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The Andrews Pages Picture Gallery : Godalming, Surrey
A selection of photographs and postcards of a Surrey country town
View from Holloway Hill, Godalming, 1895
view of Godalming

Godalming is in the valley of the River Wey and there are hills on either side. This view is looking northwards across the valley and Charterhouse School can be seen slightly left of centre at the top of the opposite hill. Some of its boarding houses, later demolished, stretch along the hilltop towards the water tower, which is on the skyline on the right. Peperharow Road runs along the foot of the hill.

The very large structure with the tall chimney on its right (left, slightly below centre) was the Oak Bark Tannery, an extensive leather dressing factory belonging to Messrs, Rea, Son and Fisher which tanned "large hides, bullock, stag and sheep" with the bark used in the process "brought from Sussex in horse drawn vehicles"[1] before the First World War. The distinctive buildings of Godalming Station are just behind the tannery and the London - Portsmouth line bisects the picture, crossing the Lammas Lands on an embankment on the far right and reappearing from just behind the station on the left on its way to the south coast. The long narrow three storey Allen and Solly's Mill is on the opposite side of Mill Lane, just down from the station; at this time it was part of the tannery. It is all that remains of the tannery today.

Enlargement, showing the large building of the Oak Bark Tannery.
Allen and Solly's Mill can be seen on the left of this enlargement.
Godalming's "new" station, with its steep swiss-style rooves, is also to the left of the tannery, but behind it.

Sadly for the industry, a devastating fire broke out on the tannery's premises early in the morning of 7th March 1905[2]. It was reported that the large factory was completely gutted, with the machinery and stock destroyed, although it was the five storey building that was burned down with the other buildings surviving. Unfortunately, about an hour after the fire began the local steam fire engine would not work properly so Godalming's Fire Brigade had to work with the manual engine and it was only then that Guildford's Fire Brigade was called to provide additional assistance[3]. The two Fire Brigades fought the blaze for around three hours and several firemen had narrow escapes when one of the building's large walls collapsed. The damage was estimated to be about £20,000. Holloway Hill residents would have had a grandstand view of the conflagration but the fire would have meant that men would have had no work.

On 20 February 1911 there was a second, even worse, fire at the site with damage estimated at between £30,000 and £40,000. It was said to have originated in the boiler-house and the bark mill and tannery, both three-storey buildings, were gutted[4]. Harold Pitt[5], who would have been around eleven years old at the time, later recalled that "the flames could be seen from the bedroom windows of Wolseley Road, Farncombe"[1], where he lived with his family. The tannery continued to operate from the Mill Lane premises afterwards, but Harold Pitt commented that it never really recovered. It was taken over during World War Two[1].

Also see The Mint and Mill Lane

The scene immediately below where the photographer was standing is the bottom of Holloway Hill, at the point where it meets Ockford Road. It looks very different today.

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Mill Lane, Fire at Rea and Fisher's Oak Bark Tannery 1905

From New Way (2), 1907

Tannery employees,
about 1910

houses andshops

Several buildings around this junction have not survived to the present day in Godalming, as the second enlargement (above) shows. When Flambard Way, the inner relief road, was built in the 1980s they were in its path. However, as they were found to have been constructed with very old timber frames they were taken down, conserved and then moved to the Weald and Downland Living Museum in Sussex (Singleton) where they were re-erected[6]. The new road and a modern office building cover a good part of where they were.

What the enlargement does show is a small gap in the pavement on Holloway Hill. It indicated the entrance to a former Smithy; the smithy's buildings can be seen above.

One thing that remains today is the lane running behind the gardens of properties on Croft Road. It is seen here with hedging on either side. By the early 1960s, when it was finally surfaced following a number of collisions with fences and gates because of the potholes, there was just a privet hedge on the north side. The lane then went to Jaeger's factory[6].

"Godalming, from Holloway Hill". Frith's Series, no number. Posted on 18 May 1904 in Leytonstone and sent to Mrs. Clarke of 90 High Street, possibly from a son or daughter. Another version of this card has been located and the image is No.36144, dating from 1895. The page title has been amended accordingly.
Postcard and enlargements in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] "Memories of Farncombe and Godalming" (1981), The Godalming Trust, ed. David Coombs. Principal written contributions by Harold Pitt and Raymond Martin.

[2] "Edinburgh Evening News", 7 March 1905.

[3] "Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser", 5 April 1905. The Fire Brigade Committee of the Town Council later dismissed the Brigade's engineer, following an investigation into the fire. It resulted in the entire Fire Brigade resigning.

[4] "Dundee Evening Telegraph" and "Portsmouth Evening News", 20 February 1911.

[5] Both the 1901 and the 1911 census returns show the Pitt family living at 3 Wolseley Road, Farncombe. Harold would only have been five when the 1905 occurred, so it is more likely that he was describing the 1911 fire in "Memories ...".

[6] With grateful thanks to Ron Mayers for his memories of his time living on Croft Road. His mother use to ask him to fill in the potholes in the lane behind their family home with the ash and clinker from their kitchen boiler. Potholes can still cause problems, but as many homes no longer have that kind of boiler people are less likely to rush out and fill them these days.