by Janis / 6 comments - Orginally published:26th March 2019

Antiques, Cockerels and a Thespian all in the lush Surrey Hills

The many surprises in Dorking

We were staying in the heart of Dorking nestled in the Surrey Hills and home to one of southern England’s largest vineyards.

Dorking sits along the ancient Roman Road of Stane Street built by the Romans to connect London with Chichester.

Dorking’s history doesn’t stop there; however, it has tales of a Pilgrim Father, a Dickensian coaching inn and is the birthplace of a thespian of note, to mention just a few.

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A 'Welcome to Dorking' mural featuring two Dorking Cockerels, painted on a white background
Welcome to Dorking

Where is Dorking?

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Dorking and Charles Dickens

The Pickwick Papers
We were staying at The White Horse on the High Street as guests of “bespoke Hotels”.
This former 18th-century coaching inn is where Charles Dickens is said to have scribed some of “The Pickwick Papers” that was, in part, set in Dorking.
A set of 3D 'Pickwick Papers' Triptych mounted in the wall of a corridor in the White Horse in Dorking
A Pickwick Papers Triptych in the White Horse Hotel
The papers originally selling for one shilling an instalment then became Dickens first novel.
Themed pamphlets with the details of the the facilities of the White Horse Hotel in Dorking
Pickwick's Papers from the White Horse Hotel
A Pickwick Papers piece of art in our room in the White Horse Hotel in Dorking
Pickwick Papers artwork in the White Horse Hotel

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Dorking's Heritage trail

Stepping through the town's history
So, to discover a little more of what the ancient market town of Dorking had to offer, Gary and I just took a couple of steps from the coaching inn, and we were on Dorking’s Heritage Trail.
A cast-iron plaque on the White Horse Hotel for the Dorking Heritage Trail recognising its place as a posting Inn and the site of the Cattle Market
The Dorking Heritage Trail

Just so you know, there are two self-guided trails signposted around the town.

As you stroll through Dorking, you’ll come across the informative plaques that give you a little bit more of the local history.

Also, an insight into who would have frequented these streets and lanes in years gone by.

Local Information

To find out even more about the historic town of Dorking take a journey around the Visit Dorking website.
The side profile of the gothic St Martin's Church in Dorking
St Martin's Church
We found out that Dorking has a cockerel named after it, and not just any old cockerel, this one has five toes.
Exhibits in the Dorking Museum & Heritage Centre, featuring the Dorking Cockerel on a street signpost
The Dorking Cockerel
It also seems to be a theme that runs throughout the town, you’ll see chicken references pop up everywhere.

Dorking Museum & Heritage Centre

Discover more on the town

For just a couple of pounds take a wander around the Dorking Museum & Heritage Centre.

It may look relatively small, but it is full of plenty of local history, interactive exhibits and great insight into the folk of Dorking.

The Dorking Museum & Heritage Centre hanging sign above the building on West Street.
Dorking Museum & Heritage Centre
We didn't know prior to visiting Dorking's museum that one of the original Pilgrim Fathers, William Mullins was born in the town.
An enamelled blue plaque to William Mullins, a Pilgrim Father who sailed on the Mayflower, on West Street in Dorking.
A Blue Plaque to William Mullins - A Pilgrim Father
He set sail with his family on the historic “Mayflower” voyage over to America in 1620. Unfortunately, his story was short-lived as he perished in the first winter of arriving in the New World. Keep a look out for the blue plaque on his house in West Street.

Discover Dorking

And its Antiques Quarter
Now, if you like antiques, you’ll enjoy visiting Dorking. It even has its own little antiques quarter along West Street. You’ll find a fantastic mixture of art, furniture, jewellery and curios. You may even be able to pick yourself up something cockerel related.
An antique shop & coffee lounge in the antique quarter of Dorking
In the Antiques Quarter
This a charming part of Dorking to stroll around, as it has lots of quirky shops, boutiques and plenty of tea rooms.
The Westcott & Williams independent home interior store in the antiques quarter of Dorking
Westcott & Williams

Where have you been?

