Chaldon Parish consists of a number of ancient manors; Chaldon, Willey, Fryern, and Tollsworth. It remained an area of outlying farms without a village as such until the middle of the twentieth century, and even now is much smaller than a conventional village.
The Manor of Chaldon is in the West of the Parish, covering almost all the land to the west of the North /South line of the ancient trackway now Ditches Lane, Church Lane and Hilltop Lane, and with some land to the east of this as well, notably the fields and woods between Chaldon and Happy Valley / Farthing Downs.
Chaldon Parish used to extend further to the North and South than is currently the case, running from the sharp bend in Ditches Lane by Devilsden Woods in the North, to the bottom of the hill where Hilltop Lane is crossed by Rockshaw Road and Spring Bottom Lane. The Manor of Chaldon held all the land from North to South of the ancient parish, including Tollsworth which was originally a sub-Manor of Chaldon.
The first documentary mention of Chaldon or Chalvedune as the name of a place is in the 8th century and the name is thought to mean ‘calves down’, where the calves were pastured.
Chaldon Manor was described in the Domesday Survey (1086) as being “2 hides. Land for 2 ploughs; they are in Lordship. A church.” A ‘hide’ is defined as the amount of land that supports one family and can be ploughed by a team of eight oxen in a year, and while the actual area of a hide varied, an estimate of 100 – 120 acres is often used. In ‘Lordship’ is defined as meaning the land owned by a tenant in chief (someone who held it directly from the king) and also sometimes refers to the fact that they farmed it directly rather than it being farmed by peasants.
The North Downs, on which Chaldon is situated, was sparsely populated. The soil, mostly clay with flints overlying chalk, was poor. The hill top setting on chalk meant that water was a problem for agriculture and ordinary living. The shallow wells and ponds even by the beginning of the twentieth century were said to be “apt to fail in summer”. The nearest springs were down the hill to the south to Spring Bottom Lane. (There was one spring half way down White Hill, in the neighbouring Manor of Willey).
Records of there being a church on the site of the current one go back to the 7th century. At this time, Chaldon manor was owned by Chertsey Abbey, and this appears to have been the case up until the 11th century. In the Domesday survey (1086) it is no longer held by Chertsey but by Ralph FitzTurold of Odo Bishop of Bayeux. Ralph also held lands in Banstead and other places. From then on for centuries Chaldon Manor has been farmed by a tenant on behalf of the Lord of the Manor, who like Ralph owned other places besides Chaldon. Maybe, for brief periods, the house, Chaldon Court, was lived in by the owner, and this is mostly likely to have been the case in the 13th and 14th centuries.
The structure of parishes and parish churches did not start until the 12th or 13th century, so the earliest church here would probably have been built and run by Chertsey Abbey. The present church, including the flint west wall, is thought to be 11th century with additions in the 12th and 13th centuries and later alterations. This church may have started as a private church /chapel for the manor house, and its additions and alterations may have been financed by the owner of Chaldon Manor / Chaldon Court or other wealthy people from within the Parish.
The famous wall painting on the whole of the West wall, depicting the Ladder of Salvation, is from c.1170 and is the largest picture of its type in Northern Europe. It was whitewashed over during the Reformation and uncovered in 1870 during a redecoration of the church. The Victoria County History (1912) has a wonderful description of the scenes depicted in the painting, and is available here under the heading CHURCH.
Chaldon was a sub-Manor of Banstead, and the Banstead Court Rolls from the 14th to the 17th century show the tithing man of Chaldon attending to pay the dues of the tenants of Chaldon. The amounts paid show that there were just eight households in Chaldon Manor paying the fees for much of the 17th century.
There has been a manor house in Chaldon since at least 1275, probably much earlier, and it is assumed that this has been on the site of Chaldon Court beside the church. Most of the existing building of Chaldon Court has been dated (by dendrochronology – measuring the tree rings in the timbers – undertaken in 2013) to 1366, and some significant alterations were made to the building in about 1600 including adding fireplaces and chimneys, and then 18th and 19th century alterations made while it was a tenanted farmhouse.
Chaldon Court is a listed building, grade II*, and is timber framed, although this cannot be seen from the outside as it has been covered in brick and cement render and one wall has been rebuilt in flint. The gable end of the East wing that faces the church has the remains of an ornate barge board on it.
