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ON THE BRIGHTON AND SOUTH-EASTERN RAILWAYS.
[From the Railway Chronicle.]
[This Excursion, as here laid down, requires a whole day. Start, therefore, by an early
train, and breakfast at the Feathers' Inn, Merstham. But the Excursion, going to Reigate by trains either of the Brighton or South-Eastern lines, may be made in six hours from the time of starting to the return. It is then quite a possible thing on an afternoon.)
Any one who happily enjoys an intimacy with the chalk and sand hills extending through Kent and Surrey into Hampshire, must be able instantly to call to mind at least half a dozen spots among them which, for a peculiar and lovely beauty of their own, will bear the test of comparison with any of the scenes throughout England and Wales, registered as most picturesque par excellence. The views from the bench at the south end of Knole Park, near Sevenoaks; from the knoll overlooking Lord Somers's house, at Reigate; from Walton-on-the-Hill; from the height of Box Hill; from Leith Hill; from Martha's Chapel and St. Catherine's Hill, near Guildford, and several other adjacent spots, may each and all be instanced as worthy to rank in the same catalogue of picturesque excellences as yard, the Undercliffe of the Isle of Wight, the Truro Water, &c. All the southern spots we have named have each their individual attributes of beauty; but their general features consist in the vast spread of luxuriant cultivation, each view taking in an area of 30 and 40 miles of exuberant plantations, corn-fields, hop-grounds, &c. All is combined richness, so far as the eye reaches. Every one of them is now brought within an easy hour's ride of the metropolis, and, if you please, within a maximum cost of 3s. 4d., by means of the South London Railways. When our acquaintance with these spots begun, years ago, we had to leave London before sunrise, to spend the best part of the day, in going and returning, seldom reaching home before midnight. A day's walk of 40 miles was not an unusual occurrence, but the beauty of the country well repaid the toil. We now gather the grapes without trouble, and relish them the more. A visit to Reigate, or Gatton, or Guildford, is rendered an easy excursion, even for an evening. By comparison with the power of the locomotion of our early days, railways have almost put us into possession of the wishing carpet of the Arabian Nights, and we scarcely mature the desire to be at a choice spot, before we are there.
Reigate is a jewel of a place for a day's visit, or as the centre for two or three days' excursions to the attractions of its neighbourhood. It has beauties within half a mile on all sides of the town. The remains of the castle walls, which yield a delightful grassy terrace, are close to the town. The knoll on the south side, which we have already mentioned, is within the half-mile, and the church is within a furlong's distance, so that there need be no toil at all in reaching the fine things, for those who are indisposed to endure it. The station is two miles from the town, but an omnibus meets almost every train.
The pedestrian, with a day before him, should leave the train at the Merstham station, two miles short of Reigate, and walk through Gatton Park. Only the South-Eastern trains stop here. He will do well to visit Merstham church, which has many points of picturesque and archæological interest; so many, indeed, that we shall reserve an
Gatton, for an Excursion especially devoted to Merstham and its vicinity. The early English font, and handsome double piscina, the monumental effigy, and the very picturesque porch of Merstham
church, must not be overlooked, even in a passing visit. If our tourist is a geologist, he will not neglect to visit the stone quarries.
Gatton Park and grounds stand on the North Chalk Downs, overlooking Reigate. The descent through the avenue of trees and the park to Reigate is most beautiful; the walk will amply repay any one for alighting at Merstham. The entrance to Reigate is beneath a tunnel, a modern structure which makes a tolerably picturesque com
bination, erected by Earl Somers, and through a cutting of the green sandstone, which, for its delicate and variegated shades of colour passing through all, from the richest orange and red to the deepest purple and black, will recall Alum Bay, in the Isle of Wight, to those who have seen it. The sand of both spots, though some 40 miles apart, is, indeed, of the same kind essentially; an almost impalpable quartz, of translucent whiteness until it becomes coloured with iron, &c. This sand is valuable in manufactures, and especially suitable as an ingredient for the plaster of the frescanti. Subordinate to it are beds of chert, limestone and fullers' earth; all turned to various profitable purposes. For centuries, Reigate freestone has been prized for building. Cardinal Wolsey employed it largely for his palace at Hampton Court. The village of Nutfield, adjacent to Reigate, is the chief spot for fullers' earth, which is exported to the woollen manufacturing districts, becoming enhanced five times in value
The sand cutting we have spoken of passes beneath the grounds of the old castle. Its site by all means should be visited, though little more than its ditch can now be traced. The castle stood upon a rock of beautiful white sand, on an eminence, now a smooth well-kept grass plat, which overlooks the town, and affords fine open prospects of the expanse of the country between it and Guildford. The present warden of the castle is an old man, who lives in a picturesque-looking cottage hard by, and is the custos of the only curiosity which time has spared, and is likely still to do. It is a deep cavern, which served as a secure and last retreat in case of straitened circumstances, and probably as a store, and as a prison. The old man is glad to earn a shilling by showing it, and is prepared with requisite candles.
