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Castle Street
Grid reference: SU839468
Location: 51°12’50"N, 0°47’56"W
Population: 38,000
Post town: Farnham
Postcode: GU9
Dialling code: 01252
Local Government
Council: Waverley
South West Surrey

Farnham is a sizable town in south-western Surrey, close by the border with Hampshire. It was once a home of the Bishops of Winchester and much favoured by them so that today the town has many fine buildings of historical interest.

Farnham lies 11 miles west Guildford to which it is connected by the long ridge of the Hog's Back. Aldershot in Hampshire is 4 miles northeast. Winchester, from which much of the town's ancient prosperity came, is 28 miles away to the southwest.

Farnham Castle, the bishops' former residence, overlooks the town. Many other old buildings are found and many Georgian houses. A short distance southeast of the town centre are the ruins of Waverley Abbey.

Lie of the land

Farnham's history and present status are mainly the result of its geography; a combination of river, streams, fresh water springs and varied soils, together with a temperate climate, attracted early man to the area and, even today, the geology of the area greatly influences the town, both in terms of communications, scenic and botanic variety and the main local industries of agriculture and minerals extraction. Farnham Geological Society is an active organisation in the town, and the Museum of Farnham has a collection of geological samples and fossils.[1]

Farnham lies in the valley of the North Branch of the River Wey, which rises near Alton, merges with the South Branch at Tilford, and joins the River Thames at Weybridge. The mainly east-west alignment of the ridges and valleys has influenced the development of road and rail communications. The most prominent geological feature is the chalk of the North Downs which forms a ridge (the Hog's Back) to the east of the town, and continues through Farnham Park to the north of the town centre, and westwards to form the Hampshire Downs. The land rises to more than 591 feet above sea level to the north of the town at Caesar's Camp which, with the northern part of the Park, lies on gravel beds.

There are a number of swallow holes in the Park where this stratum meets the chalk. The historic core of the town lies on gravel beds at an altitude of roughly 230 feet above sea level on an underlying geology of gault clay and upper greensand and the southern part of the town rises to more than 330 feet on the lower greensand.

The town

Farnham has a number of attractive houses from various periods and many interesting passages which reveal hidden parts of the town including old workshops, historic cottages and pretty, hidden gardens. Farnham Castle was built by the Normans and updated over the years as the Palace of the Bishops of Winchester. The former Bishops' Palace of the castle is now a conference centre,[2] but the mediæval keep is in the care of English Heritage and has limited opening to the public.[3]

Many of the places mentioned in the books of George Sturt can be seen. The romantic ruins of Waverley Abbey, the first Cistercian Abbey in England is open to the public. Farnham Park is attractive for walks and wildlife and there is a variety of attractive scenery as Farnham sits in the Surrey Hills, at the edge of the designated "area of outstanding natural beauty" and the North Downs Way long-distance path starts here. Alice Holt Forest is nearby, as are Frensham Ponds and many heaths and downland scenery. The Rural Life Centre is nearby at Tilford, and the town is a suitable touring base for Winchester, the Mid-Hants Railway and canal trips on the Basingstoke Canal and Wey Navigation.

Many shops line each side of the main thoroughfare running through West Street, The Borough and East Street. It has the usual range of chains but also a significant number of independent retailers, some who have been in business since the nineteenth century, such as Rangers Furnishing Stores (est. 1895), Elphicks department store (est. 1881) and Pullingers (est. 1850), thought to be Farnham's oldest surviving business.

Castle Street's market stalls have been replaced by semi-permanent "orangery" style buildings one flower market, one sweet market and a delicatssen. There is also a range of charity shops.

One out-of-town superstore is found on the outskirts and a number of large garden centres nearby too.

Farnham is a market town. A large market selling arts, crafts, antiques and bric-a-brac operates under-cover at the Farnham Maltings on the first Saturday of each month. A Farmers' market is held in the central car park on the fourth Sunday of each month, selling high-quality, locally produced meat, fruit and vegetables, bread and cakes, preserves, beer and cider, fruit juices, cheeses and other dairy products. Toy, crafts and militaria fairs are hosted by the Maltings from time to time where new and used items can be bought and sold.


