig point is thought to be at the site of a water tower a few hundred yards north of The Ridge and just over half a mile west of the junction. Botley Hill is listed as one of the 15 Marilyns of South East England – a Marilyn is a mountain or hill with a relative height of at least 150 meters (492 feet). The name was ironically coined to fit in with the name for a Scottish Mountain with a height of 3,000 feet or more – a Munro.
According to British History Online, the first mention of Titsey was in 962AD during the time of King Edward the Confessor. However, there was a settlement here back to at least Roman Times. In the Domesday Book of 1086, Titsey appears as Ticesei and was held by Hamio, Sheriff of Kent. Its assets were recorded as two hides of land, one church and nine ploughs. Today, Titsey Parish covers an area of just under 2,000 acres and has approximately the same number of inhaitants as almost 1,000 years ago. The old London to Lewes Roman Road still forms part of the parish boundary.
The present Titsey Estate dates back to 1534 when huge amounts of land in the parish and surrounding areas was bought by John Gresham (1495 – 1556). He built the large Elizabethan manor house of Titsey Place, which was to be his main home for the rest of his life. He was born in Holt in Norfolk, into a family descended from a Norman Knight who came over with William the Conqueror. He moved to London at a young age and after time became a merchant and financier. He worked for Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and Thomas Cromwell and made his fortune by dealing in trade from abroad, especially Russia and Europe. From 1527 – 1550 he was member of the Royal Household. In 1537 – 1538, he was Sheriff of London & Middlesex and was knighted by the king. Sir John Gresham became Lord Mayor of London in 1547. He died on 23rd October 1556 and his remains were entombed in the Church of Michael Bassishaw in the City of London. The year before he died, he founded Gresham’s School at his birthplace in Holt. He endowed the school with lands, plus a bursary held in trust by the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, who continue to be the trustees of the school to this day.
The Titsey Estate passed down through generations of the Gresham family. During the English Civil War, the family supported King Charles I and as a consequence, in 1643 the house and lands at Titsey were commandeered by the Parliamentarians, but were returned to the family by Charles II at the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.
In the early 18th Century the ownership of the estate passed to Marmaduke Gresham. He was an extravagant spendrift who acquired many debts and by his death in 1742 the house at Titsey fallen into disrepair. His oldest son and heir, Charles Gresham, drowned at sea in 1750 and the estate passed onto Charles’ younger brother John, later to be the second Sir John Gresham. He restored the family’s fortune, but because of the dilapidated state of the great house, he demolished most of it and built a smaller house on the site in 1775. This still stands and forms what is the nucleus of the current Titsey Place. At the same time he also moved the Church of St James and its contents a couple of hundred yards east to beside the junction of Titsey Hill and Pilgrims Way, as it obscured his view of the park from the house.
Sir John left an only daughter, Katherine, she was the last of the Greshams, and on marrying William Leveson Gower the family name changed. The estate passed through generations of the Leveson Gowers until the last two members of the family, Richard and Thomas Leveson Gower. Both being bachelors and with no immediate family, in 1979 they set up a charitable trust named the Titsey Foundation which after their death would preserve the estate for public benefit. Thomas died in 1992 and was the last of the family. Since then the trust has looked after the estate, with the house and grounds now open to the public. Although much smaller than its original size Titsey is still one of the largest surviving historical estates in Surrey.
The surroundings at Titsey Place, as seen today, are largely the work of William and Granville Leveson Gower in the 19th Century. They planted the park and laid out the gardens. William was responsible for the hillside beech plantation, which covers 210 acres and overlooks the park from the slopes of the North Downs. In 1860, Granville Leveson commissioned architect J L Pearson to rebuild the church. This was completed the following year and sits on the same site today. Although small, the church contains many monuments to the Gresham and the Leveson Gower families.