From the centre of the grassy area the descent to the cavern commences, and continues about 40 feet deep, when the passage, which is about 230 feet long, reaches a chamber 120 feet long, some 13 feet wide, and 11 feet high. Tradition has its story about this cave as about every other, and equally as veritable. It is called “The Baron's Cave,” because the first draft of Magna Charta was prepared in it before it was signed at Runnymede! In the thirteenth century the castle was held by the Earls de Warrenna; and, just before the meeting of King John and the barons at Runnymede, the chroniclers tell us that the Earl of Warren was one of the very few of the King's partisans—a fact which makes it most improbable that the earl's castle of Reigate was the office of the clerk who drew up the Magna Charta. We think the Anglo-Saxon distich has more truth in it, which Camden has preserved as proverbial of the valour of the fighting South Saxons who dwelt in these parts, and probably defended the very site of Reigate Castle, which stands at the top of the vale of Holmesdale, against the marauding Danes
The vale of Holmesdale
Of the origin or history of Reigate Castle, antiquarians have discovered scarcely anything, besides its having been surrendered to Louis, the Dauphin of France, who took part with the insurgent barons against King John. It is hardly necessary to tell the visitor that the little turretted building on the site is modern, erected by a late tenant of the property.
Before proceeding to the church, which is eastward, and the hill, the “ Beaulieu” of Reigate, which is southward of the town, we recommend the visitor to make acquaintance with the very excellent White Hart Inn, and to order his dinner to be ready on his return. This inn had great repute in the days of Brighton coaching, earning for itself the good old character has not left it. An infallible criterion, so far as it goes, of a good inn, is a clean mustard-pot. If that is in proper order, you may be sure that the beds will be well aired, the sheets clean, and all the etcæteras properly looked after. We pronounce the mustard-pot of the White Hart unexceptionable. Here, too, are some of the choicest bed-rooms overlooking a lovely garden, which for thorough comfortableness will compete with any in England. The bed-rooms with the garden prospect are much in demand, and to secure them it is necessary to give at least a day's notice. It is worth a penny post-letter to obtain them. Let us mention that the charge for a bed is two shillings a night, and that we have dined here from a joint, followed by exquisite fritters and cream, for two shillings and sixpence, served up with the luxury of a napkin, finger-glass and tingling hot plates. Considering the style of the treatment, we think these charges very moderate, and we deem it important to record specimens of good inn treatment for railway tourists; for, doubtless, the pleasure of an excursion is most materially affected by the charge and style of the housing. The White Hart, Reigate, may therefore be noted as an inn where you will be sure of as much comfort as at your own home—and more, indeed, if you are a luckless bachelor. Our host of the White Hart is not to raise his charges on the strength of this our encomium, or we shall denounce his apostacy as we have proclaimed his virtue.
While the stuffed chicken is roasting, we will proceed to survey the church. The approach by the lane leading to it from the town is very picturesque; and if the tourist has a sketch-book with him, he will not pass by the excellent combination of the tower of the church, with some quaintly grown firs, and an ivyed gable at the north-west, without making notes of them. The rich colour, too, of this group is very striking. The chalk hills seem to rise precipitously close at the north side of the church. The church itself, which is a spacious building, is vastly more interesting inside than outsidethe latter having been much spoiled by church wardens' patchings and plasterings. Uncouth, nondescript windows have been opened here, and there a handsome decorated one has been closed up. The tower, though actually growing, as it were, out of good stone, has been repaired partly with stucco. The interior of the church preserves many more of its early features than the exterior. These are chiefly perpendicular in their forms, though considerable remains exist of the architecture of an antecedent period. Almost the whole shell of the church is perpendicular, and more modern than the columns of the nave. The church has a nave, chancel, and two aisles. The