The History of Horton Country Park

Take a journey through the park's history

Imagine Horton Country Park 5000 years ago, part of the ancient wild wood, an English wilderness more used to the call of the wolf and bear than the voice of a rare nomad called man. This was Horton Country Park immediately before the transforming influence of man.

What ancient woodland may have looked like

Not forgetting that this tiny area of the Earth's surface has over millions of years been submerged under seas, baked in hot deserts, sweltered in tropical jungles and shivered under ice sheets.

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Your journey back in time has begun.

Horton History

Today Horton Country Park Local Nature Reserve is managed, to promote good public access, whilst maintaining and enhancing the site's ecological diversity.

Horton Entrance

2003 sees the creation of Epsom and Ewell Borough Council's Countryside and Community Development Team which is set up to allow greater focus on  management of Horton Country Park LNR, Epsom Common LNR and the Hogsmill LNR for the purposes of nature conservation and public access.  

Moth  Green Wood Pecker Flower

The 1990's is seeing refinements in the facilities Horton Country Park has to offer.

Horton History

Epsom and Ewell Borough Council operates a Ranger Service which aims to steadily increase awareness of the Park, with more walks, leaflets, displays, events and schools involvement. Plans also include the restoring of ponds, planting hedgerows, managing woodland and much more.

Feild Pond 

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You have already reached the last half of the 1980's, a period of great development in the Park, with the opening of the Farm, Golf and Equestrian Centres.

Horton History

The Equestrian Centre is the large building on your right. All the Centres are steadily increasing in popularity.

You are now travelling through the early 1980's and late 1970's, a time of quiet consolidation, which is seeing the building of the car park, toilet facilities, conversion of farm buildings to offices, tree planting, pond construction and path building.

Horton History

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1973, Epsom and Ewell Borough Council with support and grant aid from Surrey County Council and the Countryside Commission have just purchased 400 acres of former hospital farmland from the hospital authorities and Horton Country Park is founded.

Horton History

This year is the end of a period of 83 years when the land belonged to the hospital authorities. They bought all the land belonging to the Manor of Horton in 1890 to develop a complex of psychiatric hospitals which was to become the largest in Europe.

Horton History

Long Grove Hospital built 1907 one five hospitals!

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The date is July 1969 Man has just landed on the moon. You are walking along the public footpath leading from Horton Lane to Chessington, past West Park Farm which belongs to West Park Hospital. The farm is mixed with both arable and pasture fields, supplying the hospital with its own meat, milk and vegetables and occupational therapy for patients.

Horton History

Notice on your right the large tree stumps regularly spaced along the hedgerow, these were until recently mighty elm trees. Dutch elm disease has killed the trees and transformed the farm's landscape like many other areas of Britain.

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September 1939 and you are walking across a wooden footbridge over a branch line of the Horton Light Railway. Like everyone in Britain you are reflecting on yesterday's terrible news that we are at war and you take no notice of the steam engine Hendon transporting a load of coal to the hospital boiler house.

Horton History

Little do you know that Hendon and the Horton Light Railway will play an important role in the fight against) air raids. So much so that in 1941 the railway is attacked although little damage is caused.

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It is now 1916 and you are walking through Long Grove Farm which belongs to Long Grove Hospital, the farm is again mixed supplying the hospital with produce and occupational therapy for the patients. If you look to your right you can see the farm buildings and beyond the buildings of Horton Hospital.

Horton History

Horton Hospital has been turned into a War Hospital for wounded soldiers from the Commonwealth. At present the hospital is treating hundreds of Anzacs, soldiers from Australia and New Zealand, who have been wounded at Gallipoli.

Horton History

Wounded soldiers in the Great Hall 1916

Later today King George V and Queen Mary will be visiting the hospital.

Horton History 

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The year is 1912. Long Grove Hospital on your right has been open for five years and is already gaining a reputation for being one of the most advanced and pioneering psychiatric hospitals in the world, a position it will maintain for many years. Visitors are arriving from all around the world to see the innovative work being carried out here. Indeed the idea of one storey high villas in pleasant surroundings is being copied everywhere.

Horton History

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1909 and you are standing on what will soon be the route of the Horton Light Railway into Long Grove Hospital.

Horton History

London County Council are to build a light railway to supply the rapidly expanding complex of hospitals in the area. It has been decided that a different route will be taken into Long Grove Hospital than the one used by Foster and Dicksee the contractors who built the hospital. In any case the line they constructed has already been dismantled almost all the way back to West Ewell Station.

Horton History

The Horton Light Railway will remain in use for 40 years until its closure in January 1950.

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You have now left the Twentieth Century, the year is 1815 and the Battle of Waterloo only weeks away. The land here belongs to the Manor of Horton which has been owned by the Trotter family since the 1780's. The Lord of the Manor is currently James Trotter who is High Sheriff of Surrey. The hay meadow here is called Lambert's Mead and as with all the surrounding meadows has been like it is today for as long as anyone can remember.

