Situated on the edge of the rolling Surrey hills yet with easy access to the facilities of London, the boroughs rich heritage was first mentioned in the Domesday Book, and then regularly over the centuries by leading chroniclers such as Pepys and Dickens.
Epsoms long tradition as a racing stronghold takes on an international slant when it hosts the world famous Derby across some of the most beautiful downland in the country. Epsom & Ewell is a modern borough with a population of over 70,000.
For those new to the borough, beginning a journey of exploration has been made easy by the Borough Council which has provided numerous centres of information. Visitors can choose between the many walks organised by the Councils Ranger Service or a visit to the Borough Museum at Bourne Hall, Ewell. Simply by picking up leaflets and maps from the wide range available from the Town Halls reception or by accessing the Councils website, you can take a thought-provoking stroll down the avenues of time.
The old Town Hall, built in the 1930s, sits comfortably alongside the new. Those wishing to listen to the debate in the Council Chamber can do so in the public gallery or can participate, according to the relevant committee and subject at hand. Overseeing the Town Hall and all its workings is the boroughs coat of arms, devised by the late Revd E E Dorling and granted in 1937. This distinctive shield conveys the unique character of the borough; the green and white symbolises the chalk and grass of the Downs, and the golden horses heads signify Epsoms long association with horse racing. The two blue wavy bars, the heraldic symbol for water, represent the springs of Ewell, and perhaps also the Wells, which made Epsom famous. The coat of arms can now be seen proudly displayed throughout the borough.
In 70 AD, Roman surveyors constructing Stane Street, from London to Chichester, had to change direction at the source of the Hogsmill River. Houses were built alongside the road and by 150 AD, Ewell was the largest village in Surrey. The name Ewell comes from the Old English Aewiell meaning the spring at the head of the river Upper Mill in Ewell is on the site of two ancient mills mentioned in the Domesday Book and valued at five shillings each.
The origins of the name Epsom are open to debate. One popular theory is that it derives from Ebbis ham (Ebbisham), Ebbi being a Saxon woman about whom very little is known, and ham meaning village or small town In 993, the Abbot of Chertsey owned land at Ebbis hamlet that, he claimed, was given to his predecessors in the seventh century.
The Great Pond on Epsom Common was the largest of the two stew ponds built by the monks in medieval times. The Hogsmill River that runs through Ewell is thought to be named after Mr John Hog, a prominent citizen of Kingston in the 12th century.
Nonsuch Palace was commissioned by Henry VIII in 1538 to celebrate 30 years of his reign and the birth of his longed-for son, Edward. The church and village of Cuddington were razed to make way for this edifice which was meant to outshine any other building of its time - hence the name, "none such". Costing around £24,000, the building was substantially complete when Henry died in 1547. Sold by Queen Mary in 1556 to the Earl of Arundel, the palace was bought back by Queen Elizabeth I and remained in royal hands until Charles II gave it to his former mistress, Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, in 1670. A mere 12 years later, she was allowed to destroy the palace and sell the materials and surrounding parks to pay off her gambling debts. Little more was heard of the palace until Martin Biddle began to excavate the site in 1959. His own and subsequent findings have made Nonsuch a key site for those interested in the transition, in England, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance In 1618, Henry Wicker, a farmer on Epsom Common, noted that his cattle refused to drink at a certain pond, even during the dry summer months. The water was found to have curative effects. Initially it was used externally to cure sores, and later drunk for its purgative qualities.
The first known record of the efficacy of Epsom salts was made by Abram Booth, a Dutchman in London on a diplomatic mission, in 1629. In 1634 Christopher Foster left Ewell for the New World and it is perhaps not a coincidence that there is a village of Ewell in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, today. Samuel Pepys also recorded visits to the well in 1663 and 1667 and in 1672, King Charles II was entertained by Thomas Shadwells play Epsom Wells, depicting the less salubrious aspects of the spa town In his book Tour through Great Britain published in 1724, Daniel Defoe describes Epsom as wholly adapted to pleasure, rural and wide open in contrast to the confinement of London. In 1669 a well dug nearer the town, off South Street, by Mr Symonds, was also found to have medicinal properties. An apothecary named Livingstone is credited with realising the potential of the find and developing Epsom as a spa resort with bowling greens and other leisure activities.
Gunpowder mills were sited south of the Hogsmill River between 1754 and 1875. Their produce was said to have been used in the American Civil War and was blamed by some for the French losing the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Ewell Court House, completed in 1879, was financed from the profits of these mills. Epsoms popularity as a spa and entertainment centre declined in the mid-18th century but the town continued to attract wealthy London merchants who set up home there and commuted daily to the capital.
