I've lived in Woking for over 12 years, but its only been in the last couple of years that I have started to do some long overdue reading into the town's history. If I am going to represent the town on the borough council, I should at least know something about it right? Well it was all started by seeing a wonderful copy of John Remnant's Map of 1719 in the Lightbox in Woking at their 'story of Woking' exhibition. I love old maps and history (being an amateur genealogist) so this was right up my alley.
What struck me was the slow gentle meander of those original parishes into the local wards that we know today and some of the quaint little eccentricities with names you find when picking at the details of the map. For example, the description
And alfo certaine Parcels or feveralls of Land in the Parifh of Pirford (Pyrford). And Broad Meads and Bollock Mead in the Parifh of Sendnever ceases to bring a wry, childish smirk to my face when I read it on the Remnant's map.
The town's name itself comes from the Anglo Saxon name Wocca, an equally silly sounding word meaning "settlement belonging to the followers of Wocc". It has also been latterly called "Wochingas" and "Wokynge" until finally settling on the name we know now, Woking. Those early landowners sure knew how to make a place sound like more fun than it anvariably was in those times being that it was, in the main, farmland and small villages.
Today the borough of Woking is made up of the local wards of Brookwood, Byfleet, Goldsworth East, Goldsworth West, Hermitage & Knaphill South, Horsell East & Woodham, Horsell West, Kingfield & Westfield, Knaphill, Maybury & Sheerwater, Mayford & Sutton Green, Mount Hermon East, Mount Herman West, Old Woking, Pyrford, St John's & Hook Heath and West Byfleet. A merry band of mixed wards and housing that merges politically between staunch Conservative in places like Pyrford and St John's & Hook Heath and the Liberal Democrat heartlands in the Goldsworths.
That's not to say that there aren't any interesting battles. There have been many close races in local elections in recent years. Knaphill always throws up some interesting results with Liberal Democrats either losing by a measly 47 votes as was the case 4 years ago, or keeping their soon to be group leader in his seat by only a 100 or so. Elections in Woking are never boring that's for sure, even if we have not been able to regain control of the council since 2007.
If you want real drama in the Woking political sphere however, you have to look back to 1830 when there was serious civil unrest within Woking Parish though oddly a trip to the Surrey History centre couldn't dig up what it was all about.
More random facts you may never have known about sleepy Woking? Well, Paul Weller notably of 'The Jam' was born and still lives here, as does "slow hand" himself Eric Clapton. HG Wells lived here in the mid 1890's famously writing "War of the Worlds" and scaring a generation into not wanting to walk on Horsell Common for fear of alien abduction or attack. His noted literary work is commemorated by a wonderful statue of one of his aliens in the town centre - a Liberal Democrat achievement when we were last in control of the council. Jonathan Lord our new Conservative MP has tried vainly to claim it as a Conservative project, but he doesn't live here and has consistently proved he knows nothing of the town, its history and its people.
The beautiful Shah Jehan Mosqu in Woking is the oldest mosque in Britain dating from 1889 while over in the west of the borough, Brookwood cemetery is the largest in the country. Famous people interred there include the artist John Singer Sargeant and St Edward the Martyr, King of England from 975 to 978. We also have two survivors of the Titanic disaster, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and Lady Lucy Duff Gordon.
Today, Woking is a sleepy town with the same problems and concerns that everyone else has in these times of austerity. Some say Woking is just a place you pass through on the way from the South Coast to London but to me its more than that. Its a rich vibrant town with a wealth of history that can keep you amused and entertained for hours. More importantly, to me it's home.