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Opinion: Come Friendly Hurricane And Blow Over Pewley Down

Published on: 12 Aug, 2013
Updated on: 12 Aug, 2013

By David Rose

Once you could stand on Guildford’s beauty spot Pewley Down and (visibility permitting) catch a glimpse of many distant hills and other landmark features. But not now, since so many of the trees there have grown so tall.

Pewley Down and the stone plinth and plaque.

Pewley Down and the stone plinth and plaque. As much as this is a beautiful open space and well looked after by local conservation volunteers in conjunction with the borough council, it must also be noted that when I was there last week taking these photos the amount of dog mess was disgusting. Shame on those who walk their dogs on Pewley Down and can’t be bothered to clear up their pets’ poo. Especially as it’s school holidays at the moment with many families and their young children running free on the downs.

In the late 1960s I was a small boy and I have vivid memories of that time of walking with my mum and dad over Pewley Down and stopping at the stone plinth with its circular brass plaque. We’d look at the places marked on it and the lines pointing to their direction and the distance they were away in miles. Features such as Chobham Ridges, Foxhills, Blackdown, Charterhouse, and so on, could easily be picked out on the horizon. It certainly gave me a sense of where I was and what lie a few miles beyond Guildford.

Even Crystal Palace was featured, although it had long burnt down by that time!

The plinth commemorates the gift by the Friary Brewery to Guildford in 1920 in 'thankfulness for the end of the Great War'.

The plinth commemorates the gift by the Friary Brewery to Guildford in 1920 of Pewley Down in ‘thankfulness for the conclusion of the Great War’.

The original plinth and plaque were replaced a few years ago by a more modern design. The plaque contains the same features as the original. And it continues to commemorates the gift by Guildford’s Friary Brewery in 1920 of Pewley Down, to be an open space for all, in ‘thankfulness of the conclusion of the Great War’.

The then proprietor of the brewery, Charles Hoskins Master, bought Pewley Down as a site near the town centre for people to enjoy for ever.

The circular plaque marking places 'in view'.

The circular plaque marking places ‘in view’.

I am sure he valued the views to distant hills that at the time were certainly a feature of Pewley Down. And when the aforementioned Crystal Palace at Sydenham Hill in south London burnt to the ground on the night of November 30, 1936, Guildford people stood on Pewley Down and watched the spectacle.

Four years later, when the Blitz was raging, you could also stand there and see the glow in the night sky as London burned.

You could once see the distant hills of Blackdown  near Haslemere from here.

You could once see the distant hills of Blackdown near Haslemere from here.

The importance of trees to our ecology and their beauty goes without saying. Surrey is reckoned to be the most wooded county in the UK, but aren’t there just too many of them in some places? Or perhaps their height should be managed a bit more?

The site of the Crystal Place and Sydenham Hill? No, I don't think so!

A view to the site of the Crystal Place and Sydenham Hill? No, I don’t think so!

I know full well that lopping and chopping trees is an expensive and labour-intensive business and something that landowners and local authorities prefer to put on the ‘back burner’ so to speak, unless necessary for safety reasons and so on.

I still love Pewley Down and so does my daughter. I just wish the views from there could be made a little clearer. For goodness sake, you can hardly see St Martha’s Church these days!

The trees surrounding St Martha's Church have grown in so much as you can't see it now.

The trees surrounding St Martha’s Church have grown so much as you can’t really see it now.

What has become known as the Great Storm of October 16, 1987, wreaked havoc and caused an enormous amount of damage across southern England. But the after effects were plain to see – nature had been at work bringing down old, diseased and rotten trees. And when vistas were opened up quite naturally in the countryside for the first time in many years people were heard to exclaim things like: “Isn’t this view wonderful,” and “I never knew you could see that far,” and so on.

So, in adapting a little bit of Sir John Betjeman’s ‘friendly bombs on Slough’ poem, I wonder whether it’s time for a ‘friendly hurricane’ to come and to blow down some of the trees on Pewley Down?

What do you think? Are there too many trees spoiling beautiful views hereabouts? Or should they be allowed to grow naturally and unchecked in this part of Surrey? Please leave a comment in the box below.

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Responses to Opinion: Come Friendly Hurricane And Blow Over Pewley Down

  1. Julian Lyon Reply

    August 12, 2013 at 5:15 am

    I very much remember walking and cycling to and from school in Pewley Hill in the 1960s across the downs. The trees were fairly regularly managed between the downs and the northern views.

