Though situated in convenient proximity to London, the neighbourhood of Darking has long been celebrated for its picturesque beauty. The grandeur of the vistas is justly famous; in the course of a morning’s ride, visitors may enjoy all the benefit of a sublime variety of scenery to stimulate the mind and inspire the heart.
Not all of us, however, are suited to the robust pleasures to be sought in nature. Has your physician recommended that you seek to restore your health through a change of scene? If so, you can do no better than to repair to the district of Darking Hundred, whose pure air is noted for its salubriousness. To the aforesaid attractions we may add one of even greater value—that of a select society, pleased to offer welcome to visitors of discernment, be their stay of long duration or short. The neighbourhood abounds with the landed estates of gentlemen and Darking town provides all the amenities a visitor might wish, from elegant lodging to well-stocked circulating libraries and shops that offer the style of goods ordinarily to be found only in London itself. Long a favourite place of resort in the summer season, Darking is certain to reward the traveller with comforts and amenities of no negligible order.
Welcome to Darking Hundred, and may your stay here be a long and contented one.
Anyone searching for the Holmwood Common described in Coldharbour Gentlemen and other Darking Hundred stories would find few traces of it today. Changes in economics and society have transformed it from what it was in 1800. But anyone who lived in 1700 would have been surprised by what they found there a century later as well. At the start of the eighteenth century Holmwood Common was a remote place, locked in obscurity by mud and poor soil. A few farms scratched out a meagre existence around its edges . . .
These are the chronicles of a particular place—the neighbourhood of a market town in Surrey, England—in a moment of time, the year 1800. The town still exists (though its name has migrated to a more prosaic form, Dorking), and these tales are embedded in its collective memory. The factual elements are drawn from the accumulated wisdom of members of historical societies that flourish in the neighbourhood; using their research as a basis, I have embellished reality with characters drawn solely from my imagination. If the result distorts the historical record in any way, the responsibility is entirely mine. . . .
The River Mole has many faces, depending on where the visitor encounters it in Darking Hundred. Most of the areas accessible to the public show a sullen face, as it travels muddy and sluggish through meadows and alongside fields. This is the river as seen under Box Hill, and along the Coffin Path that leads from the village of Brockham to Betchworth. By contrast, the upper reaches of the Mole are little known to the public, flowing mostly through private lands. . . .