“Helstede”, “Elestede”, “Elestede”, “Elsted” and “Elstead” – the place has been called all these things, according to the changing fashion of the times, or, more likely, the eccentric spelling of medieval scribes, parish clerks and their like.
It is suggested that it comes from the old English “ellen-stede”, “place of the elder trees” although no forms with the “n” are known, and the earliest mention of the name at all is in the foundation charter of Waverley Abbey in 1128.
Before the coming of man, Elstead during the Ice Age would not have been covered by the ice sheet which lay over the northern part of Britain. This area was an arctic tundra wasteland, with no trees, and plant species such as Crowberry, Dwarf Birch and Jacobs Ladder now only found in high mountain areas of Britain. This information can be gleaned from analysis of the peat laid down between 10,500 and 6,000 years ago, in the Woolfords Lane area.
The loam of the Folkestone beds was, until the 1930’s, largely under cultivation, whereas the sandy beds generally supported barren heath and woodland. The barren areas around Cutmill, Pot Common and Mousehill were thus characteristic of the sandy beds.
Although the name is not of ancient origin, Elstead itself has been occupied by man since the earliest days. The chief traces of his presence are the earthworks at Charles Hill and Britt Hill, northeast of the village. The Charles Hill earthworks were excavated in the middle of the last century and the excavators noted an embankment like a boundary line, running in a northerly direction, with five round barrows inside. These were opened but, disappointingly, without result. They had apparently been disturbed by earlier unrecorded excavators.
At Britt, or Britty Hill, the Rev. Charles Kerry, indefatigable antiquarian and local historian, Curate of the neighbouring village of Puttenham, discovered, also in the middle of the last century, some neolithic flakes, three arrow heads, and a spear head and a celt. So early man left some of his tools behind him; he buried his dead, presumably in the barrows on Charles Hill, but, beyond this, it is difficult to form a very clear picture of him.
“Poor, nasty, brutish and short” is probably an apt description of life in neolithic times. It would have been a hunting, foraging existence, the sandy scrubland of the area has never been particularly rich or fertile. It was not without its contact with the wider world, however, or possibly without its uplifting moments.
The chalk ridge, known as the Hogs Back, was a trackway of great importance, giving access to the entire west of the country – travellers would be passing along it as they would along the raised road that ran southwards from Seale to Hindhead, and commemorated by such names as “The Ridge” at Seale and “Ridgeway Farm” near Thursley.
The place name “Peperharow” two miles north east of Elstead seems to derive from “hearg” or temple, thus “Pipers Temple”, and “Tuesley” and “Thursley” – “Thors Lea” in the area both have pagan religious significance. It is possible, of course, that it was precisely because communications were so good with easy access to major trackways, that the area became a religious centre.
A hoard of axes was found on Hankley Common in 1911, which contained a palstave and two socketed south eastern type axes, one plain and one with wing decorations and pellets in the face. Both show signs of bad casting, and were presumably not finished for use.
The verb “hele” (or “heel” or “heal”) still exists in dialect, and was in common use in England of the sixteenth century. The meaning is “to hide or conceal, or/to cover with a roof or thatch”. “Helstede” could therefore have once been “the hidden place” or the “secret place”, the centre of some religious mystery or the seat of an oracle.
The Rev. Charles Kerry, already referred to, thought that the name signified the stead, station or place, of Aella, probably the same Aella who founded the Kingdom of Sussex. This is obviously to a large extent speculation but Kerry did bring out two very interesting further points, in support of his idea.
There is another Elste(a)d, near Midhurst, which is even nearer Aella’s territory, and the eastern boundary line of the Saxon hundred of Farnham, which was part of the kingdom of Wessex. must have passed very near to, if not through, Elstead. Kerry sees it as quite natural, then, that the place marking the western limit of Aella’s conquest should have been named after him.
The neighbouring village of Shackleford seems to derive its name from the ford through the “shakel” – a pond or pool for surface drainage. Elstead probably formed part of the ancient parish of Farnham with its Chapelries, in all, 60 casati of land, we are told, which were granted by the Saxon King Cadwalla in 688, to the Bishops of Winchester. In 909 King Edgar of Wessex, gave the Bishops liberties over these lands and 10 casati more including the right to hold a hundred court, or local petty sessions as it might be described. This Charter is extremely important as it gives the first written record of the boundaries of Elstead, and Peperharow, although Elstead is not named as such.
“A erest act VII dican to Ottanforde, swa to Sumaeres Forda (Somerset Bridge) oouan to Ocanlea (Ockley Common) – that piece of boundary is the same to this day!
The village grew up near a ford across the River Wey, but on higher ground, above the flood plain. Elstead Green is 171 feet above sea level, and 50 feet above the river.
Elstead Village Green
Saxon Surrey or “Suthrige” – the land of the southern men, was an area without many great centres of population, although the presence of a mint at Guildford argues a settlement of some significance there. We can imagine scattered agricultural settlements, most of the evidence for which now appears in place names – Britty Hill could be “Beorhta’s slope or hillside”.
We have already mentioned the possible origin of “Elstead” as “Place of the elder trees”. Pudmore Farm could be “Puda’s more” or damp land. Paulshott Farm suggests an Old English Compound “pole-shed” or similar, from the Old English “pal” stake. Wychmoor Copse is possibly a compound of Old English “wice” – witch elm, and “mor” – marshy ground.
We have a picture, then, of a series of small settlements over the sparse heathland, interspersed with bog and damp marshy ground. “Fulbrook Farm” was in existence here in 1257. The name possibly comes from Foweles brok – fugol (a bird).
The River Wey had built up a rich but narrow alluvial river plain. At Elstead it was covered with meadows used for cattle grazing and when it flooded, between Elstead Bridge and Somerset Bridge the floods left deposits of silver white sand behind, six inches deep.
The boundaries of the parish have, of course, changed significantly over the years. It once extended as far as the Devil’s Punch Bowl at Hindhead, and in 1905 the boundaries were Seale and Puttenham on the north. Farnham and Frensham on the west, Peperharow and Thursley on the east. The greater part of the parish has always been heath and scrubland, with habitation centred around the village green.
The River Wey crossed the northern part of the parish, and various clay depressions in the sandstone have filled with water to form ponds and bogs on the heathland areas.
In 1933 the parish boundaries were revised, so that about a third of the southern part of the parish, 1354 acres, became part of Thursley. Most of this area was heath land, so it did not make a great deal of difference to the size of the population.
This, then, is Elstead, an area we can as yet trace only dimly. Let us move on in time, gradually picking up more detail as we go, until we find something approximating to the Elstead we know today, or, perhaps, that our fathers and grandfathers knew – “Yesterday in Elstead”, in fact.