Things to do in Merstham, Surrey
Merstham is a North Downs village of ancient origin but modern attributes: It is more residential than commercial but is far from being a sleepy dormitory village. It is conveniently located in a gap of the North Downs on the London to Brighton route. Walkers know it from the North Downs (Pilgrims) Way. Veteran cars and cyclists know it as a convenient watering hole on their annual runs. Commuters enjoy its convenient connection to both London Bridge and Victoria stations. Lorry drivers recognize it from the road traffic reports as the point where the M25 intersects with the M23.
Despite this relatively recent spate of transport construction, there is still underground access to what remains of the original quarries: Merstham stone was used to construct medieval Westminster Abbey and Tudor Nonesuch Palace and the quarries were in use through to Victorian times, when they formed the ideal location for Alfred Nobel to first demonstrate his dynamite invention.
The village's main claim to fame is, however, that it was the terminus of the world's first publicly-owned railway, The Surrey Iron Railway, which operated from 1804 until replaced in 1841 by the steam-engine load-bearing railway of the modern London to Brighton line. You can see a section of the original plateway track opposite The Feathers pub in the High Street, and Weighbridge Cottage on London Road North is the oldest surviving railway building in the country.
In terms of architecture, the most picturesque part of the village is "Quality Street" named after J.M. Barrie's same-named play, the principal actor and actress of which lived in the road at the time. The play was such a success through the Edwardian period that it was used to brand the Quality Street assorted sweets collection that first came out in the 1930s with the same couple in their soldier and sweetheart roles on the tin.
From its original High street hub, the village expanded southwards in the first half of the 20th Century and then dramatically doubled in size when the London County Council established a significant housing development on it's eastern side in the early 1950s. Consequently it has three different areas, each with its own church, its own pub and its own row of shops. It supports a number of primary schools, a library, Village Hall and a thriving set of football pitches. Proximity to Redhill and Reigate provides a wider choice of restaurants, supermarkets and secondary schools of a high standard.
Although the village remains dissected by the railways and the motorways, the residual value of the Green Belt provisions, as well as the more recently established local Conservation Areas, have ensured that the village retains its semi-rural character within this section of the Surrey Hills.
There are enviable vistas from its cricket pitch to the west, Mercer's Lake to the south, Oakley Youth Centre to the east and, of course, there are fine views from the Pilgrims'/North Downs Way southwards over the Greensands Ridge to the South Downs on the horizon. Equally, from the crest of Harps Oak Lane one can look northwards clear across to the tower blocks of Croydon and Canary Wharf.
Merstham village incorporates old and new, poor and wealthy, settled and transient. It has been home for a while to such as Sir David Lean, the film director, Sir Dick White, the head of MI5 in the cold war years, Lord Benson and Edwina Currie. Change and diversity are its constant themes.
Description by Alex B de M Hunter
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