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• Introduction

• History
• The Godalming

• The Wey

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• Introduction

• Lock
• Barges
• Life on the

• The Horse-
drawn IONA

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• Introduction

• Watermills
• Flour & Bread
• Fulling & Cloth
• Chilworth

• Charcoal

• Brewing
• Papermaking
• Ice Houses
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• Introduction

• Habitats
• Trees & Plants
• Insects
• Birds
• Fish
• Countryside

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• Introduction

• More About

• More About

• More About

• More About

• More About

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• Introduction

• Legends
• The Big Names
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• Introduction

• Boat Art
• Inn Art
• River Graffiti
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• Basingstoke

• Wey & Arun

• The Thames
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We welcome
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Wey Navigation
Walsham to Pyrford Lock

The renowned Royal Horticultural Society have established an important habitat regeneration and management project along the banks of the Wey near Ripley. Also just downstream is Pyrford Place with historic connections to the Kings and Queens of England. The house saw more than its fair share of scandal, with two events in particular that must have prompted much gossiping below stairs.



The BBC's Top Gear presenters stopped off at the Little Chef on the A3 at Wisley for refreshments. Jeremy Clarkson's comment that the chicken hot pot was 'the second nicest thing I have ever put in my mouth' was broadcast in February 2012.

“My father told me at one time, boxers used to go in there (The Summerhouse, Pyrford Place) – bare knuckled – and the best man used to walk out.” Captain White's River Life Nancy Larcomber

The construction of Guildford Cathedral in Surrey started in 1936 but was interrupted by the war. The consecration of the cathedral attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip is marked by their signatures enscribed on individual bricks in the cathedral's wall.

Much of the 87 miles (140 km) of the Wey runs through private property. The two Wey Navigations are owned by the National Trust, and apart from short stretches running through municipal land, the remainder of the river passes across private landowners property. The public has unrestricted access to the Navigations towpaths, but elsewhere visitors have to restrict their movements to public rights of way. Boating and fishing on the Navigations require a licence.


click image to enlarge

"Went to check on the boat the other Saturday. It was a fine, bright day, with some sun-shine but a rather chilly breeze. We like to check the moorings, sweep the fallen leaves off the roof and decks, run the engine and fire up the heating etc. to try and beat off the winter dampness. There had been plenty of rain, so the bilges needed pumping. In fact the river sections of the Wey navigation were closed off due to strong currents, so when we decided to go for a little cruise there was only the short section between locks available.

"Anyway, we had a nice little winter trip, with a lunch-stop at the one available stopping point. You notice how much more of the surrounding countryside can be seen without much foliage on the trees and bushes. What remained had that rather sad brownish-green look about it. But all was not gloom and doom. Surprisingly, at one point a red admiral butterfly alighted on a rope just beside life-ring for a few minutes, almost perfectly matching it's bright orange colour. Should he/she have been about at that time of year? Then, back at the mooring, we noticed holly growing just alongside with a good array of red berries doing it's best to brighten the afternoon twilight." Blogger Andy S 18th December 2006

“We decided to try the loop from Weybridge down the Canal to Pyrford and return to Weybridge via the River Wey, a very popular loop to do. Also there was the option of returning via the canal if the river looked too high to canoe.

"Off we set. The sun was shining and the narrowboats were out for the day. One friendly narrowboat owner even offered us a tow! Tempting, but I was glad of the exercise.

"Stopped at the Anchor pub for light a drink and some food. The pub has been newly refurbished and now looks very good, the service is very fast, and has some great beers on tap. Some food and a pint of stinger beer later and we set off again headed for the river Wey. The path needed a bit of thrashing to get down to the river, but a blackthorn stick and ten minutes was all it took.

"The river was high but didn't seem too imposing and the current carried us along nicely without the need for much paddling at all. The river was quite high on the gauge, but if anything this made the going easier as the Wey can be very shallow in places. Along the way found a one legged swan.

"The river passes very close to the M25, ..... when we met the first Kingfisher of the day, the bird must be a bit deaf though! Eventually came to the place where the river forks and we took the left fork to get around the weir.

