FARNHAM is a charming, old-world market town ... remarkable for its wealth of 18th-century houses ... among the very finest in Surrey ... -- Penguin Guide to Surrey, 1956
A fine town, generally ranked as one of the best Georgian towns in England -- Nikolaus Pevsner, Surrey
I view the tea drinking as a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth and a maker of misery for old age. -- William Cobbett, Cottage Economy
From a rise of the road on the corner of Crooksbury Hill we could see the grim hall bristling out from amidst the ancient oaks ... -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
Farnham is a relatively quiet, unspoilt, small market town. It is situated in Surrey close to the Surrey-Hampshire border, approximately half way between Winchester and London.
Farnham lies on the route of a prehistoric trackway along the North Downs.
Farnham is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as Fearnhamme - the place of ferns and water meadows. King Caedwalla of Wessex granted the manor to the Bishops of Winchester in 688.
The earliest known inhabitants of Farnham were Mesolithic pit dwellers c 6000 BC. Close to the site of the pits a Roman villa and bath were built.
Farnham owes its importance as a halfway point between London and Winchester. The bishops of Winchester either stayed overnight or lived in Farnham as a convenient halfway house between London and Winchester.
Prosperity grew first with wheat, then wool and cloth and finally hops. Hops were introduced in 1597. The hops grown around Farnham were regarded as the best in the country and thus could command a high price.
The railway came to Farnham in 1849. In the absence of a railway at Aldershot (the railway reached Aldershot in 1870) the troops marched from Farnham to their camps at nearby Aldershot.
The top end of town is dominated by the castle and the Bishops Palace. The castle was built by Henry de Blois (grandson of William I, brother of King Stephen) in 1138. The steps leading down from the castle, the Blind Bishop's Steps, were constructed for Bishop Fox (godfather of Henry VIII). The Bishops of Winchester lived in the palace until the 1920s.
Cardinal Wolsey attempted to get rid of Bishop Fox, using his blindness as an excuse. Bishop Fox countered that whilst he may no longer be able to see the difference between black and white he could still see the difference between right and wrong.
Whilst staying as a guest at Farnham Castle (1569), Elisabeth I, warned the Duke of Norfolk 'to be careful on what pillow he laid his head'. She was giving him dark hints as to his relationship with Mary Queen of Scotts. A warning he chose to ignore and paid the price when he lost his head.
Adjacent to the Bishops Palace is Farnham Park. A little alley-way leads up to the park (from Bear Lane, off Castle Street). From the park there are fine views across the town and to the surrounding countryside. It is possible to walk through the park to nearby Upper Hale. A pleasant little stream cuts through the park.
Castle Street, leading down from the castle, is very wide. This was part of the Medieval planning, to enable a market (cf with a similar wide market street in nearby Alresford). Markets had two advantages - they brought trade into the town, thus increasing the town's importance, the Bishops could level tolls on the stall-holders.
Daniel Defoe recounts, A tour through the whole island of Great Britain, that Farnham had the greatest corn-market after London, and describes 1,100 fully laden wagons delivering wheat to the town on market day. Methinks he may have been prone to exaggeration, but not being present on the day will give him the benefit of the doubt!
There use to be at the bottom of Castle Street a very unusual building known as Old Market House. Built in 1568, it was unfortunately demolished in 1863. Photographs taken in the mid-1800s show it still in existence. From this building all the business of the town was conducted.
Halfway down Castle Street is a row of eight old almshouses, established in 1619 by Andrew Windsor for 'eight poor, honest, old, impotent persons'. The almshouses are still in use, though now the residents have to pay rent.
The centre of Farnham, and many of the side roads are lined with fine buildings. There are also many interesting narrow side streets and alleys. The biggest problem with the main streets is the traffic that slowly grinds through the town.
An interesting feature of many of the streets in Farnham is that the street numbers run up one side of the street and down the other, rather alternatively across the street as is the common practice.
