Submitted by Marilyn Eyles. Original text by T E Conway Walker.
When ‘Baa Black Sheep’ was my favourite nursery rhyme the only black sheep I knew were the flock in front of the Stoke D’Abernon manor house and I was a little boy who lived down the lane. Above the lane was a view of Ranmore Church and the old grandstand at Epsom, and it was Epsom Rural Council that looked after our roads. Only a muddy track led to Oxshott, so soft that armoured cars were tested there before being sent to Russia to confront the Germans in the 1914 – 1918 war.
We used Cobham Station in the winter, and daily I was carried even further on the carrier of my mother’s bicycle to Nursery School at what was the Old Rectory on the Glebe at Stoke. The solicitor to the London and South Western Railway lived there, and his only unmarried daughter taught us. Billy Bristowe who wrote the King Penguin book on Spiders, lived next door, opposite the Polo Ground, still a sports field.
Our first house was a little box, built for the bailiff of Knowle Hill Park, the seat of Mr. Hay. He had advertised in a newspaper for a country place ‘Fancy Price Paid’. We were allowed to wander around his woods at the end of our garden, and this continued when the mansion became the Schiff Home. I remember the Surrey Foxhounds meeting there, and later the ‘Three Cheers for Mr. Schiff’ when the hospital opened. This was as soon as patients could be comfortably brought from London by motor ambulance, and only a few years after Harrods motorvan regularly visited Water Lane.
Colonel Wray, the first superintendant, used to invite us to the Christmas entertainment, and, dressed in a black suit, used to ride round the lanes on a nag he had first noticed drawing a coal cart in Cardiff. The Colonel’s funeral procession was headed by the Cobham Brass Band.
Opposite the entrance lodge of the Home lived Dr. Kitching, handy for us before telephones were common. When I was laid on the nursery table and nearly suffocated with chloroform, Kitching was assisted by Dr. Blackwell (of the Crosse and Blackwell family) from Oxshott to hold my yelling body down. Fortunately my physical injuries were few and slight, such as grazing my knee when I fell on the road, running to meet the postman on his Sunday morning delivery.
Our Rubbish was taken to the Schiff Home dump and later to a brickfield on the site of Pony Chase there I saw the lumps of clay being moulded one by one and smelled the burning of the bricks.
Water Lane was a sort of cul-de-sac before the road was made up to Oxshott, and was once closed altogether when a bomb made a crater in the middle of the road. The deep hole was soon attended to, but I remember a smart private car being stuck in the soft infill having ignored a warning sign.
BALLOON Not all that comes from above was perilous, I remember afternoon tea being carried to Balloonists who had descended on Little Heath. This was before World War 1 when we could walk up to Polyapes, now the Scouts camp, to hear the guns in France.
The railway was electrified in 1925 and up to then I could lie in bed and listen to the trains, rumbling over the Mole to Effingham, over the bridge I had walked with the beagles. A Horsebus ran from the White Lion in Street Cobham to the Station. <scribbled out> of course Cobham Station itself is in Stoke Parish and the long straight road to Cobham Village was laid out at the time of the enclosures in the late 18th century). I usually walked to the shops over orchards and fields to the Tilt and back to the village by another path, now a series of (miserable) squeezes past back gardens. We had to tread out a path anew after each ploughing and after that I remember the broadcast sewing of the corn
(now a lost art). My destination in the village was Mrs Harris’s Newsagents shop, now Forbes where I have dealt for 80 years. My weekly penny could buy a satisfactory toy. We might call at the Mill for flour or chicken corn and the rumbling and shaking of the interior was quite an experience.
So narrow was the road here that the Canadian troops at Oxshott in World War 2 had to be banned from driving (their lorries) past the building to wash their lorries in the Mole. All that remains now is the little extension built between 1809 – 1820. It was at River Hill that I last saw the last Water cart in operation. The tarring of the roads has made watering a needless operation.
When we came to Cobham in 1907 the Vicar, Canon Grove who rode a horse around the parish and was wont to travel to (holiday in) Wisley (?) with luggage on the pillion and his wife following on a bicycle.
I (seem to) have nearly forgotten the Ambulance train of World War 1, crawling through Cobham station with patients sitting below, those on stretchers above. The train would have caused congestion on the main line and I wonder how long it would take even to reach Oxshott.
But Oxshott is another story.