The Battle of Moor Park (4.5 miles)


The gathered mob at Moor Park Lodge in 1897

INTRODUCTION:

In 1890 Sir William Rose, bought Moor Park, Farnham. Relations between previous owners and the local authority were marred by incidents and the Local Board may be excused for adopting a wary attitude when Sir William Rose wrote on 6 October 1890 requesting permission to erect a signpost at the junction of the roads to Guildford and Moor Park just by the Bourne Mill, and inscribed GUILDFORD and MOOR PARK ONLY. (This would be by the Shepherd and Flock today).


The narrow road through the Park, from the entrance off Guildford Road to Waverley by Stella's Cottage, was a public right of way. The annoying feature about this, from the Squire's point of view, was the public's point of view. The road passed right up close to the mansion in the middle of the Park. It was worst at weekends, when an almost continuous procession of local bumpkins dressed in their Sunday best filed by, pausing on their way and gawking in.


On 4 January 1897, Sir William's solicitors wrote to the Council enclosing a copy of a notice which they were inserting in the local press, stating that their client intended to close the lodge gates of Moor Park and not allow any person to enter without written authority. The Council informed the solicitors that 'they had no doubt as to the rights of way over Moor Park and were resolved at whatever cost to use all proper means to preserve such rights'. His declared decision was to do this on the following Sunday, 17 January. The Council instructed Mr Frost (FUDC Surveyor) to be present with some of the workmen and 'if any obstructions to the right of way be then found, that he do remove same'. Colonel Windham also announced that Sir William had enlisted the services of some ex-Metropolitan policemen and others to secure the gates by force and that, in the present state of feeling in the matter, a serious disturbance might well arise, the consequence of which would rest with Sir William Rose.


Moor Park Lodge today

Farnham's miniature battle was fought out in the cold January weather. Sir William's men duly closed and chained the gates early on Sunday morning and a crowd of some four or five hundred townsmen, and a sprinkling of women, gathered outside. The snow lay on the ground; this came in useful as ammunition for those who were not armed with sticks, crowbars, sledgehammers and other assorted ironmongery. Herbert Frost and his rural colleague, John Stedman, were cheered as they forced the chains with crowbars. The defenders, consisting of a handful of lodgekeepers and other servants, though reinforced by the six ex-City policemen, were clearly no match for the superior strength of the attackers, who by sheer weight of numbers breached the gates and won for the town a victory that has never since been challenged.


The men who broke the chains

Herbert Frost was given a hero's welcome at the Council meeting on 2 February. News had spread; the Secretary of the Commons Preservation Society wrote congratulating the Council upon their action and promising support if needed. And so, what came to be known as 'The Battle of Moor Park' passed into local history; there were, as has been said earlier, two ways of evaluating the outcome.

WALK DETAILS:

From: A circular walk starting and finishing at the Shepherd and Flock Roundabout.

Length: 4.5 miles.

Average Walk Time: Around 2 hours.

Terrain: Generally a level walk but there is a small pull uphill on Camp Hill.

Suitable for dogs: Yes. They should be kept on leads through Moor Park and should be carefully controlled when walking along roads.

Look out for: Some good views of gentle countryside and many relics from the Defence Line from WW2.

Start at the Shepherd & Flock public house which is located within the roundabout bearing the same name at the end of the A31 Farnham by-pass. Limited parking is available in the road here or, if you’re using the pub, in its car park. Walk in front of the pub towards the houses and turn left down an unmade lane through this strange 'island village' isolated from the rest of Farnham by the incessant traffic. Continue along the lane through an interesting mix of quirky building styles until you are in the shadow of the bridge carrying the main A31 road over the lane. Take a moment to check out Moor Park Lodge on your left, site of the 'Battle of Moor Park', featured above.


Continue along the lane under the road bridge and, further on, below the railway. 50m after the railway bridge look to your left where you will see partly hidden among the vegetation on the bank a rock-lined cleft. Once an ornamental waterfall in the grounds of Rock House on the bluff above, its origin is the outfall from a watermill that predated the house itself. Further along the lane take the right turn between fences towards High Mill (marked Ⓐ in the pictures below). This is another of the town’s ancient mills and this one, whilst now purely a residence, is believed to still contain a full set of milling machinery. Walk across the forecourt of the mill and exit through a set of gates into a track between meadows. Continue down the track to cross the river Wey via a footbridge beside a ford.


