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The History of Farnham

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Farnham's history extends back tens of thousands of years to the Palaeolithic or early Stone Age. Archeological evidence to support this view exists in the form of tools and prehistoric animal bones found together in deep gravel pits. The first known settlement in the area was around 7,000 years ago in the Mesolithic period. A cluster of pit dwellings combined with signs of a flint-knapping industry have been excavated to the east of the town. Neolithic man also left the long barrow at nearby Badshot Lea, now sadly destroyed by quarrying. This lay on the route of the prehistoric trackway known as the Harrow Way which passes through Farnham Park. Occupation continued and a significant number of Bronze Age barrows occur in the area. Iron Age hill forts at Botany Hill to the south of the town and at Caesar's Camp to the north of the town at Upper Hale evidence Iron Age occupation.

During the Roman occupation the Farnham region was important for pottery with kilns dating from about AD 100 found throughout the area. The industry seems to have centred on Alice Holt Forest , on the edge of the town and there potteries continued in use, making mainly domestic wares, until about AD 400. Farnham is listed as Fearnhamme in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Saxons arrived in the sixth century and, in AD 688, the West Saxon King Caedwalla donated the district around Farnham to the Church. This transaction was the first mention of Farnham in written history. Farnham then appears later, in the Domesday Book of 1086, as Ferneham. Waverley Abbey, the first Cistercian abbey in England, was founded about one mile south of the town centre in 1128 by William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester . Royal visits to the abbey included King John in 1208, and Henry III in 1225. Less welcome would have been King Henry VIII who, in 1536, closed the abbey as part of the dissolution of the monasteries.

As Farnham stands midway between Winchester and London Henry de Blois (grandson of William the Conqueror and brother of King Stephen) started building Farnham Castle 1138 to provide accommodation for the Bishop of Winchester. The castle's garrison and the abbey accelerating Farnhamís development and Farnham was granted its charter as a town in 1249 by William de Ralegh, then Bishop of Winchester. The Black Death hit Farnham in 1348 and 1625. The second time around Farnham was already suffering from a severe decline in the local woollen industry. By the 1640s Farnham was in the grip of a serious economic depression but despite this it was heavily taxed by Charles I . Possibly this led to Farnhamís support for the Parliamentarians and the castle housed a Roundhead garrison in 1642. The castle changed hands during the war until in 1647, having escaped from custody at Hampton Court , the King rode through Farnham at dawn on November 12 en-route to the Isle of Wight where he sought sanctuary. He was later to ride back through the town on his way to his trial and execution in London. Following the rebellion during the summer of 1648 the keep was partially dismantled at the orders of Cromwell . In 1660 the Bishops of Winchester were restored to the adjoining Bishops Palace , which remained their residence until 1927 when it was a residence of the Bishops of the newly created diocese of Guildford until 1955. The castle is now owned by English Heritage.

Farnham became a very wealthy market town in the 18th and 19th century and Daniel Defoe wrote that Farnham had the greatest corn-market outside of London. The railway arrived in 1848 and this was later electrified by the Southern Railway company in 1937 as far as Alton . The railway brought more growth to Farnham, as did the presence of the Army in Aldershot . Farnham began to grow as a wealthy commuter town with the opening of the railway. In 1901, the population of Farnham was around 14,000 rising to the present figure of 38,000.

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