"After this things went a bit pear shaped! Firstly on trying to put the boat in after the weir we were told by a fisherman on the bank that we couldn't put the boat in here as his club owned the bank. Despite a public footpath running parallel to the bank he said there was no access to the river side and if we even went down the footpath he would call the police. Apparently his club owned the banks down to the next bridge so of course we set off down the footpath to the next bridge and put the boat in there. The guy was calling the police on his mobile as we left! However we are still waiting to be arrested for tresspassing on a public footpath!

This is blocking the whole river, but is wide enough and stable eneough to stand on and drag the canoe over. I couldn't see any obvious way of portaging this one. Once the river level falls this tree could become a strainer if the tree doesn't fall with the river. This definately need a chainsaw to cut a way through this one.

"Just after the bridge there is another fallen willow that covers the whole of the river, and this one is acting as a strainer as it is sitting higher abover the river, the river is also flowing resonably fast through there too. This second tree we were able to portage via means of a public footpath again that ran alongside the bank, but the place to get out of the river is by climbing up a very steep bank.

"After all this effort and the worry of being chased by the cops we were knackered and headed as fast as we could for home. An eventful day, that ended in near disaster when I almost totalled the boat and put a large dent in the car, but that is just too embarrasing to mention the details here." Blogger: Hedgepig 29th July 2007

"The navigation then passes Pyrford Place, with its lovely Elizabethan Summerhouse with a pagoda roof. It was here that John Donne, Poet and Dean of St Paul’s, lived from 1600 till 1604.

"We then passed through Walsham Flood Gates which were open now that the river was at a normal level. This is the last remaining turf sided lock on the navigation.
Our last lock of the day was Pyrford lock above The Anchor Pub and our mooring for the night. There were plenty of people sitting outside the pub with their cameras poised as we exited the lock. NB Wingingit did not join us on the descent; they moored above the lock and only came down later.

"We moored up and it was a chance to get the jobs done at the beginning of the month. At the start of each month we like to do boat checks and get the grease pot and oil can out. Keith went around oiling the door hinges and then greased all the grease nipples on the propshaft and checked the gearbox oil. We make it the start of the month, then it is always something we remember to do. After all a boat will not look after itself.

"Tomorrow we will leave the River Wey and go back onto the Thames. It has been a lovely visit to this beautiful navigation. The National Trust is certainly making sure it is well looked after. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone we have met on this trip; it has been an experience which we will repeat again one day no doubt." Blogger: Hadar 2nd June 2008

"I took a stroll before work on Thursday morning at Ripley. Leaving the car there was a Pied Wagtail perched on a rooftop; both Carrion Crows, Starlings and Jackdaws were calling as they flew overhead; Wren, Robin and Chaffinch singing from within the hedgerows.

"I headed towards Walsham Lock on the River Wey Navigation and the path took me past fields of yellow. At the sluice walkway I spied a Grey Wagtail perched on a rope and captured his double in the water. I heard the ‘kik’ ‘kik’ call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker as it emerged from a nearby tree and then disappeared downstream. The trees around the lock house were alive with young Blue and Great Tits actively feeding and talking to one another. A Common Whitethroat was very vocal on the other side of the water with its scratchy song but eluded my camera.

"Further along the towpath was a male Blackcap heartily singing but flew further away as I approached his perch. A barge passed by and I acknowledged the occupants with a wave. Next up was mother Mallard with seven ducklings in tow. On reaching my position she back paddled to maintain station and kept an eye on her charges and the “Early Birder” who was obviously no threat! All along the towpath were lots of Banded Demoiselles, a single Speckled Wood butterfly and a slightly tatty Painted Lady." Source: The Early Birder blog 5th June 2009

to the next stretch of the Wey Navigation:


RHS Embankment Project

At Wisley, downstream from Walsham Gates (GR: TQ050578) the influential Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has its headquarters based in what, at first sight, appears to be an old manor house set in 200 acres of beautifully landscaped and maintained gardens. The house looks old but in reality was completed by the Society in 1916 as a purpose-built laboratory using recycled materials from old manor houses.

