The History of Forest Green (part 3)
The Village Hall
In 1920 the Y.M.C.A Hall, always referred to as "The Hut" was completed, due entirely to the generous support of Mr. Lawrance Briant. Great was the excitement when HRH Princess Helena Victoria opened the Hall for, "the promotion of body, mind and spirit for the young life of the community." This Hut was probably the climax of an undoubtedly happy village life. Many who were then children and young adults remember this with very great pleasure. Here was a seed sown, to germinate into the Leith Hill Festival. Dr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, then living at High Ashes on the hill, inspired local villages to encourage choirs. Regular choral practices were to be held and enjoyed in this hall. Some could not read music, but their voices and willing spirits predominated and showed their labour was not in vain when they travelled to Dorking for the Competition. Dr. Vaughan Williams, while living there, composed that well-loved tune "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem," naming it Forest Green, by which it is known the world over.
Also here was the Y.M.C.A. Hostel, available for those wanting to visit the countryside, financed by countless activities which took place during the winter months. Some 30 years after completion, in 1954, the Hut was destroyed by fire, being replaced by a wooden Village Hall in 1957, which was built on the site of the Hostel. This was then replaced by the present brick building in 1988. A simple memorial to the two World Wars stands near this hall, the scroll, "To the Men of Forest Green" by Margaret Rey.
On the north side of the Green is the old Smithy. At one time, both Ewhurst and Ockley boasted one, now only this remains. Certainly for 150 years it has functioned here, with its stove, bellows and anvil. In the days when shire horses were used for farm work, busy indeed was the smithy. Later, most of the shoeing was connected with hunters, pony clubs and private owners, and all sorts and conditions of metals were forged: long fire tongues, fireside companion sets, and repair work. The Forge was rebuilt in the 1990s, and whilst the hand-worked bellows still fan the flames and the hammer still clangs on the anvil, no horses are shod; the work is entirely decorative metal forging.
To commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary, a tree was planted outside, to be the proverbial spreading chestnut. Grafted, for 37 years it showed its spring pink and white blossoms. It eventually died through strangulation, the protecting iron band cutting off the sap. This was replaced in 1973 by members of the Women's Institute, who planted a pink chestnut.
At the turn of the Century, before the days of mechanized farm equipment, Alfred Farley was carpenter, wheelwright and craftsman of high repute. In his premises in New Road, his beautiful woodwork found custom far beyond the village. He created farm wagons, metal-rimmed wheels, wheel-barrows, chicken coops, rakes, ladders, fences, seats and gates (that by the brook at Okewood Church being an example of his work).
Closing of the Chapel
The Congregational Chapel, referred to earlier, was closed for worship in the nineteen-fifties. A chapel building is not consecrated; hence it can be put to other uses after its function ceases. After a period of three years, it was converted into an Artist's Studio, and as such is now designated on modern maps. To those who had loved their Chapel and had worshipped there for many years, this change must have been hard indeed. But it has now become a marvelously creative studio, from true Victorian to a modern open-plan home. Margaret Rey’s most famous work has been the 10ft high Royal Coat of Arms and heraldic emblem used at the Investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969 at Caernarvon Castle.
The Chapel had no burial ground. The Congregational Union has contributed yearly to the Church of England funds, entitling their members to be buried in consecrated ground. So, the surrounding garden is not desecrating a former place, but has formed a pleasant screen from the road.
Waterfall at the Mill
No story of Forest Green would be complete without reference to the "Mill Boys." In 1792, the Philological School was founded in London, and was known by that name until 1908, when it became known as St. Marylebone Grammar School. Early in the 1930s this school acquired the Mill at Forest Green, where, during the summer term, boys could come down, enjoying nature in all her changing moods. Many a boy's life was enhanced by observations of birds, cattle, the meadows and proximity to natural life.
The boys dug out the swimming pool, damming the adjoining stream (The Oke Brook) where trout were flourishing. In the grounds is to be found a delightfully paved garden, still tended and cared for, bearing two bronze plaques. "This Garden was made in remembrance of those Old Boys of St. Marylebone Grammar School who gave their lives for our freedom, 1939-1945. And their friend and master, Peter Maclean, Captain, Grenadier Guards, who loved this place as they did, and enriched it with his care." Nearby is a drinking fountain: "In memory of Philip A. Wayne, Headmaster 1924-1954."