If you make time to visit Titsey Park, there is much to see here. The house and its interior are magnificent with many portraits of the family and paintings by Reynolds and Canaletto. The grounds include a ha-ha, a rose garden, a walked kitchen garden, lakes, springs and a temple. Evidence of Neolithic and Roman settlements, plus an ancient Celtic Temple have been unearthed here. Titsey Roman Villa was at the south west of the park by a stream, near to the source of the River Eden, which rises from a spring in the park. As well as the London to Lewes Roman Road, which forms part of the parish boundary an even older track “The North Downs Ridgeway” passes through the estate as does the Pilgrims Way the North Downs Way and the Vanguard Way.
The Titsey Plantation built on the chalky slopes of the North Downs, has many miles of footpaths running through the woods and is open to the public all year around.
An interesting personal story by a lady who lived at Glebelands in Titsey on the “Here and There with Pat and Bob website” gives some more information on the area, a video and what appears to be an unsolved mystery.
Follow the Pitchfont Lane downhill for 0.44 miles, then turn right up some steps to a stile. Cross the stile and continue west on a footpath along the top edge of a field and with a wood (Titsey Plantation) to the RHS.
We have now joined The Vanguard Way and stay with it for the next three quarters of a mile. This is a 66 mile route joining the London suburb of East Croydon to the south coast at Newhaven. It was put together by the London based Vanguards Rambling Club and formally launched on 3rd May 1981. The route takes in the North Downs, Greensand Hills, High Weald, Ashdown Forest, South Downs and finally a short but spectacular excerpt of the Sussex Heritage Coast. You can read more about The Vanguard Way by following the link to the wonderful website set up by the rambling club.
On Pitchfont Lane, to the right and shortly before the steps is a gate. If you take the short diversion through the gate, the path leads to a wonderful viewpoint, from where you can look down over the house and grounds of the estate.
After 200 yards cross over another stile and continue straight on along the top edge of a second field, keeping the woods to your RHS.
On walking along the edge of the field, you will pass a Meridian Marker. This indicates we have once again crossed the Prime Meridian on our long distance walk around London.
After another half a mile, and at the north-westerly corner of the field, go through a kissing gate to exit the field and turn right and uphill.
We have now left the Titsey Estate and at this point we join a long distance path named The Greensands Way for just a few yards. This is a walk of 108 miles from Haslemere in Surrey to Hamstreet in Kent. It follows the Greensand Ridge along the Surrey Hills and Chart Hills and is managed jointly by Surrey and Kent County Councils.
At a stile (in 20 yards) turn left, now going almost due west, with a wire fence to your LHS and the motorway below and only 300 yards away. Continue straight on for 400 yards to a wood.
Within a short distance, the Vanguard Way leaves us by turning right and going uphill. The area to the right of the fence is Oxted Down and is owned by the National Trust.
On approaching the wood turn left to cross a stile (at 3.1 miles into the route) and gradually downhill keeping the wood to your RHS. After just over 100 yards turn right to cross a stile and then down a shrubbery path to a set of steps which lead down to a road (Chalkpit Lane).
Turn right and uphill along the road for 40 yards, then just before reaching a house, turn left onto a path (signed North Downs Way)
Soon the path crosses a stile and continues along the top edge of a field for a third of a mile.
To your right along this section of the route and for the next few hundred yards is a large open cast “lime-works”. Later in this write up you will how significant quarries like this have been to the surround areas for many centuries.
As the field opens out in front of you, turn right keeping the edge of the field to your RHS and continue uphill for 200 yards to exit the field onto downland. Go straight on for another 80 yards and on approaching the trees turn left keeping the woods to your RHS. Follow the path west along the path for a further 0.3 miles and keeping the trees to your RHS. Then turn right and up a steep set of steps (at 4 miles into the route).
At the top follow the path (NDW) as it turns left then right and left along a surfaced track running parallel to a road (Gangers Hill), above and to the RHS.
Oxted Steps were built by conservation volunteers on National Trust land so as to make the climb up to the escarpment of the North Down more accessible. The steps look straight down onto the railway as it exits the Oxted Tunnel and passes under the M25. All three were great engineering achievements of their day. To the right of the steps, and just as you enter the trees, is a small viewing platform where you can take a short break to enjoy the scenery below.
