Chipstead Village


The Search for "Lilac Cottage"

This is the story of the Cox family, who lived in Mugswell in Victorian times. It is also the story of a painstaking search for the family cottage in Mugswell by our former Village Archivist, Rupert Courtenay-Evans:

In February 2013 I had an email from Steve and Maureen Harris of Melbourne, Australia asking if I could shed some light on the whereabouts of "Mugswell Cottage, High Street, Chipstead," where Maureen's ancestors had lived for many years in the 19th century.


Steve and Maureen Harris

They had Census Records from 1861 to 1901, and these records showed that the address varied between:

  • Mugswell Cottage, High Street, Chipstead - 1861
  • Marshalls Cottage, Kingswood - 1871
  • Mugswell, Kingswood, Surrey - 1881
  • Mugswell, Red Hill, Kingswood Upper and Lower - 1901

 My guess was that they were all the same place.


Lilac Cottage c1900

The old photo of the cottage, c 1900, had a caption:

"Family House in Mugswell Village, where all the family were born, with Mum (Ellen) and Grannie (Harriet)which was thought to be written by the daughter of Ellen Cox, whose brother, William, was Maureen Harris's great grandfather.

"Grannie", foreground in the cottage photo, was Harriet Warren who married James Cox in 1858. Both were born in 1834 and George had been baptised at St Margaret's Church; he was a labourer in 1881 and a road foreman in 1891 (census information). He died 3 years later at 60, but Harriet lived on in the cottage until she died in 1906. Both were buried in St Margaret's where their memorial crosses were found by the current Church Warden, Sally Foxen.


James and Harriet Cox

James and Harriet had 5 children:

  • William in 1863
  • Ellen in 1866
  • Charles in 1868, who died under mysterious circumstances in Plymouth in 1895 but was buried in Chipstead*
  • Henry, in 1875, who was killed along with Lord Kitchener and 640 sailors in "HMS Hampshire" in 1916, when it hit a mine during a storm in Scapa Flow. Kitchener was on a secret mission to Russia to try and persuade the Csar to continue fighting the Germans
  • Frederick in 1877 who lived to the age of 70, and was buried in St. Margarets, near brother Charles.


The Cox Family

William Cox was born in Mugswell and in 1892 he married Elizabeth Perry, who was born 1869 in Reigate. Their daughter, another Ellen, met an Australian soldier here during WW1, George Cox, who was a distant cousin. After the war they went to Australia where they married in 1920. Her parents joined them in 1926.  William died in 1930 and was buried in Ganmain, New South Wales. George and Ellen Cox had a daughter Jean in 1925, who married Roy Schliebs and had a daughter Maureen, who married Steve Harris in 1973.


Former Chipstead School on the High Road - staff and pupils- where the Cox family were educated

The search for the Cox Home proved easier than expected, as I knew there had never been a “High Street”in Chipstead, but there had been a "Street" in Mugswell, now known as Green Lane. The" Street" was originally part of an ancient trackway or "ley" which ran from Burgh Heath to Charlwood near Gatwick, passing straight through Mugswell from the Well Inn to Gatwick (now Homefield) Farm. Nowadays the old "trackway" is a public footpath running parallel to Green Lane behind the buildings on its west side rejoining its old path after crossing the road and reaching open farmland. There are several old cottages in this road but none looking like the photo.


However if you go south to the bend in the road where it leaves the hamlet, there is an old dwelling, now known as Lilac Cottage (probably renamed c 1905), set back from the road, with the old trackway passing adjacently. The cottage is built on the Kingswood side, hence the problem with the confusing addresses, as the trackway followed the boundary between the Parish of Chipstead and the Liberty of Kingswood**.

I was sure this was the Cox's old home from the old photo. During their time there the cottage was probably tenanted from Sir Thomas Alcock of Gatwick Farm, then Sir John Hartopp and latterly Sir Henry Cosmo Bonsor, who been had instrumental in the construction of the Tattenham Corner Railway in1897.  All were successive "Lords of Kingswood Manor or Warren".

 I duly spoke to the current owners, Geoff Norman and Gerry Hidvegi whom I knew indirectly, and they were very agreeable to a visit by Maureen and Steve, who were due to visit the UK in the spring of 2013 for their son's wedding. Lilac Cottage is now a single dwelling, whereas in the Cox's time it was divided into two, possibly three, and the cottage nearest the "Street" was the village shop, housed in the "lean to" part. In 1895 this was run by a Mrs. Jane Richbell, one of a well known Mugswell family. The shop sold everything including coal. The Cox family lived at the other end of the row.


Lilac Cottage in 2013 from Green Lane

Lilac Cottage in 2013 from rear garden

In May 2013 we met Maureen and Steve, after their visit to the Church, with Sally Foxen, where they had placed wild flowers on her great great grandparents' memorial crosses. We had a convivial lunch in the White Hart and then had a very detailed conducted tour of the cottage by Geoff, before driving them back to Coulsdon South station. Steve subsequently sent me more information about the Cox family.

Cross of James and Harriet Cox in St.Margaret’s churchyard

Cross of Charles and Frederic Cox in St.Margaret’s churchyard

The Harris family would welcome any information on this mystery, or any other aspect of this whole story.

**The liberty of Kingswood was an administrative area run by the local Lord of the Manor after the dissolution of the Abbeys and Monasteries by Henry VllI in 1544-48. It was originally annexed to Hampton Court Palace, hence it is called Kingswood, and it became a royal hunting estate. There was no church there until 1838 to provide parish administration and hence it became a Royal Liberty. Queen Elizabeth 1st bestowed it to Lord Howard of Effingham, as first Lord of Kingswood Manor.

Rupert Courtenay-Evans 2015