Did you know?


Celebrating E.M. Forster for February’s LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) history Month

Did you know 02-2018

Novelist Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970) lived in Weybridge from his twenties to early forties and wrote or completed all his novels at 19 Monument Green. His most famous books were ‘A Passage to India’, ‘A Room with a View’ and ‘Howard’s End’.

Forster’s novels deal with themes of morality, societal structure and the confinements of middle class life. ‘Maurice’ was the most controversial book written by Forster because it dealt with homosexual life at a time when sexual activity between men was illegal in England and Wales.

Dubbed the "quiet revolutionary" in a 1969 Observer Review, Forster was described as someone who "all his life […] evaded labels". The author’s personal struggle with his sexuality stemmed from his belief that being gay damaged his creativity. Forster never married and ‘Maurice’ was only published after his death, publically ‘outing’ him.

This 1982 photograph was taken of Forster’s house in Weybridge. At the time it was taken, it was commonly believed that Forster resided at number 20 Monument Green (centre). However, research into house deeds in the 2000s proved that number 19 (right) was owned by Forster’s mother, Alice. After this discovery, the commemorative plaque dedicated to E M Forster situated at number 20 was moved to number 19!



2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s birth

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This pen and ink sketch of Claremont by Robert Taylor Pritchett is a unique record of where he lived in the mid-19th Century, and the Esher that Jane Austen describes in a letter to her nephew in 1813:

"We left Guildford at 20 minutes before 12 (I hope somebody cares for these minutes), and were at Esher in about 2 hours more. I was very much pleased with the country in general. Between Guildford and Ripley I thought it particularly pretty, also about Painshill; and from a Mr Spicer's grounds at Esher, which we walked into before dinner, the views were beautiful. I cannot say what we did not see, but I should think there could not be a wood, or a meadow, or palace, or remarkable spot in England that was not spread out before us on one side or other. Claremont is going to be sold: a Mr Ellis has it now. It is a house that seems never to have prospered. After dinner we walked forward to be overtaken at the coachman's time, and before he did overtake us we were very near Kingston."




Lancelot 'capability' brown 1716-1783 

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2016 marks the 300th anniversary of Brown’s birth. Capability made a huge impact on landscape design in 18th century England, creating beautiful landscapes and vistas that continue to impress and influence us greatly today.

His style was very different from the clipped, geometric and symmetrical gardens of his day, creating instead seamless, natural looking vistas that stretched to the horizon. He incorporated buildings, woods and even hamlets, and livestock and farms were hidden using sunken fences and haw–haws creating uninterrupted views.

Brown was known as ‘Capability’ because he would tell clients that their land had great ‘capabilities’ for improvement.

This watercolour is of Ashley House which stood in Walton on Thames from 1602 to 1930. It was painted by John (or James) Spyers, a surveyor and gifted draughtsman who worked with Capability Brown to visually interpret the gardener’s plans. When working at Hampton Court with Brown, Spyers earned the name ‘Surveyor of Hampton Court’.  




Esher School pupils and master

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 Another lovely old photograph, this time of Esher School pupils and their master taken in the 1870s. It was recently used on a flyer for our |Young Victorians exhibition. A Molesey resident contacted us to say that she had an identical copy of the image as it showed her Grandfather Herbert Francis Jordan (born 1865), as a little school boy, sitting on the far left. The lady informed us that Herbert was a keen reader and remembers him encouraging her to explore the joys of reading, particularly Kipling.

If you recognise anyone in this picture and would like to share the information, we would love to hear from you.




Walton Rugby Football club

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 This photograph of the Walton Rugby Football Club team was taken in 1914. Rugby has always been a popular game and even during the First World War Rugby Union became a significant wartime spectator sport, considered fundamental for the war effort.

Teams were formed from military groups and in the 'Athletic News' of 1915, there were at least ten military sides in London looking for regular fixtures. One such team was The Third Battalion of the Honourable Artillery Company, quartered at Mount Felix, Walton on Thames.

Esher Rugby Club was formed in 1924 in The Prince of Wales Pub in West End, Esher. At first, changing rooms and baths were provided at the Wheatsheaf on Esher Green.

Did you spot the Walton Rugby Football Club team's mascot, "Spot" the dog?




The Grotto at Oatlands


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 The grotto was built in the 1730's by Joseph Lane and his son Josiah. It was considered the finest in the land and was probably unique in having two storeys of chambers and passageways, all decorated with shells and artificial stalactites. Exterior pathways running between the levels were said to be made of horse teeth.