St Andrew's Parish Church seen here from the junction of Middle Church Lane and Vicarage Lane Farnham


Prehistoric remains

Farnham's history has been claimed to extend back tens of thousands of years to hunters of the early Stone Age, on the basis of tools and prehistoric animal bones found together in deep gravel pits.[4] The first known settlement in the area was in the Mesolithic period, some 7,000 years ago; a cluster of pit dwellings[4] and evidence of a flint-knapping industry from that period has been excavated a short distance to the east of the town. Neolithic man left evidence of occupation in the form of a long barrow at nearby Badshot Lea, now destroyed by quarrying. This monument lay on the route of the prehistoric trackway known as the Harrow Way or Harroway, which passes through Farnham Park, and a sarsen stone still stands nearby, which is believed to have marked the safe crossing point of a marshy area near the present Shepherd and Flock roundabout. The set of tracks collectively known today as the Pilgrims' Way may date back to prehistory,[5] though the paths known today have been brought together and labelled together only since the eighteenth century.[6]

Occupation of the area continued to grow through the Bronze Age. Two bronze hoards have been discovered on Crooksbury Hill,[7] and further artefacts have been found, particularly at sites in Green Lane and near the Bourne spring in Farnham Park. A significant number of Bronze Age barrows occur in the area, including a triple barrow at Elstead and an urnfield cemetery at Stoneyfield, near the Tilford road.

Iron Age

Hill forts from the early Iron Age exist locally at Botany Hill to the south of the town and at "Caesar's Camp" to the north of the town at Upper Hale. The latter is a very large earthworks on a high promontory, served by a spring which emerges from between two conglomerate boulders called the Jock and Jenny Stones. "Soldier's Ring" earthworks on Crooksbury Hill date from the later Iron Age. The final era of the Iron Age, during the 1st century AD, found Farnham within the territory of the Belgic Atrebates tribe. A hut dating from this period was discovered at the Bourne Spring and other occupation material has been discovered at various sites, particularly Green Lane.

Roman Britain

During the Roman period the district became a pottery centre due to the plentiful supply of gault clay, oak woodlands for fuel, and good communications via the Harrow Way and the nearby Roman road from Calleva Atrebatum to Noviomagus Reginorum. Kilns dating from about 100 AD have been found throughout the area, including Six Bells (near the Bourne Spring), Snailslynch and Mavins Road, but the main centre of pottery had been Alice Holt Forest, on the edge of the town, since about 50 AD, just 7 years after the arrival of the Romans. The Alice Holt potteries continued in use, making mainly domestic wares, until about 400, about the time the Romans retreated from Britain.

Near the Bourne Spring two Roman buildings were discovered; one was a bath-house dating from about 270 AD and the other a house of later date. The Roman Way housing estate stands on this site. William Stukeley propounded that Farnham is the site of the lost Roman settlement of "Vindomis", although this is now believed to be at Neatham, near Alton. Large hoards of Roman coins have been discovered some 10 miles south-west of Farnham in Woolmer Forest and a temple has been excavated at Wanborough, about 8 miles to the east.

The Anglo-Saxon period

It was the early English who gave the town its name. Farnham is listed as Fearnhamme in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a name from the Old English fearn hamm meaning "fern meadows", which well describes the bracken covered fields outside the town to this day.[8] The Ancestral English had arrived by the sixth century. In 688, the West Saxon King Caedwalla granted the district around Farnham to the Church, and to the bishopric of Winchester. This was the first mention of Farnham in written history. An English community grew up in the valley by the river. By the year 803 Farnham had passed into the ownership of the Bishop of Winchester and the Manor of Farnham remained so (apart from two short breaks) for the next thousand years.

An Anglo-Saxon site in Farnham has been excavated just off the lower part of Firgrove Hill, where a road called Saxon Croft is now sited. Here in 1924 several weaving huts from about 550 were discovered. At the time of the Viking invasion in the 9th century (probably in 893 or 894) there was a battle on the edge of the settlement when Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great, routed the heathen.

After the Norman invasion

Farnham appears in Domesday Book of 1086 as Ferneham, one of the five great minster churches in Surrey. Its Domesday assets were: 40 hides; 1 church, 6 mills worth £2 6s 0d, 43 ploughs, 35 acres of meadow, woodland worth 175½ hogs. It rendered £53.[9]

Waverley Abbey, the first Cistercian abbey in England, was founded in 1128 by William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester about one mile south of the town centre. King John visited Waverley in 1208, and Henry III in 1225. The abbey also produced the famous Annals of Waverley, an important reference source for the period. By the end of the thirteenth century the abbey was becoming less important. By the time it was suppressed by King Henry VIII in 1536 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries there were only thirteen monks in the community.

