Surprisingly, the story of Fengates Road does not start in the late Victorian era with the development of the road itself: there is instead a more ancient history associated with this corner of the borough that underlies and influences what was to follow.
These lands formed an extended part of the Manor of Cherchfelle (or field of the church) that is recorded in the Domesday Book and was a possesion of Queen Eddeva (or Edith), the wife of the Saxon king Edward the Confessor. Following the Norman invasion, and Eddeva’s subsequent demise, the ‘royal’ manor became let under the baronial system to the Earl of Warrenne, a companion of William the Conqueror who built the castle at Reigate.
Reigate town from the south
The original Saxon settlement of Cherchfelle, sited near St Mary’s Church was abandoned in the 12th century in favour of the new village of Reigate establishing itself between the castle and the de Warrennes’ deer park, which is now Priory Park.
The remaining small population of the Manor consisted of several small hamlets that had developed where natural conditions were most favourable. Supplies of fresh drinking water were the most important consideration for the early settlers, followed by good grazing and availability of winter fuel. The rising ground to the east of Reigate provided all of these commodities in ample quantities: its red sandy soil was well drained in winter and fed a series of natural springs emerging from the lower slopes. To the south of this feature, known as Redhelde (and later Red Hill), lay the woodlands and clay of the weald: a convenient source of building materials.
17th century map showing the hamlet of Linkfield Street
The most important of these small hamlets took its name from the ancient north-south highway that crossed the lower slopes of Red Hill to avoid the low lying marshlands to the east: Linkfield Street. Linkfield Street formed the nucleus of the ‘pettie’(or sub) manor of Linkfield - so called after one Nicholas de Lynkefeld who is recorded as living in a large mansion there in 1315. The other pettie manors, which were collectively known as ‘Reigate Foreign’, were Redstone, Frenches, Colley, Howleigh (Hooley), Flanchford and Waldehache (Woodhatch).
Red Hill was ultimately to lend its name to the new settlement that grew out of the drained marshland to the east following the arrival of the railway in 1841. However, for many previous centuries, the hill over which the common today spreads was simply an important local landmark. One tale reproduced in many of the local history books relates to the period of the Commonwealth between the Civil War and the Restoration.
In 1648 a Royalist meeting had been secretly arranged under the false cover of a horse race on Banstead Downs from which six-hundred horsemen were sent to take Reigate and its castle. Commonwealth troops, lead by one Major Audely, struck back by taking Redhill Common. After sending for reinforcements, Reigate was retaken whilst the Royalists were marching on Dorking the following day and the king’s supporters were subsequently pursued via Ewell to Kingston where they were finally defeated.
Eleven years after this so-called ‘Battle of Redhill’ a further skirmish took place on the common. Upon hearing of a Royalist rendezvous arranged to take place at Red Hill, Lieutenant-General Fleetwood sent two letters to Major Audely.
The first letter informed him that two troops to assist Colonel Hacker’s regiment should be at “Red Hill to-morrow by break of day.” The second letter reads as follows:
For Major Audly at Rigayt.
Ma: Audly. The Counsell not understanding that there was 2 Redd Hills in Surrey, and not knowing which of the Redd Hills is the place designed by the Enemy for a Rendesvouze, and Orders being issue out upon the presumption that there was but one Redd Hill, they therefore think fit that the 2 Troopes from hence should goe to the Redd Hill by Cobham, and the party with you to the Redd Hill by Rigayt, and if you find there is a gathering together of the Enimy about that Place, you are to send to the other Redd Hill to Mr. Hubbert for assistance, and accordingly he is to correspond with you. We are apt to think the Enimy is mistaken of the place, as well as we, and we hope there may be a providence in the mistake, - Your affectionate friend and general, Charles Fleetwood.
You are to be at one of the clock in the morning upon Redd Hill.
Despite the confusion, the Commonwealth troops were again victorious, with most of the Royalists captured and the rest put to flight. What the inhabitants of Linkfield Street made of all this is not recorded. For them Red Hill was an important local resource upon which they enjoyed various commoners rights including the grazing of sheep and some larger cattle. Geese were also reared by the commoners for sale at market to celebrate the feasts of Michaelmas and Christmas. The grazing kept the scrub and woodland to a minimum as evidenced by early photographs of views extending in all directions. To contain the livestock the common was enclosed and access was via a series of gates or ‘hatches’ which live on today in local place names: Woodhatch, Hatchlands and Fengates.
