The Leatherhead & District Local History Society has spent over 70 years documenting and recording the history of local towns, including Ashtead. We spoke with Chairman and Ashtead Archivist, John Rowley, to learn more about Ashtead. John talks about the war-time history of his own house and the changing face of local pubs amongst other local historical anecdotes.
The Leatherhead & District Local History Society has spent over 70 years documenting and recording the history of local towns, including Ashtead. We spoke with Chairman and Ashtead Archivist, John Rowley, to learn more about Ashtead.
Where does your interest in Ashtead come from?
I’ve lived in and around the area for the last 45 years and always been interested in local history. About 8 years ago, Mark Everett sold me my current house and some architectural anomalies piqued my interest in the local history.
The house is Edwardian, but features a flat concrete roof, not something normally associated with properties from that era. Local folklore suggested the roof was a consequence of bomb damage in the area during the 2nd World War. History certainly records that there was some bomb damage in the area, in Gaywood Road, but I could find no evidence it had affected my property.
As I investigated further, I learnt that the property had been built by an Epsom firm of builders, Cropley Brothers. They are sadly no longer in existence – their last known job was to build the Ashtead Peace Memorial Hall!
What I learnt from the records was that the land had presented something of a structural challenge for the builders, the house being built on sloping land. As a consequence, a concrete roof was used to add structural integrity to the building. I was a civil engineer by profession. My belief is that this property survived the bomb damage that affected so many other neighbouring properties because of the concrete roof.
What does your role with Leatherhead & District Local History Society involve?
As Ashtead Archivist, I’m responsible for collating information, pictures, maps and historical documents that help to preserve information about the historical evolution of Ashtead. The two pictures below show just how much Ashtead has changed over the last 100 years or so.
You must have a few interesting stories about the development of Ashtead. What can you share with us?
Ashtead has seen many changes. At one stage there were 5 pubs in the village plus what I suspect was a ‘beer house’ associated with the local blacksmith, the Three Horseshoes! Its purpose was to provide refreshment whilst people waited for the blacksmith to complete his work. The two pubs no longer open were the Berkshire Arms (I’m not sure when this closed) and the Haunch of Venison (closed 1860). Not a name you see very often now for a pub!
We’ve also seen 6 different sites for the village Post Office over the years. It has been on both sides of The Street and the current site is notable as the site of a Canadian Forces Post Office during the war years when a lot of Canadian troops were stationed in and around Ashtead.
We hear you are writing a book….
I am. It is a joint project with Pat Jenkins who is the archivist at City of London Freemans school. We are researching and documenting the history of Ashtead between 1939-1945. It’s not intended to be a history of the war as such, rather the social history of Ashtead during the war years.
Is there anything you would like help with?
The Leatherhead & District Local History Society is always keen to acquire and preserve historical records. There are a few specific gaps we would love to fill, but we always welcome any historical records.
If anyone has any records or photographs of the following, we would love to speak with you.
· Balquhain Lodge (previously also known as Oakfield Lodge)
· Howard House on Parkers Hill
· Pictures or records of Ashtead from the period 1939-1945
· Any records on the builders & architects involved with building the more historic houses in the village, particularly those that are listed.
Leatherhead & District Local History Society runs regular lectures and talks. If you would like to support their work, please take a look at their website for more details and membership enquiries.
Michael Everett & Co is a corporate member and supporter of Leatherhead & District Local History Society.