Reigate is an historic town in Surrey, England. It is in the London commuter belt and one of three towns in the Borough of Reigate and Banstead. It is sited at the foot of the North Downs and extends over part of the Greensand Ridge. Reigate has a medieval castle and has been a market town since the medieval period, when it also 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 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, 12 acres (49,000 m2) of meadow, pannage and herbage worth 183 hogs. It rendered £40 per year to its feudal system overlords.
The earlier site was, at least in part, in what is now the Church Street area of Reigate, close to the church. Part of the site was excavated in the 1990s. It was shown that the settlement moved during the earlier part of the 12th century when the present town was formed. William I granted the land around Reigate to one of his supporters, William de Warenne, who was created Earl of Surrey in 1088. It is believed that his son, William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey, ordered that Reigate Castle be built, although the de Warennes had their southern base at Lewes, Sussex, as well as castles in Yorkshire and Normandy. Around 1150 the Earl de Warenne laid out a new town below the castle. This town forms the basis of modern-day Reigate. Little is known of the Castle which has never been excavated on any great scale. Local legend says that prior to the signing of the Magna Carta, the rebellious barons met to hammer out the details of the document in the extensive caves beneath the castle. The story however has no truth to it. The castle later fell into decay and the remains were demolished at the end of the 17th century, though the grounds remain as a public garden, and the caves are occasionally opened for tours.
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.
The coming of the Brighton railway in 1841 led to development across the parish, and saw a second town emerge in the eastern fields around the railway station in an area that was previously uninhabited: this town at first had two names but since the early 20th century, has been called Redhill.
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 Borough of Reigate, a parliamentary constituency, was formed in 1295 and roughly equated to the town centre of Reigate. It 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. 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 of the 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 as the Borough of Reigate and Banstead 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.
Surrey Research Tips
Administrative boundaries of the county of Surrey (Surrey History Centre. The centre has a website with a number of useful indexes--titheholders in various parishes, deaths at the county gaol, etc.)
The website GENUKI provides a very comprehensive list of reference sources for the County of Surrey. It includes: