Camberley is a town in Surrey, England, situated southwest of central London, between the M3 and M4 motorways. The town lies close to the borders of both Hampshire and Berkshire; the boundaries intersect on the western edge of the town where all three counties converge. It is the main town in the borough of Surrey Heath. Camberley's suburbs include Crawley Hill, Heatherside (despite being separated by the M3 motorway), Yorktown and the Old Dean.
The town has a population of 30,155, whilst the Aldershot Urban Area (which also includes other towns, such as Aldershot, Farnborough, and Farnham) has a population of 243,344, making it the thirtieth-largest urban area in the UK.
Before the 19th century, the area now occupied by Camberley was referred to as Bagshot Heath, which was known as a haunt of Highwaymen such as William Davies - known as the Golden Farmer - and Claude Duval. The land remained largely undeveloped due to a sandy topsoil making it unsuitable for farming. In A tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain, written between 1724 and 1726, Daniel Defoe described the area as barren and sterile; "a mark of the just resentment shew’d by Heaven upon the Englishmen’s pride... horrid and frightful to look on, not only good for little, but good for nothing".
The town as it now stands has its roots in the building of The Royal Military College, which later became the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in 1812. A settlement known as "New Town" grew in the area around the college which in 1831 was renamed Yorktown, after Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany. At this time, the population was 702. In 1848, the parish church of St.Michael, Yorktown was built by Henry Woodyer.
Later, the Staff College was established to the east of the Academy, and a property speculator built the nearby Cambridge Hotel. The surrounding area became known as Cambridge Town, but was renamed "Camberley" in January 1877 to avoid confusion by the General Post Office with Cambridge in Cambridgeshire. The renaming of Camberley was mentioned in the 1963 film adaptation of William Golding's Lord of the Flies. The character Piggy states that the new name consisted of three parts; "Cam" taken from the original name of Cambridgetown, "ber" which means 'river', because there are many rivers in the area, and "ley" because it is a common ending for English town names in the area (as in neighbouring Frimley); although the name was actually derived from the "Cam" stream which runs through the town (mainly underground), "Amber" Hill which was marked on John Norden's map of the area in 1607 and "ley" usually meaning a clearing in the woodland. Hugh Edwards, the child actor who played Piggy, attended Camberley Primary School which was demolished to make way for the town centre redevelopment.
During the 19th century, Camberley grew in size. This was given added impetus with the arrival of the branch-line railway and railway station in 1878 and a reputation for healthy air, due to the vast number of pine trees, which were said to be good for those suffering from pulmonary disorders. By the end of the century the population had reached 8,400. Since then, the town has absorbed the original settlement of Yorktown, which is now regarded as part of Camberley.
The Southern Scott Scramble, the first known motorcycle scrambling event, took place on Camberley Heath on 29 March 1924. The event, won by A.B. Sparks, attracted a crowd in the thousands and is considered to be the first instance of what later developed in the sport of motocross. During the Second World War, the Old Dean common was used as an instruction camp of the Free French Forces. The Kremer prize was conceived in the Cambridge Hotel in Camberley in 1959 after Henry Kramer toured a Microcell factory.
The Old Dean housing estate was built in the 1950s on the "Old Dean Common" for residents of heavily bombed Surrey-area's homeless after World War II. Many of the roads on that half of the Old Dean are named after areas of London, with the others named after places on the common.
Camberley falls under the siren test area of Broadmoor Hospital, a secure mental hospital in nearby Crowthorne. The siren was installed following a public outcry at the escape of child-murderer John Thomas Straffen in April 1952. The siren is still tested every Monday at 10am.
In 1969 there was an outbreak of rabies when a dog, just released from a sixth month quarantine after returning from Germany, attacked two people on Camberley Common. The scare resulted in restriction orders for dogs and large-scale shoots to carry out the destruction of foxes and other wildlife.
After much debate and delay (plans having been discussed for over half a decade), construction started in May 2006 on a new mixed-use development west of Park Street. Named 'The Atrium', the new development includes residential, leisure and retail facilities, as well as a 900 space car park. There are 217 'design-led' apartments divided into three areas within the complex (named Centro, Aspect and Courtyard). Fourteen new retail units face directly onto Park Street, opposite the Main Square shopping centre. Park Street has been pedestrianised and landscaped as part of the development. Leisure facilities include a nine-screen cinema, bowling alley, a health and fitness club, cafés and restaurants. Various elements of The Atrium was opened during 2008, with the final elements, the main cinema and bowling Alley, opening in October and November 2008 respectively.
In 2009 the town's households were named by Experian as having the highest CO2 footprint in the UK, estimated at 28.05 tonnes per household per year (compared to 18.36 tonnes for the lowest, South Shields).