Heritage Open Days - Rye Meadows Open from 10am to 4pm, 9th to 18th September

Lower Mole Countryside Management Project - Hedgerow Survey

Area undertaken by J.P. Willis.

Ashtead Woods Road Fields Or Rye Meadows, Ashtead

Location: The area under review lies to the south of Ashtead Common and its grid reference centre is 173589. A small watercourse called The Rye flows north-east to south-west through the fields and almost all the surface water from Ashtead village flows into it. Except for the alluvium deposit near The Rye the soil is entirely London clay. From Barnett Wood Lane to about 100 metres from The Rye the land slopes down gently and on old maps that part of Ashtead was known as The Great Marsh. Beyond The Rye the land rises more steeply to the woodland region of Ashtead Common. Most of the hedges and their associated ditches to the north and to the south of The Rye are fairly straight and evenly spaced suggesting planned drainage schemes although there are also some running laterally roughly along the line of The Rye flood plain.

History: Almost certainly the higher lying land would have been at onetime heavily wooded as part of the waste of the Manor of Ashtead and might have been enclosed between the years 1200 and 1400 AD. The Ashtead Court Roll of 1381 refers to Thomesottesfeld, a field name in area which has survived to modern times as Tomlett's Field. A later Court Roll of 1483 makes mention of the clearance and conversion into pasture of the marshland. The Rye was originally a shallow stream and to the west of area it was also a meandering one. Sometime in the 19th century it was straightened in places and in the mid—twentieth century it was dredged to a greater depth. For several centuries the fields were part of the farmland owned by the Howard family of Ashtead Park but in the year 1879 the Howard Estate was sold by auction. Since then ownership of the fields has changed several times. Around the year 1900 a road now known as Ashtead Woods Road was laid down and several large houses were built on the higher ground adjacent to Ashtead Common. Some years later land on the former marshland was developed for smaller houses. In accordance with mid-century legislation the remaining fields were scheduled as art of the Metropolitan Green Belt.

Maps: We are fortunate to have for reference the following large scale maps with their associated terriers: The John Lawrence Map of 1638; the James Wyburd Map of 1802 and the Ordnance Survey Map of 1866. We also have of course up to date Ordnance Survey maps.
The fields are sometimes referred to as The Ashtead Woods Road Fields hut a more attractive title might he The Ashtead Rye Meadows. Each field is described separately and the oldest hedges are dealt with first.

Middle Meadow: This field now lies on the inside of the Ashtead Woods Road elbow. The 1638 map shows the south-east and south-west boundaries much as they are today but the field extended more to the north-east and the north-west boundaries on the far side of the present road. The area was calculated to be exactly 5 acres. (2.023ha). By 1802 the north-east boundary had been set in its present position and the new area was given as 4.22 acres (1.707ha). It was described in the terrier as meadow. The 1866 Ordnance Survey and the 1879 Howard Sale catalogue gave the area as 4.610 acres (1.866 ha). It was still used as pasture and it had acquired the name of Middle Meadow. In recent decades it seems to have been used for grazing. Some of the poplar trees near the hedges have been severely damaged probably by the gales of 1987 and 1900. See Hedge Survey Sheets JW1 and JW2.

Seamers Field: This field now lies between Ashtead woods Road on the north-west and Preston Grove on the south-east with public foot FP24 just inside the north-eastern boundary. The Ashtead manor Court Roll of 1391 makes reference to a Robert Semore so it seems likely that he was a copyholder of land at that time and perhaps this field was in existence by that date. In 1409 there is a mention of Walterus Seymour and by 1572 "Augustine Otewaye held freely a tenement called Semers."The 1638 map shows Seamers field as extending from Ashtead Common on the north-west almost to the position of the present railway line on the south-east, a stretch of about 700 metres, and "contayning" 18.54 acres (7.503ha). By 1802 this long narrow field had been divided into four by laterally running hedges, possibly lychets. The name Seamers had disappeared and the two centre sections (divided by hedge JW5) were referred to by their acreage, "Six Acres" and "Three Acres" although more accurately they were 5.61 acres (2.673ha) - and 2.80 acres (1.133ha). The larger field was arable and the smaller one near The Rye was not surprisingly pasture. A the time of Howard Sale in 1879 both sections were as before in usage and roughly the same size, 6.797 acres (2.75ha) and 2.910 acres (1.178ha) but the one near The Rye had acquired the name "Short Rye". 

At times during the past 40 years the fields have been used for grazing cattle, horses and sheep. Although these fields were part of Metropolitan Green Belt permission was granted - for the buildin3 of a farmhouse, "Linksway", to the north. When the owner sold Seamers Field c.1960 he retained one acre of land as a private garden. See Survey Sheets JW3, JW4 and JW5.There are some interesting features along these three hedgerows and the following additional notes point these out.

