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The Early Days

Lingfield History by Fiona McIntosh



To Redhill Library, Lingfield Library and the Surrey History Centre for their resources.
To Alison Findlay and Garry Steer for their encouragement.
To the incomparable Ordnance Survey for always getting it right!

The Mystery of Lingfield Chalybeate Spring

Look up any work on Holy and Healing Wells in Surrey and you will probably find a reference to the chalybeate spring at Coldharbour on Lingfield Common, which is sometimes referred to as St Margaret's Well. Yet none of the writers say that they have seen it, and they don't even seem to be very sure where it is. In my experience, the famous (or infamous) springs and wells don't just disappear. It is still possible to visit St Anne's Well at Chertsey, St John the Baptist's Well at Bisley, St Mary's Well at Waverley and Mag's Well at Dorking, so what happened to the spring at Lingfield? It is my contention that the spring is not, in fact, at Coldharbour but is a lot further south in the valley between Dormans Park and Felcourt, and was known as the Golden Well.

How did I arrive at this conclusion? This is my journey, tracking the story back in time and then forward again.

My kicking-off point was, as always in any water research, WHITAKER'S "The Water Supply of Surrey" 1912. In the chapter on mineral springs it has the following entry under Lingfield, (p56) - "Aubrey says 'In the Common is a fine spring .... issuing out of a Freestone basin'; it has the same Virtue with that at Tunbridge (Tunbridge Wells?); the mud of it is like yellow oker.' This chalybeate water is also referred to in MANNING and BRAY's work (Vol II, p 340)."

Before following up with AUBREY and MANNING & BRAY, I looked at the current Ordnance Survey map for Lingfield - Explorer 146. A chalybeate spring is marked well south of Lingfield at TQ 391414. The two other springs near Lingfield are just marked as "Spr". In my experience, the OS maps are extremely reliable as the researchers actually walk the walk and do not just rely on second hand information, so that was where I decided to start my exploration.

The spring is not easy to find as the words "chalybeate spring" take up quite a lot of space on the map, but I found it within half an hour or so. If you stand on the west side of the footbridge over the stream and face north, then push through the nettles and brambles (mind the broken strands of barbed wire) you will come to a patch of swampy ground with a patch of alder trees in the middle. This swamp has several strongly flowing outlets that run straight into the stream. This whole area is covered with the mineral salts from the spring, so there are large areas of yellow ochre, and where the water is standing there is an iridescence on the water, like oil on a puddle. The running water when collected in a bottle has a yellow tinge to it and it quickly settles out leaving yellow ochre in the bottom of the bottle. It is very similar to the water in St John the Baptist's well at Bisley. The water also has a strongly metallic taste. (Yes, I tasted it and I wasn't ill!)

After visiting this spring, I went back to the historical records.

MANNING & BRAY, 1809, say (Vol II p 340) "On Lingfield Common is a chalybeate spring, reputed to possess the same virtue as Tunbridge water, and used in disorders for which that is recommended." Not much there except that the spring is supposed to be on Lingfield Common. Going back to AUBREY, who started all this, he thinks the spring is so important that he mentions it right at the beginning of his entry on Lingfield. The section opens with this ... "The Village lies in the Weald of Surrey which, like the Wealds of Sussex and Kent, is a rich, deep, enclos'd Country, abounding with loam and clay, and what is more observable, not nitrous. In the Common is a fine Spring (empal'd about) issuing out of a Free-stone Basin: This I made an Experiment of with Powder of Galls, and it turn'd of a deep Violet Colour near black, and has the same Virtue with that at Tunbridge; the Mud of it is like yellow Oker; which probably gave a Hint to the Discovery of its Salutary Use (as it did at Qover in Gloucestershire, as Sir John Hoskyns told me). The water thus stagnated hath the Peacock's Tail on it, like that at Send in Wiltshire, but is much longer than Send or Tunbridge, before it turns its colour. We are indebted for the first Discovery of this signal Benefit to an old Man, who by its Medicinal Properties cur'd himself of an Ague about ten Years since but has been commonly used but for a very few years past." All this before he even gets on to Lingfield Church! It is clear from this that Aubrey spent some time at the spring and knew what he was seeing. Compare his description of "yellow oker" and the "peacock's tail" with my observations of yellow ochre and iridescence on the water. It is important to note that Aubrey was writing before the majority of common land at Lingfield was enclosed, so there was still extensive common land at Felcourt Heath and Dormans Heath. Aubrey just places the spring "in the common" and the spring I visited is in the bottom of the valley between Felcourt Heath and Dormans Heath.

