Works by Percy Robertson
Click here to view a larger image. Dorking

Truth is said to be stranger than fiction, and on the same principle, prose may be no less romantic than poetry. The breed of fowl, prosaic enough, with which we associate the name of Dorking, carries us back, if we may believe the antiquaries, to the Roman settlement of Britain, while the name of Dorking sounds sweeter when interpreted as the Valley of Springs.

For Dorking was a market town on the way from London to Arundel : traversed in later Roman times by a regular road. Its importance as a posting station is confirmed by the large number of excellent hostelries for which it was long famous, and from the earliest times the streams that join at Dorking have been used to drive watermills. Four are recorded in Domesday Book ; three belonging to the king.

The London road is to be seen in the accompanying etching, but not the river Mole. This lies too close under Boxhill, as it runs northwards to force its way through the line of the Downs. But on the opposite side of the valley, beyond the cluster of roofs and the tall spire, we see the long crest of Leith Hill, the highest hill in the county, which falls but seven feet short of the thousand. From its summit a dozen counties are visible. To the south the sea can be descried through Beeding Gap ; north-west, the high ground near Nettlebed in Oxfordshire ; north-east, the vague form of the great city, backed by the low heights of Hampstead and Highgate.

The tower on the south end of its crest, which is so conspicuous an object, was built in 1766 by one Richard Hull. It serves, as he desired, as a landmark even at sea.

The manor was first granted by the Conqueror to his daughter, wife of the Earl of Warrenne and Surrey. From her descendants it passed by the female line to the Earls of Arundel, and finally to the Howards, who, with various vicissitudes, have held it since the fifteenth century. One of the Dukes of Norfolk is buried here ; another member of the family built the Deepdene mansion hard by, in a cleft of the Holmwood hill ; and Effingham, a few miles to the north, recalls another historic branch of the Howards.

A couple of miles west of Dorking, 400 feet up on the hillside, is a still more famous house, Wotton, the home of the Evelyns. One can well imagine how quiet and remote a spot it was at the outbreak of the Great Civil Way, when the writer of the Sylva and the famous Diary tells us -

"Resolving to possess myselfe in some quiet if it might be, in a time of so great jealousy, I built, by my brother's permission, a study, made a fish-pond, an island, and some other solitudes and retirements, at Wotton ; which gave the first occasion of improving them to those water-works and gardens which afterwards succeeded them."

The old church with its monuments of many Evelyns, the historic house, the gardens that have been gardens for two and a half centuries, these all conspire to make one of those still fresh and living pieces of antiquity, well worth a special pilgrimage, that hallow the Old Country in the eyes of the younger nations that have a future, but no past.

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