Wocchingas, meaning 'the people or family of Wocc', is first recorded in a document surviving from the early 8th century. The settlement in this and later documents, including the Domesday Survey, was situated on the banks of the River Wey. An important palace was built here during the medieval period and it was a particular favourite with Henry VII. In 1497 the 'Treaty of Woking' was signed here by King Henry and Maximillian of Austria. Queen Elizabeth I was a regular visitor to the palace but her successor, James I, gave it to Sir Edward Zouch. He preferred to live at Hoe Place about half a mile away and Woking Palace was left to decay.
By the 17th century Woking had entered a period of quiet obscurity as a moribund market town, a place bypassed by the great and good as they journeyed along the Portsmouth Road to the west. But all this was eventually to change.
On 21st May 1838 the first train steamed into Woking Station. Now London was only an hour away. Unfortunately for the town of Woking, the station was two miles to the north-west on the heathlands of the sparsely populated Woking Common. However, the station proved to be an instant success, but there were no facilities for the thousands of travellers who made their way to the station from many miles around. Then the Railway Hotel was opened by local entrepreneur, Edward Woods, and the first step in the development of the present town of Woking had begun. But there was no rush to build and the next stage in the history of the town is what makes it unique.
By 1851 the population of London had risen to over two million and, as a result, many more people were dying in the capital than ever before. There was no cremation in those days so each body had to buried in an existing churchyard and these were full, literally, to bursting! The answer was to establish separate cemeteries. It was at this point that it was proposed to enclose Woking Common and turn it into a vast burial ground for London.
The grandly named 'London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company' was formed and the Brookwood Cemetery opened by Act of Parliament in 1854. Coffins and mourners were brought down from London in special trains and a siding then ran off the main line into the cemetery, which was provided with its own separate stations for the funerals of different denominations. It was not long before the necropolis trains were nick-named 'ghost trains'.
However, it was quickly realised that not all of Woking Common would be required for the cemetery and by Act of Parliament in 1855 the Necropolis Company was allowed to sell off excess land for development. The rise of Woking now gathered pace, a process which has culminated in recent times in Woking becoming, in terms of population, the largest town in Surrey. But what of the original Saxon Woking? It adopted the prefix 'Old' to differentiate it from the Victorian town that had stolen its identity.