Woking Family Tree Project
 History of Woking
One Place Study of Woking

A brief history of Woking

 Before the Norman Conquest of 1066 the village of Woking (which we now know as Old Woking) was split between

  • the Royal Manor of Woking - which was the area to the East of the Monastery (thought to have been on the site where St Peter's now stands) towards Pyrford and Ripley

  • the Manor of Woking Rectory - the area around the Monastery and to the West  and South including the tithings of Shackleford, Kingfield, Westfield and Sutton Green.

 According to a document in the Vatican Library the division was ordered by the Pope to settle an ownership dispute in Saxon times (c710CE) between

  • the Monks of Woking who had come from Peterborough c675CE and created a small Monastery, probably on the site where St Peter's now stands

  • the Archbishop of Winchester who held the Diocese including Woking

  • the Royal Family, presumably the Saxon King of Mercia as the names Woking (and Wokingham) appear to derive from the Mercian King Wocca.

 During the reign of King Richard the Lionheart the manor of Woking was granted to Alan Basset who, in 1215, was named on the Magna Carta as one of King John's advisors. Some time during King John's reign he combined the manors of Sutton and Woking. The combined Manor arrangement continued until 1521 when following the failed rebellion and execution of of Edward Stafford, the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, King Henry VIII kept the Manor of Woking whilst granting the Manor of Sutton to Sir Richard Weston who in 1519 had become the under treasurer of England. Sir Richard was the father of Francis Weston who was executed for alleged adultery with Ann Boleyn, and the Great Grandfather of the Sir Richard Weston, digger of the Guildford to Weybridge canal in 1653. The Weston Family were noted Catholics and later were somewhat responsible for the re-emergence of the faith in Woking and Guildford.

 By 1250 the manor of Woking was in the hands of Hugh, 1st Baron le Despencer who had married Alan Basset's Grand daughter Aline. Baron Despencer was killed at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 by Roger Mortimer, starting a blood feud between the Despenser family and the Mortimers that was to carry on for many Generations.

 Baron Hugh's eldest son, Hugh, 1st Earl of Winchester (known to history as Hugh Despenser the Elder) and Grand son Hugh Despenser the Younger used the buildings at Woking to hold captive a female heir to the Earl of Pembroke whilst they decided who should marry her. This process was interrupted in 1325 when the estranged Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer (Grandson of the Roger Mortimer at the battle of Evesham) invaded England with some French Knights and started a rebellion against her husband, King Edward II. Both Despensers were leading figures in the King's court and accompanied the King as he fled Westward. Hugh Despenser the Elder was captured at the siege of Bristol Castle and executed after a show trial whilst Hugh Despenser the Younger and the King escaped imto Wales. They were betrayed and captured near Neath and King Edward II was imprisoned and 'persuaded' to abdicate in favour of his 14 year old son King Edward III. Hugh the Younger was taken to  Hereford and tried. For reasons I will not discuss here, Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer did not like Hugh Despenser the Younger and he suffered a very grisly end in front of Hereford Cathedral.

 The Manor of Woking was then a gift of King Edward III to his uncle Edmund Holland, Earl of Kent, the Holland Family held on to the site until 1416 when it was passed to the Beaufort Family. The growth of Woking into a town probably started in the late 15th century, when the Royal Manor was granted by King Edward IV to Lady Margaret Beaufort and her second or third) husband (and second cousin) Sir Henry Stafford, the son of Humphrey Stafford, the 1st Duke of Buckingham, they lived at Woking for many years and redeveloped the Manorial buildings into a Plantagenet style.

 After the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 Lady Margaret Beaufort's son, Henry Tudor who had become King Henry VII, visited his Mother and her third (or fourth) husband, Thomas Stanley, Lord of Mann in Woking frequently. Shakespeare claimed it was Stanley who found King Richard III's crown on Bosworth Field and placed it on Henry Tudor's head proclaiming him King Henry VII. It was whilst visiting his Mother at Woking in 1497 that he signed the Treaty of Woking with the representatives of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maxmilian of Austria.

When in 1503, after the death of his wife, King Henry VII took the Manor from his mother and developed the 7 acre manorial site into a Royal Palace, the area surrounding the site gained considerable prestige, but the water courses surrounding the low ridge that Woking stood on always slowed the growth of the town.

