350 years ago Richard Weston dug his first lock as part of his agricultural experimentation into water management. Stoke Lock was the site of this early development, which eventually stimulated canalisation throughout Britain. Weston was a wealthy landowner and his estate covered much of the local area placing this stretch of the river right at the centre of his innovative plans.
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"Setting off downstream we immediately entered the tranquility of the Wey Navigation and the chance for a gentle paddle and a chat. As usual, there was a bit of wildlife to add interest and the distinctive footbridges of the navigation.
"Our third portage at Triggs Lock indicated time for a tea stop. There are many more narrowboats on the Wey than on the Basingstoke Canal. Soon time for a lunchtime stop at the New Inn at Cartbridge. Wayne tried to order food but was told that the kitchen had already closed. I asked what time it closed and was told 2.00 p.m. (it was only 1.57 p.m.) but the staff were a bit tired today and wanted to pack up early.
"The mill at Newark was recorded in the Domesday Book. Shortly after leaving Newark Lock (the last portage) there is a small stream on the left and exploring this we soon came to the remains of Newark Priory. Walsham Flood Gate marks the entry into the final navigation section. The attractive riverside Pyrford Place, once the home of poet John Donne (origin of "for whom the bells toll" and "no man's an island" is now flats.
"And so to Pyrford Lock, and more people than we had seen in the whole of the rest of our trip. A relaxing trip in excellent company." Blogger: Keith D - Song of the Paddle Forum 2nd August 2007
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Stoke Lock - the oldest lock in Surrey
The river is bypassed by the Wey Navigation at Stoke Mill and swings off along a large meander eastwards. With the intrusive sound of the main six-lane arterial A3 route from London to Portsmouth thundering in the background, it is impossible to detach yourself from the hubbub of the modern world along the stretch of canal from Stoke Mill and on towards Stoke Lock.
The Navigation is also squeezed here on its West bank by the sprawling Slyfield Industrial Park (GR: TQ002516) with its associated industry including Guildford’s refuse tip. The Slyfield Transfer Station, as it is officially and rather grandly referred to, handles huge volumes of waste each year. The Surrey Advertiser reported (January 2007) that over 2006 the volume of commercial waste processed at Slyfield had risen by almost 1,000%. The site, which is operated by a private company on behalf of the county council, received an average 119,430 tonnes of non-recyclable waste delivered as almost 10,000 truckloads. The plant over the same period processed 22,277 tonnes for recycling.
The first to be built as part of the initial 1618 – 1619 scheme, Stoke Lock (GR: TQ003516) - rise of 6ft 9in (2.06m) – is certainly the earliest pound lock in Surrey, and the debate is perhaps best left to the waterway historians as to whether it was the first in England. The lock sits high above the water meadows and was originally constructed not for navigation but to provide exacting water control to allow flooding as part of Sir Richard Weston’s innovative agricultural improvements. This ‘flowing river’ flooding technique enabled the meadows to produce higher yields of hay by maintaining the ground temperature during frosts, and hence promote early and prolonged growth often providing a double harvest. The scheme, which became widely adopted throughout the country, overcame the problems faced by farmers who struggled to feed their animals during winter. The short channel behind the lock cottage is thought to be a remnant of the flowing river.
The current lock, that was opened in 1653, has a large grey dressed stone incorporated into the structure which was brought here from Henry VIIIs palace at Oatlands near Weybridge after it had been demolished in 1650. This was a common practice of the time as building materials were extremely expensive and most of the locks have materials sourced in the same way, and quite commonly Tudor bricks. Many of the ecclesiastic buildings suffered a similar fate after the Dissolution with them being systematically stripped for local building projects. Both Waverley Abbey and Newark Priory along the course of the Wey suffered at the hands of scavenger builders.
The lock-keeper’s cottage was built in 1882 replacing an earlier one. The Lock is 13 miles (21 km) from the Thames.
A few yards downstream from Stoke Lock is a large riverside informal parkland that has been preserved as a nature reserve. Riverside Park (GR: TQ007517) covers 80 hectares (198 acres) of mixed broadleaf woodland, a lake, wetlands, scrub, meadows and ponds. Sitting alongside the east bank of the Wey the reserve also incorporates the riverside and reed beds, a remnant of Weston's experimental land flooding 350 years ago.
