April 1, 2019

Epsom & Ewell’s Best Kept Secrets

Like all the best spa towns, including fellow greats such as Bath and Malvern (wonderful spring water), Epsom is awash with secrets bubbling under the surface, stretching back for hundreds of years.

Epsom Secrets

There’s the well-trodden iconic touchpoints, like when the brave suffragette Emily Davison stepped in front of King George V’s horse Anmer at the 1913 Derby. Her martyrdom caused a gigantic ripple for feminism that reverberates to this day, though the return ticket she’d bought suggests that her intended demonstration may have gone awry.

There’s talk of jam sessions that would blow your mind, notorious names who have passed through town, like a double agent who caught author Ian Fleming’s imagination, or the gangster Ronnie Kray who bedded down for a while in the famous Epsom Cluster – a collection of psychiatric hospitals intended to alleviate London of its excess of “lunatics”. 

All the while, the beauty and accessibility of the area has remained unrivalled, which is presumably why the property academics on Location Location Location declared it the “best place to live” in 2005. We’d like to think that 14 years later, it still applies. For anyone looking for a deeper understanding of Epsom’s quirks, here are some interesting factoids that you may or may not have been aware of…

Epsom Secrets - Trend it like Beckham
Image by Niamh Peachey

Trend it like Beckham

She may not have been the strongest singer in the Spice Girls – with Posh herself even suggesting they’d switch her mic off for live performances – but Victoria Beckham’s taste for life in the spotlight was honed at Laine Theatre Arts (known to its friends simply as “Laine”), which she enrolled in having been inspired by the 1980 Alan Parker movie Fame.

Lore has it that she was convinced her destiny lay in being a dancer/model, and with Laine urging its students to find their identity, their individuality, and to really hone their style, it’s paid off in droves.

“She has taken our grooming a long way,” said Betty Laine, quite understatedly.

Ewell Castle School’s Real Life 007

The famous Ewell Castle boarding school has been churning out adorable apple-cheeked rascals since 1926, and boasts quite a roster of intriguing former pupils. Rumour has it that the notorious Hollywood hell raiser Oliver Reed was expelled for getting a little bit fighty – a habit he admirably maintained until the very end – and top producer and Mercury Award winner Sampha was also a pupil. 

But the real feather in their cap is alumni Dusan “Dusko” Popov, a former M16 agent. Only at the school for around four months before he was expelled for snapping a teacher’s cane in two after being caught smoking, his defiant stand against oppressors saw him playing a big part in taking down the Nazis.

During the war, he infiltrated Nazi intelligence, and fed them bogus information to distract German armies from the Normandy invasion. His life, which found him enjoying flings with global beauties like the French actress Simone Simon while simultaneously attempting to take down bad guys, found him becoming the inspiration behind James Bond.

Epsom Secrets - The Evolution of Mamils
Illustration by Danuta Zalewska

The evolution of Mamils

If you’re looking to find the origins of Mamils (aka Middle-Aged Men In Lycra) look no further than Epsom Cycling Club. It’s been going strong since 1891, the very same year that saw the arrival of the “penalty kick” in football, Sherlock Holmes’ first appearance in The Strand Magazine, and when someone invented a weird new game called “Basketball”.

Now one of the country’s longest serving cycling clubs, it has moved on from (presumably) men in frock coats hurtling around on Penny Farthings, into something even more prestigious, thanks to Box Hill’s high profile during the 2012 Olympics. Time to splash out on cycling shorts.

Local farmer has bus named after him

The soothing Epsom bath salts were discovered in the waters bubbling up from the ground in The Wells estate over 400 years ago by a local farmer called Henry Wicker. He stumbled across a curious water source when one of his cows left a hoof print that filled up with liquid.

Too weird-tasting for humble cattle, it’s since been used to cure sores, as a Lucozade-like health drink, as a laxative. And then as wonderful detoxifying bath salts which have soothed a host of famous celebrities, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Elle “The Body” McPherson.

As for old Henry Wicker, he had the 406 from Epsom to Kingston named after him.

Illustration by Kaiz Nawsath

The greatest living room gig of all time

Led Zeppelin legend Jimmy Page famously stumbled across his first guitar at 34 Miles Road in the 1950s, a chance discovery that inspired a series of wild events that culminated with Jimmy becoming one of the greatest and most notorious rock stars of all time.

Local whispers also suggest that back in those early years, he’d often use the family front room as a rehearsal space, and if you happened to be passing the house in around 1965 there’s a good chance you’d have heard him jamming with Eric Clapton, no less.

That’s what you’d call “a good day at the office.”

Epsom secrets. Epsom racecourse used as an airport in movies
Illustration by Sayeeda Ali

Epsom Downs makes a surprisingly wonderful airport

It might seem the very definition of suspension of disbelief, but Epsom Downs Racecourse has featured in some huge Hollywood productions… as an airport!

At last count, the cream of these include: GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007 (in the Guardian newspapers 18th favourite Bond movie). And Love Actually, in which it plays the part of “Heathrow Airport Arrival Hall”.

Find your Derby winner the The Grumpy Mole

Formerly the Amato Pub, word has it that the well outside the pub used to have the name of the Epsom Derby winner chalked onto it on the morning of the race. Well, at least it did 75 per cent of the time. They say the prediction came true on three out of four goes, proving that even soothsayers get it wrong sometimes.

Still, might be worth investigation for anyone looking to add a little more bounce to their wallet.

Josh Burt

UCA Epsom 1st year Graphics students

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Mohan Yang

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