This is the third post in a series of five about the journey from London to Salisbury.

The posts so far are:

If you’re planning to go on from Salisbury to Stonehenge then you might want to look at:

Woking to Basingstoke

Shah Jahan Mosque

As you come into Woking, you can see the green dome of the Shah Jahan mosque on the left. The Shah Jahan was the first purpose-built mosque in Northern Europe[1]. It was built to provide a place of worship for students at the Oriental Institute[2].

Woking – Martians and the Modfather

The origins of Woking date back to the the 8th Century. ‘Woking’ is a curious word – seeming to combine ‘awoke’ and ‘waking’. The etymology has nothing to do with either – ‘Woking’ derives from the Old English for the settlement of ‘Wocc’s‘ people[3] (similarly ‘Kettering’ is the settlement of ‘Cytra’s people [4]).

Paul Weller – Woking Class Hero

Paul Weller[5] is probably the most famous person to come from Woking. Weller’s home town has been particularly significant in his music.

In 2007, Paul Weller published ‘Suburban 100’ – a collection of his lyrics. In the notes for the song ‘Stanley Road’ he wrote:

When I was a kid I remember asking my dad how long a mile was. He took me out into our street Stanley Road in Woking and pointed down to the far end, towards the heat haze in the far distance. To me there was a magical kingdom through that shimmering haze, the rest of the world, all life’s possibilities. I always return to where I came from, to get a sense of my journey and where I’m heading next [6]

One of the Jam’s biggest hits was ‘A Town Called Malice’ [7]

It featured the lines:

Struggle after struggle, year after year
The atmosphere’s a fine blend of ice
I’m almost stone cold dead in a town called malice

A whole streets belief in Sunday’s roast beef
Gets dashed against the Co-Op
To either cut down on beer or the kids new gear
It’s a big decision in a town called malice

The song was about ‘hard times’ under the 1980s Conservative administration. As Weller said

“It could have been written about any suburban town, but it was in fact written about my hometown of Woking.” [8]

H.G. Wells’ ‘The War of the Worlds’ and Woking

War_of_the_Worlds_original_cover_bwThe Jam filmed the video to ‘Funeral Pyre’ in the sandpits on Horsell Common, which is on the northern edge of Woking [9]

Horsell Common was made famous by H.G. Wells, who had his Martian invaders land there at the beginning of ‘The War of the Worlds’.

The aliens lie dormant in their pods for a short time before they emerge and lay waste to the surrounding area. They incinerate various spectators, soldiers and weaponry before advancing on Woking itself:

The giant saved Woking station and its cluster of houses until the last; then in a moment the Heat-Ray was brought to bear, and the town became a heap of fiery ruins. Then the Thing shut off the Heat-Ray, and turning its back upon the artillery-man, began to waddle away towards the smouldering pine woods that sheltered the second cylinder. [10]

Woking’s connection to War of the Worlds is celebrated in the town by a sculpture of one of the alien tripods. It’s not quite visible from the train line, but it’s a short walk from Woking station.

Pic: By Illustrated by Frank R. Paul [1] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A single to Woking

A ‘Single to Woking’ seems to have been used during the First World War as slang for a cigarette – apparently because of it’s proximity to Brookwood Cemetery. An article in the Ashburton Guardian of 1917 reported that:

There is a brand of cheap cigarettes, popular in the army, known by the name of ‘Singles to Woking.’ (Woking is where the chief cemetery is located) The allusion enwrapped in this mild witticism is typical of the oblique mischievousness which characterizes the best of Tommy’s slang. [11]

I’m not quite sure why ‘single to Woking’ meant ‘a cigarette’. It could be because smoking was already seen as unhealthy but I’m not sure that it was. Or it could be because of the rhyme between ‘smoking’ and ‘Woking’.

I’ve only found the one reference to ‘a single to Woking’ on the internet, and it’s not in the Oxford Dictionary of Slang – I’d be interested to find out the derivation.

Woking in the kitchen

Finally on Woking itself, the town was honoured with an entry in the ‘Meaning of Liff’ by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd[12].

The idea of the book was to re-use real place-names for concepts and things for which no word exists in the English language. As the authors put it:

In life, there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognize, but for which no words exist.

On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places.

