Horsell is an ancient village in the borough of Woking in Surrey, England, located less than a mile northwest of Woking town centre. In November 2012, its population was 9,384.
Horsell has a close association with H. G. Wells' classic science fiction novel The War of the Worlds, the sand pits of Horsell Common being used as the site of the first Martian landing. Horsell Common has since been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Another landmark is the McLaren Technology Centre, built on the northern edge of the common in the early 2000s for the McLaren Group.
Although Horsell has been inhabited for thousands of years it is only in historically modern times that it has had a population numbering thousands rather than hundreds. During most of the 19th century the village was a single street of cottages, farms and workshops, surrounded by fields, heathlands and nurseries. Despite its proximity to Woking (which began to develop rapidly from the 1860's around Woking Common Station, initially opened in 1838 on heathland), Horsell remained entirely rural in character.
At the eastern summit of the village street was the ancient church of St.Mary the Virgin, and at the southern foot of the hill was the village brewery beside Horsell Moor. At the other western edge, the village petered out into a string of squatter dwellings which fronted the common at Horsell Birch. To the north and east, Horsell Common originally formed part of the Manor of Pyrford (owned by the Earl of Onslow) and local inhabitants had certain grazing rights, but land ownership in the village itself was unusually fragmented, and what began as several small farms and market gardens has resulted in an uncoordinated development. Each piece of land was separately sold and built over later, each with its own access road, which accounts for the complex road pattern west of Horsell High Street. In 1801 the village had about 250 inhabitants, with 443 in the parish as a whole.
It was only from the 1880's onwards that the parish came increasingly within the suburbanising influence of Woking's expansion, and developed into the village that stands today. Suburban development began around Woking railway station in the late 1860s but did not extend to Horsell until the 1880s. The force behind the growth of Horsell was the tremendous improvement in transport that followed the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. By the end of the 19th century, railways had superseded horsedrawn vehicles for long journeys and bicycles were a popular means of local transport.
Thus Horsell was still very much a country village when in 1895 it was incorporated into the newly formed Woking Urban District. At that time it was a rural community of farmers and nurserymen, with several inns, a brewery, a smithy, a post office and a variety of supporting tradesmen, craftsmen and labourers. Also scattered around the parish were several gentlemen's houses, a vicarage, at least two chapels incorporating living quarters for their ministers and an assortment of terraced and semi-detached houses.
Since then, most of the farms and nurseries have been sold and separately developed. The resulting slow, sporadic growth has allowed the occupiers of the new shops and houses to absorb the atmosphere of the village, and enabled the village to retain its individuality. And today, the character of Horsell and some of its remaining old buildings can still give visitors an indication of what it was like to live there in times past.