The entrance to Farnham Castle

The town is midway between Winchester and London and, in 1138, Henry de Blois (grandson of William the Conqueror and brother of King Stephen) started building Farnham Castle to provide accommodation for the Bishop of Winchester in his frequent journeying between his cathedral in the old capital, Winchester, and the new capital, London. The castle's garrison provided a market for farms and small industries in the town, accelerating its growth. A large earthwork north-west of the town at Barley (or Badley) Pound may be the ditch and ramparts of a wooden precursor of Farnham Castle built in the 11th century.

Farnham was granted its charter as a town in 1249 by William de Ralegh, then Bishop of Winchester.

The Black Death hit Farnham in 1348, killing about 1,300 people, at that time about a third of the population.[10]

The Blind Bishop's Steps, a series of steps leading along Castle Street up to the Castle, were originally constructed for Bishop Richard Foxe (godfather of King Henry VIII).

In 1625 Farnham was again subject to an outbreak of the plague and a severe decline was occurring in the local woollen industry as the local downland wool was unsuitable for the newly fashionable worsted. Thus by the 1640s Farnham was suffering to a serious economic depression.[11] Local wool merchants were, like merchants throughout the country, heavily taxed by Charles I to pay for his increasingly unpopular policies.

The Civil War

Against this background the English Civil War began, with Farnham playing a major part. Here, support for the Parliamentarians was general. The castle was considered a potential rallying point for Royalists, resulting in the installation of a Roundhead garrison there in 1642. As the King's forces moved southwards, taking Oxford, Reading and Windsor, the garrison commander at Farnham (and noted poet), Captain George Wither, decided to evacuate the castle; the new High Sheriff of Surrey (John Denham, a Royalist sympathiser and another noted poet) then occupied the vacant castle with 100 armed supporters. With the castle and much of the surrounding area in Royalist hands, Parliament despatched Colonel Sir William Waller to Farnham to retake the castle. The defenders refused to surrender but Waller's men used a petard to destroy the castle gates and overcame them, with only one fatality, and took the High Sheriff prisoner.

The following year, as the Royalists strengthened their position west of Farnham, the garrison at Farnham Castle was strengthened when it became the headquarters of the Farnham regiment of foot or "Greencoats", with some eight to nine hundred officers and men, supported by a number of troops of horse. Further reinforcement by three regiments from London, 4,000 strong under Waller's command arrived in Farnham that October prior to an unsuccessful foray to recapture Winchester from the Royalists. Eight thousand Royalists under Ralph Hopton (a former friend of Waller) advanced on Farnham from the west and skirmishes took place on the outskirts of town. Despite further reinforcement for Waller from Kent, Hopton's entire army gathered on the heathland just outside Farnham Park. There was some skirmishing but Hopton's men withdrew. Through the next few years Farnham was an important centre of Parliamentary operations and the garrison cost Farnham people dearly in terms of local taxes, provisioning and quartering; even the lead from the Town Hall roof had been requisitioned to make bullets. A number of local women were widowed following the pressing of local men into the militia. The bombardment of Basing House was by a train of heavy cannon assembled at Farnham from other areas and, in 1646, most of the garrison was removed from Farnham to form a brigade to besiege Donnington Castle near Newbury. The King surrendered shortly afterwards at Newark and a small garrison remained at Farnham.

In 1647, having escaped from custody at Hampton Court, the King rode through Farnham at dawn on November 12 with a small party of loyal officers, en route to the Isle of Wight, where he sought sanctuary under the protection of Colonel Robert Hammond, a Parliamentarian officer but with Royalist sympathies. The following March, Oliver Cromwell stayed at Farnham for discussions concerning the marriage of his daughter to a Hampshire gentleman, although some historians have speculated that this was cover for secret negotiations with the King.

Following the rebellion during the summer of 1648 the keep was partially dismantled at the orders of Cromwell, to make further occupation by garrison indefensible. In late November that year Hammond was summoned to Farnham, where he was arrested, and the King was removed under military escort to the mainland. On December 20 the King and his escort entered Farnham, where groups of men, women and children gathered at the roadside to welcome him and touch his hand. That night the King lodged at Culver Hall (now Vernon House) in West Street before the party continued to London for Charles's trial and execution in January 1649. The King gave his night cap to Henry Vernon, owner of Culver Hall, "as a token of Royal favour".