Our job, as wee see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.[13]

So, for example, an ‘Epping’ is defined as ‘The futile movements of forefingers and eyebrows used when failing to attract the attention of waiters and barmen.’, whereas an ‘Exeter’ is explained as follows:

All light household and electrical goods contain a number of vital components plus at least one exeter. If you’ve just mended a fuse, changed a bulb or fixed a blender, the exeter is the small, flat or round plastic or bakelite piece left over which means you have to undo everything and start all over again.

Anyway, Adams and Lloyd defined Woking as:

standing in the kitchen and wondering what you came in for.[14]

As I get older I’m afraid to say that, personally, Woking uses up many of my waking hours. And it’s not just confined to the kitchen.

Necropolis – Brookwood Cemetery

A minute or two outside of Woking station, on the right, is the vast Brookwood Cemetery.

The cemetery was created as the world’s largest in 1854 by the London Necropolis Company. ‘Necropolis‘ means ‘city of the dead’. The word is formed from the Greek[15] ‘necro‘ meaning ‘dead’, and ‘polis‘ meaning ‘city or town’. Although the constituents of ‘necropols‘ are ancient, the word itself seems to have been a Victorian invention.

Brookwood Cemetery was, in a sense, the first ‘overspill’ town, in that it was originally planned as a cemetery for London’s dead, who could no longer be accommodated within London itself.

During the debate on the ‘London Necropolis And National Mausoleum Bill’, a Mr Mowatt spoke of the ‘absolute necessity for making provision for interments without [outside of] this great city’ [16]

The Rt Hon. Mr. Hume said that he:

would remind the House of the pressing necessity that existed for the measure, there being no fewer than 58,000 human beings who required interment in the metropolis every year.[17]

It is estimated that 240,000 are buried at Brookwood.

The Necropolis Railway

Integral to the Necropolis project was the means of transporting both the deceased and the bereaved from London to Brookwood.

This was achieved by the development of the ‘Necropolis Railway’.

The railway was in use from 1854 until 1941. It ran largely along the existing line – you may be travelling on it now – but short branches were built at either end – one into the cemetery at Brookwood, and the other to a separate terminus near Waterloo in Westminster Bridge Road.

Dedicated ‘necropolis rolling stock’ was built to accommodate the coffins and the mourners. Both coffins and mourners were divided into both Anglican and non-Anglican[18] and into First, Second and Third Class.

The railway’s popularity declined with the increasing use of the motor car, and the development of cemeteries in London’s suburbs. In 1941, German bombing destroyed some of the line at the London end, as well as the station and the rolling stock. The Necropolis Railway was no more.

The Necropolis Railway – the novel

Andrew Martin wrote a crime novel called ‘The Necropolis Railway – A Novel of Murder, Mystery and Steam’. I’ve not yet read it myself but it was well reviewed.

The Times said it was:

‘A classy potboiler… in the best formal traditions of Dickens and Collins (let alone Christie and Chandler).’ The Times


Brookwood is a small village – Wikipedia has its population as 2,416 at the time of writing[19]. The cemetery has a substantially larger poulation.


The next station, but not one that the Salisbury train usually stops at, is Farnborough.

Saint Michael’s Abbey

As you come into Farnborough, just before the railway station on the left, is Saint Michael’s Abbey. At the time of writing I’m not sure whether or not St Michaels is visible from the railway line or not. It is very close to the line – I’ll see if I can spot it next time I go up to London.

The abbey was built in 1880 by Empress Eugenie of France as a mausoleum for her husband Napoleon III, and her son who had been killed in the Zulu War[20] .

The Empress invited Dom Cabrol, of the French Abbey of Saint Pierre de Solesmes to come to Farnborough to establish the Abbey in 1895.

The architect Benedict Williamson designed the tower in the style of Saint Pierre de Solesmes, which itself references Mont St Michel. The dome is said to be reminiscent of Les Invalides

Monsignor Ronald Know said that the Abbey is

‘a little corner of England which is forever France, irreclaimably French.’[21]

St Michaels is still very much a working abbey. It houses both the national shrine of Saint Joseph, and the Catholic National Library. The website has the following on life at the Abbey:

Fundamentally, the monastic life is nothing more and nothing less than the Christian life, lived to the full. We are a people set apart to sing the praises of God (1 Peter 2:9). It is also nothing less and nothing more than human life lived to the full. [22]

On Saint Michael

From the pictures it looks as if Saint Michaels is on a hill. I don’t know for sure whether it is or not, but in reading up about Saint Michael for my page on St Michaels Road in Salisbury, I found:

Richard Taylor in his book ‘How to read a church’ [23] says that “In keeping with his position in heaven churches dedicated to Saint Michael tend to be built in a high place”.

