A brief history of Woldingham

This article is kindly compiled by the Woldingham History Society ( for more info contact Jennifer King on [65]2615 )

Last updated August 2011

Woldingham was once an empty down crossed by the old ridgeway. From Saxon times until the coming of the railway it was a tiny agricultural hamlet. For the last ninety years it has been a steadily growing residential area.”

This, the opening sentence of “History of Woldingham and Marden Park” by John Greenwood, written in 1976, admirably sums up the history of our village. This history is, however, small and fragmented and has to be searched for rather than being laid out neatly before us.

The first written record is the Domesday book entry when the population was about 50 and although the village had been worth £4 in King Edward the Confessor’s reign, it was recorded that it was only worth 20 shillings when William the Conqueror took it from its Saxon owner, Ulstan, and gave it to one of his knights Richard of Tonbridge.

The old parish was very small, about one square mile, northwards from The Ridge almost to the modern railway station, the clay soil on the hilltop was used as arable land and the chalk hillsides were grazing. The common land comprised The Green and the hillside below Park View Road.

The parish was split into two farms, both manors, Upper and Nether Court. The only roads were the present day Northdown Road from the ridgeway up to the village, a green lane from Chelsham past Flinthouse Farm and on to Oxted connected to Woldingham by Slines Oak Road, and a track from St. Agatha’s Church down to Marden Valley in the neighbouring parish of Godstone.

Upper Court farmed the land from The Green down to The Ridge and Nether Court farmed the land to the north, as well as Lunghurst Road and Butlers Dene Road areas which were in the then parish of Chelsham. The farms were always tenanted and their aristocratic owners rarely, if ever, visited this remote hamlet. There was a tiny church, now St. Agatha’s, first recorded in a document of 1270, which was from time to time ruinous.

In 1671, a wealthy London scrivener or moneylender, Sir Robert Clayton, purchased Marden Valley (Park) and built for himself an elegant country house. He transformed the barren chalk downland into a beautiful landscaped deer park that was exhorted by the diarist John Evelyn, who visited Sir Robert, to the “repairing of an old desolate dilapidated church, standing on the hill above the house.”

Apart from a legal case concerning the tithes of Upper Court, little changed through the centuries. In 1801, Woldingham had a population of 33, fewer than the number recorded on Domesday. During the C19 some cottages were built on what we now know as The Green; that are still there today. One of the cottages was an ale-house called The Hop Pole.

In 1832, the owner of Upper Court rebuilt St. Agatha’s which is familiar to us today. The Clayton family let Marden Park from 1800 – one of the tenants being William Wilberforce – and the old house was burnt down in 1879.

Looming over Woldingham from at least 1830 were the plans for a railway. This was finally completed in 1884 and the station was initially called Marden Park. The porter’s house was the green weatherboarded Station Cottage and the stationmaster lived in the grander Station Lodge.

A teetotal geologist from Redhill, Mr. William Gilford, recognised the development potential of the area once the railway was running and purchased the entire parish. He envisaged a complete village, lost in its gardens and marked out large plots each with road frontage. He laid out the simple road infrastructure which still serves us today, following the old field tracks and boundaries, building a waterworks (The Pump House) to replace his optimistic “reservoir” which was the Upper Court Farm pond, and making good roads of hard packed flint such as can still be seen in Church Road and Long Hill (the original Woldingham Road).

Gilford designed a high class village with a mix of housing and took great care to influence future development. All buildings except lodges had to stand 25ft from the road, no houses were to be built of a value less than £400 (£600 in some roads) and there was to be no business or industry.

William Gilford incorporated covenants in the deeds of properties and roads; the latter are administered today by the Woldingham Association and it is these, together with his foresight, that enable the village to maintain much of the unique Victorian-designed village we see today.

After a fracas involving the ‘railway navvies’ who were constructing the tunnel through to Oxted, Gilford took the opportunity to close down the Hop Pole. By 1890 the population had doubled in twenty years to 132 and the area attracted eminent architects who built large, comfortable houses and country estates in miniature.

Woldingham was still remote and a strong social life ensued with a golf course, cricket club, and tennis club. Polo was also played on land now forming part of Park View Road near The Green. To cater for the growing population a larger temporary, timber church was erected on what is now the Village Hall car park. The Rectory was in Southdown Road, now known as the Old Rectory!

The First World War claimed the lives of many village men who are commemorated on the simple War Memorial in St. Paul’s; it also brought the 16th (Public Schools) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment to Woldingham Camp, which was later developed into the Garden Village.

William Gilford’s  covenants were relaxed, in part, to allow the opening of the Village Institute, now known as the Woldingham Village Club, in Upper Court Road (the annual subscription then was five shillings).

The Crescent of shops was built in the 1920’s; Marden Park became part of the parish of Woldingham as well as Butlers Dene Road and Lunghurst Road.

In 1934 the beautiful Church of St. Paul, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, was consecrated.

The village was well and truly stepping out of its history into the present day.

Further Reading:

• Woldingham 2000

• The Bourne Society Local History Records

• Victorian County History (Surrey)

• A History of Woldingham & Marden Park by John Greenwood

• Manning & Bray, Surrey.

All these publications can be seen in the Local History centre at the Caterham library.