The house is a complex structure with three ranges (under three roofs), at right angles to each other, all floored at first floor level, with a crown post roof, long passing braces and a durn door all remaining from 1366. There are quadrant moulding on the timbers, and the structure and the size of the place show that it was a high status building, expensive and built to impress.
Normally a manor house of this period would have one upstairs room, the solar, attached to the double height hall, with the fire on the hall floor. Chaldon Court has three first floor rooms, the largest (three bay) thought to be a principal or great chamber, with a two bay wing at right angles to it and then a third single bay structure off that. Also, to make things more complicated, none of the roofs show smoke-blackening that would normally be caused by the fire from the hall that is assumed would have been attached to it.
It is a remarkable building that puzzles the experts, and there is much debate as to its original function. Peter Gray in Village Histories 7: Chaldon says “This originated as one of the largest and most important houses in the area if not the County.” In an unpublished essay Denis Turner wrote “we are looking here at a house that was an important grandee residence, a residence more than a cut above the usual manor house. Indeed, the cross-wing at Chaldon Court is unusual and incorporates a room arrangement that can only be paralleled in a very small number of high-status houses.”
Denis Turner and others have speculated as to whether the building was not domestic, but might have been an ecclesiastical court. Rod Wild and Martin Higgins of the Domestic Buildings Research Group (Surrey) wrote in 2013 “Overall it seems unlikely that Chaldon Court was residential or that it was part of a larger building. The indications are that it was some type of ecclesiastical court house, with a grand meeting room, an antechamber, and a small wing for a warden.”
Further documentary research is being undertaken to see if more can be found out about the building’s ownership and original use. An archaeological survey (resistivity report) undertaken in 2015 of the small field adjoining the churchyard and Chaldon Court revealed evidence that appears to show a number of buildings and a dig is expected to explore it further.
The Victoria County History (1912) says: “The site of Chaldon Church and Manor House, on a hill 500 ft above the sea, suggests a primitive ‘high place’ both for worship and defence.”
Little has changed on land use, ownership, or layout of the immediate area for hundreds of years. The farm, mostly arable, has a tenant farmer and is owned by the Lord of the Manor, who lives elsewhere, and this has been the case since at least 1709, probably much earlier, and possibly right back to the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086. For the last 229 years, since 1788, the owner of Court Farm and the Manor of Chaldon has been the head of the Jolliffe family, now titled Lord Hylton.
The old farmyard was nearer the church than the current one, and had two large (five bay) timber framed aisled barns, one dating from the 17th and one from the 18th century, both of which blew down in high winds in 1990. There are still some old stables, a long low flint cowshed, a cartshed, and a granary (listed Grade II) close to the house.
The pond was renovated in 1986 and during the process the medieval red clay base was revealed. Very few old ponds remain in Chaldon, whereas in 1868, the Ordnance Survey map shows 25 ponds in the Parish of Chaldon, at least 9 of which are in the ancient Manor of Chaldon.
The old farmyard, the small field between it and the churchyard, and the churchyard itself are all designated by Tandridge District Council as an area of High Archaeological Potential.
All of this land, with part of the modern farmyard and Chaldon Court are included in the Chaldon Conservation Area which also covers Church Green, Rectory Cottage, Glebe House and The Rookery on Church Lane.
The Rookery, previously called The Firs, is a 19th century house, with a stone plaque on its former stable block commemorating the date of its building as 1825, and with the initials T E T, referring to the owner of the time, Sir Thomas Tomkins. His detailed journal has survived, giving a fascinating account of life in Chaldon in the early 19th century.
The house has medieval work in the foundations, including a vaulted stone undercroft with arched doorways and a small recess or ‘aumbry’. A house on the same site before the 19th century one was called the Braziers and Village Histories 7: Chaldon tells us that it is listed in Surrey Fines for 1555 as having a messuage (a dwelling with its adjacent buildings and lands), a barn, piggeries, a garden, an orchard, 20 acres of land, 40 acres of wood. Braziers is also listed in the only Hearth Tax Return that survives for Chaldon, from 1664 when there were just 17 houses and cottages in the Parish of Chaldon. It had three hearths.