The land here was being actively farmed until the late 1970s when it was purchased to enable the adjacent six-laned A3 to be built, with the remaining unused land given to Guildford Borough Council.
The site, which is open to the public, is maintained in consultation with the British Trust for Ornithology and the local Bird Club. To control access to limit damage to the different habitats present, a way marked trail has been constructed which originally included sections of boardwalks that enabled visitors to get right into the wetland and marshes - but please note that these however have since been removed (1). Interpretation boards are provided around the site. Not far from here is the outfall from the Guildford sewage works. A large carpark is available off Bowers Lane. Parts of the trail is accessible for wheelchair users, but the access paths are not even - so accompanied access is highly recommended.
The reserve also includes grassland and woodland away from the wetlands. These provide habitats for a number of important species. Up to 20 head of cattle are grazed in the reserve from May to October, these helping to keep the natural habitat in check to encourage wildlife breeding. Dogs need to be kept on a leash during this period. There is a car park in Bowers Lane (GR: TQ012526).
A large sweep of a meander of the river is sliced through by a short-cut dug during the original 1618 - 1619 century excavation of the canal, devised then for flood control and irrigation as this was constructed before the Navigation was implemented. Three miles of the Wey is bypassed here as it roars over a weir (GR: TQ009527) heading off towards Jacob’s Well and saved the bargees considerable time and effort. The concrete bridge that carries Clay Lane across the cut from Burpham to Jacobs Well replaced the iron bridge further upstream as the older bridge proved inadequate.
(1) Many thanks to Jim Allen of Burpham Community Association for factual corrections to this article. (180512)
Sitting on a tight bend that pushes the cut of the Navigation back onto the course of the River Wey proper is Bowers Lock (GR: TQ013529) - rise of 7ft 0in (2.13m). The lock, originally opened in 1653, nestles in amongst some mature trees near the site of Bowers Mill, the mill survived today only by the mill house which has been converted into a private residence, Bowers Mill House. The building now called Bowers Mill is not the original mill but had been constructed specifically by the Duke of Sutherland as a laundry to serve Sutton Place which he had then owned. The mill had made paper, flour then linseed but had closed by 1910, with the mill building demolished in 1947. The Lock is 11.9 miles (19 km) from the Thames.
The towpath downstream of the lock is reached by a horse bridge that carries it over the confluence with the Wey. Prior to this bridge being erected horses were either barged across or made to wade depending upon the depth of water. This bridge is a modern steel one with the original long since gone. The proof that the new bridge was built purely with towpath walkers in mind is in the fact that the horse taking part in towing the narrowboat Iona from Godalming to Weybridge as part of the National Trust’s 25th anniversary of running the waterway refused to cross the metal-mesh decking and springy structure. The outlet a hundred yards or so downstream is the original mill tail that had been widened in the 1930s improvements.
What was described by the sales agents as ‘an attractive parcel of sporting/amenity land’ located by the Wey at Clay Lane, Burpham near the lock was up for sale in January 2009 at a reserve of £200,000. The 22 acre site with frontage to the river was described as having potential for flighting ponds (1) and consists of grazing and woodland. The seller was offering the opportunity to purchase as two separate lots, with one 16 acre lot providing the grazing and woodland and the other of 6 acres providing the ‘sporting/amenity’ land fronting the river.
(1) Flighting ponds are open areas of water or marsh used by wildfowl to feed and rest at night and are commonly used for shooting wildfowl at dusk or in the morning when the birds depart.
The Surrey Advertiser reports that a farmer, who claims that new weir gates installed by The National Trust at Bowers Weir have resulted in his fields being regularly flooded, lost an appeal hearing in June 2006. The hearing upheld a decision made by a County Court judge in April 2006. Bob Dearnley, the owner of Burpham Court Farm (GR: TQ006530), has vowed he will now take his case to the House of Lords having secured financial backing from a sympathetic businessman.
The farmer claims that prior to the installation of the new gates the water at Bowers Weir (GR: TQ008526) used to naturally overflow releasing pressure from the river whereas since the new weir construction all the water has been held back resulting in flooding via a backwater next to his farm.
Dearnley said that the farm flooded 15 times in the 13 years to 1996 but claims that the river has now burst its banks 37 times since 2004.
The farmer however on his own website claims that regular flooding is caused by the sudden release of water through the Bowers Weir when the gates are opened. He also claims that his animals are being affected by pollution from the refuse tip nearby.
