A Man Unknown

Did you know that Valley End was once the haunt of highwaymen?

The parish reached Broomhall Lane, and included a small slice of the London Road, now the A30. This used to be the Great West Road, one of the major routes from London.  The inns at Bagshot had up to 30 coaches a day passing through.

But travelling on the road was full of risks. It crossed desolate heath land. Daniel Defoe described it in the 1720s as “a vast tract of land… given up to barrenness, horrid and frightful to look on.”

Travellers were vulnerable in this isolated country. In 1795 a writer complained bitterly “The high-roads thirty or forty miles round London are filled with armed highwaymen and footpads.”

There were many tales of the highwaymen in Surrey – such as this one:


The Highwayman. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

It appears that close to the milestone marked 22 miles* to Hyde Park corner, which is still embedded outside Sunningdale on the road to Virginia Water, a two-wheeled curricle appeared going towards Bagshot. The occupants were two military Officers. Out from the trees moved a mounted figure with levelled pistols, and demanded the Officer’s valuables. Astoundingly, the Officers handed over three gold guineas and a gold watch. Here the Officers pass out of our story – in my opinion with ignominy, as no one in their right mind traversed Bagshot Heath unarmed in those times.


“22 miles to Hyde Park Corner.” The milestone, just past West Drive on the A 30.

However, here comes an unnamed Hero.

Breasting the rise, (there’s a cliché for you, but very aptly put in fact,) came the afternoon coach from the “Three Mariners” at Bagshot on its way to Staines, its leaders pulling hard at their collars and thus breasting the rise. The Coachman took in the situation at a glance and with the aid of his companion on the box, braked the coach, jumped down, blocked the coach wheels and striped the tack off the near leader. The unnamed companion with the coach blunderbuss in one hand and the looped ribbons in the other swung onto the animal and belted up the hill after the Highwayman who had turned towards Virginia Water and was off as fast as his mare would go.


The Three Mariners, Bagshot, an old coaching inn. (Image courtesy of the Three Mariners, Bagshot.)

Now Virginia Water must have been very different two hundred years ago, and I think it must have been a ford. But the little inn on the far side was The Wheatsheaf as it is today.

The pursuit must have been gaining because the Highwayman put his mare at the iron railings (could they be the same railings as are there today?) Anyway the mare refused and the thief either got off or fell off. He didn’t try again but set off on foot to the water’s edge where he decided to swim for it. Our hero in pursuit must have been getting very close because the thief without taking any of his clothes off plunged straight in. He was half way across when his luck ran out, for by chance, the Water Bailiff carrying a gun appeared on the far side.


Virginia Water Lake, 1950. (Image from Britain From Above.)

The Highwayman seeing him there gave a despairing cry and sank below the water.

They pulled him out quite drowned, recovered the three guineas and the gold watch, remarked on his grey wool stockings being heavily darned, and – would you believe it – the only other matter reported was the finding in his pocket of a bill from the Wheatsheaf for one shilling and nine pence for his lunch.

There is another account of this here in the Sporting Magazine for 1797.

The Coroner’s account book at Berkshire Record Office includes the cost of “An inquisition taken at the parish of Old Windsor on view of the body of a Man unknown” on Dec. 4th 1797, and explains, “(Highwayman, endeavouring to escape attempted to swim across Virginia Water and was drowned.)”

These were violent times; another inquest that year, held on May 17th 1797 at Binfield, recorded the death of Edward Bunce, “Turnpike Keeper shot through the head by Night.”

Stories of the highwaymen lingered in the area. When James Ogilvy wrote “A pilgrimage in Surrey” in 1914 he mentioned tales of highwaymen hiding in the trees on the common, and of a tavern they used between Longcross and Chobham Common.

He may have been thinking of the Traveller’s Friend – an ironic name if ever there was. This stood next to Longcross car park on Staple Hill. The pub has long gone, but there is still an iron bar sticking out from a tree, which used to hold the pub sign – a reminder of the days of the highwaymen.

