At Christmas 2005, my son gave me a present of a very large tome entitled 'The Lore Of The Land' by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson, published by Penguin Books in 2005, ISBN 978-0-141-00711-3. For those who are interested in the subject, this is a magnificent collection of English legends of all sorts, set out county by county and very comprehensively described.
Needless to say when I turned to my home village of Tatsfield in East Surrey the study drew a blank. There was indeed a large space stretching from Buckland in Surrey eastwards to Otford in Kent where there seemed to be no stories to tell whatsoever. There were, of course, plenty of other gaps in the study but Tatsfield, as the main place of my upbringing, was my chief interest. I managed to put together a letter which I sent on to Westwood and Simpson setting out at least four legends which I certainly knew of and received a very friendly letter in response. Briefly, their reply thanked me for my contribution and promised that they would keep and file the information contained but my correspondence had been received too late for the main publication which had, of course, already been completed.
Such records, they said, were of extra value because researchers in the past had tended to avoid areas like the Kent/Surrey border because it was often assumed that any local legends would have been destroyed by the overwhelming effects of nearby Greater London. For those who don't know, Tatsfield is only about twenty miles from the centre of the city and lies just inside the M25 corridor.
What follows is a description of the four legends which I was able to provide. If anybody thinks they know of any more from the same area I would be delighted to add them to the list, although I and others in the village would probably want to check them out first to see if they can be confirmed by separate sources. Anyway, here are the four stories so far.
STORY ONE is another version of the Spanish Lady legend which is dealt with extensively in Westwood and Simpson's book, but the Tatsfield version seems to present a new slant. When I was a child in the village, there was a fine building called Tangland Castle. It was mostly an old traditional flint-walled house, already quite big, to which someone had added a folly in the form of a mock castle tower, and this stood at the front. This house was actually opposite my parents’ place so we knew it very well. It became fairly run-down in the 1970’s, no-one seemed to have any idea what to do with it and it was eventually bought up by a builder who hoped to do a renovation job but in the end proceeded to demolish it, replacing the plot with 4 modern houses. Sadly the building was not listed. The legend attached to this building basically serves to explain why the folly was built.
Apparently, a young man, who was the master of the house, was courting a “Spanish Lady”. She did not know his circumstances at home but insisted she would only marry someone who lived in an English castle. So he built the tower to accommodate her wishes. She duly arrived in England and they were married, probably in London, and then went on to their new home. When she saw the tower she realised that she had been duped, and was very angry. But then she recognised the effort he had put in to build the tower. She relented and they made a long and happy marriage. This house and a fragment of the tale are covered in a couple of local publications but before I move on, I wonder if the Spanish Lady story might have arrived in the village via the Leveson-Gowers (Lords of the Manor) from Sir Richard Levison mentioned in The Lore Of The Land?
STORY TWO. Another ghost story is mentioned in the Tatsfield Millennium History Book (published locally in 2000). This comes from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. I quote here from this Book, page 28, “As Guy Fawkes was arrested trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament his fellow conspirators fled, some it is thought to the Channel ports in order to find refuge in France.....Thomas Bates...... apparently set out on a lonely path from London, via Bromley and Biggin Hill and found himself flying by Tatsfield along Church Lane and down the hill below the church. The hoof beats supposedly reverberate down the centuries and can be heard at dusk along Church Lane on November 5th. Quite sober, well respected villagers have attested to this phenomenon and many avoid driving the route at that time of day.” I did once wait for an hour on that road myself in my teens, but I never heard anything. There is also a tale that Bates came into the village by the route described above (which is the back way!) and hid for a few days in a house on Avenue Road, which if true, means he could have avoided being seen in the village itself. Actually, I did write a short piece for the local Parish Magazine suggesting that the ghost was almost certainly much older than the time of Guy Fawkes and involved a far older 'traitor', Owen Lawgoch, the last of Tatsfield Welsh princes, who had joined the side of the French in the Hundred Years' War. This has been dealt with in more detail elsewhere on this web-site with the piece entitled 'A New Slant On An Old Story.'
STORY THREE. The lords of the manor for Tatsfield, together with Titsey, which is down the hill towards Oxted (all in Surrey), were originally the Greshams who took over from the Uvedales in 1638. By marriage the Greshams eventually became the Leveson-Gowers (pronounced Lewson-Gore) and that family died out with no heirs in my childhood. I quote again from the Tatsfield Millennium History Book – “Sir Thomas Gresham, who built the Royal Exchange in London, was the son of a poor woman in Norfolk who, while he was an infant, abandoned him in a field. By providence of God however, the chirping of a grasshopper attracted a boy to the spot where the child lay and his life by this means was preserved. Later Sir Thomas ....... chose a grasshopper for his crest. A weathervane in the figure of a grasshopper was fixed on the summit of the Royal Exchange tower” in the City of London. A grasshopper, for the same reason, also stands on top of the Tatsfield village sign. Although it would seem that this is a tale from East Anglia, we always heard it as if it was local to the Tatsfield area.
STORY FOUR. This last tale I read of in a booklet produced by Mr. Bertie Hammond who was head teacher of the village school during World War 2, and when I was a pupil. In 1928 he published “Tatsfield and its Surroundings”. I know there is a copy of this in Oxted Library, Surrey, because I personally made sure it was placed there. This booklet is also referred to in the Millennium History Book on page 84. The story I found relates to a wood in Titsey itself called Church Wood, even though there is no trace of a church there. Apparently at one time an attempt was made to build one, but every morning, when the builders arrived, they found all their previous day’s work undone and the stones, which had been placed carefully for the foundations, were broken and scattered in all directions. Several attempts were made to continue with the building but to no avail. In the end the whole project was abandoned. I’m afraid I cannot say how long ago this was supposed to happen. No-one was ever able to ascertain how the stones had managed to move in the night. For the moment this is all I have to say about the Legends of Tatsfield.
Mark Abraham,September 2009
The Lore of the Land: A Guide to Englands Legends by Jennifer Westwood and Jaqueline Simpson abd published by Penguin Books. You can purchase a copy of this excellent book on Amazon.co.uk
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