The History of Forest Green (part 2)
Along the Horsham Road is a natural pond, providing a delightful setting among the rushes and reed-mace for nesting moorhens and ducks. Flora and fauna have been studied by young Volunteers of the British Trust for Conservation. Their care and attention, given over weekends when they camped in the village hall, resulted in a plaque being placed on the bank in 1975 reading, among other things, "SAVE THE VILLAGE POND CAMPAIGN." These helpful enthusiasts have been rewarded by the mass of aquatic plant and insect life to be found there. The pond is not deep, but only on two occasions in living memory has it ever run dry; in 1921 and in 1976, both years of drought.
The Green in general encourages many birds. Larks, whose nests are so well concealed, are not frequent as of old, but wagtails, marsh tits, kestrels and woodpeckers are found, to mention only a few. Endemic are the swallows, house martins and swifts, which, because of clay surrounds to the pond, are encouraged to nest. Every autumn one can witness an amazing collection of these migratory birds preparing for their flights.
Places of Worship
A hundred years ago, the occupants of the scattered homes and cottages bordering the Green or straggling along the Horsham or Ewhurst roads were dependent for Church worship on Okewood, Ewhurst or Ockley. Ecclesiastically it was under the jurisdiction of the Incumbent of Okewood, and to that beautiful old church, uniquely situated in the woods, many Victorian families would think nothing of tramping several miles on Sundays with their children to and from church.
At some period about 1870, and possibly prior to that date, there was a small jack-of-all-trades building, known as the Institute. This was on the site of the present unmanned telephone exchange, which adjoins the present churchyard. This Institute was used, among other village activities, for occasional Divine Worship. Evening Services were held there on alternate Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in the winter, 8 p.m. in summer. Later, in 1882, there was an evening service on the 1st Sunday in the month at 7:30 p.m.
It was the Congregationalists who were the first to build a place for regular worship. In 1877, a Chapel was built on "a parcel of waste land" nearly opposite the pond, and continued as such for over 80 years. By all accounts, this Chapel was welcomed and was well patronised; in fact a real building, dedicated to God, and not to be shared with numerous village activities. In this second half of the 19th century, religious feeling was very strong and contentious, many holding strong views on the Church of England, Methodism and Congregationalism.
The Reverend Archibald Augustus Knollys was Vicar of Okewood from 1887 until 1897. Many a time, visiting in his scattered parish, he must have had visions of a permanent place of worship. In 1887, ten years after the building of the Congregational Chapel, land was purchased for the erection of an Anglican Mission Room. The site was at the corner of Tillies Farm, where now stands the telephone kiosk. Dedicated to St. Barnabas, it was of corrugated iron externally, with presumably timber walls inside. A large stove heated the building in winter, and services were held every Sunday. This Mission Room was in a real sense a godsend, the scattered residents attending regularly, with a Curate appointed to assist at this end of the scattered parish.
Holy Trinity Church
Before the building of the present church, there occurred a tragedy of deep concern. Just outside the boundary of the parish, on rising ground with wonderful views, Pratsham Grange was built for the Hensley family. Charles and Christina Hensley lived there with their two sons and two daughters. In 1892, the elder son, Everard, was fatally shot by his cousin while rabbit shooting. As a lasting memorial to their son, the Hensley decision was to build a church at Forest Green.
The building of a church is far more complicated than that of an ordinary dwelling. Ecclesiastical authorities had to be approached, legal faculties obtained from the Diocese, an architect had to be employed. In all probability there were frustrations and exasperations, and from conception to completion, four years passed. Everard Hensley had been born on Trinity Sunday 1874 hence the reason for the dedication of the church to the Holy Trinity. A small building built of local Surrey brick, and capable of seating 90, its proportions are such that all is in keeping with the surroundings. While entering, one is struck by the simplicity and complete lack of fuss. In the belfry are two manually operated bells, nothing melodious or soul stirring about the tone, but the message reaches across the Green. Colour is introduced by the stained glass in the five East windows, all of which are dedicated to the Hensleys or their cousins the Burneys. On the extreme right are the strangely moving windows for Ernest Charles Everard Hensley, 1874-1892, depicting a youthful face.
The Churchyard, as in all villages, bears names, some forgotten, others still of well-known families in the neighbourhood. Surrounding this peaceful resting-place are fields and countryside, the happy donkeys, grazing at ease.
General parish information can be gleaned from the Parish Magazine, first printed in July 1897, still available today, and representing the now joined parishes of Ockley, Okewood Hill and Forest Green.
The Mail Coach, plying between Dorking and Horsham was for generations the only public transport. The route was via Coldharbour and Leith Hill. A quarter of a mile or so after passing the Parrot, travelling south, the road turned right, passing Bridgham Farm. The track continued via Pondhead to Mayes Green, and it is along this area that a rider wearing 17th or 18th Century clothes, riding a horse with docked tail, has been witnessed recently. Smugglers certainly there were, travelling from the coast, speeding up Leith Hill and environs for their next relay. The steep, narrow winding track, still known as Smugglers Lane, must have witnessed many illegal transactions, so much more romantic than modern drug trafficking at airports.
The village life continued until the mid-19th century and the coming of the railways, but the tempo was till very slow. When the London-Brighton line had been constructed, passing within four miles of Forest Green, private enterprise came to the fore, and a donkey-cart plied between station and village.
Schooling was simple; there was no option. A few private houses took a few pupils, but, for the majority, the Church of England School at Okewood supplied all of their needs. Built in 1873, it was run by 3 or 4 staff, with as many as 150 pupils at any one time. No transport was laid on, so pupils walked both ways daily, it being dark in the winter before they reached home. Neither were there school meals, the children took their own sandwiches, and pumped water from the well for their drinks.
Aspects of Community Life, 1880 onwards
During the turn of the century, a Mr. and Mrs. Lawrance Briant from London bought two small cottages, enlarged both ends, and formed Danesmead. Their advent was to prove of untold benefaction to the community. From London, they spent weekends and holidays there with their happy family of boys and girls. Later they moved to Forest Green House, which they came to love very dearly. Their daughters enjoyed every minute of the day, and it is their wonderful memories that provide so much information about life at that time. Among other treasures was a dog' cemetery, little headstones marking the graves, all now disappeared. The daughters later owned Okebrook and Littlebourne (opposite Forest Green House).
While local children took the beauties of the countryside for granted, these young Briants appreciated it to the full. They would walk to the nearby farm to fetch eggs and butter, welcomed always with a mug of fresh milk. The living room had a large chimney; open to the sky, while the stone yard in front was full of cats and kittens. It was a peaceful setting, reminiscent of Beatrix Potter and her Lake District Farm.
The Green, roughly triangular and approximately 26 acres, played an integral part in the community, and a track then crossed diagonally from the apex, sufficiently wide for horse-drawn carts to travel to Waterlands. Cricket was played on the pitch to the east of this rough road, and Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897 were centered here. Sports and spirited games followed. Further games and dancing appear to have followed until dusk, when rockets were let off, answering ones from Okewood and Ockley being visible.