HISTORY OF GODSTONE
The following history of our Village is abridged and taken from the script of our Pageant that was produced to celebrate the millennium. Richard Stilgo kindly narrated the entire Pageant.
Godstone was known as Walchnestead and entered into the Doomsday Book. The name is supposed to have originated from the walking or wringing, of sheep’s wool in Fullers Earth to remove the grease from the fleece.
This area was part of the Realm of King Ethelred the Unready, who married a daughter of the Duke of Normandy. They had a son who became Edward the Confessor and a daughter, Goda, who later married Eustace of Boulogne in 1050.
As a marriage portion, Ethelred handed the land of Walchnestead to Goda. The Saxon word for ‘Hamlet’ is ‘ton’ so the Manor became ‘Goda’s Ton’ later translated to ‘Godstone’.
The hamlet developed until in 1349, the Black Death swept through England and the Village was almost wiped out. The dead were buried in ‘mensfield’ and womensfield’ alongside Bullbeggars Lane.
The Inns on the Green
About 1500, came the Rose and Crown built next door to the Bell. It was a very small Inn and now houses Campton’s Insurance. In later years, early 19th Century, it was used along with the Bell and When Hart as a Staging Post – there being six coaches a day travelling through the village to Eastbourne and Brighton.
The early 16th Century brought the White Hart. It bore the Clayton Arms on one side of the sign and the White Hart on the other. It is said that Sir William Clayton, Lord of the Manor of Godstone and Bletchingley and Lord Mayor of London, was seen to throw hot pennies to the children out of the window on cold Christmas mornings!
Other Inns sprang up around the Green. The Hare and Hounds in the 16th Century and the White Swan originally as a poor house and later a dame school.
Legend has it that Queen Elizabeth I and, many years later, Queen Victoria used the White Hart on their travels as a stopping place for refreshment or to change their horses.
During the time of William the Conqueror, when the feudal system was in operation. Peasants would have worked, under the direction, on the land for the lord of the manor. The main manors around Godstone at this time were Marden, Godstone and Bletchingley. Everything was farmed by hand, or occasionally horses were used to pull simple wooden ploughs.
Stratton, an old house to which Godstone Farm is now attached. In the late 15th Century Stratton was owned by William Lee. It has a small stream, aptly called Stratton Brook, running through the estate and this would have been a vital watering hold for animals during these times.
By the early 1700’s villages such as Godstone had been organised in the open field system for hundreds of years. There were no hedge boundaries just a large farming area that grew one crop at a time, but enough for each villager.
The industrial revolution changed the way farming worked forever. The revolution brought steam power and therefore farm machinery was introduced. Tools and equipment were also greatly improved and a man called Jethro Tull invented a seed drill.
These advances led to increasing specialisation within farming, particularly diary production. There were, however, no milking machines and it was still the humble dairy maids that had to milk cows every day
By the middle of the 19th Century Stratton was occupied by Edward Stenning. It was a small farm of 12 acres. But just 20 years later, in 1861, Edward’s farm had drown to occupy 730 acres. Edward hand also acquired 12 children.
By the early 1900’s Stratton had new owners, the Lawrence family. Greyhound Farm, which stood where the Godstone Hotel does today, was farmed by a Mr. Skinner, whose cows drifted across the green twice a day for milking. These men would had had many animals, chickens to provide eggs and goats and sheep for milk.
The White Hart Barn was owned by Farmer Wallis and was full of sheaves of corn waiting to be thrashed and then sent to Ivy Mill to be ground into flour. At this time Godstone was still a small country village with geese that grazed on the Green. All the meat was raised, slaughtered and eaten locally.
Farming changed again after World War II. The end of the war had resulted in a sharp population increase and farming had to react to this. the impetus changed towards more food production to feed all the young, hungry mouths.
Farming seems to have had a dark cloud cast over it in recent years but today it still provides many with an fulfilling and agreeable lifestyle and plays an essential part in everyone’s lives. Farming supplies this and other populations with food and in the case of Godstone Farm, entertainment and education.
