Whos the greatest?
3:29pm Wednesday 2nd February 2005 in By Cara Lovell
Who put Reigate on the map?
A group of people wanting to know who has had the greatest influence on the development or fame of the town is asking just that. The people behind the website www.deerings.co.uk, which is dedicated to history, reviews, photographs and discussions about Reigate, is hoping to publish all contributions to the debate in time for Easter.
The quest began in December by a question posed at a Christmas party to Deerings Road resident Adrian Webb, who looks after the site. He explains: "I was chatting to someone interested in the history of Reigate and they asked me two simple sounding questions: who has played the greatest role in the town's history and who is the most celebrated person ever to hail from Reigate? After changing my mind at least 10 times I decided to go back to the history books and start drawing up some candidates.
"My list quickly filled up with scores of contenders because each time you approach our social history from a different angle you find more people who have helped to influence our heritage and the town we see today."
Adrian's candidates spread from the 11th to the 20th centuries and he admits that the first name on the list is a bit of a cheat. "By including the name William de Warrenne,'" he says, "you can refer to a whole line of Reigate's founding fathers who all took the same name."
The first William de Warrenne was made the first Earl of Surrey in 1088 and, shortly after, his son of the same name, helped to build Reigate Castle. Further down the line in the early 13th century, the fifth earl of Surrey, still with the same name, founded Reigate Priory, giving the town the landmark building that is now the museum and school in Priory Park.
There are plenty of important historical figures in the town's 900-year history who are strong contenders, but Adrian is particularly keen to put forward two people who created British firsts' in Reigate. He says: "How many people know that Britain's first recorded public lending library was founded in St Mary's Church in Chart Lane in 1701?" The visionary behind the Cranston Library which grew to include 500 folios and 1,000 small books that could be borrowed by the freeholders, vicar and inhabitants of the parish' was Reverend Andrew Cranston, vicar of Reigate from 1697-1708.
Adrian says: "It is fascinating to think that the idea of members of the public borrowing a book to read first became a reality in Reigate. I'm not sure if Rev Cranston also issued the first overdue fine, but there were some severe penalties for anyone not returning books and it was his determination to keep the library public that earned Reigate some distinction at that time."
The other great Reigate first' is Tunnel Road the first of its kind in the UK and the work of Earl John Summers. Completed in 1824 it was regarded as a "miraculous" thoroughfare which guided traffic through the heart of the town bringing with it trade and visitors. Today the road remains a useful cut through but in its early years it shaved several miles off the journey of George IV in his last year on his passage from London to his villa in Brighton the Royal Pavillion.
Into the 20th century, candidates range from the influential Waterflow family whose names are linked with many of Reigate's streets in the west of the town to the Knights whose shop remains in Bell Street. Adrian says: "The Knight family name goes through the modern history of Reigate like the letters through a stick of rock they are one of the touchstones of today's town."
However, when the debate switches to Reigate's most famous resident, Adrian has one name which he believes stands head and shoulders above the rest. He says: "Dame Margot Fonteyn is likely to remain forever Reigate's most famous daughter. She is famous throughout the world and one of the true artistic icons of the 20th century. While many of my names lie hidden in dusty books, Dame Margot's is recognised instantly throughout the world."
The legendary ballerina was born in Deerings Road in 1919 as Peggy Hookham, and her grace is captured in the bronze statue outsdie Watson Wyatt's building at the foot of Reigate Hill. To contribute to Reigate's influential resident', send your name and reasons to firstname.lastname@example.org. A compilation of responses will be posted on www.deerings. co.uk at Easter.
l Information supplied by Adrian Webb.