Town trail keeps Addlestone's history alive

Inspired by the ancient oak tree that stands in the centre of this Surrey town, we delved into the history of Addlestone by following a fascinating historic trail

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2007

Inspired by the ancient oak tree that stands in the centre of this Surrey town, we delved into the history of Addlestone by following a fascinating historic trail

by Jane Garrett

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STRAWBERRY FIELDS and towpaths, river walks and of course its proudest possession - possibly the oldest tree in England, the great Crouch Oak: this is the rural idyll of a gentler bygone age that Addlestone still manages to enjoy despite the relentless incursion of industry, motorway, rail and concrete. It's amazing how quickly you can walk from the town into countryside but there is no denying that Addlestone Historical Society's town trail is largely a tour of shadows and ghosts. Within the settlement, so much has been redeveloped and without these local historians' determined research, a 21st century visitor would have no inkling of the past. The Crouch Oak seemed a pivotal spot to dip into the ghost trail. It's a bit hard to visualise it now, as it stands on a verge surrounded by residential roads, but this ancient pollarded tree shaded England's great 15th century Christian reformer and Bible translator, John Wycliffe, as he preached against the abuses of the Catholic Church, or that Queen Elizabeth 1 picnicked below it. It was a boundary oak for Windsor Forest and Addlestone Historical Society used an Awards for All grant of �1,150 to date it via tree ring analysis from wood pruned from the tree in 2001. Chairman Pam Brush says the branch was 1670, which put the trunk at between 500 and 800 years old. Extra funds enabled two beautiful gavels to be made from the branch. Long known as Wycliffe's Oak, it was definitely the 'Speakers Corner' of Addlestone, as the popular Victorian Baptist, Charles Spurgeon, preached there in 1872. Local historian Eric Parker wrote 100 years ago in Byways of Surrey that "up to years not long gone by, love-lorn young women gathered its bark to boil down into philtres to ensnare the hearts of unwilling swains." Looking at its trunk today, the bark certainly bears scars of age and quite possibly maiden vandalism too. Carrying on out of town you come to Victory Park with its imposing gateway, originally part of Captain's Farm, owned by Lt. Col. de Visme who fought in the Peninsula War. The gates form the town's First World War memorial. Their long forgotten benefactor, Cllr Constantine Doresa, may yet find belated fame as a new street name. A bit further and you spy the oldest pub in Addlestone, wearing its years rather sadly. The George dates back to 1600, was rebuilt 200 years ago and looks due for another facelift today. Some attractive c1800 cottages nearby, though, are an attractive window onto the old hamlets that became absorbed by Addlestone as it grew. Horses graze paddocks, impervious to the roar of traffic and clatter of trains from the huge mainline that cuts through the town and beyond are more echoes of the rural past. Hatch Farm, parts dating from the 17th century, has a four-bay barn with original queen post trusses and tie beams. Turning back into town, another part of the trail leads out towards Crockford Bridge, a handsome redbrick bridge with arrow slit sides topped with cream stone. This new bridge straightened the road, covering the old crooked ford. In 1666, Henrietta Maria, widow of Charles I and Lady of the Manor, had to foot the repairs. Across the bridge, a footpath leads to Crockford Bridge fruit farm surrounded by acres of strawberries and raspberries, and over the fields is the farm shop. The farm is lovely, listed and haunted by benign former inhabitants according to owner Caroline Smith, whose family have farmed there for 30 years. The farm shop is very special. It sells all of their own produce, as well as pies, cakes, gourmet food and honey - an oasis sandwiched between two Tesco branches at Brooklands and Addlestone. There is a caf� and a Wyevale Garden Centre there too and in the summer you can pick your own fruit. Beyond is Coxe's Lock and a mill that is now converted into flats. Addlestone's main claims to fameOne of Addlestone's main claims to fame is its industry. Bleriot, the first to fly across the Channel, had an aircraft factory there in 1916. According to the town trail, Airscrew Howden produced 80% of the propellers used by British World War II aircraft and the World War I Lang Propeller Factory, incorporated into the former Peabody Foods buildings, was a large-scale enterprise. Aero engines were tested in this area during the 1914-18 war. The factory buildings were demolished in 2001, the vast new glass and steel business park's aircraft history just about kept alive via its new name - Aviator Park. So much of the trail is in pursuit of ghosts: Simplemarsh Farm, originally part of Chertsey Abbey lands and once home to Viscount Castlemaine; Sayes Court, occupied by Sir Bartholomew Reed, Lord Mayor of London; the Duke's Head hotel and Queen Mary's Approved School, all demolished for housing. And this pattern of demolition and new housing is still very much alive in modern Addlestone. As old buildings disappear and new ones go up, there is plenty of work for the Historical Society to do recording the on-going evolution of the town.

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