Colour photo of the rear of a house on edge of Chobham Common, Longcross, previously a public house called `Travellers Friend', taken MayJune 1982 (back view) Chertsey Museum

The Traveller’s Friend, Longcross. (Image courtesy of Chertsey Museum).

*”Brock” gave the milestone as marked xviii, but according to the Sporting Magazine it was the stone marked 22 miles. This stone is just past West Drive on the London Road. It is opposite Crown land, and nearly facing it is a private track running across open countryside and woodland. It passes close to Coworth Park, and comes out on the A329. You are then on the edge of the Park, and close to Virginia Water Lake. This must be the route which the highwayman took.



The story of the highwayman was told by “Brock” under the title “Captain Snow, I presume,”  in the Windlesham Magazine, Feb. 86. and is reproduced by kind permission of the magazine. I have been unable to trace “Brock”, but if anyone knows anything about him I would be very glad to hear from them.

Berkshire Record Office. Coroner’s account book. D/EX 1412/1

Daniel Defoe. “A tour through the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies. 1724 and 1727.

Gentleman’s magazine. 1795. Vol. 78. p.831.

Sporting Magazine, 1797, Vol. 11, p. 112.

James Ogilvy. “A pilgrimage in Surrey.” 1914.

Ron Davis. “Three places for refreshment at Longcross.” Typescript, Chertsey Museum. Note – “To be published in April 1996 edition of “Connections,” Virginia Water Parish Magazine.




Château Brick Hill.


People on Brick Hill knew how to forage on the Common. They knew how to gather fruit and flowers, and how to use them – for example for home made wine.


Brick Hill had a thriving tradition of home made wine. Many people made it.


Beer and bottles in the larder. Kitchen in Whittaker’s Cottages, Weald and Downland Museum. (With thanks to the Weald and Downland Museum.)

Lilian Millard produced a range of wines. She was once clearing out her cupboards where it was stored when the curate popped in for a visit. She hospitably offered him a few samples. He happily agreed, merrily sipping them. Then he paused. “After that,” he said, “You’d better give me some coffee.”

Joan Weymouth carried on the tradition, branching out into sloe gin. As she needed to bottle it, she was lucky  to get some gin bottles, still with a touch of gin in them, from one of her clients.

Tony Lovejoy’s mother also made wine. Her rhubarb wine tasted wonderful, but was unexpectedly strong.


Elderflowers in bloom in Valley End. For Elderflower Wine, “Pick Elderflowers that are fragrant and at their peak.”

The women in Dave Hizzey’s family had skilled hands with wine.

“My great grandma was a great homemade winemaker, as my Mum was. Apparently when my Mum first went there, in the little shed in bottom of the garden the wine was all in proper barrels, draped in wet sacks, to keep them cool in the summer.

“The best wine my Mum ever made that I really liked was a Cumberland Brandy, and that was wheat, and raisins or something.  Then she made elderflower – she never made elderberry, I don’t know why, perhaps she didn’t like them, and broom, with the flowers from the broom. I think you can do it with gorse as well, but it’s a job to pluck the flowers. They were great lovers of dandelion wine.

“I can remember as a kid my Mum used to say, “Oh, your Dad’s gone to get his bottle filled,” because my Gran lived  next door, and my Dad used to go and say goodnight to his Mum every night. But she’d have a jug of wine which she’d made, because she used to make it as well, and a glass, and I don’t mean a wine glass I mean a tumbler, full of wine as well. He’d empty the jug, and you really don’t know how strong that stuff is. He used to come back a bit wobbly.” (David Hizzey.)


If you fancy making a  homemade wine, here are recipes from Surrey in the 1930s.


“For Broom wine -take 4 pints of broom flowers.” Broom blossoming on Chobham Common. (Photograph by Roy Smithers, courtesy of Mark Stroud.)


Collected from Chobham W.I. in 1932.

3 lbs. Grapes.

3 lbs. Sugar.

1 gallon Water.

