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The Village Origins
by Jayne Barlow


The path from Chilworth to Blackheath, now known as Sample Oak Lane.

Blackheath was part of the Manor of Bramley. William the Conqueror presented the Manor to his half brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux in 1069.

The Plantagenet King Henry 11 is reported to have visited Blackheath. He supposedly spent a little time in the Tangley Hill area of the village.

In its oldest and widest sense, Blackheath is the name of an ancient Hundred, or division of a Shire, which includes the eleven parishes of Albury, Alfold, Bramley, Cranleigh, Dunsfold , Ewhurst, Hascombe, St Martha’s, Shalford, Shere and Wonersh. 

In a narrower sense it is the name of a large area of land that was never brought under cultivation, bound by enclosed estates which stretch up to it from Wonersh on the south and west, and from St. Martha’s on the north, while eastward it extends out to Farley Heath and into the large parish of Albury.


In a still narrower sense, it has in quite recent times given its name to a hamlet or village which has grown up in that part of the heath that is in the parish of Wonersh. Of the existence of this settlement there is no evidence earlier than 1833.  Writing about 1810 Manning and Bray merely relate that “part of the large waste called Blackheath consisting entirely of heath, useful only for turf cutting or the planting of fir or larch trees.”  

There was obviously the arrival of some inhabitants on to the heath in the following decades as in 1829, Lord Grantley wished to pull down some unofficial cottages on the common as being ‘inhabited by a nest of poachers and thieves’. The cottage of one John Herington was cited, built 18 years previously (1811) by his father with stolen fir poles. He had received a punishment of transportation.

Blackheath was, like most of the Surrey heaths in times past, an inhospitable place. Poor soil and very little water, so folk only lived there to escape the established and more civilised towns and villages for various reasons – perhaps social oppression, perhaps to escape the Law, or just because they just wanted to be independent and were resourceful enough to survive.

Certainly the early settlers, in any numbers, would not have been far from the main tracks from Blackheath Common to lower parts where they could get more water than rain water they collected, and essential supplies not available from the heath.  It would seem they led a largely self sufficient life, only hiring out their many practical skills when it suited them. This independence came to an end with the ”Enclosure of Commons”, thus depriving them of their custom of taking what they needed from the commons, and from thereon they had to seek permanent employment. 

In 1833, however, the Rate Book contains a newly made list of the tenures and ownership, and in this Blackheath appears for the first time as the name of an inhabited spot.  The names of twelve ratable persons appeared as living there, and they were uniformly assessed at the annual value of 10/-.  No similar entries occur in any previous year, and it looks as if it was in 1833 that the settlers caught the eye of the overseers.

The names of these twelve patriarchs were – Henry Eador, Richard Jelly, James Billingshurst, William Partridge, Thomas Plaw, Edward Vickery, Richard Vickery, William Atfield, James Longhurst, Thomas Mercer and Henry Mercer.

What led these twelve to settle on the heath is, so far as we know, a matter for conjecture.   It was said that they were rough folk who invaded the parish from the wilds of Albury and Shere but this can be  discounted by the fact, provided by the Church register, that with one exception their names are those of families already settled in Wonersh for some years.  Nine of them had had children christened at various times.  Three of them had been ratepayers in the parish at an earlier date – Richard Vickery in 1816, Edward Vickery in 1818 and Henry Mercer in 1822. 


Whatever led them to settle on the heath, they must have procured their copyhold rights from Lord Grantley as Lord of the Manor; and it is upon the plots occupied by these twelve, with perhaps some later concessions obtained from Lord Grantley, that the present village has arisen.

One local described the scene of the Lord of the Manor ,Grantley, on one of his outings  'true pageantry to see him drive his splendid pair of greys in his Phaeton carriage,  perfectly dressed in scarlet with a geranium in his button hole and a shiny top hat"

In 1839,  a lease for 50 years was granted by the Lord of the Manor to Nimrod Mitchell (carpenter) from Shalford. A parcel of land (1 ½ acre)  enclosed out of the waste of the manor of East Bramley called “Blackheath’ with the messuage (dwelling place) built on it.It had been occupied by Richard Billingshurst and Mr Jolly. The premises were leased at a rent of 20s pa and subject to a heriot (death tax) of 2s 6d and relief of 2s 6d each time.

In 1839, A grant by Lord Grantley, Lord of the Manor of East Bramley to Richard Hankins of Wonersh is recorded. A Parcel of land (30 rods) part of the waste of the manor at ‘Blackheath”. Hankins who had built two huts or cottages on it had already enclosed the premises. One was occupied by himself and the other by his brother George.


