The Camberley Society

Serving the Community since 1982

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History of Camberley

The town of Camberley can really be said to have commenced with the arrival of the Royal Military College in 1812, from Marlow, Bucks, and with it came people whose livelihood depended on the College. A new township was formed, and it was called New Town, because of the obvious. The name of Camberley did not exist in these times, and it was part of an area referred to as Bagshot Heath, which was a popular haunt of Highwaymen, including William Davis, known as the Golden Farmer, as he always repaid his debts in gold. Also known to frequent the Heath was Claude du Vall, Thomas Simpson and Whitney, the butcher. They all ended their days at the end of the hangman’s noose, but not before becoming part of the history of this area.

At the end of the 18th century, the population was said to be less than 100, the only settlements being isolated cottages and farms, traversed by tracks used by mail coaches on their way from London to Exeter, Portsmouth and beyond. New Town grew, and by 1831 it was deemed necessary to change its name to York Town, after Frederick, Duke of York, who was the Commander in Chief of the British Army when the R.M.C. was formed in 1799. At the time of the name change the population was 702, with 407 males and 295 females.

In 1862 the Staff College was built, and another township formed, this time taking the name of Cambridge Town, after the then present C in C of the British Army, the Duke of Cambridge. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert took a keen interest in the Staff College, and visited it shortly before the Prince died in 1861. The town continued to grow and the poor old Post Office got confused and attempted to deliver mail in Cambridge, instead of Cambridge Town. Understandably, the residents got annoyed and upset, so on the 15th January 1877, the Post Master General changed the name to Camberley. The commonly held explanation for the name is that it derived from Cam, a small stream that flowed through the town, Ber, after Amber Hill, which was depicted on an old map of the area, and Ley, meaning pasture land or shelter.

With the arrival of the railway in March 1878, the population really started to expand, and by the end of the century it had reached 8,400, and Camberley was becoming the place to retire to, because of its healthy air, due to the vast number of pine trees, which were said to be good for those suffering from pulmonary disorders.

The First World War took a toll on the young men of the town, as it did up and down the country, with 233 lost. The Second World War took a further 140, but the town recovered, and continued to prosper and grow. In 1953 the first residents moved into the new Old Dean Estate, and later it became the new home for some of the London overspill. To accommodate them, the Doman Road Trading Estate was built to provide work. By 1961 the population had increased to 28,552, and it was decided to rip out the centre of the town to provide a new, modem town centre. At the present time a further development is being constructed on land west of Park Street, to keep pace with the growing population, and its needs.

It has come along way since Daniel Defoe described the area in 1724 as: ”as a vast tract of land, some of it within 17 or 18 miles of the capital city, which is horrid and frightful to look at, not only good for little, but good for nothing, much of it a sandy desert, and one may frequently be put in mind of the Arabia deserts.”

by Ken Clarke