Farnham castle aerial photograph

Farnham, meaning 'the enclosure in the bracken or fern', was first recorded in a charter dated to about 688 A.D. The owner by the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086 was the Bishop of Winchester, Henry de Blois, and he was probably responsible for building the original castle at Farnham soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Much of the castle seen today dates from the 12th century to the late 17th century.

In the Civil War Farnham Castle was initially held by Parliament but a Royalist force seized it without a fight following the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. Two weeks later the Parliamentarians led by Sir William Waller appeared at the castle gates, which they promptly blew up. After a brief fight in which there were casualties on both sides Waller's troops retook the castle.

A Royalist army of 8,000 men under Sir Ralph Hopton attempted to get it back again late in 1643 but, after some bloody skirmishes in Farnham Park, they fled into Hampshire. On 29th March 1644 the Royalist army was destroyed at the Battle of Cheriton, near Alresford. After the Civil War Farnham Castle was restored as a palace for the Bishops of Winchester and it remained an important residence for them until 1927.

To the east of Farnham at a beautiful location on the banks of the River Wey, the first Cistercian monastery in England was established in 1128. The monks of Waverley Abbey were to have a great influence over the area, being credited with the introduction of woollen cloth manufacture and also the building of a number of bridges over the Wey between Tilford and Unstead, north of Godalming. It is a tribute to their building skills that these 13th century bridges survive and are still in everyday use.

Farnham became a borough in 1207 and was granted a market and fair in 1216. The market prospered and with it so did the town of Farnham. By the 18th century the market had become one of the most important for corn in the whole of England. This prosperity is reflected in the streets of fine Georgian houses, which are still a major attractive feature of the town, particularly West Street and Castle Street.

Farnham town centre

The agricultural land around Farnham was developed as a major hop growing area and Farnham hops were considered to be of the finest quality to be found anywhere in England. The hops were taken to the country's largest hop fair at Weyhill in Hampshire to be sold. Even in the 1950s there were still many acres of hop fields surrounding the town but now hop growing has ceased, the victim of a lower quality, cheaper product from elsewhere.

From the late 1850s Farnham became increasingly influenced by the spread of army activities to the north of the town centred around the new military base at Aldershot. The railway opened to Farnham in 1852 but a direct link from Guildford via Ash Green and Tongham was closed to passengers in the 1930s and all trains are now routed via Aldershot. The railway, of course, brought major residential development to the town.

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