There are many letters surviving today from early Blackheath residents writing to the Lord of the Manor’s Court at Great Tangley Manor. They are asking for their properties to be ‘fined’. In other words, they were trying to formalize their agreements over their plots of land. There was a rather frenzied period when the villagers all realized that in order to keep their homes, they needed to formalize their agreements with the Lord of The Manor.

They measured their land by ‘rods’ and ‘perches’. A rod is a unit of length equal to 5.5 yards. A rod is the same length as a perch or a pole. A chain is equal to 4 rods. These measurements were standardized in 1607, it was phased out in 1965.


There were many disputes at this point over plots, as some had just been handed down informally between family members.

Tradition says that the earliest cottages were “mud huts”, whatever that may mean.  No doubt they were one-storied small simple structures.

In 1841, there was a report made on the manor of East Bramley for the Rt.Hon Fletcher, Lord Grantley with regard to his estate. Blackheath was of course included and is mentioned in documents sent by Messrs Newmarch and Roberts 'The manors appear to be much intermixed and there is no perambulation'. The report aims at a valuation of the manors and contains schedules of rents, heriots and other financial dues. Rights of the common are also mentioned. It concludes that Blackheath was not of great value and would not effect the overall value of the manor.

In 1856 a lease was granted for a colliery to include mine, seams, veins and coal on Blackheath!


By 1867,  evidence  in the surviving Rate Books, the number of habitation had increased from 12 to 26, and the rows of two-storied cottages on the south side of the street, known as Mitchell’s Buildings, had by that time been erected. 


  When we come to 1873 there were 39 cottages, and for refreshment a “beer shop”, which later developed into the Forest King Hotel. There was some form of another small refreshment inn probably  since about the 1864, that was known as The Volunteer Arms. But the village was really as yet unknown; and though the beginnings of the Congregationalist Chapel were already to be found in the village, a Church had not as yet been dreamed of.  The Vicar of Wonersh had already two churches on his hands, for his parish then included Shamley Green, where Christ Church had been founded in 1864, and until 1876 he had not even the assistance of a Curate.

At the time of Queen Victoria’s first Jubilee in 1887 Blackheath had nothing more to show than a miscellaneous collection of cottages and a couple of public houses. 


During the next ten years it was transformed into something worthy of being called a village.  The prime mover in this process of transformation was Mr. (afterwards Sir) William Chandler Roberts-Austin, at that time Chemist and Assayer of the Royal Mint, and afterwards its Deputy Master who, once having paid a visit to the heath for the benefit of his health, decided to make his home upon it, and set about making it more beautiful.  He set the example, which was followed later on by others, of buying up cottages and converting them into elegant home with charming gardens.  The houses known as Blatchfeld and Blatchcombe are the typical examples of what he and his gifted wife could so easily produce.  And if this entailed the dislodging of a portion of the working population, it had the beneficial effect of bringing into the place the greater variety of persons and interests, which is good for a community.

Fortunately there was help in the form of an architect friend, Charles Harrison Townsend was enlisted to envisage and create a church of no conventional pattern admirably fitted to its surroundings.  St. Martin’s is sometimes spoken of as being in the style of an Italian wayside chapel, with which no doubt it has affinities; but it is really Mr. Townsend’s own creation, the right thing for its place on an English heath.  


The church was named after St. Martin’s Church at Canterbury, with which Roberts-Austen’s family had connections, and in the churchyards of which he was afterwards buried.  It was built entirely of local materials, and had cost about £600 when it was dedicated on July 23rd 1893 by Thorold of Winchester. 


Blackheath had its church, then, in 1893; and in January 1897 it got its village hall, which was built and equipped, as promised, by Mr. Henry Prescott, on a site given by Mr. Crowley Lambert, of Little Tangley, on the edge of his estate.  Thus by the time Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the amorphous hamlet of 1887 had acquired the outward semblance of a village.

By the year 1897 Blackheath had attained the external semblance of a village.  It had a church, a village hall, and a sports ground on the heath, two inns, houses and cottages.

In 1908, the Manor of East Bramley (including Blackheath), was valued at £4.910. The sporting rights were valued at £5.00 and the peat and sand at £5.00.

Other notable dates in the development of Blackheath was 1875, the road going from East to West was made up. 1889, William Roberts Austen provided the funds for the village well to be built. 1901, mains water installed into the village. 1920, mains gas arrived in Blackheath.1931, main drainage in Blackheath. 1932, mains electricity.











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