The Book of Molesey

Rowland G. M. Baker, 1986

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'No retrospect will take us to the true beginning;
and whether our prologue be in heaven or on earth,
it is but a fraction of that all-presupposing fact
with which our story sets out'.
George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (1876)

Why is this work entitled The Book of Molesey when, as some people will be quick to point out, there are two Moleseys - East and West? Originally there was only one settlement, Molesey, for, as Professor Maitland has stated 'Men did not make two contiguous villages and call them both by the same name. Names are given to places in order that they may be distinguished from neighbouring places. So when we see two different villages both called X lying next to each other, we may be fairly certain that they are not of equal antiquity, and it is not unlikely that the one is the offshoot and daughter of the other'. In Molesey the prefixes East and West did not appear until about the year 1200, before when there was only one parish, and we can be fairly certain that that was centred around what we now call East Molesey, and that West Molesey was its daughter.

After the creation of West Molesey, the two places continued their separate identities, administratively until 1895, when they were united under one local council, and visually till the years between the wars, when residential development marched steadily across the map until the two villages coalesced. So that nowadays, in looking at the streets and houses, nothing is left to betray where one parish ends and the other begins. Still more confusing is the fact that the one thing which used to demonstrate the border - the boundary stone set up in 1866 - was re-erected some time ago in the wrong position. With continual reorganisation and amalgamation of local government units there remains no administrative function dependent upon the time-honoured parochial bounds; even the wards into which the present Borough is split are fashioned for convenience of voting rather than on anything historical.

Furthermore, the story of the places is so intermingled that one could not possibly tell one without continual reference to the other. For the benefit of this work, therefore, the two are recorded together, and Molesey is used throughout instead of the more cumbersome East and West Molesey, whenever reference to the whole district is intended.

The perspective as it is viewed today is the outcome of the collective contributions of many, many generations of human occupation. Each generation amended the fabric according to its needs, ability, and accumulated experience, adding, as it were, a touch of its own identity to the final tableau. It is the intention of the author, therefore, primarily to try and identify some of the historical factors which have produced this kaleidoscope we now call Molesey.

The two villages lie side by side along the banks of one of the most pleasant stretches of the river Thames, on the northern boundary of the county of Surrey, twelve miles from the centre of London, and within the Borough of Elmbridge.

The area of East Molesey consists of 781 acres of land and 38 of water; West Molesey of 658 acres of land and 81 of water; a grand total of 1,558 acres. This makes them, for reasons which will be considered later, two of the smallest parishes in the whole of Surrey.

There are no striking geographical features, with little or no ground rising above thirty or so feet. Nevertheless, the views 'along the shore of silver streaming Thames', towards the gables of Hampton and the mighty pile of Hampton Court, are not indeed unpleasing; neither are the walks along the banks of the river Mole, to 'Claremont's terraced height and Esher's groves'. Further to the south may be traced the blue outline of the Surrey Hills. The parishes of Thames Ditton, Esher, and Walton-on-Thames lie respectively to the east, south, and west.

ISBN 0 86023 251 4

The Book of Molesey was originally published by Barracuda Books, now part of Baron, publishers of heritage volumes - maritime, military, transport, sporting and local. It is made available here with the kind agreement of Radmore Birch Associates.

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A printed copy is available from:

  • Molesey Residents Association: Ernest Mallett, 20 Walton Road, East Molesey, Tel 020-8979-6446
  • Bookshop: 68, Walton Road, East Molesey 020-8224-3232
  • Molesey Library, The Forum, Walton Road, West Molesey 020-8979-6348
  • Houben's Bookshop: 2a Church Court, Richmond 020-8940-1055
  • Alternatively you may be able to get second hand copy on amazon.

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