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Happy days climbing Nelson
5:02pm Tuesday 28th November 2006 in Heritage
In a previous article about Redhill Common I mentioned the Common Conservators, a body set up in 1894 to administer Redhill and Earlswood commons.
It was abolished in 1945, allowing nature to turn much of the open areas of Redhill Common to woodland. In the 1940s I walked daily over the common from Upper Bridge Road to St John's School and back again, lingering often for tadpoling in the pond, tree climbing, exploring and, in winter, snowball fighting and sledging. The result was that I knew the common like the back of my hand.
The often muddy path that leads up to the common from the junction of Mill Street and Whitepost Hill has altered little; it's from there on that the changes occur. At the top of the path on the right was a large sandy, heather-fringed space that had been the site of many meetings of torchlit processions that wound down into the town in the 1920s and 1930s.
In my time it was a football pitch and general sandy area that always looked like it had, even before the 1920s, had a more important function. Today the sand is covered by grass and taller encroaching growth that threatens even the heather. It is hardly recognisable for what it once was.
Two paths led to the top common, one to the left broad and grassy, the one to the right narrow and sandy. Both were open and airy, fern-bordered and with no nearby growth more than a few feet high, giving a view to the pine groups at the summit.
Today the left path is narrow and ill-defined while the other has become woodland walk. Somewhere not far off the right hand path was the spring-fed pond, easy to see and access. Now it has to be hunted for, and this summer was no more than a dried-up hollow.
To the hard left was a tree we boys called Nelson; a large may tree climbed with abandon but which is no more. Another path hard on the left led down to the undercliff path, passing by the lawns. Now for most of its length that path has been engulfed by the slippage of the high banks and overgrown with brambles. It now crosses the centre of the top lawn when once it was hard under the cliffs where I saw my last red squirrel in 1948. Encroaching growth has reduced the top lawn, and those lawns below, to a fraction of their size.
Thankfully the view from the top common across the Weald to the South Downs that I saw every day as a schoolboy has been restored. Unfortunately the tree clumps planted for Queen Victoria's 1887 and 1897 jubilees on either side have suffered and the sites are populated by much second-generation growth, the original hedge and railing surrounds, like Nelson, also long gone. And the sledging path down to St John's, once open and straight, is now dog-legged, tree lined and unsledgable. Nevertheless, because of my youthful association with it, Redhill Common will always be a special place for me.
Article by Alan Moore, author of A History of Redhill Volumes 1 and 2. History website www.redhill-reigate-history.co.uk