The surfaced track runs practically parallel to the road for almost half a mile, but with a few turns. Where the path comes out to the road turn left along the road (Gangers Hill) and then left into Tandridge Hill Lane and downhill.
After just a few yards veer slightly right (signed NDW) onto a path just in the trees and running parallel to the lane and above it. After 0.3 miles go through metal kissing gate down some steps and veer right staying on NDW. In another 400 yards cross straight over a minor road (Gangers Hill) and cross a stile into a wood (at 5 miles into the route). Follow the North Downs Way path as it winds its way through the wood for half a mile.
On reaching a minor road follow the North Downs Way signs to a T-junction and then left past the front of a house (South Lodge).
South Lodge was a gatehouse to Marden Park a former country estate. It was home to Sir Robert Clayton (1629 - 1707), a merchant banker and Lord Mayor of London. He turned what was an old farmhouse into a great country seat. It passed down through many of his descendents. The house burnt down in 1879 and was replaced by the present one, built on the same site in a rather mixed French style. In 1945 the house and 700 acres of and were bought by the Society of the Sacred Heart, who founded a girl’s school named “the Convent of the Sacred Heart” – now known as Woldingham School. If you visit the link, you will see many famous “girls” attended the school.
The track soon turns to a bridleway and veers right, gradually downhill and soon with a vineyard below to the left.
Godstone Vineyard is set in 50 acres of farmland on the edge of the Weald. Here there are: a Vineyard Trail to walk around: a Vineyard Garden Room serving morning coffee, lunches and afternoon tea, plus a Wine Shop and Tasting Bar where you can try out the wines before buying. The shop also sells a selection of ciders, apple juices, jams, and greeting cards.
Go straight on past a gate and then with some houses to your LHS.
As the road starts to turn right and downhill towards a large warehouse, turn left through a small car park and down some wooden steps onto a path. Follow the path to a road and turn left along it. (Note: the NDW crosses straight over the road to climb some steps and then follow a path through a wood. We take a short diversion from the NDW here).
Follow the road for 200 yards, then turn very sharp right to go north along a wooded, sunken track. Follow this track for 400 yards to where the trees open out with fields on both sides. (Note: the NDW rejoined us, from the right, a few yards back in the trees).
The sunken lane is an old Roman Road called London to Brighton Way (or sometimes called the London to Portslade Way). It linked Stane Street at Kennington Park in London to Brighton. From here it continued south and crossed what is now the A25 / M25 interchange and through Godstone. On my last visit in 2011, I got told off by a local for driving the route as in his words “Travellers use it for fly-tipping, and how do I know you won’t do the same?” It was obvious I had nothing to fly-tip, but 200 yards later, along this wonderful ancient track, it took me 30 minutes to remove rubbish which had been recently dumped so I could make space for my car to pass.
Turn left over a stile to cross a field to a footbridge over a dual carriageway (A23). After crossing the footbridge turn left through a wooden kissing gate and follow a path (North Downs Way).
The path eventually climbs steeply uphill, and on reaching a junction of paths (after 370 yards) turn left to stay with the North Downs Way.
The footbridge over the A23 was built for the sole purpose of making the North Downs Way continuous and not having to cross a major road. When I see public authorities spending money on useful things like this, then there must be some hope.
After crossing the footbridge the path comes out onto Tupwood Lane where we turn left through a wooden kissing gate onto a path. However, just over 100 yards, uphill, along the lane is a large permanent residential site for Travellers named the Downs Residential Site – you would think that the local council could have put a bit more thought into naming a home for these people is such a scenic area.
