Epsom Heritage - Part 1
A Detailed Survey of Epsom with historical context by Tomas H.J. Dethridge.
Epsom was founded in or about the 6th century (one historian suggests the fifth) as a Saxon settlement close to the Roman road of Stane Street, along which the new arrivals probably travelled. The road ran between Londinium (London) and Noviomagus (Chichester) and the new hamlet was named from the leader called Ebb (or Ebba or Ebbi) - hence Ebb's hame. Over the centuries there have been a dozen or more renderings until Epsom became the more or less accepted version by the 16th century. The name Ebbisham is of course still to be found locally. The village is mentioned in the Doomsday Book as Evesham with the Abbot of Chertsey as its landlord, a state of affairs that remained the case up to the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. There were at one time quite separate communities of Woodcote and in the Stamford Green area, but these are now part of Epsom.
That Stane Street continued in existence as a major way for some centuries is borne out by the fact that William the Conqueror after the battle of Hastings rode along part of the Surrey section on his advance towards London. There does not appear to be much in the way of definitive archaeological evidence as to the precise routing of Stane Street, at any rate at its northern end, perhaps evidence exists still waiting to be uncovered. It ran south-eastwards out of Londinium probably along the line of the A3 via Tooting and on to Stonecot Hill, along the line of the A24 via North Cheam to reach Ewell, which with its natural wells served as a watering and refreshment staging post and was the site of an older settlement. From Ewell it is thought by some to have passed by Langton Avenue and Windmill Lane, possibly along or close to Mill Road although some would locate it a little further east by Bridle Road. It then followed Church Road immediately east of the subsequent Saxon settlement and St Martin's Church, crossing Ashley Road, the Durdans and Woodcote Park/RAC golf course to Headley Road near Chalk Pit Lane. It then ran east of both Ashtead (where a road branched off to a large Roman clay tile factory on Ashtead Common) and Leatherhead to north of Burford Bridge and Dorking and on to the Coast following very much the line of the A29.
The original Epsom was centred on the site of St Martin of Tours parish church, on which there is supposed to have been a Christian church since perhaps the 7th century. The Doomsday mentions two churches here; one is undoubtedly St Martins but the precise location of the other is uncertain. Epsom was formerly described as the Hundred of Copthorne in the County of Surrey; a Hundred was a mediaeval administrative division (for which there are a number of alternative explanations) and Copthorne survives as the name of a village just to the east of Crawley but seems to have no direct link with Epsom.
Previously predominantly an agricultural community, though with some brickmaking on the Common, Epsom underwent expansion in the 17th century following the discovery on the Common of the well producing water with medicinal properties and the consequent development as a spa
and entertainment and leisure centre within reasonable access from London. The most convenient area for enlargement lay in the meadowland to the west; the district now covered by the western half of the High Street, and this came to be linked to the old village by a road known, as it still is, as The Parade, along which the celebrities of the day were wont to parade on Sundays in their finery. It was of course to this western area that the centre of activity of the town was to migrate.
Its most distinctive surviving landmark has to be the Clock Tower
, built in 1848 to mark the institution of local government in a more modern and responsible form no longer based on the Parish Vestry, the previous focus of local authority. The new innovation stemmed from an Act of Parliament, in the guise of local Boards of Health in an era when the state of public health and hygiene (such as then existed) was a matter for serious concern particularly in the growing urban areas. The Epsom Board
instituted in 1850 was one of the first to be set up in the whole country. It was in fact the Vestry which had been in existence since at least 1770 and. in its early days met at the Spread Eagle, that earlier, in the 1840s had approved the building of the new tower. (We will come back to this later)
Just as the Board of Health superseded the Vestry, so it was in turn replaced in 1894 by a newly constituted Urban District Council (UDC); in that same year an Epsom Rural District Council (RDC) was established whose writ ran in Ewell, Cuddington and other outlying areas. In 1933 the UDC was enlarged to take in the responsibilities of the RDC and in the following year renamed itself the Epsom & Ewell UDC. Conscious of its much increased size and importance, the Council now resolved to petition the Crown for the grant of Borough status, which was granted in 1937, the formal incorporation taking place on 27 September.
The Epsom & Ewell Coat of Arms
In 1963 the then Government tabled a Bill before Parliament to set up the Greater London Council (GLC) which would replace the existing London County Council (LCC) also taking in Middlesex and certain parts of the surrounding home counties. This would have included Epsom Borough's three northern wards and as the debate in the House progressed came the threat of the whole Borough being absorbed, like Sutton and Kingston. This aroused intense local opposition, in which the Epsom Protection Society (then still in its first three years or so of existence) played a major role, and by dint of some astute behind-the-scenes parliamentary manoeuvring at the eleventh hour the threat was warded off.
Epsom is very largely enclosed by existing built-up areas to its north and by the Downs and the Metropolitan Green Belt on the others end this has rendered it unlikely to be subject to significant outward enlargement and change. Proposals for development within the Green Belt have mostly been fought off (though one or two small ones have slipped through). This has been an ongoing battle in which the Epsom Protection Society
has stood in the forefront. Nevertheless the threat will still remain, particularly if Government ever concludes that its perceived requirement for considerable additional housing development in the South East - or for any other reason - should take precedence. There will be an ongoing need for vigilance if the space within the M25 ring, and indeed beyond, is not to become a relentlessly extending subtopia.
In the following survey, certain buildings are referred to as 'listed'. This refers to listing at Grade II level or the less usual Grade II*. Grade I covers structures of national importance and none is to be found within Epsom. Listing, which has to be approved by English Heritage on behalf of Government, means that because of their architectural and/or historical importance, such buildings may not be demolished or altered without specific permission. The designation 'Conservation Area' by the Council likewise imposes restrictions on changes.
In this survey, a number of businesses and shop are mentioned by name, some local and some national; these have been mentioned where they are thought to be of ongoing interest. It has been quite impossible to quote more than a few out of the many hundreds, indeed thousands, who have served Epsom over the years, even where their names, locations, types of activity, and (in some cases) dates are known. They all made their contribution to the life of the town and their fellow-citizens.
The terms High Street, East and West, are used purely for convenience; they are not used officially.