Surrey is a British county in the South East of England and one of the home counties. With Greater London bordering the county to the north and north-east, Surrey has the longest border with the capital of any of its adjoining counties. Surrey also borders Kent to the east, East Sussex to the south-east, West Sussex to the south, Hampshire to the west and south-west, and Berkshire to the north-west, and its historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits extraterritorially at Kingston upon Thames, part of Greater London since 1965.
The London boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark, Wandsworth, and parts of Lewisham (Hatcham) and Bromley (Penge) were in Surrey until 1889. The boroughs of Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Sutton, and Richmond upon Thames (the part south of the River Thames) were part of Surrey until 1965, when they too were absorbed into Greater London. In the same year, the county gained its first area north of the Thames, Spelthorne, from defunct Middlesex. As a result of this gain, modern Surrey also borders on the London boroughs of Hounslow and Hillingdon.
Today's Surrey is divided into 11 districts (ten of which are boroughs): Elmbridge, Epsom and Ewell, Guildford, Mole Valley, Reigate and Banstead, Runnymede, Spelthorne, Surrey Heath, Tandridge, Waverley and Woking. Services such as roads, mineral extraction licensing, education, strategic waste and recycling infrastructure, births marriages and deaths registration, aspects of health services and most social and children's services are within the remit of Surrey County Council.
History of Surrey
British and Roman Surrey
Before Roman times the area today known as Surrey was very probably occupied by the Atrebates tribe centred at Calleva Atrebatum in the modern county of Hampshire. They are known to have controlled the southern bank of the Thames from Roman texts describing the tribal relations between them and the powerful Catuvellauni on the north bank. In about AD 42 King Cunobelinus (in Welsh legend Cynfelin ap Tegfan) of the Catuvellauni died and war broke out between his sons and King Verica of the Atrebates. The Atrebates were defeated in the conflict, their capital captured and their lands made subject to the Catuvellauni, now led by Togodumnus ruling from Camulodunum. Verica fled to Gaul and appealed for Roman aid. The Atrebates were allies with Rome during their invasion of Britain in AD 43. The area of Surrey was traversed by Stane Street and other less well known Roman roads. There were Roman temples on Farley Heath and near Wanborough.
The Saxon tribes and the sub-kingdom
During the 5th and 6th centuries Surrey was conquered and settled by Saxons. The names of a number of Saxon tribes who may have inhabited different parts of Surrey in this period have been conjectured on the basis of place names. These include the Godhelmingas (around Godalming), Tetingas (around Tooting) and Woccingas (between Woking and Wokingham in Berkshire). It has also been speculated that the Nox gaga and the Oht gaga tribes listed in the Mercian Tribal Hidage refer to two distinct groups living in Surrey. They were valued together at 7,000 hides. Surrey may have formed part of a larger Middle Saxon kingdom or confederacy also including areas north of the Thames. The name Surrey is derived from Suthrige, meaning "southern region", and this may originate in its status as the southern half of the Middle Saxon territory.
If it ever existed, the Middle Saxon kingdom had disappeared by the 7th century, and Surrey became a frontier area disputed between the kingdoms of Kent, Essex, Sussex, Wessex and Mercia, until its permanent absorption by Wessex in 825. Despite this fluctuating situation it retained its identity as a coherent territorial unit. During the 7th century Surrey became Christian and initially formed part of the East Saxon diocese of London, indicating that it was under East Saxon rule at that time, but was later transferred to the West Saxon diocese of Winchester. Its most important religious institution throughout the Anglo-Saxon period and beyond was Chertsey Abbey, founded in 666. At this point Surrey was evidently under Kentish domination, as the abbey was founded under the patronage of King Ecgberht of Kent. However, a few years later at least part of it was subject to Mercia, since in 673-5 further lands were given to Chertsey Abbey by Frithuwald, a local sub-king (subregulus) ruling under the sovereignty of Wulfhere of Mercia. A decade later Surrey passed into the hands of King Caedwalla of Wessex, who also conquered Kent and Sussex and founded a monastery at Farnham in 686, and it remained under the control of Caedwalla's successor Ine in the early 8th century. Its political history for most of the 8th century is unclear, although it may have been under South Saxon control around 722, but by 784–5 it had passed into the hands of King Offa of Mercia. Mercian rule continued until 825, when following his victory over the Mercians at the Battle of Ellandun, King Egbert of Wessex seized control of Surrey, along with Sussex, Kent and Essex. It was incorporated into Wessex as a shire and continued thereafter under the rule of the West Saxon kings, who eventually became kings of all of England.
Identified sub-kings of Surrey
The West Saxon and English shire
In the 9th century England was afflicted, along with the rest of north-western Europe, by the attacks of Scandinavian Vikings. Surrey's inland position shielded it from coastal raiding, so that it was not normally troubled except by the largest and most ambitious Scandinavian armies. In 851 an exceptionally large invasion force of Danes arrived in the mouth of the Thames in a fleet of about 350 ships, which would have carried over 15,000 men. Having sacked Canterbury and London and defeated King Beorhtwulf of Mercia in battle, the Danes crossed the Thames into Surrey, but were slaughtered by a West Saxon army led by King Aethelwulf in the Battle of Aclea, bringing the invasion to an end. In 892 Surrey was the scene of another important battle when a large Danish army, variously reported at 200, 250 and 350 ship-loads, moved west from its encampment in Kent. It was intercepted and defeated at Farnham by an army led by Alfred the Great's son Edward, the future King Edward the Elder, and fled across the Thames towards Essex.
Its location and the growing power of the West Saxon, later English, kingdom kept Surrey safe from attack for over a century thereafter. Kingston was the scene for the coronations of Æthelstan in 924 and of Aethelred the Unready in 978, and, according to later tradition, of other tenth century Kings of England as well. The renewed Danish attacks during the disastrous reign of Æthelred led to the devastation of Surrey by the army of Thorkell the Tall, which ravaged all of south-eastern England in 1009–11. The climax of this wave of attacks came in 1016, which saw prolonged fighting between the forces of King Edmund Ironside and the Danish king Cnut, including an English victory over the Danes somewhere in north-eastern Surrey, but ended with the Danish conquest of England and the establishment of Cnut as king.
Cnut's death in 1035 was followed by a period of political uncertainty as the succession was disputed between his sons. In 1036 Alfred, son of Aethelred the Unready, returned from Normandy, where he had been taken for safety as a child at the time of Cnut's conquest of England. It is uncertain what his intentions were, but after landing with a small retinue in Sussex he was met by Godwin, Earl of Wessex, who escorted him in apparently friendly fashion to Guildford. Having taken lodgings there, Alfred's men were attacked as they slept and massacred by Godwin's followers, while the prince himself was blinded and imprisoned, dying shortly afterwards. This butchery must have contributed to the antipathy between Godwin and Alfred's brother Edward the Confessor, who came to the throne in 1042. That hostility was of critical importance in bringing about the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.
Domesday Book records that the largest landowners in Surrey at the end of Edward's reign were Chertsey Abbey and Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and later king, followed by the estates of King Edward himself. Apart from the abbey, most of whose lands were within the shire, Surrey was the not the principal focus of any major landowner's holdings, a tendency which was to persist in later periods. Given the vast and widespread landed interests and the national and international preoccupations of the monarchy and the earldom of Wessex, the Abbot of Chertsey was therefore probably the most important figure in the local elite.
The Anglo-Saxon period saw the emergence of the shire's internal division into 14 hundreds, which continued until Victorian times. These were the hundreds of Blackheath, Brixton, Copthorne, Effingham Half-Hundred, Elmbridge, Farnham, Godalming, Godley, Kingston, Reigate, Tandridge, Wallington, Woking and Wotton.
