History of Woking

As Wallis Plumbing Ltd is based in Woking the following article has been provided to provide an insight into the local area including the history of the towns development and its significance within the county of Surrey.

Early Woking

The earliest inhabitants of Woking may have been the Bronze Age people who left the burial mounds on Horsell Common in about 1500 BCE. The Romans also settled for a while near Old Woking, the small village that became the oldest part of the modern town. However, it was a Saxon tribe, the followers or “ingas” of Wocc who gave the town its name.

St Peter’s Church was established in Old Woking in the 7th century. The original church was destroyed by the Vikings, but it was rebuilt following the Conquest. Parts of this Norman church survive today, including the west door. Dendochronologic analysis has shown that the trees from which this door was made grew during the reign of Henry I.

Old Woking didn’t change much in the following centuries, but remained a small village surrounded by isolated farms. Although there was some good agricultural land along the River Wey, much of the area was open heathland, including Horsell and Chobham Commons.

Woking Palace

Woking began to play a more significant role when the manor house was granted in 1466 to Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII. It was here that Henry VII signed the treaty with Spain in 1490 that led to the arranged marriage of Catherine of Aragon to his son Arthur. When Henry VII took over the manor in 1503, he began work on turning it into a palace. The work was continued by his son, Henry VIII, the second husband of Catherine, who continued to visit and entertain guests at the grand Woking Palace. The palace continued in royal ownership until James I passed it to Sir Edward Zouch, who abandoned it in favour of building a new manor at Hoe Bridge Place. Woking Palace fell into decline and is left as a ruin today. However, the coat of arms granted to Woking Council in 1930 took all of its elements from the arms of the previous owners of the manor, preserving some part of its history in the community.

The Growth of New Woking

Woking first began to grow into a town when it was connected to the Thames by the Wey Navigation Canal in 1651, but it was not until the 19th century that it started changing rapidly. The railway arrived in 1838 and Woking Station became an important junction, with trains reaching London in under an hour. The ease of access together with the cheap land prices made Woking an attractive investment.

The first to take advantage of this opportunity were the London Necropolis Company, which was looking for a solution for the overcrowding of cemeteries in London. It created the largest private cemetery in Europe at Brookwood and constructed a special railway connecting it to Waterloo. Trains continued to bring mourners along this route until 1941.

During the 19th century, Woking got its own police station, football club, prisons, and hospitals. Gas and electricity arrived in the 1890s, along with a new sewerage system and two newspapers, which later merged into the Woking News and Mail. The first custom-built crematorium in the UK was built in the town in 1879, despite some opposition, in another attempt to deal with the overcrowding of graveyards during the Victorian era. Woking was therefore at the forefront of a significant change in attitudes to burial in the UK. Woking also featured in The War of the Worlds, which was written by HG Wells while he was living on Maybury Road.

The Changing Face of Woking

Woking continued to grow during the 20th century, with new public buildings, cinemas, and shopping centres. Industry began to develop in the area, with big manufacturers such as Kenwood and the McLaren Racing team providing employment for those who weren’t commuting to London. Housing was also added in and around the town, including the Sheerwater suburb in the 1950s and Goldsworth Park, which was the largest private housing estate in Europe when it was built in the 1970s.

The rapid changes that happened in Woking during the 19th and 20th centuries can be understood by looking at just one site in the town. The Royal Dramatic College, a home for retired actors, was built in Maybury in 1862. After it closed, the building became the Oriental Institute, an academic institution affiliated with the University of the Punjab. The first purpose built mosque to be constructed in Western Europe since the 16th century was built there in 1889, with support from Sultan Shah Jahan, Begum of Bhopal. Although the mosque remains in use, the Oriental Institute closed and the site was later used by the aircraft manufacturer Martinsyde, became the Lion Works used by James Walker Engineering, and was then developed into the Lion Retail Park.

Woking developed from a small settlement on poor agricultural land, through a period of rapid growth and industry, to become a thriving commuter town.