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Wherever the notion of paradise exists, so does the idea that it was lost.

Brad Kessler

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A Stroll through Darking Town

In 1800 Darking was a market town, a hub for the surrounding villages and farms. People came from miles around to buy what they needed and sell what they produced. Darking’s markets were less lively than they had been earlier in the eighteenth century—a few of its industries had died out and improvements in the roads allowed more goods to be transported to London—but it was still the principal economic engine for the hundred.

     Let us imagine a person travelling from the north, from Leatherhead or London, and entering the town. He would first pass through the Giles Green tollgate. To his right would be a large meadow sloping down towards Pippbrook Mill, an ancient structure rebuilt in the eighteenth century. Next on his right was a nursery ground—with so many gentlemen improving their estates, the business of supplying them with ornamental plants was booming. To the left, at a little distance from the road, was Pippbrook House, occupied according to Coldharbour Gentlemen by the chief magistrate, Sir Nugent Lumley-Dacre-Prudhoe.

     As the visitor reaches an intersection—Punchbowl Lane going east in the direction of Reigate, High Street (sometimes known as East Street) to the west—the heart of the town becomes visible. There is a smithy on the northeast corner. Walking down the High Street he will see two large houses belonging to the toffs, Lonsdale House on the right and Shrub Hill on the left. Neither house has extensive grounds: the north side of the street also has the shops of a turner-carpenter, a watchmaker, and a butcher; on the south side may be found a weaver, the town clerk, and the first of the town’s legion of inns and alehouses, the Royal Oak (later called the Surrey Yeoman). Almshouses, built during the eighteenth century, are lined up behind.

J. Fletcher, ‘Dorking, Surrey’ (before 1837), etching. From the author’s collection.

     The traveller would next reach Ram Alley on the left (now Dene Street) and find the Ram Inn. If he took a quick detour down Ram Alley he would see Cotmandene, where the local cricket club played and spectators watched from small wooden booths erected around the edges of the pitch. Ram Alley might take him on to Stonebridge before becoming Brimstone Lane and proceeding to Newdigate; but as this road was nearly always muddy and impassable to a carriage’s narrow wheels, he would be wiser to return to the High Street.

     Shortly beyond on the north side of the road is Mill Lane, leading the way to the Pippbrook Mill. He must cover his nose with a handkerchief here because the tannery is just up the lane on the left. A failed pottery sits abandoned on the right. He continues on the High Street. Just past Mill Lane on the right is the Red Lion Inn, the principal gathering-place of the town, where the gentry’s coachmen can change to fresh horses. If it is market day, the roadway will be lined here with cattle and sheep for sale. The old two-storey market house still stands out front, blocking the middle of the road; parts of it are still in use but it is in ruinous condition (see the post ‘Darking Hundred in 1800’ for an image). Next to the Red Lion is a private bank and a china and glass warehouse, as well as the Three Tuns, where corn is pitched in season. Across the way are the White Horse (post-chaises may be hired here) and a large building known as the Dutch House for its architecture.

     Past the china and glass warehouse are gates opening onto a path that leads to the eastern end of the Church of St Martin; moving past the gates along the High he would find an apothecary, a chandler’s, another watchmaker, and the Wheatsheaf Inn at number 39. This is locally famous as the home of a giant stuffed hog, and it is where a small detachment of militiamen is billeted in the summer of 1800, according to Coldharbour Gentlemen, to hunt the smugglers plying their trade in the neighbourhood. The Wheatsheaf is also familiar to those in the know for its cockfighting pit in the cellar. The Black Horse is along here as well. On the south side of the street, he can visit a fishmonger, a barber, the Post Office, or the Chequers Inn, which has a grocery opening off its eastern side; nearby are a malthouse and another chandler’s selling candles and spermaceti oil.

     On the right beyond the Wheatsheaf Inn may be found Attlee’s, the shop of the enterprising young corn dealer who is expanding his business to supply a range of needs for farmers all around the region. Four more alehouses are nearby—the Rose and Crown, the Star, the White Lion, and the Bull’s Head (from the latter the London coach runs). The Dissenters’ chapel and the Quaker Meeting House are also close at hand, in case someone wants to repent of their Saturday night excesses.

John Beckett, ‘South Street from Pump Corner’ (ca. 1840?), oil painting. Courtesy of Dorking Museum, https://dorkingmuseum.org.uk.