 When Lady Margaret Beaufort's Grandson became King Henry VIII he further developed Woking Palace and it's 590 acre Deer Park and it became one of his many Palaces and Hunting Lodges in the Thames Valley and North Downs. It was at Woking Palace that Thomas Wolsey learnt he had been created a Cardinal, and the nickname of Woking Football Club remains "the Cards" or "the Cardinals" as a remembrance of the event to this day.

 At the end of the Tudor dynasty Woking Palace was granted by King James to Sir Edward Zouch, who may have taken the opportunity of the death of King James in 1625 to have demolished most of the Palace in order to build himself Hoe Place slightly north west of the Palace site. Zouch provided a Wooden Gallery for St Peter's Church which still stands, it is possible the wood came from the Palace site and he may also have used materials from the Palace site to build some of the Farm houses when he partitioned the Royal Deer Park into 6 farms. Later Zouch persuaded King Charles I to grant a market Charter to Woking and he created the Market House, opposite Church Street.v

 During the late 18th and into the 19th Century a community developed at the foot of Hook Hill where the Basingstoke Canal allowed easy transportation of bricks from the Brick making fields laid out alongside the Basingstoke canal, by the Population Census of 1841 the area was being used increasingly for Nursery Gardening, with Jackman's Nurseries on the slope leading up to Hook Heath, Waterer's in Lower Knaphill (Ryde Heron and the area known as Waterers' Park in Horsell Parish) , and (later) Slocock's in the area now known as Goldsworth Park.

The rapidly increasing population persuaded the Vicar of Woking to create a "daughter church" (Chapel of Ease) on the Hill below the Jackman's Nursery and in 1842 St John the Baptist was duly consecrated. within a few years the older names for the area "Foul mire" and "Fish Ponds" were replaced by naming the Settlement after the Church. Officially the Church and Parish are known as St John's whilst the Villlage, Civil Parish, and Electoral area are St Johns without the apostrophe.

 Meanwhile, the Railways were coming, allegedly the ground around Woking was considered unsuitable for track laying (alternative theories do exist) so the decision was made to build a station on the wasteland known as Woking Heath just over a mile North West of Woking Village, the station connecting to Nine Elms in London opened in 1838 and by 1840 this main line connected London-Woking-Southampton. By 1859 Woking Heath Station (aka Woking Common Station) became Woking Junction as another Railway line was built from London-Woking-Portsmouth which approached Woking Heath from the opposite Direction! Slowly the owner of Woking Common/Heath (the owners of Brookwood Necropolis cemetery) released plots of land for Auction around the station and a town started to form, although the urban development was on the other side of the tracks to the main Station entrance.

 When St John's became a parish in it's own right in 1884 the area around the station was in that parish. As the area then known as Woking Station flourished and expanded it had become harder for St John the Baptist to cope with the size of the congregation so, despite the nave of St John's being enlarged twice, a Chapel of Ease to St John's was opened in an Iron building in Providence Street close by Woking station in 1877. The current town centre Church was then built and consecrated as Christ Church in 1893.

 Incidentally, during the building of Christ Church some genius renamed Providence Street to Church Street, earning the hatred of family historians for perpetuity as St Peters in Woking was also in Church Street. Most "normal" town burghers would have realised the problem and called the area known as "Woking Station" by the name "New Woking" however it was apparently decided that "Woking" was far more commercial so "Woking Station" became "Woking" whilst "Woking Village" became "Old Woking", all they had to do now was to persuade the Vicar of Woking that he wasn't!

 So to cut a long story short (I haven't mentioned St Pauls, Maybury or All Saints or St Mary of Bethany or Horsell or the growth of the Non-Conformist congregations or .....) it soon became apparent that it would not be possible to conduct the Village study of St Johns in isolation so in a moment of insanity the "Woking Family Tree Project" got a whole lot larger. As we enter the 5th year of the project, with the completion of the Anglican Baptism and Marriage registers, a transcription effort has been commenced of the St Mary the Virgin, Horsell registers.

©2013-2017 Pete Smee