The Hilltop Writers
a Victorian Colony among the Surrey Hills

W R (Bob) Trotter

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Front cover: Cross and view from Gibbet Hill, Hindhead
Back cover: View across the Sussex Weald from Blackdown

Paperback - 260 pages, plus illustrations and maps of the area
John Owen Smith; ISBN: 978-1-873855-31-7; March 2003

Associated titles: Heatherley by Flora Thompson; Grayshott by JH Smith; A Balance of Trust by John Owen Smith; An Edwardian Childhood by Margaret Hutchinson; Shottermill by Greta A Turner; Literary Surrey by Jacqueline Banerjee

Back Cover . List of Writers . Publisher's Note . About the Author . Acknowledgements . Introduction . Contents . Review

Back Cover

When a railway line opened in 1859, cutting through the hills of south-west Surrey on its way from London to Portsmouth, it presented an enticing new possibility.

Now professional people could choose to live among heather-covered hilltops, with their wide views and wholesome air, while still having access to the facilities of the capital, only an hour and a half away by train from Haslemere.

Many did so, following the example of the poet laureate himself, Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

In this book, rich in detail and yet thoroughly readable, Bob Trotter tells of sixty-five other writers who chose to populate the hilltops around Haslemere and Hindhead in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

List of Writers covered in this book

Publisher's Note

In producing this new edition of The Hilltop Writers we have taken the opportunity to add illustrations of many of the authors and their houses, and maps to show where they lived.

We have also added a section on William Austen Sillick, the journalist on whose work much of this book is based, and a preface introducing the reader to Bob Trotter whose book this is.

Other than that, the text has remained unchanged except for a few minor corrections of fact which have been made here and there.

As well as echoing Bob's own acknowledgements which are listed later, we would like to add our own thanks to the staff and volunteers of Haslemere Museum who have helped with the gathering of additional information and illustrations needed to prepare for this volume.

About the Author

Wilfred Robert (Bob) Trotter was born into a medical family in London in 1911. His father, Wilfred Batten Lewis Trotter, a distinguished surgeon, physiologist and philosopher was appointed as honorary surgeon to King George V in 1928. Another of Mr Trotter's relatives, Ernest Jones, wrote a biography of Sigmund Freud.
Bob followed his father's footsteps by qualifying in medicine at Oxford and University College Hospital in 1935. During the Second World War he served as a major in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and researched the treatment of malaria.

After the war he became a consultant physician at University College Hospital, London, where he specialised in thyroid cases. He was also a senior lecturer at London University. He wrote widely on medical matters and retired to Haslemere in 1973.

With his wife, Enid, he shared an interest in archaeology and when a local archaeology group was started at Haslemere Museum they both joined up. Together they took part in field walking, surveying and occasionally making small excavations.

By the 1980s the archaeology group had broadened its scope to include local history and worked on a number of projects. During this time Bob also wrote articles on a variety of subjects including literature, local history, gardens and archaeology.

One project that he particularly enjoyed researching was the diary of James Simmons, master paper maker at Sickle Mill. This is one of the few first hand accounts of life in Victorian Haslemere and is therefore of intense interest to local historians. Working with a small team of fellow enthusiasts a full transcript of the Simmons diary was produced in 1990.

It was during his research work in the archives of Haslemere Museum that Bob came across the 'literary scrapbook' of William Austen Sillick which, as he explains in his Acknowledgements, formed the inspiration for this book. It took him some years of further research to complete the work, which was then 'launched' publicly at Haslemere Museum in August 1996.

Bob kept active by helping to sort and catalogue manuscripts and other archive material at the museum, right up until the week before he died, in November 1998.


Written by W.R. Trotter, 1996

This book was conceived among the archives of Haslemere Education Museum. It was there that I discovered the literary remains of William Austen Sillick (c.1877-1955), a remarkable local journalist who served on the staff of the Haslemere Herald for more than fifty years. Sillick took a great interest in the history of the locality, but particularly in the many literary figures who had resided in the neighbourhood. Following his death, Sillick's widow donated his many papers and notebooks to the museum; among these was his literary scrapbook which covered a period of about a hundred years and which contained notes and newspaper cuttings on 148 local writers.

