Denbies Mansion was the centre of life on the Denbies Estate at Ranmore and provided employment for dozens of men and women, as well as homes for them and their families in cottages and staff quarters. The Cubitts used much of their energies and wealth nurturing their self-sufficient “Model Estate” of flint-faced Estate buildings. They kept traditions such as the Harvest Home, cricket matches between the Estate and local villages (at which Maud, 2nd Lady Ashcombe, kept the score seated in her own private tent beside the ground), the endowment of Dorking Cottage Hospital and, above all, the patronage of the richly ornamented Victorian “Early English” St Barnabas, (“the Church at the End of the Garden”), and its adjacent School and Rectory.
Click here for a Sketch Map of Ranmore Common, showing approximate positions of the various cottages and other Estate buildings, and their relationship to Denbies House, St Barnabas Church, Rectory and School.
Along Ranmore Common Road was the Dispensary where twice a week doctors from Dorking or Bookham visited to attend the Estate employees and their families. The Dispensary was also a school to teach the daughters of the Estate workers how to be domestic servants in a great house. Usually four students (some of them sisters of men on the War Memorial) trained there under the supervision of a Matron. After twelve months the girls were kitted out with uniforms and either absorbed into the Denbies household or found good situations in other big houses.
The road junction of Ranmore Common Road and Ranmore Road (which descended into Dorking) was called Snook(e)s Hatch. Here a gate prevented grazing cows from leaving the Common. At this junction was the General Stores where Stephen Tallents, grandson of George, 1st Lord Ashcombe, bought bullseyes. In summer the shopkeeper also ran a Tea Garden for visitors to this beautiful area. Later, the Stores also served as a Post Office. Before the Post Office opened, the postman had to come up from Dorking. One snowy day he lost his way on a track to a remote cottage, and was found the next day frozen to death.
In Post Office Valley, which ran down the hill behind the building, a charcoal burner camped each summer. For these few months, his numerous children attended the School and babies were baptised at St Barnabas.
FARMS AND COTTAGES
Such a vast estate had many farms. At the western end of Ranmore Common were Hogden Farm and Ranmore Farm (where the beef herd was kept). Some of the men whose names are on the War Memorial lived with their families in the cottages by these farms: Pigden (Ernest Bradley), Bakehouse, Stoney Rock (Fred Buckland), Garlic Cottage ( George Royal, who survived), and Golden Ring Cottage.
Deep in the woods behind them was Lonesome Cottage, home of the wheelwright and his family (including his son Edward Gale), and conveniently not far from the woodyard which was where the Scouts’ campsite now is.
Henry, 2nd Lord Ashcombe was very keen on maintaining the woods and, according to Estate worker Jack Hills, could spin an axe as well as any woodman.
The Kennels were sited at the eponymously named Dogkennel Green. Along the crest of Ranmore were fields with delightful names such as Dicks Down, Lillies Copse, Middle Lillies, Great Lillies and the Roundabouts (possibly a field for the breaking in and training of horses).
In the 1930s Leonard Overton, the then wheelwright and Estate carpenter (see “Men with 20 years’ Service” photo below) had a workshop near the Roundabouts; Dobinson the Estate joiner (see the same photograph) worked near the House.
After the Roundabouts came an area known as the Spains; eastward of this was Fox Field and the “Fox” public house where the Cherry Fair was held annually in July (now revived by the parishioners of St Barnabas). When the pub became dilapidated, new premises known as Fox Cottage were built.
There are, somewhat confusingly, other houses also called Fox Cottages on the other (northern) side of Ranmore Common Road, one the boyhood home of the WW1 casualty Albert Ansell. Near the “Fox” pub was the Fox Pond, at one time deep enough to a horse to swim. This may be the pond in which the School logbook says, “one of the school children seven-year-old Frederick [George] West accidentally drowned on Sunday 11th August 1892”. Young Fred was buried at St Barnabas on the 19th.
Further east along Ranmore Common Road were Rose Cottage (the home of Isaac Luff who served in World War 2) and Lime Tree Cottages, one half of which was the 1911 home of two brothers of Albert Ansell of the War Memorial: George, a gardener, and Alfred, an electrician. In the other half lived Arthur Carr, the chauffeur seen in the motor car on the Denbies Estate page.
Near the Post Office at Snookes Hatch the road forks: the righthand track descends to Dorking, passing West Cottage, oldest cottage on Ranmore. For a time after 1910 West Cottage was the home of Estate bailiff Allen Baker whose sons Ernest Richard and Edward George served, respectively in WW1 and WW2. Edward George, RAF Volunteer Reserve, was killed and is remembered on the War Memorial and on a plaque in the churchyard.