Walk along the path ahead into the edge of woodland where you will soon see a path to your left signed ‘North Downs Way’. Stop for a moment to view the bench, in the form of a 'Bee Orchid', but it's too early for a long sit-down stop! Take the North Downs Way, a national trail leading from Farnham to Dover, through young woodland to emerge onto a narrow road and turn left. Walk, with care, along the road turning first left to re-cross the river by a small bridge. Continue ahead, noting the large anti-tank cylinder obstacle in the left verge, to crossroads at the foot of a steeply rising sunken lane.


Turn right here, leaving the North Downs Way, joining the Greensand Way through the large gates to Moor Park House. Walk along the drive between more concrete anti-tank cylinders to reach the main entrance to the large house. Now split into luxury apartments with grounds sweeping down to the river, this was formerly a country house owned by Sir William Rose of the right-of-way dispute above. Built in 1630, earlier occupants included Sir William Temple who employed one Jonathan Swift as his secretary. Swift wrote A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books while living here though many will know him better through Gulliver’s Travels. Later the house became a Christian Adult Education centre.


Continue walking along the lane ahead which gradually narrows to become a path between the foot of the slope and the fenced fields on the right. After about a third of a mile you will find a pillbox adjacent to the right hand fence.


This is part of the GHQ defence line erected rapidly (over approximately six months) in 1940 when the threat of German invasion was at its height during World War Two. The line runs through Farnham from Ewshot to Waverley and then continues through Elstead and Godalming. This pillbox was designed for a maximum garrison of nine men with five light machine guns and two rifles. It is positioned to provide covering fire to a larger anti-tank gun emplacement further along the path.


A little further along the path, where the ground rises, you will find the anti-tank emplacement designed to house a 2pdr gun, complete with its carriage, firing out through the large embrasure with a good view and field of fire across the river meadows below.


Return to the path and continue along the terrace above swampy ground to the right and among mature trees. There is a small brass plaque to the memory of Nicola Myers, who died tragically in a car accident on the A31 in 2001. This area is a nature reserve and shortly you will come to a stream issuing from a gated cave mouth.


This natural sandstone cave is known as Mother Ludlam’s Cave and is surrounded by numerous legends. They largely centre round a supposed one-time occupant, Mother Ludlam who was reputed to be the white witch of Waverley. The story goes that she often loaned out utensils to local people but was displeased when a large cauldron, now in Frensham church, was late in being returned.


The cave originally extended around 200 feet in length and the brothers of Waverley Abbey dedicated the fresh water spring within to St Mary. Now it is home to Natterer’s, Daubenton’s, Long-eared and Greater Horseshoe bats. As you pass the cave, look higher up the hill for the small entrance of Father Foote's cave, which unlike Mother's was actually occupied by a hermit called Father Foote. A little way further, the path exits the woodlands at Stella's Lodge. On your right is Stella's Cottage, the end point of the disputed track in the battle. A detour can be made to Waverley Abbey, but please be careful of the traffic on the main road.


If the detour is not taken, turn left up Camp Hill. You will need to change down into low gear for this one, but it does not last too long. Ignore Monks' Well and Cobett's Ridge, and soon you get to the main road where you turn left. Stay on the left side and take extra care as this is an 'A' road and the traffic is fast. Shortly there's a road on the left - Compton Way. Ignore this and instead take the footpath which cuts diagonally left ahead of you (path Ⓑ in the photo below).


The footpath initially starts between two wooden fences but quickly breaks out into forested countryside and continue straight on down the hill for around 800m until a notable footpath joins from the right hand side - the North Downs Way joining back to our route. Carry on 150 m further and look for a footpath signed the North Downs Way on the left where you turn left.

Now the footpath continues through Runfold Wood nature reserve which is largely forested before breaking out into some scrubland and finally into open fields. Follow the path all the way to the small road which you reach by turning left for 10m or so and then immediately turn right. Follow this road down the hill until you're back at Moor Park House. Now turn right down Moor Park Lane. In the field to your left is another pillbox. Further down the lane, where it comes closest to the river, you will find a number of 'dragon’s teeth’, small concrete cones from the defence line designed to prevent tanks from fording the river at this point. Continuing along the road you will come across another anti-tank gun emplacement on the right. After the war this was converted to a garage or shed. Just beyond are the buildings of Moor Park Farm. Just visible at the end of the track to the right is a very large block of former hop kilns now converted to luxury homes. Continue on the lane alongside the fence passing another anti-tank concrete cylinder in the field on the left.


Continue on along the lane past the entrance to High Mill and beneath the railway and road bridges to return to your starting point at the Shepherd & Flock pub.



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