To the right of the path, near the top of the climb, and on the hill above us is Foster Down Fort. This was originally an ancient monument called “Pilgrim Fort” and is still listed as this on most maps. Many centuries ago it was most probably a place of shelter on the “Old Road” or “Pilgrims Way”. In the 1890s, it formed part of the London Defense Scheme as one of the 13 Mobilisation Centres. They stretched in a line from Epping to Guildford thus protecting London from the possibility of invasion from the Continent (especially France) on its eastern and southern sides. The main purpose of the forts was for the storage of ammunitions to be used by local service personnel in the event of an invasion. It was also given the name Foster Down Fort which now appears on a few maps.
Shortly after the top of the climb the path comes out onto an open area called the North Downs View Point (at 7 miles into the route). Go straight on across the grass keeping the road (Gravelly Hill) to your RHS.
At the opposite end of the open area, and near to the road, veer left onto a path through the trees and gradually downhill, signed North Downs Way.
After 300 yards, at a fork, stay right and after another 100 yards, at a second fork, stay right, still following the North Downs Way.
On approaching a road, stay straight on and along War Coppice Road.
Follow War Coppice Road for just over half a mile to a T-junction. Turn right and then left, between brick pillars, and onto a lane to Willey Park Farm (still NDW).
Whitehill Tower is to the right of the road, just 50 yards before reaching the T-junction, in the grounds of Tower Farm. This is a four story folly built by Jeremiah Long in 1862 and was probably used as a viewpoint. It is hidden behind trees, however you can see the tower by going up to a metal gate and looking left.
100 yards to the right of the T-junction, along Stanstead Road, is The Harrow Inn. It dates from the 16th Century, was headquarters of the local Home Guard during World War II and is the second highest pub in Surrey. The inn is popular with walkers, due to its proximity to the North Downs Way, and provides a welcomed stop-off point before taking on the last three miles of the stage to Merstham.
On going along the lane towards Willey Park Farm we are following a ridge along the top of the Downs. Soon to the right the trees disappear and there are great views north over London, with many of its famous landmarks visible.
After 650 yards along the lane, at a T-junction, turn left along Pilgrims Lane and soon past Willey Park Farm to your LHS.
Continue along Pilgrims Lane for 0.75 miles to just past Hilltop Farm. Cross straight over a minor road (Hilltop Lane) and continue along a wide tree-lined track (still Pilgrims Lane).
Beyond Willey Park Farm, Pilgrims Lane is enclosed between hedgerows and follows the route of an ancient trackway. There is the odd public footpath leading north and south from the lane, but please avoid these. This bridleway along the top ridge of the North Downs is isolated but very pleasant. To the left the ridge descends steeply southwards and to the right goes gently downhill in the direction of London. En-route you will pass a couple of mobile phone masks and an old water tower.
In 420 yards, just after a large tree to your LHS and just before the Pilgrims Lane starts to veer right, turn half left onto a footpath steep downhill and diagonally across a large crop field.
At the point where we turn left and descend diagonally across the field, the main track goes straight on and soon around to the right and leading to Tollsworth Manor Farm. On the left of this track is quite a large old earthwork - although difficult to make out. I have been unable to find out much about this, but it seems it may have once been a moated homestead.
The views south from the crop field over the motorways, the town of Redhill and beyond to Gatwick Airport, where you can see the planes taking off and landing, are wonderful.
At the bottom of the field, go straight on through a metal gate in the hedgerow and downhill diagonally across a second field (at 9.9 miles). Follow the well-defined path towards the motorway below. On approaching the motorway, follow the path as it bends right then turns left through a subway under the M23.
Exit the subway and veer right to follow a gravel path up to Rockshaw Road. Cross straight over the road and turn right along the pavement.
Rockshaw Road has many characteristic buildings along it, including Noddyshall and Nodyshall Cottage dating from the late 16th Century. A windmill was built on Rockshaw Road in 1756. It was a local landmark and popular with artists. However, with plans for a second railway tunnel through the North Downs, the mill was demolished in the late 19th Century. Children from the local school were let out early to watch it come down. The route of the M23 (constructed in the early 1970s) cuts directly through the middle of Rockshaw Road and, consequently, twelve houses had to be demolished. This was shortly followed by the building of the local section of the M25, which runs just a couple of hundred yards south of the road. The resulting huge intersection of the two motorways is immediately south of the eastern side of Rockshaw Road and covers an area of 125 acres (see Aerial View). Watching Top Gear last night (24/07/2011) Sir Bob Geldof’s first job, as a nineteen year old was building this junction – he did try to feed the world a few years later and was responsible for Band Aid & Live Aid.
