Here I am again (oh no I hear you cry!) with the latest from my researches into the history of the Dorking Sentinels.
(For any readers who are not Dorking-bred, and are unaware of the tradition after which your newspaper is named, the Sentinels were originally guardians put in place to watch for the coming of the Danes. After Ethelfrith The Unsteady defeated the Norse King Wolfram in 823 at the Battle of Leith Hill, the Sentinels became a purely ceremonial office held by a single man chosen by the Mayor of Dorking. The handing over of the Sentinel's Jerkin has continued to this day.)
The Dorking & Mole Valley History Society are engaged in a long-term project to build a continuous history of the Sentinel Succession.
I have a breakthrough to report, having uncovered names from the 'dubious years' of the 1920s! These I have gained with thanks to the Scrattler family of Shere, who have a line of Sentinels to their name that they were keen to divulge.
1923-5 Harry Scrattler, Woodman
1925-6 Leslie Scrattler, Grocer
1926-8 Harry Scrattler, Woodman
1928-9 George Scrattler, Ratcatcher
1930-1 Bill Queerman, Scrop Filler
The most exciting thing here is that Harry Scrattler is only the sixth instance ever of someone leaving office and returning in that way. He is the first we have found since William Jingo who was Sentinel from 1675-7 and again from 1678-9. The fact that Harry exchanged the Jerkin with a member of his own family is also quite unique.
This is great news as you will realise. The only question is what happened between 1929 and 1930. We have no evidence of an official 'haitus' at that time so we will keep searching.
Thanks to the Scrattlers of Shere. It was fascinating to look at their photographs of Harry in the Sentinel's Jerkin outside the Trivet and Compasses in Shere, though we are still pondering the mystery of why the vicar is standing on his head! Must have been quite a party!
The Scrattler's are justifiably proud of their Sentinel heritage, and were delighted to inform me that the very Jerkin Harry is wearing in the photographs was worn by Charles Dickens when he was researching The Pickwick Papers.
In these days when we hear so much about the loss of our traditions and the way village life is dying, I think I can put my finger on why this is happening.
I have studied my family history and I know that my great-grandfather Uriah Hittite used to keep dead geese on Ockley village green. The green was awash with creatures in the late 19th century. They used to hang eels and skinned hares up and Mrs Delilah Samson kept her Silver Grey Dorking chickens there, and old Noah Sark, who was the Dorking Sentinel at the time, kept his son, the village idiot, in an upturned bath tub next to the dungheap.
Ockley village green also housed Dorking Bottle-Nosed pigs; an elephant, 'Jumbo', who had been left behind by a circus; a flock of edible Orkney ponies; a family of Silesian cretins; and a retired albatross. These are all in the 1891 census.
Now tell me where's the community these days who would harbour an idiot in his own bath, an ageing elephant and a retiring albatross on their village green?
I drove through Holmbury St Martin last Wednesday afternoon and there was nobody in sight. No doubt all were logging up their 'face books'. I have a young friend, Toby Jugge (not his real name; it is a nom du payne), who rode his recumbent trike all through the Mole Valley. He told me that there were none to greet him as he passed by, except some youths at Great Bookham who threw sods and sticks from a ploughed field.
We should learn from our ancestors. I need hardly mention my own struggles to be allowed to keep a lion-tailed macaque in a cage on our green here at Newdigate. Poor 'Pickwick' will soon begin his eleventh week in quarantine. And yet the 'Farmers Market' goes on unchecked every fortnight, with organic cheese and Alan Titchmarsh opening the tombola.
What would Uriah Hittite make of it all?
I am writing to appeal to your readerships. I am researching a book entitled Mountaineering In Surrey. I am particulary interested in any information concerning Albert Umbrage, the 'barefoot alpinist' of Dorking, who moved from the town in 1723 to Westhumble, where he commenced his exploration of all the major Surrey highlands.
Albert Umbrage was a true pioneer. Many Alpinists have scoffed at his achievements, pointing out that Leith Hill, the highest point in Surrey, is a mere 965 feet above sea level. But Umbrage is surely unique in climbing barefoot, with his boots around his neck. He is also famed in Surrey for his ascent of Box Hill carrying a goat on his shoulders, accompanied by his housekeeper, Mrs Cumpsty.
I am keen to give this original and unrecognised pioneer his due in my book, and to that end, I would welcome any information that the citizens of Dorking and its environs might be able to supply.