     Our traveller is now nearing a wide and busy corner where three roads meet: High Street, West Street, and South Street, the last of which leads to the continuation of the toll road by which he entered the town. This is called Pump Corner—the town pump stands on the western side of the intersection, with a bakery and confectioner’s shop behind it. (The pump is still there but does not look the same as it did in 1800.) Another large inn, the King’s Head, is on the north side where the High becomes West Street. Next door is a yard where building materials are stored.

     Moving along West Street first, he sees the old Queen’s Arms, now a crumbling house owned by the Turner family, who let its ruins to multiple tenants. Along the street are a grocery; the shop of a painter who is popular with the youth of the town for painting gratis the footballs used in the rowdy Shrove Tuesday game, played in the streets; and the home of a plumber who moonlights as a highwayman. On the south side of West Street, the traveller may stable his horse at Grove House and have its shoe replaced at the smithy behind; he may also stop at another sweet shop, a pipe maker’s, or a mason’s yard. At the western end of West Street, just before it moves on into the countryside, stands Clarendon House, rebuilt in the eighteenth century by Resta Patching, a Quaker whose son developed the town’s waterworks. Clean water is pumped from a spring just north of this spot and delivered throughout the town through wooden pipes, but the system doesn’t work very well and the junior Patching has been imprisoned for bankruptcy and falsification of his accounts.

     Back Lane branches off here on the north side of the street and runs a short distance eastward to the church. Nearby stands the old tithe barn, where threshing is done, on the edge of the parsonage’s glebe lands; close by the washway runs through, an open ditch carrying off all the wastewater from the west and south sides of town, spanned by a simple plank-and-handrail bridge. Adding to the noisome character of the spot are a slaughterhouse, a milking shed, and a brewery. Along Back Lane may also be found a wheelwright, a timber merchant, a carrier’s yard, and a soap factory. The old vicarage stands close to the church but is now occupied by the parish clerk, J. Paul Cleere; the newly installed vicar, Reverend Feachem, has moved to a house where South Street meets Vincent Lane.

    Finally, our visitor returns to Pump Corner and explores South Street. On his left hand Butter Hill rises above him, home of the pleasure fair held on Ascension Day, forty days after Easter; there are also two gentlemen’s houses built high, Butter Hill House and Holder House, as well as a spirits distillery. Along the roadway below are the fenced impoundment yard for stray cattle, the Hole in the Wall cottage where the Walking Dunghill lived, Cheesman’s brewery, and the chalk-plat where lime dug from the surrounding quarries is stored before being sold to farmers for fertiliser or hauled to London to be used by masons building the new squares and docks. Hard by the southern toll gate, known as the Harrow Gate, stands the Queen’s Head Inn. (If we continued, the toll road would take us south past Holmwood Common and into Sussex; just past the tollgate, Coldharbour Lane forks off to the right.) On the other side of South Street, we find the Anchor Yard brewery; a pork butcher, baker, and grocery; the stocks; and the Workhouse, with its small gaol out front known as the Cage. The workhouse governor in 1800 is a man with a pegleg named Mr Boyce; he recently won the lottery and danced so energetically in celebration that he broke the wooden leg. Just south of the Cage is another brewery, a bricklayer’s yard, a market garden, and the new vicarage.

John Hassell, ‘The Old Work-House, Dorking’ (1822), watercolour. Reproduced courtesy of the Surrey Archaeological Society (S16513).
     And here ends our tour of Darking Town. This account is far from complete—for instance, it leaves out several institutions known to have existed, including a lending library and a range of mutual aid societies, most of which met in the inns and alehouses—but evidently they were not of interest to my informant. My principal source is an old resident of the town, Charles Rose, who described in the 1870s the layout of the town as he remembered it from his youth in the 1820s. I know of no reliable sources for the true state of affairs in 1800 and therefore am guessing, first, that little changed over twenty years and, second, that Mr Rose’s memory was a good one. So the details that are offered here with confidence are in fact only matters of speculation; I am claiming the privilege of a writer of fiction in representing them as the truth.
 
SOURCES
 

Dorking Museum Archives.

Vivien Ettlinger, Alan A. Jackson, and Brian Overell, Dorking: A Surrey Market Town through Twenty Centuries (Dorking, 1991).

Robert Humphreys, Early Victorian Dorking: A Mid-Nineteenth Century Country Town (Dorking, 2002).

Owen Manning and William Bray, The History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey, vol. I (London, 1804), pp. 548–95.

Charles Rose, ‘Recollections of Old Dorking’, in Memories of Old Dorking, edited by Margaret K. Kohler (Dorking, 1977).

John Timbs, A Picturesque Promenade round Dorking, in Surrey (London, 1822).

16 September 2021

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