Both sides of the road were reconnected with the building of a road bridge over the northern edge of the intersection. Today the area around the western half of Rockshaw Road forms what is really an island community surrounded by two motorways and the railway. The Rockshaw Road website contains a detailed history and much more information on the area.
After 250 yards, turn left onto an enclosed fenced path between houses. Follow the path downhill for 300 yards, where it opens out and veers right and eventually to a footbridge over the M25 motorway.
Cross over the footbridge and go straight on downhill across open land to come out onto a residential road. Turn right along the pavement.
As the road turns left, cross straight over the entrance to a service road. Immediately after crossing over, turn right onto a path next to the service road and signed “Merstham Station 100 yards”. Follow this under a railway bridge and eventually to Merstham Station (at 11 miles into the route). Climb the steps to cross the footbridge over the railway line. After descending from the footbridge, veer right past the entrance to the car park and into Station Road.
On reaching a T-junction, at the end of Station Road, turn left along the pavement to finish outside the Feathers Hotel.
Merstham takes its name from an ancient tribe called the “Mearsoeti” who inhabitated the marshlands around here for thousands of years. In 52AD Emperor Claudius defeated a regional British King named Caractus. The king and most of his family were taken to Rome. Unlike many others, in similar circumstances who were forced to endure a painful death, they were allowed to live. This was only on the condition they stayed in Rome and guaranteed their people’s allegiance to the Roman Empire. One of Caractus’s daughters was adopted (held hostage) by Claudius and renamed Claudia. During her time in Rome, she converted to Christianity and married Rufus Pudens Pudentius, a native Britian serving in the Roman army. They couple returned to Britain around 60AD and set up home in Sussex. Their religious influence extended to Surrey and to the Mearsoeti. The tribe converted to Christianity and built a church of wood, wattle and stone. This is believed to have been above the marshland on a small hill to the north of Merstham and what is now Church Hill. The church on the small knoll certainly seems to have been a very early Christian church and dated from centuries before the reference listed below.
From: 'Parishes: Merstham', A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 3 (1911), pp. 213-221. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42958 Date accessed: 10 April 2010.
“The earliest mention of MERSTHAM (Mearsdethan….) occurs in 675, when Frithwald, subregulus of Surrey, and Erkenwald, Bishop of London, granted 20 hides there to the abbey of Chertsey.”
The tribe witnessed a later invasion by the Danes and the Battlefield area of the village is where King Alfred’s son Edward (later King Edward the Elder) finally defeated the Danes in the late 9th Century. Over two and a half centuries later the Mearsorti witnessed the Norman Invasion and the last time this island was to be conquered by a foreign army.
In 1100 the early church was replaced by a Norman one, and around 1220 this was replaced by the present church. It was financed by an early Crusader, dedicated to St Katherine of Alexandria and built of local stone. Roman slates and bricks from the older church were used in its construction and can still be seen today. The church has been altered and extended over the centuries, however many of the original features still remain. The Sussex marble font dates from 1150, most of the body of the church and some of the windows date from the 13th Century. The central pillar of the tower comes from old London Bridge and is carved with three Royal Leopards. The Lychgate is made of timbers from the old windmill, which stood next to Rockshaw Road. There is a lot more to see if you take time to divert the short distance to visit the church. You can also read the full history of St Katherine’s Church on the merston.co.uk website.
Merstham has been an important industrial area since medieval times, when the Upper Green Sand on the lower slopes of the North Downs were quarried for its famous “Reigate Stone” or “Firestone” – the name being derived from the fact it was popular in the beds of furnaces. This stone was used in the construction of Windsor Castle and many famous London buildings, including London Bridge, Westminster Palace, old St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. The chalk at Merstham has also been long famous for its lime. This was widely used in manure and in making cement.