Horton History 

The wood over to your right is called Great Wood which like the meadows has been here for as long as anybody can recall. Indeed it is an ancient wood known in the middle ages and perhaps a remnant of the Wild wood that covered Britain 5000 years ago. 

Horton History

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The year is now 1407 and you have just walked into a wood known as Brettgrave. The wood was planted exactly 100 years ago in 1307 on the orders of John-De-Rutherwyk the Abbot of Chertsey, who owns much of the land in this area. Trees are a vital resource in these closing years of the Medieval period. Wood has many uses from building houses to making baskets and providing fuel for heating. To ensure a regular supply of wood, Brettgrave is managed by coppicing and you are standing beside an area that has recently been coppiced.

Horton History

Coppicing works by gradually clearing a wood in small sections known as coupes, taking many years to coppice the whole wood. Most trees native to Britain don't die when cut down and new shoots quickly regrow from the stump known as a stool. This cycle gives the stools time to send up a new crop of stems before being harvested once more. The length of the cycle is dependent on what uses the locals have for wood. For example they may leave hazel to regrow for only a few years before coppicing the thin stems for basket making. Oak may be left for thirty years if the wood is to be used for making charcoal . Some trees within a coupe are known as standards and they are left to grow into large mature trees, big enough to provide timbers for building houses and ships.

As you travel further back in time you will discover the reason for the woods name of Brettgrave, however if you were to suddenly return to your own time you would find that the woods name has changed to Butcher's Grove. Nobody knows for certain exactly why or when the change in name happened, however it seems to have happened sometime early in the Nineteenth Century. It is thought that the reason for the name change may well be the Hornbeam trees within the wood. For centuries the hard wood of Hornbeam has been used for making Butcher's chopping boards.

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The year is now 1197, through the trees on your right is Brettgrave a Norman moated farmstead.

Horton History

Owned by the Abbot of Chertsey who owns most of the land in this part of Surrey. Brettgrave is the original Manor in the parish of Epsom. At present Sampson-De-Horton is Lord of the Manor of Brettgrave. The family name of Horton is derived from old English where "hor" means muddy and ''ton" means town.' It is certainly a very appropriate name for this area, where the clay soils become a sticky quagmire in the wet winter months. The Manor of Brettgrave is destined to fall into disuse by the Fourteenth Century and even the name will be lost with the area becoming known as Castle Hill. However Brettgrave will not be forgotten entirely. Eventually it will become a scheduled Ancient Monument and the name Brettgrave will live on as a street name in Twentieth Century Epsom. Horton Manor will succeed Brettgrave as the Manor in this part of the Parish of Epsom.

You are now travelling rapidly through the Dark ages of the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Centuries. During this period since the Romans left, society in Britain has been very disrupted. Land once farmed has been abandoned in many areas. The Wild wood is starting to return as you can see on your left.

Horton History

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The track you have just crossed is an ancient right of way.

Horton History

Even now in Roman times it has been used for hundreds of years.

Horton History

The land here is all farmed and only two miles to the South lies a Roman Villa and tile factory.

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You have now travelled a further 3,000 years back in time, long before the arrival of the Romans. Man has only just begun to farm in Britain. He clears small areas of the wild wood, grows crops for a few seasons and then moves on when the soil is exhausted, allowing the wild wood to return.

Horton History

You are now walking through an area where the wild wood is returning. 

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Already however this period is seeing the first farming settlements. The streams in this area flow all year round even during the driest summers making it a good place to settle. As you can see the new farmers have started to clear large sections of the wild wood.

Horton History

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The wood you are standing outside has no name it is the Wild wood and stretches for many miles to the South. It is full of wildlife such as Deer, Beaver, Wild Oxen and many species of bird. There are even Bears and Wolves in the area so be on your guard as you enter.

Horton History

By a quirk of fate this part of the Wild wood is to remain woodland right up to the end of the Twentieth Century when it will be known as Pond Wood. Although much affected by mans activities the woods continuous history makes a vital connection with the future enabling you to travel forward 5,000 years to the end of the Twentieth Century. As you walk through the wood it will very quickly take you forward to your own period in time and history.

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Already you have returned to the end of the middle ages. The pond is owned by the Abbot of Chertsey.

Horton History

The pond's clay dam will be burst by a bomb in 1941 and lie drained and overgrown for fifty years until restoration work begins in the 1990's.

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You are now travelling through the early decades of the Twentieth Century. You will notice that the wood has now changed to knarled old Hawthorns.

Horton History

These have been here since the 1870's when the field within Pond Wood known as "Peaked Riding" became disused and overgrown

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A Monday afternoon in June 1941 the crater on your left has just been made by a bomb which was aimed at the nearby railway line.

Horton History

For once you are grateful that you are late! 

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As you emerge onto the track you are back in your own time. We hope you enjoyed your journey through some of the history within Horton Country park. There is much more, so why not come along to one of our regular guided historical walks.

Horton History

 

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