Records show that the following period of interregnum until restoration of the monarchy in 1660 was a time of prosperity and growth for Farnham.

In 1660 the bishops of Winchester were restored to the adjoining Bishops Palace, which remained their residence until 1927. From 1927 until 1955 it was a residence of the bishops of the newly created Diocese of Guildford. The castle is currently owned by English Heritage.

After the Restoration

Farnham became a successful market town; the author Daniel Defoe wrote that Farnham had the greatest corn-market after London, and describes 1,100 fully laden wagons delivering wheat to the town on market day. During the seventeenth century, other new industries evolved: greenware pottery (a pottery, dating from 1873, still exists on the outskirts of the town), wool and cloth, the processing of wheat into flour, and eventually hops, a key ingredient of beer. The Anglican divine, Augustus Montague Toplady, composer of the hymn Rock of Ages (1763, at Blagston) was born in Farnham in 1740 - a plaque now marks the building on West Street where he was born.

William Cobbett's birthplace

The radical MP, soldier, farmer, journalist and publisher William Cobbett was born in Farnham in 1763, in a pub called the Jolly Farmer. The pub still stands, and has since been renamed the William Cobbett.

Nineteenth and twentieth centuries

The railway arrived in 1848 and, in 1854, neighbouring Aldershot became the “Home of the British Army”. Both events had a significant effect on Farnham. The fast link with London meant city businessmen could think of having a house in the country and still be in close contact with the office; Farnham thereby became an early example of a 'commuter town'. Also, the railway did not reach Aldershot until 1870; during the intervening period soldiers would be carried by train to Farnham station and then march to Aldershot. Many officers and their families chose to billet in Farnham itself. The railway was electrified by the Southern Railway company in 1937 as far as Alton, and a carriage shed for the new electric stock was built in Weydon Lane. This building, which carried fading camouflage paint for many years after Second World War, was replaced in 2006.

In 1930 the local council bought for the town Farnham Park, a large park which occupies much of the former castle grounds.

Leisure and recreation

There are two main parks in Farnham town centre: Farnham Park and Gostrey Meadows. Farnham Park is adjacent to Farnham Castle. Gostrey Meadows is in the centre of Farnham town next to the river, and includes a fenced children's play area.


Cricket ground north of the Castle

Farnham Cricket Club was started in 1782.[12] The ground is at the edge of Farnham Park and in the shadows of the castle. There is also a local Farnham Umpires Association.[13]

The Farnham and Aldershot hockey club runs three men's teams and two women's teams. Floorball hockey is played by the adult team Southern Vipers FBC and junior floorball is also played at Farnham Sports Centre.

In football, Farnham Town FC compete in the Combined Counties League. There is also a small youth club, Farnham United FC and another on the outskirts, Badshot Lea FC.

Farnham also has a public golf course, a nine-hole, par-three golf course, found next to the cricket ground directly behind Farnham Castle. It was designed by Sir Henry Cotton, three times British Open champion.[14]

The Maltings

Farnham Maltings holds a diverse range of events; operas, folk and acoustic music, band evenings and stand up comedy nights, as well as shows and workshops for younger people and a cinema runs every Wednesday. Its "Acoustic Fridays" evening once a month, and this have a student following. In keeping with the history of the venue, and the town's association with hop-growing and beer, the Farnham Maltings also plays host to the Farnham Beer Exhibition, one of the largest beer festivals in Britain, an annual event that started in 1977.


Farnham also has a yearly carnival, normally on the last Saturday in June, organised by two charitable service organisations, the Farnham Lions Club and The Hedgehogs. Castle Street is closed for the evening, with bands playing on a stage in the street, a beer tent, barbecue, and sideshows. A procession of carnival floats, marching bands, tableaux, trade floats and classic vehicles parade through the main streets of the town. Staff of the local Kar Ling Kwong Chinese restaurant traditionally perform the Lion Dance each year as part of the parade. Several local schools also participate.