In 1805 Merstham had the first ever public railway. It was built by the Surrey Iron Railway, pulled by horses and mainly used for carrying goods from the quarries to Croydon and London. Some was even loaded onto boats on the Thames for shipping abroad. However, due to competition from steam locomotives, the old railway was closed in 1838. Near to Quality Street, you can still some of the original sleepers.
Started in 1839 and opened on 12th July 1841, a tunnel was cut through the chalk of the North Downs at Merstham. This was just over a mile long and allowed a railway link between London and the popular south coast resort of Brighton. The tunnel originally had the walls whitewashed and was lit by gas lamps, so the passengers would not be frightened whilst travelling through it. However, wind from the passing trains extinguished the lamps and the soot blackened the whitewash. Two companies, the London & Brighton Railway and the South Eastern Railway, shared the tunnel. However, this caused much friction between both. Thus in 1896 the London & Brighton South Coast Railway (originally the London & Brighton Railway) gained Parliamentary approval to build a second tunnel through the North Downs at Merstham. It was opened on 8th November 1899 and is 1.2 miles long. Its line bypasses the stations at Coulsdon, Merstham and Redhill and is the reason we walk under a railway line just before reaching Merstham Station. Both routes still form part of the mainline from London to Brighton, but to differentiate between them, the original line between Coulsdon North and Earlswood, with stopping off points at the three stations, is called the Redhill Line and the newer more direct one is called the Quarry Line.
A feature of the earlier tunnel is the “sighting tower”. This provided the surveyors a sight of line over the hill. These were usually temporary structures. However, this one still sits on the hill above the tunnel. It is difficult to see from below as it is obscured by trees, but it can be accessed by a public footpath going north from Shepherds Hill. You can also see a photograph of the tower at Southern e-Group and read more about the two tunnels at Wikipedia.
The story below reveals an even darker side to the original Merstham Tunnel and The Feathers Hotel.
The Merstham Tunnel Mystery
At 10.55pm on Sunday, 24th September 1905 in the railway tunnel just north of Merstham Station the mutilated body of a young woman was discovery by William Peacock, a railway inspector. Peacock hurried back to the station to report his discovery to the stationmaster. The police called to the scene, first thought the death was a suicide. They figured the young woman had wandered into the tunnel and been hit by a passing train. The body was still warm and was moved to The Feathers Hotel for examination by a local doctor. Her skull was fractured and one of her legs was severed. There were several bruises and scratches to her body, arms and face which suggested she had been involved in a struggle. Also a scarf had been forced into her mouth and she was covered in soot. On examining the tunnel wall, next to where the body lay, a number of marks were found where the soot had been rubbed off. The highest of these was at the level of a person standing up in a railway carriage. Because of the body being warm when found, it is only possible she fell from one of two trains, both of which were going north and had all their doors closed on arriving at their next station. Putting all these factors together, the investigators were sure a murder had been committed. There was nothing to identify the body. However, the following day she was identified as Mary Sophia Money by her brother Robert Henry Money. This is thought to be the first recorded murder on a train in England. She was a bookkeeper at Bridger's Dairy, Clapham Junction. Mary Money had gone out at about seven o'clock that evening saying she would take a little walk and would not be long. Emma Hone, another employee at Bridger's Dairy, had no knowledge of any male friends Mary might have been going to meet. She said Mary had taken her black knitted cotton purse, which Emma thought was well filled with money, for Mary had just been paid. The purse was never recovered. A few minutes after leaving home, Mary called at Frances Golding's sweet shop at Station Approach, Clapham Junction where she bought some chocolates. She told Frances Golding she was going to Victoria and left the shop laughing and appeared happy. Suspicion fell on a number of possible admirers named by Mary's brother Robert. He claimed to have last seen his sister on that date but there seemed no question he was involved in the crime. What really did happen to Mary Money on the evening of Sunday 24th September 1905 is left only to supposition. She seems to had every intention of keeping a rendezvous with someone at Victoria that evening. A signalman who was in charge of the Purley Oaks Signal Box north of Merstham Tunnel recalled that as the London Bridge train passed, he remembered seeing a couple standing up in a first class compartment. They appeared to be struggling. It seems possible that during this struggle, Mary Money began to scream, her attacker then pushed her scarf into her mouth to silence her and, when the train was in the tunnel, he opened the door and threw her out into the darkness and to her grisly death. The guard of the train reported he had seen a couple in a first class compartment when his train stopped at East Croydon. His description of the women fitted that of Mary Money. At Redhill the couple had gone and the guard thought he saw the man but not the woman leaving the station. Many people were interviewed by police and many railway carriages examined but no arrest was ever made.
