diamond geezer

 Thursday, July 10, 2014

Beyond London (3): Tandridge (part 2)

For the second half of my visit to Tandridge I'm visiting the commuter section to the north of the M25. Many of the towns and villages are connected to London by bus or train, indeed had the boundary with Surrey been drawn differently then Caterham and Warlingham could very easily be part of the capital. But they're a bit dull, sorry, so allow me to start by visiting an unsung stately home instead. Try not to giggle. [14 photos] [map]

Somewhere historic: Titsey Place
Stop that. The village of Titsey appears in the Domesday Book, and had an important strategic location on the Pilgrims Way at the foot of the North Downs. The manor house has been around for centuries and was owned by the great Tudor financier Sir John Gresham, the Richard Branson of his day, whose wares were furs and fabrics from the far east. Titsey Place lies in a beautiful location, wrapped round to the north by a bend in the chalk downs, the slopes entirely covered by trees. Too nice, as it turned out in the 1770s when the latest Sir John Gresham had the manor house rebuilt and moved the entire village out of the way! He didn't like seeing cottages and the church from his window, so had the whole lot shifted a few hundred yards to the east to open up a panorama. That view too is rather lovely, if you can ignore the noise of the M25 half a mile away screened only by trees. Clacket Lane Services are just out of sight, if that helps you to locate Titsey more precisely.

In 1804 the last Gresham heiress married a Leweson Gower (pronounced Leverson Gore), which introduced a whole new set of heraldic symbols around the house. Later descendants became Major Generals, poets, MPs and archaeologists - the latter made easier by having a buried Roman villa in the grounds. But the last of the dynasty died 20 years ago, and the estate passed into the hands of a Foundation... who open it up to the public every summer. No, I'd never realised either. You drive in, or walk, down a long lane from Limpsfield, eventually passing through a herd of cattle secured safely behind electric wires. This is the pedigree Titsey Herd, now 75 strong, and available for appearances at barbecues and restaurants as required.

Sunday visitors can pay to enter the walled kitchen garden, which is beautifully maintained, and currently ablaze with colour. A comprehensive variety of plants are neatly laid out within, and spill out into the estate beyond which is also open for roaming. The ornamental lake is fed by springs at the head of the Eden Valley, or take a pew on the south terrace to enjoy Sir John's village-free view. But come on Wednesday or Saturday, and pay a little extra, and a guided tour of the house is thrown in too. And this is fascinating. Nine rooms are open to view, and your volunteer guide will whisk you through in one hour flat topped off with copious facts and anecdotes. The history of the family is intriguing enough, because a banking fortune means you can do pretty much anything. Yes those are four real Canalettos on the dining room wall, purchased direct from the artist, while all the Georgian panelling in the Gallery Bedroom was shipped in from elsewhere. I enjoyed the variety of styles and decor, along with touches that indicated this is still very much a family home, even if the original families have all died out.

I struck lucky and got the least busy of the day's three tours - the other two would have meant schlepping round with a rather larger group. But I have no hesitation in recommending a visit to Titsey Place if you're a history/antiques/gardening/tearoom sort of person. Indeed the cream tea slipped down a treat, complete with choice of three types of freshly baked scone, because it seemed the right way to round off a visit. Your only issue may be getting here if you don't have a car because local buses are infrequent, and the nearest station is about an hour's walk away. I walked out via the woodland paths on the escarpment, these steep and indirect, but leading eventually to a lofty view south across the Weald. On a sunny summer's afternoon, high atop the North Downs Way, where better? OK, so it was raining by the time I finally reached Tatsfield, but this Surrey village is surrounded on three sides by London and so has a perfectly regular bus service. Titsey's just about accessible by Oyster, if you make a clean breast of it.
by train: Oxted,  by bus: 464,  by local bus: 595

Meridian Interlude - Titsey Plantation
Or you can exit Titsey to the southwest towards Oxted. The walking route again follows the North Downs Way, a long distance path I'm becoming increasingly enamoured with thanks to its linear elevation. This particular mile-long section runs along the foot of the escarpment, with thick woodland above, rapeseed fields below and dry chalk underfoot. On the map it looks straight, whereas the reality is a light wiggle, occasionally diverting around a toppled tree trunk blocking the path. Only the motorway broke the silence, otherwise it was just me and the butterflies and the occasional surprised rabbit. And then partway along I found the Meridian marker I'd been hunting for. I think the panel was meant to be at the very top of the field but midsummer growth had encroached somewhat, forcing someone to trim a deep notch in the hedgerow so it could still be seen. The plaque was installed by Surrey County Council and the Vanguards Rambling Club, the latter custodians of a 66 mile trail from Croydon to Newhaven. I'd seen nobody on either route, indeed I saw no other walkers whatsoever during two hours of traipsing Tandridge's byways. But here at this random spot due south of Greenwich, alone with nature, I'd not have had it any other way.

Somewhere random: East Surrey Museum
Not only is East Surrey apparently a thing, it also has a museum. You'll find it in Caterham, a few yards up the hill from the station, inside a building that looks suspiciously like a house. I think I surprised the steward at the weekend by being a visitor, whereas he was expecting another volunteer to keep him company during a long shift. This is a very local museum, with a focus on Caterham and district, despite claiming to be a repository for the whole of Tandridge. See Old Caterham in postcards, learn about the coming of the railways*, and see dug up bits from nearby Chelsham Roman villa. One room out back has the obligatory collection of ancient relics and stone age flints, including a 13th century water jug shaped like a grinning horse - he's nicknamed Rudolph and is the museum's mascot. Throw in a Children's Room with exhibits targeted at primary school groups and, well, the place has some charm but not much to show for it.
by train: Caterham,  by bus: 407

* Caterham itself seems to have little history** apart from that generated by the railways turning up. Their arrival in the 1850s turned a village into an end-of-the-line dormitory town, with pleasant villas to be occupied on the valley slopes. Steep contours have created an unusual situation further north where two railway lines run parallel yards apart on either side of the dip, with entirely separate stations and heading for different destinations. The two closest stations are Whyteleafe and Upper Warlingham, 37 minutes apart by train but only three minutes on foot.

** Obviously Caterham does have some history, as two boards by the floral roundabout explain. For example the Asprey Fountain, which was donated to the town by Charles the famous jeweller, and whose single lamp became the town's very first streetlight. The Metropolitan Asylum survived here in Caterham for over a century, its most famous resident being Joey Deacon (if you're of a certain age, you'll know his name well). The most recent heritage highlights, apparently, were the replacement of the station car park by a Waitrose in 1982, and the demolition of the Valley Hotel to create the Church Walk Shopping Centre. So no, sorry, not really much history at all*.

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