South Street by John Beckett
Image: 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 towns 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 towns 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 Hopes treasure house at Deepdene (which swallowed up the adjoining Chart Park and Betchworth Castle estates), Thomas Cubitts Denbies, the Barclays Bury Hill and Pippbrook.

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Dorking High Street, 1899
Photographic Survey and Record of Surrey no. 745

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.

Find out about early cycling in Dorking.

Click here to see the catalogue of the St Martin, Dorking, Parish Records (1539 -1958) held at the Surrey History Centre.

Click here to see the catalogue of the St Martin, Dorking, Parish Records (1820-1829) held at the Surrey History Centre.

Click here to see the catalogue of the St Paul’s, Dorking, Parish Records (1857-1979) held at the Surrey History Centre.

Key Sites

  • The South Street Caves are the most impressive of the towns many underground workings.
  • William Mullins house on West Street is the only known surviving home of a Pilgrim Father.
  • Box Hill, just to the north of the town, has been a popular leisure destination since the seventeenth century.
  • The villas of Rose Hill housed the prosperous middle-classes who moved to the town in the early nineteenth century.
  • St Martins church. This Victorian church is the third on the site and its spire dominates the town.
  • St Barnabas church on Ranmore, designed by George Gilbert Scott, was originally Denbies estate church.
  • Pippbrook mansion, built in 1856 for the master of the Glamorgan Ironworks, now houses the library.
  • Dorking Halls had a long association with the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams whose statue stands outside.
  • 26 Wathen Road was the birthplace of actor Laurence Olivier
  • Denbies is now home to Englands largest vineyard.

Further information

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3 Responses to Dorking

  1. colin Bradbury says:

    What’s the chance of obtaining ” heritage Lottery Fund ” , to preserve Pippbrook Mansion ? l have a wealth of items for a museum (Clair Curator of the museum , has seen some details ). Pippbrook needs repairs (spread over time), Now adequate for Mole Valley to move into (changed to offices for the next year , ’till 2017) . This great building could contain a multiple use, as l’m sure already proposed . Any response from the Heritage Fund ?
    My ph. no: 01737 842 405

    • Sheila says:

      I remember playing in the unkempt garden of Pippbrook, aged about four, during the 39/45 war. My grandpa was looking after me, but I was left to my own devices while he played lawn bowls, or tended the bowling green. It was a wonderful playground. He was Mr Charles Bond, and had formerly owned a bookshop in the High Street, opposite the market gate.

  2. Judith Cummings says:

    I am trying to locate the old owners of Osbrook Manor, Dorking Surry where I used to live back in 1979/80. I recall they were Bill and Ginnie Stretton they had several children as far as I can remember. I worked as a flight attendant, based at London Gatwick Airport and rented the West wing of the property.

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