John Everett Millais, the 18th century pre-Raphaelite, painted his famous Ophelia at the Hogsmill, near Ruxley Lane. His friend and fellow artist, Holman Hunt, used one of the disused huts of the nearby gunpowder mills for his depiction of Christ knocking at the door in The Light of the World Horton was a medieval manor in the north west of Epsom. Sited on thick clay, it was named Horton, meaning dirty place / muddy town, by its disgruntled tenants. In the 1890s, the estate was bought by London County Council and a series of innovative psychiatric hospitals, two with their own farm, was developed.
Famous people associated with the Borough include Aubrey Beardsley, Frank Hampson (creator of Dan Dare), the playwright John Osborne and housewives friend, Mrs Beeton.
Epsom Downs, racecourse
The season runs from April through to September with a mixture of day, weekend and evening meetings and features a wide variety of entertainment to accompany the racing! Epsoms most recognisable guise is home to the Derby - one of the oldest and most exhilarating flat races in the world. This classic race is run over a mile and a half of undulating inclines and tight turns, making it a true test of the horses and jockeys involved. They certainly earn the right to join famous ex-winners such as Nashwan, Shergar and Nijinsky.
The 2001 Derby winner, Galileo, has achieved immortality together with the first Derby winner, Diomed, in a modern sculpture by international sculptor, Judy Boyt. This work of art has been erected in the Ebbisham Centre in the heart of Epsom.
The first Friday and Saturday in June - the two days of the Derby meeting - are when the spotlight firmly falls on Epsom. The Friday sees two Group One races, the Vodafone Oaks and Vodafone Coronation Cups. The Saturday is Derby Day, when the famous Derby race also sponsored by Vodafone is run. The races may be over quickly but the entertainment and music goes on throughout the day. The days of the Derby meeting are undoubtedly the highlight of the season at Epsom Downs, but when the parade of buses and cars has finally gone home the season continues throughout the summer with events for everyone. The Epsom Party Nights during July and August have become a series of not-to- be-missed events where live music follows the racing. A perfect way to spend a warm summer evening. August Bank Holiday Monday is recognised as Epsoms family day and aims to provide a great day out for all the family.
For those whove never experienced the excitement of racing, then Epsom Downs is the perfect place to try it, whether its for a social occasion or simply a picnic in the sun - a good time is guaranteed.
For further details of fixtures or to book tickets please call 01372 470047 or see the website at www.epsomderby.co.uk.
The borough of Epsom & Ewell is conveniently situated for all modes of transport.
The international airports of Heathrow and Gatwick are virtually equidistant, and junction 9 of the M25 is only a few miles by car. This makes Epsom an ideal location for leisure, as well as for head office development. The borough supports no fewer than four railway stations. Epsom Station, placed opportunely in the town centre, provides a regular service to London. The journey takes between 20 and 30 minutes and trains run every half hour (more frequently in the rush hour). Ewell East, Ewell West and Stoneleigh stations are located conveniently throughout the borough. There are also several bus routes that service the area. The main service provider, Epsom Buses, has been established in the borough since 1920. Buses from Kingston and Sutton link the surrounding villages with the bustling town centres.
Epsoms famous Downs are complemented by the Boroughs 35 parks and open spaces including Epsom Common, which has recently acquired a new status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Enjoyed all year round by many who ride, ramble, picnic or simply walk the dog, the Common is the largest designated Local Nature Reserve in Surrey. It occupies an area of over 400 acres and includes such diverse habitats as oak woods, hawthorn scrub and acid grassland. The Common is also home to the evocatively named stew ponds, whose name derives from the French word estui, meaning sty or enclosure. The ponds were therefore originally fish enclosures, owned by the Abbot of Chertsey, and would probably have been stocked with carp. Now they are home to a variety of wild birds, including herons. Other wild residents of the Common include deer, foxes and other smaller mammals. Access to the Common by car is from the Stew Ponds car park off Christchurch Road. There are pedestrian access points all along the Commons perimeter.
Epsom Downs, famous for its racecourse, is an area of 600 acres of unspoilt downland. From here, on a clear day, the view takes in the whole of London as well as panoramas of rural Surrey. Horton Country Park includes open space rich in wildlife; a farm where children can see many types of farm animal, including rare breeds; and a large adventure playground (01372 743984). There is also an equestrian centre (01372 743084); and a golf and country club (020 8393 8400).
The Rangers organise family activity days and guided walks in the park and can be contacted on 01372 741191. There is a sophisticated cycle path system and cycle maps and guides are now available from the boroughs five local cycle shops or the Town Hall. Horton Park Golf and Country Club boasts a newly designed, 18-hole, par 70 Millennium course, with an island green and tree-lined fairways. There is also a par 3-4 Academy Course, as well as a 26- ay covered floodlit driving range. PGA professionals are on hand in the golf shop, and there is a bar, restaurant and air-conditioned function suite. Although the Borough has been blessed by nature with wide expanses of rolling green hills, generations of residents of all ages have also enjoyed its many beautiful parks. The leafy parks are attended all year round by the skill and devotion of the Borough Councils Parks department that organises literally thousands of plants to grace each season with drifts of flowers. In addition, there are many flowerbeds bursting with plant life that border the busiest parts of town and overflowing tubs and baskets fill the streets with splashes of colour.
