In November 1997 Dick Gover realised that he had been elected churchwarden at St
Barnabas Church in the presence of the Bishop of Dorking, no less, who remarked quietly,
“Remember you are the Bishop’s Man” as they shook hands on the chancel steps. One of Dick’s jobs outside normal church duties was to let in and assist the Church Recorders Group of the Dorking Decorative and Fine Arts Society who were drawing up an inventory of the furniture and artefacts in the Church. This involved looking for things hidden away in dark cupboards and listing questions which he could take to some of the congregation who might be able to help. The whole project was most interesting.
In 1998 Professor Keith Grieves from Kingston University asked to bring a group of adult students to St Barnabas Church on a course which involved researching life on the big estates of the 19th century. He felt that this estate church was excellent tangible evidence for their field trip. At about the same time Dr Peter Brandon, expert on Sir George Gilbert Scott, brought WEA parties to the Church and made the point that the Church had “his fingerprints all over it” (contrary to the way Pevsner’s entry in The Buildings of England had damned the building with faint praise). Dr Brandon finished his introduction and then said, “Now Mr Gover will give you an outline of the social history of the Church.” Taken by surprise, Dick rose to the occasion and sometime later he remarked, “I seem to have become the de facto historian and archivist of the Church.”
Professor Grieves wrote a scholarly account of the history of the Denbies Estate and the Cubitt family, particularly focussing on the deaths of the three Cubitt brothers and the construction of their memorial chapel. This was published in “Surrey History”, journal of the Surrey Local History Council, in 2000 and the list of reference sources is invaluable (see The Cubitt Chapel).
“AUNT MABEL’S ALBUM”
In 2003 the late Miss Elsie Royal who had lived and worked on the Denbies Estate all her life, apart from a spell as a Spitfire mechanic, showed Dick a small album of
photographs taken by her aunt Miss Mabel Hedger around 1912 when she worked on the staff of The Hon. Mrs Cubitt, later 2nd Lady Ashcombe. The photographs were scanned and later put together with photographs acquired from other sources in a booklet which was printed privately and entitled “A Ranmore Archive based on Aunt Mabel’s Album”. People were able to have a copy for a donation to the fund to rebuild the church organ. This booklet has provided many of the “Ranmore Archive” photographs on the website: please use the Contact form to ask about reusing images from this archive.
“NOTHING BUT THEIR NAMES”
Since January 1997 Dick Gover has edited a modest monthly newsletter for St Barnabas Church; in 2007 he made the thought-provoking remark in the November issue: “Every Remembrance Sunday we read out the names of the men on the Ranmore War Memorial, but we know virtually nothing about the men themselves. The short lives of the three Cubitt brothers, sons of the Great House, are reasonably well documented, but of the other men we know only their names.”
I have been delving into the fascination that is family history for most of my life, and so decided it ought to be possible to find out at least something about the men. With the invaluable records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and “Soldiers Died in the Great War”, the church records of St Barnabas, and various censuses, I managed to identify all but one of them. Dick accordingly published my findings in leaflets available in the Church for interested visitors.
EXPANDING INTO A WEBSITE
Then, early in 2014, discussions were afoot how St Barnabas might mark the centenary of the Great War. I thought it could be useful to put our existing information on a website, expanding it to include the families of the men, and how they all lived and worked in the close-knit community of the Denbies Estate which centred on Denbies Mansion and St Barnabas Church. It was subsequently suggested that the website should be extended to try to discover as many as possible of “Those Who Also Served”, but were fortunate enough to return home to their families; not forgetting those who served on the “Home Front” in the First and Second World Wars.
With a working life spent in publishing, assembling words and pictures, I thought that building a website on such a subject would be an interesting and rewarding project, as well as, most importantly, a tribute to those who fought and died in both World Wars. I live locally and have attended St Barnabas for over 20 years, relishing the beauty of this exceptional building in its wonderful situation, as well as the traditional language of the Book of Common Prayer. Valuable help in my research was forthcoming from Dick Gover, “the de facto Church archivist”, as well as from the few remaining parishioners whose families had lived on Ranmore Common for several generations.
And now we hope we can add to the website as, over time, more facts come to light ….
Margaret Maynard August 2016