Oxted & District History Society - Talk
Oxted & District History Society

Jim Farrell, a local historian, gave an illustrated lecture to the Oxted & District History Society on ‘ Aspects of Oxted History ‘ as part of the Society’s 50th Anniversary Local History Season.

A map of 1860 showed that New Oxted didn’t exist, except for St. Mary’s Church, a long way away from where people lived in Old Oxted.  Old pictures show a wooden tower on top of the church’s stone tower.  This was to amplify the sound of the bells to enable them to be heard in Old Oxted when the wind was in the wrong direction.  It had been hoped that the railway would arrive in the 1860s but the company building it went out of business during the economic recession. Oxted became a boom town when the railway eventually arrived in 1884.  The Hoskins family were quick off the mark by building the Hoskins Hotel to cash in on the arrival of the railway. 

Before 1884 the local population was generally very poor.  Early photos of Old Oxted show buildings in disrepair.  One traveller likened Old Oxted to a coal-mining village, with smoke belching out of the brewery chimneys.  There was no industry and early pictures show the hill in Old Oxted High Street before it was altered, being raised at the bottom and lowered at the top so that the incline was shallower and wagons did not get stuck on the steep hill.  Hops were the main cash crop.  The last hop garden was harvested in 1918.

In a 1911 book of walks round London, the Old Bell was still a country pub.  The former Plumbers Arms at Limpsfield Crossroads had a parrot calling for beer in a cage on a tree outside.  The railway came into Oxted on an embankment, the station itself was built on a hop garden and a branch line served Oxted Chalkpit.  There were lime kilns at the Chalkpit and people avoided doing the washing on days they were lit so that the clean clothes were not covered in chalk dust. Passengers on open-topped buses had to be warned to duck when the buses passed under the railway bridge in Bluehouse Lane before the road under the bridge was lowered.

The original cinema was behind the Hoskins Arms from where there was a view across the bowling green to Master Park, newly created in the early 1920s on a field donated by the Hoskins Masters family.  Jim Farrell’s grandmother worked in the former laundry, behind the present Co-op, where she ironed celluloid collars.  The main roads, such as Church Lane, were very narrow, making it difficult for vehicles to pass.

The countryside round Oxted was not lush and leafy as it is now but more like heathland.  Every bit of land was cultivated or common land used for grazing and trees and brushwood were collected for firewood.  For 40 years before the late arrival of the railway in Oxted, coal had to be transported by wagon from the station at South Godstone.

One photo showed Chichele, Rockfield and Uvedale Roads when they had just been built through farmland by local farmers.  Plots of land were then sold off individually for housing development.  There was opposition by farmers to the first Council houses being built in Old Oxted because this enabled farm labourers who lived in tied cottages to look for other employment.  It was not until after the Second World War that people at the lower end of the scale able to buy property were able to afford to commute to London with the new cheaper fares.  Only then was there considerable development of lower priced housing to buy.

                                            Stuart Paterson


Aspects of Oxted History a talk by Jim Farrell