The importance of the ancient highway of Linkfield Street progressively diminished with the completion of the turnpike road up Reigate Hill in 1756, a further turnpike from Purley to Reigate via Merstham and Wray Common in 1808, and a branch from the latter from Gatton Point to Horley in 1816 (forming the current A23 London Road and Brighton Road through Redhill).
However one vestige of the route’s past importance remains to this day: The White Lion on Linkfield Street, considered the oldest pub in the district to have continuously served drink and never closed. Although ‘modernised’ in the Victorian era, the inn dates from medieval times and, enjoying a prominent position on the main highway where both travellers and their horses could be rested and watered, became well-known as “the principal inn between Croydon and Sussex”. One landlord is recorded as having a bowling green laid out on the common for the entertainment of his patrons.
The White Lion on Linkfield Street
Unfortunately, not all of its the landlords were quite as hospitable, as discovered in the tale concerning a traveller from Sussex who decided to stay a night at the inn. In the morning he proceeded on his way but had not gone far when he noticed that his horse had become lame. Arriving at a blacksmith’s he asked the smithy to take look at the horse and discovered that some wire had been deliberately placed between the shoe and the foot. The traveller announced that, since he had a brace of pistols on him, he was not afraid of anyone, but, on examination of the pistols it was found that they too had been tampered with, the gunpowder having been replaced with bran. After reloading the pistols and starting out once more, the traveller’s journey was again interrupted, this time at Ringley Oak by a man in disguise. The traveller immediately fired his pistols and, on removing the dead man’s disguise, discovered that his assailant had been Mr. Filewood, the landlord of The White Lion and his host of the previous night!
The early industries of the area largely depended on the produce of the land or extraction of the minerals beneath. The sands of the lower greensand forming the common vary in colour from white to dark red and were dug for building and other purposes including glassmaking. Within the sand were hard veins of ironstone which was used for paving and road making. Beyond Redhill Common the wealden clays of Earlswood Common were used for earthenware, brick and tile-making. Industries derived from agriculture included milling - a windmill known as Blackborough Mill stood on the rising ground to the west of Shaw’s Corner from approximately 1700 until it was demolished in 1938 - and tanning.
The largest and longest running tannery in the area stood on the eastern side of Linkfield Street, several yards to the south of the White Lion. It had a continuous history going back to the seventeenth century, although it was probably in existence before that time. During the latter part of that century the tannery was run by Thomas Blatt and remained in the Blatt family until 1748 when they were surrendered to John Baker. In 1800 they were surrendered once more, this time to John Wright and at that date consisted of a messuage (dwelling house with attendant outbuildings), barn, stable, kiln, bark-mill and outbuilding, tanyard, garden, orchard and one close of meadow containing two acres. They were subsequently acquired by William Tosswill who, in 1854 sold them to Ebenezer Hooper, a tanner from Bermondsey in South London who moved into the dwelling, Lorne House, with his young family. After ten years Samuel Barrow bought the business and rebuilt Lorne House. The business was subsequently transferred it to G A Bacon Ltd in the early part of the twentieth century. The tannery closed in 1961 and was demolished in 1970, making way for the flats and houses currently on the site. Today, only a few former outbuildings remain, further along Oakdene Road which was formerly known as Tannery Lane.
In the eighteenth century the tannery sent a wagon each week to London, loaded with leather, and returning with town-goods, sea-coal and, most importantly for the residents of Linkfield Street, news. The wagoner in later life recounted his many experiences: how as a youth and apprentice he had to hide in the load to avoid the press-gangs who were entitled to take one of two men from a team; how troops had requisitioned his horses to do some haulage; and on one dreary winter’s night, how his wagon had veered off the snow covered track and slipped through the turf forcing him to unload and reload the heavy slippery hides in order to get the wagon back onto the track.
On the opposite side of Linkfield Street, nestling onto the edge of the common and facing both the tannery and the White Lion stood the Fengates Estate. The estate, consisting of a large house, a farm with outbuildings and several acres of meadowland was held under copyhold from the Lord of the Manor of Reigate.
The copyhold system of land tenure lasted from the Norman invasion until it was finally abolished in 1925, and is worth explaining. At the time of the Domesday survey, the manor was in part granted to free tenants (freeholders) and part reserved for the lord himself for his own uses. The free tenants of a manor assembled regularly in manorial court (or court baron) of which they were the judges. The portion of the manor reserved for the lord (the desmene) was cultivated by labourers (villeins) who were bound to the land. They could not leave the manor and their service was obligatory. In return for their service, the villeins were allowed to cultivate part of the land for their own use. Occupation of this land was initially at the whim of the lord, but over the course of time it became recognised by custom and then by law. The villeins would appear before the court baron in a humble capacity: to solicit the succession to the land occupied by a deceased father or to answer for non-performance of duties in accordance with the customs of the manor; in each case customary fines and dues were payable. The records of these sessions, the Court Rolls, form an important record.