Identified ealdormen of Surrey
Later Medieval Surrey
After the Battle of Hastings, the Norman army advanced through Kent into Surrey, where they defeated an English force which attacked them at Southwark, before proceeding westwards on a circuitous march to reach London from the north-west. As was the case across England, the native ruling class of Surrey was virtually eliminated by Norman seizure of land. Only one significant English landowner, the brother of the last English Abbot of Chertsey, remained by the time the Domesday survey was conducted in 1086. At that time the largest landholding in Surrey, as in many other parts of the country, was the expanded royal estate, while the next largest holding belonged to Richard fitz Gilbert, founder of the de Clare family.
Surrey had little political or economic importance in the Middle Ages. It was not the main power-base of any major aristocratic family or the seat of a bishopric. Its agricultural wealth was limited by its soil varieties. Its forested North Downs and the Wealden plain were of timber, charcoal and hunting use. Population pressure in the 12th and 13th centuries led to the gradual reduction of the Weald, by 1800 a patchy forest. Urban development, excepting the London suburb of Southwark, was sapped by the overshadowing predominance of London and the major towns in neighbouring shires, many of which benefited from access to the sea or from political or ecclesiastical eminence. Significant prosperity focussed in the later Middle Ages here on the production of woollen cloth, England's main export industry, which in Surrey saw much of its manufacture in Guildford.
In 1082 a Cluniac abbey was founded at Bermondsey by Alwine, a wealthy English citizen of London. The first Cistercian monastery in England, Waverley Abbey, was founded in 1128. Over the next quarter-century monks spread out from here to found new houses, creating a network of twelve monasteries descended from Waverley across southern and central England. The 12th and early 13th centuries also saw the establishment of Augustinian priories at Merton, Newark, Tandridge, Southwark and Reigate. A Dominican friary was established at Guildford by Henry III's widow Eleanor of Provence, in memory of her grandson who had died at Guildford in 1274. In the 15th century a Carthusian priory was founded by King Henry V at Sheen. These would all perish, along with the still important Benedictine abbey of Chertsey, in the 16th-century Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Now fallen into disuse, some English counties had nicknames for those raised there such as a 'tyke' from Yorkshire, a 'yellowbelly' from Lincolnshire and a 'Surrey capon', being associated in the later Middle Ages as the county where chickens were fattened up for the London meat markets.
Early Modern Surrey
Under the early Tudor kings magnificent royal palaces were constructed in northern Surrey, in convenient proximity to London. At Richmond an existing royal residence was rebuilt on a grand scale under King Henry VII, who also founded a Franciscan friary nearby in 1499. The still more spectacular palace of Nonsuch was later built for Henry VIII near Ewell. The palace at Guildford Castle had fallen out of use long before, but a royal hunting lodge existed just outside the town. All these have since been demolished.
During the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 the rebels heading for London briefly occupied Guildford and fought a skirmish with a government detachment on Guildown outside the town, before marching on to Blackheath in Kent where they were crushed by a royal army. The forces of Wyatt's Rebellion in 1554 passed through what was then north-eastern Surrey on their way from Kent to London, briefly occupying Southwark and then crossing the Thames at Kingston after failing to storm London Bridge.
Surrey's cloth industry declined in the 16th century, and effectively collapsed in the 17th. The introduction of new furnace technology in the early 17th century led to an expansion of the iron industry in the Weald, whose rich deposits had been exploited since prehistoric times, but this hastened the extinction of the business as the mines were worked out. However, this period also saw the emergence of important new industries, centred on the valley of the Tillingbourne. The production of brass goods and wire in this area was relatively short-lived, but the manufacture of paper and gunpowder proved more enduring. For a time in the mid-17th century the Surrey mills were the main producers of gunpowder in England. The Wey Navigation, opened in 1653, was one of England's first canal systems.
