During the Early Modern period, Egham was a small town with a busy High Street home to many local trades and business. One of the most notable buildings in the area was Great Fosters, built in 1550. It was once used by Henry VIII as a hunting lodge and later, Elizabeth I.
Sadly, there were 68 plague related deaths recorded in the register of St John’s Church at this time. Perhaps it had been brought to Egham by local collar-maker William Bullen who, during his business travels, may have entered a plague-infected area and spread the disease to his children and neighbours?
Egham was only a day’s ride from London and became a main staging post to and from the West of England. People passing through in horse-drawn coaches would stay overnight at one of the coaching inns. One of the oldest Inns in Egham is thought to be the Catherine Wheel, established in 1668. You would receive a warm welcome, a bed and a hot meal while your horses rested from their long journey. Travelling along the highway through Egham, and crossing Staines Bridge, could bring its own dangers. There were many recorded incidents of highway robbery in and around Egham.
In 1706, funds from the Will of Henry Strode was used to set up a ‘good strong substantial schoolhouse… for the learning and edifying of the poor children of the Parish of Egham’. Today we know this as Strode’s College.
The first horse racing event in Egham began in 1734 on Runnymede Meadows. The races took place over three days and racers had to sign up at the Red Lion. The races became a popular annual event and soon, a coach service from London to the racetrack was provided for spectators.
Other leisure activities in the 18th century could be found at the Assembly Rooms in Egham, now known as the Literary Institute. It was built around 1788 as part the Red Lion public house to provide facilities for the purpose of entertainment such as dancing, dining, card-playing, and theatricals.