The Manor of Epsom, or Ebbesham, was part of the estates belonging to Chertsey Abbey by the beginning of the 8th century and it remained in the same ownership until the Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1537.
Epsom was an insignificant village until the discovery, in about 1640, of the medicinal qualities of the water from a spring on Epsom Common. This was the original source of the famous 'Epsom Salts' and its purging properties attracted the aristocracy, the rich and famous from all over England. Epsom was quickly transformed from village to town as fine houses, inns, gaming establishments and lodging houses were built to cater for the thousands who came 'to take the waters'. Samuel Pepys, the diarist, came here several times in the 1660s and Nell Gwynn, Charles II's infamous mistress, was also a frequent visitor.
Unfortunately, demand for the waters often outstripped supply and, despite the discovery of a second source, the popularity of the Epsom Wells was in decline by 1730. The wells finally closed when apothecaries discovered that the salts could be manufactured artificially.
The town might have lapsed back into obscurity but it was saved by the suitability of the Epsom Downs as the stage for the increasingly popular sport of horse-racing. Races were usually ran over a four mile course with heats before the final. As a result, a horse might end the day having covered up to 32 miles! A group of rich enthusiasts, including Sir Charles Bunbury and the 12th Earl of Derby, were convinced that the future of racing lay in having much shorter races without heats. As a result 'The Oaks' was first run at Epsom in 1779 to be followed a year later by 'The Derby'. 'The Oaks' was named after Lord Derby's house at nearby Woodmansterne, but the name of the world's most famous race was apparently decided between Bunbury and Derby by the toss of a coin.
The popularity of racing and a burgeoning market restored the fortunes of the town. A further significant boost came when the railway arrived in 1847, bringing the town ever closer to London. This gave an impetus to the first stages of residential development in the area. Despite much more building since, particularly during the 1930s, Epsom has successfully retained its individual identity and the character of its open downland.