Industry in and around Godstone
A new stage of Godstone’s History was started by George Evelyn, grandfather of John Evelyn, the Diarist. During the Wars on the Continent, Evelyn met a German Spy and for the sum of £300, he learned the Secret Formula for making a cheap form of Saltpeter.
About 1556, Queen Elizabeth I granted him the monopoly for the manufacture of Gunpowder. For this purpose, he added Leigh Mill into his extensive ownership of local mills.
Godstone’s most important industry from the 17th-18th Century was Stone Quarrying. This was extracted from the North Downs, leaving a maze of tunnels that were used for storage in World War II. The stone is reputed to have been used in part of the construction of Windsor Castle and the Tower of London. It was also used for lining furnaces and housewives used blocks of the softer stone to whiten their doorsteps. In their heyday, the mines produced 50,000 tons a year but by 1900, demand had fallen.
Fairalls re-opened one of the mines during World War II to help reduce imports.
Sand and Gravel was another considerable industry, the first gravel extractions being dug at Stratton. Sand became a very profitable, if illicit source of income for local villagers who excavated sand from beneath their homes – selling it off for one shilling a bag. the biggest mine shaft was found beneath Cavern House.
Tiles had been made from Medieval Times up to the early 19th Century. There was also a rope making business on the Green until the beginning of the 20th Century, operated by the Rice Brothers. Bell, Plough and Scaffold Ropes were woven here and the old Rope Walk can still e seen very faintly even today.
Godstone has had many notable figures throughout its history, some authentic, some legendary. In 1554 during he fervently Catholic reign of Mary Tudor, two Godstone men – John Lauder and Thomas Iveson remained loyal to the English Prayer Book. They travelled to Brighton attend a Service using the illicit book but someone informed the authorities and they were arrested whilst in Godstone. They were brought to London for trial where Bishop Bonner sentenced them to death by burning, Launder at Steyning and Iveson at Chichester, they became known as the Godstone Martyrs.
There was a legend of Polly Paine, considered by many to be a witch who could turn herself into a cat or hare. Legend has it that some hounds chased a hare that made its way to Polly Pains Cottage in the Enterdent where it leapt into a culvert of Stratton Brook. Sadly torn by a hound on the hind leg, it disappeared. Next day, Polly was seen in the Village, limping badly and unable to sit down. The inevitable conclusion was drawn.
The notorious John Trenchman, pirate see under ‘Scouts’
Buried in the Churchyard is one Edmund Seyfang Taylor [1854-1908] popularly known as ‘Walker Miles’ Walker was the Founder of the Croydon Rambling Club and author of numerous walking guides and an influential figure in the early days of the rambling movement. He has a long and detailed entry in my book The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Walking & Backpacking published by the Oxford Illustrated Press in 1991 but now, alas, out of print. A copy could be obtained through the good offices of the County Library.
Victorian School Life
In 1854 a piece of land opposite Saint Nicholas’ Church was made available by Sir William Robert Clayton and his tenant, Edward Stenning of Godstone, in order that a National School might be built there. Up to this point there had been no school at all for working people’s children in the village. The school was built for the princely sum of £1,451, and consisted of four school rooms and a house for the teach with a parlor, a kitchen and scullery and three bedrooms. Later that year, when it opened for the first time the children of Godstone made their way up the path to Bay Pond to the new school to begin their formal education. On that first day each child was given a four-penny piece by the Archdeacon of Reigate as a souvenir.
The curriculum in those days consisted mainly of the three ‘R’s reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, with a strong emphasis on healthy exercise. PE was very different in those days, and took the form of ‘Drill’. The children did not change their clothes and shoes for their exercise, and when the weather was fine they did their drill in the playground. In cold and wet weather they drilled at their desks.
