HERITAGE OPEN DAYS 2017: “LET ALL BY-PASSES BE BYGONES”

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.

Photo 1 Lovers' Walk
Photo 1.  “The Lovers Walk”

Dorking’s Glory

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!

The Gift

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.

Photo 2 The Duke of Newcastle 1866-1941
Photo 2: The Duke of Newcastle

 The Upset

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”.

Photo 3 Chart Lane (A)
Photo 3: Chart 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”.

Photo 4 Construction of the By-Pass
Photo 4.  “Construction of the By-Pass”

Construction Begins

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”.”

Photo 5 The new By-Pass at the junction with Chart Lane
Photo 5:  “The new By-Pass at the junction with Chart Lane”

Researched by a Dorking Museum volunteer

Main sources:
“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.

 

 

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Hopelessly in Love

It was at “Delmonico’s” restaurant in New York in 1892 that the dashing aristocrat, Lord Francis Hope, owner of the Deepdene estate, met and fell hopelessly in love with a star of the American stage, May Yohé.

May and Lord Francis
Lord Francis and May as a young couple. From the John Culme Footlights Collection.

 

Money and Marriage

A pretty singer and actress, May Yohé’s arrival in London only deepened Lord Francis’ infatuation. Already spending the wealth of a vast fortune, that included the fabulous Hope Diamond, in an extravagant, irresponsible way, Lord Francis unwisely began financing ventures to advance May’s career. Inevitably, bankruptcy loomed for the owner of the Deepdene estate despite his being heir to a dukedom.

“He’s Hope, and it’s a cinch he has faith, seeing he married Yohe and she hasn’t a dollar in the world; so I guess it’s a case of Faith, Hope and Charity”
George Bernard Shaw, quoted in R. Kurin, 1950, Madcap May

Before long the press was speculating that the couple might marry, prompting his Lordship’s family to absolute horror at the prospect – with their reputedly offering him £300,000 if he would break off the relationship. Nevertheless, Lord Francis proposed, May accepted, and in 1894 they were married. He was to spend a part of their honeymoon, however, attending the bankruptcy court.

Musical May

May epitomised the naughty nineties
R. Kurin, 1950, Madcap May

May Yohe
May Yohe as Little Christopher Columbus, by Alfred Ellis, 1893. Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London

Still at the height of her career May Yohé, now Lady Francis Hope continued to act and sing in sensationally popular musicals both in Europe and the USA. The Hope family wanted nothing to do with her. May was deliberately snubbed by society ladies when attending events but this was said to have changed dramatically when the playboy Edward, Prince of Wales, took an interest in her – as he did with numerous female performers.

 

 

A ‘Second Honeymoon’

By 1899 there were newspaper reports of a failing marriage and separation. Despite still living well beyond their means the couple embarked on a world tour. A ‘second honeymoon’ it was said but it was perhaps equally a way to escape his creditors. The state of their finances was so poor that May, on engaging to perform in New York the next year, had to do so with the embarrassing stipulation that Lord Francis appear in the theatre lobby, to be seen by theatre-goers as they arrived and again during the interval!  The marriage, her career and his finances were unravelling at an alarming rate.

The most handsome man in the Army

captain-putnam-bradlee-strong
Captain Putnam Bradlee Strong. Copyright Brown Brothers.

On the return voyage to Southampton they encountered fellow passenger US Army Captain Putnam Bradlee Strong; described as “the most handsome man in the Army”. Before very long “New York’s finest lover” was wooing May. Lord Francis seemed oblivious but, in truth, he had appeared to be showing very little interest in May perhaps even encouraging the outcome.

 

By 1901 the marriage was over, an infatuated Captain Strong resigned his army commission to be with May. She finally, very publically, deserted Lord Francis, who sought divorce in 1902 to be rid of his “giddy and unfaithful wife”. No sooner than the divorce was finalised, May married Putnam Strong but it was to be yet another doomed relationship. Her stage career staggered on with performances trading on her being “the former Lady Francis Hope”. She had a role in the 1921 silent film The Hope Diamond Mystery, “A story by May Yohé”, that probably magnified the rumours of the diamond curse to their current level of fame.hope-diamond-mystery-poster

The final fall

May remarried several times and attempted various unsuccessful money-making ventures until ending her days on hard times, having to work as an office cleaner and a clerk. When she died in 1938 her ashes were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean.  Had things turned out differently, she might have become the Duchess of Newcastle.

Lord Francis remarried happily to Olive Muriel Thompson in 1904 and inherited the title, Duke of Newcastle in 1928 but by that time had already destroyed much of the family wealth and estates through enforced sales to meet his debts. The once magnificent Deepdene had never been the real residence of unlucky Lord Francis but had been rented out, its wonderful collections of sculpture and art sold off and the wider estate broken up and sold to pay off his debts. Even the Hope Diamond was sold. The Duke was to finally return to Deepdene, however, when he died in 1941 and was interred in the Hope Mausoleum.

hope-mausoleum-july-16
The Hope Mausoleum on the Deepdene Trail.