The Grotto survived until 1948 when it was deemed unsafe, not helped by having been used for target practise by New Zealand soldiers billeted in Oatlands House.

The statue of Venus that stood beside a tiled bath was saved and has been in our collection since 1924. When she arrived, she was found to be too heavy to be sited upstairs so it was agreed she could stand in the ground floor office -temporarily, as long as Venus was suitably draped to preserve her modesty.

The image is of the Gambling Chamber, complete with fire place!




Robert Louis Stevenson


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 Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) 

The famous author stayed in Weybridge in 1882 at The Hand and Spear Hotel near Weybridge Station.

It was whilst sitting at a desk in his room at The Hand and Spear that he corrected the proofs of 'Treasure Island'.

In an article that first appeared in the August 1894 issue of the Idler, Robert Louis Stevenson told the story of how his novel, Treasure Island, came to be written. He said that it came from an idea originally created with his step-son, Lloyd Osbourne, during a wet summer in Pitlolochry in 1881.

He wrote, 'It seems as though a fully- grown, experienced man of letters might engage to turn out Treasure Island at so many pages a day and keep his pipe alight. But alas! This was not my case. Fifteen days I stuck to it and turned out fifteen chapters; and then, in the early paragraphs of the sixteenth, ignominiously lost hold. My mouth was empty; there was not one word more of Treasure Island in my bosom; and here were the proofs of the beginning already waiting for me at the Hand and Spear! There I corrected them, living for the most part alone, walking on the heath at Weybridge on the dewy autumn mornings, a good deal pleased with what I had done, and more appalled at what remained for me to do.'





Granny Berry 

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Emily Berry, known locally as Granny Berry, had been a local midwife before there was a hospital provision for expectant mothers.

In the late 19th century she used to visit Weybridge Village regularly in her donkey cart. Apparently, Granny Berry smoked a clay pipe - upside down! and allegedly used bad language although children looked forward to her visits to the village.

This picture, titled 'Worn Out' was published in the 'Surrey Herald' on 12th November 1965 and aroused much interest amongst readers, some of whom remembered her.

She died in 1920.



A 'Dead Man's Penny'


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Prompted by huge casualty figures, a committee was set up by the Secretary of State for War, David Lloyd George, in October 1916 to consider how best to demonstrate official recognition of the deaths of so many.

This intention was publicised in The Times on Tuesday, 7 November 1916 and on 13 August 1917 a competition was announced in the same newspaper to design a commemorative plaque to be given to the bereaved next of kin. A prize of £250 was to be awarded to the winner.

Over 800 entries were submitted from all over the British Empire including from troops serving on the Western Front. The winning designer was Edward Carter Preston (1885-1965) of Liverpool. His design was to be cast in bronze as a 12cm disc. It depicts the image of Britannia facing right, holding a trident in one hand and a victory laurel wreath in the other with a male lion in the foreground. Two dolphins represent British sea power and there are a branch of oak leaves and acorns on the right-hand side. At the base an eagle, the emblem of Imperial Germany, is shown being ravaged by a second lion. The initials of the designer are embossed just above the large lion's right fore paw. The name of the casualty was given without their rank to illustrate the equality of the sacrifice.

Production started in December 1918 and approximately 1,150,000 plaques were issued. They became commonly known by the troops as a 'Dead Man's Penny' ( a penny being the smallest unit of British currency at the time). The official plaques were accompanied by a memorial scroll to the casualty and a 'personal' letter from King George V. The soldier commemorated on our 'Dead Man's Penny' is Thomas Kean.




Travellers' Rest in Esher


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This structure, opposite the Civic Centre in Esher High Street, was originally known as Wolsey's Well. 

It was a drinking fountain with a spring- fed bowl of water on the left hand side and a seat in the middle arch. However, Brayley ('Top History of Surrey'), wrote in 1841 that the real local name was Travellers' Rest. 

It is made of stone, flint and possibly debris from Sandon Chapel.
You can still just see the stone in the central arch with a carving of the badge of the Pelham family (a buckle) and the letters 'HP', suggesting a possible connection to Henry Pelham, the owner of Esher Place from 1718 to 1754. 

Travellers' Rest has been moved and altered over the years, it was even hit by an out of control dumper truck from Sandown Park in the 1960s!