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Farnham's Famous Sons & Daughters

Farnham is associated with a number of famous sons and daughters.

Below, in chronological order, is information about some of Farnham's famous sons and daughters.

JONATHAN SWIFT (1667 - 1745)

Jonathan Swift is best known as the author of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. He was a relative of Lady Dorothy Temple and came to Moor Park in 1689 as secretary and literary assistant to Sir William Temple. It was there that he met eight year old Esther Johnson, who was living in the Moor Park household.

Swift undertook some of the child's education and gave her the name of Stella which he immortalised in his writings. Several of Swift's best known works were written at Moor Park, including ‘Tale of a Tub’ (1696) and ‘The Battle of the Books’ (1697).

Temple left Swift all his papers on his death, which the latter compiled and published as 'The Works of William Temple' in two volumes.

Jonathan Swift left Moor Park when Sir William Temple died in 1699.  


Augustus Toplady is mainly remembered today as author of the hymn ‘Rock of Ages’ although in his short life time he became a noted theologian.  

Toplady’s father was an army officer and it is thought the Toplady family were travelling to Portsmouth where Major Toplady joined his ship taking him for service in Columbia.  

Whilst in Farnham, Mrs Toplady went into labour and she was taken into a small cottage which formerly stood on the site of 10 and 11 West Street. Augustus was christened in St. Andrews Parish Church where there is a plaque to his memory.  

Major Toplady was unfortunately killed at the siege of Carthagena in 1741. Augustus Toplady was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Dublin. He became a vehement critic of John Wesley and an extreme Calvinist.

WILLIAM COBBETT (1763 – 1835)  

William Cobbett is arguably the most influential person Farnham has ever produced.

Cobbett was born into a comparatively humble family, and as a small boy began his working life scaring the birds in the fields. He had little formal education but eventually became Member of Parliament for Oldham. Between these two occupations he was at various times; a professional soldier, farmer, publisher, author, journalist, pamphleteer business man and one of the greatest of all political agitators. 

Generally remembered for his ‘Rural Rides’ and as the founder of ‘Hansard’, Cobbett, as a political journalist, was a thorn in the flesh of successive governments. For nearly forty years occupied a unique position of power using his brilliant pen to support the labouring poor by exposing corruption and dishonesty, earning himself the name, ‘The Poor Man’s Friend’.

No ordinary individual before or since has had such a dominating influence in public affairs on both sides of the Atlantic.

Download the Cobbett Trail Route & Information Leaflet or visit for more information.



Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of nursing reform, had a connection with Farnham through her aunt, Ann, who had married George Nicholson the owner of Waverley Abbey House.

Whilst staying in this area, Florence is recorded as taking an interest in the welfare of the poor and became friendly with the Reverend Richard Garth who lived at Lowlands, later renamed Brightwells and subsequently the home of the Redgrave Theatre just off East Street.

One other tangible connection with Florence Nightingale is a travelling Holy Communion set which she presented to Farnham Hospital. It is inscribed 'For the use of the Nurses and Patients at Farnham Hospital from Florence Nightingale of the Crimea'. A further gift of a similar set and crucifix is also recorded.

Florence is reputed to have stayed at Waverley before leaving for Scutari in October 1854.

JOHN HENRY KNIGHT (1847 - 1917)

John Henry Knight came from a wealthy family and was able to pursue a wide variety of interests. He was born at Weybourne House but later lived at Barfield.

Amongst his many inventions was what is believed to be the first ever British petrol-driven car to run on the road.

It was whilst his chauffeur was driving this car in Castle Street in 1897 that he was summonsed for driving a locomotive without a licence and for speeding.

John Henry Knight was a founder member of the Automobile Association and entertained them at Barfield on the first club 'run'. He was also a keen photographer and pioneer of early colour photography.  His photographs are an important record of Farnham and the surrounding countryside in the early years of the 20th century.

