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  • overall patina of dullness and pointlessness
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      23.06.2009 19:13
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      Not for tourists, but good for locals

      Woking is located in Surrey, South East England. It is a large commuter town and London is a 28 minute train journey away. As Woking is the first stop on various train lines, trains run very regularly upto London at peak hour (about every 8 minutes). Woking has two big claims to fame. The first is that HG Wells wrote War of the Worlds whilst he was living in Woking. He lived in a small "villa" in Maybury Road, which runs parallel to the train line. Woking makes the most of this connection and there is a building called the "HG Wells Centre" and an alien and plane sculpture in the town centre. The second claim to fame is that England's first Mosque was built in Woking by Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner in 1889. the final good thing about Woking is that it has TK Max, Primark and ToysRUs Now to the negatives. The buildings are ugly, the town centre is poorly designed and the one way road system is a nightmare. The shops are OK, but there is nothing high end in Woking, not even a H&M. And the Marks and Spencers shop has recently been shut down. some reviews have described Woking as depressing but I would not go that far. Woking is teeming with life and activity and there are some nice bits such as St Johns Village. If you want to walk along a pretty high street with good shops, attractive buildings and attractive scenery in the background, go to Guildford. If you are looking for a bargain buy, Woking is your town.

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        06.06.2009 16:20
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        A tour around the sites used in the novel "War of the Worlds" in Woking

        If you have never read, and loved, "The War of the Worlds", then this review may be a bit pointless. Just a warning. I first had a Wellsian pilgrimage to Woking in 2005, arriving by rail from Waterloo on a late Sunday evening. The train journey down runs through the heart of the Home Counties, passing the bulk of Battersea Power Station and out through golf links and leafy suburbs. It seems as if the landscape has not changed much over the last hundred years, and it is roughly this railway line that Wells' Martians followed (going in the opposite direction) during their failed assault on Victorian London. Sadly, upon leaving Woking Station, any "Good Life"-esque image of English suburbia was quickly dissipated by the town's empty, heavy atmosphere - even on a Sunday night. It truly felt like Weller's "Town Called Malice" as we walked into a wedge-shaped corner shop, squeezed between Chertsey Road and Maybury Road, and bought some provisions. Teenagers stared at us, shell suits rustled, and we were both fairly glad to get into the taxi and make our way to our hotel. (Incidentally, the Star Inn at Wych Hill was really rather wonderful when we stayed there in '05 - beautiful French food, a quiet atmosphere, and attentive and interesting staff. When we briefly returned in '07, it had gone downhill quite considerably - no food served on a Wednesday night (we ate takeaway pizza in the bar), dirty rooms, and a general feeling of disarray. According to their website, they are "under new management" (again) as of Feb '09, but since they still seem to be doing a constant stream of DJ nights and Ann Summers parties, I can't imagine we'll ever be returning). The following morning, we were up early, and first of all took a taxi from Wych Hill out to Horsell Common ("goin' to see the Martians?" asked the driver). He dropped us off at the car park (good for dogwalkers and just plain dogging, apparently) and we made our way through the gentle pine forest of the Common. As someone who grew up in and around the Glens of Angus, I was quite shocked at how at home I felt in this most English areas of England: the light, sandy soil, the trees, and the gorse and heather have a politely Scottish aspect. Our first port of call was the "Sandpits" of Horsell Common, about 200 yards from the car park, and the precise point where HG Wells had his Martian "cylinder" crash land into the skin of the 1890s Earth. The pits are a wide bowl of yellow sand, about 100 mtrs across, with areas of water that apparently very rarely dry up. It really is nothing much to look at - but for a fan is roughly equivalent to visiting 221B Baker Street or finding the TARDIS in a lay-by. Surrounding the pits is a ring of trees with their great, billowing roots exposed in the eroding sand. It makes a great and dramatic natural ampitheatre (Jeff Wayne please note!) A path then leads out of the Common and down onto Chertsey Road (the A320). Up on your right is the heath-side pub Bleak House (as featured in Alan Moore's comic book "reimagining" of "War of the Worlds", "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 2") and our your left is the busy Five Roads Roundabout. This will lead you back into Woking, and other Wells-related sites. Please be careful when crossing this roundabout, as we found the large and fast lorries quite intimidating - and of course, with five roads, there is a lot of traffic to look out for! Rather than taking the main road back into Woking, we ended up taking the quieter Monument Road straight down into Maybury, the charming suburb that features very prominently in the "War of the World"'s opening chapters. The bridge over the Basingstoke Canal leads you down onto a towpath, which offers a very pleasant and peaceful alternative walk back into the centre of the town. Rejoining Chertsey Road, and after a couple of hours spent in the Surrey countryside, we were suddenly faced with Woking's more monolithic side. As has been mentioned by other reviewers, the dead centre of town (as opposed to the middle-class housing that surrounds it) is uniformly depressing and oppressive: it is a New Town Development in all but name. Strangely, Woking's earlier growth in the second half of the nineteenth century resulted in some of the most pleasingly cozy architecture in Southern England (well, pleasing to everyone apart from Wells himself, who fantasised about razing these twee new villas to the ground under a Martian Heat Ray). I would be very surprised if anyone felt similarily romantic about the Peacocks Centre or Working Borough Council Offices in a hundred years time; it seems as if the middle of Woking has been (appropriately) invaded by a disfiguring cancer of concrete and glass, huge call centres and sprawling distribution hubs. Keeping your head low, however, there is still a few things to see in the middle of town. We stopped for a drink at the Wetherspoon's pub on Chertsey Road (called "The H G Wells") which at that time of the morning was full of a bus party and few sullen looking regulars. Some didn't seem that pleased when I got my camera out and took a few photos of the smattering of "Wells-obilia" on display in the bar (the Wetherspoons' regulation information poster framed on the wall, a mural of the Martian's attack on Horsell in the toilets, and a fantastic brass statue of the Invisible Man). After a quick drink, we left and quickly tracked down probably Woking's most famous single "War of the Worlds" tourist attraction: Michael Cordon's twenty-foot-high metallic Martian scultpure, unveiled in 1998 by town's mayor, as part of the hundredth anniversary of the novel's publication. This can be found on Chobham Road, opposite British Home Stores, and consists of the incredibly photogenic main tripod statue, alongside a "cylinder" half buried in the precinct and circular plaques representing the bacteria that eventually wiped out the aliens. It is also on the main pedestrian thoroughfare connecting the town's Conference Centre (again, called "H G Wells") and the Peacocks ShoppingPrecinctg. Many photos can be taken of amusing juxtapositions between shoppers with bags and the looming alien invader! A quick look at the website Flickr shows that many people have had much fun with this over the last eleven years. Aside from this bizarre and affecting example of public art, very little of the centre of Woking has any kind of character or eccentricity. Multi-national shops and Costabucks Coffee Houses are profligate - and it is only the marvellous church opposite Peacocks (as photographed above) and the outdoor market that are in anyway remarkable. (Incidentally, some tourist literature for Woking tries to promote the chocolate-box image of St. Peter's Church and the surrounding cottages as a representation of the centre of town - beware, this is actually "Old Woking", and is the pre-industrial centre of the town, about two miles to the south. It is very different). Heading back through the town centre, we now made our way out onto Maybury Road. To get there, we just happened to cut down through Stanley Road, the street immortalised by Paul Weller with his 1995 solo album. Sadly, there is no sign of the house Paul grew up in now - and the whole area seems to be a rather stunted and uninteresting industrial estate. You should now find yourself on Maybury Road (which can also be reached via the junction with Chertsey Road, in front of the railway station). Maybury Road is a long, straight avenue of semi-detached housing, interspersed with hotels, garages and shops, lining the north side of the road, while the south side borders the railway to London. Roughly three-quarters of the way along, you will find the house which H G Wells rented with his second wife Catherine between 1895 and 1896. The newly-weds apparently furnished their home with nick-nacks borrowed from his mother-in-law, and in the upstairs bedroom Wells wrote early drafts of not only "The War of the Worlds", but also "The Invisible Man". By 1896, his fortunes are risen considerably ("The Time Machine" was his first best-seller), and H G and Catherine moved out of Woking after barely a year. A photograph of how the house looks now (along with its blue plaque) can be found on Wikipedia (it's actually one I took and upped to Flickr, and has been used without my permission, but hey, I'm rather flattered ... ) The house itself is rather modestl, reflecting Wells' financial situation at the time (a struggling artist, recently divorced, shacked up with one of his ex-students) and has clearly undergone some renovation work between the Wars. It now seems more mid-1930s than late Victorian. Remember, though, it is a private residence, so don't dawdle too long ... Making your way further along Maybury Road, you will end up at the junction with Maybury Hill. Looking left, you will see the small bridge and the towpath back down to the Basingstoke Canal. We have gone full circle. So instead, turn right and start heading up the Hill. Interestingly, it is in this area of Woking, rather than the road Wells actually lived on, that he placed his narrator's home - Maybury Hill. It is interesting to speculate that he did this out of pure wish-fulfillment: he was stuck in a pokey house between the railway line, the gas works, and the overgrown canal, while on the other side of the train tracks massive mansions and villas were being built up the Hill, for the more financially successful men of Woking ... Sadly, the next big landmark, the Oriental College, the destruction of which Wells' narrator watches from his garden, no longer exists. In its old grounds now stands a shopping centre off Oriental Road, with a Halfords and an Argos. Further along Oriental Road can be seen the minarets of Woking Mosque, the country's first, another building destroyed by the Martians in "The War of the Worlds". Beyond the roundabout, you now find yourself in Maybury Hill "proper" - a prosperous-feeling suburb of massive houses and even larger gardens, which slowly rises to a summit still featuring the odd grove of pine trees dating back to the time this was an extension of Horsell Common. Between the leaves and needles can be spotted a large, white house on the left side of the road - Maybury Knowle - which is seen by many as being the house Wells envisaged for his narrator. Sadly, the house wasn't even built until 1903, five years after "War of the World's" publication (although one of its earliest inhabitants was George Bernard Shaw). It seems that no specific house was picked by Wells as his setting - although a quick read of the text suggests the imaginary house is probably a few hundred yards to the south-west, overlooking the Mosque. At the summit of Maybury Hill, turn round and look back down the incline: you can see the former site of the college, the railway viaduct (where, in the novel, soldiers were billeted to stop the advancing Martians), the bridge over the Basingstoke Canal, and the green-yellow haze of the Common in the background. This is the view described so exactly by Wells in those early chapters. Finally, make you descent down the other side of the Hill. It is a gentle walk and a five minute's distance to the Maybury Inn, and the bottom of the incline (those driving around Woking may also note there is a petrol station there). The Inn is a clean and friendly place (although, sadly, the "swinging sign", mentioned specifically in the novel as the narrator and his wife make their escape in a horse and trap, no longer exists). Here, we ended our first long trek around the Wells sites of Woking, and were treated to a very pleasant, down-to-earth pub meal of cheeseburgers and chips. Again, it seems that the Maybury Inn has undergone new management over the last four years, so I cannot vouch for it now. (Incidentally, of the other two pubs in the area mentioned in the novel, the College Arms closed in 2007, and is now being converted into flats; and the Princess (renamed "The Spotted Dog" in the novel) looks like a total dive). We returned to Woking in 2007, again (this time, sadly) staying at the Star Inn in Wych Hill. This time we spent most of our time sight-seeing in London and going to gigs, but on our last day in the town we had another hunt round War of the Worlds sites (although this time at a more leisurely pace). Walking down to the middle of town on a crisp and beautiful mid-November morning, we took a shortcut along the achingly twee York Road and after a few minutes lost and wandering round a car park we found ourselves at the underpass on Victoria Way. Here can be seen two murals, one of George Bernard Shaw and one of H G Wells. Both have long been grafittied, though, seemingly with tins of red paint hurled at them. After a few hours spent at the outdoor market (an interesting mix of shops and fooderies) we headed back up to Cordon's Martian statue, which was just as breathtaking and comically surreal as it was the first time we saw it two and a half years before. This time, we turned left at the Martians' legs, and walked up Chobham Road towards Victoria Way. Underneath the dual carriageway and its large roundabout is another underpass, this time for pedestrians and cyclists only, which takes you through to the second, longer and busier section of Chobham Road, heading out to Horsell Common. This road, which runs into Kettlewell Hill as it snakes through the suburbs, is the route that the Martians took in the novel, from their landing site to the destruction of the railway station, and it is for this reason that the Martian statue is set on this road, marching into town. The underpass below Victoria Way is another War of the Worlds highlight, featuring a long mural or either side, depicting scenes from the novel in a garishly-coloured, stylised fresco. Sadly, the underpass itself is ill-lit and would not be a place you'd want to linger near at night - but during the day, as long as you take reasonable precautions, you should be free to take in the mural in all its glory (and no, there isn't much grafitti, either). On emerging from the otherside of Victoria Way, you can now rejoin Chobham Road and head over the Basingstoke Canal (on Wheatsheaf bridge, where Wells' narrator is greeted with derision from locals when he tells them about what has happened on the Common). It is now up to you how far you want to walk up Chobam Road. We had picked up a couple of cycling guide books, specifically "War of the Worlds" themed, from the Tourist Information Centre that morning (since Wells wrote the book with recourse to OS maps and his newly-learned skill of cycling, it seemed appropriate). Even though the guides say they are also suitable for pedestrians, we found that the second half of Kettlewell Hill did not have a pavement, so we had to turn back and head down beside Nuffield Hospital to the edge of Horsell Common instead. By now, it was getting cold and dark, and we soon turned round and headed back along Chobham Road to the Wheatsheaf pub, which is approximate 500 metres to the north of Basingstoke Canal. The Wheatsheaf is another pub featured in "War of the Worlds" - the astronomer Ogilvy, the first man to see the Martian Cylinder, is locked up in a tap room by the landlord, who assumes by his rantings that he is mad. In real life, the Wheatsheaf, opposte Wheatsheaf Common, is a very pleasant inn - with surprisingly good food. It also does accommodation, but from their website the rooms look small and cramped, and I don't think I would recommend it. The fire is warm, though; and in November at 5pm that is a big consideration! And with that, we finished our second, and so far final, tour of War of the Worlds sites in Woking. I gather that there are occasional "official tours" of these sites, organised by the Borough Council, happening on Bank Holiday weekends and the like, although I don't know anyone who's ever tried one. Hopefully, with this review, fans (and the mildly interested) can retrace the Martians' tripod-steps and enjoy the more beautiful areas of this over-looked and much-derided Home Counties conurbation.

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          20.03.2002 18:07
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          • "overall patina of dullness and pointlessness"

          When I first left the station at Woking and started walking through the town centre, I was fairly underwhelmed. 'Underwhelmed' soon become 'dispirited' - which soon became 'depressed.' This was the location of my new job, and it sucked. Woking is a town of less architectural merit than I've ever seen in this country. There are possibly three or four attractive buildings in the whole town centre. The rest is a morass of shopping centres and nonentitous office blocks. The blandness of the main street, Commercial Way, is alleviated by extensive tree cover which gives the street a vaguely continental feel. There's also a superb independent bookshop, some great sandwich bars on Chertsey Road and some wonderful Italian delicatessens a little further out of town. The town's suburbs are lush and prosperous, filled with large houses and grassy verges. But despite any redeeming features, Woking remains a dump. Outside of lunchtime hours, there's little evidence of vitality, apart from in the dominating Peacocks shopping centre - pictures of which comprise the only postcard available of Woking (how sad!) Weirdest of all is the war plane on a pod and the metallic martian sculpture that are located outside the Tourist Information centre. Although neither, I suppose, are quite as weird as the fact that Woking *has* a Tourist Information Centre.

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            27.04.2001 02:58
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            It's hard to be optimistic about the town you live in but I'll try... Woking is OK really. We've just finished building a brand new hotel in the town centre which seems to be the highlight of all the local newspapers. There are two large shopping centres, The Peacocks and Wolsey Place. Boasting all the highstreet names - Marks and Sparks, Sainsbury, BHS, Allsports, Miss Selfridge etc. Not forgetting McDonalds, Burger King or Pizza Hut We also have a huge newly re-furbished library in the town square. There is a good entertainment suite called The Big Apple which has laserquest, bowling, pool, children's playpen, cafe and arcades. This tends to be the local hangout for teenagers. Next door to the Big Apple Woking proudly presents it's first proper nightclub. Quake - which quite surprisingly opened it's doors to Streetboy and Bam Bam from Kiss100fm radio on New Years Eve 2000/2001. The boucers on the door are really strict with ID and inside, prices are a rip off but music is good. Also there is a long row of various bars and pubs all next door to each other, making it very easy for drunken pub crawls on Sat nights. Woking is also home to Woking FC who are in third division I think. Don't like footy much. We have a leisure centre and swimming pools - which are situated on Woking Park which is very nice in Summer for lounging around on. Woking Park is also host to a huge Bonfire and fireworks show with a funfair every year in November. There are loads of churches, pubs and cafes all over Woking. There is a skate park which is old and rusty but still usable. There are millions of buses everywhere, a train station where no train is on time and various hotels, restaurants, car parks. There is a cinema complex and two theatres aswell. The theatre often sells out during good shows and sometimes the cinema can be fully booked too. But there are 6 screens so it is quite big. Traffic around Woking at r ush hour is absolutely AWFUL so be warned! Apart from that, it's not too bad really!