The appeal court judge concluded that ditches on the farm had not been properly maintained and this was the contributory factor behind the flooding.
Burpham Court Farm is a rare breeds centre with 76 acres dedicated to conserving rare cattle, sheep and goats and woodland and riverside wildlife. The old dairy farm dates back to at least the eleventh century when Edward the Confessor's (1042-66) wife Edith is recorded as owning the land. Parts of the old farm house were built in 1642. The farm is open to the public.
Bob Dearnley was declared bankrupt in 2006 with debts of £400,000 after losing the court battle and having been ordered to pay the National Trust £100,000. Guildford Borough Council has negotiated (December 2007) a deal with the bankruptcy trustee to pay a £65,000 downpayment followed by an additional £135,000 if Dearnley will vacate the farm by 28th September 2008. The farmer has made it clear that he does not intend to vacate the land.
The farmer’s application to the Agricultural Lands Tribunal failed in November 2008. The application was to force Guildford Borough Council, the Environment Agency and the National Trust to carry out flood protection work. The application was rejected on the grounds that the tribunal didn’t have the jurisdiction required. The tribunal however was reported to have said that ‘with some goodwill from all the parties involved the flooding problem could have been alleviated with some minor works’ (Surrey Advertiser 16th January 2009)
Eviction proceedings were initiated by the borough council requiring that Bob Dearnley leave the property following his refusal to vacate the farm in September 2008. Tragically the 57-year-old farmer was found dead (June 2009) believed to have poisoned himself with a mixture of pesticide and water. The police reported that the substance found on his body, Phostoxin which is used to kill vermin on farms, is so toxic that a post-mortem could not be carried out. Seven police officers and three ambulance staff were taken to hospital after being exposed to the chemical. The farmer’s death came just two weeks before he was due to attend the formal possession hearing.
A memorial service was held at St Pius X Church in Merrow on the 18th July 2009 with donations made to the Farm Crisis Network who had supported the farmer during his dispute with the council.
Plans by Guildford Borough Council to offer the property for sale (August 2010) has resulted in a howl of protest from local groups. The council, which owns the property, has committed an application to its planning department for a change of use to allow the farmhouse and two cottages to be privately occupied. The land is currently listed for use only as a farm.
Historic Cooper's Meadow
The land between the lock and Broadoak Bridge downstream is of historical significance to the Wey Navigation. It was here in Cooper’s Meadow that Sir Richard Weston cut the very first of his ‘flowing river’ channels to start his agricultural improvement experiments. The meadow flooding experiment was a great success in boosting the hay crop and lead to the eventual excavation of the waterway. Sadly a modern owner has planted trees, dramatically changing the original landscape, although the line of his original channel can be made out. Just upstream of the bridge is a penstock, a sluice which would have been used to drain water back from the meadows into the river after the frosts had gone.
The first indication that you have reached Sutton Place, the home estate of the man that devised and constructed the Wey Navigation in the 17th century is Broadoak Bridge (GR: TQ021532). The bridge carries the drive from the impressive gatehouse, now just yards away from the busy Portsmouth to London A3, across the river and Navigation which share the same course here, up to the big house which sadly is not visible from the river. There is a towrope roller preserved by the towpath here, with the remains of brackets for additional rollers beneath the bridge. The rollers were needed to navigate the sharp 90 degree bend, Pippers Point, that carries the Navigation away from the natural course of the river. The Wey itself tumbles over a weir not rejoining the Navigation again until Triggs Lock. This weir (GR: TQ023532) was part of Weston’s original experimental scheme and industrial historians attribute it to being the first weir to incorporate tumbling bays. The additional cut breaking away from the river before the bridge on the east bank was dug during the 1930 improvements.
Sutton Place - Home of the
Sutton Place (GR: TQ012536), a few miles downstream from Guildford, stands on high ground above the river which fittingly encloses the estate in a horseshoe as a combination of the original course of the Wey and the canal skirt around the magnificent gardens. This was the home of the Weston family who created the Wey Navigation in the 17th century. Sir Richard Weston (1591 – 1652) junior introduced some ground-breaking agricultural innovations to his estate which were to contribute significantly to the prosperity of the country, and it was his ‘flowing river’ idea that was the precursor to the building of the canal.