Hedge JW3 :Viewing the boundary from the south-western side it can be seen that the hedge on the far side of the ditch is fuller and denser than that on the near side. Generally the former is set close to the ditch but for some 60 metres it intrudes further into the field with a two metre corridor between it and the ditch which must have made a convenient livestock shelter during hot or inclement weather. Moving from the datum at Ashtead Woods Road the interesting features are:

  • At 6 and 8 metres: Two coppiced ash trees on the far side. Each stool has thrown up two strong shoots to a considerable height.
  • At 12 metres: The first of five mature oaks on the near side.
  • Between 65 and 85 metres: The dense blackthorn on near side intrudes about 3 metres into the field.
  • 90 metres: The livestock shelter on far side starts.
  • At 127 metres: A new lateral fence has been erected on the near side
  • At 153 metres : The livestock shelter ends and a new plantation of conifers starts. 

This continues to the junction with the lateral ditch and hedge JW5 at 173 metres. Until c.1975 at least five sturdy elms grew here but they were felled after the epidemic of Dutch elm disease at that time and the conifers were planted soon after. 

On either side of the gate at 209 to 213 metres the hedge on the far side intrudes considerably into the field. In this thicket can be seen a particularly old hawthorn tree and between this point and The Rye at 243 metres there are two fallen elms which were blown over by gales when in a weakened state. There are also more elm stumps, remnants of the trees felled c1992. These had been killed by Dutch elm disease but were also considered a hazard to the adjacent power lines. As shown on the sketch map the hedge and ditch continue through residential property but are available for a further surveying exercise.

Hedge JW4:
In this case viewing the boundary from the south-western side it can be seen that the bank and main full hedge are on the near side of the ditch while for most of its length the growth on the far side is thin and narrow. Much of the main hedge is some three metres across and is set about two metres from the edge of the ditch affording a handy shelter for grazing livestock on this side of the field. In this corridor are a number of mature oak trees and several interesting coppice stools. The ditch is deeper than normal and its sides in places are precipitous.
Starting from datum at the stile by Ashtead Woods Road and moving down public footpath FP24 there are a number of interesting features :
For the first 15 metres there is no hedgerow on either side of the ditch but on the near side at 6 metres is a single hawthorn and at 11 metres the first of a number of oak coppice stools (C1). A plan of this is enclosed. Some of its roots reach out to join those of a mature oak tree 2 metre away. On the far side weeds grow in some profusion and near the electrical terminal equipment at 25 metres there is an outcrop of wild flowers. At the date of writing these have not been identified but perhaps they are woodland indicator species as the adjacent land in 1638 was a coppice. The full hedge on the near side starts at 15 metres and continues to 74 metres. From 30 metres on the far side most of the specimens are rooted close to the edge of the ditch and some which show on that side are rooted on the near side.

59 metres marks the position of the bottom fence of the "Linksway" property. There are more coppice stools at 85 metres (C2), 92 metres (C3), 98 Metres (C4) and 116 metres (C5). Plans of C2 and C5 are enclosed. There is also an interesting coppiced field maple at 167 metres. Between the junction with the lateral ditch and hedge at 140metres and The Rye there is no hedge on the far side. From the lateral hedge to 170 metres there is no hedge on the near side but from there to The Rye it starts again about two metres thick and close to the ditch. Beyond The Rye the hedge continues on both sides almost to Preston Grove at 260 metres. The original line of this hedgerow can he traced right rough to Barnett Wood Lane.

Hedge JW5: This hedge runs laterally between JW3 on the south-west and FP24 on the north-east. It was planted sometime between 1638 and 1802. Until 1975/6 it was dominated by a number of tall elm trees but after the epidemic of Dutch elm disease at that time they were felled and thereafter a stronger hedgerow grew up. A few saplings were planted at the north-east end but these suffered from deer fraying and stripping. Two sycamore saplings survive at 103 metres and 110 metres.

Starting from datum at JW3 and looking to the north-west it can be seen that the hedge is gappy for about 10 metres. Thereafter it is continuous on the near side until about 85 metres. The concrete base for a demolished livestock shelter starts here and extends to the 100 metre mark. The ditch ends here and starts again at 113 metres. On the far side there is a fallen field maple at 11 metres and elm stumps at 13 metres, 15 metres, 41 metres, 44 metres and elsewhere. The hedge intrudes into the field between 20 metres and 50 metres and is gappy between 55 metres and 70 metres.

General Note: For convenience Hedges JW2, JW3, JU4 and JF5 and their associated ditches are shown as straight on the sketch maps.


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