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LAWNSMEAD The twenty-three houses and a reading room were built in 1872 for Edwin Ellis who owned Summersbury Tannery (sometimes called Gosden Tannery) between Wonersh and Bramley (which is why there is a rather large letter ‘E’ on the Reading Room). They were designed by Henry Peak and built by John Mitchell of Godalming. Ellis was a powerful man who had started work at the tannery when he was fifteen becoming sole proprietor by the age of thirty. The firm was well known for producing sole leather and it was said the British Army marched on Shalford leather. During WW1 the British Army took the firm’s whole output and the skilled tannery workers were exempted from military service. The houses were built primarily for the tannery workers at a cost of £3404. This was for all twenty-three houses. Ellis’s own house, Summersbury House in Shalford, was also designed by Henry Peak and cost £6500 to build. By the time of the 1891 census, 132 people were recorded as living in Lawnsmead with occupations including gunpowder maker, stone mason, tanner, tanner’s labourer, silk weaver, agricultural labourer, printer, bricklayer, plasterer, game keeper, painter and railway signalman. ALL MOD CONS Not really, the facilities in the houses were rather basic - no running water, no toilets. There was one stand pipe for water and night soil was lodged in small recesses for collection. Despite this the houses were considered to be very desirable and were soon occupied. A case of diphtheria at No. 7 Lawnsmead in 1913 was instrumental in the connection of the houses to the sewers and to a better water supply. Today the houses are still desirable and do now have considerably improved facilities. A Lawnsmead resident, Minnie Ireland (nee Gray) remembered when much indignation was aroused when Mrs Cook of Barnett Hill suggested that a row of trees might be planted on the common at the front of the Lawnsmead gardens, to screen them from the road and from the sight of the passers-by. Mrs Ireland’s mother, Mary Gray, was specially indignant at this and led the attack at a parish meeting. Reverend Algernon Brown was sympathetic to the claim that ‘no-one had the right to cut off God’s sunlight from the cottages’ and the matter was dropped (and presumably picked up again at a later date judging by the trees there now). The tannery closed around 1933, became an ice cream factory until 1939, then a uniform factory during WW2 and later a light engineering factory.
West Surrey Times 23 March 1872
Maidstone Journal & Kentish Advertiser 4 December 1871