The land occupied by Sutton Place was described in the Domesday Book as 'Manor of Sudtune' which over time came to be known as 'Sutton'. The manor was joined to the royal manor of Woking where Edward the Confessor was to build a hunting lodge on the site now occupied by St Edward's Church.
The Manor of Sutton was granted to the first Sir Richard Weston (1465 - 1541) by Henry VIII in 1521 to reward him for assisting in the negotiation with the French at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The king had owned the land for 36 years with his grandmother. The property was to remain in the Weston family for almost 400 years until it was disposed of in 1900.
Weston rebuilt the house during the 1520s as the first great house in England without defensive fortifications. Built in the form of a parallelogram, the house is of red brick, with many of the bricks visibly marked with the initials RW together with a tun and bunches of hops encircled by an ornamental border. This is a visual reference to Sir Richard as the brewer to Henry VIII.
The impressive and richly decorated Great Hall occupies the centre of the house and measures 50 feet in length, 25 feet in width, and 31 feet in height. Within are a variety of devices including one of a clown crossing a brook with five goslings tucked under his belt. This was added some time after the house was built and appears to have been inspired by Withers’ ‘Emblems’ published in 1635 where, ‘a fool sent forth to fetch the goslings home’ is said to have thrust them under his girdle and strangled them for fear that they should drown when he was to wade across the river.
It is said that the blood-stained ruff of Sir Thomas More (1477 – 1535), who was executed on the orders of Henry VIII for daring to oppose his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, is preserved at the house together with a crystal pomegranate once the possession of Catherine.
Anne Boleyn was an occasional guest at Sutton Place and it is said that Henry first met his future queen here. However Boleyn's association with Sutton Place was to bring tragedy to the Weston family. Sir Richard's son, Francis, was much favoured by the king and at the age of 15 he was accepted into court. He married at 19 and by the age of 21 was appointed a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. By 1536 he had developed a close friendship with Boleyn who was now queen. This friendship was to be used by Henry as an instrument to remove Boleyn. The now Sir Francis Weston accused of adultery was executed two days before Anne Boleyn was beheaded. Their ghosts are said to roam the corridors of Sutton Place.
Sir Francis' son Henry inherited the estate at the age of seven when his grandfather died. The child grew up to become a distinguished soldier and a politician. Sir Henry Weston in 1588 at the age of 23 served with distinction at the last siege of Calais, when France finally reclaimed the town. Elizabeth I stayed for three days at Sutton Place after she had made him Knight of the Bath at her coronation two years earlier.
On Sir Henry's death in 1592 at the age of 57, his eldest son Richard inherited the estate. Knighted by James I in 1603 Richard was to pass Sutton Place to his eldest son, another Richard after his 22nd birthday. The third Richard was also to be knighted by James I, this time in Guildford in 1622.
Often confused with his father, it was in fact the third Richard Weston who was to pioneer the construction of the Wey Navigation which literally transformed the valley and inspired other canal builders all around Britain. Sir Richard’s pioneering agricultural innovations can be found HERE.
The fate of the family seemed to have been sealed. A fire at the house severely damaged the gate house and destroyed the north wing. The family was not financially able to effect repairs and the house remained this way for many years.
John Weston (the second) owned the estate from 1701 to 1730, and being the last male heir Sutton Place was passed to his daughter Melior Mary who lived here for 52 years. It is said that Melio, who never married, had a love affair with Bonnie Prince Charlie. In an effort to keep the estate within the Weston family she bequeathed Sutton Place to a distant relation on condition he took on the name of Weston and adopted the family arms. John Webbe moved in during 1782 and over his 41-year tenure was to at last to take action over the fire damage at the house. He removed both the ruined gatehouse and north wing.
The modern garden at Sutton Place was designed by Gertrude Jekyll for the press baron Lord Northcliffe and his wife, who took possession in 1900.
An American, the oil tycoon and recluse Paul Getty made Sutton Place his home from 1959 until his death there in 1976, and housed part of his considerable art collection here prior to Seeger purchasing it in 1980. Getty despite his incredible wealth is said to have installed a payphone in the house for use by his guests. He also kept two lions at Sutton Place, Nero and Teresa, who were rehoused at Longleat after his death.