This scrapbook alerted me to the fact that there had been a great deal of literary activity in the neighbourhood of Haslemere, but from his notes it became apparent that Sillick's main interest had been in the Victorian authors. True, there were no really outstanding names among the more recent writers mentionedsimilar lists might have been compiled in comparable towns throughout southern Englandbut what did stand out as being unusual was the tight cluster of Victorian authors who had arrived during the last few decades of the nineteenth century. As well as the number of eminent figures in this small group, other distinctive features were the timing of their arrival soon after the railway came to Haslemere, and their predilection for the wild and uninhabited uplands. It was not difficult to infer from this that most of them had settled in this particular area for the same, or at least similar, reasons. Although Sillick himself does not explicitly recognise their existence as a special group, the length of his entries on the Victorian writers (particularly Tennyson) compared with his much briefer notes on their successors, is an implicit acknowledgement of special status. So, I have much to thank William Sillick for, and regret that I am unable to do so in person.

My gratitude to Sillick is coupled with recognition of the debt I owe to the institution which houses his literary remains. I gladly acknowledge the Curator of Haslemere Educational Museum, Diana Hawkes, not only for permitting me to spend many hours rummaging in the Museum's copious archives and well-stocked library, but also for encouraging me to persevere in the writing of this book. I am also grateful to my fellow voluntary workers in the Museum, John and Greta Turner and Cyril and Vi Queen, who freely shared their comprehensive knowledge of local history and local personalities. In particular, Greta Turner has been invaluable in helping to identify the houses inhabited by various writers.

Another valuable source of information has been the Local Studies Library at Guildford, where John Janaway and his staff have given every possible assistance. [Now merged with the Surrey History Centre, Woking]

Personal contacts have also been useful. I would particularly like to thank Mrs Melene Barnes for sharing her great knowledge of the Carrington tragedy with me; and Anna Powell and David Unwin for letting me see letters, diaries and photographs relating to their grandfather, Rayner Storr.

Local sources have therefore been invaluable in determining where and when the Hilltop Writers came to live in the district, how they spent their time, and what they wrote while they were here. But the Hilltop Writers were not just local heroes: they were part of the great Victorian literary culture, and had to be seen also in a wider context. The extensive research which this entailed was carried out at the London Library and the British Library, and I am grateful for help from the staff of both these institutions. I wish to thank the Manuscript Division of the British Library, and the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland for permitting me to use material in their possession to assist in dating Margaret Oliphant's visits to Hindhead. I am particularly indebted to Mr J.F. Russell, of the National Library of Scotland, for scanning Oliphant's numerous letters in order to identify those bearing a Hindhead dateline. I am grateful to Rosemary Ashton, biographer of G.H. Lewes, for permitting me to see a photocopy of part of Lewes' diary, in order to describe his and George Eliot's activities during a typical week while they were living at Shottermill. The diary is in the possession of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, and I am grateful for permission to make use of extracts from it. I also wish to acknowledge my gratitude to Cambridge University Press for permission to quote from My Apprenticeship by Beatrice Webb, 1979; to Victor Gollancz for permission to quote from Remarkable Relations by Barbara Strachey, 1980; to the London School of Economics and Political Science for permission to quote from The Diaries of Beatrice Webb, 1982; to Oxford University Press for permission to quote from The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1990, The Autobiography of Margaret Oliphant, 1990 and Gilbert Murray OM 1866-1957 by Duncan Wilson, 1987; and to A.P. Watt Ltd, Literary Executors of the Estate of H.G. Wells for permission to quote from Experiment in Autobiography by H.G. Wells, 1996.

I am especially grateful to Maxine Merrington and Liz Ball for compiling the index.


