Grayshott Cultural History

History of Grayshott

Records show that there was a sparse settlement here from the 12th Century but it was not until the Victorian era 150 years or so ago that we see the emergence of a village.

St. Luke’s Church has passed its centenary, as have the Village Hall, the School, the Fox & Pelican and the laundry building (now Grayshott Pottery). These and many other amenities were created by the generosity of local landowners and have been well supported over the decades by the villagers.

The attractiveness of Grayshott has increased its popularity and has drawn residents, commerce and trade.

Pre-Victorian Period

Until the railway arrived at nearby Haslemere in 1859, Grayshott, or ‘Graveshotte’ (signifying ‘a clearing in the woods’) was never more than a hamlet of small farms, broomsquires’ cottages and a haunt for notorious brigands. As recorded in the Domesday Book, Grayshott was within Headley Parish and part of the ‘Waste of the Manor’ of Sutton. Ownership was passed from King Stephen (1135 – 1154) to his brother Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester. Later, when that manor was divided, Grayshott became part of the Manor of Wishanger. ‘Wakeners Wells’ (now known as Waggoners Wells), was created in the 17th century by the Hooke family of Bramshott. Some traces of this early period remain in the broomsquires cottages of Stoney Bottom and Whitmore Vale, in the outlines of holding pens for livestock along the drovers’ road in Stoney Bottom and in dry sandstone walls and boundary banks. The sites of some original farms are known: for example Grayshott Farm and Bull’s Toft, now known as Grayshott Hall and The Old Farmhouse (Headley Road). Many of Grayshott’s footpaths and bridleways, so much a feature of the village, were established in those days.

Victorian and Edwardian Period

The sale of land following the Acts of Enclosure of the 1850s defined the limits and shape of the village. Wealthy families were attracted to the area, which became known as ‘Little Switzerland’ due to the healthy air and beautiful scenery. Its accessibility from the railway at Haslemere established Grayshott as a working village and a holiday destination. Early residents included Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (See Undershaw below), George Bernard Shaw and Flora Thompson (author of ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ and ‘Heatherley’). This period established the pattern of the village with the valued balance of residential and commercial premises at its core.

Crossways Road (Conservation Area) illustrating decorative clay tile hanging, shop fronts and roofing.

Grayshott is fortunate in retaining a number of Victorian shopfronts which add to the character of the village and this period gave the village some fine examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture, many of which are included in the conservation area.

Grayshott was counted as part of Headley parish until 1901 (ecclesiastical parish) and 1902 (civil parish). It is now the basis of Grayshott civil parish, which is part of East Hampshire District.

St. Luke’s Church, which is a part of the Guildford diocese, and Grayshott Primary School; both of these trace their origins to the 19th century. The National School was founded in 1871 on land provided by the architect Edward I’Anson, who had moved to the village ten years earlier. His descendants maintained a close connection to the area, his son made funds available for the construction of the church; many of these are buried and memorialised in its churchyard.

There was a steady growth in the number of attractive smaller properties examples of which can be seen in the area of Grayshott School, such as Beechanger Cottages and Whitmore Hill Cottages.

The residential area of Grayshott was significantly enlarged by the Kingswood Firs and Waggoners Wells estates in the 1960s, with their own characteristics of low-density housing, wide verges, many trees and narrow roads.

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Notable residents

Flora Thompson (1876 – 1947)

Phil Bates, Chairman and Trustee of Grayshott Pottery and Amanda Haddon-Cave, Chairman of the Grayshott Society with the blue plaque, designed and made at Grayshott Pottery, installed at Flora Thompsons former home ‘The Ferns’ in The Avenue in Grayshott in June 2007

In June 2007 Flora Thompson’s life as a local novelist and poet, was celebrated by writers, thespians and followers from around the world, as her blue plaque, designed and made at Grayshott Pottery, was installed at her home ‘The Ferns’ in The Avenue in Grayshott.

Flora, most famous for her books ‘Heatherley’ and ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’, moved to the area around 1898 when she was given the job to train users on the first telegraph system (sending telegrams) at the old Post Office in Grayshott, which was at that time was based on the site of ‘Amity’ in Crossways Road.

Other famous authors at the time would have included the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Undershaw) and George Bernard Shaw (Blen-Cathra now St Edmund’s School) who lived within minutes of Flora’s home and were said to have used the newly installed system to communicate with friends and colleagues in London and other modern areas of the time!

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Mary Vickery (Owner of ‘Amity’), Phil Bates Trustee Grayshott Pottery & Vice Chairman of Grayshott Society, Chloe Porter (Laura in the Candleford’ play), Robyn Clarke (Grayshott Pottery Plaque Maker, John Owen (Jo) Smith (local wordsmith/playwright), Kat Wootton, (Dorcas in the Candleford play), Christine Vardy(Grayshott Society), Amanda Haddon-Cave (Chairman Grayshott Society).

In May 2009 a second blue plaque to celebrate Flora Thompson’s life in the village of Grayshott was unveiled. The bespoke blue plaque was made by Robyn Clarke from Grayshott Pottery on behalf of the Grayshott Society and now adorns the shop front of Amity fashion shop in Crossways Road.

This gathering included many local followers of Flora’s work and local businesses and societies, as well as a number of the cast from ‘Candleford’, a play by Keith Dewhurst, due to take to the road around the towns and villages during June 2009.