Have you visited any of England’s old market towns, drop a comment below to tell us where you enjoyed visiting?

Explore Dorking

And its architecture
What can’t have gone unnoticed as you wander through the town, is the fantastic blend of architecture. This is what really stood out for us.
The deep red ornate brickwork of a building on Dorking high street
Let there be light
A jewellery store at the base of a tall narrow building on the high street in Dorking.
Interesting architecture
Different periods in time, seamlessly mixing together. Make sure you keep looking up, there so many interesting little points of detail along the rooftops and skyline. 
The Robert Dyas Ironmongery and Housewares store in a traditional fronted building on the high street in Dorking.
Robert Dyas - Hardware store
So often shopfronts mask what’s hidden behind them; however, Dorking has made an effort to keep its unique charm where it can. Incorporating modern stores into characterful buildings.
The Dorking Butchery in a traditional fronted building on the high street in Dorking.
The Dorking Butchery

Interesting Dorking

One intriguing doorway that caught our eye was the Oddfellows Hall. 
The bright red doors to the Oddfellows Hall on Dorking High Street
Oddfellows Hall
The hall is still being used today for local events, dance classes and just a pleasant place for friends to come together and enjoy each other’s company.

Notable residents of Dorking

A few famous locals
Talking of friends of the town, another famous resident of Dorking was the thespian Laurence Olivier. And they don’t really come more well-known than “Larry” in the theatre and silver screen world. You’ll find another blue plaque along Wathen Road, where Mr Olivier was born in 1907.
The blue plaque for Laurence Olivier on a home in Wathen Road, Dorking
Laurence Olivier's Blue Plaque in Wathen Road 
A portrait of Laurence Olivier at the end of a corridor in the White Horse Hotel, Dorking
Laurence Olivier portrait at the White Horse Hotel

Amongst other local people of prominence was the architect Thomas Cubitt.

Notable for the building and design of some of London’s historical and beautiful squares, around Bloomsbury and Belgravia.

A bronze statue to Thomas Cubitt, the Victorian master builder just off Dorking High Street.
A monument to Thomas Cubitt
A bronze statue to Ralph Vaughn Williams outside the Dorking Halls
A statue to Ralph Vaughn Williams

Just opposite the statue for Thomas Cubitt stands a sculpture of Ralph Vaughn Williams, the English composer and conductor.

The figure takes pride of place outside Dorking Halls Theatre, where Ralph Vaughn Williams staged some of his performances.

The white art deco styled Dorking Halls
The Dorking Halls
The Dorking Halls was originally built in 1931 in Art Deco style, although it has recently been refurbished; the original Art Deco lines are still kept.

Where to eat and drink in Dorking

It's time to take a rest
What Dorking certainly doesn’t lack are restaurants, bars and traditional pubs. There are so many to choose from. Along West Street, once you’ve grabbed yourself that rare antique, take the weight off of your feet and enjoy a local ale.
The Star Public House on the corner of West Street and Station Road in Dorking
The Star Public House

Or if you’re in the heart of the High Street pop into The Dozen bar in the White Horse coaching inn.

Themed with all things equine and a nod to Charles Dickens ”Pickwick Papers”.

Saddles provide the seating at the 'Pickwick Papers' themed Dozen Bar of the White Horse Hotel in Dorking
Saddle up at the bar

Discover more of Surrey

Just out of town
Whether you’ve driven to Dorking or you’ve arrived by public transport, you wouldn’t have failed to have noticed the rolling Surrey Hills. This area of southern England is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). 
Overlooking the vineyards of the Denbies wine estate on the outskirts of Dorking.
The vineyards of Denbies Wine Estate
It’s delightful for all levels of rambling and hiking. Also, budding cyclists will have heard of Box Hill, which was used as part of the course in the 2012 London summer Olympics. You’ll regularly see lycra-clad bodies taking to the route.
The Cycle Race Sculpture on the Denbies roundabout at the entrance to Dorking town.
A short ride to Box Hill
If cycling isn’t your thing then perhaps wine is. As I mentioned previously, England’s largest vineyard Denbies Wine Estate is located within this rich countryside. Acres of rolling vines are just a couple of miles outside Dorking town.
The welcome sign to Denbies wine estate on the outskirts of Dorking.
Denbies Wine Estate

How to get to Dorking

You can catch a train from London Victoria or Waterloo direct to Dorking (Main) Station, which takes around 50 to 55 minutes.