During the last decades of the nineteenth century, writers working in London were presented with an enticing possibility. The new railway line to Portsmouth, opened in 1859, had carved its way through the as-yet unsullied highlands of south-west Surrey. The station at Haslemere, which could be reached after a journey of no more than an hour and a half from London, gave access to these heights, and a means of escape from the murk and stench of the capital, without loss of its facilities. The heather-covered hilltops, with their wide views and wholesome air, held out the promise of a writers' paradise.

Many writers, from Virgil and Horace to Wordsworth and Thoreau, have felt the appeal of the wilderness. Few have been in a position to respond to it; wildernesses tend to be a long way from cities, with their libraries and publishers, and the company of like-minded folk. But the new railway line offered Londoners a unique opportunity to escape to a real wilderness. The gateway to the promised land was Haslemere, then no more than a small village perched on a ridge marking the watershed between the headwaters of the rivers Wey and Arun. The ridge is not much more than four hundred feet above sea-level; a trivial height, yet, with a light dusting of snow, Haslemere can even now give a passable imitation of an Alpine village. To the east, the Wealden plain stretches across Sussex to Kent; to the west, a semicircle of sandstone hills rises to 895 feet at Hindhead, and 918 feet at Blackdown. E.C. Matthews described the geology and landscape of this tract of rugged hill country as it appeared in Edwardian times: 'in their great elevation, their abruptness of form, and the deep ravines which furrow their sides, these Southern Highlands more nearly resemble true mountainous country than anything else in this part of England. They stand, an isolated tableland, with a steep escarpment both to north and south, rising into wild hills and high, treeless, heather-clad commons.'

The prospect of being able to live in such wild country, yet remain within easy reach of the metropolis, appealed to writers of all descriptions, and in the late-nineteenth century many of them came to make a permanent home, rent lodgings or stay with friends, while writing their books. They were a fairly representative cross-section of the late-Victorian literary and intellectual community. There were some distinguished names among them: poets, such as Alfred Tennyson, Christina Rossetti and William Allingham; the novelists George Eliot, Conan Doyle, Grant Allen, Richard Le Gallienne, Margaret Oliphant, Mrs Humphry Ward and H.G. Wells; playwrights Bernard Shaw and Arthur Pinero; the essayist, Logan Pearsall Smith; and Flora Thompson, re-creator of the rural past. There were also a number of people who were not primarily writers, but who were distinguished in other walks of life, and came to the hill country to set down their accumulated expertise in published works: scientists like John Tyndall and Francis Galton; social reformers like the Webbs and Arthur Ponsonby; the historian Frederic Harrison; Gilbert Murray, the classical scholar; the lawyer, Frederick Pollock; Bertrand Russell, the philosopher and mathematician; medical men like Jonathan Hutchinson and Edward Nettleship; the mountaineer, Edward Whymper; and - defying classification, but of great intellectual stature - George Henry Lewes.

There were many others too, writers who may not have produced great literature, but who in the range of their expertise, and the deep seriousness with which they went about their business, were as truly representative of the late-Victorian intellectual community as those who are better known. And what they perhaps lacked in literary finesse they often made up for by the interest of their personalities, or of their life-histories. There was, for instance, Manley Hopkins (father of Gerard, the poet), an average adjuster by profession, who wrote a history of the Kingdom of Hawaii, as well as a book of arithmetical conundrums, and a lot of bad poetry; Rayner Storr, the Positivist whose Concordance to De Imitatione Christi was praised by the Pope; James Henry Mangles, the railway director who hybridised Himalayan rhododendrons, and walked with Tennyson on Blackdown, and recorded their conversation. Then there was Anne Gilchrist, the respectable middle-aged widow who, as well as completing her late husband's Life of William Blake and introducing Tennyson, George Eliot and Christina Rossetti to the hilltop country, still found time for a passionate transatlantic affair with Walt Whitman; Richard Carrington, the eccentric astronomer who made tunnels in The Devil's Jumps, with disastrous consequences for himself and his wife; and Hannah Pearsall Smith, connoisseur of bizarre religious sects, and scourge of the male sex.