Many inns were built to serve the coach traffic that passed through Farnham. Several of these inns still survive, the oldest being the Bush Hotel. The Bush Hotel was mentioned in novels by both W M Thackeray and I J Hussey.
The Lion and Lamb Courtyard is a pleasant cobbled courtyard. The courtyard used to house the brewers Thomas Mathews and Co, who won two medals at the 1890 Brewer's Exhibition in London. Also on this site was one of Farnham's many coaching inns.
Away to the north side of the main thoroughfare are some modern office developments, at first glance they look like houses clustered around courtyards. Another interesting modern development is the 'town hall', just before the river on the road leading to the station. In all these developments care has been taken to blend in with the character of the town. If Farnham can make this effort, it begs the question as to why can't other towns.
A favourite street is Lower Church Lane that leads from Downing Street to the church, and affords one of the best views of the church. The street is cobbled, and a water gully runs down the centre of the street. Through the car park, a little wooden bridge crosses the Wey to the Farnham Maltings. Crossing the car park, glance back at the buildings just passed.
Farnham Maltings, old maltings, worth visiting in its own right, is now a cultural and arts centre.
Close to the Maltings is The William Cobbett, formerly The Jolly Farmer (renamed in the 1970s in honour of William Cobbett), home of William Cobbett. At the time of Cobbett's birth (1762) it was a farmhouse. The William Cobbett contains a framed copy of the Political Register, the political journal founded by Cobbett.
William Cobbett (1762-1835), farmer, pamphleteer, radical, social commentator, started out in life as a crow-scarer and ploughboy. As an assiduous student he mastered French, rhetoric, geometry, logic and fortifications. He served six years in America where he was placed in charge of the regimental accounts and registers. On his return to England he married the daughter of a soldier, spent some time in France, then returned to America. After a couple of years the fiery contents of his leaflets forced him to return to England.
On his return to England, Cobbett started his radical career. In 1802 he founded the Political Register, which started life as Tory weekly but soon turned Radical. He also published Parliamentary debates (later taken over by Hansard). In 1810, Cobbett was sentenced to two years in prison for opposing the use of flogging by the army. Whilst in prison he continued to publish the Register. On leaving prison, his political views forced him to escape to America. In total Cobbett spent nearly 20 years in America. He returned to England in 1819, and finally managed to win a seat in Parliament.
Cobbett's Rural Rides, his social observations and commentary, extracted from the Register, are the best insight we have to social conditions during his lifetime.
Cobbett's Cottage Economy, originally published as a series of pamphlets (1821-2), was first published as a book in 1822, followed by a series of revisions and enlargements, the 17th edition was published by Cobbett's wife Anne (1850), to which G K Chesterton added a preface (1916).
There is a small bronze bust of William Cobbett by Willi Soukop in Gostrey Meadow (by the riverside).
Charles I stayed at Vernon House, now the library, on his way to his execution in London.
The Redgrave Theatre, named after the famous theatrical family, used to be one of the best theatres in the area (cf Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford), putting on adventurous performances and productions. Unfortunately this did not pull in the punters and in the last decade or so in order to make ends meet the Redgrave has been obliged to move downmarket and stage the same mediocrity as found in Guildford.
The peak of the Redgrave was in the mid-1970s. Two performances worth mentioning - a brilliant dramatisation to commemorate the life and times of Jane Austen and a Victorian melodrama of the demon barber Sweeny Todd. It was also at this time that the Redgrave had a thriving lunch-time fringe theatre. Some of the best performances from the fringe were of Tony Hancock. The Redgrave has recently closed its doors for the last time.
The prestigious Surrey Institute of Art and Design, formerly Farnham Art College, is located in Farnham. It is one of the few independent colleges that have been granted the power to award their own degrees.
Farnham celebrates the last Saturday of June with the Farnham Carnival - music, stalls and a carnival procession. Highlight of 2010, Mike Dawes and Amy Turk on acoustic guitar and concert harp.
A farmers market is held on the last Sunday of the month. It is held though in a crass location, a car park well hidden from view. A far better location would be Castle Street, where the town's market was once held.
