Redhill in the mid-1850s
 
The recollections of Mr T.R.Hooper
 
Through the descriptions and pictures in the various pages of this website a small idea of the character of the growing new town of Redhill and its people has been established.  A better idea of what it must have been like can only be gained from someone who was there at the time and fortunately there is such a first-hand source. This is the biography of T.R.Hooper, son of Ebenezer Hooper, and father of historian Wilfrid Hooper.  In 1920 T.R.Hooper began writing his life story, and in its pages are a few invaluable glimpses of Redhill during this formative period.
      Mr. Hooper was born in 1845 in Bermondsey, and his earliest recollection, when he was about three years of age, was of the lamp lighter coming round to light the lamps outside his parents' London house.  He goes on to relate how, in July of 1854, he was talking with his mother about the pleasures of living in the country when his father came in and got interested in the conversation.  The outcome was that his father purchased the tanyard in Tanyard Lane, now Oakdene Road, in Redhill, and they moved that autumn.  That casual conversation might seem to have had dramatic results but Mr. Hooper senior apparently already owned a tannery in London, so was staying in the same line of business, and may have had some kind of move already in mind.
      Mr. Hooper Junior's biography gives some fascinating glimpses of Redhill at the time.  As has been recounted, 1854 is early enough to plant us firmly in the centre of the first phases of the development of the new town, and here are included such abridged extracts as to give a far fuller flavour of the Redhill of those very early years than might otherwise have been possible.
The Journey

       Most of the things were taken by road on my father's van.  I and Ebenezer were put in charge of dear Henry Ball, then father's carter.  It was a novel experience.  Our pleasure was marred late in the day by the fatigue of the poor horse, the van having - by faulty judgement - been loaded beyond his strength.  He had hard work and at one steep place could not move the van.  A passing carman and Henry, by lashing the horse, tried to torture him to greater exertion.  We stood crying in pity.  This soon failed, and Henry left us in charge and soon returned with a stout farm horse and a man.  This ended the trouble and we soon arrived at our strange new home, and out of the evening darkness into the quaint old kitchen with a turf fire burning in the great chimney corner.

The Tannery

       The premises were extensive enough to exceed our expectations.  The large garden and adjoining orchard, some parts of which were secluded enough for the Robinson Crusoe pranks of us boys...a paddock with a pond on one side.  A large tanhole afforded perennial digging.  A bank afforded steeps to climb and gloomy caverns to hide in.  The old sheds and tan pits had attractions and mysteries.  The house, modernised years before, was much older than it looked.  None of us knew that under the newer slate roof was an old sharp pitched roof that had been tiled and attics sealed off and forgotten.  In the large kitchen a tan and turf fire was kept burning mostly night and day...winter was coming on and the dark lanes were awesome after gas lighted streets.  Posting a letter after dark was a trial, timidly going up the dark road and stumbling across part of the common, opening a gate and fumbling for the V.R. letterbox in the wall of the old house (at the top of Whitepost Hill).

Linkfield Street and Immediate area

       Redhill was entering a new era but Linkfield Street, in which our house stood, was an ancient way leading onto the common and was also the name of a little hamlet - chiefly of picturesque little cottages, a smithy, general shop, inn, a large old house opposite ours called 'Fengates'... let to Mr Barlett, a commercial traveller... and another very fine late XVII century mansion that had become a tenement house and named 'The Barracks.’(This stood at the top of Station Road West roughly where the roundabout close to Reffells Bridge is today)
       Opposite our house was a small farm belonging to C.C.Elgar, of Reigate, who rode over most afternoons on a good horse to see his bailiff, Edward Vigar, a genial farmer from near Copthorne, with an old dame and a family of vigorous sons and daughters, mostly grown up.  Stephen Brown, Carter &c., kept the White Lion.  Thomas Chapman was the local barber…a little spare man the blacksmith.  Henry Reffell kept the Somers Arms and a small brewery adjoining.  He had a rather ladylike wife and several children, much our age.  Dick Steer, an evil drinking man, managed a small grass farm.  Widow Rose, Old Dodd (Master Dodd), Master Fuller, Gaffer Legg, and others whose names I forget dwelt in the old cottages by Linkfield Street.  Mr Comber, builder and under-taker, kept the P.O. on Whitepost Hill.  He was a portly dignified man, wearing a top hat and speaking with authority on many topics.  Just below lived Mr Shelley, erstwhile Steward of Gatton, then road surveyor, a genial well informed man of some antiquarian taste, and a small museum of Roman tiles, flint tools, old coins &c that he had dug up or had bought were in his front room.'

Redhill New Town

       On the way to the railway station, on land leased by Lady Warwick, several new roads had been laid and a number of cottages, shops, etc., built, the collection being called Warwick Town.  A few good residences were built or being built near.  In one called 'The Dome', on Furze Hill, Mr Carrington, the astronomer, had his observatory and wrote his book, 'Stars, etc., observed from Redhill'.
       In the Station Road, made and belonging to the railway company, was a turnpike gate and cottage where Lloyds bank now stands.  The shops were small and unpretentious, mostly kept by people who had immigrated from adjacent villages and towns, the principal draper and grocer shop being a branch of Sanders of Bletchingley.  Henry Fowle, a young man of the near two centuries family of watchmakers of Uckfield and East Grinstead, had just set up. Also a Mr Lanaway from Woodhatch.

Further Afield

      On the slope of the hill, facing the common, was the P.O. in a builder's garden.  Beyond that was the lofty expanse of Red Hill - grass, fern and gorse covered and with picturesque circles of fir trees.  Half a mile on the further or southern foot of the hill was another small hamlet known as Little London but beginning to assume the name of St John's from the church of that name recently erected there.
       At Meadvale (then called Mead Hole) and South Park, new villages were begun on plots of land recently sold by the British Land Company.  Reigate, the old town, seemed to us a long way off.

Social Classes

       There were two distinct classes, viz. the old inhabitants, very rustic and rural, and the newcomers - gentry, London businessmen and others brought by the new railway to Reigate Junction as the station was then named.  The gentry whom I remember were Mr Hanbury, London Road; Mr North and Mr Searle, stockbrokers; Mr Webb, Redstone Manor; Arthur O.Wilkinson and Mr Walters, both of Batts Hill; Mr Symonds, an elderly retired farmer; and George G. Richardson at Garlands.  An elderly medical man, Mr Stone, was the only doctor.
       Among the former were my father's workmen who had been with his predecessor, Mr William Toswill:  William Kemp, the foreman, Whitmore the carman, George Roffey, head of the limes department - old fashioned, hard workers with much quaint wit and bearing the country title of master.  My father's workmen were old-fashioned natives, stolid, quaint and averse to change.  The rustic boys had contempt for anything or anyone unusual and their gibes and actual interference were sometimes vexatious.  I and my brother Eb had coats of imitation skin with fluffy fur outside.  It was about the time of the Crimea war and as we passed a group of young rustics near our house the cry began "Here come the Rooshan Bears".  This frequent taunt at last provoked Eb to arm himself with a hedge stake and when the ignorant little tormentors began their jeers and pushes he swung it round sharply on the foremost whom were cowed and went off with threats, but the trouble ended.

 
The End
 
These reminiscences are reproduced in September 2010 from 'A History of Redhill' volume 1 chapter 5 where they appeared in 1999 with the kind permission of Mrs Joyce Hooper.
 
 
www.redhill-reigate-history.co.uk. To contact Alan please click here.