Melissa Kite

The house names of Surrey tell a sad story

Behind ‘Keepers’ Copse’ and ‘Meadow View’ lies the ghost of rural south-east England

The house names of Surrey tell a sad story
‘I had to admit that the BB was probably right about the squirrels being suicidal.’ [Rickochet]
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If you want to understand Surrey, look at the house names. Keepers’ Copse, Meadow View, Weavers, Highfields…

What do all these names have in common? They describe something rural that used to be there before it was destroyed to make way for the house named after it.

Surrey is where London will one day join Guildford and Woking, making the outer banlieues of our capital city very nice indeed, but obviously destroying the countryside that makes Surrey nice in the process. So not all that nice, in fact.

For now, it amuses me to drive along the lanes of chintzy villages in prime commuter belt, grimacing at the names of the houses.

It is as if the ghost of rural south-east England is laughing from the slate plaques of small mansions, over-extended bungalows and mock Georgian flats, with their over-manicured gardens and grass verges mowed flat.

No doubt the people who first inhabited these homes were proud of their names. They felt no irony about living at Highfields, where there was now one less field, for they looked around themselves and saw lots of countryside left.

The inhabitants of Meadow View were unperturbed by living on the graveyard of a meadow, because they still looked out on a meadow.

As for the owners of Weavers, they took pride in their two knocked-together workers’ cottages, newly renovated, resplendent with poured concrete floors, a show Aga and bifold patio doors.

All these good people joined the local residents’ association and objected to any further development near them, of course. But once they were there, it was no use.

A few years later, the meadow that gave its name to Meadow View was bulldozed, despite vociferous objections from those who understandably wished to pull the ladder up now they had climbed to the top of the Surrey property heap, and a sweeping tarmac driveway led to a black and white mock Tudor affair called The Firs.

Quite a few firs had to be chopped down to make way for The Firs, as it happened, but as there were still firs to the right and left, the owners of that home felt no compunction about it. Until some years later, the firs they looked out on were chopped down to make way for a trio of luxury starter homes called The Beeches.

The nearby beech trees survived a good few years after the building of The Beeches, until they had to go to make way for a mock Georgian starter mansion, called Mallards.

There were mallards, obviously, in the lake behind the house, until the rear part of the garden was sold off for ‘an exciting new development’ of luxury apartments and for this to be erected the lake had to be filled in.

These apartments were named Keepers’ Copse, because the country estate that once owned the entire lane had a shoot, and in this wooded area the keeper used to live in a cottage, the remains of which is now a boiler room for the apartment block.

You get the idea. The house and road names of Surrey tell a sad story. Sometimes, they are just downright terrifying. The builder boyfriend and I once looked at a bungalow called Squirrels’ Leap, on a private road with those white picket fence gates at the entrance and a big sign saying ‘Residents’ Only’.

I rather liked it. But the BB reacted violently against it. ‘What is the matter with you?’ I snapped at him after we said goodbye to the young couple who had kindly shown us around.

‘Squirrels’ Leap?’ he growled. ‘The squirrels are leaping out of the trees committing suicide!’

And he never tired of saying that the best thing we ever did was not buy that house, while I felt it was keenly priced and a missed opportunity.

Some years later, we met a man who lived in that private road and he told us he loved it there because it was so well organised. Oh yes, there was a vibrant residents’ association and they had rules for everything. For example, he explained, if any resident wished to have guests visit, they must make arrangements for the extra cars to be parked elsewhere so none of the long sweeping driveways in the close were ever cluttered with more than two vehicles at any time.

‘When my parents visit we simply arrange to meet them at the train station where we park their car and put a ticket on it, then I drive them back to the house in my car. And then I just top up their parking every few hours all weekend!’

‘Now do you see?’ said the builder b, with a look of intense satisfaction. And I had to admit that he was probably right about the squirrels being suicidal.