The River Wey flows through Farnham, with a pleasant riverside walk and park. Unfortunately the walk does not extend along the river beyond the town centre.
Below the railway station, A few hundred yards along the bypass, a wooden finger-post points along Darvills Lane - the beginning of the North Downs Way. The route skirts along the flood plain at the edge where the land slowly rises. Along the same route runs the Greensand Way. The two part company where the route crosses the Wey at Moor Park and the North Downs Way climbs up the hill. The Greensand Wey continues down the Wey towards the ruins of Waverley Abbey.
The North Downs Way starts at Farnham, and runs along the North Downs to Dover in Kent, with a loop to Canterbury. It roughly follows the route of the Pilgrim's Way, often running parallel, but rarely on it. The Pilgrim's Way ran from Winchester to Canterbury. The pilgrims were on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Thomas à Beckett in Canterbury Cathedral.
It was whilst at Moor Park as secretary to Sir William Temple that Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), satirist, author of Gulliver's Travels (1726), wrote The Tale of a Tub (1704) and The Battle of the Books (1704). Swift took a fancy to Esther Johnson, who he taught to write. Swift called her Stella and dedicated his Journal (written 1710-11) to her. She later joined Swift in Ireland as his mistress. The two lie buried side by side in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.
Waverley Abbey was the first Cistercian Abbey to be founded in England (1128). Loseley House, an Elizabethan house south of the North Downs Way near Guildford, was built using stones taken from the ruined abbey. Waverley Abbey was the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott's Waverley novels.
Near Moor Park and the ruins of Waverly Abbey are two caves, the larger of which is known after Mother Ludlam. Mother Ludlam was a local witch who lived in or near the cave. She was free with her possessions and would lend them out on request. One day a large cauldron was lent and not returned. The borrower took refuge from her wrath in Frensham Church, where today the large cauldron can still be found.
Nearby Crooksbury Hill, the highest point of Crooksbury Common, a fine sandy heathland, offers excellent walking. It was here, on a solitary road crossing the desolate heath, that Sherlock Holmes was called upon to solve a singularly interesting case involving Miss Violet Smith - The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist (published in the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes).
A little way downstream of Waverley, two lovely Medieval bridges cross the Wey at Tilford. An ancient oak can be found on the village green. William Cobbett pointed out the oak to his son on one of his rides. At nearby Black Lake, J M Barrie wrote Peter Pan and Dear Brutus.
Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the scout movement, lived at Bentley, a small village south-west of Farnham, set in attractive water-meadows of the River Wey. His house, Pax Hill, once a centre for the Girl Guides is now a home for the elderly. Bentley has become infamous as the 'star' of the 'fly on the wall' TV series The Village.
Milford, south of Godalming, holds a highly successful Farmers Market. The prices are not cheap, the emphasis being on quality local produce.
North of Farnham is the incorrectly named Ceasar's Camp. An Iron Age Hill Fort that pre-dates Ceasar's arrival on these shores by about 600 years. The fort is best approached from the north by the minor road across Tweseldown that links Aldershot and Fleet (Church Crookham). From this direction there is a steep climb, giving the opportunity to appreciate the view as it unfolds beneath one's feet.
South of Farnham lies Frensham Common and Frensham Ponds. The three small hillocks, south of Frensham Little Pond towards Churt, are known as The Devil's Jumps.
Frensham Church (late 14th Cent) has a Norman font and a large copper cauldron. The copper cauldron has a curious history, John Aubrey was of the opinion that it had been brought to the church by fairies for use at feasts, local legend that it was stolen from a local witch Mother Ludlam who lived in caves near the ruins of Waverley Abbey.
Beyond Frensham, Hindhead and the Devil's Punch Bowl.
Farnham Station has train services northwards to Aldershot, then on towards London Waterloo or Guildford, southwards to Alton with connecting services to the Watercress Line.
Farnham was once an independent town, now, together with Godalming and the intervening countryside, it forms part of Waverley.