Two other Americans also owned the estate. The Hollywood film magnate J. Stanley Seegan spent more than £10m on renovations and brought the landscape architect Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe out of retirement to plan major landscaping and the largest domestic lake to be dug in Europe in over two centuries. Frederick Koch bought the house in 1986 and housed his considerable art collection there. He also undertook considerable restoration work and established the Sutton Place Foundation to run the estate, and through the foundation opened the house and gardens to the public on restricted days to raise funds for charitable causes.
In 2002 the estate was divided up into lots which in effect isolated the house within 500 acres of its own land.
The original home farm of Sutton Place, Ladygrove, is being redeveloped (2007) to provide six new homes. The Grade II listed farmhouse built in the mid-1600s, and which had been standing empty for 18 years, is being restored and will retain key features including the original carved oak staircase. The restoration work is taking advantage of original timbers on-site, including roof timbers from the two barns, and some of the new homes are incorporating original structures on the farm. One such structure, a round building built in 1918 when the then owner the Duke of Sutherland was developing a 'model dairy', was originally used to hose down cows.
The following account (abridged here) was published online by a Guildford law student who secured a holiday job at Sutton Place in 1973 during Getty’s tenure.
Weston is broadly acclaimed in his role as agricultural reformer through, amongst other schemes, promoting the use of White Clover (Trifolium repens) as a protein rich fodder crop for cattle that provides the added benefit of replacing nitrogen into the soil. He introduced the plant into Britain from Flanders, hence its colloquial name ‘Dutch Clover’, and a cloverleaf is incorporated into the nearby little village of Sutton Green’s (GR: TQ006545) banner. You should be able to see white clover growing in the summer months all around. Another crop variety introduced by Weston was Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) which provided a high quality feed for the heavy working horses that were widely used, not just along the Navigation but also in the fields all across the Wey Valley. Sutton Place is one of only a handful of places in Britain that Sainfoin will be found growing wild as the crop fell out of favour being difficult to cultivate.
Weston quickly became something of an expert on revitalizing poor or unutilised land for agriculture, and his ‘Directions for the Improvement of Barren Land’ first published in 1645 was reprinted several times over the next 50 years.
As the Navigation straightens after making its sharp bend to the north of Sutton Place the medieval church of St Mary’s (GR: TQ018544) can be seen by Send Grove across the water meadows. Sited close to the River Wey proper, which has run in parallel to Weston’s cut, the church shares an idyllic setting, and you half expect the church to be shrouded in some mysterious ancient mist swirling in off the river. The church was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 although the present tower, nave and chancel had to be replaced around 1200. In the 18th century, probably in a fit of one-upmanship, the height of the tower was raised by adding an additional 9 courses of bricks. In the churchyard one of the Navigation’s master carpenter’s Walter Grove is buried, with his wife and three children alongside.
There is another church a few miles further downstream that was also built close to the original course of the river. This is St Peter’s (GR: TQ021568) in Old Woking, a Norman construction dating back to c1080-90, and is renowned for having one of only five picture doors in the country. The Great Oak Door is a fine feature with its medieval iron work. (1.041006)
Just upstream from Trigg’s Lock is Wareham Bridge (GR: TQ013546) which provides a footpath link between the church at Send Grove and Sutton Green.
Triggs Lock (GR:TQ013549) - rise of 6ft 6in (1.98m) - opened in 1653 and marks the half-way point of the Navigations to the Thames with Weybridge 9.7 miles (15 km) away. The lock’s timber and turf sides were replaced by concrete in a number of rebuilding stages. The existing lock-keepers cottage was built in 1769, with an extension in 1916, and renovated by the National Trust in 1987, its isolation proving popular to artists and photographers alike. William Stevens, whose descendant Harry Stevens was to own and eventually donate the Navigation to the nation, was lock-keeper here in 1812. One of the old stalwarts of the Navigation also lived here until the ripe old age of 90. William Grove was lock-keeper from 1856 and raised nine children in the cottage. He doubled as blacksmith having served an apprenticeship, and in a forge he built behind the cottage made and repaired much of the Navigation’s ironwork. He died in 1915 at home.
The original system of water management here required that the keeper had to manually adjust paddles in the lock gates to allow surplus water to flow through, however the Trust replaced this awkward arrangement with a tumbling bay which took the onus off the keeper by providing a self-regulating control. Just downstream opposite to the towpath was a wharf, although it served for loading and unloading only and had no warehouse.
The closest pub to Triggs Lock is The Olive Tree, a short walk upstream and over Warehams footbridge .
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