The mystery remains unsolved but there is a postscript. Seven years later, in August 1912, at a house in Eastbourne, Mary Money's brother, Robert, shot two sisters and their three children, of whom he was the father. Neither sister knew he was married to each other and he had children by both – maybe he had been found out. He poured petrol on the bodies, set light to them then turned the gun on himself. One of the women managed, however, to escape despite being wounded. Was this the result of a twisted mind turned by the memories the earlier killing of his sister, Mary?.
In 1912 Superintendent James Brice of the Surrey Constabulary made public what had not been released early for fear of upsetting the family. "She (Mary) gambled extensively. Her stock at the dairy shop in which she was an assistant was short, and she feared being found out". This police believed drove her to suicide, (to read more on this, visit the link).
Was this Surrey Police just trying to close a case they were unable to solve? We may never know.
To read a full List of unsolved murders in the United Kingdom visit the link at Wikipedia.
In 1940, the year after Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, Merstham welcomed troops and army medical corps from Canada. They took over Merstham House, parts of Church Hill and the Pendell Camp at Warwick Wold. Merstham House was home to the Joliffe family. It was just north of Quality Street near Gatton Bottom and just west of the footbridge on the M25. The family were Lords of the Manor and in 1866 William Hylton Joliffe (1800 – 1876) was created 1st Lord Hylton. He was a soldier, Conservative politician and played first class cricketer, he died at the house. In the 1950s, a few years after the Canadians left, the house was pulled down and was later replaced by the M25.
During World War II many German bombs dropped on Merstham, many people were killed and hundreds of houses were destroyed. Two of these were large parachute bombs dropped on 19th April 1941. One dropped harmlessly in a field, but the second took a direct hit on All Saints Church. The church was completely destroyed, the 84 year old vicar and one of his sisters were badly injured, but recovered, however two of their sisters were killed – another 8 people also died. The Canadians rebuilt a place of worship for the local parishioners, and although a new All Saints was built in 1950, the temporary church still exists as Canadian Hall and as a reminder to the Canadian Forces who lived here during World War II.
In latter years other foreign visitors, through fate and not choice also came to Merstham to live. This time it was the consequence of a natural disaster and not through the acts of a dictator, who wanted to rule the world. Tristan da Cunha is a group of small volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean. It is a British Territory and the most remotely inhabited place on Earth. The nearest landmass is South Africa, almost 2,000 miles away. In 1961, a volcanic eruption forced all 284 inhabitants of the islands to leave. They evacuated to Pendell Army Camp at Merstham, where the lived in huts. Three months later the moved more permanent residents in the former RAF station at Calshot, near Southampton. Most returned to Tristan da Cunha two years later.
The full history of Merstham would take many more pages to write. Since 1339, the village held a Merstham Fair with consent from Edward III. This never seemed to be held on the allocated date and there are wonderful stories of the gypsy stalls. There are more stories to read on both World Wars, how the building of the motorways affected the village, the building of a large modern residential estate, on local people who were important to the community and more on the influence of the quarries and the transport links. You can read all of these by visiting the History Section of the Merstham website and on Wikipedia.
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