A Brief History of Dorking

John Beckett – South Street From Pump Corner (SRY DKM 277) Courtesy of Dorking Museum

Dorking is a small town in north-eastern Surrey. It sits on the greensand between the chalk of the North Downs and the clay of the Weald in a key position where east-west routes intersect with the passage of the river Mole through the chalk hills.

Earliest settlement was probably Roman: Stane Street passed through the town. The name Dorking, however, comes from the Saxon ‘Dorchingas’. By Domesday the Manor of Dorking covered the modern parishes of Dorking, Capel and the Holmwoods. Later the settlement became a market centre for the surrounding villages and the town’s symbol is the five-clawed Dorking fowl for which the market was famous.

Problems of transport over the chalk to the north and clay to the south hampered growth until the coming of the Horsham to Epsom turnpike in 1755. Though the road did not significantly transform the fortunes of the town’s market, it did make the pure air and beauty of the surrounding countryside accessible. Genteel Londoners came to visit nearby Box Hill and to live. By the mid-nineteenth century the town was surrounded by mansions set in hundreds of acres: Thomas Hope’s treasure house at Deepdene (which swallowed up the adjoining Chart Park and Betchworth Castle estates), Thomas Cubitt’s Denbies, the Barclays’ Bury Hill and Pippbrook.

The town became known for sporting pursuits: Cotmandene was famous for cricket during the eighteenth century and a riotous all-day, street-wide football game was played on Shrove Tuesday until the early twentieth century.

The arrival of railway lines in 1849 and 1867 brought day trippers. Charabancs, bicycles and cars followed as the town became a favoured recreational destination. The early twentieth century saw growth east over the Deepdene estate and south towards the Holmwood. With its slow rail connections to London, however, Dorking has managed to retain its quiet market character.

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