George Abbot, the son of a Guildford clothworker, served as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1611–33. In 1619 he founded Abbot's Hospital, an almshouse in Guildford, which is still operating. He also made unsuccessful efforts to revitalise the ailing local cloth industry. One of his brothers, Robert, became Bishop of Salisbury and another, Maurice, was a founding shareholder of the East India Company who became the company's governor and later Lord Mayor of London.
Surrey almost entirely escaped the direct impact of fighting during the main phase of the English Civil War in 1642-6. The local Parliamentarian gentry led by Sir Richard Onslow were able to secure the county without difficulty on the outbreak of war. Farnham Castle was briefly occupied by the advancing Royalists in late 1642, but was easily stormed by the Parliamentarians under Sir William Waller. A new Royalist offensive in late 1643 saw skirmishing around Farnham between Waller's forces and Ralph Hopton's Royalists, but these brief incursions into the western fringes of Surrey marked the limits of Royalist advances on the county. During a political crisis in summer 1647 Sir Thomas Fairfax's army passed through Surrey on its way to occupy London, and subsequent billeting of troops in Surrey caused considerable discontent. In the brief Second Civil War of 1648 the Earl of Holland entered Surrey in July hoping to ignite a Royalist revolt. He raised his standard at Kingston and advanced south, but found little support. After confused manoeuvres between Reigate and Dorking as Parliamentary troops closed in, his force of 500 men fled northwards and was overtaken and routed at Kingston.
Surrey had a prominent role in the development of the radical political movements unleashed by the civil war. In October 1647 the first manifesto of what became known as the Leveller movement, The Case of the Army Truly Stated, was drafted at Guildford by the elected representatives of New Model Army regiments and civilian radicals from London. This document combined the presentation of specific grievances with wider demands for constitutional change on the basis of popular sovereignty. It formed the template for the more systematic and radical Agreement of the People, drafted by the same men later that month, and led to the Putney Debates between its signatories and the army leadership. In 1649 the Diggers led by Gerrard Winstanley established their communal settlement at St. George's Hill to implement egalitarian ideals of common ownership, but were eventually driven out by the local landowners through violence and litigation. A smaller Digger commune was then established near Cobham, but suffered the same fate in 1650.
Until the late 18th century Surrey, apart from its north-eastern corner, was sparsely populated and somewhat rustic, despite its proximity to the capital. Communications began to improve, and the influence of London to increase, with the development of turnpike roads and a stagecoach system. A far more profound transformation followed with the arrival of the railways, beginning in the late 1830s. The availability of rapid transportation enabled prosperous London workers to travel daily to homes across Surrey. This phenomenon of commuting brought explosive growth to Surrey's population and wealth, and tied its economy and society inextricably to London. Existing towns like Guildford, Farnham and most spectacularly Croydon grew rapidly, while new towns such as Woking and Redhill emerged beside the railway lines.
In 1849 Brookwood Cemetery was established near Woking to serve the population of London, connected to the capital by its own railway service. It soon developed into the largest burial ground in the world. Woking was also the site of Britain's first crematorium, which opened in 1878, and its first mosque, founded in 1889. In 1881 Godalming became the first town in the world with a public electricity supply.
The eastern part of Surrey was transferred from the Diocese of Winchester to that of Rochester in 1877. In 1905 this area was detached to form a new Diocese of Southwark. The rest of the county, together with part of eastern Hampshire, was separated from Winchester in 1927 to become the Diocese of Guildford, whose cathedral was consecrated in 1961.
During the Second World War a section of the GHQ Stop Line, a system of pillboxes, gun emplacements, anti-tank obstacles and other fortifications was constructed along the North Downs. This line, running from Somerset to Yorkshire, was intended as the principal fixed defence of London and the industrial core of England against the threat of invasion. German invasion plans envisaged that the main thrust of their advance inland would cross the North Downs at the gap in the ridge formed by the Wey valley, thus colliding with the defence line around Guildford.
Surrey Research Tips
Part of a list taken from GENUKI
Archives and Libraries
Administrative boundaries of the county of Surrey (Surrey History Centre)
Greater London Research Tips