Put the grapes in a large pan with the stalks on, and cover with a gallon of boiling water. Leave for ten days, then with a wooden spoon press them to the side of the pan to beak them, strain through a fine cloth, add the sugar, stir well, and leave for 24 hours, stir well again and put into bottles; each one must be filled to the top, as the froth works out fill up again. After about two weeks the corks could be put in but not very tight for a few days – CORKS, not screw stoppers. The grapes should be picked before cold nights come on or they will get mildew.

Or, if you can’t pick own grapes before the nights grow cold, you could try something else.


Collected from Wrecclesham W. I. in 1932.

A half a gallon of small potatoes.

3 and a half lbs. Demerara sugar.

1 gallon water.

1 lemon.

1 orange.

(Use potatoes which would otherwise be thrown away.)

Well wash potatoes, boil until tender but not smash, strain into a pan containing sugar and fruit, when dissolved boil again 30 minutes, when cool add a little yeast and set to work, extra water may be added when boiling to allow for wasting. Bottles or jars must be kept filled up while working.

And if you would like a liqueur


Collected from Pirbright W. I. in 1932.

1 gallon Gin.

8 Seville Oranges – the rinds.

8 Lemons – pared very thin.

2 lbs. Loaf Sugar.

Steep the rinds of the oranges and lemons and the sugar in the gin for 6 days, stirring twice a day and then strain and bottle off.


Pottery barrel and jar, from the Weald and Downland Museum artifacts collection. (With thanks to the Weald and Downland Museum.)

I have not tried these recipes myself, but if anyone uses one please let us know how it turns out!


With many thanks to David Hizzey, Joan Weymouth, and Tony Lovejoy.

“The Surrey cookery book: recipes and remedies old and new: contributed by 50 Women’s Institutes.” Compiled by Miss Adeline Maclean: assisted by Miss Evelyn Thompson. Guildford 1932.



Farming in Valley End

Alan Richardson and his family have farmed in Valley End for many years.

“I ran a farm with up to 300 acres, not all in Valley End of course, the land was all around the village. There were a lot of farms in Valley End and Chobham before the 1950s.

“The big farms were like Windlesham Park, which was 375 acres. It was farmed by Henderson, and at one time he had over 40 people working on that property. He was a great benefactor to the villages of Windlesham and Valley End.

“Some of the farms were very small. If you had 40 acres you had a biggish farm. If you had 4 acres or more it was called it a farm.

“People who had cottages and gardens or these small farms, turned their hand to anything to make extra money. Shrubbs Farm did carting in order to earn extra money, and Sturts the brickmakers used to run a taxi service as well. Nothing was specialised in quite the same way as today.



Goats on the Common. (Photo courtesy David Hizzey.)

“You had to have something of everything in the farming line. You had to have poultry, you had to have a couple of sties of pigs, possibly less, just one sow sometimes, and she would have pigs each year, and they would be killed in the autumn. If you had a cow who had a calf each year, the family was kept in milk, and probably even sold some or gave it away maybe to other people. But I expect they made cheese and cream cheese with the milk, as well, but some was given away, or sold, just as a little extra.

Valley Wood Farm_0010 copy - Copy.jpg

Feeding the chickens at Valley Wood Farm. (Image courtesy J. End.)

“The war prolonged farming in Chobham. Because everything was saleable, everything made quite a good price, and people could keep going on quite small acreages.

“During the war, everything was used, everything was ploughed up. The War Agricultural Committee would come round and tell you what they wanted you to grow, and you had to do it. Whether the ground was suitable or not didn’t always matter. They wanted more of, say, potatoes, cabbages, or brassica, and you had to comply and grow what they said.


“To enjoy the fruits of victory, save now.” A farming scene on a National Savings Committee poster, Second World War. (Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum.)

“My father used to complain, when they came round, “Another bloody failed farmer coming round and telling me what to do, I know that field won’t grow what we’re being told to grow.”

“We used to take the corn down to Chobham Mill. They would crush it or grind it. Oats were a great favourite in those days. More oats were grown because it was considered the right thing for feeding cattle and horses.


The Town Mill, Chobham. (Image courtesy of Chobham Village.)