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              04.08.2000 21:08

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              Woking is not really famous. There is nothing that its really known for, inless you know about Formula 1 in which Mclaren is based there but thats it. The Shopping centre is called 'The Peacocks' and has all the famous shops there and there is something for everyone. TK Max on the bottom floor sell designer clothes are discount prices which is good. There are plenty of places to eat and on the top is a cinema with something like 6 screens with massive leg room and its cheap. Getting there is pretty easy. I live a few stops down by train and you can get there easily from Basingstoke, London etc. I don't think you could spend a day there as there is not that much to do. I wouldn't make a special trip out there inless I was meeting someone. Alex

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              17.07.2000 22:20
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              With Britain's oldest crematoria and what was once the largest cemetary in Europe, Woking has been christened the dead center of England. H G Wells once lived in Woking and disliked it so much he made sure it was the first place destroyed by the Martians in the War of the Worlds. He had the landlord of his local pub killed off in a particularly brutal manner. If you've been in a Woking pub on a Saturday night you can sympathise with Wells. Woking lives(?) up to its funereal reputation. During the day there's not much to do apart from shop in either the anonymous seventies shopping center or the equally anonymous nineties shopping center. There's also lots of charity shops, selling mostly indestructable crimplene dresses and the sort of hats the Queen Mum might wear. The average night's entertainment is a video and a takeaway curry. Nightlife is centered on a handful of pubs around the station, typically noisy, overcrowded and agressive. The average Woking inhabitant is conservative and reactionary, and after ten pints of larger on a Saturday night, the average reaction is usually violent. A couple of times a year Woking rises from its narcoleptic slumber. During Woking history weekend (usually Easter) you can take a guided tour of Brookwood cemetary, which once had its own railway station, Brookwood Necropolis. Or you can follow the trail of destruction wrought by Wells' Martians. Every autumn at least the beer comes alive for the yearly Woking beer festival, one the the best beer festivals in Surrey (see www.camra.org.uk for details). There's live music and a good selection of Belgian and Dutch beers. Does Woking have any claims to fame? The mosque, the oldest in Britain, is a rather nice building. And Paul Weller grew up here, and he doesn't like Woking either.

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              26.06.2000 22:06
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              Woking, which is situated near Guildford in Surrey is a medium sized town with all the usual facilities and amenities, including two shopping centres. Woking has quite a history to it, it has the oldest crematorium in Europe and Britain's oldest mosque and was also the area in which HG Well's came up with his concept for "The War of the Worlds". It was also one of the first places to be destroyed if I remember correctly from my English lessons! The main one of the shopping centres is the Peacocks Centre, a multilevel, self contained unit with a Theatre, Cinema, collection of restaurants, shops, car parking and other services. The shops contained in the Peacocks include: Alders, Game, Virgin, McDonalds, JJB, Allsports, Clintons, Athena, EB, Next, Madhouse, Eisenegger, Burger King, Toys R Us and many more. Wolsey Place is the second shopping centre, which is an undercover type, with plenty of shops and parking. There is a large range of shops in and out of the two centres (as listed) and there is a plethora of different restaurants, many of which are very good indeed - with a very strong asian influence. There is an excellent local library with thousands of books and internet access in the centre and just outside there is a great leisure centre (swimming pools etc), and football stadium; home of Woking FC - the Cards (Vauxhall Conference). There are stacks of banks/building societies/estate agents too. If you need those =) Woking is good fun at night with lots of pubs (Rat & Parrot, Weatherspoons, Rosie O Gradies) and bars and Quake, a new large club. There is also a pool room, bowling and other activities in the centre. It's a fun place but at night can become rather violent. If you're wondering how to get there, it's very simple, it's very near to the M25 and the A3 so that's one way and it has a mainline station so that's another way in!

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