Shortly after Aubrey's account, John Evelyn from Wotton wrote to Samuel Pepys in 1694 (Quoted in HAYWARD and HAZELL 1933 p77) "Receive you my wife's, who is at present become a water bibber here, though we fetch it from Lingfield, about 20 miles distant on the edge of Sussex, and is stronger than the Spaw of Tunbridge." The Evelyns lived a few miles from Mags Well west of Dorking and could easily have got their water from there. Mags Well enjoyed a short period as a mineral spa and the name is thought to be a corruption of St Margaret's Well. It is easy to conjecture that the Evelyns wouldn't be satisfied with the local mineral water but sent all the way to Lingfield for water that was much stronger. Aubrey knew about Mags Well and its connection with St Margaret who is often associated with wells. He or the Evelyns could well have made the comparison between Lingfield and Mags Well. Could it be that this is where the name St Margaret's Well enters into the Lingfield Story? Coldharbour is not near Margaret Hill or Margaret Wood and the water flow from Coldharbour is north, away from Lingfield and from the supposed site of St Margaret's Chapel on Margaret Hill. (There could be another explanation for St Margaret's presence, but I will come to that later.)

The written history after Aubrey constantly places the spring at Coldharbour. The first reference to a mineral spring at Coldharbour is on the 1768 map of SE Surrey, which marks the spring as a mineral spring rising above Coldharbour next to the old road (now a footpath) and flowing NE towards Coldharbour House. There is still a stream in that area (just about!) but it shows no evident signs of mineral content. This map is significantly later than Aubrey's original account (written before 1692). It is not called St Margaret's Well at this stage. This map was made after the Enclosure of Felcourt Heath in 1750.

COBHAM, 1899, refers to a poem about Lingfield written in about 1790 that contains the verse:

"Thy common, Lingfield, worth contains

Beyond a bank of wealth -

A spring to purify the veins

And dress the cheek with health."

 In 1809, MANNING and BRAY refer to the spring on Lingfield Common, as already described, but now the basin on St Peter's Cross enters the story. In Vol II, p339, they refer to the obelisk and state, "There is a tradition that it had a cross at the top, and on that a basin."

Then BRAYLEY, in approx 1845, states "On Lingfield Common, was an open chalybeate spring, reputed to possess the same properties as the waters of Tunbridge Wells, but within the last 40 years it has been covered over by the person to whom this part of the common was allotted." Of St Peter's Cross he says "It is understood to have been surmounted by a cross, on the top of which was a basin, as a recipient of holy water for the use of the church. Formerly the basin, which was of iron, was employed at the chalybeate spring just mentioned. It was afterwards seen on the common." Just Lingfield Common, note. No mention of Coldharbour. He refers to the basin as being made of iron, but this could be a mistake and I think it will become clear how it came about. It is interesting that he refers to the land around the spring as being "allotted", which would have happened after the Commons were enclosed. The land owner appears to have covered the spring, but the water has a tendency to break through. (When I first visited the Bisley spring it had been capped with a slab of concrete. The spring had broken through in one corner, leaving a strong mineral trail as it ran down the concrete.) There is an area of level ground above the Felcourt/Dormans spring where there are 4 mature alder trees in a straight line. On this terrace is an old manhole cover. The spring rises in the swampy ground downhill from the manhole cover and below that again can be seen the open ends of 2 pipes as they emerge into the stream below water level. I have checked, and manhole covers were used as early as 1800 so even if the existing cover is not as old as that, the original project could have been undertaken at that time. So if this is indeed evidence that the spring was covered and piped directly into the stream some time after 1800, it would also help to explain how the spring got "lost". In the intervening years the water has rusted the pipes and broken through to emerge above the stream again.

The basin on St Peter's Cross, as mentioned by BRAYLEY et al, is an important part of the spring's story and it triggers the next part of the tale involving the Surrey Archaeological Society, but this is not clarified until 1914 so be patient. 

In the meantime, COBHAM, 1899, writes (p19) about the interesting old obelisk next to the Gunpit - "On the top of it a basin was placed a few years ago, which was found at an old chalybeate spring on Lingfield Common close to Cold Harbour Lane." 

Before I outline the 1914 revelation, let me jump forward to HAYWARD and HAZELL in 1933 and their thoughts on the basin on St Peter's Cross - "The stone stoup now on the top came from the ancient St Margaret's Well, a chalybeate spring at Coldharbour on Lingfield Common and was put in its present position within the memory of a late inhabitant in the 19th Century."