 

Researched by a Dorking Museum volunteer

Find out more
Watch some episodes of May Yohé’s Mystery of the Hope Diamond!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQalu12S9Cg

Key Source
Kurin, R. 1950 Madcap May: Mistress of Myth, Men and Hope London: Smithsonian Books
'Every reasonable effort has been made to trace copyright of the images used but the Deepdene Trail project will  welcome any information relating to the copyright ownership  of any unattributed material shown.'

‘A perfect way to spend Sunday morning’- walks, talks and Trail activities

Since the Grand Opening we have been delighted to see many visitors exploring and enjoying The Trail activities such as seasonal trails, walks and talks. We have also been pleased at the useful feedback received so far that will help us improve the Trail as the project continues for its second year – a year full of more fun events and activities!

Halloween Hunt

Throughout October half-term this year we ran a Halloween hunt. Nine spooky skeletons crept into the gardens of the Deepdene Trail. Families hunted them down and used the letters they held to discover the name of one of Deepdene’s treasures. Many visitors then headed back to Dorking Halls Café to collect Halloween treats.

“Fun Halloween trail for kids, lots of informative boards about the history of the site, and space for kids to explore and enjoy the woodland and wonderful views from the Terrace. Full credit to all the local volunteers who have been involved in creating, promoting and maintaining the Trail!”

Visitor to the Trail

Dorking Museum guided walks

Dorking Museum have taken on delivery of fantastic guided walks of The Trail since the opening in September. Visitors can book on an advertised public tour or book a private group tour. The dedicated volunteer walk leaders guide visitors from The Trail entrance through the Gardens, up the Terrace and for an exclusive look inside the Hope Mausoleum illustrating the walk with stories from Deepdene’s past.

Commonly fully booked, the next tour will visit the Deepdene on January 8th 2017 – book your place now!

museum-guided-walks
Dorking Museum volunteer leading visitors into the Hope Mausoleum.

 

Talks

We have been spreading the word about The Trail through talks to groups and societies such as the Friends of Holmwood Common, public talks hosted generously by Dorking Library, and inspiring others to give talks based on Deepdene’s history.

img_20161122_173630
Talk at Dorking Library

 

Walk for Health Christmas Special

27th November 2016 we embarked on a seasonal celebration of healthy walks on the Deepdene Trail with Mole Valley’s Walk for Health Coordinator Estelle Holmes. Families joined us for a frosty Sunday morning walk of the Trail with a few facts thrown in by Activity Coordinator Gail and a chance for the little ones to try out the Trail’s new Winter Woodland Bingo. It was a great success ending with delightful drinks, mince pies and craft activities for the kids at Dorking Golf Club.

“A perfect way to spend Sunday morning and even the weather cooperated!  Gail was so knowledgeable it added another dimension to a trail we had already explored a little and she balanced giving information in an interesting way with the need to keep on the move. The refreshments at the Golf Club were a perfect finish to the morning. . . with lovely activities for the younger ones to enjoy while mums and dads had a few minutes of peace.”

Visitor to the Trail

Why not try our Winter Woodland Bingo for yourself? Visit our website to download the bingo sheet and have a go!

Our call for memories

In November 2015 we began a ‘Call for Memories’ about the Deepdene Estate, Dorking. We aim to gather stories and memories about the Deepdene Estate. These memories will form part of our records and interpretation of the ever-changing life of this great landscape.

frosty view

News so far

We have already been contacted by former Southern Rail employees who used to work in the house in the 50’s and 60’s, locals who lived in the new housing that spread across the Estate and even descendants of those who worked for one of the House’s last owners before it became a hotel.

These generous individuals have told us little snippets of their experiences of Deepdene – how there was a Southern Railway Home Guard made up from workers at Deepdene in World War Two, how a large computer was transported in pieces up to Deepdene House and how the large marble fireplaces were the only heating for the House in the 1950s.

As well as these stories shared in passing and via email we will also be recording memories as part of an Oral History Project in partnership with Dorking Museum.

The project

brass
Brass plate from Deepdene House fireplace, the House was demolished in 1969.

An initial meeting for those who had a story to tell or wanted to learn how to help collect memories from others was held at Dorking Museum in late December last year. We were delighted to meet locals with memories to share and potential interviewees. A particular highlight was the arrival of a visitor with an actual piece of Deepdene House, a brass plate from one of Deepdene House’s fireplaces!

 

We were delighted that a group of volunteers signed up to learn about collecting, archiving and interpreting Oral Histories. These volunteers will be trained up by an expert from the Oral History Society in interviewing, editing and transcription techniques. The mix of audio and video recordings will then be archived with the support of Dorking Museum to preserve these memories for the future. A mix of the memories and stories will also be displayed in a variety of ways as part of the project including on the new project website (coming soon!) and at events such as our launch in September 2016.

Look out for updates on our progress in our quest for memories over the next few months.

museum event
Visitors to Dorking Museum at our evening meeting December, 2015.