Neolithic pottery and Bronze Age weapons found in Thorpe are evidence of its early history. In particular, at Thorpe Lea, Iron Age circular post-built structures have been excavated.
There must have been Roman activity in the area because of the proximity to Staines and crossing point over the Thames, but there is very little evidence of it. In July 1963 a Roman cinerary (funeral) urn was discovered in Thorpe churchyard which is thought to date to c.120-150 AD. There have been claims that the site of the church had been used for religious purposes by the Romans, although there is no evidence of this and it seems unlikely.
The first written evidence for Thorpe comes in 675 when there is mention of a re-affirming of a Royal Grant from 666, for the lands for the support of Chertsey Abbey. This reference is only known from 13th century copies of it in the Chertsey Cartularies, not from the original document. As this reference pre-dates the Viking invasions in the area it is unlikely that Thorpe is a Scandinavian name. The name can also derive from Old English meaning ''a smaller village''. The village was listed in the 1086 Domesday Book as Torp.
The de Thorpe family
There are few records of mediaeval life in Thorpe. From the 13th century onwards we know that village life was dominated by the de Thorpe family. In 1213 Thurbet de Thorpe was killed by a servant of the Abbot of Chertsey. King John intervened, seizing some of the Abbot's land in an attempt to force him to pay a fine of 100 shillings to the dead man's son, John. There was clearly no ill-feelings between the de Thorpe family and the Abbot as the position of gate keeper at the Abbey was occupied by a de Thorpe for many years after the murder. Indeed, in 1260 Ralph de Thorpe became gate keeper of the Abbey with perks including a house in Chertsey, one loaf of bread per day, two pitchers of ale, and 10 shillings per year to buy a gown. However, Abbot John de Rutherwyke considered this excessive, and so the perks were severely reduced. There was no house provided by the Abbey, instead the gate-keeper was given a room in the monastery. The food allowance was reduced to 21 loaves and 12 pitchers per year, and the wage was 20 shillings per year, but the gown had to last a lifetime.
Until 1333 Thorpe Chapel was the responsibility of the Abbot of Chertsey, but in that year Rutherwyke gave responsibility to the Vicar of Egham. Although most of the tithes still went to the Abbey, the Vicar did get the tithes of eggs and sheep. In 1428 John Thorpe petitioned the Abbot to give the chapel proper status with its own vicar, and so a new vicar was appointed with land rented to him by the Abbot. The parishioners built him a house, and he was allowed to keep all of the church offerings, most of the tithes and four cartloads of wood from the Abbey. It was also at this time that the decision was taken to allow the villagers to have their own burial ground.
Dissolution and division
With the Dissolution of the Monasteries all Abbey land reverted to the Crown for the next 80 years. The Thorpe land was divided in to two parts: one part was leased to the de Thorpe family who built a manor house on it called Hall Place, whilst the other was worked through a bailiff or leased out to other tenants was called The Manor or Thorpe House which is now home to TASIS England (The American School in Switzerland).
WWI and modern developments
Life in Thorpe was fairly peaceful, although there was always intense rivalry between the families in the two large houses which continued up until the mid 20th century. During the First World War Thorpe lost 18 young men in the fighting, from a population of only 500 people. It was shortly after the War ended that the then owner of Hall Place, or Thorpe Place as it had become known, decided to sell off some of the land to a gravel extractor company. This was the start of process that would drastically alter the village, and would ultimately lead to the building of Thorpe Park in 1979.
Thorpe Place itself was sold in 1930 to an order of Anglican nuns, the Convent of St Mary the Virgin, who remained in Thorpe until 1955 when the building was bought by Mary Crist Fleming, daughter of prominent American educators, who founded TASIS. In 1977 the school bought Thorpe House as well.
The building of the M3 and M25 motorways as altered the nature of Thorpe forever, in fact some homes and other historic buildings were demolished to make for the M25.
For further information on Egham, Englefield Green, Thorpe and Virginia Water please contact the Museum or Egham Museum.
Egham Museum, Literary Institute, High Street, Egham GU25 4AN
Tel: 01784 434 483