Monday, 18 July 2011

In a Surrey Hills Town - a Walk Between Showers

On Saturday, we drove across country into Surrey. This was a day to meet new friends and to spend time in Haslemere Educational Museum, discovering more about the people of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century who began the Haslemere Peasant Arts and Industries.

I was born in this lovely old Surrey town, My father grew up there and my parents met there. Although I grew up near the Hampshire coast, we regularly visited my grandparents. The Haslemere lanes and heathlands became familiar childhood walks.

At the end of a busy afternoon, when the rain had stopped at last, we walked in a part of the town that was once so familiar to me. Just above the railway station in Haslemere, two almost parallel roads wind along the side of a hill. There are modern buildings now, including new apartment blocks and houses built in old meadows and gardens, but the old cottages and the beautiful Arts and Crafts houses still remain. In some areas, little has changed since the houses were first built in the mid to late nineteenth century, following the advent of the railway line from London.

Terraces of Victorian cottages look across the valley.

The Old Studio that was once the tapestry and embroidery workshop of the Haslemere Peasant Industries.........

....and the Dye House where natural dyes were prepared to colour the textiles.

The work buildings above and the houses below were built by politician Joseph King and designed by the Arts and Crafts architect, Francis Troup, so that this small area became a hive of craft industry in the early twentieth century.

The artist Godfrey Blount and his wife Ethel (nee Hine), working with Ethel`s sister Maude King, led this artistic and philanthropic community which promoted a belief in living a good, hard working life in the country, producing well made traditional crafts that reflected the beauty of the natural surroundings. This venture was undoubtedly a reaction to the mass urbanisation and the industrialisation of manufacturing in Victorian England.

The Haslemere Peasant Industries and their place in the Arts and Crafts movement are currently being explored in this well researched and interesting blog

As we explored the lanes, I had a memory of a wooded footpath with steps climbing the hill. We followed a signpost and found the shaded path up to the road where my grandparents used to live. It must be almost forty years since I last walked on this hill, but I seemed to remember each twist and turn. So many of the old, pan-tiled houses were still familiar. This once loved place was still there, locked in my memory.

On the higher road, there were views across red rooftops and gardens, to the wooded hills of Weydown, on the other side of the valley where the railway runs.

A glimpse of a church across the valley.

We walked downhill towards the station. There on the high bank of the hill, stood the tall Victorian house where my father spent his teenage years and where my grandparents lived until they retired. This was the house where they spent nights in the cellar during the Blitz, as German bombers flew above the town on their way to London. This was the house where my mother stayed before I was born, and where I came home as a new born baby.

As a child, I remember the spacious rooms. The living room that looked out over the valley. The steam trains puffing their way through gaps in the trees. The sound of a long-case clock, chiming the hours. My grandparents slept in the room with the big window, underneath the gable. Their bedroom smelled of eau de cologne and lavender.

On the ground floor was the kitchen with a big black range, and a scullery behind with stone sinks and a door that led out to a steep back garden. There was a door into the cellar, where logs were stored and and it was dark and cold. Steep stairs led down into the darkness. I would not go down there alone.

Now, the house has been divided into flats. Outside, there is evidence of building work going on. There was once a horse chestnut tree that grew when Dad, as a boy, had planted a conker. It was felled years ago and a new house was squashed into the side garden where he used to play.


Karen said...

What a lovely village!

When I was little, we would go to Connecticut to visit my paternal grandparents' relatives (three of my great-grandparents were still living) and I would spend the night in my grandmother's childhood bedroom. The family house was built in the 1750's and I didn't get a wink of sleep listening to the creaks and groans of a very old house, convinced that a ghost was coming to get me.

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Rowan said...

A lovely nostalgic visit which obviously brought back a lot of happy memories. I shall go and look at the blog about the Haslemere Peasants, it sounds interesting. The Arts and Crafts style and ethos has always appealed to me.

Lakota [Faith Hope and Charity Shopping] said...

I love the way these buildings nestle so comfortably into the landscape. It's a shame about the dividing of your grandparents' old home, it happens everywhere here, and not always with harmonious results...

Mum said...

Thank you for such an expressive post about your visit to Hazlemere. I could have read for hours more, your narrative flows so freely. I was with you all the way on your walk around, both physically and emotionally.
Love from Mum

The Weaver of Grass said...

I love the architecture and the building materials of places - so different from here in the Dales.