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Friday Street, Surrey

Friday Street is a tiny hamlet on the north west slopes of Leith Hill in Surrey. The word Friday derives from Frig, wife of Odin, goddess of the earth and love in Scandinavian mythology. This is rather strange since Leith Hill was in 851AD the site of a great Scandinavian defeat in the struggle between Saxon England and Viking invaders. Surrey was never part of the Danelaw, the part of eastern England which came under the long term Scandinavian influence. So claims by the Surrey Society that Friday Street was the site of some kind of Scandinavian shrine seem far fetched. There seems no clear reason why Friday Street should have a Norse name.

 

The most obvious feature at Friday Street today is a huge man made pond. This was probably a hammer pond, used to drive bellows in the smelting of iron with charcoal, and to power hammers to beat hot metal into shape. The pond's size, and the sharp drop beyond the dam's north side suggest this use. Friday Street's hammer pond is dramatic evidence of industrial activity which once took place in this now quiet area. Iron ore was dug from the ground, and surrounding woodland was used to provide charcoal, which gave the necessary heat to extract iron from ore. Ironworks such as the one at Friday Street were found all over Kent, Surrey and Sussex in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This industry was only to die out when in the eighteenth century Abraham Darby of Ironbridge devised a way of using coke in place of charcoal to generate heat. The south east of England did not have easily accessible coal deposits with which to make coke, so industry moved to where coal was plentiful, in the midlands and the west. Friday Street's hammer pond remains now as a quiet and impressive memorial to what must have been a large scale industry.

 

Friday Street is also sometimes claimed to be the birthplace of the thirteenth century Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. Stephen Langton was a prominent member of the baron's council which forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215 at Runnymede. The claim of Friday Street as Langton's birthplace comes from the fanciful writings of Martin Tupper from nearby Albury. In 1858 he wrote a book which he hoped would link his area to famous events. There was already a tourist trade visiting the Silent Pool not far from Friday Street, and Tupper perhaps excited by this, or perhaps wishing to boost trade further, wrote his book claiming that as young men, King John and Stephen Langton came to blows near the Silent Pool. Significantly these stories fitted public perception about violent King John, and suited the local need for visitors. The pub at Friday Street is still called the Stephen Langton. I have read versions of Tupper's tales in Surrey Society publications sold at local National Trust properties, where they are described as "folk lore". History, like everything else, has to compete for people's attention, and the history that is most read, and longest remembered, is that which tells a striking story. Tupper's fairytale shows that even in recorded history there can be as much myth making as that linked with figures such as King Arthur.

Large areas around Friday Street and Leith Hill are owned by the National Trust. There are trails through the woods, and walks up onto Leith Hill.

Address: Friday Street, Abinger Common, Dorking, Surrey RH5 6JR

Directions: Friday Street is signposted off the A25 a few miles east of Guildford in Surrey. Be prepared for narrow roads. There is a car park a few hundred yards away from Friday Street, followed by a woodland walk down to the hamlet. Click here for an interactive map centred on Friday Street.

Access: Paths can be rough and slopes can be steep. There is a car park at the Stephen Langton pub, which is close to the hammer pond, and avoids the woodland walk.

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©2008InfoBritain (updated 01/11)