Gateway to the Classics: The Counties of England by Charlotte Mason
The Counties of England by  Charlotte Mason



"The Surrey side" does not mean the most pleasant part of London by any means. Of course, the Surrey side of the Thames is meant; and a very crowded, busy, and poor part of great London town is that bit of Surrey, most of which lies within the north bend of the river—that is, the boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth. This huge London has a way of stretching out towards the villages and towns around it, and, by degrees, taking them into itself. Thus, Lambeth and Southwark and various other places are now altogether in London, and have nothing but their names to show that they were once villages at some distance from the great city.

It is rather disappointing to enter London for the first time by the London, Brighton, and South Coast Bailway. Long before you get to London Bridge somebody says, "We are in London now"; and you look out and see nothing but rows and rows of mean-looking houses with red-tiled roofs. By-and-by you are busy spelling out the names on the factories; and you find out where matches, and blacking, and wire blinds, and a hundred other things are made. You learn, too, how the people who live in that forest of red-topped houses get their livings.

The glory of Lambeth is the Palace, a grand old building on the bank of the Thames, which has belonged to the Primates of England for seven centuries. St. Thomas's Hospital is the most imposing building on this south side of the river. It is a large new hospital, clean and airy within, and handsome without, where everything is arranged in the most perfect way for the comfort of the sick.

St. Thomas's is in Lambeth; Southwark, which also lies along the river on the side nearest Kent, has, too, its great hospitals, Guy's, and Bethlehem, or Bedlam as it is called, the hospital for mad people.

South of Lambeth, and beyond the endless market gardens where green vegetables for London are raised, we come to a pretty country, with high breezy commons here and there, and clumps of trees, and, among the trees, the handsome houses of rich London merchants. Streatham, a pleasant village at the foot of a furzy common, which is surrounded by houses of gentlefolk buried among trees, is one of the prettiest of these places.

Norwood, Upper and Lower, with roads bordered* with villas, also hidden among trees, is another pleasant suburb.

Near Norwood is the Crystal Palace, a great structure of glass such as might have come out of a fairy tale; and, what with fireworks and fountains, and painted savages lurking about in strange places, and music, pictures, and every kind of delightful show, it is indeed a fairy palace, and we are rather sorry for boys and girls who have never been there. These suburbs  of London, the half-country places about the town, reach south as far as Croydon, which is a rather busy, crowded town, the largest in Surrey after the London boroughs. Near it is Addington, where the Archbishop of Canterbury usually lives.


The Downs

The North Downs enter Surrey from Hants by the old town of Farnham. First comes a long, straight, narrow ridge called, because it is so straight, the Hog's Back. Then there is a break in the hills, through which the " chalky Wey" passes on its way to join the Thames at Wey-bridge. In this opening lies the pleasant old town of Guildford, with its ruined castle, the county town of Surrey. East of Guildford, quite close to the town, the line of Downs begins again, spreading wider and wider towards the north. When the hills reach Dorking, they part again to make way for the little Mole, another tributary of the Thames.

Dorking, all among hills and trees, lies in the prettiest part of the Down country, and, on the other side of the river, the Downs begin again with Box Hill. This is a delightful hill, covered with groves of dark-green boxwood, from which the winding Mole, and Dorking, and many a pleasant village may be seen; the London holiday-makers know it well.

From Box Hill, the line of Downs still continues eastward until it gets within the Kent border. A line it can hardly be called now, for the rolling Downs spread to a width of eight or ten miles, past Epsom, on whose breezy downs horse races are held, even as far north as Croydon. This part of Surrey is very pretty; there are trees in the dips, and the hills are generally well covered with trees, from amongst which peep out the handsome houses of the rich people of London. There is hardly a prettier bit of railway line in England than that between Leatherhead and Dorking.

The Chalk Downs are not the only hills in Surrey; south of these is a long line of high commons, sometimes rising into hills, like Leith Hill, to the south-west of Dorking, the highest in the county. These commons are generally bare and dreary enough,—broad wastes, covered with furze and heath. Godalming, where is the Charterhouse School, is the chief town in this part of the county.

Below the commons begins the pleasant woody Sussex Weald, which lies between these North Downs and the South Downs of Sussex.


The "Surrey Bank"

We can only speak of a few of the interesting places on the Surrey bank of the Thames. Going up the river, there is Kew, with its delightful Botanical Gardens. Richmond is a pretty and pleasant town at the foot of, and stretching up the slope of Richmond Hill, whereon is a Park and a Terrace. From this terrace you look down upon the Thames, as

"Soft and slow,

It wanders through the vale below."

Richmond has the remains of the old Sheen Palace, in which Queen Elizabeth died. Sheen was the old name of the town; it received its present name from Henry VII., who was Duke of Richmond in Yorkshire.

Higher up the river is the true Kings' town, Kingston, where, standing in an open space railed in, is a famous stone, upon which seven of the Saxon kings were crowned; for Kingston was a royal town in Saxon days. "A quaint and pleasant old town it is still—the old part that is—with in and out streets, and queer corners, and houses meeting over narrow alleys.

One other place we must speak of. On the bank of the Thames, close by the Berkshire border, there is to this day a marshy flat called Runny-mead  (or meadow). In the days of King John, here lay the great barons of England, while on the opposite bank the king and his people were encamped. And king and barons met on an island in the river, which thus lay between, the two camps, to discuss the Great Charter. On this spot the barons compelled the king to sign that charter which has done so much to make the English a free and great nation.

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