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Bridge Street, Leatherhead (geograph 2099800).jpg
Bridge Street, Leatherhead
Grid reference: TQ1656
Location: 51°17’42"N, 0°19’44"W
Population: 9,685
Post town: Leatherhead
Postcode: KT22
Dialling code: 01372
Local Government
Council: Mole Valley
Mole Valley

Leatherhead is a town in Surrey on the River Mole. It is a sizable town which stands on its own, separated by green belt and woods form the towns and villages close by; Fetcham, Ashtead, Chessington, Epsom and Oxshott.

Leatherhead is in the centre of Surrey and at a junction of ancient north–south and east–west communications; the town has been a focus for transport throughout its history. Initially there was the construction of the bridge over the River Mole in the early mediæval period. Later the Swan Hotel provided 300 years of service to horse-drawn coaches. In the late 20th century the M25 motorway was built nearby.

Name of the town

The Leatherhead Museum has traced the history of the town from its beginnings in about 880 when it was known as Leodridan (dative). The name appears to be from "leod rida", meaning "people's ride [across the river]". Later, in the Domesday Book of 1086, it was called Leret. Later forms recorded are "Lereda", "Ledreda", "Leddrede" (all second half of 12th century).[1]

An alternative theory has proposed an Old Welsh origin to the name cognate to Llwyd-rhyd, proposed to mean "grey ford" (in defiance of Welsh word-order.[2])


Before 1800

The origins of the town of Leatherhead appear to be Anglo-Saxon. The early settlement appears to have grown up on the east side of the River Mole, although Hawk's Hill, on the west side of the river, is said to be the site of an old Anglo-Saxon burial ground.

To the east of the town is the line of Stane Street, an old Roman Road. Most of it is now built over or is used as rural footpaths. The road leads from London to Chichester, passing through the strategic Mole Gap.

It has also been suggested that a second Roman road ran from Stane Street in a straight line close to Ashtead Church crossing the Mole at Leatherhead bridge to a point very close to Effingham Church. Here it turned and continued in another straight line to Merrow Church crossing the River Wey near Guildford Bridge. It seems that this road was still in use in Saxon times and that is why all the mediæval churches between Leatherhead and Guildford lie within in a few yards of these two lines.

Work on the parish church, St Mary & St Nicholas, began in the 11th century. Many parts were added over the years, with a major restoration taking place in the Victorian era.

Leatherhead appears in Domesday Book of 1086 as Leret. It was held by Osbern de Ow (Eu). Its Domesday assets were: 1 church, belonging to Ewell, with 40 acres. It rendered £1. Pachesham within Leatherhead appears in Domesday Book as Pachesham. It was held by Hugo (Hugh) from the Bishop of Lisieux. Its Domesday assets were: 3 virgates. It had part of 2 mills worth 12 shillings, 4 ploughs, 5 acres of meadow, woodland worth 3 hogs. It rendered £3 10s 0d.[3]

A market serving the developing agricultural economy developed at the crossroads and in 1248, King Henry III granted to Leatherhead a weekly market and annual fair. The town survived an extensive fire in 1392, after which it was largely rebuilt. In common with many similar mediæval towns, Leatherhead had a market house and set of stocks, probably located at the junction of Bridge Street, North Street and High Street.

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth (1588)

The Running Horse pub dates back to 1403 and is one of the oldest buildings in Leatherhead. It is on the bank of the River Mole, at the southern approach to the town centre. History has it that Elizabeth I once spent a night at the inn when floods made the River Mole impossible to cross.

During the Elizabethan and Stuart periods, the town was associated with several notable people. Edmund Tylney, Master of the Revels, who was in effect the official censor of the time to Queen Elizabeth I, lived in the Mansion House: a pub in the High Street is now named after him. Another notable local noble was Sir Thomas Bloodworth of nearby Thorncroft Manor, who was Lord Mayor of London during the Great Fire of London of 1666.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached his last sermon in Leatherhead on 23 February 1791.

1800 onwards

Leatherhead saw much expansion, with two major railways linked to it. (See below)

In the 1870s, a group of clergymen built the private St John's School in the town, and it has produced a number of famous pupils. (See below).

The Letherhead Institute was built. The spelling was said, in Victorian times, to be the correct form of Leatherhead.

Cherkley Court on the Beaverbrook grounds was home of Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook. During Second World War, Winston Churchill, the new Prime Minister, would appoint him as Minister of Aircraft Production and later Minister of Supply. Under Aitken, fighter and bomber production increased so much so that Churchill declared: "His personal force and genius made this Aitken's finest hour".

