Historical interpreter Mark Wallis on his perfect Surrey weekend
PUBLISHED: 10:54 12 July 2013 | UPDATED: 10:56 12 July 2014
One day Dickens, the next a knight; life must get confusing at times for Witley resident Mark Wallis. As artistic and managing director of historical interpreters, Past Pleasures, he loves nothing more than throwing himself into our county’s history
Originally published by Surrey Life magazine June 2013
I’ve been running my own business for 25 years and have only relatively recently had the luxury of time off to enjoy holidays and weekends; the heritage sector demands a seven-day week, therefore we work whilst others play (including on weekends).
But thanks to an excellent team, I can now take time for myself, and, if not working alongside my team of costumed interpreters at Hampton Court Palace, I find plenty of ways to beguile the time in my native county of Surrey (well, my birthplace Wimbledon was in Surrey before the boundary changes).
As an historian, I am drawn to the places that evoke the past, from St Catherine’s Chapel outside Guildford to Loseley House, from Clandon Park to Painshill’s rococco gardens, and from Guildford Castle to Waverley Abbey’s ruins. And the museums in Guildford, Godalming and Haslemere are full of fascinating objects that unlock equally fascinating human stories...
Quirky and chaotic
When I lived in Guildford, there were two splendidly quirky and chaotic antiquarian bookshops that were everything Amazon is not, but they have now sadly vanished; but I continue to seek out the odd and unusual on my weekend jaunts.
Thus, one of favourite Surrey places is Watts Gallery and Chapel - not to mention the delightful Tea Shop. I take my foreign friends to this enchanting place and they can’t believe that it is just off the A3; a seemingly undiscovered gem. You can almost feel the ghost of GF Watts and his devoted wife hovering near; I feel sure they must approve of how the site is presented and interpreted (I’m looking forward to the planned opening of their house, Limnerslease).
I am incredibly fortunate to turn my love of history into my career. My company holds Europe’s largest contract for professional costumed interpretation (or people in period costume in period places!), so this means that we work at Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London daily; whilst I travel internationally advising museums and heritage sites.
As an inveterate antique collector I spend weekends at fairs and markets, and though many antique shops have closed due to rising rents, a fair is held in Milford’s quaint village hall - I’ve found the odd bargain there, as well as at Dorking Halls’ larger fair.
Although I am always busy and active, I’m aware that I need to get fit, a project which my girlfriend has taken in hand!
Thus we go horse riding near Woking and walking around Enton Lakes in Witley, which is where I live.
On occasion, we borrow my brother’s dog and exhaust ourselves - though not the dog - on Box Hill: I’ve loved the place since tobogganing down it in the 1960s as a boy.
Theatre fascinates me, so I know I can always see excellent performances at Kingston’s Rose Theatre and Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud, though I never go as often as I would like. Indeed, some of my costumed interpreters trained at Guildford School of Acting.
And whilst in Guildford, I treat myself to a meal at the Thai Terrace, where the food is sublime and you can pretend you’re looking down on paddy fields and temples, not the rather more prosaic house tops of Guildford!
I haven’t been to the newly-reopened Bel & The Dragon in Godalming but I always enjoyed dining in there, in a converted church. It’s a shame the move to turn its neighbouring building into a theatre was stopped.
I recall reading once that a seventeenth century antiquarian claimed that Surrey was “God’s own county, the one He made last and made best.” Who am I to disagree with this?
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