The minor road system of Chobham was created piecemeal over a very long period, simply through the needs of farmers to get to their fields and pasture, or to travel to neighbouring settlements. The lanes may well be prehistoric or Saxon or medieval in origin; certainly many rural tracks are of great antiquity. It is highly probable that the system of minor roads was essentially complete by 1000 AD, though it has continued to change its form ever since. 2, p34
Prehistoric to Roman
Many of the oldest roads in Britain are the prehistoric ridgeway tracks. The Maultway, which runs north-south along the Chobham Ridge, may well be our oldest known road. It appears to run from Berkshire down to Pirbright and on to Guildford. In medieval and later times its use may have continued as a drove road to the animal market in Guildford.
Just to the north of the parish is the important Roman road from London, via a bridge at Staines to Silchester – it ran almost parallel to, and just north of the present-day A30. Roman roads were superbly constructed; on raised stone-based beds with side ditches for drainage and thus the Silchester road It can still be traced in many places; especially across the heaths of 9-mile ride south of Bracknell. See Jim Goddard’s website The Egham and Thorpe Virtual Roman Museum http://www.egyouth.fsnet.co.uk/romanegham for details of the route of the Roman road in our area.
When the Romans left these islands, at the beginning of the 5th century, road building, and maintenance, appears to have come to a halt. Roads of the quality constructed by the Romans would not be built again until the turnpike movement of the 19th century.
Parallel packhorse holloways on Chobham Common
Whilst Roman roads were built for carts, medieval roads were often merely packhorse tracks. These can still be seen where they descended a hillside and have eroded deep narrow holloways.
Hollowed packhorse tracks may not seem to be very impressive but this area probably had better roads than most. Monasteries such as Chertsey Abbey usually brought an organisation to the roads and bridges and ensured that they were maintained. The maintenance of bridges was usually achieved by delegating the responsibility to someone local – often as part of a payment package for holding land. However, in 1386, a man had fallen into and drowned in a particularly large hole in the road from Egham to Staines. The abbot was in court, not for failing to maintain the road, but because the hapless man had drowned and the abbot had claimed his goods! 2, p41
A reconstruction of some of the most important tracks as they may have appeared during the time of Chertsey Abbey.
In medieval times Chobham was closely governed by Chertsey Abbey – ‘all roads led to Chertsey’. The highways tended to run in a north easterly direction; either to Chertsey or to Egham and Thorpe, the other villages within Chertsey Abbey’s lands – the Godley Hundred.
Long distance fairly straight tracks linking Chobham with other villages can be fairly easily seen on old maps – except in the vicinity of agricultural land surrounding villages where they tended to be ploughed out. The developed land around the villages seems to punch a hole in the track network; from which we can infer that the tracks predate the great enclosures in the 16th and 19th centuries.
After the dissolution of the monasteries, Chobham became more cosmopolitan; post-medieval roads tend to run to towns such as Bagshot, Guildford and Woking. However, the quality of maintenance probably fell. Legislation had to be passed in 1555, requiring each parish to repair all its own roads. To promote regular maintenance, each parishioner was expected to work 4 days a year on the roads passing through their parish. Apparently this did not solve the problem since in 1563 this was increased to 6 days. 2, p49 It was not until the General Highways Act of 1835 that the 1555 act was repealed.
The Surrey Heath section of Ogilby’s 1675 strip map of the route from London to Lands End.
In 1575 the statute was amended to allow justices to raise rates in order to repair particular roads. In 1691 minimum widths for metalling were laid down; 8ft for roads to market towns and 3ft for packhorse tracks.
Packhorse trains were still a common site on highways. They were at that time the most reliable way of moving goods. Each animal could carry up to 180kg and the train cover up to 40kms per day.
From 1697 signposts could be required to be erected. 2,p50 Before that date travellers on the long-distance highways often took strip maps which showed where branch roads led to.
In 1571 the present day A30 was described as the road from London to Exeter via Basingstoke. Bagshot was the local stage on this Great West Road. 3, p55 By 1660 regular coach services travelled from London to the South-west calling in at Bagshot which rapidly grew as a coaching stop. Ogilby’s strip map indicates that by this date the line of the present-day A30 was being followed.