Alternatively, the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia [24] relates the positioning of St Michael’s churches to the pagan god Wotan, who was ‘replaced’ by St Michael.

Mr Taylor gives the examples of Mont St Michel, Tor Hill at Glastonbury, and London’s highest church at the top of Highgate Hill”. St Michael’s Church is Salisbury would follow this pattern. It is the highest church in the area, as far as I am aware.


After Farnborough is Fleet.

Fleet probably gets its name from the French ‘flete‘ which means ‘stream or shallow water’ [25]. The ‘Flete’ in ‘Fleet’ would be Fleet Pond. This is one of the largest ponds in the country. It used to attract tourists by train, especially for ice skating in the winter.

This is probably a similar derivation to London’s Fleet Street[26], which is named after a River Fleet.

Fleet is ‘known’ today for two things – the Fleet half-marathon, which is used by many as preparation for the London Marathon, and for Fleet service station, a half-way stop (more-or-less) on the drive from Salisbury to London.


The next station after Fleet is Winchfield, although, again the Salisbury train shouldn’t stop there.

Winchfield was, for a brief period, the end of the line. The railway reached Winchfield, which seems to have been then called Shapley Heath, in September 1838. The section from Winchfield to Basingstoke was not open until the June of 1839. [27]


The last station before Basingstoke is Hook. Again, the Salisbury train should speed through Hook without stopping. The name Hook comes from the

Old English h?c, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hoek ‘corner, angle, projecting piece of land’, also to German Haken ‘hook’ [28]

Next: Basingstoke to Andover

That completes this part of the journey, although I will hopefully add to it over time.

It’s the part of the journey I know least well, so I’d be particularly grateful for any comments or suggestions about things I’ve missed.

Next is the section from Basingstoke to Andover. This should hopefully include some mention of:

  • Racing cars around Basingstoke shopping centre
  • James Blunt
  • De La Rue
  • Lord Denning
  • Water Cress
  • ….anything else I can think of


  1. Shah Jahan Mosque – Welcome []
  2. Woking’s muslim heritage – Woking Borough Council []
  3. Placenames of the world: origins and meanings of the names for 6,600 … By Adrian Room []
  4. []
  5. Woking Class Hero is the name of a Weller mailing list. No idea what it’s like, but it’s at Paul Weller – Woking Class Hero []
  6. Suburban 100, Paul Weller, page 15 []
  7. The song’s title was a reference to a novel by Nevil Shute called ‘A Town Called Alice’, but the song itself was about Woking. []
  8. Town Called Malice by The Jam Songfacts []
  9. []
  10. []
  11. Papers Past — Ashburton Guardian — 13 August 1917 — SLANG FROM THE WAR and Lost for words []
  12. Douglas Adams also wrote ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’, John Lloyd co-wrote ‘Blackadder’ []
  13. ‘The deeper meaning of liff: a dictionary of things there aren’t any words for yet– but there ought to be’, Douglas Adams, John Lloyd, Three Rivers Press, 2005 ISBN 0307236013, 9780307236012 []
  14. ??? []
  15. Online Etymology Dictionary []
  18. The Anglican and non-Anglican had separate stations within the cemetery. According to Fortean Times the C of E had the nicest parts of the cemetery []
  19. Brookwood, Surrey – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia []
  20. ST MICHAEL’S ABBEY History Page []
  21. The Church at ST MICHAEL’S ABBEY []
  22. Monastic Life at ST MICHAEL’S ABBEY []
  23. Taylor, Richard (2003). How to Read a Church: A Guide to Images, Symbols and Meanings in Churches and Cathedrals. Rider & Co. ISBN-10 1844130533 []
  24. Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/St. Michael the Archangel – Wikisource []
  25. Fleet, Hampshire – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia []
  26. Fleet Street is in central London. It runs from the Aldwych to Saint Pauls. It used to be the home of London’s newspaper industry []
  27. Winchfield []
  28. definition of hook from Oxford Dictionaries Online []

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