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Description of Chobham and Its History - written 1853

Extracts from The Camp of 1853’ by Charles MacFarlane

 published by Thomas Bosworth, 215 Regent St.

 The Parish of Chobham lies within the rough sandy district which forms the heaths of Surrey. It is bounded on the north by the parishes of Egham and Windlesham; on the east by Chertsey; on the south by Horsell and Bisley and on the west by Frimley. The length of the parish from east to west is seven miles; and its breadth from south to north about four miles. It includes the tythings of Stanners; Pentecost, where was formerly a white cross; and the Forest Tything, in which is a place where two roads intersect, called Long Cross, and near it is a hill called Steeple Hill.

Aubrey mentions two great ditches in this parish of the depth of ten feet or more, imagined to have been made in ancient times for the defence of some army, lying there. It is generally stated that the situation of these ditches is now forgotten; but they may be traced here, and there by a careful observer, although they are not so deep as they were in the days of Aubrey......... His ditches were probably dug by the Danes during their invasions of this island.

The village of Chobham, among these heaths, is four miles from Bagshot about the same distance from Chertsey and between eight and nine miles from the railway station at Slough....... The manor of Chobham is mentioned in the Domesday Book, which ....... was drawn up by William the Conqueror.

The manor of Chobham was given by King Edward the Confessor to the Benedictine Monastery of Chertsey; and these enlightened monks, who were pioneers to draining, agriculture, and general civilization, did very much to improve the naturally tough and sterile lands.

All through the parish, the heath and waste lands are of considerable extent, and include several peat moors, from which every householder on the manor has the right of digging peat for his own consumption....... A very considerable part of the heath is all one bog. I know this to my cost having often hunted across the country in the days of good old George III.

There is also a considerable sheet of water, which goes by the graceful name of "Gracious Pond" and is stated to have been made by John de Rutherwyk, who was Abbot of Chertsey, in the reign of Edward III.

According to Aubrey, this pond was three quarters of a mile in length, and stocked with excellent carp. Its appearance has been much changed of late years. A consid­erable part of the bank on the north side, which consists of peat, having been cut away for fuel by rude hands who cared nothing for the origin and antiquity of the work. The same John de Rutherwyk during his Abbacy enclosed and planted a wood at Chobham, and conducted a stream of water from Gracious Pond to form a moat around the Manor House.

On the surrender of the monastery of Chertsey to Henry VIII, the Manor of Chobham became vested in the crown. Queen Mary sold Chobham Park to Nicholas Heath, Archbishop of York for £3,000. It is said that, Queen Elizabeth was accustomed to pay him an annual visit after his retirement to Chobham. On the decease of the ex-Archbishop, the estate descended to his kinsman, Thomas Heath. At a sub­sequent period it belonged to Sir Francis Leigh. The mansion stood on one side of the road which leads from Chobham down to the village of Chertsey. The site was marked by an old farmhouse; but even that has disappeared. The Park was divided into several farms. It is now the property of Sir Denis le Marchant. Chobham Park was pulled down in the early part of the last century, with the exception of the offices, which were converted into a farmhouse. It is believed that some of the rooms must have been used by the suite of Elizabeth, from the circumstance that Italian inscriptions, cut with a diamond pencil on the windows, were still visible a few years ago (18•3). The Park has long been divided into arable and meadow lands; about one hundred acres are attached to the farm which still bears the name of Chobham Park.

There are several strong Chalybeate springs in different parts of Chobham Parish, and also a small stream called by the good old Saxon word, the "Bourn", which flowing from the heath, traverses the village, passes Crotford bridge in Chertsey, and fall into the Thames near Weybridge. Two of these mineral springs are near the - bottom of the hill on which stood the old Manor House.

In former times, they enjoyed no small celebrity, being, apparently, as much famed as the springs on Banstead Downs. The following description was written about the middle of the last century, and stuck on a solitary tree which stood near the sources:-

"In Westerley Green, in the Parish of Chobham, in the County of Surrey, are famous wells or waters. This mineral water is the same with that of Tunbridge, a famous Chaly­beate flowing from an iron mine; the furthest well north­ward is the strongest spring, which I digged with my own hands. It is much stronger than that of Sunning Hill, as I have proved by infallible experiments and I doubt not in the least, but that the exceeding strength and virtue thereof will in a little time call a great concourse of people to this place, to the relief of the afflicted in general, and the benefit of the neighbourhood in partic­ular whoever may have had occasion, may take notice that these waters cure many serious diseases etc in some of which, I have had great relief thereby when other means had long been used in vain. - John Hill, M.D."

The Romans as well as the Saxons and Danes, have left traces of their existence on the Surrey Heaths. In the year 1772 an earthen pot was ploughed up in a field which had once been a portion of Chobham Park. Within this pot or vase were found a great many Roman coins, of the period of the lower Empire. Among them were two of silver of the Emperors Gratian and Valentinian: on the reverse of each was the inscription, "Virtus Romanorum". There were some copper coins of Theodosius, and some of Honorius, the last of all the Roman. Emperors of the West. With all the coins were discovered a spearhead and a gold ring.

