Epsom and Ewell both lie on the spring line on the north face of the North Downs where the pervious chalk meets the impervious London clay and a series of springs tend to form. In Ewell the springs which form the Hogsmill River are clearly evident. Those in Epsom are less so.
These springs attracted prehistoric people to the area and numerous remains have been found, mostly in Ewell and particularly near the Hogsmill River.
In Roman times the road now known as Stane Street, which ran from London to Chichester, passed through both Epsom and Ewell. Many Roman remains have been found in Ewell suggesting that it was a sizeable Roman settlement.
Both Epsom and Ewell have Saxon names: Ewell takes its name from the spring in the centre of the village and Epsom, or Ebbisham, is the enclosure of Ebbi. A Saxon cemetery in The Grove in Ewell was excavated in the 1930s.
In medieval times the area was covered by three manors: Cuddington, which was owned by the Codington family, Epsom which belonged to Chertsey Abbey and Ewell associated with Merton Priory.
In 1538 the village of Cuddington was destroyed to make way for Henry VIII's Nonsuch Palace and its surrounding parks. Henry died before the palace was completed, but it was visited by Queen Elizabeth. It was demolished in 1682.
Epsom became a spa in the early 17th century when a spring containing Epsom salts was discovered on the Common. Its popularity with London society brought visits from Samuel Pepys and Nell Gwyn, the development of shops and inns and of the oldest spa assembly rooms in England. This still stands at the western end of Epsom High Street.
Horse racing on Epsom Downs began during the spa period, but it was not until the Oaks was first run in 1789 and the Derby the following year that it took on something like its present form. The first grandstand was built in 1830 and the present complex of three stands in 1927 and 1995.
Many large houses were built in Epsom during and after the spa period. St Martin's Church was rebuilt in 1825 and partly rebuilt again in 1908 and the clock tower in the centre of the town replaced the earlier watchhouse in 1847. Ewell saw less change in recent centuries and, although now surrounded by suburbia, still retains much of its village character. Its medieval church was replaced by the present Victorian one in 1848, but the original medieval tower still stands in the churchyard.
The Pre-Raphaelite painters, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, had connections with both Ewell and Cuddington and used local scenes as backgrounds for a number of their paintings: notably 'Ophelia' by Millais and 'The Light of the World' by Hunt.
Epsom High Street in 1837
Epsom Grandstand in 19th century
St. Martin's Church, Epsom
The Spa Period Assembly Rooms, Past and Present