diamond geezer

 Friday, April 07, 2017

6 Banstead/Epsom & Ewell
Here's one of only two London boroughs proposed by the Herbert Commission in 1960 no part of which ended up in Greater London. Banstead instead joined with Reigate while Epsom and Ewell remained fiercely independent, and both stayed in Surrey despite geographical proximity hinting otherwise. I've blogged about both constituent boroughs before, but there is one place in Banstead I've always meant to visit solely because of its name, so that's where I went on this occasion. Let's see how many times I can use its four letter name in the exposition that follows.


Beyond Sutton, less than a mile from the Greater London border, there really is a place called Nork. It's fairly significant too, a suburb of 8000 souls, with one former resident of Nork now ridiculously famous. Nork also has two railway stations, except that neither of these is called Nork, which sadly hasn't helped to raise the profile of the place beyond the immediate area. But I can confirm that Nork definitely does exist, and that several things in Nork are named after Nork, and I have photographic evidence.

Before 1740 Nork was merely the name of a field between Epsom and Banstead, at which point the local landowners built a grand mansion and called it Nork House. Time passed. The house eventually passed into the hands of the Colman mustard dynasty, who sold off the estate to a development company in 1923, and an expansive residential suburb grew up instead. Good timing, particularly if you like interwar detached houses in decent-sized gardens. Nork has barely an unattractive corner.

This commuters' dream was made possible by the railways, which arrived in 1865 whilst making a beeline for somewhere else. The branch line from Sutton was built to connect Londoners to the races on Epsom Downs, and at one point the terminus station had nine platforms to serve the annual seething throng. But it was also nearly a mile from the grandstand, whereas a second branch line to Tattenham Corner curled much closer, so passengers numbers fell away, and today an underused single line limps into a single unstaffed platform.

Epsom Downs is now a mostly silent remnant, its station building turned over to a nursery, at the tip of a long winding awkwardly-aligned cul-de-sac. The car park barely reaches half full even on a working day, and the only useful connection to the adjacent suburb of Nork is a none-too welcoming footpath. One stop up the line is Banstead, which is also technically in Nork, and almost as quiet. To read more about this backwater branchline and its chequered history, click here. There are no plans to rename the two stations Nork West and Nork North, which is a shame, because it'd be fun to see Nork on the destination board at Victoria.

Nork House was demolished in 1939, and in 1947 its environs were turned over to residents as their new municipal park. Nork Park's lovely, with three large sweeping fields climbing the hillside offering views of Ewell's rooftops across the valley, and a couple of thick woodland enclaves. There's also a recreational area which is where Nork Park Rangers play, and a Nissen-hut-style community hall with a list of regular weekly bookings listed outside. It is alas out of date, but I don't think I've ever seen anything which sums up Surrey quite as well as this.


Now is perhaps the time to mention the locally-raised celebrity, who is David Walliams. His parents moved to Nork from south London in the hope of becoming more middle class, and David grew up in a detached house on a quiet close, going to cubs and eating shepherd's pie on Tuesdays. His autobiography doesn't mention which close, and there are a lot of them, plus there are far too many houses with crazy paving outside to be able to narrow it down. But I have walked the leafy avenues and twisting alleyways of Nork, which will have been his early inspiration, and can confirm that the place feels a lot more Middle Britain than Little Britain.

60% of the houses in Nork are detached, and 60% have two or more cars, because Nork is quintessential Surrey. But the undulating valley still feels relatively tightly packed, with few houses allocated an unnecessarily broad plot, merely gardens that go back a lot further than any developer would allow today. The most peculiar home is at the top of the hill on The Drive, where a prehistoric barrow has been incorporated into the front garden with a driveway sweeping round both sides. This is Tumble Beacon, a grassy lump upon which warning fires were lit in Tudor times, and which also contained a WW2 air raid shelter.

Pictured is the wigwam-like Methodist Church in Nork, unusual around here for being of 1970s vintage, but that's because the 1930s original was structurally unsound and had to be rebuilt. Meanwhile Nork's parish church, St Paul's, lurks unobtrusively in the middle of a residential street and looks more like an oversized village hall, all warm brown tiles and brick. Elsewhere there are two shopping parades in Nork, the longest on Nork Way being home to a barber called Groomed@Nork, a Co-op that hasn't yet been branded Welcome to Nork's Co-op, and more than one interior designer specialising in shiny objects that no home genuinely needs.

Nork's second shopping parade is at Driftbridge, a Tudorbethan tumble on the Reigate Road, where a handful of pre-20th century cottages survive. The area was named after the Drift Bridge hotel, built in 1931 using teak timbers from HMS Ganges, the last Royal Navy flagship to operate under sailpower. You might be able to guess the hotel's 21st century evolution, which has been i) pub ii) Toby Carvery iii) luxury flats. The Driftbridge crossroads is now dominated by separate showrooms for Audi and Volkswagen, and consequently a swarm of young men in sharp suits touting around and between the two.

Speaking of the motor trade, if you've ever wondered where Toyota's UK HQ is, it's here in Nork. They've built a state-of-the-art circular office block in a parkland location, apparently ideal for furthering your career in sales or HR, plus there's a large Georgian mansion behind the screen of trees, previously used by BP. And this old building was originally Great Burgh, home to the landowners who in 1740 built Nork House, which is where I came in. Blimey there was a lot more to Nork than I expected, so well done for reading to the end of it, and for reading the word 'Nork' thirty-seven times.

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