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Papertrails: art in the landscape in Elmbridge

February 2007 – February 2008



The commons and woodland of Elmbridge have a wide range of habitats ranging from thick woodland, ancient forest remnants to open heathland. The woods contain a variety of deciduous and coniferous trees including species such as silver birch, oak, beech, sweet chestnut and rowan, which support a variety of wildlife. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, tits and warblers can be found especially in the Arbrook woods while bare sandy soil supports solitary wasps and lizards. The commons are an extraordinary remnant, ringed around and bisected by roads and heavy traffic, they provide a connection with the natural landscape and through that our history. Many of the paths through the commons would have been here when the roads were just tracks and would have been as important.

“ A simple line hardly impinging on nature - the path - is the oldest mark to be made upon the landscape by man. History written in a single line - the link with all the feet that have trodden the same trail gives the humble path another significance to us. Those windy tracks across the moors linking village with village and valley with valley, those ridgeway paths to the cider house, 'deadmans lane' (the way the coffin was carried to church), the lovers lanes, the smugglers lanes, the path to the gibbet at the edge of the parish - are all part of the rich cultural tapestry of our countryside.”

‘Pathways through the particular’ Common Ground

The word ‘Commons’ refers to the common rights that local people had over the lands despite the ownership of the lord of the manor. These rights may well have included pannage, which gave the right to allow your pigs to forage for acorns, estovers, or the right to pollarded branches or to gorse and bracken for bedding. The commons may well have been seen as marginal and neglected, which may be why they have survived, as they are, but ‘natural’ in the sense of being uncultivated they are not.

Many areas of common land nationally were the focus of struggles between the common people and the lords of the manor to establish their rights. In the unsettled years after the execution of Charles 1 in 1649 there were attempts made to re-establish rights lost under feudalism. Locally in Elmbridge ‘The Diggers’ attempted to assert their rights to farm the commonland. They believed that freedom from poverty and oppression would come from treating the land as a ‘Common Treasury for all’.

Further information from:

Natural History Museum: postcode plants database:

Elmbridge Borough Council:

Esher Residents Association:

Common Ground:

The Local Heritage initiative:



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