John Owen (Jo) Smith who assisted in unveiling the plaque with Kat Wootton and Chloe Porter, said that he was delighted that Grayshott was able to commemorate Flora’s work in the area and said, ‘This is one of a number of memorials which have been dedicated to Flora Thompson across the country in recent years to mark her progress from post office clerk to celebrated author. However it was Grayshott that she remembered particularly as being the place where she matured from “foolish nineteen to wicked one-and-twenty” and so kept a special place in her heart for the village in later life.’

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Dame Agnes Weston (1840 – 1918)


Some of the visitors, residents, businesses and clubs and societies who celebrated the unveiling of the blue plaque tribute to famous former Grayshott resident Dame Agnus Weston on Saturday 10th May 2008 outside Ensleigh in Crossways Road, Grayshott

In May 2008 residents, businesses and members of local clubs and societies joined the celebrations and the unveiling of a blue plaque at Dame Agnes’s house ‘Ensleigh’ in Crossways Road, Grayshott.

Grayshott resident Dame Agnes Weston was highly regarded for her charitable work with serving Royal Navy servicemen and their families during the latter part of Victorian times,

The plaque, made and donated by Grayshott Pottery and its Community Trust Fund, was unveiled by Brian Deverson, Executive Director of ‘Royal Sailors Rests’ the charity that was started by Dame Agnes.

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George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)

Phil Bates Trustee Grayshott Pottery & Grayshott Society, Jackie Alliss, Chairman of Governors St Edmunds’, Richard Peskett Grayshott Village Archive, Chris Greenaway Sales Director Grayshott Pottery, Amanda Haddon-Cave Chairman Grayshott Society and Adam Walliker, Headmaster of St Edmunds School

In October 2008 George Bernard Shaw’s life as a local novelist, was celebrated by writers, schoolchildren, businesses and societies from in and around the Surrey Hampshire border, as his blue plaque, designed and made at Grayshott Pottery, was installed at his home Blen Cathra’ now St. Edmund’s School in Boundary Road Grayshott.

The plaque was unveiled at St Edmunds School by members of Grayshott Society, Grayshott Pottery, The Archive Group, Governors and teachers from the school. The school which is set in 35 acres of gardens was the former home of the author and was formally known as ‘Blen Cathra’.

Other famous Victorian authors at the time would have included the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (his home ‘Undershaw’ in Hindhead) and the recently celebrated Flora Thompson (‘The Ferns’ in Grayshott), who were said to have moved to the area to ‘enjoy the air’ in Hindhead and yet be in close proximity to the newly installed rail route to London from Haslemere!

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 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)

Situated just outside of Grayshott is Undershaw, the former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle author of Sherlock Holmes.  The writer lived there with his wife Louise, between 1897 and 1907.

This Victorian red-brick building is supposedly the setting of the intriguing Hound of the Baskervilles written in 1902. Undershaw’s atmospheric and dramatic views of the South Downs countryside provided inspiration for writers other than Conan Doyle, with Bram Stoker, writer of the legendary Dracula, being a visitor.

Following a transitional period spent as a hotel, Undershaw has since fallen into disrepair, yet this mystical spot with its surrounding beautiful countryside still captures the imagination.

The Undershaw Preservation Trust seeks support to help protect and preserve this historic building.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892)

Grayshott Spa

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, FRS was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria’s reign and remains one of the most popular poets in the English language.

Towards Headley Down is the health farm Grayshott Spa. This building, known as Grayshott Hall, is on the site of a small farm which Alfred Tennyson and his family rented in 1867 while he had Aldworth built nearby in Haslemere.

In the early 1900’s ownership changed several times. In 1965 the house was converted into a Health & Fitness retreat. In 2005 Grayshott Hall was purchased by Simon Lowe and an extensive refurbishment programme undertaken Grayshott Spa.

Colin Firth (1960)

Grayshott is noted as the birthplace of internationally-famous actor Colin Firth, best known for his appearances in films such as Bridget Jones’s Diary, Mamma Mia!, A Single Man and The King’s Speech.


Travellers such as Samuel Pepys in 1661 crossed Hindhead Commons and others, as the historian John Aubrey in 1680 and William Cobbett in 1822.

In 1856 some 7,00-8,000 acres of Hindhead and surrounding commonland were enclosed and much of this land was sold to private persons, the money so accruing being used to make roads across the commons.

By 1878 Hindhead was considered a valuable health resort, to which people came for health and peace, poets, painters, musicians, wealthy business and professional people.

In the early days of the nineteenth century 24 coaches ran daily over Hindhead between Portsmouth and London.

In 1906 the manorial rights of 750 acres of the common land on Hindhead, including the famous Gibbet Hill, the Devils Punchbowl and the existing A3 road were offered for sale. They were bought by public subscription and vested in the National Trust, thus permanently secured for the public.  From a recent National Trust leaflet, they describe Hindhead Commons as:-

Hindhead Commons are dominated by a high sandstone ridge and are bisected by the main London-Portsmouth road (A3).  This ancient highway was, until this century, desolate and dangerous, renowned for highwaymen and footpads.  A monument and cross near the highest point (865ft) commemorate the barbaric murder of an unknown sailor.

Gibbet Hill commands extensive views over the North and South Downs and the Sussex Weald.  On the west of the hill lies the great valley known as the Devil’s Punchbowl.  This natural basin, formed by the erosive action of spring water through thousands of years, was the home of the “broom squires” or “squarers” who at one time eked out a meagre existence making brooms from heather and birch.

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