“Mechanisation started around Chobham in the 1950s. Rolfe used to come round with a big Massey Harris tractor and threshing drum, and he used to come to us.

“The Greens used to have someone who came, and they lived in a caravan on wheels. A lot of people did. They travelled in caravans, but they weren’t gypsies. It was because they travelled quite long distances and they didn’t have cars in those days. They would bring the kids quite often.

“They came in autumn, and it was an exciting time of the year. You’d already reaped the harvest. You were taking the proceeds of what you’d planted in the spring. Everything happened in late autumn. That was the end of your farming year. Then you went into winter and everything sort of shut down. You’d look after the stock you hadn’t killed, and if you had cows obviously you’d still milk those.

Black and white photograph of apple pickers at Spratts Farm, Ottershaw, 1916 Chertesy Museum

Apple pickers at Spratt’s Farm, Ottershaw, 1916.  From left to right; Henry Spong, Benny, George Smith, Sonny Bolton, and Bill West. (Image courtesy Chertsey Museum.)

“The land use has changed totally. Look at the local shows before 1955. They would have mangels, swedes, turnips, and all sorts of produce, like sheaves of corn, to be judged. But after the 50s that all disappeared because there were no more farms producing it.

“In the end of course, even the nurseries went. Containerisation came in and open field nursery work stopped to a large extent. There are only a few little bits here and there. They are all sold up now.

Black and white photograph of 3 men loading a horse pulled hay wagon, at Botleys Park, Ottershaw, Surrey. Chertesy Museum.jpg

Hay wagon at Botleys Park, Ottershaw. (Image courtesy Chertsey Museum.)

“I was the last one with cattle in the village. When I sold up that was it. I sold up about 2010. I never went above a 100 head of cattle, but it was mostly it was round about 60 or 70 head. I used to drive cattle through Chobham along the Woking Road.

“There is no farming worth talking about in Chobham now. There is no one in Chobham who is relying on farming for their income.

“The horses came in when ordinary people could afford to have a horse. It started with the 60s. Prior to that if people had horses for pleasure it would only have been wealthier people.

“Chobham is growing horses and houses now.”


With many thanks to Alan Richardson.

Memory or maps? Beating the bounds of Valley End.


Beating of the Bounds in a town, 1900 – 1919. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

The tradition of beating the bounds, in which villagers walked the boundaries of their parish, was undertaken in Chobham during the 19th century. We do not know when the custom started.

There was a serious reason behind it. At a time when boundaries were vital for local administration walking the boundaries, or bounds, taught residents where they were. As an aid to memory lads were told to beat the boundary markers with sticks, which gave the tradition its name.

Valley End had been given its own parish boundaries. But as it remained part of the civil parish of Chobham, when Chobham beat the bounds it included Valley End.

In this area the beaters were called meersmen, and were led by a flag bearer. The boundary markers were Maltese crosses, cut into the ground or into trees.

It was a raucous occasion. Boys were dispatched to wade through ponds. Tony Lovejoy’s father described a lad having to go through a house by climbing in one window, and out at another.

He may have been remembering Ridge Mount, near Sunningdale, which was then in Valley End. This was the house that triggered a debate on memory versus maps, and changed the parish boundaries forever.

On the 22nd May 1900 Chobham was beating the bounds, and following their traditional route west of Sunningdale.

They were on what had been a scrubby, ignored patch of land. But recently a large house, Ridge Mount, had been built there. The annual rateable value, assessed by Chobham, was £200. This was a large amount in those days.


Ridge Mount in 1912. The boundary line is shown going straight through Ridge Mount House, the Dormy House of Sunningdale Golf Club. O.S. 25″ map, sheet X.6 (With thanks to the Surrey History Centre.)

Which is why the meersmen were met by officials from Windlesham. Chobham had claimed the whole house as part of their parish. Windlesham said no. A sixth of the house was theirs.

Windlesham later took credit for trying to prevent a quarrel. If they had tried, they had failed.

Surrey County Council was finally obliged to call an Inquiry, held at the Sunningdale Hotel on 7th February 1902.

