I love Chertsey. I have lived in the town for over 40 years and both my children were born and raised in the town. It is a very pretty, historic, market town with loads of character. It has survived over the years with very little official help and indeed sometimes savage official hindrance – but still puts forward a charming and cheerful face and manages to punch above its weight.
Chertsey is a hidden gem – most of the world’s population, and even most of the British population, has never heard of Chertsey. It is, however, one of the oldest towns in England (its abbey was founded in 666 and recent evidence of Roman and Prehistoric settlement has been found) and its continued history can be seen in the ruins and numerous listed buildings that remain in the town. Chertsey is an old market town, and is surrounded on 3 sides by green belt land and by the River Thames and 18th century Chertsey Bridge on the fourth.There are more Georgian properties in Chertsey than in any other town in Surrey and classic examples of Regency, Victorian an early 20th century properties.
Although the area covered exhibits huge contrasts in class, wealth and topography, its very diversity gives Chertsey, Ottershaw, Lyne and Longcross their own distinctive character. This diversity has existed throughout Chertsey’s history and can be seen in the architecture.
Chertsey is a pretty town and is packed with history. It is approximately 20 miles from central London and on the route out of the capital to the south coast and South West of England. It was, therefore, a major coaching town in the 17 – 19th centuries, at one time having over a dozen coaching inns. Now only 5 remain – the most recent loss being the Georgian Vine Public House which in 2012 was turned into residential housing with little remaining of the old inn.
Unfortunately this represents a typical example of how Chertsey has been treated by the local authority councillors in recent (the last 50) years. Many historical and beautiful buildings have been demolished and ugly, inappropriate and densely packed buildings have replaced them. Chertsey has always been a working town and local politicians have preferred to spend money and win votes in the local ‘nouveaux riche’ towns of Weybridge and Virginia Water.
In the early 1970’s (just before I moved to Chertsey) a major development took place in the town. Several 18th century buildings were demolished in Guildford Street (the town’s high street) to make way for an arcade to be built, leading through to a medium sized Sainsbury’s supermarket and a large surface level (ticketed) car park. Despite a vigorous campaign fought by residents the plan was steam-rollered through by the council and the contractors, the buildings, including a fully operational 17th century coaching inn, were demolished and a dismal and depressing modern arcade filled with cheap fast-food and charity shops was built. Perversely although this is mostly covered arcade, in two places there is deliberately no roof so that when it rains shoppers get soaked!! It is beyond belief. Guildford Street became one way with very limited parking making business impossible for the small independent shops. This almost sounded the death knell for shopping in Chertsey. One cannot imagine what inspired the council and developers to allow such a scheme.
The Chertsey Society was formed as early as 1960 by a group of local residents who were concerned that the historic character of the town was being eroded by sequential replacement of notable local landmarks. The threatened demolition, approved by Chertsey UDC (now part of Runnymede Borough Council), of Denmark House in Windsor Street in 1957, provided a catalyst.
The former DERA (Chobham Tanks) site on greenbelt land at Longcross and a site of special scientific interest is currently the subject of controversial plans for 1,500 new homes and ancillary buildings. Two local parks are under threat and the residents have banded together to try to obtain ‘Village Green’ status, with permanent rights for them.
Nevertheless, despite the Councils remorseless efforts, Chertsey remains a classic English market town, the market rights being the oldest in Surrey, with fine hotels (see separate page), pubs (see separate page) and restaurants (see separate page), historic streets and good sporting facilities. It is a great place to live and/or to use as a base for exploring South East England.
There have been many recent improvements. Chertsey is historically an important market town, and in 2000, Wellers Auctioneers, who are historically linked to the famous Surrey livestock auction markets of Guildford and Farnham, moved to the Constitutional Hall, Guildford Street, Chertsey, a late Victorian building with many original features, that provides a perfect backdrop for their sales. Wellers hold more specialist sales in Surrey than any other auction house, with access to worldwide markets through regular sales at their Victorian premises. This has been a great success and brings a great number of customers to the town on viewing and auction days. Wellers is, indeed, featured regularly on television ‘antiques’ shows.
The present Chertsey station across the level crossing from the site of the original station was opened on the 10th of October 1866 by the London and South Western Railway. The Southern Railway electrified the line on the 3rd of January 1937.
Aside from being a London “commuter town”, Chertsey is home to the head office of Compass Group and the UK head office of Samsung Electronics, the latter being in the beautiful 400 acre Hillswood Park, probably one of the most attractive settings for any Head Office in the UK.
Chertsey is rich in open spaces; Chertsey Meads, now owned by the Borough Council, encompasses 170 acres of riverside land which is a habitat for a variety of birds and wildlife. On the towns northern edge, overlooking Thorpe Park, is St Ann’s Hill. This is a delightfully wooded viewpoint which gives rise to almost 250 feet and gives excellent views of the locality. More recently the Council completed a major programme of improvement to an overgrown area previously known as Gogmore Farm which has put a new green heart into Chertsey and provides a riverside park of high quality running through the centre of the town.
St. Ann’s Hill is a public green space on the edge of the town. It is a wooded landscape with a nature trail on an elevated site. St Ann’s Hill was used as a fort in the prehistoric period. In the early medieval period there was a vineyard on the hill, probably on the southern slope. Landscaping works, including an octagonal summerhouse (dated 1794), were undertaken on St Ann’s Hill in the late 18th century. After 1842, the Dingle was landscaped with raised paths, three fishponds, a summerhouse, and a rustic bridge. Public access was extended. In 1927 Sir William Berry gave St Ann’s Hill to Chertsey Urban District Council as a public recreation ground. Percy Cane was commissioned to landscape the hilltop and it was officially opened in 1928 by Neville Chamberlain.