Linkfield Street in 1797.
Copyright Surrey History Service
The rights of tenants under copyhold became more established over the centuries, and their obligations to the lord of the manor became slightly less onerous. For example, a system of rents replaced the obligation to work for the lord. Nevertheless, the lord retained the freehold title to the land and many customs remained. Perhaps the most contentious of these was the heriot, whereby the lord was entitled to seize the tenant’s best beast or other possession in the event of the tenant’s death!
Fengates appears in early manorial records as Ffengatys. In the Court Roll of 1579 it is described as a yardland (or virgate): a single estate measuring up to sixty acres for which one Alice Gylman, widow, was elected to serve as reeve for that year. The reeve was the villeins’ spokesman and planned the work on the manor in accordance with orders received from the lord’s representative, the bailiff. By the time of the survey in 1623, the process of enclosure had reduced the estate to a half-yardland (approximately thirty acres) which corresponds to the area currently bounded by Linkfield Street, Elm Road, Hatchlands Road and Whitepost Hill. The western half of this area subsequently formed part of the Waterslade Estate, first mentioned in the manor survey of 1700, and covering the area now occupied by Brownlow, Shrewsbury and Ranelagh Roads. The spring which watered it rises by the cottage hospital.
The meadows forming the Fengates Estate would appear to have been pastureland, for a dairy is listed amongst the farm buildings on Linkfield Street. A cow-keeper and dairyman are listed as residing there as late as 1892. By this stage the farm and its immediate land occupied approximately one acre, with the adjacent meadows ‘commonly called or known by the name of the Old Red Lion or Banbury’s Mead containing by estimation nine acres more or less’. The Red Lion at Linkfield Corner originally stood opposite the southernmost tip of this part of the estate, but this part of it, to the east of Reffels Bridge, was annexed by the route of the Reading Guildford and Reigate Railway Company in the 1840s. In addition to the dairy, the farm incorporated a piggery, poultry houses and a duckpond. Some of the outbuildings still stand today, as does Fengates House, an impressive three storey brick farmhouse dating from 1730. Standing on the corner of Linkfield Street and Fengates Road, Fengates House stands on the site of earlier farmhouses dating back to the Middle Ages.
One of the occupants of the earlier farmhouse was Thomas Blatt, the owner of the tannery, who with his sons John and Thomas were prominent local Quakers. In 1656 he was chosen to be bailiff of the manor but was fined £5 for contempt for refusing to take the oath of office! The Blatts were regularly persecuted for their beliefs which were at odds with the law but this did not deter them from holding many of the early Quaker meetings at Fengates, prior to the establishment of a permanent meeting house in 1688. One distinguished visitor to these meetings is likely to have been William Penn, the eminent Quaker and founder of the state of Pennsylvania who visited Reigate in 1672 and again in 1688 and 1710.
View from Redhill Common 1845 looking North West over Shaw’s Corner and Blackborough Mill.
In 1810, the copyhold of Fengates was bought by one William Charman, who also owned a shop at 10 Bell Street Reigate as well as other property interests. In 1814, the shop was taken over by Thomas Elgar: draper, hatter, hosier and haberdasher of Arundel who had married William Charman’s daughter Ann in Dorking in 1810. A court baron in December 1816 established Thomas as tenant of Fengates for his lifetime, after which the copyhold would revert to Ann or her heirs. The couple had three children: Mary Ann, Charles Charman and Maria. Ann predeceased Thomas and on his death in 1852, Fengates passed to Charles Charman Elgar. The lord of the manor extracted his heriot - a cart mare worth £13 10 shillings - plus a further £45 due for the transfer of the copyhold.
Linkfield Street was thus a compact but lively community for many centuries: the common, the Tannery, and the Fengates Estate, provided employment and sustenance for its residents whilst The White Lion and the pump and well opposite were at its social heart (remains of wells have also been found in gardens on Fengates and Charman Roads). However, the dawn of the industrial age and with it the coming of the railways, the birth of ‘modern’ Redhill and the unprecedented pace of development during the Victorian era was already beginning to have a significant effect on this small community, ultimately leading to the development of Fengates Road and Charman Road.