A small-ish town
, in south eastern England
, just south of London
It has had different names whilst it has been in existence, the first known name of it was Cherchefelle, and it was mentioned as such in the Domesday book. Then Reygate which was then changed to Reigate. There may be others that I have forgotten.
There isn't a lot of the history of the town known from before the 11th century and even then it is only really known that the early settlements of the town were near the parish church of St. Marys. However after the construction of the castle in the late 1060's it became the centre of town, and still is today.
Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, William the Conqueror rewarded his loyal subject, William de Warenne, a hero of the Battle of Hastings, with extensive lands throughout Surrey. The de Warennes family were assertive Norman rulers, who were well known for their effective administration skills and devout religious beliefs. With the acquisition of new lands, William also received the title of the Earl of Surrey and quickly made Reigate his administrative base, building an impressive castle in the 11th Century.
The original castle was constructed from timber and consisted of a centrally defined mound, surrounded by a dry moat. During the 13th Century, the castle needed strengthening, so the original timber structures were replaced with stone, it was also extended and a water-filled moat was added for protection, part of which is still visible today.
Briefly in 1216, the castle fell into the hands of King John's rival, Louis, the French Dauphin, in his march from Kent to Winchester. From this point on, until the 17th Century, various Lord Mayors of Reigate owned the castle. The next significant part of the castle's history was during the 17th Century and the English Civil War period, when the castle was garrisoned by King Charles I and his Royalist troops. After the capture of Charles and his forces defeat by Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentarians, the castle became uninhabited and quickly fell into a state of disrepair.
During the reign of King James II in the 17th Century, the castle was completely demolished. All that remains today on the castle grounds is a mock gateway in the Norman style, erected in the 18th Century, in the old castle's architectural style using some of the old ruins.
The Baron's Caves :
"The Baron's Cave, beneath Reigate Castle, is surrounded by mystery and intrigue. These extraordinary subterranean sandstone passages, which boast a 'vaulted roof, hewn with great labour out of the soft stone', still remain today. There are no historical records that pinpoint exactly why and for what reasons the caves were built, although many theories exist. Most of these centre around the caves' possible use as a vault for storage and as an escape tunnel to surprise or flee from attackers. There is also a romantic notion, that the Baron's Caves were so named, because the barons involved in the construction of the Magna Carta - the great document of personal rights, which King John reluctantly signed at Runnymede in 1215, met in the caves during their deliberations. "
Although these theories have their supporters, what is more likely is that William, Earl of Surrey, whose allegiance remained with the King far longer than many other barons in the country, met with other like-minded lords, in an endeavour to preserve their neutrality. Their secret meetings may well have been held in these equally secret caves.
Unfortunately, little else is known about the Baron's Caves or their later use; and, although, the Council filled in many miles of the underground passages during the '60s, tours do still run each year to the remaining parts of these mysterious tunnels.
The Reigate Priory:
The Priory was founded early in the 13th Century, by the then Earl of Surrey as a monastery for the canons of the Order of St Augustine. After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536, the estate was then passed to Lord William Howard, who converted the priory into a magnificent residence. Lord Howard is chiefly remembered as being the commander-in-chief of the English fleet in their battle against the Spanish Armada, in 1588.
In 1779, the building was significantly altered and the current Palladian front was constructed. Many artefacts from this period and earlier are still retained, these include a unique fireplace which is reputed to have been built by Holbein and is believed to be the finest example existing in the world today, and also the graceful late 17th Century original staircase, the creator of which remains a mystery.
Reigate Priory is now a Grade 1 listed building, set in 65 acres of open parkland, with beautiful gardens, a lake, and good recreational facilities. It now houses both Reigate's Priory School and Priory Museum, which has recently been renovated. The Priory attracts many visitors each year, not only to see the Norman castle remains and caves, but also artefacts exhibited in the town's museum.
There are also many mills, or rather the remains of mills, in Reigate. The best known of which is situated on the heath. It was once a postmill, with a body similar to a traditional mill and constructed in about 1765. These postmills revolved around a central post to position them into the wind for the most effective use of the wind's energy. The mill ceased grinding in 1868, and, in 1880, was converted into a chapel. The windmill was renamed the St Cross Chapel, after the Chantry Chapel of the Holy Cross, which had previously stood in the High Street before the Reformation. The Borough Council further renovated the site in 1964 and church services are still being held in what is now the only known church in a windmill.
Reigate is also one of the towns along the North Downs and also along the Pilgrim's Way, which was travelled by pilgrims from Winchester to Canterbury to see the shrine of St Thomas a Becket. It is along the Pilgrim's Way that the stories of Chaucers Canterbury Tales are set.
There are some famous people from Reigate, including the following:
Cliff Michelmore - an ex BBC newsreader.
Kate Maberly (and her sister Polly) - an actress, famous for being in The Secret Garden.
George Gardiner - famously nutty MP, defected from the Conservatives to join the now defunct Referendum Party, his successor in the Tories was famous for saying that "A donkey could win Reigate if it wore a blue ribbon", and then proved himself correct.
Spike Milligan - comedian.
Dame Margot Fonteyn - She was born in Reigate, and there is a statue there to her now, for details of her see Gritchka's writeup.