#145: Ewell West 20/07/2022

Ewell West Station

This was my second visit to Ewell in four months. My first visit back in March was to Ewell East station, so today’s visit completes my sojourn to this quiet and attractive village in Surrey.

I try not to retrace my steps from before, and it’s surprising how much old and new history Ewell has to offer. This time I take a deeper dive into some of its histories and meet some of its residents.

But first, as ever, a little about the station, which is about half a kilometre away to the west of the village. It was opened in 1859 by the Wimbledon and Dorking Railway, and the station master’s house was built from brick, as was the fashion of its day. Services run down the line to Dorking and Guildford via Epsom and up the line to London Waterloo via Stoneleigh.

Much of the original station has since been demolished: the car park is where the sidings once existed, where trains would load up from the nearby mills. And in the first half of the 20th century, there was a link with the Horton Light Railway that was built to carry building materials to support the building of new asylums in the Horton area north of Epsom.

It’s not a busy station today, with trains every half hour up the line to Waterloo operated by South Western Railway. So it’s unsurprising to see people waiting, doing their own thing, whilst they wait. And although this isn’t a physical end of the line, It is as far as I can travel for free on my newly acquired Freedom Pass.

Blooming Ewell

As I walked from the station into Ewell, I encountered one of many knitted or crocheted pieces on the side of the road. They all had a simple sign asking passers-by to support Ewell in Bloom and leave them alone so that others could enjoy the work and that they could be judged. Here are a couple of examples of handicrafts on display from the Yarn Bombers of Ewell – follow them in Facebook

The first shot was on a post box along Chessington Road, and the second shot was of a collection along the low wall outside the entrance to Bourne Hall Park.

Ewell is a suburban village with a small enclave of shops along two streets surrounded by mature trees and the calming space of Bourne Hall Park. But what was surprising was that autumn was in the offing, as The Grove was already littered with leaf fall. 

But I much prefer this view of The Grove.

This is the picturesque tree-lined avenue leading from High Street to West Street, no doubt used by shoppers who may have parked nearby at the Library and Museum

The people and places of Ewell

Sonder Bakery: It’s a beautiful sunny day, and directly opposite The Grove is one of Ewell’s many food shops with outside seating. No doubt these two ladies had just enjoyed a cuppa (coffee, I suspect) and maybe sampled some of the bakery’s delights.

All Things Nice: I had arranged to meet a fellow travel writer and blogger here (more on that shortly), but I have to confess, I had asked to take some photos inside this tea room, but my camera jammed. It’s an event happening too often these days, and I need to start thinking about a replacement.

So apologies to All Things Nice that I’m unable to showcase their establishment.

Honey & Bamboo: I stopped by this ‘Zero Waste Shop’ on my last visit but vowed to step inside on my return. And so I did. Tanya, the director and owner, has created a shopping phenomenon whereby you take your own containers and buy products loosely.

Tanya tells me that ‘sustainability means balance and that whatever we take from this planet, we should always give back. But right now, we are far from that.’ You can meet Tanya below as she features in my ‘Picture of the Day’, and she was kind enough to allow me to take a photo shoot inside her shop. Here are a few of the shots I took. Thank you, Tanya!

John Boyer: I saw John crouching beside the Horse Pond, part of Bourne Hall Pond. It’s on the northern side and accessible from the main road and is so called as it’s where carters used to water their horses. He was watching the wildfowl intently and waiting to get that perfect shot.

I interrupted his concentration, but he was happy to chat, and we exchanged stories about our photographic interests. Sadly, my efforts to capture the local heron and a darting yellow wagtail do not match John’s wildlife expertise. So why not check out his Instagram page and see for yourself?

Catherine Boardman – aka Cultural Wednesday: I have been following Catherine’s blogs for some time, and after posting my earlier blog about Ewell East, I discovered she is a resident of Ewell, so we agreed to meet on my return. We met at All Things Nice and sat outside in the garden courtyard for some time, sharing stories about our journeys in becoming travel writers and bloggers.

Our meeting was a private moment, so it would be inappropriate to share any of her stories about her time as a BBC news producer, but they were very entertaining. Unfortunately, time passed too quickly, as this traveller still had more exploring to do, so it was time to bid adieu and carry on walking. 

It was wonderful to meet you, Catherine.

The Hogsmill river

I never plan my day’s travels as part of the excitement is discovering things for the first time and ‘just following my nose’. And so, this is how I came to follow the river from Ewell to Tolworth.

Of course, I was aware of the history surrounding the river from my earlier visit, so I was somewhat primed. The river is born from the springs outside Bourne Hall, but peek inside the park, and you’ll see a remnant of the area’s early history where a water wheel has been preserved. You need to look closely, though, as the area is a little overgrown and seems almost forgotten.

