Woking is a town that has seen many different versions of itself over the centuries, and is still continuously evolving to this day! That's why we think it's so important to keep a record and archive of our hometown's history. The Lightbox Heritage Collection has thousands of objects that are significant to Woking, so picking just ten was no easy feat! But in celebration of our 10th anniversary this September, in this week's blog we bring you a quick history of Woking in just 10 objects.
1. Neolithic Hand Axes (3000BC)
Woking civilisation stretches all the way back to the Bronze Age! These flint tools were discovered in Maybury in the early 1950s during housing development, and date from the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages, 3000 BC to 1500 BC. Hand axes are the longest-used tools in human history, and would have been used to butcher animals, dig, chop wood, remove tree bark, and throw at prey. They are the oldest items in The Lightbox collections.
2. Woking Palace Valencian Tiles (c. 1450)
These beautiful Valencian tiles are a rare find in Britain, in fact more have been discovered on the site of Woking Palace than anywhere else in the country! Originally the home of Lady Margeret Beaufort (grandmother of King Henry VIII), the moated manor house played host to royal banquets and hunting parties, and would have been lavishly decorated. This included importing intricately painted Valencian tiles from Spain, which featured patterns and symbols such as the Tudor Rose.
3. Railway Orphanage quilt (1933)
The railway came to Woking in 1838, completely changing the future of this once little town. Of course rapid urban development usually comes at a cost, and so the London and South Western Railway Orphanage was set up in 1911 for children whose fathers had died in or been incapacitated in railway service. This quilt from 1933 is one of a few embroidered for special occasions, and shows a railway conductor with the slogan, "Come along children, we are just off!"
4. Brookwood Cemetery Office Key
Another major part of Woking's history was the opening of Brookwood Cemetery, which is the largest cemetery in the UK! Originally known as London Necropolis, its most famous "occupant" is probably the artist John Singer Sargent.
Following severe public health problems as the graveyards of London parishes filled in the early 19th century, a cemetery was established in just outside Woking on land that was cheap, but still easily accessible from London. We hold in our collections this key to their head offices in London. For easy transport to Brookwood, the offices included the terminus of a railway line which took coffins and mourners straight into the cemetery.
5. Lock of Hair from a Brookwood Hospital Patient
Originally named Surrey County Lunatic Asylum, you might think that Brookwood Hospital has a bit of a grisly history, but it operated a system that was in its time progressive and humane. This mysterious plait of hair may have been severed from a patient as a punishment, but more likely for hygenic reasons.
6. The Royal Dramatic College windows (1858)
The Royal Dramatic College was founded under the patronage of Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray in 1858. Having bought cheap land from the London Necropolis, the idea was to create a home for retired actors to live and socialise. The elaborate mock Tudor building was to house up to 20 actors and their spouses. The hub of the building was a grand central hall with an art gallery and two stained glass windows, depicting Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies. Sadly, the College struggled financially, closing after just 19 years in 1877.
7. The War of the Worlds, H G Wells (1915 reprint)
Woking becomes a scene of destruction in H.G. Wells' iconic sci-fi novel ‘The War of the Worlds’! Wells came to 141 Maybury Road, Woking in 1895, and although he lived there for only a year he worked on four of his most well-known novels there. This included ‘The War of the Worlds’, in which Martians land on Horsell Common and proceed to wreck Woking landmarks until moving on to London. This copy is over 100 years old, a 1915 reissue.
8. Sir Alec Bedser's Record-Breaking Cricket Ball (1953)
You might have spotted the sculptures commemorating twin cricket legends Alec and Eric Bedser on each side of the Bedser Bridge over the Basingstoke Canal. The Bedsers were born in Reading in 1918 but lived most of their lives in Woking. They joined Surrey County Cricket Club in 1936, Alec as a pace bowler and Eric as an all-rounder. Alec played 51 test matches for England and at one time held the record for the most wickets taken in test matches. The ball shown is one used during a spell of bowling in a test when he took 14 wickets for 99 runs against Australia in 1953, at the time a world record.
9. The Shamiana Panel, Shah Jahan Mosque (1991)
After the Royal Dramatic College failed, the building was bought by Orientalist scholar Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner. On the land, he founded the Oriental Institute for studies, and the Shah Jahan Mosque for worship. Opened in 1889, this was the first purpose built mosque in the UK, and even in northern Europe! After a period of disuse it was revived in 1913 and from the 1960s helped attract many Muslims to Woking. This tapestry was commissioned in 1991 by Shireen Akbar of the Victoria and Albert Museum, to realise a dream to involve groups of women of South Asian origin throughout Britain in a co-operative project.
10. Paul Weller’s Guitar
You couldn't talk about Woking's history without a tribute to The Modfather! Paul Weller lived in Stanley Road, Woking, and attended Sheerwater County Secondary School. With his school mates Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler he founded the punk rock and mod revival band The Jam, and from 1983 turned to soul music with Style Council, before becoming a solo artist in 1991. His hard-bitten lyrics and poems reflect his discontent with the society of his time. 'A Town Called Malice' is said to be inspired by his hometown, which is a good claim to fame, although perhaps not the most glowing recommendation for 1970s-80s Woking!
This guitar was originally displayed at The Lightbox as part of a temporary exhibition called ‘A Town Called Malice, Stanley Road Revisited: Photographs of Paul Weller by Lawrence Watson’. After the exhibition ended, Paul Weller kindly offered to lend it to The Lightbox on an ongoing basis, and it has lived within Woking’s Story ever since.
Feeling inspired by Woking's history? Come and see some of these objects and much more in our local history museum, Woking's Story.