In addition to the well-known people who have lived in the surrounding countryside, for example EM Forster who lived in Abinger and Leslie Howard in Westcott, Dorking itself has had its share of celebrities. These have included residents such as actor Laurence Olivier, who was born in Dorking, and the builder Thomas Cubitt. Visitors to Dorking included Disraeli and the novelist George Gissing.
Undoubtedly one of Dorking’s most colourful characters was Major Peter Labelliere, 1726-1800, devout eccentric and author, who rented rooms in South Street after serving in the Army. While meditating on Box Hill he fell and gouged out an eye. He chose to be buried there upside down, supposedly because “as the world was topsy-turvy, he would thus be right at last.”
The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872-1958, spent most of his childhood in Leith Hill Place and, from 1929 to 1953, off the Westcott Road in Dorking. He collected many folk songs locally but was best known in the area as Conductor of the Leith Hill Musical Festival, from 1905 until 1953. A sculpture of him is outside Dorking Halls & a bronze relief in the foyer and in St Martin’s Church.
The novelist Daniel Defoe, 1661-1731, probably attended a boarding-school in Pixham Lane kept by a Dissenter who was ejected from Fetcham for his Puritanical views.