Merstham History

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THE HISTORY OF MERSTHAM
Written & Compiled by Kevin Austen
Edited by Ian Austen

[Spelling of Merstham] [Ancient History] [Domesday Book] [Stone Quarries]

As you travel south along the London to Brighton Road over the 'scar' that is the M25 then around Feather's corner, you could be forgiven for missing the backwater of Quality Street that is the great charm of the village.  It leads between houses old and new to the grey gateway of Merstham House, guarded by rampant lions and watched by the impressive overhang of a 15th century house which was once the local forge.

At the time of Domesday Book the rents of Merstham were helping to clothe the monks of Canterbury.  Centuries later the wealth brought to the shrine of Thomas Becket built the chancel of the church, and there is evidence that the architect who designed it has a hand in several other churches not far away.

In mediaeval days the Merstham quarries were famous for their sandstone, which was used in 1259 for the King's palace at Westminster and a century later for Windsor Castle.  It was used, too, for St. Paul's Cathedral and London Bridge, and  it can be seen in the walls of  St. Katharine's Church.

The list of those who have served Merstham as rectors is full of interest.  Over 500 years ago there came the adventurous Welshman Adam of Usk, lawyer, papal chaplain, and parish priest.  A century later the rector for a month was Thomas Linacre, one of those who brought the 'New Learning' to our shores.  He founded the College of Physicians in London and is buried in St Paul's Cathedral.

The lychgate is made from the oak timbers of the old windmill pulled down when the railway came this way.  Another railway memory lingers in the empty cutting with a little bridge, beside the Brighton road.  It is a relic of the first public railway in England, The Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway Company, made for goods traffic in the earliest years of the last century, drawn by horses, and used chiefly to carry the stone and lime from Merstham to the Thames at Wandsworth.  One of the humble labourers who worked on it rose to be the builder of three London bridges, canals and tramways.  He was Sir Edward Banks, who is buried in the nearby village of Chipstead.

Continuing on along the High Street we find many buildings remain unchanged since the late 19th Century. To the left a road leads down to the railway station around which the village has thrived, becoming a commuter haven for many London employees. The present station dates from 1905, though it is Merstham's third.

At the corner of School Hill stands the impressive Millennium Clock erected in December 1999 to celebrate the coming of the 21st Century. On the right is one of two War Memorials; the other is by All Saints Church in Nutfield Road. Continuing down School Hill, leaving 'Top' Merstham and the London Road behind, and passing under the railway bridge, the Village is again divided. Carrying on where School Hill turns into Bletchingley Road you enter the former London County Council (LCC) housing estate completed in the early 1950s, now known as the 'Furzefield Estate'. If you were to turn right and pass under the iron railway bridge carrying the Quarry Line you would enter the part of the village known as South Merstham. South Merstham grew up around the old Albury Manor and has its share of old and interesting cottages. Many early residents of South Merstham worked in the local brick and tile works.

The Spelling of Merstham

H.M. Morris in the book 'The History of Merstham' explains the various spellings of Merstham throughout the ages, taken from various official sources, as follows: -

The spelling for Merstham has varied throughout the ages. In AD 947 the record shows that the Charter of Eadred or Edwy grants Theyn Oswig twenty hides (a hide was roughly one hundred acres) in 'Mearsoetham', the name meaning literally dwelling of the people of the marsh. In AD 820 two alternative spellings are also shown as Mastam and Mastahaem, and a further ninth century spelling during the reign of Edward the Confessor is Mersetham. The Domesday Survey of AD 1086 simplifies this to Merstan.

In the twelfth century two spellings are given, namely Mesteham and Merstham - mear or mere, meaning pool, and meare meaning boundary. The next hundred years brought further changes as the record shows Mersteham and Merstam followed by Merysham and Merystham in the fourteenth century. In the succeeding decade the y was dropped, subsequent names being Mersham and Mestham, until Mearstham and Maestham appeared in the eighteenth century. Finally, in the nineteenth century the name seems to revert to its original twelfth century spelling of Merstham, although the twentieth century may have something to add in the way of pronunciation, due to the resounding shouts on the railway station of 'Merstrum' by porters anxious to make themselves heard! However, the generally accepted meaning is 'the stone house by the mere or marsh'
, though in early times the word soet or saete meant dwellers, so the origin of the name was 'dwelling of the people of the marsh'. The suffix of ham means home, so a hamlet was a little home. There are many other places, all of Saxon origin, that have the common ending of ham, and having the same meaning of 'home', something 'hemmed-in', a small settlement of houses clustered together.

