Esher is recorded in 1005 but the origin of the name is obscure, although its first element refers to ash trees. In the Domesday Survey of 1086 Esher is divided between several landholders. These included the Bishop of Bayeux, Chertsey Abbey and 'Odard the Gunner'. The abbot and convent of Croix St Leufoy in Normandy had also been granted land in Esher by William the Conqueror on condition that the abbot would supply two priests to say mass at Esher for the souls of William's predecessors.
During the 13th century Esher was acquired by the Bishop of Winchester but it was conveyed to Henry VIII in 1538. Esher Place was sumptuous house by the River Mole built by Bishop Waynflete about 1475-80. Only the gatehouse, facing the river, survives of this house.
The priory of Sandon was situated at Esher. The brethren here were Augustinians, who cared for the sick and the poor as well performing their usual daily religious duties. Sandon Priory was probably founded during the reign of Henry II (1154-1189) but in 1349 all its brethren were wiped out by the Black Death. Later it suffered from inefficient or dishonest masters and it was, in effect, bankrupt when it was suppressed in 1436. The name survived through the centuries merely as that of a small farm but it was revived when Sandown Park Racecourse was opened in 1875.
Esher has two churches - St George's is sited behind the main High Street and the building seen today was constructed about 1540. The present parish church, Christ Church, is situated adjacent to Esher Green and was built in the early 1850s to designs by Benjamin Ferrey.
The famous architect, Sir John Vanbrugh bought land to the south of Esher in 1708 and there he built himself a house. He provided his house with crenellations and a walled garden. Less than seven years later he sold the house and its estate to Thomas Pelham, Earl of Clare, who later was created Duke of Newcastle. Pelham then commissioned Vanbrugh to considerably enlarge the house, which he named 'Claremont', the name being taken from his title. The Duke of Newcastle died in 1768 and the estate was bought by Lord Clive of India. Clive had achieved numerous victories in India against both the French and local rulers, which had added the sub-continent to the expanding British Empire. He had also made himself a large fortune in the process.
Clive demolished the Vanbrugh house and replaced it with a house designed by Henry Holland and Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, who, not surprisingly, also landscaped the gardens. Clive committed suicide in 1774 and Claremont was sold.
In 1816 the house was occupied by Prince Charlotte and Prince Leopold. Charlotte died the following year but Leopold continued to live at Claremont until he was installed as the first king of Belgium in 1831. Queen Victoria spent much of her childhood here - it was one of her favourite places. In 1848 King Louis Philippe of France was exiled to Claremont, where he died two years later. Later the house became the home of Queen Victoria's youngest son, the Duke of Albany but it is now a school.
Esher Station opened in 1838 some distance north of the hilltop village and was originally known as 'Ditton Marsh'. Further high-class houses began to be built, augmenting those older fine houses which already existed. Esher gradually developed into a prime residential area but, being surrounded by much open commonland, it has still managed to retain a semi-rural feel.