9 Jun

10 things you might not know about Dorking

Dorking is a town in north-east Surrey, nestling in a valley next to the Pipp Brook, a tributary of the River Mole and surrounded by open countryside. It has three train stations, the main one with a journey time of just under an hour to London.

1. Dorking is especially famous for the five-toed Dorking fowl, which is the town’s symbol. A ten-foot-high cockerel sculpture is mounted on the roundabout at the entrance to the town at Deepened.

2. St Martin’s church is the Victorian landmark in the town centre built in 1877 with a distinctive 210-ft spire. There has been a church on the same spot since the 11th century.

3. Dorking has good rail and road connections. Furthermore, its excellent schools and easy access to public spaces such as Ranmore and Box Hill make it popular with families. The two comprehensive secondary schools The Ashcombe and The Priory are regularly oversubscribed.

4. William Mullins is one of Dorking’s most famous sons. From his house in West Street, he sailed to Virginia, USA in the Mayflower in 1620 as one of the original Pilgrim Fathers. His house remains intact and dates from 1550. A blue plaque marks the spot, as does one in Wathen Road for Laurence Olivier who was born there in 1907. Other famous connections include Vaughan Williams, Thomas Cubitt, the builder and Charles Dickens, who is said to have based part of ‘The Pickwick Papers’ on the town.

5. The Dorking Halls complex to the eastern edge was extensively refurbished in the late 90s and now has a theatre and cinema, swimming pool, gym and sports centre – with tennis, table tennis, cricket nets, badminton and five-a-side-football facilities as well as a crèche and café.

6.16th century West Street is known as the antiques part of town and many independent shops such as Talbot House Antiques, sell and stock former heirlooms as well as items at more modest pieces. Antique maps and furniture restoration services are also found here. Established independents in town include the hardware store Cummins, Farm Supplies (showing the town’s rural heritage) and more recently the ladies’ boutique Aya.

7. Dorking’s caves, hewn in the sandstone are accessed from South Street. Really manmade tunnels, some dating back to the 1750s, they were used for wine stores, and possibly hiding contraband. One ‘cave’ underneath a shop near Pump Corner was used for cock fighting. Tours of the caves are available in the summer through the Dorking Museum. dorkingmuseum.org.uk

8. Tucked away just off the High Street on the south side, is the large public space, Meadowbank. Here, swans and other water fowl enjoy a natural pond, surrounded by willows, fed by the Pipp Brook. Facilities include a gated children’s playground – due to be enlarged and updated in July with a castle, among other improvements – and a skate park and basketball nets.

9. Being around 25 miles from London, Dorking was a popular coaching halt, the White Horse in the High Street still with original cobbled courtyard and the Bull’s Head in South Street being examples. The arrival of the railway in the 1850s saw an influx of day-trippers, especially to Box Hill, a beauty spot nearby.

10. The Deepdene Trail – funded with £1m of Lottery money – will open on 10 September. It involves rebuilding part of the 300-year-old Italianate Deepdene Gardens, long overgrown and abandoned. The seven mile off-road route will include Thomas Hope’s mausoleum, built in the Greek style in 1818, prompted by the death of his seven year old son. The walk will extend to Betchworth Castle and include the ancient Rhododendron woods. The undertaking is supported by local businesses, Mole Valley District Council and ‘The Friends of Deepdene’, members of the public who volunteer to help. An app is being developed to accompany walkers. facebook.com/TheDeepdeneTrail