Ancient History – The Mearsoeti

In the AD 947 Charter of Eadred or Edwy, Merstham is known as Mearsoetham and the marsh dwelling people who lived there were known as the ‘Mearsoeti  

In the early years of the 1st millennium the marshlands of Merstham were held by the Mearsoeti, who no doubt collected tolls, dues and presents from all that passed along the ridge of their lands.

Early Roman influences in Merstham first come to light when, in around AD60, Claudia, the daughter of a British king returned from Rome. It is thought she had been held hostage as insurance of her father’s allegiance to Rome. Claudia married Prudens, a native Britain serving in the Roman army, and they settled in Sussex. Their influence extended from Sussex into Surrey and went a long way in the conversion of the Mearsoeti  to the new Christian beliefs. One of the first things they did was to build a church of wood, wattle and stone. Then, by common consent, the Mearsoeti set aside the best and driest site for the building, the knoll to the north east of the village where St. Katharine’s Church stands today.

From then very little is known of the area until when, in AD893, two armies of Danes invaded Saxon territory in the south of England. They fought their way through Hampshire, Berkshire and into Surrey. Finally they were met and defeated at Farnham by the army of King Alfred’s son, Edward, later Edward the Elder. Edward followed the retreating Danes and completed his victory at Battle Bridge. The discovery of swords whilst planting lime trees in the Battlebridge area of Merstham indicates the probability of a skirmish having taken place in the area.  However the defeat of the Danes once again left the Mearsoeti to themselves until the Norman invasion in 1066 and the commissioning by King William of the Domesday Book.

Merstham and The Domesday Book

In 1066 in one of England’s most famous battles the then Duke William of Normandy defeated the English King, Harold, at Hastings. The new King, William I, known as ‘The Conqueror’, was crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. In 1086 William ordered a survey designed to register the landed wealth of the country in a systematic fashion, and determine the revenues due to the king.

This survey, known as the Domesday Survey, was written in Latin and consisted of two volumes. The two books, one of 450 pages, the Great Domesday, and the other of 382 pages, The Little Domesday, were on parchment and bound in thick wooden covers secured with brass plates. Surrey was the described in the first Domesday Book and an entry mentioning Merstham read “In Chercefelle Hundred the Archbishop himself holds Merstan for the clothing of monks.” It continues: “There is a church and a mill worth thirty pence, villeins in grass and eight acres of meadow.”

The property of Merstham in the Chercefelle Hundred was recorded as five hides, which would have been approximately five hundred acres and valued at twelve pounds. The Lord’s rent was set at 25 fat hogs and 16 lean hogs, which seems to prove that oak trees flourished and the area was suitable for pigs (acorns being part of the staple diet of wild boar).

The Stone Quarries

Field terraces on the southern slope of the North Downs overlooking the stone quarries at Merstham suggest the area was inhabited and cultivated perhaps as early as pre-Roman times. It is fairly certain that the Romans quarried here. The original entrance to one of the quarries was lined to form two continuous arches. Every stone in the smaller arch was inscribed with the Roman numeral VII and it is thought that the Roman VII legion was responsible for this quarry.
Next we turn to medieval times and it is in this period that we are able to put names to the quarry masters of the area. Records prove that the green sandstone had been in more than just local demand. In 1259, in the accounts of the building of the King’s Palace at Westminster we find, amongst the names of the purveyors of freestone, the name of Peter of Merstham. The price paid for the stone at this time was 6 shillings per cwt.