One of the most notable - though now largely forgotten - of the Victorian writers who settled on the Surrey hills was Grant Allen, novelist and science writer. He decided to call his two best-known books Hilltop Novels, and it is from him that I have borrowed the term for the title of the present work. In the Introduction to one of these, The British Barbarians, Allen explained what the hills meant to him:

I am writing in my study on a heather-clad hilltop. When I raise my eye from my sheet of foolscap, it falls upon miles and miles of broad open moorland. My window looks out upon unsullied nature. Everything around is fresh and clean and wholesome. Through the open casement, the scent of the pines blows in with the breeze from the neighbouring firwood. Keen airs sigh through the pine-needles. Grasshoppers chirp from deep tangles of bracken. The song of a skylark drops from the sky like soft rain in summer; in the evening, a nightjar croons to us his monotonously passionate love-wail from his perch on the gnarled boughs of the wind-swept larch that crowns the upland. But away below in the valley, as night draws on, a lurid glare reddens the north-eastern horizon. It marks the spot where the great wen of London heaves and festers. Up here on the free hills, the sharp air blows in upon us, limpid and clear from a thousand leagues of open ocean; down there in the crowded town, it stagnates and ferments, polluted with the diseases and vices of centuries.

His fervent delight in distancing himself from the grime of London suggests something more than merely physical relief. In effect, Allen and the other 'hilltop writers' were expressing their distaste for the overcrowded cities and ruined countryside brought about by the Industrial Revolution, as well as their joy in the purity and freedom of an as-yet unspoiled land. Yet it was the great surge in middle-class wealth, together with advances in paper-making and printing, that had given authors the means to make their escape from the consequences of that revolution. They were indeed a fortunate generation; but in return for the good fortune which permitted them to build their sturdy houses in a desirable wilderness, they left as their legacy some outstanding works of literature, together with a deep sense of the enduring virtue of an all-embracing culture.

The delight of the Hilltop Writers in the pure air and wide views of their wilderness seems oddly at variance with earlier accounts of the same area. When J.M.W. Turner passed this way in November 1807, his sketch (later engraved) Hind Head Hill reveals a gloomy, uninviting landscape of bare and barren hills. And a few years later, William Cobbett denounced Hindhead as 'certainly the most villainous spot that God ever made'.

That was in 1822; like Turner, he was there in November, it was raining heavily, and the guide had annoyed him by bringing him over Hindhead, which he wanted at all costs to avoid. But he was also displeased by the infertility and uselessness of the wide expanse of heathland. It was in fact used only as common land for the grazing of a few sheep and cattle, owned by farmers living in the valleys below; this was enough to restrain the growth of Scots pines, and so preserve the heather cover. Apart from marauding bands of robbers, the only human inhabitants of these upland heaths were the so-called 'broom squires', who made besoms from birch twigs and heather. They lived in primitive huts, where they plied their trade for markets in London and Portsmouth. But by the middle of the century they were gradually becoming extinct, owing to competition from factory-made brooms. By the 1870s and 1880s, when the coaching trade had also vanished - and with it, many of the robbers who preyed upon it - the Hindhead plateau and the surrounding hills were more empty than they had been in the past, or would be in the future. Louis Jennings, who walked that way in 1878, testified to the beauty and the loneliness of these remote hilltops:

At every step some new beauty bursts upon you. There is not a human being near - but one house, a solitary farm faraway on the ridge of Hindhead, is to be seen … It is with surprise that in this lonely waste one sees, between the Devil's Punch Bowl and the top of the hill, a fine, broad and well-kept road, nor is that surprise diminished when you come upon it, and find that it is as hard and smooth as any road in a private park can possibly be. There are very few marks of wheels to be found upon it, but abundant traces of sheep ... I declare that I stood looking at that road in amazement for pretty nearly a quarter of an hour, and I am inclined to think that if I had stayed there till now I should not have seen anybody or anything coming along it in either direction.

