Sutton - A brief history

In the year 1000 the manor of Sutton belonged to the Benedictine Abbey of Chertsey, founded c.666, which stood by the Thames in north-west Surrey.
The abbey's ownership was long established: they may have acquired Sutton as early as 727 and they probably gave the place its name, the south tun or south farm. They owned several estates in south-east Surrey and Sutton appears to have been their administrative headquarters in the area.

When the Domesday Book was made in 1086 Sutton was described as:

"2 carycates in the demesne, 29 villains and 4 cottars with 13 carucates, 2 churches, 2 bondsmen and 2 acres of meadow. The wood yields 10 swine."

Domesday was a survey of estates, not villages, and the entry includes an outlying holding at Horley, in the Weald near the present Gatwick Airport. The second church was probably Horley Church.

We know practically nothing of the layout of Sutton at this time. The church was almost certainly on the site of the present St Nicholas Church opposite the Central Library. There must have been several barns and other buildings in which the abbey collected the profits of its estate. The houses would have been simple wooden structures with thatched roofs. They may have been grouped in a village near the church or stood further downhill towards the Green. It is even possible that the village did not exist at this date and the houses were scattered in small hamlets.

A great deal must have happened in the 450 years that separate the Domesday survey from the end of the Middle Ages but we know almost nothing about Sutton in these centuries. The land was divided into several large fields which were subdivided into narrow strips. Each of the Abbey's tenants would have farmed a number of these strips to grow corn and beans. They would have been able to graze animals on the common at the north end of the parish and on the downs to the south. The corn was ground to flour in the Abbey's mill in Carshalton, as the streams in Sutton were too small to provide enough power.

In 1538 Henry dissolved Chertsey Abbey and 750 years of ownership came to an end. The manor of Sutton passed to the king who soon granted it to Nicholas Carew of Beddington. He had no need of a house in Sutton, so the village was without a manor house or a resident lord. The manor was back in the King's hands when Nicholas Carew was executed in 1539 but his son Francis regained possession in 1554. The property passed out of Carew hands on Francis' death in 1611 but the manor may have continued in the hands of absentee land owners until the late 17th or early 18th century.

There were two large chalk pits on either side of Carshalton Road where B & Q and the Water Gardens estate is now. The lime for St Paul's Cathedral is supposed to have come from these.

In the mid 18th century Sutton was a very small village which consisted of a scatter of houses which were spread along the High Street from the Cock cross-roads to the Green. In 1755 the road was a turnpike - a form of privatisation which was commonly used to improve roads at the time. It was handed over to trustees who improved the road in return for charging a toll on traffic passing along it. The turnpike was part of the main coach route for London to Brighton then a rising seaside resort. Stagecoach horses tired quickly and had to be changed and the passengers needed food and drink so coaching inns developed to meet the need. Sutton had two: the Greyhound in the High Street on the site of Marks and Spencer and the Cock at the crossroads at the top of the High Street. Both inns had sporting names, which no doubt reflects the other side of their business. The Downs to the south of Sutton and Epsom had been a favourite place for horse racing and other sport since at least the 17th century.

The turnpike may have increased Sutton's prosperity but it did not cause the village to grow much: In 1801 it only had a population of 579.

In 1847 a railway opened from Croydon to Epsom and a station and goods yard were created on the present site which was then beyond the southern edge of the village. The station became a junction when the Epsom Downs line opened in 1865 and its importance was further increased with the opening of the line to Mitcham Junction in 1868. The coming of the railway coincided with a change in the ownership of most of the land in Sutton as Thomas Alcock became lord of the manor in 1845. He quickly turned his mind to property development and by 1852 he had started a new suburb to the east of the High Street. He laid out Benhill Road, Benhill Street and Benhill Wood Road and divided the land along them into building lots. The north end of the area was the Benhill estate which was for large middle class houses while New Town at the south end towards Carshalton Road was for the workers. Benhilton Church was created for the Benhilton Estate and St Barnabas for Newtown. By 1868 Newtown was partly built up but the development of Benhilton was very slow and there were still many vacant building plots in 1913.

Sutton developed rapidly in the second half of the 19th century and by 1901 it was small town with a population of 17,223. Development continued into the Edwardian period when many houses were built to the east of Brighton Road, along the south side of Cheam Road and to the west of the High Street.

When the first world war ended in 1918 Sutton was already a town, so the impact of 1920s and 1930s development was slightly less dramatic than in other parts of the Borough. However, a huge amount of housing was built particularly in the north of the Borough and on the Downland to the south.

Cars had appeared in the Borough before the First World War. By the 1920s traffic was becoming a problem and the Sutton bypass was constructed around the west side of the town to relieve congestion in the High Street.

Sutton suffered from scattered bomb damage in the Second World War mostly from aircraft on route to London and from flying bombs which fell short of their main target area.

Sutton continued to develop as a commercial centre after the Second World War. The High Street was pedestrianised between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s. In the last 30 years a large amount of additional office, shopping and parking space has been created. The biggest change, apart from the High Street, has been the demolition of almost all the large Victorian houses and their replacement with smaller houses and blocks of flats.