The 1937 Ordnance Survey map of Coldharbour shows 3 wells in the Coldharbour corner of the Common, 1 for each of the 3 buildings. None of them are marked as chalybeate or called St Margaret's Well. The Coldharbour spring is not marked.

Most of these written accounts say that the basin came from the Coldharbour spring, sometimes described as St Margaret's Well, so why am I so sure that the basin also came from the Felcourt/Dormans spring?

Now we come to OGILVY in 1914. On page 75, he refers to St Peter's Cross. "The history of the Cross has been twice investigated by the Surrey Archaeological Society - in 1862 and in 1891; the first of these inquiries made confusion worse confounded. Aubrey had commended the quality of the local ale, and visited a mineral spring, which still exists at the north end of the village, where he noted a stone basin. The original tradition said that the cross was surmounted by a cross of stone, on the top of which was a basin to catch the rain, and so provide a purer basis for holy water than any obtainable from the earth. The cross had long vanished. Manning and Bray quote the tradition, and Brayley followed, describing the basin as of iron, and adding that it had been used at this spring and was probably still in existence, as it had been seen on the common not long since. The Society relied on these accounts and urged the parishioners to obtain the basin and replace it in position; they did so; the basin was found, deeply stained by the mineral water which obtained for the spring the title of Guldens or golden well, and placed on the top of the Cross, everybody being thus satisfied. 

The accounts of these visits in the SURREY ARCHAEOLOGICAL COLLECTIONS (Vol II p xli and Vol IX p xxiii) do not refer to St Peter's Cross or the basin so the location of Golden Well cannot be confirmed. OGILVY'S reference to Golden Well is the only place that this name occurs in the written record. I believe it is the key to the mystery as it ties in well with the golden colour of the water and mineral salts at the Felcourt/Dormans spring. (There is a well in Scotland called "fuaran buidh", which translates as golden well, so called "because the iron gives the water a rich yellow tinge" It would also explain why, although, everybody quotes Aubrey's spring, nobody seems to be very impressed with the spring at Coldharbour!

It is my contention that Aubrey's spring was the chalybeate spring marked on the current OS map on the old common land between Felcourt Heath and Dormans Heath. The mineral content of the spring closely matches Aubrey's description. Because of it's yellow ochre, it was known as "Golden Well". The water fell into a free standing stone basin before continuing into the nearby stream. This is the same spring that was used by the Evelyns. The spring went out of fashion because of its remoteness and difficulty of access. The rise in popularity of sea bathing and town based spas (Tunbridge Wells and Epsom) made the Lingfield spring redundant and it was no longer visited by the great and good, who needed to see and be seen while "taking the waters". The land around Aubrey's spring was enclosed and the new owner later covered the spring, piping it directly into the stream, possibly to deter local people from trespassing on his newly-acquired land. The area known as "Lingfield Common" had now shrunk to the area north of Lingfield.  Subsequent writers knew about Aubrey's spring in the common at Lingfield and mistakenly placed it at Coldharbour, the only spring on the much reduced common land. It is interesting that none of them confirm the exceptional mineralisation of the water or describe it in any way. It is also interesting that during the saga of the basin on St Peter's Cross, it is the local parishioners who know where to find the basin and they fetch it from the area of the Golden Well, the basin still covered with a crust of yellow ochre. I believe Aubrey's spring was misidentified about 250 years ago, and that this mistake was perpetuated in the written record, although local people still knew its whereabouts. St Margaret's Well could have entered the story because of the nearby Margarets Hill and the recognised association of St Margaret with wells. I will come back to St Margaret later as she may have a much bigger role in this story.

Lingfield is the only famous medicinal spring in Surrey that has totally disappeared, and I am excited to say that I don't think it disappeared at all, it just got temporarily misplaced.

Aubrey says that his spring had only been in use for a few years. It is not unreasonable to think that the spring may, in fact, have a long history. The chalybeate spring I visited is markedly different from other springs in the area and is most similar to the Bisley spring which was important in the Iron Age. The only reference to Lingfield in BIRD'S "Roman Surrey" concerns the ring found in the area of Dry Hill, but we know the Romans were working iron in the Sussex Weald so it is possible that they could have known about this strongly chalybeate spring. There are three additional bits of information that may or may not indicate an ancient history to this spring. Just over the ridge to the south west is an old yew tree in the grounds of Yew Lodge. To the south east, worked flints were found in the area of Dormans Park. Flint finds are rare in the Lingfield area. To the east, opposite the end of the footpath in Swissland Hill, is a large chunk of stone which is possibly an old mark stone. 