The contrast between Cobbett's displeasure and the ecstasies of later writers was in large part due to the change in taste which came about during the course of the nineteenth century, as the increasing squalor of the enlarging cities encouraged appreciation of the beauties of the untouched countryside. So once writers had discovered this empty land, they began to realise that it was ideally suited to their needs. There was peace and quiet in abundance, and a sense of freedom. Furthermore, the surrounding heaths invited a stroll in the intervals of composition. The wide views from the hilltops seemed to induce a sense of philosophic detachment, while the air was invigorating and, it was widely believed very good for the health. Hallam Tennyson relates that the 'fine air' of Blackdown cured his father of the troublesome attacks of hay-fever. Many other writers testified to the remarkable properties of the air of the hilltops, and are quoted in the Biographical Notes (Section Three). None was more eloquent than the novelist Helen Mathers, who frequently came to Hindhead to recover from the stresses of London. She wrote in TPs Weekly for 1903: 'in its thin pure buoyant air you feel splendidly well, and cannot tire yourself however far you walk or cycle, while your slumbers are those of the blest'. Yet a short ride in a pony-trap would bring you to the station, where the train would whisk you up to London to study in a library, or haggle with a publisher over terms for your forthcoming book.

Some of the early literary settlers bought or rented existing houses in the valleys, contenting themselves with arduous walks on the heathery uplands. But to get full value from the wilderness, one had, like Grant Allen, to live in the midst of it, which meant building a new house on a most inaccessible site. This required a technical infrastructure which was only just becoming available. Tennyson's Aldworth, built 800 feet up on Blackdown in 1868-69, was a pioneering effort, only possible for a relatively wealthy person. But it showed what could be done, for despite the remote situation, it was equipped with all the conveniences then required by the increasingly sophisticated middle class (it even had a bath, something that Tennyson's other house, Farringford, lacked). This demonstration that it was possible to site a comfortable house on these wild hilltops must have done much to make the area known in literary circles. Others soon followed the example, and ventured on to Hindhead, the other main eminence in the locality. Concomitantly, an infrastructure grew up: a brick-making industry started up in the valley at Hammer, and steam lorries carried its products up on to the heights. At the foot of the valleys settlements grew up to house the workers who serviced the developments on the uplands. Coal was needed in large quantities to make the winters endurable; and for writers an adequate postal service was a necessity. Many of the houses springing up on Hindhead were serviced from the nearby village of Grayshott, and - as Flora Thompson, who worked in the post office there, vividly described - the literati came there to send their telegrams.

For a time, writers almost had their wilderness to themselves, but it was not long before their example was followed by business people, and hotel and lodging-house keepers. Hindhead, in particular, became recognised as a health resort. True commuters - now the dominant element - only appeared after 1900, when the motor-car eased the journey from the railway station to the hilltops. A pony-trap, while adequate for writers, who only needed to make occasional forays to London, would not have suited businessmen returning from a hard day's work in the City. Large-scale building on Hindhead started in the early 1900s, and very soon converted much of the wilderness into the suburb that it is today. Alarm at the threat of development eventually protected some of the remaining hilltops. Most of the heathlands salvaged from the speculative builders gradually came under the care of the National Trust. The consequence was that all of the original wilderness was either suburbanised, or else packaged in enclaves rigorously protected from ambitious builders.

The Hilltop Writers, and the commuters who followed them, not only transformed the physical countryside; they also changed the social climate. For they were alien, middle-class invaders of a land of small farmers, agricultural labourers, broom-makers and petty shopkeepers, and had little real contact with the indigenous inhabitants, other than as servants and builders of their homes. Ironically, of all the Hilltop Writers, the one who seems to have had the closest contact with the natives was an American, John Burroughs. The original colony of Victorian writers dispersed early in the new century, but they had launched a middle-class invasion, the effect of which was to turn Hindhead into a prosperous if unattractive suburb, while Blackdown, jealously guarded by the National Trust, remained inviolate.

The migration of writers to the hills of south-west Surrey was noted by several contemporaries. Thomas Wright (see Biographical Notes), living at Olney in Buckinghamshire, knew of Hindhead's reputation as a centre of intellectual activity well before his visit there in 1897. It was, he believed, 'the loftiest settlement in the British Isles', and he had heard of the 'picturesque race of aborigines who get their living ... by working the landscape into brooms'. Above all, he knew of the place as 'the literary Olympus, the abode of so many cultured notables that some wag felicitously suggested that the name should be altered to Mind Head'. When he actually got there in 1897, he was quite carried away by the unspoilt beauty of the scenery: 'never have I witnessed scenery one half so lovely or a tithe so striking as that of the blowing woodlands and ample commons of aëry, amethystine, and oderiferous Hind Head'.

Shortly afterwards, F.W. Bockett, cycling through the Surrey lanes in search of the homes of his literary heroes, came to Haslemere, in the south-west corner of the county, in the summer of 1900. 'The neighbourhood of Haslemere,' he wrote, 'has, during the past ten or twelve years, become quite a famous haunt of literary men. Not only have they congregated in the village, but they have climbed to the topmost heights of Hindhead ...' But, he added, these same heights were 'now being overrun not only by people who are merely rich, but also by lodging-house keepers and hotel proprietors'. He feared that the next step would be the construction of 'a cable tram from the village to the head, or perchance an American-made electric lift'.

As Bockett noted, by 1900 the literary migration to the hills of south-west Surrey was coming to an end. Many of the early settlers were departing; among them was Rayner Storr, who left Hindhead for Hampstead in 1908. From there he wrote to journalist and Haslemere historian W.A. Sillick on 11th November 1913: 'I am quite bewildered at the disappearance of so many of my old and useful friends at Hindhead and Haslemere. Is that privileged district to come down from its proud pre-eminence as the chosen home of public-spirited and enlightened men?' Shortly afterwards, the same theme was expressed more dramatically by a character in Shaw's Misalliance: 'The writing is on the wall! Rome fell! Babylon fell! Hindhead's turn will come!'

For a time, as the nineteenth century approached its end, it looked as if the writers who had come individually to the Surrey hilltops might, with all their common interests, come together to form a close-knit community with definable characteristics, like the Bloomsbury Group. The New Age had indeed forecast that 'Hindhead may become in time the nineteenth-century representative of the Mermaid Tavern and Will's coffee-house.' But before anything like this could happen, their paradise disappeared under bricks and mortar. They had shown the rest of the world that it was possible to live in a wilderness, and yet retain close contact with civilisation; and now the rest of the world wanted to join in on the act. And so, as the entrepreneurs, contractors, businessmen and hotel-keepers moved in, the writers deserted their by-now suburbanised hilltops.

So the colonisation of the Surrey hilltops was no more than a brief episode. Yet it deserves a niche in literary history because it brought together, in one relatively circumscribed area, a representative collection of writers at a crucial turning-point in intellectual development. Before 1900, it was possible for an intelligent person, with the necessary application, to grasp the whole sweep of human knowledge; and a number of the Hilltop Writers did just that. But after 1900 came Planck's quantum theory, Einstein's relativity, Freud's psycho-analysis, Joyce's Ulysses, abstract painting, atonal music; and, inevitably, specialisation. The Hilltop Writers belonged to the last generation of 'complete men', in the tradition of the Renaissance; and as they left their hilltops, that tradition also faded. It was an inevitable development, but it seems fitting to recall, not without a tinge of regret, the breadth and diversity of their knowledge, and the impressive seriousness with which they studied the arts and sciences. Late-Victorian gravitas may today seem unduly ponderous, even at times pompous, but it testifies to a common purpose to push the human intellect to its limits.

The plan of this book is first, to introduce the writers chronologically, as they settled in among the hills; next, to look briefly at their collective attitudes to the main issues of the day; and finally, to treat each of them severally in a short biographical sketch, with the emphasis on their activities whilst they were living - and writing - on the Surrey uplands.