In 1360 John and Philip Prophete were appointed wardens of the quarries at Mesteham and Chalvedon, near Reigate and empowered to press masons and other workmen to prepare materials there for the works at Windsor Castle. Any man who refused was sent as a prisoner to Windsor.
In 1395 William Prophete, thought to be a relative of John and Philip, supplied stone from the Merstham quarries for the building of Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
Knoop & Jones in their book ‘The Medieval Mason’ record that ‘Eton College used freestone from Merstham in the mid 1400s, paying 1s 8d per load at the quarry and a further 2s 8d for transporting it to Eton.’
The next period in history when demand for Merstham stone was known to have been heavy was in the re-building of London after the Great Fire of 1666. It was used in the building of London Bridge and it seems inevitable that it was used elsewhere.
We next know something about the ownership of the quarries in 1745 when the Merstham estate and manor belonged to Paul Humphrey, who left it to his sister and her husband John Tattersall. They were childless so the land passed to John’s brother James Tattersall, who put it up for sale in 1784. In May 1788 Tattersall sold the estate to William Jolliffe of Petersfield, where he was a Member of Parliament, for £40,000. This was the beginning of the association of the Jolliffe family with Merstham.
In 1802 William Jolliffe’s son, Hylton, inherited Quarry Dean. Hylton and his younger brother William, an ordained clergyman, were magistrates at Reigate and as such were approached by the sponsoring committee of the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway. From that moment on the history of the Quarry Dean quarries and the iron railway were bound together.
Hylton Jolliffe went into partnership with Edward Banks in the early 1800s, but finding his time taken up with other matters he handed over the business to his brother, the Reverend William Jolliffe. Their business became one of the principle engineering contractors in the country.
In 1801 George Valentine Hall, a boy of 15 or 16 from Horsham came to work for Jolliffe & Banks. He seems to have become manager of the quarries and is thought to have moved into Quarry Dean soon after marrying local girl Jane Burgess. In 1824 he leased the estate from the Jolliffe family and went into business on his own account. Later in 1824 Jolliffe & Banks commenced work on the ‘new’ London Bridge. Again Merstham stone, now supplied by George Hall, was used but this time protected by granite. In 1835 George Hall took his eldest son, James, into the business. This was the beginning of Hall & Co. Ltd., building material contractors, who still survive in Redhill today.
In 1841, and with James Hall’s decision to open a depot in Croydon, the quarries at Merstham had seen their heyday. There seems to be no doubt of the sentiment felt by George Hall for Quarry Dean and he died at the old house in 1845. On his death his three sons, James, Joseph and Charles formed a partnership and continued as Hall Brothers.

Business at Croydon was increasing and by 1860 the trade at Merstham had changed almost totally to the burning of lime in the chalkpit, although it was still the practice of the Halls to use Merstham stone in the building of their offices and depots in the south of England. In 1864, when the lease on the quarries expired, the Halls found it impossible to agree new terms with their landlords, the Jolliffes. So they transferred the business to Coulsdon. This ended 63 years of association between the two families.

A notice in the Surrey Gazette dated 19th April 1864 read:
Notice by Hall Brothers, late of Merstham Grey Stone Lime Works, that they resigned the above works on 5th March at expiration of their lease in consequence of being unable to effect such terms for a renewal as they could accept. The works had been used by them for nearly 40 years, and now to give them up so unexpectedly, with only a few weeks notice, without any remuneration for the trade, has caused them great loss and disappointment... Their business in grey stone and chalk lime, cement,
slates, sand, coal etc is carried on as usual at Croydon, Coulsdon, Redhill and Reigate.

One of the last major buildings believed to have used stone quarried at Merstham was the Kingston Baptist Church situated on Union Street in Kingston-Upon-Thames, which was completed in 1864.

On the 14th July 1867 Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, carried out a series of tests at the Merstham Quarry. These tests were to evaluate the use of dynamite in quarry blasting.
In 1872 Mr. J.S. Peters took over the lime works and in 1890 the rest of Quarry Dean. He built a separate railway line, pulled by a little steam engine known as Gervase, which ran from the lime kilns to the new Merstham Station. In 1934 he formed the Merstham Grey Stone Lime Co. which continued until 1956. In 1961 the Croydon Corporation bought the lime pit for the dumping of refuse and by 1970 had almost restored the original contour of the hill.

March 1972 saw the start of the building of the M23 motorway and the east west M25, completed in February 1976. With this major construction work it was inevitable that the character of the Quarry Dean and Rockshaw Road area of Merstham was dramatically changed. The building of the road caused a serious risk of collapse in the caverns left by the underground quarrying. It was therefore deemed necessary that many of the caverns must be filled in and their entrances sealed.
It seems almost ironic that these ancient quarries, used for so much building and road construction in the south of England, were almost totally destroyed by the modern day road builder. Today a local caving club now has access to three of the old mines, the largest Bedlams Bank having over ten miles of open passages.