Modern era

Once there were several industries in and around the town, including Ronson's Lighters and Goblin Vacuum Cleaners. Both were used as ammunitions plants in Second World War. Most of the plants pulled out of Leatherhead in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Today most employment is in commerce.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the local council decided to modernise the town, with a new pedestrianised High Street, and large and rather frustrating one-way system.

In 1986, the town was joined to the motorway system, when the M25 motorway[4] was built to the north. Leatherhead became Junction 9, which has odd non-aligned entry/exit points on the two sides. The town is perhaps most frequently mentioned in the national media as the location of motorway traffic jams and accidents.


Churches include:

The town and around

The symbol of Leatherhead is a swan holding a sword in its beak. This can be seen on the old Leatherhead coat of arms, and on the Mole Valley coat of arms. The insignia of Leatherhead football club includes a swan, as do the logos of The Swan Shopping Centre, Therfield School and the Leisure Centre.

Bocketts Farm off Young Street has rare breeds and a petting zoo. It is open to the public almost all year round, and many local schools use the farm for teaching and day trips.

Leatherhead's Royal School for the Blind (now SeeAbility) was once the work-place for Paul Heaton; he was allegedly dismissed after he encouraged residents to try cycling. Most of the school has now been sold off as private flats.

Commerce and industry

Leatherhead formerly had a number of light manufacturing businesses, such as the Ronson's lighter factory, but in and around the 1980s many closed or moved on. Recent years have seen the emergence of several industrial parks, and the town has attracted many service and headquarters operations, including well known companies.

The town has long been home to a cluster of research centres and research-focused businesses. Cobham Technical Services (formerly ERA Technology) is an engineering consultancy that has been in Leatherhead since the 1920s. Nearby is Leatherhead Food Research. The same area of west Leatherhead was home to the Central Electricity Research Laboratory (CERL), the main research lab for the CEGB until its dissolution in 2001.

A recently established local business cluster is that of racing cars. Lister Cars, makers of Lister Storm, Le Mans race cars, are based in the town, and in nearby Dorking, while P1 International was founded here in 2000 by ex-Formula One World Champion Damon Hill. Other businesses in this sector are based in nearby parts of Surrey.

Culture and sport

Theatre and cinema

Leatherhead's theatrical history dates from at least Tudor times, when performances were held at village halls in the area. In 1890 the Victoria Hall opened in the High Street and presented popular melodramas. In 1910, it was converted to a picture house, putting on the new "movies", at first silent but later showing "talkies".

In 1939 The Crescent Cinema, with over 1,000 seats, was built in Church Street. Run by a local family, it prospered until the 1960s.

Two attempts in the late 1940s to reinvent the Victoria Hall as a theatre were unsuccessful. However the basement was converted to the "Green Room Club", and then in 1950 the theatre became home to the small "Under Thirty Theatre Group", who had good connections with the London theatre scene. Performances in the small building often featured leading actors and became increasingly popular, even as the building itself deteriorated.

Following a public fund-raising effort, September 1969 saw the opening by Princess Margaret of a replacement facility, the Thorndike Theatre, named after Dame Sybil Thorndike. Designed by Roderick Ham, the theatre was a complete 'cultural centre' whose radical open walkways and exposed concrete finish are thought to have influenced the later National Theatre in London.

For 30 years, the Thorndike Theatre maintained a reputation for high quality drama, and especially for presenting 'trial run' pre-West End shows. However, the theatre always struggled for funding, and finally closed in 1997.

After four years of physical dereliction, it was taken over by a religious group, Pioneer People, who renamed it simply 'The Theatre', and also made the building available as a cinema and for art exhibitions.

Now, the Leatherhead Theatre is once again presenting regular drama and acting as a theatrical centre for the area.[5]

The Leatherhead Drama Festival

The Leatherhead Drama Festival began in 2004 and is Britain's largest drama festival of its type, in which schools and drama groups from around Surrey and beyond compete each year for the Sir Michael Caine Drama Awards, the Richard Houghton Awards and New Writing Awards. Sir Michael Caine, patron of the Festival, presents the Awards, filming schedule permitting, at the Gala Awards Night each year.[6]

Big Society

A small steam train enthusiast group is based next to Fetcham Mill Pond, a popular local walking spot and water source near the Leatherhead Leisure Centre.

Social clubs

  • Constitutional Club (Former Conservative Club)
  • Leatherhead and District Social Club, C&IU Affiliate.
  • Leatherhead Royal British Legion Club, C&IU Affiliate.
  • NLCA or North Leatherhead Community Association


Outside links