Table of contents

Publisher's Note
About the Author
List of Illustrations
Section One: Chronology
Section Two: The Hilltop Community
The Writers and their Houses
Their Politics
Social Issues
The 'Woman Question'
Section Three: Biographical Notes - see list

List of Illustrations

Cross and view from Gibbet Hill, Hindhead
Map of the Hilltop Writers area
Map of Haslemere, circa 1867
View of the Devil's Punch Bowl in the early 1900s
'The Huts' at Hindhead, circa 1890
Haslemere High Street, looking north in 1887
Aldworth, the Tennysons' house on Blackdown
Inval, the Hutchinsons' home at Haslemere
Tyndall's hut at Hindhead in the 1880s
Pitfold House, the Beveridges' house on Woolmer Hill, where George Bernard Shaw spent his honeymoon
The 'Fox & Pelican' in Grayshott, soon after its opening in 1899
The Croft, the house of Grant Allen at Hindhead
Tyndall's 'Hind Head House'
Crossways Road in Grayshott, circa 1900: Flora Thompson worked here
Undershaw at Hindhead, built by Arthur Conan Doyle
Haslemere High Street, looking south, circa 1894
Waggoners Wells near Grayshott - Richard Le Gallienne lived close by at Kingswood Chase
View from Blackdown, near to Fernhurst
Shulbrede Priory, home of Arthur Ponsonby
Barford, the home of Gilbert Murray
Brookbank, where George Eliot and GH Lewes stayed in 1871
Rayner Storr, photographed by George Bernard Shaw
Highcombe Edge, home of Rayner Storr at Hindhead
George Herbert Aitken, Rector of Haslemere
Hill Farm, Camelsdale, home of Joseph and Maude King in the 1920s
Haslemere Town Hall, when used as a 'lock-up'

Grant Allen
William Allingham
Godfrey Blount
George Bowdler Buckton
Jumps House and Carrington's observatory in 1871
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Beacon Hotel, where Doyle held his Christmas party in 1898
Walt Whitman, to whom Anne Gilchrist was attracted
Bernard Hamilton
Frederic Harrison
Sir Robert Hunter
Sir Jonathan Hutchinson
Joseph King
Richard Le Gallienne
Henry Mangles
Gilbert Murray
Edward Nettleship
The Georgian Hotel, Haslemere High Street
Sir Frederick Pollock
Arthur Ponsonby
Rollo Russell
George Bernard Shaw
William Austen Sillick
Rayner Storr
Ernest William Swanton
Alfred Tennyson, with his whistle
The Tennysons with sons Lionel and Hallam, circa 1862
Flora Jane Thompson - from the bust erected in Liphook
John Tyndall FRS
One of Tyndall's screens, viewed from Hindhead Road
Sidney and Beatrice Webb
Garnet Joseph Wolseley


These are some of the many fascinating and sometimes surprising pieces of information contained in Bob Trotter’s book ‘The Hilltop Writers — a Victorian colony among the Surrey Hills,’ which reveals the lives of 65 local Victorian writers.

Mr Trotter discovered in the archives of Haslemere Museum a remarkable collection of notes and newspaper cuttings left by local journalist William Sillick, who died in 1955. It made him realise what an astounding flurry of important literary activity there had been in the neighbourhood of Haslemere during the fifty years or more following the arrival of the railway in 1859, and from this the book was conceived.

Some of the writers he deals with are well-known — people such as Alfred Tennyson, George Eliot, Arthur Conan Doyle and George Bernard Shaw. Others less so, but equally fascinating. Collectively they came to this area for similar reasons — for the beauty and health offered by the wild and, as then, uninhabited uplands, now for the first time within easy reach of London. And for similar reasons they left — when too many people had followed their example and the place began to become more populated!

The book is organised into four main sections: a brief local chronology from 1859 through to the start of the First World War; a short discussion of the politics and other issues in vogue during the period; biographical notes on each of the writers; and an appendix of references and other more general notes, including a superb index.

It is a pleasure to read. Bob Trotter has not only encapsulated the essentials of these people’s lives in his pages, but also given us the benefit of his medical training to add his own fascinating personal comments. And in these days of generally slap-dash editing, it is nice for once to find a book where so much care and attention has obviously been taken in checking presentation and content before publication.

This book is required reading for anyone interested in local history — it will certainly become one of the better-used items on my reference shelf.

John Owen Smith — August 1996

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