Reigate is a historic town in Surrey, England, at the foot of the North Downs, and in the London commuter belt. It has a medieval castle and covers several mounds of a short section of the Greensand Ridge. Reigate is one of three towns in the borough of Reigate and Banstead. The swathe of land from the town southwards, including the adjacent town of Redhill, is sometimes grouped together as the Gatwick Diamond, M23 corridor or Crawley Urban Area across more than into West Sussex. These three largely synonymous areas are interspersed with Metropolitan Green Belt land and are used by planners to highlight connectivity to Gatwick Airport and in respect of two, the city of Brighton and Hove. Reigate has been a market town since the medieval period, when it became a parliamentary borough.
There are neolithic flint mines on the ridge of the North Downs above Reigate. The Bronze Age barrows on Reigate Heath indicate ancient settlement in the area. A Bronze Age spearhead was recovered on Park Hill in Reigate Priory Park. In 2004, a Roman tile kiln dated from around AD 92 (pictured left) was recovered from the grounds of Rosehill in Doods Way, Reigate. Tiles on the Rosehill site were first discovered in the 1880s. The tiles would have been used for important buildings in the area. The Rosehill find is also the oldest recorded use of Reigate stone (ironstone of the Upper Greensand) for "ashlar [uniform blocks] masonry work".
The town lay within the Reigate hundred, an Anglo-Saxon administrative division. Reigate appears in Domesday Book in 1086 as Cherchefelle which appears to mean "the open space by the hill". (The name has nothing to do with the church and the element Cherche is a later corruption.) It was held by William the Conqueror as successor to king Harold's widow Editha. Its Domesday assets were: 34 hides, 2 mills worth 11s 10d, 29 ploughs, of meadow, pannage and herbage worth 183 hogs. It rendered £40 per year to its feudal system overlords.
The origin of the name Reigate is uncertain, but appears to derive from Roe-deer Gate, as the town was situated near to the entrance to the de Warenne's deer park.
The medieval town is centred on a north—south road of some antiquity as it incorporates the pre-Conquest road pattern. The story of the Pilgrim's Way passing through Reigate is a myth, although in the 13th century a chapel to St Thomas was built in the town centre for the use of Canterbury pilgrims.
Areas of the town have been the subject of extensive archaeological investigation. Bell Street was certainly in existence by the middle of the 12th century and Mesolithic implements have been found here. Much of the High Street appears to be slightly later although there appear to have been buildings along the south side of the Street near to the junction with Bell Street by the 13th century at the latest. The market place was originally around Slipshoe Street, at the junction of West Street, but infilled houses encroached on it and it had been moved to the east end of the High Street by the end of the 16th century. The results of much of this work have been published; many of the finds are held in the museum of the Holmesdale Natural History Club in Croydon Road.
Probably early in the 13th century Reigate Priory was founded for regular canons of the Order of St Augustine although it was strictly speaking the Hospital of the Crutched Friars - a suborder. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1535 the estate was granted by Henry VIII to William Howard, 1st Baron Howard of Effingham, who soon converted the Priory buildings into a residence. The Effingham branch of the Howard family, including the Earl of Nottingham who as Lord High Admiral commanded the force which defeated the Spanish Armada, lived there until their heirs sold it to the wealthy London brewer, John Parsons in 1681. Remains of the former monastery buildings are known to lie beneath the lawns to the south of the present mainly 18th-century house, which is now used as a school.
The town developed a large trade in oatmeal during the 16th century but this had ceased by about 1720. There was a noted tannery at Linkfield Street which was expanded in the 19th century. It burnt down about 1930.
Reigate has two windmills: a post mill on Reigate Heath and a tower mill on Wray Common. In the medieval period the parish had other windmills, about a dozen animal-powered mills for oatmeal and watermills on the southern parish boundary with the Mole and Redhill Brook. Reigate is the setting for the Sherlock Holmes short story The Adventure of the Reigate Squire, also known as The Adventure of the Reigate Squires and The Adventure of the Reigate Puzzle. It is one of 12 stories featured in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
The 1295-formed (non-corporate) Borough of Reigate (roughly the town centre of Reigate) elected two MPs until the Reform Act of 1832 when it lost one; it was disenfranchised in 1868 for corruption but revived in the reform of 1885 and Reigate has been the term for the local MP's seat ever since. In 1863, the whole parish was formally incorporated as a borough with Thomas Dann as its first Mayor. The urbanising by-and-large rural area of Banstead (on the widest part of the Downs) succeeded to this status on a merger with the Borough Reigate in 1974. Redhill gained its first of two vestries in the post-medieval to mid-19th century parish system occupying the east of Reigate (not distinct at the time from a civil parish) in 1867.