Wotton Church (and John Evelyn)
We are very fortunate here at Mindfully Bertie to have a growing band of loyal friends who support our endeavours to entertain you each week. Some of those friends offer ideas of their own. Two weeks ago, Bernard and Aldith reminded Bobby of the “secret snowdrops” at Abinger Hall. In doing so, we were able to share that glorious walk around Abinger.
This week another great friend, Virginia, simply asked if we had seen the spring flowers at Wotton Church. That innocent remark has put Bobby into overdrive, for you cannot visit Wotton Church without being conscious of the presence of John Evelyn. So this story starts at a lovely Church in a picturesque setting. But inevitably paying John Evelyn due respect.
The Church of St John the Evangelist, Wotton.
When Bobby and his family came to Dorking in 1972, they would regularly drive along the A25 from Dorking west towards Guildford. They were always conscious passing through Wotton of the church in surely the most picturesque location in the Surrey Hills. Picture perfect you might say. Although it is the parish church of Wotton, the village is some way away and the parish itself made up of a small straggling community.
We went through the main hamlet on our walk last week. The church has an interesting history dominated by its association with the Evelyn family. The most famous of all being John Evelyn. 1620-1706. In his day, together with Samuel Pepys, the most famous diarists in the land. The church, closed at present, contains the Evelyn chapel wherein he and his wife Mary are buried. Outside there are Evelyns in the graveyard. (Note… diarists had their heyday at a time when there was no printed news.)
Watch the video. Lots of bird calls. The loudest a Green Woodpecker.
John Evelyn had an amazing life as described in this Wikipedia article.
Our main interest is in his love and knowledge of trees. There was an amazing coincidence back in 1987, when a television drama starring Timothy West as John Evelyn was broadcast at the time of the Great Storm. In the drama set nearly 300 years before, ‘John’ bemoans the loss of trees due to the Great Storm of 1703. He vowed to plant more trees wherever he could. Even that long ago, he saw the ecological value of trees. But also they were needed for the future needs of the Royal Navy building sailing ships.
It’s quite likely that some of the trees in the churchyard were planted by him. We would love to see that drama again, although nearby Polesden Lacey was used as the setting for the filming. We also now know that interior scenes were filmed at Crossways Farm almost opposite the ‘secret snowdrops’. The Farm is regularly used for period dramas. Polesden Lacey are checking their records but, as we post this story, we are relieved that at least two other notable people associated with Wotton remember the television drama. If any of our readers know how to find this lost TV drama, please let us know.
It’s impossible to talk about the Evelyns without including their ancestral home at nearby Wotton House. In researching we were led to the Gentle Author and Spitalfields Life, who has also written about John Evelyn and his association with trees. The words looked familiar and were actually written by Bobby himself in 2006, whilst commenting on the Gentle Author’s story!
Wotton House was John Evelyn’s birthplace. He lived most of his life in London. In Deptford, where the family owned a lot of land. One street there is still called Albury Road, in deference to his connections to the nearby Albury Estate. That is lined up for a future story and walk. He eventually inherited Wotton House in his old age.
Once again we would encourage you to read Wikipedia for the full story. We dropped in on the way home from the church. Now a posh hotel, its history is all around you. In 2007, near the end of his ‘career’ at the Highways Agency, his ‘team’ were treated to an overnight stay/course at Wotton House. A nice dinner the night before and a chance to walk round the grounds. Including the listed Italianate garden designed by John Evelyn. The first in Britain.
In the morning, Bobby asked “where is the animal building?”. Nobody knew. But he did. Public footpaths follow the boundary of the estate. One day in the early eighties he and his ex walked passed the house and noticed what looked like an elaborate ruin in the woods. Shortly after, it was featured in a TV programme fronted by that eccentric English lady Lucinda Lambton. Amazingly that programme is still available on iPlayer Archives.
It’s hard to believe that it was filmed in 1985. It’s all worth watching. Wotton House is at 15 minutes in. What it does show Bobby is that his downright criticism of the hotel development was misplaced. He thought the building had been knocked down for the new car park. As you can see, Lucinda thought it just about to fall down of its own accord! What is undeniable is that many of the trees at Wotton House were planted over three hundred years ago by John Evelyn.
I knew he couldn’t bleedin’ resist finding out more. So guess what arrived this morning in the post. 1013 pages written in the English of the day, and, of course, a diary. So here is John Evelyn’s diary entry for the Great Storm. 26 November 1703.
26. The dismal Effects of the Hurecan & Tempest of Wind, raine & lighting thro all the nation, especial(y) London, many houses demolished, many people killed; 27. & as to my own losse, the Subversion of Woods and Timber both left for Ornament, and Valuable materials thro my whole Estate, & about my house, the Woods crowning the Garden Mount, and growing along the Park meadow, the damage to my own dwelling, 7 tenants farmes & Outhouses, is most Tragicall; not to be paralleled with any thing happening in our age (or) in any history almost, I am not able to describe, but submitt to the Almight(y) pleasure of God with acknowledgement of his Justice for our National sinns, & my owne, who yet have not suffered as I deserved to; Every moment like Jobs Messengers, bring(s) the sad Tidings of this universal Judgement: (see the History of this Storme).
We can save you the history of the “Storme” by pointing you towards this, which includes the destruction of the first Eddystone Lighthouse during the storm.
Lighting a Candle for Diddley