    It is alarming to note that the council’s evidence base for its Local Plan includes (sites E22 & E23) that land and its extension between White Lane and Merrow Downs for removal from the green belt.

    Perhaps it is worth remembering another Betjeman poem:

    Inexpensive Progress

    Encase your legs in nylons,
    Bestride your hills with pylons
    O age without a soul;
    Away with gentle willows
    And all the elmy billows
    That through your valleys roll.

    Let’s say goodbye to hedges
    And roads with grassy edges
    And winding country lanes;
    Let all things travel faster
    Where motor car is master
    Till only Speed remains.

    Destroy the ancient inn-signs
    But strew the roads with tin signs
    ‘Keep Left,’ ‘M4,’ ‘Keep Out!’
    Command, instruction, warning,
    Repetitive adorning
    The rockeried roundabout;

    For every raw obscenity
    Must have its small ‘amenity,’
    Its patch of shaven green,
    And hoardings look a wonder
    In banks of floribunda
    With floodlights in between.

    Leave no old village standing
    Which could provide a landing
    For aeroplanes to roar,
    But spare such cheap defacements
    As huts with shattered casements
    Unlived-in since the war.

    Let no provincial High Street
    Which might be your or my street
    Look as it used to do,
    But let the chain stores place here
    Their miles of black glass facia
    And traffic thunder through.

    And if there is some scenery,
    Some unpretentious greenery,
    Surviving anywhere,
    It does not need protecting
    For soon we’ll be erecting
    A power station there.

    When all our roads are lighted
    By concrete monsters sited
    Like gallows overhead,
    Bathed in the yellow vomit
    Each monster belches from it,
    We’ll know that we are dead.

    From “High and Low” (1966) & “Collected Poems”

    There are some parts of our countryside that have been deemed worthy of a designation of area of outstanding natural beauty and/or of area of great landscape value. These two sites are in such areas and form a substantial part of framing Guildford and making it the place we love.

    What a timely reminder of times and views from the past that we all should want to share with our children and grandchildren.

  2. Bernard Parke Reply

    August 12, 2013 at 5:54 am

    I have often wondered why such a plaque marking places in view has not been sited in the field on The Mount, which of course is a backdrop to the High street.

    From there it is possible to see the City of London and the Wembley Stadium arch, just to mention two features.

  3. Peter Bullen Reply

    August 12, 2013 at 10:18 am

    I agree with everything written above but would query how far we should interfere with natural growth? As a historian, surely David would not want to interfere with the generation and growth of trees and bushes in the hedgerow along the northern boundary of Pewley Downs, as counting the different species in a hedge over a certain distance is one of the best ways of calculating its age. Some go back hundreds of years like those along the old Green Road from the Mount westwards.

  4. Bernard Parke Reply

    August 12, 2013 at 11:22 am

    It would be rather nice if such a feature could be placed as a memorial to the late Cllr Richard Marks who did so much for the Friary & St Nicolas ward and for our town in general.

    [David Rose: we are drifting away from the main theme of my piece, namely unchecked tree growth. Looks like you have a nice project with a memorial / viewpoint sign on The Mount. Why not head up a committee that takes the project on, raising money by way of donations and grants for such a memorial. I can supply details of a expert maker of metal plaques – this was the firm we used for the memorial plaque to the crew of a US Army Airforce aircraft who died in a crash in Jacobs Well in 1944. The stone plinth and plaque can be seen on the corner of Clay Lane and Queenhythe Road.]

  5. Keith Chesterton Reply

    August 16, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    I agree, some selective pruning to reinstate views is desirable.

    This has been done in places in Surrey. The most thorough is at the top of Leith Hill, where the National Trust has cleared a number of trees from the top. The tower is now visible from many places in the County as well as improving the views from the hill. It restores the views seen in picture postcards of around 1900. Not so many years ago, the tower was virtually invisible until this work.

    A more local one is in the Chantries where the view through a “keyhole” in the trees of the Cathedral from the top of the Chantries is kept by Guildford pruning the trees that grow to spoil it. I have had visitors say how much they appreciate this view.

    Similarly, the clearing of scrubby trees from the top of St Catherine’s Hill has made the ruins on the top more visible from afar. Unfortunately, it took away the secluded views of countryside from the top of the hill and exposed all the housing around Pewley Hill instead. So we do need to be careful.

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