ONCE upon a time a small weather-boarded cottage stood beside the River Way Navigation at Pyrford. A man and his wife lived there in the house with their 15 children.

It may sound like a fairytale but it is a true story.

The cottage was just upstream from the Anchor pub and the narrow road bridge over the waterway.

Many years ago, a wharf that served Ockham Mill was there. It appears the wharf was most active from around 1765, but may have ceased to operate by the 1840s.

A National Trust noticeboard beside the waterway gave further details of Pigeon House Wharf and Cottage. The foundations of the house were discovered in January 2000 by maintenance staff.

Pigeon House Cottage took its name from a medieval pigeon house or dovecot that was nearby. Research by an American into the Elizabethan poet John Donne, who spent time at Pyrford Place, identified the pigeon house being marked on an early map of the area. In Elizabethan times, pigeons and doves were a sought-after food source for the well-off.

A descendant of the Mandeville family who once lived at the Pigeon House Cottage, then contacted the National Trust River Wey Navigations with a photograph of the building dating to about 1908.

Censuses of 1891, 1901 and 1911 show the Mandeville family living at Pigeon House Cottage. Head of the house was James (aged 44 in 1891) and his wife Elizabeth (aged 41 in 1891).

His occupations on the censuses are listed either as agricultural labourer or carter on farm. Between 1869 and 1902 James and Elizabeth had 15 children: William, born 1869; Ellen, 1871; Alice, 1873; Emily 1874; Elizabeth, 1877; George, 1880; John, 1882; Alfred, 1884; Edith, 1886; Albert, 1888; Ernest, 1891; Thomas, 1893; Kitty, 1895; Adda, 1898; and Maud, 1902.

We do not know which year the Mandeville’s first occupied Pigeon House Cottage.

The 1891, 1901 and 1911 censuses do not list children William, Alice and Elizabeth as resident at the cottage. However, the three censuses reveal that some of the siblings had grown up and left by the time others had been born and were living in the cottage.

The 1911 census lists James as a widower. That census gives details of the cottage and reveals it only had four rooms.

Back in 1898, son George Mandeville was in trouble when he was summoned with seven others for destroying a barrel, valued at two shillings, and damaging windows, valued at four shillings.

This was during a disturbance in Pyrford when a group of some 50 people descended on the home of gamekeeper James Smith. It was alleged that he had impounded a young girl’s donkey and cart.

The News & Mail reported that the mob “created a tremendous row in front of Smith’s cottage, and in addition burned a barrel belonging to him and smashed some of his windows.” The report stated they were “carrying tins and making rough music.”

The Ordnance Survey 25-inch map, 1914 edition, shows the cottage along with the wording ‘Pigeon House’.

However, it is no longer marked on the 1935 edition of the map. Presumably it had been demolished by then.

My thanks go to Mark Coxhead for providing information for this article.

If you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call me, David Rose, on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at: [email protected]