But imagine transporting yourselves back in time to when this was a working river providing the means to support wheat mills and a gunpowder mill. Following the river north to the old Upper Mill, this is home to several businesses, including The Samaritans. But beyond, you’ll see some open culverts which I imagine would have been used to channel the river to drive the water wheels.

The water level is relatively low, so I’m almost tempted to climb down and take some shots from the river bed, but I decide my walking shoes are not waterproof enough. There’s wildlife aplenty under cover of the woodland area that leads you meandering past pools of still water. They look stagnant, but I guess they’re not as wildfowl seem happy wading through them whilst guarding their young chicks.

Google maps is my friend as I decide which path to follow, but if you are inclined to follow the river, you’ll do well to explore the London Loop Guide No 8 which sets out the route from Ewell to Kingston. An informative plaque outside Ewell West station also invites you to follow this route.

If you look on the map, you’re never too far away from residential properties, but such is the density of the woodland area; you rarely get a glimpse of them. Instead, the path meanders along the river and through a tunnel under the railway line, which has been commemorated by Epsom & Ewell Rotary as part of their centenary celebrations in 2005. As you walk through the tunnel, you’ll see the plaque…BUT beware. This is a narrow, low tunnel that cyclists ride through very fast. They do so with no regard to those on foot as if by right, they can speed along regardless.

As you emerge from the tunnel, you arrive at an open pasture. It’s quiet. Well, for a few minutes, until I approach the stepping stones, I hear a woman arguing on her mobile phone, her voice carrying across the pasture. I walk by and spot a father and son by the stepping stones. The son was playing in the river, so I stopped to chat with the father. He’s a carpenter by trade, just taking a little time out. I decide not to cross the stepping stones but stay true to the river path that heads back into the woodland.

There are a few ramblers who are intently focused on their expedition. As I approach a rickety bridge, I let a group of mums with pushchairs cross over. Here, you’ll find the Packhorse bridge and a helpful description of the area by Epsom & Ewell Borough Council (my thanks).

…Alexander Bridges, the eighteenth century owner of Avenue House (as Ewell Court was then called), developed the river Hogsmill until it supplied enough power to run incorporating mills and a corning house for the manufacture of gunpowder. These buildings, like the powder magazine, were set apart from each other beside a series of millponds so that if one of them blew up, the blast would be absorbed by the water and not set off the rest. Despite this, there were many explosions; one of the first, in 1757, was felt in London and mistaken for an earthquake.

In the nineteenth century, the Bridges family brought in a Scottish manager, John Carr Sharpe, to oversee the mills. Eventually, in 1875, the mills had to close down when the Government’s Explosives Act imposed safety regulations with which they could not comply.

At the end of June 1851, William Holman Hunt and John Millais came down to Ewell to find backgrounds for two new paintings which they had in mind – Ophelia for Millais and The Hireling Shepherd for Hunt. The two young men set down the river Hogsmill to find suitable sites for their paintings. Hunt chose the meadows looking north towards the fields of Ewell Court Farm, while Millais continued downriver for two miles towards the slopes beneath Old Malden Church…

As I stood by the bridge, with the river trickling gently over the exposed stones, I could imagine the scene the two painters saw. The avenue of trees in Hunt’s painting stood in front of me, so I felt it was only appropriate to step through time and admire the view seen 170 years ago.

I’m nearing my day’s end, and although the path following the river continues for a while, I step into Ewell Court Park, and some dog and duck poo – yuck. Before the main pond, there’s an enclosed dingle with a distinctive dragonfly sculpture dedicated to the memory of Freda Bowles 1944-2012, ‘who loved this park’. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any reference to Freda, so if you have any information to share, please drop me a line so I can update my blog.

My last memory is of a large pond overlooked by mainly black-headed gulls, which had taken up residence on stilt-like posts in the middle of the pond. But with one bark, they were gone, scared off by the sudden sound. But this helped me notice a family of herons parched further into the pond.

The day had been another hot steamy one, so by now, I was ready to head to the main road, catch a bus to Tolworth station and head home. 

Picture of the Day – Tanya

Let me introduce you to Tanya, the director and owner of Honey and Bamboo at 40 High Street, Ewell’s only Zero Waste Shop. Take your own containers to buy your spices, herbs, pulses, beans and other locally sourced products.

Reduce-Reuse-Refill-Repeat. 

Tanya is a passionate, determined and focused girl on a mission to ‘educate others to understand why preserving the planet for ourselves, future generations, wildlife, ecosystems, nature, is immensely important.’

If you’ve yet to visit Honey & Bamboo, take the opportunity to say hello and be prepared to acknowledge the simple but powerful message that Tanya teaches.

We need more like you, Tanya – Thank you!

  • Location: Honey & Bamboo, 40 High Street, Ewell
  • Date/Time: Thursday 20th July 2022, 12:21 PM
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture -f/5; Shutter Speed – 1/160; Focal Length – 46mm; Film Speed – ISO3200

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