diamond geezer

 Monday, December 08, 2014

Beyond London (5): Epsom and Ewell (part 1)

By rights, the Surrey district of Epsom and Ewell ought to be in London. It nearly was, indeed the Local Government Act of 1963 almost succeeded, but instead the border of Greater London was drawn around it, surrounding Epsom and Ewell on three sides. Its residents like things that way, in their Home Counties pocket of green that Kirsty and Phil once decreed the best place to live in the entire UK. Epsom and Ewell's relatively small, both in terms of area and population, but that was good because it meant I could walk around the whole place in a day. And it's very much a borough of two halves, all suburban avenues to the north, and rather more market town to the south. Let's head north first, to Ewell and thereabouts. [20 photos]


Somewhere to begin: Epsom & Ewell Museum
Ewell has a very villagey feel, so long as you don't stray very far from the narrow twisty High Street. Look out for plaques on several of the older buildings, which is generally a sign that they're included on The Ewell Trail (available here in leaflet form, or on glass panels as you wander around the town), for example the old brick lock-up/fire station combo. At present there's a Christmassy feel, the aftermath of Ewell Yule, which is the only thing you could possible call a festive celebration hereabouts. Mind the traffic, the pedestrian being very much an afterthought round here, and head up to the ostentatious Dog Gate (with, obviously, a great white dog on top). This was the main entrance to Garbrand Hall, an 18th century merchant's mansion which declined, decayed and finally burnt to the ground in 1962. Its municipal replacement is architecturally astonishing, as if a flying saucer landed on the lawn above the lake. Twenty low-set concrete ribs meet at a central crown supporting a domed roof light, beneath which a vast central space houses shelves of books or, potentially, your wedding reception. Now called Bourne Hall the building opened in 1970 as a Library, Museum and Social Centre, and still plays that role in the community today.

A Christmas Extravaganza Craft Fair had just got underway when I turned up, not that the "extravaganza" part was immediately obvious to the handful of us present. Instead I headed up the spiral stairs to the mezzanine which, cunningly, is the location of the Epsom and Ewell Museum. This means the museum needs no additional staffing so can be open whenever the building is, which is forty hours a week. There's plenty up here too, grouped in a variety of glass cases, and without the usual endless parade of fossils and Roman earthenware. Horse racing takes up a fair chunk of space, as you'd expect when Epsom's part of your borough, including a model of the course and full details of the local Prime Minister's 1894 Derby winner. Lord Rosebery's hansom cab is nearby, along with a selection of 'old' children's games that seemed to have been donated by a family with exactly the same toy cupboard as me circa 1975. A lot of temporary WW1 displays fit in where they can, topping off a carefully curated exhibition that has yet to be yanked screaming into the 21st century. That honour falls to the Epsom and Ewell History Explorer, an unconnected local history website created by volunteers, and whose in-depth background information I can only describe as phenomenal. Not a bad tally for barely thirteen square miles.
by train: Ewell West  by bus: 293, 406, 467


Somewhere pretty: The River Hogsmill
The lake I mentioned outside Bourne Hall is also the source of the River Hogsmill. This tributary of the Thames runs six miles from here to its mouth at Kingston, joining up with several (longer) feeder streams along the way. A placid channel runs behind The Spring bus stop, close to Spring Street and the Spring Tavern, which spring-iness might just help to explain the duck sitting on a plume of bubbles in the pool nextdoor. From here the Hogsmill sets off beneath the ring road and along a thread of greenspace, holding back the residential avenues to either side for at least a couple of miles. Already a wide shallow stream, the muddy path and meadows alongside will be familiar to anyone who's walked London Loop Section 8. The valley's history is hinted at in the first building along, the Upper Mill, although this is a 1984 residential rebuild of the original flour producer. Further along the channel Ewell's dogwalkers were out in force, if there was anyone at all, and I saw no sign of any other original waterside buildings.

