The South West Surrey mini Field Trip 2014 was held on the 23rd and 24th August.
Four Dennis Wheatley enthusiasts – Steve Whatley, Jean Wilkinson, and Charles and Nat Beck, met up over the August Bank Holiday weekend to explore the DW associations of a small part of south western Surrey.
Our objectives were as follows:
The group met on the afternoon of the 23rd at the Bel and the Dragon in Churt, where Steve and Jean were staying. Through Steve’s meticulous researches he had worked out that this was the re-named ‘Pride of the Valley Inn’, next to which the Wheatleys had rented their cottage. As we went in, we noticed a small building in the car park beside the pub, which fitted the bill. Possibly it was the cottage the Wheatleys stayed at, although we looked at the other side of the pub the following morning, and there was at least one other candidate there.
As is his custom, Steve distributed a small handbook for the trip, noting places of interest and with space for comments, which was much admired by the rest of the group for both the information it contained and its utility.
The second of our objectives was easily found – the site known as ‘The Devil’s Jumps’ where in one of those long lost summers a ten or eleven year old DW watched a full military exercise.
As DW recalled (‘The Young Man Said’, page 90) :
‘At midday an elaborate picnic was laid out on the flat stone and the staff happily set to. As I was not one of a crowd, but the only civilian in sight, no attempt had been made to shoo me away. On the contrary, several of the officers talked to me most kindly, explaining what was happening, and the General even offered me a sandwich. To my great embarrassment I had to refuse it, because it contained butter, which I knew would make me sick.’
The ‘Jumps’ lie across the road from the Pub, and only about five minutes away. The Jumps are in reality three small ironstone outcrops set (at least when we were there) in the most beautiful heather and gorse. They derive their name from a story that the Devil used to amuse himself by jumping from one stony outcrop to the others, until the god Thor picked up one of the boulders and threw it at him.
It was easy to imagine DW there, watching the puffs of white smoke from the military manoeuvres.
The ‘Jumps’, with their DW association, were so pretty and evocative that Steve and Charles decided that even if nothing was found the following day, the trip had already been well worthwhile.
After this very pleasant summer walk, the group returned to The Bel and Dragon for supper and planned the following day, while remarking how much the area – still lovely – had changed since 1908. DW’s description can be found in ‘The Young Man Said’ pp 88-91.
Among other things, DW described how ‘ Mr Marshall, the landlord of the Pride of the Valley – who hired us our pony and trap and provided the wagonette in which on Saturdays we drove into Farnham to shop and meet my father’s train – habitually wore a yokel’s pudding basin hat and a hand goffered impeccably-white smock.’ Some things have changed more than a bit !
The supper was most enjoyable, and somehow a picture of Steve and Charles with their desserts in hand has already made it into Convention history by being shown at the November Convention, with the subtitle ‘the two fools’. Make of it what you will ☺ !
After the meal we went off to the bar, and met one of those co-incidences that happen so often to those who go on these trips. We were admiring the liqueurs menu in the bar, and noticed that it also had a cigar section. And low and behold, (rather expensive) Hoyo de Monterreys were available. We could not resist buying a couple, although as non smokers we did not light them (which with modern Health Regs, we would have had in any event to have done outside !).
We met up again the following morning and drove to Shackleford, where we hoped to locate J.G. Links’s holiday cottage, at which DW had written his second published novel, ‘Such Power is Dangerous’. The story is told in ‘Drink and Ink’, on page 116, and the story starts after the enormous success of DW’s first novel,‘The Forbidden Territory’:
‘But my immediate success as a thriller writer had by then fired me with literary ambitions. Having heard that Edgar Wallace had been able to write a book in a week, I decided to find out the speed of which I was capable. In order that I should remain undisturbed, Joe Links lent Joan and me a cottage on Cutmill Common, near Godalming, in Surrey. There, although I worked all out, I failed to complete a book in a week; but I did so in a fortnight. I called it Such Power is Dangerous. It was a blood-and-thunder story set mainly in Hollywood.’
Steve’s researches had revealed that the cottage was in walking distance of the local pub, and there is only one pub in Shackleford – The Cyder House Inn. The landlord checked with some old hands, and confirmed it was the only pub in the village, and would have been the only pub in DW’s time. So while it has no doubt changed a lot, we had a very agreeable lunch on the spot where DW had also once drunk.
After lunch, and full of hope, we set out to discover the cottage – or, more accurately, to re-discover it, as Steve had once located it many years before.
But this time, despite our spending an hour or so on the search, it eluded us ... or rather were unable to definitively identify which cottage it was. Further research is therefore required ...
Our final quest of the day was to find the Tumble Down Dick Hotel in Farnborough
While it had been a thriving hotel at one stage, and the venue for a book signing by DW on 15th February 1969 (he signed at bookshops in Basingstoke, Camberley and here on that day), we knew not to expect much, as we had read that planning permission had recently been given – despite opposition – to turn it into a McDonalds fast food outlet.
Again, we had some difficulty finding it, but when we did, on the main road, it was under wraps – literally, as the scaffolding and plastic sheeting was up to keep sight-seers at bay while the wreckers moved in.
We therefore called it a day, and made our way back to Charles and Nat’s house for a late afternoon tea.
We agreed over tea that there are plenty of other ‘mini Field Trips’ – and indeed full Field Trips we could consider – including one to Colchester, where ‘Oldjiver’ has done some sterling preparatory work (click here to see one of his threads in The Library).
This trip in any event, we reckoned well worthwhile.
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This page last updated Copyright © 2002-2006 Bob Rothwell. 2007-2022 Charles Beck.