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Epsom is a beautiful place; the Epsom Clock Tower is a shining example of the beauty of the area, standing tall on the high street. And as we look back over the history of this wonderful place, it gets even more magical.
Unlike many other parts of London that have a Saxon name for a reason that is lost to history, we actually know who Epsom is named after. The earliest recorded name for this area if Ebba’s ham (‘ham’ is home in Saxon). Ebba was a Saxon landowner in the 7th century (historians believe). However, Epsom has been used as a settlement for over 4,000 years. With evidence of Bronze Age settlements in the area.
In the Saxon period, it was very common for settlements to pop near springs. The springs were used to collect fresh water, of course, but many people also believe that springs held a religious meaning to the Saxons, just as they had the Romans. Epsom had a spring (quite an interesting spring, as we’ll get to later) but was also located in a dry valley. In the Saxon period, much more of England was swamp and marshland, so the location was just about perfect for a Saxon landowner to make a settlement.
Sadly, no records survive of what Ebba used the land for. However, it was likely a small Saxon farmstead with various homes, plots of land to farm and livestock. This doesn’t sound like much, but Ebba was likely very wealthy. Owning a plot of land like Epsom in the Saxon period was much the same as owning a mansion and a supercar today.
You can see glimpses of Epsom’s past as you walk down the streets today. The road layout is said to come from the Middle Ages. And while the streets are now tarmac and paved, you can still walk the same routes as people did a thousand years ago.
One of the springs in Epsom also gave the town a rather interesting claim to fame: Epsom salts. The story goes that a farmer noticed his cattle refused to drink from a certain spring on Epsom Common. Trying the water, Henry Wicker (the farmer) noticed some healing properties, and this quickly led to the boom of Epsom salts. Everyone at the time was drinking the water from the spring in Epsom, including Samuel Pepys, the writer who gave us a 1st hand account of the fire of London. And it even became a spa town. Sadly, the spa resort didn’t last too long as places like Bath took the business away from Epsom.
This didn’t stop Epsom from putting itself back on the map, though. It is believed that the first horse racing in Epsom took place in the early 17th century. The horse racing blossomed, and The Oaks and The Derby were created in 1779 and 1780. on Derby Day in 1829, more than 127,000 people saw the horses race. And in 1913, suffragette Emily Davison took a bold stand for the voting rights of women and kickstarted the suffragette movement.
So, Saxon landowners, salt-drinking writers and incredible suffragettes who took a stand for their rights, Epsom has a fascinating past. One that can be traced back to the earliest humans to settle in Surrey.