The Manor of 'Leodridan' or Leatherhead is first mentioned in the will of King Alfred the Great in about 880 A.D. It has been suggested that the name derives from 'leode' and 'ride', meaning 'public ford' or, alternatively, from the Celtic 'letorito' meaning 'grey (or brown) ford'. Both would seem appropriate considering the town's proximity to the River Mole, which is now crossed by a bridge dating from 1782. The name was gradually corrupted to 'Letherhead' and only changed to the present spelling in the second half of the 19th century.
There is some evidence to suggest that Leatherhead was an important administrative centre during Saxon times and later, and that the County Court was held here until the 13th century when it moved to Guildford. Leatherhead Church may have been a minster church before the Norman Conquest with ecclesiastical control over a wide area of this part of Surrey. The present parish church of St Mary and St Nicholas dates from the early 13th century, with later additions and restorations.
Leatherhead was granted a weekly market and an annual fair by Henry III in 1248 but the settlement was destroyed by fire in 1392. Although rebuilding took place, Leatherhead as a commercial centre never really recovered and the market ceased sometime during the 16th century.
On 23rd February 1791, John Wesley, then aged 87, co-founder of the Methodist Movement, came to Leatherhead. Here he preached to a gathering in an upstairs room in Kingston House, situated close to the centre of the town. It was the last of 42,400 sermons he delivered during his lifetime because a week later he was dead. Kingston House was demolished in 1933.
Jane Austen was often in the area visiting members of her family at Bookham. It is now generally accepted that in her novel, 'Emma', first published in 1815, she based the fictitious town of Highbury on Leatherhead.
The town was revived by the coming of the railway in 1859 and by the arrival St John's School, which moved to Leatherhead in 1872. The town began to rapidly expand as a residential centre, a role it continues to fulfil to this day.