With the theme for this year’s Heritage Open Days focussed on “Wheels in Motion”, this article looks back to a controversy that placed Dorking in the national spotlight as the town sought to cope with the impact of an ever-increasing use of motor vehicles.
For years the Glory Woods had formed part of the Deepdene estate, linked to the grounds of the mansion by two private bridges passing over Chart Lane. These woods on the hills to the south above the town were always held in great affection by townsfolk. Indeed, if the nickname given to St. Paul’s Road East of “Sweetshearts Lane” and the humorous postcard by ‘Cynicus’ are to be believed, the venue was also immensely popular with local courting couples!
In November 1927 the Duke of Newcastle, Lord Francis Hope once owner of the entire Deepdene estate, gave notice that he intended to gift the woods to the town in celebration of his son Lord Lincoln’s coming of age.
Arrangements were put in hand for a ceremony at a “thanksgiving meeting” on Sunday 28th July 1929. Bills announcing the event had been printed and posted
around the town, a band had been engaged, schoolchildren taught hymns and councillors had speeches prepared.
Just days before the gathering, the Council received a letter on 25th July with the Duke announcing the intention to withhold the gift. That sudden decision and the controversy that ensued was quickly picked up by national newspapers.
The cause of this upset was the proposed “Dorking By-Pass”, part of the County Council’s intended road improvements. Nine route options were discussed, eventually narrowed to three. One, took the new by-pass up the Ashcombe Road, over Sondes Place, through the Nower and then roughly parallel with Ridgeway Road to North Holmwood. . It had the advantage of using agricultural land and requiring no demolition. Another route considered utilising Punchbowl Lane but there were difficulties in cutting that road and it was deemed impractical.
The third, most direct route was to follow the current line of the A24, straight up Deepdene Avenue but then on through the very recently laid-out housing in the Deepdene grounds, constructed when the mansion and gardens were sold a few years earlier. Unsurprisingly, there were many protests that this route would violate a “first class residential district”, requiring that “gardens and residences would be forfeited and the road bought within feet of homes”. In a letter to “The Times” the Duke spoke of the “mutilation of the Glory Wood”.
The Town’s Choice
All the options were debated. As Colonel Barclay of Bury Hill allowed public access to the Nower a meeting attended by 800 ratepayers opposed the “western” option through his parkland by 369 votes to 196. The Duke accused the local
Council of “dirty tricks” and the council members “while smarting under the indignity of the position” voted to put the Glory Wood by-pass route on the map. In 1931 a
Ministry of Transport enquiry confirmed the Deepdene route with the compulsory purchase of two acres of the Glory Wood plus other land. The Duke commented that “naturally I feel hurt that Surrey County Council should take a slice off and utterly destroy the beauties of Chart Lane – a lovely lane”.
Whilst no doubt still seething about the route, the Duke’s gift was finally completed in October 1929 when his agent handed to the Council the deeds with a letter describing how “In making this gift was my intention to do my best to preserve for Dorking in perpetuity one of the beauty spots in its immediate vicinity, but the proposed by-pass will not only take a slice off the Glory Woods, it will completely destroy one of the lovely lanes for which Surrey is famous”. At the Duke’s own request there was to be no public ceremony. The following day the assembled councillors voted a unanimous resolution thanking the Duke for his “generous gift, not only to the town but to the nation”.
The building of the road commenced in 1931 with an estimated cost of £102,250, employing hundreds of men, half of whom came from distressed areas of the country. Homes were demolished, front gardens were cut away and the Deepdene Hotel faced with the prospect of a busy road cutting directly through the grounds very close to the mansion.
The Dorking by-pass was completed early and opened without ceremony on 2nd June 1934 to accommodate the traffic attending the Derby. “The Times” reported that “two thousand rhododendron bushes and thousands of other bushes and trees”
had been planted guided by the advice of the Roads Beautifying Association. It was claimed “that in a few years time this will be the most beautiful arterial road in the South of England”.
“Let all by-passes be bygones”
However, even as late as 1934 the by-pass decision still rankled with the Duke, who wrote, “I have deeply resented the fact that the people of Dorking did not oppose the spoiling of Chart Lane and the hacking away of part of the Glory Woods, which I made a free gift of to the town. It was a dirty trick on the part of the Urban Council to accept the gift on the 8th April 1928 when they must have known on that date of the projected scheme”.
That same year at a meeting of the Urban Council it was reported that the chairman “Major Chance appealed to the Duke as a sportsman to withdraw his allegation against Dorking and he ended with the fervent wish “that we should let all by-passes be bygones”.”
Researched by a Dorking Museum volunteer
“The Times Digital Archive 1785 – 2011”
Dorking Museum archives
Photographs are reproduced by kind permission:
No. 1 Private Collection;
Nos. 2 – 5 Dorking Museum collection.