Farn­ham dull? No, this is Sur­rey with fringe ben­e­fits on top

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Helpathand -

hen I an­swered my mo­bile phone and told my friend where I was, he said: “Farn­ham? That’s a bor­ing lit­tle town in Sur­rey, isn’t it?”

Well, up to a point. It is in Sur­rey and, as the taxidriver said as he drove me along the by­pass: “There isn’t much to do here, ex­cept count the cars.”

But, ar­chi­tec­turally, it is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. The town grew up around the Bishop of Winch­ester’s palace, the land hav­ing been given to the Church in the 7th cen­tury. Much of its char­ac­ter, how­ever, re­flects the min­is­tra­tions of Harold Falkner, an Arts and Crafts ar­chi­tect who loved brick. There are all sorts of brick flour­ishes here: such as brick quoins and Baroque car­touches sur­round­ing tablets, on which let­ter­ing has been carved on to brick. Some of it is gen­uinely Queen Anne. Lovely.

I was in Farn­ham to visit the mu­seum that oc­cu­pies an early Ge­or­gian town­house in West Street. Falkner is one sub­ject of in­ter­est: the mu­seum has his hat, which looks as though it may have been ac­ci­den­tally put through a wash­ing ma­chine. (He be­came some­thing of a lo­cal char­ac­ter in old age.)

An­other char­ac­ter was Ge­orge Sturt, one of the great chron­i­clers of the Ed­war­dian coun­try­side, nearly all of whose books are now, alas, out of print. The son of a wheel­wright, he trained to be­come a teacher but had to re­turn to the fam­ily busi­ness when his fa­ther died. He was deeply un­com­fort­able with it. It did, how­ever, give him the op­por­tu­nity to study the men toil­ing in the work­shops at close quar­ters. The skill with which a tree trunk was turned into a cart held an al­most mys­ti­cal fas­ci­na­tion for him.

He lived in Farn­ham to be­gin with, but later re­treated to Bourne.

Bourne is only just out­side the town and has now vir­tu­ally be­come joined to it, as part of a mini-conur­ba­tion. There are pad­docks, lilac blos­som, a pub called The Fox Inn and a Toy­ota garage. The sports cen­tre, shared by Farn­ham Rugby Club, shaped Jonny Wilkin­son.

But a cen­tury ago, Bourne re­ally was rural, with many in­hab­i­tants em­ployed in the hop fields (Farn­ham hops com­manded a pre­mium), as their fore­bears had been. Life could be grind­ingly hard. Yet, al­ready, the first inkling of a dif­fer­ent or­der had ap­peared. I re­treated to a ma­hogany ta­ble in the mu­seum’s lo­cal stud­ies li­brary to read Change in the Vil­lage, writ­ten un­der the pen name of Ge­orge Bourne.

“The labourer can hardly look from his door with­out see­ing up or down the val­ley some sign or other telling of the in­va­sion of a new peo­ple, un­sym­pa­thetic to his or­der.”

To­kens of so­cial dis­in­te­gra­tion in­cluded the lights of vil­las, im­ping­ing on the pri­mor­dial dark­ness of the night, the sounds of pi­ano-play­ing, “the af­fected ex­cite­ment of a ten­nis­party” and the “bray­ing” of mo­tor­cars.

Hope might have sur­vived in Wrec­cle­sham, an­other vil­lage that has now been swal­lowed up by what might by called Greater Farn­ham. There, in 1872, Ab­sa­lom Har­ris had founded a pot­tery which thrived, for a time, by mak­ing green glazed ware, in­spired by (and orig­i­nally copied from) El­iz­a­bethan ex­am­ples. I did not find the pot­tery — said to con­tinue, now mak­ing gar­den pots — but I no­ticed the Ce­ram­ics Cafe, per­haps an off­shoot.

Camp Hill is a 17th-cen­tury house that Ge­orge Sturt might have known. With six “spa­cious” bed­rooms and three re­cep­tion rooms, not to men­tion a pill box in the grounds, it is on the mar­ket for £1.3m (John D Wood, Farn­ham; 0845 330 0887). Sav­ills is of­fer­ing the mid19th cen­tury Hop Kiln, near Bourne Wood, for £1.25m (0845 815 1252). A good­look­ing Vic­to­rian ter­raced house is on the mar­ket with Tar­rant & Robert­son for £695,000 (0845 688 6070). I can’t help won­der­ing what Sturt would have made of th­ese prices. Even some­one with more up-to-date views than him would be struck by the bun­ga­low that Sav­ills has to of­fer on Mid­dle Av­enue. It is an ex­am­ple of cedar-shin­gle con­struc­tion from the 1950s, one up from a prefab at the time it was built but now sev­eral steps higher than that, to judge from the ask­ing price of £635,000. The es­tate agent’s de­scrip­tion of this “sin­gle­storey res­i­dence” is a mas­ter­piece of the genre.

On the way home, I no­ticed col­lec­tors from Shel­ter seek­ing do­na­tions in the town cen­tre, and some­one tried to sell me the Big Is­sue at the rail­way sta­tion. Per­haps Sturt’s world is not as dis­tant as one might think.

Clive Aslet is Ed­i­tor at Large of Coun­try Life.

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