St. Marylebone Grammar School is no longer in existence, and the facilities have been updated and are regularly used by the children of the William Ellis School, Camden.
Apart from 17th and 18th century farms, a few Victorian and Edwardian buildings have appeared along the Ewhurst and Horsham roads. In 1904, agricultural cottages were needed; four of these and one house were built on arable land to the south of the Green. The road, unmade and likely to remain so, was referred to at The New Road, and as such it is still known. Mill Lane, so obviously named, also has houses. Workers living in New Road used to walk to the Mill on the footpath through Okebrook. During the post World War I era, six Council Houses were erected, Green Bank Cottages, behind the chapel, and at a later date, four more, Downlands, were built beyond the garage and bus depot. The garage has now been demolished for a group of new houses.
Older residents will remember The Brown Buses, started as a private enterprise by Tom Brady after his demobilization from the 1914-18 war, with his £20 forces gratuity. It became a very successful service for 47 years, plying between Guildford via Holmbury St. Mary, and Horsham via Ewhurst, finally taken over by North Downs Bus Service. Now there are only some weekly shopping buses, and the daily Post Bus, serving the village.
The village did not escape all World War II incidents. Not so vulnerable as many areas in the southeast, nevertheless enemy bombers crossed and recrossed the open countryside. On one occasion, a German bomber jettisoned a stick of bombs across the Green, damaging the West window of the church. For this, damage compensation was received from Government sources. Many years later a splinter of bomb was found in a dead tree opposite the Northeast wall of the church. If it weren't for the tree, the splinter could have shattered the East windows. As it was, the blast considerably damaged the West window and the weathercock on the church, the only other casualty being a cow who lost her tail. There is a small crater on the northern section of the green, and in 1979, an unexploded bomb was found in a field near Ockley. All open countryside was a target for flying bombs and rockets. Many of the bombs were shot down by R.A.F. fighters before reaching London. Holmbury and Leith Hill were pocketed with craters, some of which even now are discernible.
Cricket and Football
As previously mentioned, the cricket green was to the east of the former cross-green route, being transferred to its present site in the early 1920s. The pavilion was donated in May of 1947 by Mr. H.W. Harman. The pitch with its players affords continuous pleasure through the summer months for many visitors. The Green, being 26 acres, also provides plenty of space for football, which has been played in winter seasons passed. How many ghosts, metaphorically, there must be on the Green, the centre of this hamlet. How many dog owners have walked their dogs, and how many visitors have come on sunny weekends to watch village cricket?
The 1979 Electoral Register contains approximately 400 names. Very many hamlets have similar backgrounds; lucky are those that maintain their identity of traditional rural living. So many have been swallowed up by progress and unplanned buildings as the aftermath of two world wars, that much village life has disappeared forever. But residents whose roots go back generations mix amicably with the newer population. The 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria demonstrated this, together with other royal events and anniversaries over the years. 1977 was not behind in its celebrations for the Silver Jubilee of our present Queen. A wrought-iron village sign was erected to commemorate this event.
This pulling together was illustrated in 1971. On that occasion, funds were needed urgently to re-decorate the Holy Trinity Church. The idea of a village fete fired the imagination of all, churchgoers and others. There might be those who only enter church of the traditional baptism, wedding or funeral, but none wanted it in disrepair. Throughout the deepest of winter months, regular meetings were held, meticulous plans made and put into operation, with the always unspoken British doubt-would it rain on July 4th? It was all a glorious success, and well over £1,000 was taken. “Village Days” continue as a well supported annual fundraising event.
As you can see, residents, old and new, have a deep affection for their hamlet. The former, referring to old in residence, may say it is not what it used to be, but what is? It is a happy, friendly place in delightful surrounds, and those who live here are aware of this atmosphere. Long may it remain so.
Adapted from “The Story of Forest Green”, 1980, Kathleen M. Baker, Portcullis Press Ltd.