The original owner of the site George Ferguson Wilson was a keen amateur gardener and grew thousands of plant species that plant-hunters of the time brought back from their travels and donated to him. After his death in 1902 Sir Thomas Hanbury bought the gardens for £5,000 and gave them to the RHS, who at the time were actively looking for a garden outside London.

Wisley is the largest of the RHS four gardens open to the public.

The editor of the newly published (October 2009) A Hundred Years of Wisley and its People said this of his time at Wisley:

"The training at Wisley is different to anywhere else because it is so practical. You worked in each different part of the garden - woodland, the garden, glasshouses etc – for three month stints until you’d done the lot," said Graham Clarke, a Wisley horticulture student from 1973 to 1975. "You get to know the garden intimately and it does cast a spell on you. With a long established garden like Wisley there are thousands who have passed through the gates as students and staff and the club (Gardens Club), whose members meet up once a year, is a way of staying in touch." Surrey Advertiser 23rd October 2009

Thirty trainees each year are educated through the RHS school of horticulture siruated at Wisley.

The narrow Wisley Lane leading from the A3 and off which the RHS gardens are situated was used for the location of a scene from the BBC television series Doctor Who. The scene for the episode Spearhead from Space was filmed in September 1969 and showed a UNIT jeep carrying a Nestene sphere being intercepted by an Auton. You'd have to be a Who buff to work that one out . . .

Wisley Gardens 1955
RHS Gardens 1955
Reproduced courtesy of The Francis Frith Collection

The River Wey skirts the edge of the gardens and it is here that the RHS have established The River Wey Embankment Project (GR: appx TQ063586). Started in 1997, the project’s aim is to emphasise native plant and animal habitats along the banks of the river. Various specialist RHS departments co-ordinate their efforts in encouraging and monitoring fauna and flora on the site. This stretch of the Wey, bypassed by the construction of the Wey Navigation, was previously a wooded floodplain. In conjunction with the Environment Agency an oxbow lake with three islands was created following the original course of the river and new distinct habitats were formed including a mixture of open water, light woodland and a tall herb community. The RHS has recorded a phenomenal variety of wildlife in their monthly monitorings between February and October each year. This includes over 350 species of plants; 100 of fungi; 1,400 of invertebrates of which over 80 insects are considered to be nationally notable, rare or vulnerable to extinction; 55 species of birds; various mammals, reptiles and amphibians; and 10 species of fish. An otter is also a regular visitor to the area.

Wisley entered the Met Office's record books for experiencing the country's hottest temperatures for July for almost 100 years. The temperature of 97.7°F (36.5°C) was recorded on the 15th July 2006. The previous record of 96.8°F (36°C) was recorded in 1911 at Epsom in Surrey. MORE

The banks of the river passing alongside the RHS gardens benefitted from a special donation of Tulipa 'My Support' bulbs from a Dutch commercial grower. 5,000 were planted (November 2006) along the river as part of a mass planting of 350,000 spring bulbs with the regular gardens' staff supported by volunteers and local school children. Other new plantings include a river of blue mascari edged with yellow daffodils bordering paths and a host of daffodils in the conifer lawn area.

A winter flower count undertaken at Wisley in January 2007 revealed that 252 different plants were in flower.

The Surrey Women's Institute celebrated their 90th anniversary at Wisley gardens (July 2008) with a display of 126 scarecrows made by their members and attended by 3,000 people.

The Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley conducted a month-long experiment in April 2009 to find out if the act of talking to plants does actually provide any benefit. A range of 10 voices with different pitches from both men and women were selected after the society auditioned 30 people. Readings were then recorded from a variety of writings including Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids and played back to the plants through headphones attached to their pots for eight hours a day. Experts then measured the plants’ growth rates and compare them to a control group. At the time of writing no results had been publicised . . .

“This has never been tested seriously before so we just don’t know what the results will be,” said Colin Crosbie, gardening superintendent. “We know that sounds of between 125Hz and 250Hz can affect gene expression in plants and help them grow, but this has only been tested using music.”

