Population – At the time of the 2011 YouGov census, the population of Haslemere was 16,826.
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The first indication of a settlement in Haslemere dates to 1180 and the building of a chapel. The first written record came in 1221 when the village was granted a market and the original well from this time can still be seen at the creatively titled Well Lane.
It was Richard II who put the town on the map, granting license for a fair. Although it had died out, the fair was revived in 1984 and continues to this day. Taking place on the early May Bank Holiday in the High Street, it includes a town criers competition where the winner receives the Tennyson Trophy in honour of former resident the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Haslemere remained fairly unremarkable for hundreds of years, it was the arrival of stagecoaches that brought the first trouble. Much of this area of Surrey was plagued by highwaymen and Haslemere was no different. highwaymen would be hung on nearby Gibbets Hill to deter others. But it didn’t work, in fact, one highwaymen was supposedly a local preacher (highway robbery was certainly a more unusual ‘second job’ for the clergy). Another colourful account is of a ‘genteel villain’ who according to one newspaper (the newspapers of the day lapped up tales of highwaymen and their daring deeds!) proclaimed “Pray ladies, don’t be frightened. I am in distress and money I must have”.
All was peaceful again until the railroads advanced. Hundreds of navvies arrived in the area, laying tracks, clearing woodland and drinking, well, like navvies. In July 1855 PC James Freestone and Inspector William Donaldson arrived at the King’s Arms public house to help enforce the strict curfew. According to contemporary accounts, the Inspector was polite and even allowed the remaining drinkers to finish their drinks then escorted Thomas Woods and his three companions out the door. The men waited outside where Woods shouted, “There is the Crusher that had the impudence to put his hands on my shoulder.” A fight broke out during which time PC Freestone escalated matters by breaking his truncheon on Woods’ head! Undeterred, Woods attacked Inspector Donaldson with an iron bar. The inspector was fatally wounded in what came to be known as the Haslemere Riot. A blue plaque commemorates the event.
Other notable names to have left their mark in Haslemere include Arnold Dolmetsch and his family who arrived in the town in the 1800s and introduced his invention, the descant recorder to a forever ungrateful nation. Yes, anyone who has sat through a school recorder recital has Arnold Dolmetsch to thank!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also lived in the town at Undershaw between 1897 to 1907. It was here that he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles having come to Haslmere after his wife was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He’d been told the air in Haslemere would be beneficial for her health and it must have worked, despite being given mere months to live, Louisa lived another 14 years.
So there you go, the inventor of ‘the world’s greatest mind’ would attest that Haslemere is good for you health! There are excellent commuter links and some superb eateries and pubs, friendly locals but if you are asked to leave at closing time, please don’t start a riot.
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