The Giant on the Horizon

The medieval parish and manor of Sutton was a little over 3 miles long and about 1 mile wide. It slopes up towards the downs and from its northern border with a typical height above sea level of 35 metres it would have taken less than an hour to walk up the lanes and across the fields to the southern boundary which rises to about 110 metres above sea level.

Sutton's southern boundary is less than 12 miles from London. At 110 metres above sea level the horizon would be about 22 miles away. Someone walking in the fields at the southern end of the parish at the rise of the down would be able to clearly see over the open fields and downland the smoke on the horizon. Today the tall buildings can be picked out including the dome of the new St Paul's cathedral.

From earliest times to before the reformation the traffic on the lanes and roads to and from London would have been very heavy. Everyone was on the roads: monks and nuns on errands for their community; bishops bound for their cathedrals or making a parochial visitation; wandering students; singing pilgrims following their priests and their banners. There would have been discharged soldiers, beggars, and highwaymen and the sheep and cattle from the downs on their way to market fouling the already foul highways.

Even will rough unmade roads it would have taken less than 3 hours to walk to the city of London on fine day. Merchants would have been able to move back and forth between their city chambers and their country houses. During the period before the turnpike roads a good days travel could see someone make 25 miles.

It was a common thing for people of Sutton to look for their fortunes in the city. Sutton had resources that London needed. The fields provided mutton and the large chalk quarries would have provide the lime for the massive building programmes. Boys like Ambrose Gray (see below) would have been apprenticed to trades in the city.

Secundo die Februarij Anno Domi 1691
Ambrose Gray Sonne of Robert Gray of Sutton in the County of Surrey Yeoman bound to William Abbott for Seaven yeares.

From: 'Book 3: 1692', Records of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters: Volume I: Apprentices' Entry Books 1654-1694 (1913), pp. 187-191. URL: sutton. Date accessed: 26 March 2008.