Surrey Advertiser 3rd April 2009

RHS Wisley Gardens announced (June 2009) the result of its talking-to-plants experiment in which it transpired that the great great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, Sarah Darwin, was the voice found to have the best effect on the plants. Darwin's plant grew 1.6 cm higher than the control plant and beat her nine competing voices.

"We can't explain exactly what the magical property in Sarah's voice is but it could have something to do with the pitch and tone," said Colin Crosby garden superintendent. "Our experiment found that female voices had the edge over male voices in helping plants grow."

"I think it is an honour to have a voice that can make tomatoes grow and especially fitting because for a number of years I have been studying the wild tomatoes from the Galapagos Islands at the Natural History Museum," said Darwin. "I'm not sure if it's my dulcet tones or the text I read that made the plants sit up and listen but either way, I'm proud of my new title." Surrey Advertiser 3rd July 2009

RHS Wisley succeeded in an effort to enter the Guinness Book of Records for the largest game of conkers. 502 competitors playing in pairs for 5 minutes set a new record (October 2010), beating the previous record held by Redland high school for girls in Bristol.

Appointed in August 2010, the new managing director Sue Biggs as announced that she intends to increase the profile of the RHS gardens.

"We have some very exciting plans for Wisley," she said. "There is a huge amount that goes on there - particularly on the science side and for the sustainability of the environment. Not a lot of people know about this, we have been a very modest organisation until now. I want us to change that. We will create a more visible presence that appeals to a far wider audience. Wisley is the face of the RHS, And we need to talk more about it as it does very important work. The research that goes on in the Wisley laboratories is fascinating. In addition to this, we have got fully trained advisers that members can talk to and get horticultural advice from." Surrey Advertiser 5th November 2010


RHS Bicentenary Glasshouse

The Queen officially opened The Royal Horticultural Society's new glasshouse at Wisley in June 2007. The massive £7.7m structure, which covers an area the size of 10 tennis courts and towers 40ft (12m) above the gardens, houses 5,000 plants growing in three climatic zones. The building can hold up to 750 people.

The interlinked zones provide individual dry temperate, moist temperate and tropical climates all controlled by computer technology. The reddish-brown 'rock' structure that dominates all three zones is made from glass-reinforced concrete moulded from natural rock outcrops, this material used in place of real rock to reduce costs and the weight-load. A 16ft (5m) waterfall provides a central feature.

The bulk of the construction costs, representing the Society's most ambitious projects, was raised from RHS members and private donors. The structure took two years to build.

Constructed in time to mark the Society's 200th birthday celebrations The Glasshouse showcases their tender plant collection including difficult to grow, rare and endangered species. Hundreds of orchid species and old cultivars of Solenostemon (Coleus) are represented inside the huge cathedral-like structure. The oldest plant is a 150 year old staghorn fern.

The rippling roof curves use angles and pane sizes that make the most of available sunlight. A gas boiler provides additional heating to ensure that a minimum of 10C is maintained in the temperate zones and 20C in the tropical zone. Heat is retained at night by thermal shading screens, which also have the added benefit of providing protection from the sun on extremely hot days. Humidity within the structure is maintained at 65% by an automatic misting system. Electrical equipment in the glasshouse and cafe is powered by solar panels.

In keeping with the RHS' stated aim of providing horticultural education to the wider public The Glasshouse incorporates the country's first 'root zone' - an interactive area housed inside a cavern. The interactive displays provide information about the interrelation between plant, plant health and plant activity below ground level. The Teaching Garden is linked to the Clore Learning Centre.

A 1.3 million gallon (6 million litres) capacity lake has been constructed around The Glasshouse which forms part of the garden's strategy for responsible water use and will provide a habitat for molluscs, damselflies, dragonflies and amphibians. The lake holds enough water to irrigate the entire 200 acre garden at Wisley for two months. Rainwater is also collected and stored underground to be used for watering.

The renowned landscape designer Tom Stuart-Smith was commissioned to provide the landscape setting around the structure where a series of parallel paths gradually curve and intersect to create a pattern of planting beds and lawns. 60,000 perennials have been planted here.

