A horse race, a prime minister and magnesium sulphate have, in their own ways, brought international fame to the small Surrey town of Epsom, 18 miles south-west of London. In the 17th century Epsom became a spa town when the sulphate — better-known as Epsom salts — was discovered in its water.
But it is the Derby, the world’s most prestigious flat race for three-year-olds, that has come to symbolise the town. The race, which has been run on the downs outside the town since 1780, is now celebrated in the town itself with a dramatic statue outside the Ebbisham Centre.
Epsom’s local hero, Lord Rosebery, was prime minister at the end of the 19th century. He was famously sent down from Oxford for buying a racehorse and entering it in the Derby. Such was his love of the turf and the town that he became its benefactor, and his memory survives with a park and a school named after him.
Estate agent Scott Ford of Hamptons describes the town has having two faces: “In one direction it looks towards London — there are even magnificent views of the metropolis from the downs — and in the other it looks outward to the Surrey countryside.”