Guildford villages: Albury to Wonersh via Shamley Green
PUBLISHED: 19:20 02 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:15 20 February 2013
While Shere tends to capture the headlines when it comes to perfect, picture postcard Surrey villages, just down the road you'll find a pocket of other close-knit communities that stand just as proud.
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine November 2010
While Shere tends to capture the headlines when it comes to perfect, picture postcard Surrey villages, just down the road youll find a pocket of other close-knit communities that stand just as proud. Here, MATTHEW WILLIAMS takes a look at a triangle of villages just outside Guildford
The decorative chimneyed silhouette of Albury Park mansion was created by the famed architect Augustus Pugin. His enthusiastic designs give the village a unique flavour theres 66 chimneys on top of the mansion alone! The stately home, whose impressive library hosted George IIIs Coronation Ball in 1762, featured on Channel 4s Country House Rescue and the efforts to turn a grand but expensive epitaph to former glories into a modern economic concern continue: new designers have recently been assigned to complete the overhaul of the former retirement home into luxury apartments. In the mansions grounds, the Saxon Church of St Peter and St Paul may prove recognisable for film buffs it featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral. The oldest building in the parish, apart from the aforementioned church, is thought to be a Tudor pigeon house, which stands in Weston Yard. The William IV pub in Little London is a popular stop-off these days and just down the road lies Farley Heath where one of Surreys few Roman remains, a temple, can be found.
Until 1845, Blackheath was a simple collection of mud huts before it began to resemble something closer to the village we know today. The cottages grew out of the need to house workers from the nearby Chilworth Gunpowder Works, at a safe distance from the accidental explosions, which were frequent. Queen Victoria visited the village in 1864 to attend a military exercise conducted by volunteer reservists though the grand spectacle was marred by the accidental shooting of the local parish priest. Parts of Blackheath are designated Sites of Specific Scientific Interest to protect the rare creatures that inhabit its heathland. The unusual design of the village church is based upon an Italian wayside chapel, making it worth a visit, and The Villagers Inn is popular among ramblers and diners alike.
Normally a pleasant sleepy village, Bramley got a rude awakening recently when an early morning raid on Hollyhocks wine bar and bistro in the High Street disturbed the peace. Fortunately, no one was harmed, and life continued as normal at the laid-back eatery. The village made more positive headlines recently when Londons tallest free-standing bronze sculpture a 33ft high, 17 ton horses head was installed this summer. The sculptor behind the piece, Nic Fiddian-Green, is based at the villages Wintershall Estate. The famed garden designer Gertude Jekyll spent much of her childhood in Bramley and designed several of the gardens of houses in the village. She returned to Bramley in later years and her friend Edwin Lutyens designed the local house in which she lived until her death in 1932. Meanwhile, interesting local businesses include the independent family wine merchant Taurus Wines, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary next year (recently named as one of four finalists for South East Wine Merchant of the Year by the International Wine Challenge); the Gate Street Barn wedding venue, which was built using wood from trees that fell during the Great Storm of 1987; and a new and highly thought of greengrocer called, wait for it, Bramleys Apple
Most famous for its gunpowder works, Chilworth was once the beating heart of the East India Companys gunpowder production. Following the closure of the works in the 1920s, many of the factory buildings were converted into dwellings, and a small community known as Tin Town lived in the valley until the early 1960s. Lesser known is the secret ingredient in the gunpowder production: pigeon droppings. These were often collected from the likes of Alburys pigeon house. One of the most photographed churches in the county, St Martha-on-the-Hill, lies in the middle of a stunning Surrey Wildlife Trust site and offers views of the Surrey Hills over Chilworth. Inside, youll find a drawing by EH Shepherd, the illustrator of Winnie the Pooh. Popular country pub, The Percy Arms, often entices people to stop in the area. The Franciscan monks who had been based at Chilworth House for more than 100 years announced that they were leaving their friary as a result of declining manpower earlier this year.
Local legend has it that writer and preacher John Bunyan once lived in Shalford and that the villages Great Fair provided inspiration for the one at Vanity in The Pilgrims Progress. The Tillingbourne meets the River Wey here and it is suggested that the villages name derives from shallow ford. On the former river sits Shalford Mill, a handsome Georgian watermill given to the National Trust in 1932 through the generosity of owner Major Godwyn Austen and the mysterious Fergusons Gang the famous masked marauders who travelled the countryside making observations of Englands treasures and giving the National Trust a helping hand in acquiring them. Today, other attractions include The Seahorse pub; Red Biddy Gallery (named after one of the pseudonyms used by a member of the Ferguson Gang); wine merchants, the Guildford Wine Company; and no less than two toy shops, Enchanted Wood and Carrousel.
The childhood home of Sir Richard Branson and the inspiration behind the naming of Alfred Hitchcocks Shamley Productions, Shamley Green has punched above its weight over the years when it comes to famous connections. Hitchcock was already a successful film director when, in 1928, at the age of 29, he bought Winters Grace for 2,500 (116,000 at todays prices). Artist Tony Hart was yet another who called the village home for over 40 years. Recently, members of the local cricket club posed naked as the Shamley Green Calendar Boys for a fundraising calendar, with proceeds going towards various local charities. They are available from the village shop, Jeni Wren Cookshop, The Bricklayers Arms and The Red Lion pub. With the festive season fast approaching, youll also find the largest independent Christmas tree growers in the country here, Santa Fir.
The original Wonersh House, which was demolished in the 1930s, was home to Lord Grantley, who was part-owner of Guildford Castle before selling it on to the borough council. His name is retained in the village by The Grantley Arms pub. Famous in Elizabethan times for its Wonersh Blue cloth, which was popular in the Canary Islands until the 17th century cloth-making industry dwindled to next to nothing, Wonersh lies in a valley bound by Chinthurst Hill and Barnett Hill. At the top of Chinthurst Hill, set in a wooded area managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust, is a tower folly built in the 1930s. Further wildlife connections come near the Norman church in the form of the distinctive arched gatehouse on Wonersh Church Green, which is home to a colony of protected bats. At the southern entrance to the village, youll find the imposing red-bricked building of St Johns Seminary, which was founded in 1891 and is one of only four seminaries in Britain. The village shop was saved by villagers and is now community-run.