The Church of Chobham, dedicated to St. Lawrence, is especially mentioned in the Domesday Book. It still displays unquestionable evidence of antiquity, having massive piers and circular columns which separate the nave from a narrow south aisle. It is built with rough stones, intermixed with flint and rubble-work, but at the east end it has been repaired with brick. At the west end is a stern square tower, supported by strong buttresses and crowned by a spire. The chancel of the church contains memorials of several individuals formerly connected with Chobham Place. Other monuments exist in the gallery and in the nave. Of the chapel mentioned in the Domesday Book, ....... not a vestige is left, nor has tradition preserved the memory of the spot whereon it stood. The general appearance of the country for some miles in the neighbourhood of Windlesham, Bisley, Chobham and Woking, is somewhat flat and monotonous; but the ground rises to the north and north east of Woking, Pirford, and Ockham, and the scenery is diversified by undulations of surface which occasionally rise into rather bold hills.......

On every side and at no great distance, are places memorable in history, or highly distinguished by their scenic beauty. Near the charming village of Weybridge is the ford called Cowie Stakes where Julius Caesar and his legions effected the passage of the Thames. Runny­mede, where the tyrant John, succumbed to the Baronage of England, and signed Magna Carta, is not far distant ....... Among the numerous objects of interest near Chertsey, is the ancient and venerable tree called the Crouch Oak of Addlestone. Tradition states that this oak was at one time considered to mark the boundary of Windsor Forest in this direction, and that Queen Elizabeth more than once dined beneath its far spread­ing shadow. It is a tree of size. At two feet from the ground its girth is twenty four feet; at the height of nine feet the principal branch, in itself as large as a tree, shoots out almost horizontally from the trunk, to the distance of forty eight feet, and is known to have been eight or ten feet longer a few years ago. The remaining branches are not yet quite destitute of foliage. A curious local superstition has accelerated the decay of this glorious old oak. The women in the neigh­bourhood firmly believed that the bark, taken internally operated as a love-charm! Hence the bark has been cut and pealed, to the great injury of the tree....... The ground at Chobham Common is a wild, extensive heath-clad tract of land. The lower parts of it are marshy, the high grounds covered with a scrubby dry turf. Its extent, its freedom from enclosures or wood, and other consider­ations, on the whole, well adapt it for the use to which it is now put (i.e. the Camp). A succession of swelling heights formed into a crescent-shaped ridge runs through the centre of the common. On the south west side of the heath facing Chobham Park, on a high hill, commanding a very extensive view, is another ancient property, called Chobham Place, the residence of Sir Denis la Marchant.

It is approached from the heath by a long avenue of fir and beech. The former are perhaps among the tallest in England and visible for several miles. The House, too, standing as it does on the summit of a hill, and almost embosomed in wood forms a prominent object in the land­scape, as far as the borders of the county. Chobham Place was the property of the ancient but long extinct family of Fenrother, in the time of Queen Elizabeth; and having descended by marriage into that of Thomas, and subsequently that of the Abdys, was purchased some years ago by its present possessor.

At Knaphill, about one mile and a half from Chobham, on the road to Guildford, is Waterer’s extensive nursery for American plants. The grounds are laid out with the greatest skill and care, and from the peculiar nature of the soil in the neighbourhood the Magnolia, Rhododendron, Azalea, Kalmia Andromedia, and other exotics attain even a greater degree of luxuriance and beauty than in their native climate.

Hyams:- a villa residence upon the very verge of the wilds of Chobham. It is remarkable for the beauty of its position, commanding a pleasing view of the Surrey hills, and the finely wooded country that intervenes. The flower garden and pleasure grounds are extensive and laid out with great taste. The house contains many fine family portraits by Titian, Vandyke, Cornelius Jansen, Sir Peter Lely, Zuechero, Hogarth etc. This place has gradually expanded from a cottage on the moor to its present state, under the superintendence of different proprietors, amongst whom were Lord Sussex Lennox, the Hon. Sir Augustus Foster, the Dowager Lady Granville and the present proprietor, the Right Hon. Lord Vaux of Harrowden.

Lord Seaton, the Commander-in-Chief, will reside at Hyams during the encampment.

About a mile from Chobham Place, on the road to Windlesham is Woodlands, the seat of J. Tyler, Esq. The grounds are laid out with great taste and derive addition­al interest from having been planned by the Rev. W. Gilpin, the author of "Picturesque Tours" and "Forest Scenery". This gentleman was a frequent visitor at Woodlands half a century ago, and assisted in planting the trees in the park, at the time that the art of landscape gardening was in its infancy. The trees are generally in small groups, and now that they have arrived at maturity, they produce an effect which shew how skilfully they were distributed. Inns....... there are two good inns in the High Street of Chobham, the "Sun" and the "White Hart" with good stabling attached, the former having horses for hire.

In 1851 the population of Chobham was 2,059. Chobham Park, a large mansion with a double moat, stood on the edge of the Common. Nicholas Heath, Archbishop of York paid Queen Mary £3,000 for it. He retired here after Queen Elizabeth had deprived him of his benefice for his adherence to the Catholic faith. He was Lord Chancellor in Queen Mary's reign. A later owner (in 1850) was Sir Denis le Marchant, Bart; the Clerk of the House of Commons.