There is over 16,000 sq ft (1,500 sq m) of behind-the-scenes growing space beyond the rock and water gardens provided in what was previously a field. 85% of the plants featured in The Glasshouse were grown at Wisley.

The Glasshouse was designed by the Dutch architect Peter van der Toom Vrijthoff and was manufactured by Smiemans Projecten of the Netherlands. The choice of expertise is quite fitting in that at the end of the 17th century it was from the Netherlands that the first glazed planthouses were imported. The orangery at Kensington Palace was built by Queen Anne in 1704 and the Orangery at Kew was built in 1761.

RHS staff and guests toasted the opening of the glasshouse with white wine made from grapes grown at Wisley.

"As a garden charity, education is at the heart of the RHS's aims. But while it does lots of work with schools, during the school holidays there has not been much for younger visitors other than the gardens themselves. The Glasshouse offers not only interactive displays but also a year-round, weatherproof attraction for the thousands of children who visit Wisley each year." Victoria Summerley Independent on Sunday 15th July 2007

"The big disappointment is that, having been swept up into a sophisticated contemporary idiom by the exterior and landscape, you enter the building to find a cross between Jurassic Park and a vintage Doctor Who set. The central mountain, cleverly moulded to look like rock but still obviously concrete, may be fun to explore with its subterranean "root zone" and camouflaged lift. But, surely, Wisley is all about the wondrous reality of the natural world. This fake world seems to me to be disturbing, dated and ugly." telegraph.co.uk 29th June 2007

Warbler hasn't quite saved
Wisley Airfield
from Incinerator

Surrey County Council had identified the site of the old airfield (GR: TQ075575) at Wisley as one of five sites being considered to locate an incinerator to dispose of the growing mountain of rubbish being generated in the county.

The Council withdrew the site (February 2007) from their blueprint list after a wildlife threat survey revealed that the endangered Dartford Warbler would suffer from the emissions of nitrogen exuded by a mass rubbish burner. Strict European Union environmental rules introduced in 2006 controlling building work within a three mile (5 km) radius of special protection areas has resulted in hundreds of applications for developments being reviewed or scrapped, and the Dartford Warbler has been cited in many of them.

Potential incinerator sites at Heather Farm in Horsell and Martyrs Lane in Woking were also delisted because of the proximity of the Dartford Warbler to those locations.

The problem is not one of damaging pollution according the the Council but the fact that high emissions of nitrogen, although good for most plants once it enters the soil, can be damaging for heathland plant species on which the bird species depends.

However a review by Government inspectors at the end of 2007 concluded that there was no justification for Surrey County Council to remove the site from the proposed incinerator potential locations. The authority is planning to build an incinerator at Capel near Dorking and another at Virginia Water and it is hoped that these new plants will be sufficient for the counties requirements.

The council has expressed surprise at the inspectors' view.

"I should make clear that regardless as to how this issue is resolved, the county council does not have plans to build thermal reatment facilities at Wisley," said a spokesman.

The head of the council's environment and regulation department has said that although incinerators are perceived as causing a lot of pollution they are in fact fairly clean with fumes emitted going through a cleaning process. However environment groups are concerned that by-products of the treatment may be harmful to animals and birds. An incinerator development would also require access roads and would be visible for over half a mile (1km) to the south east of the A3 and from Wisley Gardens.
Surrey Advertiser 11th January 2008

The property developer Wharf Land Investments, which is co-owned by former Conservative minister david Mellor, lodged an appeal (March 2009) with the Secretary of State after it found that Surrey County Council had failed to rule on its application within the expected timeframe.  The council have explained the delay by stating that they are awaiting a report from Natural England examining the likely impact of the facility on the area.

The plant, which will process 30,000 tons of kitchen, garden and animal waste annually, uses an anaerobic digestion process (1). The materials are broken down in an airtight container and gases released during the process are extracted to create energy. Objections from 400 people have been lodged and include the Royal Horticultural Society who are concerned about gases harming their plant collections at nearby Wisley Gardens. Many of the protestors object to the fact that the plant would be open six days per week and would be serviced by 36 waste lorries daily.
Wharf Land Investments bought Wisley Airfield from Legal and general for £22m in 2007.

