Dorking is a long-established market and later railway town in the valley of the Pipp Brook between the North Downs and the Greensand Ridge approximately from the centre of London, in Surrey, England. It is equidistant between two high points of the hill ranges, Box Hill and Leith Hill. It is also in the postal system a large post town that covers surrounding semi-rural villages, from Mickleham and Westhumble in the north to Capel in the south. The parish used to stretch further east, in its Pixham former part, a settlement which evolved into a village and ward, to the River Mole, and in the Middle Ages altogether had at least three mills.
With the exception of Cotmandene which remains mostly public land with far-reaching views in the town centre, in the Georgian and Victorian periods seven foothills and slopes in the neighbourhood became grand country estates: today's Norbury Park, Denbies Vineyard Resort, Betchworth Castle/Betchworth Park Golf Course, Polesden Lacey (NT), Wotton House and Dorking Golf Course/The Deepdene Garden.
Dorking is today more of a commuter settlement than ever before and has three railway stations. In 1911 it was economically described as "almost entirely residential and agricultural, with some lime works on the chalk, though not so extensive as those in neighbouring parishes, a little brick-making, water-mills (corn) at Pixham Mill, and timber and saw-mills."
Poultry remains reared by some semi-rural inhabitants of the town – dorking chickens with an extra toe are a major breed. Sand of fine texture and often in veins of pink, for mortar and glassmaking was for a time dug, particularly in the 19th century, and some extensive caverns, the Dorking Caves were excavated for this purpose under southern parts of the town centre.
History and Development
Dorking appears in Domesday Book of 1086 as the Manor of Dorchinges. It was held by William the Conqueror. Its Domesday assets were: one church, three mills worth 15s 4d, 16 ploughs, of meadow, woodland and herbage for 88 hogs. It rendered £18 per year to its feudal system overlords.
Subsequent Lords of the Manor included the Dukes of Norfolk, who lived in Dorking until they moved to Arundel. One of them is buried in Dorking churchyard. In the medieval period, Dorking was a prosperous agricultural and market town with businesses capitalising on its position on the junction of a number of long distance roads and local tracks, milling and brewing, surrounding cultivated fields and pasture.
In 1750, the construction of a turnpike road made Dorking a staging post on the route to Brighton and the coast. The Bull's Head in South Street had a famous coachman, William Broad, whose portrait hangs in Dorking Museum in West Street. An inn in the centre of Dorking, the White Horse, was developed in the 18th century; previous buildings on this site belonged to the Knights Templar and later the Knights of St John.
Dorking held a big wheat and cattle market in the High Street. The poultry market was held in the corner of South Street and round Butter Hill. Here the famous Dorking fowl were sold. This breed, which has 5 claws instead of the normal four, was a favourite for 19th century tables, including that of Queen Victoria.
Dorking lost its stagecoaches when the railways arrived, but now attracted wealthy residents who built large houses in and around Dorking, such as Denbies House and Pippbrook House (now with Council Offices in the grounds). Surrounding land and beauty spots such as Cotmandene, and Box Hill were donated by landowners for public use, protected by the Metropolitan Green Belt and AONB designation of the North Downs and Greensand Ridge.
Cotmandene is a area of common land to the east of the town centre, (the name is thought to mean the heath of the poor cottages). Cricket matches were played on the heath during 18th century and are recorded in Edward Beavan's 1777 poem Box Hill. A painting entitled A Cricket Match on Cotmandene, Dorking by the artist James Canter, dating to around 1770, is now held by the Marylebone Cricket Club.
A game resembling rugby was once played here. The two sides were unlimited in number, representing the east and west of the town. The goals were the two bridges on the Pipp Brook. The Town Crier kicked off the ball at 2 pm and stopped play at 6 pm. The game was started at the church gates and was "rioted" up and down the High Street. It ceased in 1897 after complaints by tradesmen and it was officially stopped under section 72 of the Highway Act 1835.
Dorking was an urban district from 1894 to 1974. In 1911 it was described in the Victoria County History, compiled for the county that year and the next as "almost entirely residential and agricultural, with some lime works on the chalk, though not so extensive as those in neighbouring parishes, a little brick-making, water-mills (corn) at Pixham Mill, and timber and saw-mills."
Topography, natural history and local landscape