Then as now with most schools, fund raising was a great priority. In 1854 Godstone School Printing Press was established for this purpose. The school press printed posters and circulars, handbills catalogues and pamphlets for Godstone and the surrounding area. They advertised their services in this way:
‘All work carefully, promptly and cheaply executed periodicals bound in appropriate covers plain bookbinding done’
In these days before equal opportunities, this work was done by the boys. An advert in the Parish Magazine of December 1870 , shows how the girls also contributed to school funds:
‘the Ladies’ Committee will be very glad if subscribers will at any time, send common work to be done by the children – towels, dusters, kitchen cloths etc. will be hemmed and marked. Ladies and children’s underclothing made and marked at moderate prices. Donations of small pieces of calico or print suitable for patchwork will be thankfully received’.
One hundred and fifty years ago Godstone was a small farming community. Godstone School in its early years was run in accordance with the needs of the farming calendar. At harvest time the school would simply close so that children could join their parents in the necessary work of digging potatoes, picking hops and getting the harvest in. The Headteacher in 1914 was Mr. Thomas Bassett. When the school was shut at harvest time, his job was to be the Teller, who paid out the wages according to how hard everyone had worked.
When all the work had been done, there was time for enjoyment. A tradition that has come down to us from many centuries ago is still carried out at the Village School today – dancing around the Maypole.
The earliest known game was Quoits. Two four foot square clay pits with iron pins in the centre were laid out. The clay was watered frequently to keep it moist and covered at night with old tarred coal sacks supplied by Barnard Brothers, the local coal merchants. The quoits used were of metal and very heavy – quite dangerous when they bounced off the pin and hurtled towards players or bystanders. Should a quoit be thrown and encirle the pin, it was known as a ringer and three points were scored. Those that just landed in the clay scored one point. Players at alternate ends tossed the quoits and although there were many variations of the game, the simplest forms were either to score as many points as possible in eleven games [or ends] or the first player to score forty points being the winner. The game attracted large numbers of spectators on Sunday mornings right up to the 1950’s when Godstone boasted a first class quoits play who represented England in international matches, George Geal.
World War II
With the declaration of War in 1939, the Village soon found itself welcoming evacuees from Brockley who attended the local school and shared village homes.
Soon, men and boys were called up. Unmarried women too were eager to join up into the WAFF, ATS or WRNS or the various Nursing Services. Recruits were sought for National Defence and there was a ‘Dig for Victory’ Campaign. There were events to raise fund for War Charities. A munitions factory was established at Oakhurst Court in Tilburstow Hill Road, making dials and gauges for aeroplanes.
With the proximity of so many airfields, there were many Air Raid warnings with Gun emplacements, searchlights and barrage balloons around. There are memories of an RAF Fighter Plane being shot down over the village with the pilot being shot as he parachuted down.
Many bombs fell in and around Godstone, usually in open fields but also in the Churchyard, blowing out the Church windows and those at nearby Bransfield and Godstone Place, where the North Wing was badly damaged. Incendiary bombs set fire to Hilly Fields behind the ‘Hare and Hounds’ pub.
In 1944 the village suffered the ‘doodlebugs’ and V2 rockets. Consequently, the village children themselves had to be evacuated and were sent off to Wales. Many homes had Morrison table shelters in the living room. There were brick shelters on the Green and up the Bay Path.
Fire watchers ensured quick response to any fire bombs with stirrup pump and sand at the ready
Food Rationing was strict but most families grew their own fruit and vegetables, kept chickens and caught rabbits to supplement their diet.
The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry arrived in July 1940 – they were billeted with village families and the ‘Clayton Arms’, now the ‘White Hart’, was Battalion Headquarters and the Godstone Club was their Recruitment Centre.
During the War the following incidents occurred in the ‘Godstone Rural District’
- High Explosive Bombs 1,726
- Flying bombs 95
- People Killed 23
- People Injured 213
- Incidents 684
- Enemy aircraft bought down11
The soldiers were on hand to help clear up after the bombs and helped families with the 1941 harvest. They were generally popular within the village and well behaved – some settling here after the War. In October 1941, the Canadians left to fight in Italy and the names of their fallen can be seen on the War Memorial in the Churchyard.