Epsom and its surrounding areas are all synonymous with the springs and waterways that produce the famed Epsom salts. With water flowing from the North Downs, over the centuries man has made his home along the spring lines that are created at the foot of the hills.
Ewell is one such place. Its name is derived from old English ‘aewell’, meaning water source, and even today the pond, spring and adjoining Hogsmill river are all part of the character of the place. Ewell is a suburban area, lying within the borough of Epsom and Ewell, bordering the south-west boundary of London. But for all that the commuter village is now a modern settlement with a largely ABC 1 population, it can look back on a lengthy and rich heritage, and links with some famous names.
Bronze Age settlers
The position of the village, at the foot of the North Downs, means it is a spring line settlement, much favoured firstly by Bronze-Age settlers and then the Romans. Bones, pottery and tools from the era have been found in the area, as well as a Bronze Age religious site. The Roman road, which is now the A24, deviates from its straight line to bypass the spring at the centre of the village.
Ewell appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as an asset of the Norman king William the Conqueror. At that time it was called Etwelle, although the spelling reverts to Ewell three centuries later.
King Henry VIII was the next royal to turn his attention to the area when, in 1538, he had Nonsuch Palace built. This was considered one of his greatest building projects. The estate, which is now a public park, was one of the King’s favourite hunting grounds.
During the English Civil War, Ewell often found itself at the heart of the action and the village is thought to have several tunnels running underneath it, although these are poorly documented and have not yet been unearthed.
Ewell suffered a further change of identity in the 17th century, when it became known as Yowell. The village, under that name, appears several times in the diaries of the writer and commentator Samuel Pepys.
Both pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt and the impressionist painter John Everett Millais based some of their most impressive works of art in the area. Holman Hunt used the doorway linking St Mary’s church yard and the grounds of Glyn House as the basis for The Light of the World, which depicts Christ knocking on a door. The background for Millais’ oil on canvas, Ophelia is also inspired by Ewell.
These days, Ewell is a pleasant and well-to-do area. It was voted the best place to live in the UK in 2005 due to its good schools, low crime rate, open spaces and proximity to London (12 miles). It is home to approximately 35,000 people and comprises six neighbourhoods.
The largely commuter population is well served. There are two main railway lines going into London, one terminates at London Waterloo, while the other goes into London Victoria.
While Ewell has a royal tradition, these days it is home to several celebrities. Television presenter Michaela Strachan, pop singer Petula Clark and broadcaster James Whale all live in the village, as does former Chelsea footballer Ron Harris.