Local History

The earliest record of Molesey so far traced occurs in the grants of land made to Chertsey Abbey in the 7th century. Among these are estates at "Muleseg". The name derives from an Old English word for an island or river meadow compounded with a personal name Mul (pronounced Mule). Molesey was Mul's Island or meadow. The prefixes East and West are not met with until the beginning of the 13th century, prior to which there was only one village, and this was undoubtedly East Molesey.

In the Domesday Survey Molesey appears as three manors, tenanted by knights who had come over from Normandy with the Conqueror. In the Middle Ages its isolated position, encompassed by rivers and low-lying land, probably flooded even more frequently than nowadays, must have kept the community small and poor.

View of Molesey Lock

East Molesey

East Molesey was originally part of the parish of Kingston upon Thames, although from at least Tudor times it had elected its own parish officers and had other rights which made it virtually independent It was separated from Kingston under a Special Act in 1769.

Although Henry VIII's residence at Hampton Court may have brought the village some prosperity, this was offset by the conversion of the district into a deer park. The Molesey people's complaints were loud and bitter.

The Green at Hampton Court

The most momentous date in East Molesey's history was 2nd February, 1849, when the railway to London was opened. The commuter era had begun, soon the fields were gradually covered with houses, and the orchards gave way to villas. Most of the present roads were laid down or adjusted during this period. The chief developer was Francis Jackson Kent, a lawyer from Hampton. He bought most of the land between the Walton Road and the Thames and laid it out for a housing estate. The district is known as Kent Town.

Of a church on the site of East Molesey mentioned in Domesday no details survive. It was probably small and built of wood. A more solid church of mud mortar and flint rubble erected in the 12th century survived until the middle of Queen Victoria's reign. For many years it had been too small for the growing population. After being damaged by fire in 1863 the parishioners demolished it and built a new church which was consecrated in 1865. Of stone, in the Early English style, it retains a number of old memorials, the oldest being a brass to Anthony Standen who died in 1611, a servant to the ill-fated Earl of Damley.

Walton Road

St Paul's Church was built on the Kent Estate which was separated as an ecclesiastical district in 1856. The church, in Perpendicular style, was enlarged in 1861,1864 and 1870 - indicative of the rapid population growth The tower and spire were erected in 1887/88.
From at least the reign of Henry VIII there was a ferry between East Molesey and Hampton Court. In 1753 it was replaced by a wooden bridge. This lasted twenty-five years and was replaced by another wooden bridge in 1778. An iron bridge was erected in 1865 to be replaced by the present Ferro concrete structure in 1933.

One of the quaintest inns in Surrey, The 16th century Bell Inn is still situated right nest to St Mary's Church Hall. 'Matham Manor House' (17th century and earlier) and the 'Old Manor House', which is the newer part of Guillots Royal, still stand in East Molesey, although the latter was never a manor but the parish workhouse.
In 1866 East Molesey adopted the Local Government Act of 1858, which authorised the setting up of an elected "Local Board" in place of the old Parish Vestry. It was the only part of the new Borough of Elmbridge to have its own elected Council before the setting up of Urban Districts in 1895. In that year East Molesey became an Urban District, and eighteen months later took in West Molesey. Under the Surrey Review Order of 1933 the Moleseys were merged into the enlarged Urban District of Esher.

Cow Common

West Molesey

West Molesey lies along one of the most pleasant stretches of the River Thames. It is a continuation of and much larger than its parent East Molesey. At the end of the 12th century a church was built, of which nothing remains and of a later church only the 15th century tower remains. The rest was rebuilt in Victorian times, though the font, pulpit and communion table, a piscina and several monuments were preserved from the earlier building. Some brasses from a memorial to Thomas Brende, who died in 1598, are fixed to the chancel wall. There is a black marble monument to Frances Thorowgood, the date of whose death is inscribed cryptographically.

Molesey Hurst, a long low open stretch of land, lies along the Thames on the north side of the parish. It was once a common meadow. The name derives from "Hyrst", an Old English word for a small wood that presumably once stood here. The land was once used for sporting activities -archery, cricket, pugilism, horse racing, golf and occasionally for illicit duelling. The first game of cricket known to have taken place here was on 13th July, 1731, and the earliest recorded instance of a player being given out leg-before-wicket occurred here in 1795. Several bouts for the Prize Fighting Championship of England were fought on Molesey Hurst in the early part of the last century. One of the earliest games of golf to have been played on English soil is said to have taken place here in 1758. Eventually horse racing dominated the scene. In 1890 Hurst Park Race Course was laid out but in 1962 it was sold for residential development.

The River Thames from Hampton Court Bridge

One of the earliest balloon ascents in the history of English aeronautics took place from the grounds of the "Priory", now Molesey Football Ground, on 5th May, 1785.
In the 18th and 19th centuries West Molesey was much favoured for the erection of large country houses and in 1900 there were a dozen or so still in or around the village. Sadly, there are no good examples remaining. Being further from the railway station than East Molesey, the parish was later to develop. In the 1930's when expansion began on a large scale, there were still four large farms and several market gardens in full production. Since then the rate of development has increased enormously and the parish is now well populated.

Words by Walter Koscielniak

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