The stretch of road which crossed the common from Longcross to Bagshot was notorious for hold-ups in the days of the stage coach. The little weather-boarded house which once stood on the edge of the Common at Longcross was a Beer House called The Traveller’s Friend. Here it is said, the highwaymen, one of whom is supposed to have lived at Dial Cottage, were informed when the coaches and carriages had left the Inn. They could then waylay them on that wild and lonely stretch of road so feared by travellers. (1)
From medieval times onwards the the long distance droving trade grew steadily reaching its peak in the early 19th century but declined in the second half of the 19th century when animals began to be moved by rail. In general, animals were driven from the northern and western areas of Britain to the growing towns of England. Mrs Mason remembered geese being driven from the market at Northampton through Chobham to the Christmas market at Guildford. Evidently the geese had their feet dipped in tar to protect them on the long journey! Characteristics that identify droving roads include wide verges, covering long distances and sometimes lined with pubs whose name indicate use by drovers. Unlike long distance Roman roads they are not particularly straight and instead of connecting towns they tend to bypassing town and village centres. Obvious possible candidates in the Chobham area include the Maultway which runs north-south along the Chobham Ridges and leads on down via Pirbright to Guildford; and the long curving east-west road from Bagshot, Windlesham, Longcross to Chertsey. However, study may find other examples.
Chobham is blessed with charming narrow old lanes. These were once little more than narrow cart tracks that wound between the old fields. They can be found in profusion on the higher ground west of Chobham between the Bournes (Lovelands Lane, Pennypot, etc) and on the alluvial land along the Windle Brook (Halebourne, Hook Mill Lane, etc). These were the earliest settled areas of Chobham. But between 1537 and the end of the 19th century, much of the southern edge of Chobham Common was enclosed into large farms and estates (Chobham Place, Home Farm, Woods Farm, Little Heath, etc). The boundaries of the enclosures probably followed traditional tracks across the Common but allowed a generous margin each side to allow animals grazed on the Common to be driven, and where the road was muddy, to allow multiple tracks so avoiding deep bits. Thus all around the
Red Lion Rd, Burrowhill. An enclosure road showing the original bank and wide verge
southern edges of the Common you will find roads with large distances between the hedges and thus generous verges. Good examples are Windlesham Road, The Steep and Red Lion Road where the original enclosure bank can still be seen set well back from the road in front of the ‘council’ houses.
Because of their width, these wide roads could easily be mistaken for drove roads except for the fact that they are not long-distance roads. Although, of course, enclosure roads could follow old drove roads.
When the centre strip of these roads were metalled, usually during the middle of the 20th century, the former width was no longer needed and so farmers and house builders have tended to encroach on the verge and push their boundaries right up to the edge of the metalled road. In The Steep, it is clear that old Frogshole Cottage was built by a poor squatter on the wide verge thus causing a distinct narrowing of the road at the top of the hill.
In an effort to improve the roads, from 1663 onwards, Parliament passed legislation allowing companies to build and maintain toll roads. In 1728 the Bedfont and Bagshot Turnpike Trust had charge of the Great West Road (A30) from the Hounslow Powder Mills to the Basingstone, an old stone which stood near the Jolly Farmer inn west of Bagshot.
By 1829 there were 30 coaches from London calling every day at Bagshot.
But by the coming of the railways in the mid 19th century, turnpike revenue was falling rapidly and by 1841 the Egham and Bagshot Turnpike Trust’s income had collapsed.
Many companies went bust and by 1870 highways deteriorated again.
In 1888, Surrey County Council took responsibility for the main county roads, whilst Bagshot Rural District Council took over responsibility from the parish for local roads.
Until well into the 20th century most roads in Chobham were little more than cart tracks. Several had water splashes, rather than bridges, only two of which still remain – at Clappers and Penny Pot.
The gravelled minor roads, though picturesque, were extremely wet and muddy in winter and in summer very dusty – motor cars could be seen travelling across the roads on the Common followed by a great plume of dust.
If you would like to know more about how the medieval road map was developed and read the accompanying notes for each road then click on the links in the left margin.
1. “CEBBA’S HAM; THE STORY OF CHOBHAM” – Joy Mason.
2 Roads and Tracks for Historians, Paul Hindle 2001
3 A History of Bagshot and Windlesham. Marie Eedle 1977