Chobham’s argument was that they had followed this route every 7 years since at least 1851. Chobhamers testified that they had taken this line since they were children, and that the bounds had been established for generations.

This argument over a sixth of a house mattered. Chobham protested that it would lose rates and voters along with this sliver of land.


Ridge Mount is now the Dormy House Nursing Home on Ridge Mount Road, Sunningdale.

Harsh words were exchanged. There were protests that “It was not right for Chobham to mask in a Windlesham garment.”

It was a difficult decision for Surrey County Council. The maps that Windlesham so confidently displayed had not been intended to define a boundary. Chobham had never bothered with maps, as their route was “only supported by Chobham traditions, which were founded on custom, and the information of the inhabitants.”

At one time the unbroken tradition of Chobham could have been sufficient. But the dawn of the 20th century was a more bureaucratic age. Surrey decided in favour of Windlesham.

Chobham accepted the ruling, and with it the implication that the customs and traditions of the village were worthless. Chobham never beat the bounds again. The parish thought that there was no point.  

The tradition of Beating the Bounds continues in other areas. This film follows a group beating the bounds in Oxford.



Surrey History Centre. Item CC28/33

With thanks to Tony Lovejoy.

Marry in haste

“Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” (English proverb.)

In 1873 Richard Gude, of Valleywood Farm, died.[1] He left an estate worth £2,378, an amount that could be worth up to £3,479,000.00 today. Gude left one executrix, Harriet Hone, who had been his cook.

Harriet came from a farming family in West End. She was always a bit economical with the truth where her exact age was concerned, but at this point she was 39 years old, and a spinster.

Her marital status was important. A wife’s legal identity was submerged into her husband’s, so that on marriage the man was absolutely entitled to all his wife’s belongings.

Under the terms of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870, married women had some rights to their own earnings. Later the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 gave women control over property they inherited, or brought into the marriage. But this was 1873. There were ways in which a woman could protect herself financially, but Harriet doesn’t seem to have known them.

Harriet had been given an income and home for life. A friendly letter from John Gude Wenman encouraged her to “enjoy the fresh air of your healthful common, & prepare your House and Garden to receive your nice plants.”


Harriet’s home, Valleywood Farm,in 1947.(Image from Britain from Above, image EAW011887)

All she had to do was to either stay single, or marry wisely.

She did neither. Harriet married Frank Cutler, an 18-year-old waiter from Chobham, on November 13th, 1873.

A notice proclaiming this was proudly put in the London Evening Standard. She must have assumed that she could keep control of her recent wealth and her new husband. Frank was probably accustomed to strong women. (At a time when most women were listed in the census as having no occupation his redoubtable mother, Susannah, had an awestruck note beside her entry in the 1861 census; “Farmer of 40 acres of land employing 2.”)

Frank signed a document allowing Harriet to act independently of him in business matters. Unfortunately we know of this because a year later on 24th November 1874 a letter was sent to Harriet rescinding this. “We beg to inform you that Mr. Frank Cutler has written to us withdrawing his authority for you to continue to act alone as Executrix of the late R Gude.”

By this time the marriage had collapsed, and the couple were living apart. Frank was ensconced at Valleywood, or “Chobham Common”, managing the farm his wife had inherited. She had fled to Southampton, and had taken shelter with friends, Mr and Mrs. Cushen.

Both Frank and Harriet employed solicitors, and bitter letters were flying to and fro. Harriet was desperately attempting to disentangle herself from matrimony, complaining “her life would be a perfect burden to her if she returned to her husband.” She claimed that Frank, still only 19, was idle, living without a proper occupation.

His solicitor replied that Frank had no desire to be separated from his wife, but if she insisted “It is therefore a question of what is a fair allowance for Mr. Cutler.” The problem was greater in that nothing could be done until Frank came of age. He was under 21.

The fact that they were living apart was frowned upon. Even the solicitors believed that they should resume married life; “in every sense of the word it is our duty to effect such an object.”