Is there anything in the local place names that might give a clue to the history of the spring? The first thing I could find that was even faintly hopeful was in HAYWARD and HAZELL's section on Dormans Land (p45). They refer to a judgement in Elizabethan times that referred to " ... the woods and underwoods on certain commons called Dormans Land, Baldyes Hill Common, Hilde Heath and Pakins (Pacons or Beacons Heath) within Her Majesty's Gyldable of Lyngefield." The Gyldable is also mentioned in other sources and the "Victoria History of Surrey" (Vol 4, p 304) describes a series of attempts to claim the Gyldable as part of Felcourt Manor. These attempts all failed as "every witness called declared that the common was Crown land". Checking in GRAY'S "Lingfield Heritage" I found that the mysterious "Gyldable" covers the right general area and I would love to think that it had some link with the word "golden" but I think it is a red herring as there is another area known as "The Gyldable" in Hampshire. It was one of the tithings of Kingsclere, and the name is believed to relate to land occupied by a Guild. There is also a cluster of "Guildable" names south of Limpsfield Chart. The OS Explorer map 147 shows a Guildable Lane, a Guildables Wood, and a Guildables Park Farm so, unfortunately, this does not look like a link with "golden" at all.

Are there any other clues in the place names? Perhaps not specifically with "golden" but is there anything more generally linked with well or spring? I feel pretty confident about tracing the history of the spring back to Aubrey, and it didn't require any special skills - just the ability to read an OS map and the patience to trawl through the written records. I would like to take the story back further but I admit to being a bit out of my depth and from now on I am speculating. However, there are some very interesting grounds for speculation!

For this part of my exploration, I am starting from the point that there IS a chalybeate spring in the valley between Felcourt and Dormans. It was covered in for a while after 1800 but, before that, it would have been flowing quite happily throughout Surrey's history. So, although, we haven't known about it while the recent histories of Surrey were being written, IT WAS THERE. So are there any clues to its previous history in local place names that got lost as the spring got lost? 

At this point, I drew a blank until I discovered SMITH'S "Surrey place-names" which takes us off into some very interesting territory indeed. At first sight, it was not very promising as Lingfield names are not discussed in detail but there are several clues. Of Holy Wells, he says (p61) "Roman Britain was hot on sacred springs and pools. Apart from the temple at Titsey  beside a source of the River Eden, those at Wanborough are not far from a spring-fed pool by the tiny parish church." Taking it further back than that he says of our pagan heritage (p57) "But not everything is economics; there is also landscape's religious significance. To the ancients of this country (or of any other), hills, pools, rivers, cliffs, springs, groves and marshes were not simply there, they meant something. They were visible manifestations of the gods. If a spring was worthy of a name, it was because it was sacred." He proposes a 3-part model for pagan shrines.

*Regionally important pagan centres occur at one or more per modern county;
*lesser pagan centres are expected at a rate of one per hundred;
*least-important pagan centres are to be expected in nearly every subsequent medieval Christian parish.

So what is there in the parish of Lingfield or in the Tandridge Hundred? SMITH suggests that Tillingdown (now the name of a farm in the Tandridge Hundred) may have been the original name of the hilltop church in Tandridge as Tillingdown contains the important -inga element in its place name. I will come back to -inga again. But what of Lingfield?

SMITH is not as definite on the derivation of Lingfield as he is on other place names. The first possibility is a combination of leah and feld which would make it "field of the people of the leah" ie referring to an ancient British folk-group. The second possibility is a combination of inga and feld . He postulates that the Surrey ingas places are royal Wessex-sponsored monasteries, closely associated with the strategic royal holdings controlling each hundred. What is the link with pagan sites? SMITH says "At a later date the remoter ex-pagan  ingas sites , often on uncomfortable hill-tops, were dispensed with in favour of choicer marketable riverside sites. .... As the Church gives, so doth it take away. What it gives away as fast as it can in the late seventh century are any embarrassing hints of residual paganism."

So, if Lingfield is an inga name, it would probably have had a pagan site that was the main site in the Tandridge Hundred. If not, it would still have had a pagan site within the parish.

How does this help? There is a chalybeate spring at Dorton in Buckinghamshire. Dorton is thought to be a combination of dor and tun and, depending which web site you read it translates as "farmstead or village at the narrow pass" or "the place of the waters". Is it possible that dor is an early place name element relating to water? Coming back to Surrey, SMITH has a great deal to say about Dorking. Dorking is the inga focus of the Wotton Hundred. The inga  place names usually start with the name of a person or of a place. Dorking may contain the Celtic district name "Dorce" perhaps referring to the Vale of the Pipp Brook. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the word "door" as coming from the Old English (pre 1150) word duru or dor. One meaning of "door" is of an entrance or exit, and it is conjectured that Iron Age Communities made votive offerings to water sites because they were thought to be entrances to the Otherworld. There is a Golden Well in Herefordshire in a place called "Dorstone" although in this case the Golden name seems to come from Golden Valley, the valley of the River Dore.

What have we got so far? Lingfield MAY be named for the pagan site associated with the Tandridge Hundred. If so, it is unusual in that it does not have a site or person's name associated with it. If it is not the site for the Hundred, there would be a pagan site associated with it at the parish level. The element "dor" MAY relate to sacred waters.

Lingfield has a missing pagan site, it also has a missing medieval chapel dedicated to St Margaret (patron saint of women and commonly linked with healing wells). It also had, until recently, a missing chalybeate spring. Do you see a pattern emerging here?

This is where it gets really interesting. It is tempting to speculate that Dormans, being so close to the spring, may contain the "dor" element, but it was named after the Dereman family who held land in the area. Or was it? The Dereman family owned land in the manor of Limpsfield in 1310. Richard Derman acquired land just north east of the area of Dormansland Common in 1435. The name of Dormansland first appears in 1489 when it is called "Dermannylond". But there is a much earlier reference quoted in MANNING & BRAY (Vol II p 352) which states "28 March 1336. Joan de Chevenynge had a licence for a chapel in her Manor of Deure in Lyngefeld. No such name is now known." Interesting! A woman getting a licence for a medieval chapel in an area called "Deure" in Lingfield. I don't think I'm stretching the bounds of credulity in suggesting this might be the missing St Margaret's Chapel in an area that sounds suspiciously like the "dor" name element in a parish that has a chalybeate spring. It is quite possible for Deure to have become part of Dormansland because of the similarity of the names. 

Does this help us with locating St Margaret's Chapel? Most sources place it on Margaret's Hill. OGILVY places it to the west at Newchapel. MANNING & BRAY refer to a Chapel Field and a St Margaret's Field but we don't know where they are. I am speculating wildly now, but it's fun so I'll carry on. If the spring was an important early pagan site, there would have been access to it. The Iron Age fort at Dry Hill has routes leaving it to the North, East and  South but there is nothing to the West. If you travel West from Dry Hill, you come to Lady Cross Farm, just south east of Dormansland. If you continue west, you past Apsley, an old site and then get to Rede Place, formerly Reads Farm and recorded in 1418.  GRAY says that it was approached via a hollow lane and so is clearly on an ancient site. The markstone at the end of the footpath to the east of the spring is at the entrance to the current Rede Place. Could the Lady Cross name be linked with the Chapel?

 Now I admit I am getting a bit carried away here and I don't know enough about early charters and documentation to do much more with this, but I think it is certainly food for thought. The coincidence of a missing pagan site, a missing St Margaret's Chapel, a medieval chapel in an area called Deure and a rediscovered chalybeate spring in an area known for early Iron working seems to me to be more than chance.   

If you visit the Felcourt/Dormans spring, which I believe to be Aubrey's spring known as the Golden Well, wear strong boots and thick nettle/thorn proof trousers. It is an effort to get to it, but you will be well rewarded. Then decide for yourself, has the mystery of the Lingfield chalybeate spring been solved? Or has it become an even bigger mystery? Was the spring known as St Margaret's Well in medieval times? Was it an important pre-Roman pagan site with a "dor" element in its name? I am just an enthusiastic amateur so I will have to leave it to somebody with far more knowledge than me to answer those question. 


(In chronological order)
1690 (approx)
AUBREY "Natural History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey"
Map of South East Surrey
MANNING and BRAY "The History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey" Vol II
1845 (approx)
BRAYLEY "History of Surrey" Vol III
1864 and 1888
COBHAM "A Short History of and Guide to the Antiquities of Lingfield"
WHITAKER "The Water Supply of Surrey"
"The Victoria History of the Counties of England - A History of Surrey"
OGILVY "A Pilgrimage in Surrey"
HAYWARD and HAZELL "A History of Lingfield"
Ordnance Survey map XXXV 16
GRAY "Lingfield Heritage"
BIRD "Roman Surrey"
SMITH "Surrey Place-names"
Ordnance Survey Explorer Maps 146 and 147

Fiona McIntosh

November 2005

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