Haslemere is a small, attractive, old country town, nestling in wooded hills, in the south-west of Surrey, southern England on the Sussex-Hampshire border. It lies south of the county town of Guildford, approximately halfway between Guildford and Chichester on the south coast.
Due to its location, Haslemere was an isolated town. In the late 14th century, Richard II granted the town a charter to hold a weekly market (1394). Apart from agriculture, Haslemere had important glass, leather and iron smelting industries.
Queen Elizabeth declared the town a borough with the right to send two Members to Parliament (reduced under the Reform Act of 1832 to a single Member, which also caused a loss of the status of borough). Queen Elisabeth issued a new charter confirming the right to hold a weekly market (1596), she also granted the right to hold two annual fairs. The town commemorates the charter by holding a biennial Charter Fair in the High Street.
General James Edward Oglethorpe who served as the town's MP (1722-1754) was the founder of the Colony of Georgia in North America.
Industries during the 18th and 19th centuries included spinning and weaving, basket making.
The opening of the London-Portsmouth Railway (1859) brought a large influx of incomers who found Haslemere and neighbouring Hindhead pleasant places to live. At the end of the 19th century a small artist's colony established itself in the area.
Under local government reorganisation (1974), Haslemere became part of Waverley, which includes Farnham and Godalming. Haslemere has its own town council.
George Elliot (1819-1890), a name generally linked with the English Midlands, lived in a cottage on Shottermill Common (1871), and it was here that she wrote a large part of Middlemarch.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), a name more generally associated with 221B Baker Street, lived at Undershaw. The countryside around featured in Dr Watson's accounts of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes published in The Strand Magazine. Undershaw, on the A3, is now a hotel and restaurant.
Undershaw was built for Conan Doyle by J Henry Ball. The space in the attic under the eaves disguised to look like cupboards may have provided the inspiration for The Adventure of the Norwood Builder.
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), a poet usually associated with Lincolnshire, lived in a house, Aldworth, on the slopes of Blackdown.
Sir Robert Hunter, one of the three original founders of the National Trust, lived in Haslemere from 1883 until his death in 1913. He was chairman of the trust for 18 years from its foundation in 1895. Hindhead Common and the Devil's Punchbowl were one of the first major land acquisitions by the trust (1905) as a result of a campaign led by Sir Robert Hunter.
The High Street is a relatively unspoilt main thoroughfare. At the end the Old Town Hall. The Old Town Hall used to have beneath open archways, within which a market was held. The Old Town Hall contains a copy of the Charter granted to the town by Elisabeth I. Running parallel with the High Street, Tanners Lane is a reminder of the tanning industry.
The Haslemere Educational Museum is noted for its geological, archaeological and natural history exhibits. The building is Georgian, built on earlier foundations
St Bartholomew's Church (rebuilt 1871, early 14th Cent) contains a window dedicated to Lord Tennyson, depicting Sir Galahad at the chapel where he saw a vision of the Holy Grail.
I Galahad saw the Grail, the Holy Grail descend upon the shrine,
And in the strength of this I rode, shattering all evil customs everywhere.
The Holy Grail was one of Tennyson's Idylls of the King (1869), which in itself was an allusion to The Holy Grail.
The Holy Grail was in Medieval legend the vessel used by Christ at the Last Supper, in which Joseph of Arimathea received Christ's blood at the crucifixion. It was much sought after then and now.
Haslemere is sufficiently small to have avoided the destruction wrought on too many towns by High Street Names. Many of the shops and businesses are still family owned and run. Haslemere is noted for its antique shops and runs an antiques market.
Haslemere plays host to the annual International Dolmetsch Early Music Festival, held every July at the Haslemere Hall. The origins of the festival lie in Arnold Dolmetsch (1858-1940), who curious as to the sounds of Early English Music, made exact replica copies of musical instruments he had seen exhibited in the British Museum. Arnold Dolmetsch opened a workshop to produce his instruments.
The 74th Haslemere Festival will took place 4 & 16-19 July 1998 - director, Jeanne Dolmetsch.
Hindhead, the highest village in Surrey, lies at the crossroads between the London to Portsmouth coach route and the route Farnham to Haslemere. At one time all that was here was a lone coaching inn at the crossroads. It would have been one of the most desolate parts of Surrey, surrounded by desolate heath.
Hindhead, through which the old Guildford to Chichester coach route passed, was a notorious spot for highway men. William Cobbett described Hindhead as 'the most villainous spot God ever created'.
Though all but forgotten today, the famous scientist Professor John Tyndall (1820-1893) lived in Hindhead. Realising that food did not go off due to putrid vapours in the air he devised methods of food preservation. His work was wide ranging, study of the movement of glaciers, acoustic properties of air, radiant property of heat. He also did much to expound the theories of Charles Darwin. A favourite of Michael Faraday, he succeeded Faraday at the Royal Institution, he also took over many of Faraday's other posts upon the retirement of Faraday.
John Tyndall met a tragic end. He did not marry until the age of 56. As an old man he suffered from insomnia. His wife gave him a fatal dose of an opiate. Realising too late, Tyndall's dying words were 'Darling you have killed your John.' He lies under a mound, in an unmarked grave in St Bartholomew's Church.
Hindhead is best known for the Devil's Punch Bowl, a huge amphitheatre gouged out of the Earth. One of the best times to visit is on a sunny autumn afternoon, warmed by the sun, as evening approaches the mists start to rise.
Hidden in the depths of the Devil's Punch Bowl lies Hindhead Youth Hostel, lacking all basic amenities it is surprisingly popular with the members, to the extent that it has its own supporters club. To the incompetent YHA management, it is an embarrassing relic from another era, out of keeping with their newly acquired, plastic image of budget accommodation at the sleazy bottom-end of the hotel and motel market, but were they to attempt to dispose of Hindhead YH they would find an armed rebellion on their hands.
Towering above the Devil's Punch Bowl is Gibbet Hill, between the two snakes the A3, the London to Portsmouth main road. Running higher than the present main road, over the top of the hill is the old coach road. It was along this road that Nicholas Nickleby and Smike passed. They stopped to read an inscription on a stone, the Sailor's Stone, which marks the spot where a foul murder took place. Close by the stone is a granite cross erected by Lord Justice Earle to mark the summit (1851).
Haslemere and Hindhead are surrounded by unspoilt countryside, much of which is owned by the National Trust.
Blackdown (921 ft), over the border into Sussex, is the highest point in Sussex. On a clear day it is possible to see as far as the English Channel.
Milford, south of Godalming, holds a highly successful Farmers Market. The prices are not cheap, the emphasis being on quality local produce.
Haslemere Station is on the main Portsmouth to London line.
Haslemere and Hindhead are twinned with the German town of Horb-an-Neckar and the French town of Bernay.