top of page

Arthur Atfield
David Saunders




Arthur Atfield was the twelfth child of Jonas and Harriet, and was born 3rd of May 1874 in the original Atfield homestead, where 'Derry Hill' now stands. He was baptised on the 5th of July 1874, in St. John the Baptist, the parish church of Wonersh. At that time Blackheath was under the parochial jurisdiction of Wonersh, before changes were made, and later being under the jurisdiction of Chilworth parish. Blackheath is currently back under the jurisdiction of Wonersh.


Arthur began his working life as gardener to Sir William Roberts-Austin, who had bought the cottages opposite the Atfield homestead, and had them converted into the dwelling now known as Blatchfeld. He was the instigator of the trackway being lowered on Chilworth hill, presumably whilst working for Sir William, and it was Sir William, recognising the benefits, who paid to have the work done. Previously, the track was very steep on the northern, Chilworth side, and came right up to the top of the present cutting. It was done, primarily, to facilitate easier passage of horses and carts, particularly in winter, which brought in vital supplies to the village. The gradient of the hill to Wonersh was reduced later, but whether Sir William funded this as well is not known. Arthur later became Henry Cook's Head Gardener, up at Barnett Hill, holding the position for over forty years.


Cyril Mace (who was born at Little Compton, Oxfordshire, and who had begun work aged 13 in the fields around that village, behind a horse and plough) had risen through the ranks at Barnett Hill from Pantry Boy to Head Footman. Cyril recalled that Arthur was a good, keen boxer, and that he was rarely seen in his own time without his gun over his arm; supplementing the family's diet with rabbit, pigeon and pheasant from the grounds and surrounding woods. Henry Cook regarded Arthur more as a friend than an employee, as he had taught Henry a great deal about 'country ways', nature and gardening, and imbued him with life-long interest and passion in the subject.


Arthur was captain of the Barnett Hill cricket eleven, set up by Henry Cook, and was at one time captain of that team and the village team simultaneously. When he retired from cricket his bat was passed down to his grandson, Pat Saunders, who subsequently passed it on to me. Pat Saunders recalled a family anecdote that, one day, Arthur was going over Chilworth Hill on his penny-farthing bicycle and went over the top of the cutting, because no one had told him that the work was in progress, or had been done. My great aunt, Corrie, said that Arthur also used to go up to London on his penny-farthing to visit his brothers, but that she couldn't remember that, as it happened before she was born.


Aunt Corrie remembered that (when she was small, living at 2 Chestnut Corner, and when Arthur was working for the Roberts-Austin's) each morning he would take a yoke and two buckets with him, filling them at the village well at lunchtime, and carrying them down to Chestnut Corner. He would take the yoke and buckets back to work and return with more water after work. Corrie couldn't recall if he went to the well first thing in the morning, although it is most probable. However, the water had to serve the whole house's needs, be it for drinking or washing, etc. Number 1 Chestnut Corner had its own well, which was opposite the front door. Other houses with their own wells included 'Cobbins' and 'Theobalds' at the top of the village, and a few of the 'Barracks' cottages below the church – all being built before piped mains water came to the village in 1901.


The village well was known as the village 'pump', despite being a bucket well. On occasions,  Arthur was lowered down the well, standing in the bucket, to inspect it; checking the bricks and mortar for signs of deterioration, or water contamination. Frank Hayward recalled that his father, Syd Hayward, was sometimes sent over, as a boy, to another well down at Lyne's Farm (where the other, now demolished farm stood very close by, at the junction of the footpath leading to the seminary) to get water when the village well ran dry in hot summers.


In addition to the village well, there were also four different sets of dew ponds on the Heath. I used to play in them when I was a young lad, ignorant of the fact that Arthur did exactly the same thing when he was a boy. They were not puddled with clay, like the dewponds that farmers used to construct on the South Downs for their flocks of sheep to drink from in summer, but much smaller.


My grandfather, Len Saunders, used to fetch water from one set as a boy, near 'Head's Hill',  for clothes washing, when he was living at 'The Nook' (now 'Cricket Cottage'). Another set was beyond the top car park, also near Head's Hill, which was named after William Head, who lived in Green Lane. A third set was on top of Derry's Hill, beside the road, where Aunt Corrie recalled seeing the 'Volunteers' training, complete with cook's fires and long ropes with all the horses tethered to it. There were about four little ponds here, and this is the set in which Arthur used to play with his friends as they walked home from Shamley Green school, running around until they were dry, before putting their clothes back on and continuing home. The fourth set, now just a dip in the ground, were known as 'Peewit Ponds', and were situated north of the War Memorial on Rosemary Hill. Presumably, before the heath was lost to invading pine trees, Lapwing were seen on Rosemary Hill. During the 1960's and 1970's I recall seeing between fifteen and twenty Lapwing ('Peewit') on the south-eastern boundary of the cricket pitch for several consecutive years, before their numbers fell. My father recalled, as a boy, going onto the heath with his uncle, George Strudwick (who was licensee of 'The Volunteer' 1918–27, and who married Kathleen Saunders), and being shown the insectivorous Sundew plants (Drosera rotundifolia) that favoured the dew pond habitat. Sundews were used, in times past, to make a very alcoholic drink. On farms, however, they were considered a nuisance: 'Sheep and other cattle if they do onlye taste of it are provoked to lust.'


Aunt Corrie could vividly recall her fourth birthday, having a picnic on the grass verge that ran between 'Midgets' (formerly 'Rose Cottage') and 'Holly Hedge', which was where Mrs Voller lived at that time, and where Miss Maidlow later lived. For one of Corrie's birthday parties, over towards 'The Hallams', Arthur came up after work with two lengths of rope and a board, found 'two good boughs', and made a swing for her and her friends to play on.


Arthur married Elizabeth Charlotte Fuller, whose father, George Fuller,

Constructed the pathway between the plots of the cemetery, to enable hearses to bring the deceased closer to their final resting place. The Fuller family came from Bramley, where Corrie also recalled once having the remains of a ropewalk pointed out to her. 'Lizzie' Atfield was appointed as village schoolmistress, starting in the church vestry whilst the village hall was under construction, and continuing in the hall when it was completed. She ran the village school for over thirty years, teaching the village children until they were eight years old, after which they would have to walk to either Chilworth or Shamley Green schools.


There is a record in Manning and Bray (vol. 1; p. 31) of Henry Atfeld who, in Guildford on Leet Day, during the reign of Henry VIII, was assigned to provide “an harness for an archer in the hands of Richard Russell”. Another record shows Christopher Atfield, a wheelwright residing in Bramley during the interregnum, who made a contribution to the restoration of King Charles II. Further afield, a Henry Atfield held the manor of Burstow (near Crawley, Sussex) in 1367.


Arthur lived in three of the four cottages at Chestnut Corner, firstly in number 2, after he married Elizabeth Charlotte Fuller, circa 1895/1896, and where his second daughter, Corona, was born in 1902. In 1906 the family moved up to Rose Cottage (now 'Midgets'), where they lived for 13 years. Then they moved to 3 Chestnut Corner, living there for 12 years, from 1919 to 1931. When number 1 Chestnut Corner became available Mrs Cook wanted Arthur to have it, knowing that its garden was larger. Arthur lived here for 29 years, from 1931 until his death in 1960, when the Monk family moved in. Number 4 was a small sweet shop during the Edwardian era.


 By David Saunders.

Blackheath resident and great grandson of Arthur.

bottom of page