Cranleigh is a large village and civil parish, self-proclaimed the largest in England, almost southeast of Guildford in Surrey. It lies east of the A281, which links Guildford with Horsham, on an alternative route that is not an A-road. It is in the north-west corner of the Weald (a large remnant forest) and immediately south-east of Winterfold Forest, a remaining area of forest on the Greensand Ridge.
Until the mid-1860s, the village was usually spelt Cranley. The Post Office succeeded in getting the spelling changed to avoid confusion with nearby Crawley in West Sussex. The older spelling is preserved by the Cranley Hotel in the middle of the village. The origin of the name is recorded in the Pipe Rolls as both Cranlea in 1166 and Cranelega in 1167. A little later in the Feet of Fines of 1198 the name is written as Cranele. Etymologists consider all these versions to be the fusion of the Old English words "Cran", meaning "crane", and "Lēoh" that together mean 'a woodland clearing visited by cranes'. The name is popularly believed to come from the large crane breeding grounds that were supposed to have been historically located at Vachery Pond, locally known as simply Vachery. The figure of a crane adorns the old drinking water fountain of 1874 which can still be found in the middle of the village in 'Fountain Square', and a pair of cranes adorn the crest of the recently granted civic Coat of arms of Cranleigh Parish Council.
Situated partly on the Greensand Ridge, where it rises to at Winterfold Hill, but mainly on the clay and sandstone Lower Weald, Cranleigh has little of prehistoric or Roman interest, whereas just across the east border Wykehurst and Rapley Farms have a Roman buildings and Roman Tile Kilns — in the parish of Ewhurst. A spur of the Roman road between London and Chichester runs north west to Guildford past nearby Farley Heath in Farley Green, a temple site. Cranleigh was not mentioned in the Domesday Book, at that time being part of the manor of Shere.
The Anglican parish church of St Nicolas dates the first building on its site from around 1170, and the building was in its present form by the mid-14th century. It was extensively restored in 1847. The church has a gargoyle, situated on a pillar inside the church, which is said to have inspired Lewis Carroll, who lived in Guildford, to create the Cheshire Cat. With the growth of the village, a "daughter" church, St Andrew's, opened at the west end of the village in 1900. The parish is in the Diocese of Guildford.
Oliver Cromwell visited Knowle in 1657, his soldiers being billeted in houses in the village.
Post Industrial Revolution
Growth came due to improvements in transport; in 1813 the Wey and Arun Canal was authorised. Three years later it opened, passing a few miles to the west of the village. This route linked London (via the Thames and the Wey) with Littlehampton (via the Arun). However, the canal traffic was completely eclipsed by the Horsham to Guildford railway which opened in 1865, and the canal fell into disuse. A turnpike road was also built between Guildford and Horsham, assent for the project being given in 1818. The opening is commemorated by an obelisk at the junction of the roads to Horsham and to Ewhurst. The Prince Regent used the route when travelling between Windsor and Brighton, the distances to which are given on the plaque on the obelisk.
Three people played a major part in the development of the village during the nineteenth century: Reverend John Henry Sapte, Doctor Albert Napper and Stephen Rowland. Sapte arrived in Cranleigh in 1846 as the rector. He played a major role in setting up the National School in 1847 and Cranleigh School in 1865. He remained in the village until his death in 1906, by this time having been appointed Archdeacon of Surrey.
Together with Napper, Sapte set up the first cottage hospital in the country in 1859. It has survived many attempts to close it, through fundraising by the local community. However it lost its beds for in-patients in May 2006.
Stephen Rowland was a resident who had a major role in the development of the infrastructure of the village. He formed the Cranleigh Gas Company in 1876, and arranged for a mains water supply in 1886. In 1894 he laid out an estate between the Horsham and Ewhurst Roads, building New Park Road, Avenue Road, Mead Road, Mount Road and Bridge Road. He also set up a grocery store. His name is commemorated in that of Rowland Road.
During World War II, on 27 August 1944, the infant school was hit by a V-1 flying bomb and demolished. This occurred early on a Sunday morning, and the school was empty. The only casualty was the Rector, who was in his garden not far away and was injured. Another flying bomb hit the gasholder on the Common, destroying both the structure and a nearby cottage, whose occupant was killed.
The Regal Cinema opened on 30 October 1936. It survived for over sixty years, finally closing on 14 March 2002. The site is now occupied by a block of flats.
The cricket field has been used for that purpose since 1843. Cranleigh Lawn Tennis Tournament was held there in August from 1922 until 1998, when it moved to the grounds of Cranleigh School.
David Mann's department store opened in 1887 and is still in business.
In 1975 the 1900-built church of St Andrew was demolished. A distinctive row of maple trees which lines the High Street between the cricket field and the Rowland Road junction was planted in 1890, and not by Canadian servicemen in World War I as is widely believed.
Cranleigh's Village Hall opened in 1933. The village lays claim to be the largest village in England.