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The History of Dorking

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Dorking was probably originally established as staging post on the very important Stane Street. This was the Roman Road between London to Chichester , itself a vital English Channel port for the Roman supply and administrative machine. It seems the Romans chose well and the settlement persisted even after they left Britain in the 4th century. Little is known about Dorking in Saxon times but it is listed by the Normans in their Domesday Book of 1086 as the Manor of Dorchinges. The manor, which would have formerly belonged to a Saxon, was now held by William the Conqueror himself. The estate was of reasonable value, the Domesday Book lists one church, three mills worth 15s 4d, 16 ploughs, three acres of meadow, woodland and herbage worth 88 hogs. Dorking was a prosperous agricultural and market town by the Medieval period, benefitting from its situation in a narrow chalk valley where many roads, paths and tracks met. The steep sided valley is cut by the River Mole which runs to the north of the town. To the south is Leith Hill , the highest point in Southern England at 1000 feet. The North Downs and Surrey Hills dominate the area and can be seen from almost all parts of Dorking.

In 1750 a Turnpike Road was laid and this immediately made Dorking a staging post on the route between London and Brighton , and the coast. A famous coachman of the era, William Broad, has a portrait hanging in Dorking Museum in West Street. He was associated with the the Bulls Head in South Street. Another very successful coaching inn now dominates the centre of Dorking. The White Horse inn, which was developed in the 18th century at the height of the coaching era. The Knights Templar and later the Knights of St John once owned property on the site.

Dorking thrived, and the wealthy Surrey market town held a busy wheat and cattle market in the High Street. The poultry market was situated both at the corner of South Street and at Butter Hill. Here the famous Dorking fowl were sold. They are a breed with five claws instead of the normal four and were a favourite on 19th century tables, including Queen Victoria 's. The town enjoyed some fame for sporting pursuits. Cotmandene was favoured for cricket during the eighteenth century and an all-day, street-wide football game was played on Shrove Tuesday. The ‘game’, although it was more like a mass brawl, continued until 1897 when complaints caused a legal clampdown on the riotous pursuit. Direct trains to London via Dorking replaced the stage coaches when the railways arrived in 1849 and 1867. The trains brought day trippers to the market town and the surrounding countryside. During the early twentieth century Dorking grew east over the Deepdene estate and south towards the Holmwood.

Dorking was a relatively short hop on the train from the very heart of London and this attracted the wealthy from London looking for some convenient country styled living. They built large houses in and around Dorking, such as Denbies House and Pippbrook House. Surrounding land and beauty spots such as Cotmandene and Box Hill were donated by landowners for public use helping to contain the urban growth and retain charm and character of Dorking. A twist in the town’s history came at the end of the 20th century when wine production began on the slopes of the Denbies Vineyard , which sits on one of the banks of the River Mole just north of the town. The estate is now renowned for its award winning wines.

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