But Harriet wanted a divorce, which was shocking. Before the Divorce Act of 1857, this could only be granted by a private Act of Parliament. After 1857 it was permitted, but only on grounds of adultery, and the woman had to have added proof of cruelty too. Her solicitors were horrified; it was “better to avoid the scandal of a divorce.”


A ballad about the Divorce Bill of 1857. (From Broadside ballads online from the Bodleian Library.)

Finally, in August 1876, a Deed of Separation was drawn up between the two. Frank had moved out of Valleywood. He got £1000, a vast amount then, and he agreed to pay any of Gude’s outstanding debts. Harriet got £485 under the Deed, and kept her leasehold and freehold property. Frank agreed that his wife could live apart, and that he would not visit her without her consent.

Frank went back to his old trade, and became tavern keeper at the Horn Tavern in the City of London. His purchase left him short of money, sadly a sign of things to come. (His solicitor’s bill had been £535.) By September 1877 he was instituting a bankruptcy case, and was summoned to a meeting of his creditors. Finally he went back to working in hotels.


The Horn Tavern, Knightrider Street, City of London, where Frank was a tavern keeper. It is now the Centre Page. (Image courtesy of Centre Page public house, Knightrider Street.)

Harriet would not have known this. She died in Southampton in January 1877, and was brought back to be buried at West End, where she had been born. Her estate on her death was a fraction of her inheritance from Richard Gude; the wealth had trickled away through her fingers.



Surrey History Centre. 6200/(272) parts 3 and 4 of 17.

Allen Horstman, “Victorian divorce.” Croon and Helm, 1985.

Oxford Companion to the law. Oxford, 1980.

[1] The son of the Richard Gude who had protested about the enclosure of Chobham Place Woods.

Kitchenmaid at Titlarks

Titlarks Hill, off the Chobham Road, is now in Sunningdale, but this area was once in Valley End. Hilda Pearce was a kitchen maid at Middleton, a house at the top of the road, and wrote about her experiences in 1995.

“I was interviewed for my first job at Middleton, Titlarks Hill, at my home in Shirebrook, was approved, and given the job as kitchenmaid.


Titlarks Hill, in 1934. ( O.S. map X 7, 1934. With thanks to the Surrey History Centre.)

“In due course I left my home with mixed feelings. I had never been more than seven miles from home, and the thought of travelling to London was like going to the end of the world. Very adventurous – and then, arriving in London, having to change stations – from St. Pancras to Waterloo – was another milestone. After all that a TAXI from Sunningdale Station to Middleton, Titlarks Hill. I was really living it up!

“Arriving at the house I was introduced to the rest of the staff – seven in all, by my cousin, the Cook. They included a nanny – a very proper person in charge of one child. I was bewildered, but was soon knocked into shape by my cousin..


Servant’s bell board, from Polesden Lacey House. (Image courtesy of the National Trust, Polesden Lacey.)

“The house was on Sunningdale Golf Links, and when I was at liberty to explore, I thought I was in heaven. After leaving a mining district this was so beautiful, walking over the links. I would just sit and absorb the lovely scenery around me for as long as I could. I spent hours this way, and very often walked to Sunningdale Station to the shops over the links so long as I kept out of the way of the golfers.


Titlarks Hill and Sunningdale Golf Course, Sunningdale, from the south, in 1931. (Image courtesy of Britain from Above).

“After a short while I realised that to get anywhere I ought to have a bicycle. This I aimed for, and eventually bought one on the never-never, paying 2 shillings and 6 pence down and the rest at 10 shillings per month for a year. The bike cost £6.2.6d. I was so proud of it and kept it shining bright – for a while, anyway. I did have outings. One half day a week, and two weeks paid holiday in the year, and when there were dances at Sunningdale Parish Hall, so long as I was accompanied by an adult I was allowed to go – cycling with a long dress pinned up around my waist.