(1) anaerobic digestion process involves organic waste being loaded into a vessel called a digester within which microscopic enzymes naturally break down the matter using the methane produced to generate electricity. The liquid and solid digestates are used as fertiliser.

The application submitted by the property firm Wharf Land Investments in the summer of 2008 has now triggered a public enquiry due to start in September 2009. Guildford Borough Council is objecting to the application on the grounds that it is an inappropriate development for the greenbelt. The council has earmarked £40,000 for a fighting fund.

“We considered that the access roads would be unsuitable for the traffic likely to be generated and would impact negatively on the neighbouring Thames Basin Heaths special rotection area. We also argued that there are likely to be other adverse environmental impacts and impact on residents. Despite these objections the Surrey Waste Plan was adopted in May 2008 with 17 ha of the former Wisley airfield allocated for waste recycling, storage, transfer, materials recovery and processing and the thermal waste treatment.” Guildford Borough Council report to councillors – Surrey Advertiser 17th july 2009

A recent study undertaken by academics at Cranfield University found industrial size composting sites could lead to health problems for those living nearby.

The airfield, which became operational in 1944, was built for the aircraft manufacturer Vickers in order to produce and test fly heavy bombers. Eleven new Vickers aircraft types flew their maiden flights from Wisley including the range of Windsor and Warwick bombers. Britain's first new postwar airliner, the Viking , with the Nene-Viking being the world's first pure jet transport, were followed by the world's first turbine-powered airliner, the Viscount, and the Vanguard. The prototype of the British Aircraft Corporation's (BAC) VC10 airliner flew its maiden flight from Brooklands to Wisley in 1962.

The airfield had its fair share of aviation mishaps which included a Canberra overshooting the runway in the 1950s and ending up landing on the main A3 road that runs along the western perimeter of the runway, thankfully without any casualties. Others included a Wellington bomber crashing into a house (1946) on the perimeter; a Warwick belly-landing in a nearby field (1946); a B-29 Washington being used for guided weapons trials written off (1955) on the ground after a protype Valiant B2 struck it whilst taxiing; the crash of a Supermarine Scimitar (1957) and a fatal crash (1958) of a Swift whilst landing. A BAC One-Eleven was written-off upon landing (1964) and the comedian Dick Emery crashed his Tiger Moth when taking off from the airfield (1966).

The airfield closed in 1972 after BAC vacated the facility and lay derelict until all of the buildings were demolished in 1979. Various plans for developing the land have been proposed which, in addition to the more recent idea of siting an incinerator here, have included an airfield for general aviation and a prison, although none have come to fruition. The site, which still today (2007) retains the runway and service aprons, lies neglected, and even sensible plans for reverting the land to agricultural use have not materialised. The land is still privately owned by the family of Lord Lytton, the heir to the pre-war owner before the government had leased it.

Wisley Common Cattle Battle

Surrey Wildlife Trust introduced cattle onto Wisley Common in order to preserve the nature of the the heath and to encourage a wider variety of wildlife. However, it would appear that the cattle are proving a little more troublesome than anticipated. A local horse rider suffered injuries after a fall from her horse (June 2009) which had bolted when the cows had reportedly charged at them. Other reports of similar incidents had been reported previously, and the Trust at the time removed the cattle concerned and replaced them with a different head of cows in March 2009. The trust has reviewed the situation and is monitoring the 16 animals still grazing on the common.

"The vast majority of the public continue to enjoy the area of Wisley safely and that at every entry point to the common there is signage advising that there are cattle on site," said a spokesperson for the Trust. "The trust grazes cattle on wildlife sites of international importance to increase biodiversity and enhance the visitor experience. Wisley has seen its population of rare plants and animals increase since grazing was introduced in 2004/2005. On the whole, the grazing has been well received by the public." Surrey Advertiser 3rd July 2009

Winter Moorings by Melanie Cambridge www.weyvalley.info
click on image to go to artist's website

Spielberg's War Horse
at Wisley Airfield

The abandoned airfield at Wisley is providing a fitting location (September 2010) for Steven Spielberg's latest Hollywood venture.