Our chosen transport option was to drive, as it gave us the freedom to tour around.  Pop in your location details then Rental Cars will search well-known car hire brands and discover the deals that suit you the best.

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  1. I lived there as a kid from 1937 to 1957 in Rothes road,just off what we used to call the rec which was home to the surrey senior football club called “The chicks”.It hasn’t changed a jot and,as a kid in the war there are not many parts of Dorking I do not know,the market place on monday was memorable ad there were some pipes you could crawl into which featured waterfalls and the waterfall was a swimming pool past pixham lane.Ah,at 83 I still miss it.

    1. Author

      Ahh you have such fond memories, that’s wonderful. There are so many fascinating stories that we hear with kids growing up through WWII, we’re from Kent and have heard some great exploits from our relatives.
      Kids didn’t seem to have any fear clambering over bombsights or going off in search of some memorabilia.
      We only spent a day in Dorking and found it really interesting. It isn’t until you dig a little deeper into a location that you discover more and more.
      Where do you live now?

  2. Your mention of bombsites remind me of those halcyon days when we actually used to count down to when bombs fell.The missile would come over,the engine would stop and then fall to earth as we counted.Strangely enough I spent some time in the army attached to the gurkhas and never suffered an accident but,during the war managed somehow to embed myself on some spikes.Still got the scars but it’s a small reminder.
    I live with my wife in Eastbourne now but unfortunately she is very poorly and I have certainly seen better days but my memories will always be with me of which there are plenty.Ciao.mike savell

    1. Author

      I can’t imagine what it must have been like during that time. When I hear people chat about it, there are so often tales of folks coming together and a sense of a strong community and such fond memories too.
      I bet you have some incredible stories from your time with the Gurkhas, my grandfather was in the 8th Army around north Africa and Italy. He used to relay some fascinating encounters.
      Thanks for sharing your memories, take care Mike and to your wife.

  3. I was born in Marlborough road in January 1943,went to St Pauls school. remember the Milk Bar where I think the ex military people used to hang out. opposite was the Market where all kinds of animals and merchandise was sold..For the Queens Coronation, everyone was given special mugs (still got mine!) and we watched a firework display on the Nower…sledding on the Nower was our spot for winter sledding down the big hill sometimes getting air on the jump midway down the slope..I used to watch army dispatch riders try to get up the knarly and rooted hill on their motorbikes way over on the west side what we called the second Nower…we would take our bicycles down to the Rec (Meadowbank)? and get chased off for riding on the grass!! I always looked forward to the annual fair on Cotmandene because I had an Uncle who would always give me a coconut that he won. Sundays was special. we had to go to the Baptist church in Junction? road then get home for Sunday dinner and then walk down to the roundabout and sit on the wall to watch the traffic going home .Mom would give me 3 pennies One bought a bag of broken biscuits from the bakery shop at Pump Corner.Then another would buy one Woodbine cigarette from a packet of five!..No Kidding!!and the last penny should have been for the collection at the Sunday School (church)…I would imagine times have changed since I left in the age of 28 bound for the USA….Fond memories

    1. Author

      Wow, such great memories, I’m so pleased this post has taken you for a walk down memory lane. I love hearing people’s tales from their hometown it brings the place to life.
      It’s amazing what you can buy for a few pennies, it’s a shame that so many of the little local corner shops have disappeared. I was brought up around Sidcup and it also had a wonderful community feel.
      Where in the US are you now?

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