“I had a spate of breakages at one time. It went on and on, and finally, after I had broken six pudding plates all at once, my cousin was so angry with me that she said she would no longer tell Madam about them, I must tell her myself. I waited in fear and trepidation in the scullery and Madam appeared. “Well, Hilda, what have you broken this time?” When I told her and apologised and offered to pay for them – at that time they were 12/6d each! – Madam burst out laughing, turned to go out of the scullery, then said “I will have to buy enamel ones, but there, you would probably chip them!” My cousin was furious, thinking I would have had a severe wigging!


1930s Staffordshire tea set. (Image courtesy of the V&A Museum.)

“Madam was such a sweet lady and attended my wedding a few years later. During my time at Middleton, Madam was very interested in a place along Chobham Road which was then called The London Mother’s Convalescent Home, where 10 mothers and babies came from town in turn, usually for a couple of weeks each. Basket prams were provided for the babies, and one would often see the Mums proudly pushing their young around – it was such a change from the East End of London. A lot of ladies in the vicinity, Madam included, used to have the Mums up for tea, and one I remember was a wizard on the piano. She loved getting on the grand piano in the drawing room, (when Madam was away.) I stayed happily at Middleton for two years and then moved on to Royal Lodge.”



This was first published in the Windlesham magazine, Feb. 1995, and is reproduced by the kind permission of the magazine and Lynne and Keith Pearce. Hilda wrote 3 articles about her life in service;

Windlesham Magazine. Jan 1995 “My progress from Middleton to Royal Lodge.” Hilda Pearce.

Windlesham Magazine. Feb 1995 “Kitchen maid at Titlarks Hill.” Hilda Pearce.

Windlesham Magazine. March 1995 “Back to Sunningdale from Royal Lodge – 1929. Hilda Pearce.



Please remember the Garland

On the 6th May 1892 the teacher at Valley End School added a resigned note to the log book.

Many children were absent on Monday “maying.”

The children had gone collecting with a May garland. This tradition was widespread. Flora Thompson knew it at Lark Rise in Oxfordshire in the 1880s.

“The May garland was all that survived …of the old May day festivities. The maypole and the May games and May dances in which whole parishes had joined had long been forgotten.

“..The garland was light wooden framework of uprights supporting graduated hoops, forming a bell shaped structure about four feet high. This frame was covered with flowers.”


Illustration of a May Garland from Hone’s Every-Day Book. A doll, the Lady, was often carried in the Garland. (1826)

The Lark Rise May Garland was an elaborate affair, carried in a procession led by the May Queen and heralded by a girl with a money-box.

Neighbouring villages had much simpler traditions. “Some of them, indeed, had nothing worth calling a garland at all; only nosegays tied mopwise on sticks. No lord and lady, no king and queen; only a rabble begging with money-boxes.”

The money boxes were important; it was one of the few occasions children had to get money of their own.


A procession of children carrying May Garlands.

In Surrey the children took the garlands around houses, showing the flowers and singing; one traditional ditty ran:

“The First of May is Garland Day,

So please remember the garland.

We only come here but once a year,

So please remember the garland.”

The custom was beginning to die out by the start of the 20th century. Children were expected to be at school on May morning, not wandering the village with garlands. But the schools solved the problem of absenteeism on May Day by taking over the custom. For example in May 1916 Farnham schools organised  a garlands procession to the castle, led by the Queens of May.

Other schools taught the children maypole dancing. By the 1930s Valley End schoolchildren were celebrating May Day by dancing around the school maypole, plaiting ribbons as they went.


Maypole dance at Winterbourne Houghton, 2006.(Image courtesy of Wikimedia)

May Day was still remembered at Valley End – but this time the pupils celebrating inside the school.

The tradition of May Garlands still continues At Abbotsbury in Dorset. 



Flora Thompson. “Lark Rise to Candleford.” Reprint Society 1948. (All quotes from Flora Thompson.)

Matthew Alexander. “A Surrey Garland: customs, traditions and folk songs from the Surrey of yesteryear.” Countryside Books 2004. (The song is taken from this book.)

Log book 1892, Valley End School.

Surrey Advertiser, Saturday 13th May 1916.

With thanks to Joan Weymouth.