I'd turned up on a frosty morning, indeed on the coldest day of the year, so the valley was encrusted in white and unexpectedly picturesque. And that beauty has made this stretch of river famous, although you'd never have realised. Two of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had connections with Ewell and used the Hogsmill as inspiration for their most famous paintings. John Everett Millais came down in 1851 and picked a stretch of riverbank as the backdrop for Ophelia, painting daisies and forget-me-nots in the water beside her floating body. A modern version would probably include lager cans and less vegetation, much of the river having been deepened and culverted to prevent expensive flooding. That same year William Holman Hunt was more interested in the old gunpowder mills, for which the upper Hogsmill valley was once renowned. He found an abandoned hut overgrown with ivy upstream and came back after dark to check its illumination by moonlight. You'll know that door as the one on which Jesus is knocking in the revelatory painting The Light Of The World - the original at Keble College Oxford, a full size re-paint at St Paul's Cathedral. The hut's long gone, obviously, but memories of the Hogsmill are reproduced the world over.
by train: Ewell West  by bus: 406, 418, 467


Somewhere historic: Nonsuch Palace
There's only one candidate for Epsom and Ewell's most historic spot, which is Henry VIII's mega-mansion at Nonsuch Palace. But a) it was sold off to pay for gambling debts in the 1630s b) not a stone is still standing c) I blogged about it in-depth back in 2009. So I didn't go again, because you can read that already, and instead headed somewhere rather lower in the historic league...
by train: Ewell East, Stoneleigh  by bus: 293, 470

Somewhere else historic: Horton Country Park
The northwest border of Epsom and Ewell, rubbing up against Chessington, is covered by 80 acres of country park. It's very pretty, I can confirm, because I walked the full two miles from top to bottom. Up top a golf course holds sway, including a jungle-themed crazy golf course complete with waterfall and plane crash. Further south there's intermittent woodland, and rolling pasture leading down into the valley of the Bonesgate Stream. But why is there a tall house-like water tower rising high above the trees, and how come the main paths look wide enough to have once carried train tracks? The answer's the Epsom Hospital Cluster, 100 years ago the largest complex of psychiatric hospitals in Europe, built from scratch by the London County Council to house ten thousand of the capital's mentally ill. Construction was a massive job and took years, aided and abetted by a freight railway laid from Ewell West to link, in a finger-like manner, to each of the hospitals in turn. Officially no passengers were carried, though unofficially many of the workers hitched a ride to avoid a lengthy walk each day. St Ebba's cared for epileptics and children, Manor Hospital for those with learning difficulties and the other three for "all stages of nervous and mental disorder". And these massive asylums survived for most of the 20th century, one infamous inmate being Ronnie Kray, before closing one by one and awaiting a new fate.

And that fate was housing. Epsom and Ewell council jumped at the opportunity to approve fresh residential estates in a borough landlocked by the Green Belt. Each hospital site was almost entirely demolished and its footprint used as the basis for a new community, with developers retaining a few buildings only where they could be converted with character. All that's left of Long Grove is a school outbuilding, converted to country park use as a bat roost, while the connecting railway has long been built over or downgraded to bridleway. The latest hospital to undergo transformation is West Park, in its decaying state a target for urban explorers, but now almost complete in its new life as the Noble Park estate. I wandered its pristine streets, past townhouses with "Sold" signs outside and the occasional more valuable heritage block with telltale sash windows. On wooded steps opposite the former admin block I came face to face with a passing deer, which is more than I expect most residents have ever seen. And at the focus of the ├ęchelon-plan complex, now populated only by pigeons, I found the water tower I'd seen over the trees from a mile away. The Horton Estate Light Railway once terminated alongside, supplying a hidden society of those excluded and forgotten - today only the house prices are mental.
by bus: 465, 467, E10


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this weekend?
Sunday 2nd October (8.30-6.30)
Thames Barrier Closure
Annual all-day test, peaking around high tide at 3pm.

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
scaryduck
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
onionbagblog
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2015 index
diamond geezer 2014 index
diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv