Stories from Cobham Remembers
Cobham Remembers - Cobham Locality
For a village of its size, Cobham in the early 1900's was especially well served with shops and perhaps overly so with public houses. The nearby railway allowed the families of the well-heeled professionals and businessmen to enjoy the pleasures of country living but with easy access to London, and consequently tradesmen were attracted to the area to cater for their needs.
This is a time when most of the locals travel by foot or maybe bicycle, only the better-off would have use of a horse or more recently a motor car so shops must of necessity be really local. Each of Street Cobham, Church Cobham, Cobham Tilt, Downside, Stoke D'Abernon and Oxshott has their own cluster of shops centred on their post office/store but the main shopping centre is the High Street and Church Street in Church Cobham. To a surprising degree a visitor from the 21st century would recognise many of the buildings especially in the immediate vicinity of St Andrew's Church where little has changed. Travelling from Downside in the early years of the 20th century our visitor crosses the River Mole by way of the 18th century Downside Bridge and along Bridge Road reaching a sharp bend to the right into Church Street. (At this time the road leading from St Andrew's Church across Leg O'Mutton field does not exist). On the left we pass Lych Gate House, the home of Leonard Martin a well-known architect, now Overbye sporting a Cobham Heritage blue plaque in his memory, and on the right Church Stile House and Lime House. Approaching the High Street we see on the right the shops of Harry Hawkins, hairdresser and tobacconist, Walter Webb, butcher, Dennis Lasham, grocer, the Hygienic Laundry and Mrs Harris, newsagent and stationer. Many of these buildings still survive.
When we reach the junction with the High Street we face the Crown Inn (currently the site of Adaptations) with the Cobham Coffee House & Reading Room on its left. Neither of these buildings remain but amazingly the shop then occupied by George Brown selling saddles and harnesses still stands, currently sad and vacant. On the corner to our left is the Fox & Hounds where in 2021 John D Wood & Co have their office.
Turning to the right towards River Hill the road narrows between neat cottages with picket fences and small gardens whilst set back to the left is The Bear. Shops backing on to the river include Soan's Motor Works, Dear & West, shoe repairer, West's General Store run by Martha West with her family and two doors along the drapers is run by Elizabeth & Marianne Brigden, sisters of Martha West. Walking on by the river we come to the old mill. Until the early1950's there were two buildings here joined by a covered way. Opposite is the yard of H James & Sons, builders and undertakers. They also advertise their services as plumbers, gas and hot water fitters.
Turning left out of Church Street we head up the High Street with Gammons Store, an early department store on our right, and next door the Leatherhead Gas Co has a showroom. Harry Gardner the butcher displays animal carcasses hanging outside his shop, waiting to be butchered to order. The fronts of these buildings are set right on to the pavement but further along set back with a yard in front is Holden's Forge, smithy, farrier and wheelwright. Here the horses of the local farmers are shod and farming implements fashioned and repaired. (This is a Sainsbury's Local store now.) George Kyle lives next door in Vine Cottage. He has a builders and plumbers business. Further along we come to Walter Boorer, printer & newsagent, Saville & Walton, electrical engineers and the store of the International Tea Co. The visitor from 2021 is now back on familiar territory as we come to a group of buildings almost unchanged in 100 years. The alleyway leading back to the local school is there, today there is a housing development and the Cobham Library where the school and playground stood. Ewbanks an estate agent occupies the first building and then Farrants, newsagents & confectioners. Further along we find William Tims, chemists (Santander) and The Boot Store (Honeysuckle Gifts). In 2021 you can still see the painted sign high up on the side wall. Parrs Bank is next, until recently this was the NatWest Bank. Mr Drewett, the manager, is prominent on most of the local committees keeping an eye on their finances. Lucas's Stores later Surrey Trading Co. is a general store, now NFU Mutual and Shooting Star, a charity. After that a fenced area and then the busy Post Office presided over by postmaster George White. Kelly's Directory for Cobham informs us that “Letters arrive from London & deliveries commence at 7 and 9.30 a.m. and 5.30 p.m; sundays 7 a.m.; dispatched at 7.15 and 8.30 a.m. and 12.5, 3, 5 and 8.35 p.m.; sundays 8.20 p.m.” There are Town sub-post offices at Street Cobham and Lower Tilt and a Post Office at Downside but Church Cobham is the only money-order and telegraph office.
Cross over Hogshill Lane and we find Post Office Place, a small group of shops leading into Anyards Road. Foster's, tobacconist and confectioner, run by Miss Mary and Miss Rosa Foster, many a child's penny is spent here on jujubes and other sticky sweets. In 1911 their mother Mary is living over the shop with them as well as another daughter Emily, a dressmaker, and two of her teenage grandsons. James works in a local cycle works and George is a butcher's assistant. On this parade of shops are also the London Boot & Shoe Co, Albert Goldsmith, harness maker and William Sheppard, watchmaker, jeweller and fancy goods. Further into Anyards Road on the corner of newly developed Freelands Road, is the photographic studio of Hugh West who takes many photos of local people and places. It is his father, William West, who developed Freelands Road in 1907/08.
The triangle of land now occupied by Oakdene Parade and Waitrose is, in the early 1900's, occupied by two large houses, Oakdene and Broxmore. Broxmore is home to Dr Hooley, one of the local medical doctors - telephone no. Cobham 12. His son Lieut. Arthur Wellesley Hooley MC is listed on the War Memorial having been killed in an accident while on service in France in 1919 aged 24.
Cross back over the High Street to where Barclays Bank stands, closed in 2020. Notice as we cross that the road surface is not metalled, it is still an earth surface which suits the mainly horse-drawn traffic but gets muddy in the winter. It is tarred by the time of the outbreak of war. The Barclays building is at this time partly occupied by Ernest Darracott's bakers and confectioners and to its right, where Ellis & Thompson, Lloyds Bank (closed 2020) and George Whitehead are now there are shops owned by Henry West, draper, Sydney Snelson, tailor, and Thomas Punchard another draper.
Walking back towards the river past Barclays we come to Osentons, another estate agent, this is a desirable area. Afterwards comes Moulds a furniture shop, Simpson's a grocer and the Cobham Bon Marche, a drapers owned by Frederick Hopkins. His advertisement claims that he “can compete with any London store for quality and price. Corsets and millinery a speciality”. Next door is H W Clements, hairdresser and wigmaker (Harper's jewellers now stands here) and then another Mould's shop, an ironmongers.
Here we come to a large private house with a garden facing onto the road. This is Holly Lodge built by Daniel Dallen whose steam-driven mill stands behind Barclays in what is now Hollyhedge Road. Further along the street is lined with shops interspersed with private houses and yards. Stanley Bishop, a contractor, has a stable and yard, as does the butcher, Harry Gardner. He sometimes keeps cows here before they are slaughtered. There is Arthur Beach a tobacconist/confectioner, Cobham Dairy, in a building like a Swiss chalet, and Kippins the fishmonger and poulterer. All-in-all Cobham has a good selection of shops and probably much of the food on sale is produced on the local farms that encircle the village.
Separated from Church Cobham by fields but connected by Street Cobham Road, now Between Streets, Street Cobham has in years gone by benefitted from the business created by the old coaching inn, the White Lion Hotel at the junction with the Portsmouth Road. The inn-keeper is a local character, Charles Augustus Smith, a well-known cyclist. Business has declined since the demise of the stage coach and the main employers in the area, other than the farms, are now the brewery opposite the police station, the gas works and the timber yard/sawmill. The local shops here include Richard Lee of Shoosmith & Lee, ironmonger, John Dedman, sub-postmaster and grocer, George Middleditch, butcher, Walter Smith, greengrocer, Daisy White, cafe/confectioner, James Cole, bootmaker and Frederick Lynn, butcher.
There are other shops around the village. George Selway an ironmonger and Frederick Goodchild a hairdresser in Anyards Road. Harveys have a substantial grocers and general store on the corner of Anyards Road and Portsmouth Road. In 2021 Sheargold's are selling musical instruments there. Further up Tartar Hill on the corner of Copse Road The Oak Tree Restaurant with its tree house in the front is a popular stopping place for cyclists as is the Shanty just down the hill, now occupied by DA Graphics. Alfred Frances, a retired policeman, has a furniture shop on the Portsmouth Road.
At Cobham Tilt Edith West is the GPO sub-postmistress and runs the grocery store with her husband Allen who is the Parish Clerk. Although by 2021 the shop is a private house the post box can still be seen in the wall outside. Allen's mother runs West's Stores on River Hill. In the nearby Running Mare Robert Etherington is the licensed victualler and almost opposite is a smithy - the blacksmith Harry Trimmer lives nearby in one of the Arch Cottages, next door to Susana B Adams a retired actress.
Although Downside is a relatively small settlement it has a school for girls and an infants school, each attended on average by about 40 pupils, half as many as they can accommodate. The villagers are mainly farm and estate workers. Henry Hale, the sub-postmaster, runs his bakers and grocery store on one corner of the Island, the village institute is at the other end and George Booker is the “beer seller” at The Cricketers.
The main employment for men and women in the area is domestic service accounting for just under 500 names in the 1911 census and next is agricultural work with almost 200 farm workers listed of various sorts. The brewery and pub trades employ about 80 and just over 30 men are working for the railway company. In the village shops there are about 180 including bakers 27, blacksmiths/farriers 19, butchers 33, bootmakers 14, confectionery/teas/refreshments 17, drapers/milliners 17, fishmongers/poulterers 6, greengrocers/grocers 21, ironmongers 9 and taylors/outfitters 8. Greenhouses of a large market garden are a major feature in the area behind the houses of Elm Grove Road and employ a number of local men. Women dominate the laundry work some in domestic service but many in the local laundry in Leigh Road (1914 map). In total about 60 people are involved in washing the local dirty linen commercially.
In 1911 horses are still an important part of the economy, on farms, private estates and at the Cobham Stud. Just over 40 men have job descriptions involving work with horses. But change is on the way, many so-named Stable Cottages on the estates are occupied by the gardener and new breeds, chauffeurs and motor engineers have seen the future. There are about 40 of them recorded in the census.
Professionals, mostly living on the Fairmile, Leigh Hill or to the south of the village, include lawyers, solicitors, medical doctors, senior civil servants, company directors, university lecturers and members of the London Stock Exchange.
The local sewage works and gas works are just outside the village off the Portsmouth Road and employ about 9 local men between them. In 2021 Sainsbury's store and petrol station occupy this area. In 1911 George Thomas the Gas Works Manager lives there with his wife and young son and Harry Hawkins is the Engineer Manager at the Sewage Works, living on-site with his wife and teenage son, an apprentice ironmonger, and two daughters. Five men working for the Leatherhead Water Co live in Cobham.
Cobham in the early 1900's is a fairly typical small village enjoying some of the benefits and glory of the British Empire. The Great War touched all their lives, more or less.
Note that not all of the shop owners referred to were there at the same time as it has not always been possible to date various occupations. Some literary license has been used in writing this article but the writer hopes that it gives a sense of the period.