Cobham is a village in the Borough of Elmbridge in Surrey, England, centred south-west of London and northeast of Guildford on the River Mole. It has a commercial/services High Street, a significant number of primary and private schools and the Painshill landscape park.
Its border has one of the three services of the M25 motorway, that although named after Cobham is on the far side of the village of Downside. Two other localities are within its post town: Fairmile which is almost wholly residential and Stoke D'Abernon a separate semi-rural village.
Cobham appears in Domesday Book as Covenham and was held by Chertsey Abbey. Its domesday assets were: 12½ hides; 3 mills worth 13s 4d, 10 ploughs, of meadow, woodland worth 40 hogs. It rendered altogether £14 per year to its feudal system overlords. Coveham or Covenham is thought to mean a settlement in the curve of a river.
Historically, Cobham comprised two separate communities, Street Cobham and Church Cobham. The former lay on the road to London, and the building now known as the Cobham Exchange was once a coaching inn. The community of Church Cobham grew up around St. Andrew's Church, which dates from the 12th century. Although much altered and extended in the 19th century, the church preserves a Norman tower and is a Grade I listed building (the highest architectural category).
The village's population was reported as 1617 inhabitants in 1848. However, the arrival of the railway in the 1880s led to the expansion of the original village, which became increasingly suburbanised during the 20th century. Until the 1960s, the entrance to the High Street from River Hill to the south was very narrow. A number of historic and picturesque buildings were demolished at that time, some of them to enable the road to be widened, some to be replaced by contemporary buildings more suitable for shops. Subsequently the High Street has developed into a busy local shopping centre. Although many small shops such as greengrocers, butchers and haberdashers have disappeared, there remains a wide variety of businesses in the High Street and neighbouring streets.
Aviation and motor industries
Cobham is not far from Brooklands, and there was a certain amount of associated aviation and motoring activity at Cobham during the last century. Leading motor engineer and car designer Reid Railton set up a manufacturing facility and built the well known Railton road cars at the Fairmile Works from 1933-40. An example of the Railton car is displayed locally at Brooklands Museum.
In World War II, after the Vickers-Armstrongs aircraft factory at Brooklands was bombed by the Luftwaffe on 4 September 1940, with heavy loss of life and many more injured, the Vickers Experimental Department was quickly dispersed to secret premises on the Silvermere and Foxwarren Park estates along Redhill Road. Engineer and inventor Barnes Wallis also carried out important trials catapulting models of his 'Upkeep' bouncing bomb across Silvermere Lake around 1942 and conducted spinning trials with larger prototypes at 'Depot W46' (the largest of the three dispersed sites). Vickers had numerous other war-time dispersed depots in the local area and those in Cobham included Corbie Wood and Riseholme (on Seven Hills Road), Conway Cottage and Norwood Farm.
Despite its proximity to both Brooklands and Wisley airfields (both active until the early 1970s), Cobham saw relatively few aircraft crashes. Most notable was a Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter which flew low over Brooklands apparently in trouble and crashed at Cobham on 16 March 1944; the pilot survived but little else is known of this incident.
During World War II, another well-known aircraft company, Airspeed Ltd, apparently set up an almost forgotten design office at Fairmile Manor and is believed to have designed the Ambassador airliner there before moving back to Portsmouth in the late 1940s.
After the war, Vickers' Experimental Department continued to use two of the Redhill Road sites (now known as 'Foxwarren') and built new aircraft prototypes there such as the Viscount airliner and Valiant V-bomber, until it moved back to the main factory at Brooklands in the late 1950s.
In the seventies Cobham resident Mike Chambers built Huron Formula Fords and a Formula Atlantic car at the Silvermere works on the North side of the A3 and Geoff Uren prepared the BMW team saloon cars and Graham Hill's Jägermeister sponsored Formula 2 car.
From 1972-2011, the Cobham Bus Museum occupied a war-time aircraft hangar (used mainly by Vickers-Armstrongs as a machine shop) next to Silvermere golf course in Redhill Road. The bus museum re-opened as the London bus museum at Brooklands Museum on 1 August 2011 and its former premises were demolished a few weeks earlier to be replaced by a new care home.