Cranleigh's History

Avenue of trees running alongside Cranleigh Common
Avenue of trees running alongside Cranleigh Common
When standing in the High Street today with its bustling people and almost constant stream of traffic, it is hard to believe that what is now claimed to be the largest village in England was once a very rural and isolated community which civilisation almost passed by.
Geologists tell us that Cranleigh was, in prehistoric times, the bed of an inland fresh-water lake. Under the Cranleigh Cricket Ground, there is a bed of fossilised winkle shells commonly called Sussex Marble, and during trenching operations in the neighbourhood quantities of this marble have been excavated.
Cranleigh Village in 1902
Cranleigh Village in 1902
Little is known of the history of Cranleigh before the year 1085, when the Domesday Book was compiled. However, during the Roman occupation, the hamlet of Cranley must have had an awakening from its centuries of native slumber as several Roman roads have since been traced. After the Romans left the country, these roads fell into decay, and the thickly wooded district, under the rule of the Saxons, became a sort of ‘No Man’s Land’ and a refuge for outlaws.
Walter Briggs' shop at London House
Walter Briggs' shop at London House
After the Norman Conquest, the district seems to have been a centre for hawking and hunting, and became noted for the craneries at Baynards and Vachery, when the hamlet derived the name of Cranelegh or Cranely. The word leigh or ‘-legh’ is an old Saxon word for a clearing in the forest. The commonly held belief that cranes were bred on these farms and served up as delicacies for Kings is unsupported by evidence or reason, but has still led to the crane becoming the symbol of the village and currently adorns a number of monuments in the village.
Map image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland