Some of the best things to see and do in Woking
PUBLISHED: 15:08 14 January 2019
Andy Newbold Photography
A town reaching for the skies with its latest developments and whispers of a bid for city status in the air, Woking has a fascinating history to couple with its modern-day ambitions
A quick perusal of Woking’s history and you’ll find a town that’s always had one eye on the future. Whether it’s the musings of the author HG Wells in his world-famous War of the Worlds, the state-of-the-art Formula 1 and supercar engineering at McLaren or the town’s impressive ability to transform itself into a dream destination for food lovers for the annual Woking Food and Drink Festival, Woking is a forward-thinking place that’s constantly evolving.
And yet, this innovation and relentless dreaming is deeply rooted in history. For one, Woking is home to Surrey History Centre and its seemingly endless shelves of documents and curiosities, which paint the story of our county.
There’s also the Shah Jahan Mosque, which, built in 1889, was England’s first mosque; the atmospheric Brookwood Cemetery, which first opened in 1854 and was at one time the largest cemetery in the world (some have likened its evocative nature to Paris’ famous Père Lachaise); and the remains of Woking Palace, which was once a countryside retreat for royals.
It’s fair to say that over the years, like many Surrey towns, Woking struggled to find the balance between preserving its historic character and meeting the demands of modern Britain and ever-increasing population growth. The past decade or so, however, has seen monumental efforts to transform Woking’s town centre into a more cosmopolitan destination – and those efforts continue today.
As these words hit the page, they are reaching for the stars in Woking and a cityscape skyline continues to take shape. The tallest tower in the new Victoria Square development, for example, reaches some 34 floors high. When completed, in the next year or so, this will introduce two giant apartment blocks and a Hilton Hotel (with a Skybar on the 22nd floor) into the mix of Woking life.
These are by no means the only modern high rises coming to town. Suffice to say, such blue-sky thinking means that it’s going to get busy in the future. Some have even suggested that Woking could make a bid to become Surrey’s first city…
Found down an unassuming street, about a 15-minute walk away from Woking railway station is Surrey History Centre on Goldsworth Road, which is an absolute TARDIS of local history information. While you can chart your family tree there, if they’ve lived in the area through the generations, you’ll also find treasures such as the papers of author Lewis Carroll and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, Tudor letters of the More-Molyneux family of Guildford’s Loseley Park and records of the Surrey infantry regiments. Entry is free but make sure to take some ID or a library card with you.
24 hours in Woking
• Morning - If you’re making a weekend of it, Woking is well stocked with hotels, whether town centre (DoubleTree or Premier Inn) or nearby countryside (Gorse Hill or Foxhills). Let’s pretend we’re waking up a little late for a hotel breakfast in the centre of town though and are looking for somewhere to brunch. If you’re looking for something a little different, try Seasons Café at The Lightbox, which opens at 10am. You can always have a light stroll along the canal beforehand and then browse the art after.
• Afternoon - You might fancy checking out an early afternoon matinee at New Victoria Theatre. The theatre is in the heart of Woking Shopping Centre, and there’s plenty to explore there if you’re so inclined. If, however, the sky is blue, the sun shining and a crisp winter chill in the air, then wrap up and go for a stroll in search of Martians at Horsell Common (you’ll also find a statue of one in the town centre itself).
• Evening - While there are some lovely country inns to be found not far outside the town, we’re going to keep things central – in fact, on one of Woking’s short side streets near the station. Start the evening with a few exotic flavours at the Lebanese restaurant, Jeitta, and then take a few steps down Church Path (past Boz’s Fruit and Veg greengrocer) and you’ll find the intimate and unique Cellar Magneval. It’s a wonderful place to spend a few hours exploring wine. There aren’t many tables, but if you are able to grab one you may never leave.
• The Lightbox - From mid-January, the focus at Woking’s award-winning art gallery and museum, The Lightbox on Chobham Road, will be one of the unsung heroes of 20th century British art, Cyril Mann. To coincide with this exhibition, the museum will also be showcasing the best artwork by photography students from University for the Creative Arts (UCA), Farnham.
• New Victoria Theatre - While the Ambassadors Theatre Group is now known far and wide (they run 46 venues in Britain, the US and Australia), it started its life in Woking with the opening of New Victoria Theatre in 1992. Found in the centre of town, there are a whole host of shows lined up for January, including Rain Manand Anton & Erin – Dance Those Magical Musicals.
• Market Walk - A town food market but not as you probably know it. Located between the linked Wolsey Place and The Peacocks shopping centres (aka Woking Shopping), it’s an excellent place to pick up a street food lunch or snack – or, indeed, something to pack up and take home for dinner – and fully under cover.
• HG Wells Walk - This circular walk, which can be joined at any point, takes in HG Wells’ former home, the Martian landing sandpits at Horsell Common, a few pubs and the local artwork that celebrates the author’s life and works. A map can be found at celebratewoking.info and it’s an inspiring way to explore the town.
• Brookwood Military Cemetry - Okay, so perhaps it’s not your first thought for a day trip, but Brookwood Military Cemetery, found just to the west of Woking, can be a deeply inspiring and moving place to visit. Among many spectacular monuments, it features the Brookwood Memorial, which commemorates 3,428 Commonwealth men and women who died during World War Two and have no known grave.
• 10 reasons to love Sutton - Where city meets country, Sutton is a town surrounded by history and beautiful places to escape