There is also a smaller Hale Carnival which takes place in the village of Hale in the north fringe of Farnham, usually held on the first Saturday of July.[15]

Museum of Farnham

Willmer House, in West Street, houses this extensive collection of artefacts from all periods of the town's history and prehistory.[16] The museum has active support from both the Friends of the Museum of Farnham and The Farnham and District Museum Society. In addition to permanent displays such as "Discover the History of Farnham", "On the road to Winchester", Farnham motoring links, Farnham Greenware Pottery, William Cobbett, George Sturt and Harold Falkner, it features a changing range of activities and exhibitions, many of which are aimed to be of particular interest to children and families. The museum has received numerous awards, including a special commendation in the European Museum of the Year awards in 1994.[17] The museum also has a Local Studies Library to support family tree and house detectives, school projects & local history queries. The museum also has a club for children.

Willmer House is a fine eighteenth-century town house with a decorative brickwork facade. The house and its garden are worth a visit in their own right.

Arts and crafts

Farnham has long had a strong association with the creative arts.[18][19] Farnham School of Art opened in 1866 and was associated with the Arts and crafts movement when architects such as Edwin Lutyens and Harold Falkner, painters such as George Watts and W. H. Allen, potters such as Mary Fraser Tytler|Mary Watts and landscape gardeners (Gertrude Jekyll) worked in the area. Lewen Tugwell, a Farnham sculptor in the 1960s, invented a technique for production of a unique craft product made from resin, Shattaline. Items made by this process in his workshops in Long Garden Walk are now very collectable. Farnham has several art galleries - the New Ashgate Gallery in Lower Church Lane has exhibitions by established and new artists in a variety of media, the exhibition changing on the first Saturday of each month. The gallery at Farnham Maltings also has frequent exhibitions.


Since Roman times the wealden clay of the area has been exploited for pottery and brickmaking. Pottery continued on a small-scale commercial basis until the closure of Farnham Pottery at Wrecclesham in 1998, when it passed to the Farnham Buildings Preservation Trust. Farnham Pottery, in addition to utility wares, became famous during the Arts and crafts movement for their decorative wares, either hand-thrown or moulded and decorated in a variety of coloured glazes, particularly "Farnham Greenware". There was close co-operation between the pottery and Farnham School of Art (now a campus of University for the Creative Arts).


William Herbert Allen, the notable English landscape watercolour artist, lived and worked in Farnham for most of his career. He was Master of Farnham Art School from 1889 to 1927 and many of his works depict landscapes of the Farnham area. Popular artists from Farnham in recent years include Charles Bone, whose watercolour landscapes of the area are very popular as limited edition prints, and Josephine Wall, a popular fantasy artist who was born in the town.


It was in Farnham that J M Barrie wrote Peter Pan, whilst living at Black Lake Cottage. Barrie, a man of Angus is more celebrated in his home town, Kirriemuir, and a statue of Peter Pan now stands there. There may be a debate as to how much of the dreamlike Never Never Land was based on the downs of Surrey and how much on the lonely hills of Angus.


The local press is the Farnham Herald, a broadsheet. The local BBC TV news is BBC South Today. Farnham is covered on BBC radio by BBC Surrey (which covers Surrey & North-East Hampshire on 104.6FM). Ashgate Publishing which publishes books in the Social Sciences and Humanities is based in Farnham.


  1. Farnham Geological Society
  2. Farnham Castle: International business training and conference centre
  3. Farnham Castle Keep is run by English Heritage.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Our History Frensham Parish Council website
  5. Saxon Farnham by Elfrida Manning, Phillimore & Co, 1970
  6. Tales of Old Surrey- Matthew Alexander, 1985
  7. Crooksbury Hill, Farnham
  8. Copley, Gordon J. (1986). Archaeology and Place-Names in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries. BAR British series volume 147. British Archaeological Reports. p. 48. ISBN 0860543579. http://books.google.com/books?ei=7LIgTdbGG6aAhAfspZC3Dg. 
  9. Surrey Domesday Book
  10. Dr Mike Ibeji Black Death: The Effect of the Plague. A BBC article on the rural impact of the Black Death of 1348, substantially discussing Farnham]
  11. Hall D E & Gretton F Farnham During the Civil Wars and Interregnum 55pp, Farnham Castle Newspapers, c. 1980
  12. Farnham Cricket Club
  13. Farnham Umpires Association
  14. Farnham Park Par 3 Golf Course
  15. Carnivals: Farnham Online
  16. Museum of Farnham website
  17. European Museum of the Year Awards, at the Council of Europe's website
  18. "A Sketch History of Art in Farnham" by Robin Radley (published by Farnham Castle Newspapers, undated)
  19. Farnham Art Society, founded in 1944

Outside links