The Village On The Edge Of London

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 12 months ago
The Village On The Edge Of London
Ian Adams-Lane, who has owned Byhurst Farm for 23 years. He doesn't consider himself a Londoner

"It would be nice if more people in London realised that milk didn't come from Tescos and that eggs are laid by chickens."

It's the kind of comment you might expect from a farmer, and indeed, Ian Adams-Lane has owned Byhurst Farm in the hamlet of Malden Rushett for 23 years now. It's an attractive little estate with all the agricultural trimmings — chickens pecking around hay bales and farm machinery, sheep nuzzling up to the fences — set in a baize of fields and woodland.

Here's the rub though: Malden Rushett is technically in London.  

"Malden Rushett doesn't consider itself in London," says Ian, from behind the till of his farm shop stocked with free range eggs, equine razors and his self-made, internationally-renowned horse feed, "If you actually look at the map, we should be in Surrey.

"We shouldn't be in London. It's a finger pointing out."

Ian has a point. Malden Rushett occupies the extreme southern tip of the geographical appendage (some call it a finger, some a tongue, others something else) of Kingston upon Thames. To the east lies Epsom and its famous racecourse; to the west is rural Surrey and villages with names like Cobham, Oxshott (home of Andy Murray), Claygate and Stoke D'Abernon.

Malden Rushett, however, has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the lair of Greater London.

© Google

Whether or not Malden Rushett deserves to be where it is, and whether or not Ian feels like a Londoner (he admits loathing trips into the city centre), this place that's home to just a couple of hundred residents has similar issues to its bigger urban brethren. Ian knows it, too:

"Everybody's shouting about development this, development that," he says. "We have to have a slow crawl of development otherwise we'd run out of places for people to live — which is exactly what we've got now.

"The villagers love the countryside round them. But we do have to build more houses for people. We need to live in the real world."

'The real world' is an interesting turn of phrase for a countryphile to use about London, and explains why Ian made use of his vote for London mayor; City Hall may take well over an hour to reach from Malden Rushett, but its influence pulsates, he reckons, all the way down.

Perhaps there's another reason why Ian's so plugged into politics though, and that's the ongoing saga of Malden Rushett's traffic.

Cleaving the hamlet smartly in two is the almighty A243. It's mid morning on a Monday and a steady stream of cars and coaches, glittering in the sun, flow through the southbound artery, while the northbound traffic is already clogging up to a halt.

Where is everyone going? It might have something to do with this:

Chessington World of Adventures is not, in fact, some corporate brute which pounced on a down-at-heel farmer sometime in the 1990s. It's been a theme park since the 1980s, harks back to a public zoo from 1931, and contains a country pile — once Burnt Stub Hall, now Hocus Pocus Hall — which predates that.

It's a huge employer for Kingston too, and Ian sees Chessington as a good neighbour — he even provides them with willow for their gorillas and giraffes.

Yet the onslaught of visitors on their way to brave Dragon's Fury and Scorpion Express can play havoc with the roads. A one mile journey to the M25, says Ian, can take 75 minutes instead of five.

"They do cause frightening traffic problems."

For Joe (left) and Ed, bad traffic is a boon to their trade

One man's poison, though, is another's meat: "The worst thing that could happen to us would be if they sorted out that road," admits Joe, who works at The Star pub, about half a mile south of Byhurst.

"A lot of the time there's traffic, and people can see what we look like. They see it looks nice from the outside and they go 'oh let's go there'".

His colleague Ed agrees, explaining how some customers will almost collapse into the pub, having spent four-odd hours on the road.

Being stationed at this far outpost of Greater London, do the pair feel they still belong?

"I always feel like a Londoner," says Joe, who hails from Croydon.

"It's close enough that you've still got that relative London mentality, that city mentality," adds Ed.

Ironically, unlike Ian, neither voted in the mayoral elections: "I make an effort sometimes," says Ed, who voted in the recent referendum, "but when it comes to the mayor I just kind of trust whoever it is has got the best interests at heart."

"The road is not always a blessing unfortunately. There's a lot of traffic." - Paul Kern, who works at Chessington Garden Centre

As for Chessington World of Adventures itself, owned and operated by Merlin Entertainments — the company behind the London Eye and Madame Tussauds — it would like to be seen as London's premier theme park.

"We're half an hour on the train from Waterloo," says Simon Burge, strategic development director at the theme park. "We'd certainly consider ourselves to be a London-based theme park."

As for that road, Simon is loathe to shoulder the blame. Kingston upon Thames, he says, is the third biggest shopping region in the UK, while the A243 is one of the major cut-throughs into London from the south of the country.

"We've had a couple of closed days recently," says Simon, "and on the Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, the traffic was exactly the same as it is when we're open!"

And whatever a curse or a blight people consider Chessington to be on Malden Rushett, there is a far greater entity at play. From the red TfL buses, to the glut of traffic and pollution, to the ongoing issues of housing, to the residents who vote in London mayor elections or not — and let's not forget those hordes of skittish tourists looking for a good time — Londoners will still recognise speckles of their metropolis in this tiny rural hamlet.

Malden Rushett is proof that, like it or not, London has its claws sunk into every last fibre of its vast dominion.

Last Updated 10 October 2016