Glebe House is the former rectory, said by The Victoria County History to have been built in 1760 and the house has been considerably enlarged at various stages since then. Notes on Glebe House by Peter Gray in the booklet Chaldon Explored, published by Tandridge District Council in 1975 say “Good cast iron balusters to the main staircase. Some partitions and floors incorporate timber from a medieval building.”
Records of the Rectors of Chaldon go back to 1304, so there would have been a Rectory or Parsonage long before 1760, probably on the current site. The Hearth Tax Return for Chaldon of 1664 lists “ye Parsonage House of Chaldon” with four hearths.
Rectory Cottage was built in 1877 as the home for the Rector’s servant or coachman. It served as a Parish Room from 1967 to 1984 and is now a private house.
A footpath crosses fields south from Chaldon Church to Alderstead Heath and from there, over Rook Lane and south again towards the ridge of the North Downs passing another ancient Manor House, Tollsworth. As the footpath enters the woods on Alderstead Heath there is a large old pollarded beech tree on the right. This is thought to be a ‘bound’ tree, marking a boundary. Old maps, such as the Tithes Map of Chaldon of 1825 show a ‘Bound Maple’ due west of Chaldon Court farmyard on the boundary between Chaldon and Merstham parishes.
On Rook Lane opposite the corner of Alderstead Heath is Cold Blow, a house which includes significant parts of a timber framed medieval hall house. It is described in Chaldon Explored (1975) as “The two storey part of the house formed the two bay open hall of a four bay house dating from about 1500.” It was later divided into two dwellings and two large stone fireplaces were built using the local stone. These remain, and with timber framing and “diamond mortices for mullions and grooves to an original unglazed window” show the house’s history.
South off Rook Lane and accessible by bridleway and footpath is Tollsworth Manor. This is a significant medieval building, listed Grade II*, which shows the use of the local stone covering or replacing its timber framing. It has recently (2005) been given two early dates by dendrochronology, the three bay hall range 1433 and the three bay cross wing solar 1326 – 1358. There is an impressive hexagonal crown post with a mounded cap and base visible in the loft. Additions to the house were made in the 16th and all subsequent centuries.
The Manor House stands in its original setting, of a farmyard with barns and buildings, a pond, a couple of farm cottages and surrounded on all sides by farmland and woodland.
The landscape of Chaldon is enhanced by having two surviving examples of significant early medieval buildings, Chaldon Court and Tollsworth Manor, (and a third, Alstead Farmhouse, nearby) still in very much their original rural settings, as the “scattered farmsteads” that Natural England’s National Character Area profile for the North Downs notes are characteristic. Other features, sunken lanes, dry valleys, clay with flints as the soil, managed woodlands, and other aspects of the landscape are still visible in the ancient Manor of Chaldon.
Directly south of the Tollsworth farmyard is an earthworks, marked on OS maps and designated by Tandridge District Council as a site of High Architectural Potential. This is probably the site of an earlier (10th century) version of Tollsworth Manor which may have been fortified or with a moat. The site has not been investigated by either a resistivity study or a dig.
To the West of Tollsworth and over the border in neighbouring Merstham Parish is Alderstead Farmhouse, another impressive Grade II* listed building with late Medieval, 16th, 17th and 18th century features, and timber work of a very high quality including richly moulded beams, and in the more recent sections, use of the local stone. The house stands surrounded by old farm buildings, one of which is a Grade II listed timber framed weatherboarded granary thought to be 18th century.
Public Access and Appreciation
Well maintained footpaths connect the various historic buildings, sites and features of the ancient manor and allow access for the public to experience the landscape and its historic features. These routes frequently appear in online and published walking guides and are well used.
Tollsworth Manor opens its gardens to the public and holds house history talks and tours for charity fundraising with c. 500 people attending each year. The church is open to the public 362 days of the year. The visitors’ book in the church captures many notes of thanks and comments such as “what a beautiful little church, right in the middle of nowhere”, “gorgeous church with beautiful quaint surroundings”, ‘lovely to see so little change – so much around has!”, “Long may the tranquility of this beautiful area last”, “Peace and quiet!”, “a wonderful piece of our heritage”.
(c) Madeline Hutchins 2017