The Disney film is an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's novel War Horse, which stars a British cast including Emily Watson, Jeremy Irvine and Peter Mullan.

News of the production first broke in December 2009 when Spielberg announced the production which he said would produce a film with "Its heart and its message providing a story that can be felt in every country."

Although Spielberg was spotted at the airfield in August assessing the location it wasn't until local residents reported activity including 'explosions' in September that the filming became public. Visitors to the site report tight security preventing open access to the airfield, and a reporter for the Surrey advertiser was told by Disney that “Spielberg films are always closed sets."

Irvine is a young actor cast in the lead role of Albert for his debut in a film. He has worked with the National Youth Theatre and the RSC. Watson and Mullan play his on-screen parents.

The story follows a farm horse, Joey, that is sold to the army and that endures the chaos of the Western Front in WW1.

War Horse has run with two seasons on stage at the National Theatre in London and continues (October 2010) in the West End. It is due to transfer to Broadway later in the year. Richard Curtis and Lee Hall adapted the 1982 novel for the film version which is due to be released in August 2011.

getsurrey.co.uk 1st October 2010

Pigeon House Bridge

The straight stretch of water towards Pigeon House Bridge (GR: TQ054586) is evidence of a wharf from where corn was unloaded and the flour produced by Ockham Mill (GR: TQ055579) was loaded. There was a cart track that ran from here to the Mill. The Mill was not sited on either the Navigation or the River itself, instead taking its water from a stream near Walsham Gates which discharged back into the Wey proper along a mill tail flowing across the meadows (pictured below (1)). Although it is said that this mill was mentioned in the Domesday Book the mill was rebuilt in 1862.

(1) Many thanks to Paul Stevens for identifying this location.

The bridge was probably named after a large dovecot, often called pigeon houses, at the mansion built near here in the late 16th century. Pigeons and doves were highly prized for the menu in manors at the time and their droppings were also used as a saltpetre ingredient for gunpowder, and often the cotes were extravagant and impressive structures worthy of note. A few yards upstream from the bridge on the towpath side was Pyrford Wharf. Nothing remains of the wharf today but it was featured on the Jago Map of 1823, and as recently as 1914 by the Ordnance Survey. Navigation records of 1728 show that coal, corn and timber were handled here.

The Wey at Pyrford click on image to go to David Drury's website
click on image to go to artist's website

Pyrford Place & Two Scandals

Pyrford Place (GR: TQ052583) on the west bank of the Navigation was originally owned by the Abbot at nearby Newark Priory, but upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536 – 1540) was seized and secured as Crown property. The estate was later leased by Elizabeth I to the Lord High Admiral Clinton (1512 - 1585), or Edward Fiennes de Clinton as he was known to his friends, and who curried no favour it would seem with the Spanish. The Spanish Ambassador was documented as having told Philip II that Clinton was a “very shameless thief, without any religion at all.” – in those days an extreme insult indeed.

Contrary to what the Spanish thought of him Clinton was highly regarded by all bar one of the four monarchs he served in High Office from Henry VIII, through Edward VI and Queen Mary, to Elizabeth I. He fell foul of Mary however when he was sacked in 1553 for becoming involved in trying to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne in her place. Remarkably, despite such treacherous behaviour towards his monarch, Clinton was reinstated by Mary some five years later. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find out exactly what hold he had over her? The original moated house was demolished in the mid 19th century and rebuilt by Lord Onslow, although the building today is a 20th century one now housing private apartments.

Sitting right next to the Navigation is the brick summerhouse belonging to Pyrford Place dating back to the end of the 17th century, and which bears a blue plaque making reference to the fact that John Donne (1573 – 1631) lived here for four years from 1600. Slightly misleading, although providing a romantic notion as the summerhouse has a quaint feel about it, for the poet and song writer actually lived in the big house set back some way from the river rather than in the summerhouse itself. The building was renovated in the 1990s.