His interest in technology and change is also reflected in his writing with such publications as, 'Electric Light for Country Houses' and 'Reminiscences of a Country Town'. 

ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE (1859-1930)  

Arthur Conan Doyle was educated at Stonyhurst and Edinburgh before becoming a doctor and practising in Southsea from 1882 - 1890.

He expected to be remembered for his many historical writings rather than for the creation of Sherlock Holmes. In 1897, after his wife Louisa was diagnosed with tuberculosis, Conan Doyle built ‘Undershaw’ Hindhead where he hoped she would benefit from the healthy climate.

They lived there for ten years until her death and it was at ‘Undershaw’ that he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

Conan Doyle wrote two novels set in the 14th century, in which the village of Tilford features. Firstly, ‘The White Company’ which introduced Sir Nigel Loring of Tilford and the sequel, ‘Sir Nigel’ which takes the reader back to an earlier period and the events leading up to those recounted in ‘The White Company’.

GEORGE STURT (1863 - 1927)

Local author George Sturt was born in Farnham in 1863 and originally prepared for a career in teaching.

On his father’s death in 1884, however, Sturt had to take over the running of the family wheelwright’s business in East Street.    

Sturt’s true ambition was to become a writer and he found his success in sensitive but unsentimental depictions of rural life in and around the Bourne where he lived.

His first success, under the pen name ‘George Bourne’, was The Bettesworth Book (1901) which centered around the character, ‘Bettesworth’ who was his odd-job man and gardener. Other similar books followed. 'The Wheelwright 's Shop' (1923), a vivid account of the work and workmen was an immediate success.

George Sturt's final published work was 'A Small Boy in the Sixties' (1927) in which he recorded details of his early life as a boy growing up in Victorian Farnham. 

EDWIN LUTYENS (1869 – 1944)  

Lutyens formative years were spent in the nearby village of Thursley.

From here he studied the Surrey countryside and its buildings giving him an exceptional grasp of vernacular design of originality and inventiveness in which he incorporated local materials.  

Crooksbury House (1888) was his first real commission and many others were to follow in the Waverley area. His collaboration locally with Gertrude Jekyll the garden designer is well known. The Liberal Club in South Street (1894) is his only building in Farnham.  

Lutyens was a genius often compared to Wren and although well known locally for his early work, he built many homes and offices in a range of styles and modes. He was also responsible for the building of New Delhi and the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

HAROLD FALKNER (1875-1963)

Local architect Harold Falkner had a profound influence on architectural style in Farnham for much of the twentieth century.

Falkner had considerable artistic talent and by the time he left school, at the age of 15, he had decided to become an architect. He studied art and wood carving, served an apprenticeship with a local builder and was articled to a London firm of architects.

In 1897 he set up his own practice in Farnham. Falkner and his friend Charles Borelli, a wealthy businessman and property owner, campaigned actively for the preservation of local buildings on which Falkner would then do restoration work, often with suitable materials salvaged from other buildings.

During his life time, Falkner received only limited recognition but his work is now much sought after. Falkner's abiding legacy is his influence on the architectural style of Farnham, which stemmed from his love and concern for the town's historic buildings.

MIKE HAWTHORN (1929 – 1959)   

Mike Hawthorn’s father Leslie owned the Tourist Trophy Garage in East Street and from an early age, young Michael was riding motorcycles and driving cars.   

As a young man he began to make his name in motor racing circles and in 1952 finished fourth in the World Championship. Further successes followed including winning the Drivers’ World Championship title from Stirling Moss.   

Mike Hawthorn crowned his career by winning the World Motor Racing Championship in 1958 and announced his retirement from racing to concentrate on his other interests. 

Sadly on 27th January 1959, just three months after his retirement, he was killed in a road accident on the Guildford By-pass.

More information on the 'Farnham Flyer' as Mike Hawthorn was nicknamed can be found at:

More information on Farnham's famous sons and daughters can be found at the Farnham Museum.

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