Nonsuch Park boasts nearly 700 acres of beautiful parkland, including formal gardens and an aviary. Although Henry VIIIs fabled palace has long since gone, the attractive Mansion House offers social and catering facilities for visitors. Recreation grounds in the borough have amenities for most sports including bowls, tennis, putting, cricket and football and many have childrens play areas. These are listed in Community Information and shown on the borough map.
Leisure facilities in Epsom & Ewell
The Playhouse always has a wide and varied programme of events, featuring both professional and amateur productions. The main auditorium seats 400 and plays host to theatre companies and major classical concerts as well as the best local musical and theatrical talents. The Playhouse also stages many West End productions and holds a regular film season. The Studio Theatre, within the Playhouse, is used regularly for jazz, comedy and childrens events. There are bars and a bistro that are open to theatregoers or casual visitors alike. Epsom Playhouse, an attractive modern building, is fronted by a statue of the internationally renowned English ballet dancer John Gilpin (1930 - 1983), founder member of the Festival Ballet (now the English National Ballet). He is portrayed as Le Spectre de la Rose, a ballet first performed in 1911 by the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky. For more details, telephone 01372 742555.
Odeon Cinema in Upper High Street, Epsom was opened in December 1999 and has eight screens with car parking and restaurant facilities nearby.
Bourne Hall and the Hogsmill
Bourne Hall, notable for its 1960s architecture is well worth a visit in its own right, as well as for the many social and entetianment functions that it hosts. Surrounded by gardens and a lake with the adjoining horse pond where carters used to size their wheels and water their animals. A pleasant walk leads from the pond, along the Hogsmill River, to the Upper and Lower Mills.
Within Bourne Hall itself, there is always an art exhibition to enjoy as well as the local library and a restaurant.
Bourne Hall Museum
Bourne Hall Museum has a display of over 5,000 local artefacts, including a hansom cab and one of the first fire engines. The museum was created to promote an understanding of the rich history of the borough and has many interesting and varied exhibits. It is open from 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, all year round, and entrance is free.
The Ebbisham Centre
Epsom is making ample provision for a healthy lifestyle with the opening of a growing number of leisure and fitness centres, including the new Ebbisham lifestyle Centre in the heart of the town. The keynote of the building is modernity and its clean-cut outline oversees two public areas: the Oaks and Derby Squares. The crowning glories of both are two long external walls of mosaic and ceramic art. Developed by two well-known artists, Emma Biggs and Kim Lodge, the artwork provides a lasting memorial to all those who have been associated with the hospital cluster - the name given to the area housing Epsoms five Victorian hospitals, most of which have now closed. Each artist worked in collaboration with community groups in the borough, as well as the staff and residents of Pine Lodge, Manor Park and the service users at the Gallwey Unit, St Ebbas. The unique and beautiful mosaic work, created by Emma Biggs especially for the Ebbisham Centre, reflects the spirit of the Borough of Epsom & Ewell. It includes images of the famous wide green slopes of the Downs, as well as springs and horses, and is likely to catch the imagination of all who see it. The theme of horses occurs repeatedly; as the artwork shows, they seem to rise out of the Downs in earthy, mossy colours and leap across the springs, to dash into the future! Ceramic tiles are the materials used in the second artwork by Kim Lodge, which denotes two key areas of the Ebbisham Centre: the cafes and restaurants and the library. The former is depicted in tiles of clear, bright colours, reflecting the warmth and hospitality of the surrounding eating establishments. The latter is portrayed in cooler, more subtle shades which focus on a posting box for the return of library books. The Ebbisham Centre includes Surreys newest library which frequently holds exciting workshops and discussion groups, often led by well-known authors and broadcasters. Colourful displays of artwork are often mounted within the centre which incorporates a library; an IT learning centre; conference rooms and special meeting places for the young and elderly; a health club; and an underground car park for centre users.
Epsom and Ewell combine old and new shopping styles in an interesting mix.
The traditional market culture promotes trade and adds to the atmosphere of an historic town. Epsoms famous clock tower overlooks the bustling square, where regular markets are held on Thursdays and Saturdays, and a Farmers Market on the first Sunday of every month. Sunday shopping opportunities abound, too, with Continental and craft markets. These have proved to be extremely popular, particularly when organised to coincide with special local and national events.
On a more modern note, the Ashley Centre and Spread Eagle Walk are both within a stones throw of the market area. They also provide a focus for shopping, with a large range of stores including department and speciality shops. The High Street and Upper High Street offer a varied range of shops and eating places, with convenient parking nearby. Stoneleigh and Ewell Villages offer additional attractive locations to browse, shop and enjoy a pleasant afternoon, with some excellent pubs and restaurants.