John Donne Wey Valley poet
John Donne
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Donne became entangled in a dastardly misdemeanour of his own after he seriously upset the powerful More family who had their country estate at Loseley near Guildford.. Pyrford Place had by now been leased after Clinton, again by Elizabeth I, to her Latin secretary Sir John Wolly. Wolly was married to one of Elizabeth’s Ladies-in-Waiting, one Elizabeth More of Loseley, and the More dynasty were her favoured agents in Surrey. It was this very snug little network that was to be Donne’s undoing. He had secured the job of private secretary to Francis Wolly, who inherited the estate after his father’s death. Donne had the pleasure of meeting Ann More, a Loseley heiress who was witness to the knighting by Elizabeth I of the widow Wolly’s new husband, Thomas Egerton, at the house. He fell madly in love with her and charmed the heiress to such an extent that she agreed to elope with him, they both believing, understandably, that no More could possibly be seen associating with a mere bard. There was much wringing of hands and eventually the couple were hunted down and, through the More’s connections in high places, Donne was imprisoned for his impudence and gross effrontery. However in his time as secretary at the house he must have made some very influential friends for they managed to negotiate for his release into their custody. The story did have a happy ending though as the More family eventually relented and the couple were to eventually marry, starting their married life at Pyrford Place.


Pyrford Lock

A half mile stretch of the land close towards Pyrford Lock and lying between the canal and the original course of the River Wey to the east of here has been bought by the National Trust to prevent any further encroachment by modern development. This is a good example of the Trust’s ongoing Wey Valley Protection programme.

Pyrford Lock (GR: TQ053593) - rise of 4ft 9in (1.45m) - which was opened in 1653 originally did not have a bypass channel which meant that when Coxes Lock was built downstream the paddles in the lock gates had to be kept partially open to prevent the mill from being starved of its water supply and vessels grounding. One of the first jobs the Trust undertook upon taking over the Navigation was to construct a bypass channel here. The Lock is 4.9 miles (7.9 km) from the Thames.

“Here (Pyrford Lock) we brought up for a rest, and procured some bread and cheese from a little inn adjoining the lock. The inn was full of weary haymakers, who asked me in a plaintive voice if it was not very hot. I suggested in reply that some beer might be refreshing, and ordered it for them. Their joy may be imagined, and I was amply repaid, for they rushed out, insisting on filling the lock themselves.” J.B.Dashwood 1868


The Anchor (GR: TQ053593) just downstream from Pyrford Lock is a public house of some repute. Founded in 1728, in its original form it used to provide a worthy service for the people working along the canal and travellers happening upon it. The name according to local historians was apparently originally derived from ‘anker’, this being a reference to that measurement of beer representing 8.5 imperial gallons. Stables used to rest the horses and mules working the Navigation have long since been demolished and replaced with a substantial patio laid out for the benefit of modern day guests.

Pyrford Lock and The Anchor 1955
Pyrford Lock with The Anchor c1955
Reproduced courtesy of The Francis Frith Collection

The inn today was rebuilt in 1934 and now has a substantial conservatory and is much improved from its earlier reputation now providing a good menu:

“If you could have seen the old Anchor public house (at Pyrford Lock). It was like a sewerage farm. There used to be chickens, dogs, cats, pigs, running in and out of the bars. It was down to earth alright. They used to get all these people of the road, towpath fairies we used to call them, vagabonds and all that. How they used to make it pay in these pubs, I don’t know. But the stench was terrible. In the Anchor they give you half a loaf and half a pound of cheese for ninepence. You couldn’t get that for ninepence now. The bread they used to bake themselves, there were no bakers in those days. But the beer was good.” Captain White's River Life Nancy Larcomber

A short distance downstream of the Anchor on the opposite bank is the expansive Pyrford Marina (GR: TQ052593) constructed in 1985 and which has provided many modern pleasure boaters with the opportunity of mooring their vessels away from the restricted moorings along the Wey’s banks, and has undoubtedly contributed to keep the Navigations viable through their licences. The marina is a private venture and is not associated with the National Trust.

Move on to the next stretch of the Wey Navigation:


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