From Snookes Hatch and the road to Dorking, the lefthand track passes St Barnabas Church, the School and the Rectory, the gates of Denbies House, and North Lodge (home in 1911 of John Ansell, gardener and brother of WW1 casualty Albert Ansell). Then the road turns sharp left to descend the steep hill on its way to Bookham and Westhumble. It passes Keeper’s Cottage, in 1911 the home of James Smallpiece, the senior gamekeeper, and by the 1930s of his successor Arthur Walder. In the 1970s Walter Hitchcook, Estate Bailiff and former gamekeeper, was living there in retirement with his wife.
Beyond North Lodge another track goes straight ahead, past Dairy (or Home) Farm where cows provided milk and cream for the Mansion. James Buckland, cowman. and brother of Frederick of the War Memorial, lived at No 2 Dairy Cottages. No 1 Dairy Cottages was later home to several Denbies butlers and their families. (These cottages almost certainly predate Thomas Cubitt’s purchase of the Estate, probably dated 1816 – this is probably also true of other cottages.)
Further along this road was the Fort (one of a chain of lightly fortified forts along the ridge of the chalk downs). Abandoned in 1905, it was used as two dwellings and a grain store before being demolished in the 1970s. George Bradley (brother of Ernest of the War Memorial) lived in part of Fort Cottages in 1911 with his wife and a lodger, Walter Hitchcock, then under gamekeeper). At the end of the road was Ashcombe Cottage where the track descends the steep, wooded hill. One might wonder why a simple Estate cottage (where Richard Ansell, the Estate foreman, lived in 1891, and Arthur Walder, gamekeeper, in 1911) was built of impressive Bath stone like the nearby church.
The Estate had three lodges. As well as North Lodge (see above), the main London Road Lodge north of Bradley Farm served the main access road to the Mansion (called Mickleham Drive, now “Denbies Drive” and part of the North Downs Way). In 1911 the “Carriage Drive Manager”, John Edmund Monk, lived here with his family (in WW1 one son became a prisoner of war). There was another lodge (called, variously, Westcott Lodge, South Lodge and Denbies Lodge) on the Ranmore Road.
The Cubitts were obviously good employers and seemed to keep their staff and workers a long time. This photograph taken at a Harvest Home in 1934 shows men with 20 years’ service on the Estate, surrounding three successive Lord Ashcombes. A copy of this photo seems to have been owned by every family on the Estate.
Men in 1934 with 20 years’ service on the Estate (Ranmore Archive)
Back row: W.Hitchcock, H.Hedger, G.Royal, I.Luff (Snr), H. (but probably Fred) Hodgkinson, W.Worsfold, W.Hone, W.Stoner, J.Knight, D.Gumbrill
Middle row: A.Ladd, E.Hedger, A.Dobinson (joiner), L.Overton (wheelwright and carpenter), W.Hills, H. Stoner, J.Inward, J.Garton, A.Pitts, G.Wills, J.Monk, A.Walder (head keeper), J.Buckland (cowman), J.Francis (carter)
Seated: J.Worsfold, A.Carr (chauffeur), J.Ansell (head gardener), Roland Cubitt (later 3rd Lord Ashcombe), Henry Cubitt (2nd Lord Ashcombe), R.Shepherd (coachman), A.Baker (bailiff), M.Swan, C.Brooker
Front row: F.Merritt, Master Harry Cubitt (later 4th Lord Ashcombe), W.Welford
This is a composite list of the sources consulted. Many are viewable online via Ancestry, Find My Past and Free BMD
Birth, death and marriage registers and certificates, General Register Office (GRO)
Baptism, marriage, burial registers, St Barnabas Ranmore Common, Surrey History Centre (SHC)
Censuses 1841-1911, The National Archives (TNA)
Post Office Directories, UK City and County Directories 1600-1900s
“Man and Boy”, Sir Stephen Tallents, Faber and Faber, 1943
“Edwardian Daughter”, Sonia Keppel, Hamish Hamilton, 1958
“The House on the Hill, The Story of Ranmore and Denbies”, S.E.D.Fortescue, Denbies Wine Estate, 1993
“Thomas Cubitt, Master Builder”, Hermione Hobhouse, Macmillan London 1971, reissued Managemens Books Ltd. 1991
St Barnabas School logbook (SHC)