Heritage > Counties > England


The county of Surrey is situated in South East England, due south of Greater London and is one of England's smallest counties yet it has one of the highest populations. It is however by no means overcrowded and overdeveloped and is still largely rural. With the characteristic rolling hills of the North Downs, picture postcard country villages and large areas of woodland it is surely one of England's most beautiful counties.

The name Surrey derives from 'Sudergeona' or (southern region), a Saxon sub-kingdom of AD 673 that was part of a much larger kingdom including Middlesex to the North of the Thames.

During Roman Times Surrey held little importance and remained largely rural the only areas of importance being the Roman roads going from London to the south coast.

During Saxon times Surrey did play a more important role with at least seven Saxon Kings being crowned in the town of Kingston. Which is now a large town on the banks of the River Thames and has long been associated with royalty as just up the River on the North bank is Hampton Court Palace the favoured residence of King Henry VIII. Throughout Surrey however there are few archaeological remains left to give us an idea of what Saxon Surrey was really like.

After the Norman invasion other areas of Surrey began to be of importance and Castles were built at Farnham and Guildford along the old Roman Roads that were still an important route from London to the Coast. Both are now large towns and the remains of the castles can still be seen to this day. Guildford is now the County town and boasts an impressive Cathedral, high on Stag Hill overlooking the town.

The most important date in Surreys history is undoubtedly 15 June 1215 when at Runnymede (an island on the River Thames), King John signed the Magna Carta (or Great Charter). It recognised the rights and privileges of the Barons, Church and freemen and lifted the threat of civil war. It was the first form of a written constitution and much of the Constitution of the United States of America is based directly from it.

During the Middle Ages Sheep farming became an important industry as well as Textiles and Market Gardening. These industries have remained until this day but their importance has diminished over time.

One of the most famous places in Surrey is Epsom, it first became popular during the 17th century when a spring was discovered that contained water that was rich in Minerals and was thought to be therapeutic. This is where Epsom Salts originate.

Epsom is also famous for being part of Surreys proud sporting Heritage as it is the site of the World famous Epsom Derby horse race that has been run over the same course since 1780.

Sport plays an important role in Surrey life, apart from the horse racing at Epsom there are horse racing venues at Lingfield Park and Sandown Park. Golf is also a very popular pass time in Surrey and there are numerous public courses set in the beautiful Surrey countryside, as well as a Championship course at Wentwoth that is home of the World Matchplay Championships and the European PGA Championships. Also associated with surrey is the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Home of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships. Cricket is also a major sport in Surrey with Surrey County Cricket Club being one of the top sides in the first class game, The Oval Cricket Ground which is one of the England test venues is the home ground.

Surrey has always had a close relationship with London. In the past this meant large country estates and hunting lodges for Noblemen including King Henry VIII who built a hunting lodge in Nonsuch Park. Nowadays Surrey is part of the 'Stockbroker Belt' so called because of the large proportion of its inhabitants who commute to the City of London every day for work.

Much of Northern Surrey has been dissolved into Greater London over the years due to boundary changes, so areas such as Kingston (the administrative centre of Surrey), Wimbledon and Richmond are no longer actually in Surrey, although they do still associate themselves strongly with Surrey.

Facts on the region

Origin of name: Surrey derives from the Old English "Suthrige" meaning the region south of the Thames, probably of Middlesex.

Name first recorded: 722 as Suthrige.

County Town: KINGSTON-UPON-THAMES Several Saxon kings crowned here, hence the name (King's Town).

County Rivers: Mole, Wey, Thames, Eden.

Highest point: Leith Hill at 965 feet.

Surrey's local government: The southwest of Surrey is two-tier provided by Surrey County Council and the 10 District Councils of Elmbridge, Epsom & Ewell, Guildford, Mole Valley, Reigate & Banstead, Runnymede, Surrey Heath, Tandridge, Waverley and Woking. A small part of Gatwick Airport is also two-tier provided by West Sussex County and Crawley District Councils. The northeast is governed by 8 unitary boroughs: Croydon, Kingston, Lambeth, Merton, Southwark, Sutton, Wandsworth and Richmond-upon-Thames (shared with Middlesex).

The local landscape

Rising steadily up from the floor of the Thames Valley, with the river supplying its northern border, Surrey is crossed from east to west by the rolling chalk slopes of the North downs - including the popular walking (and skiing if there is snow) area of Box Hill - whose escarpments are sheer to the south.

Further east is a range of sandy hills, which reach their highest point in the outcrop of Leith Hill, a secluded and thickly wooded beauty spot (with a tower dating from 1766) which offers superb views south across the Surrey Weald. It is said that on a clear day you can see Surrey, Sussex, parts of Hampshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Essex and Kent - and with the aid of a telescope some of Wiltshire - giving a field of Vision of 260 miles!

The Downs are intersected by the River Mole near Dorking, and further west by the rivers Wey and Eden. The former is linked to the Thames by navigable waterways.

Local Towns and Villages

CROYDON The palace here has been owned by the archbishops of Canterbury since the Conquest. Fairfield Hall is a Festival Hall-style building comprising a concert hall, smaller theatre (named after Dame Peggy Ashcroft), and art gallery.

EPSOM Medicinal purging waters impregnated with alum and discovered in 1618 - otherwise known as Epsom Salts. The racecourse dominates proceedings in this not unattractive market town. The Derby has taken place here since 1780.

FARNHAM End of the road for the Hog's Back, a high ridge of chalk taking the A31 over 500 feet high.

GATWICK London's second-largest airport and main employer for many miles around. Opened in 1958.

GUILDFORD All the modern shops and a fine theatre.

HASLEMERE Set in beautiful dense woodland, this is picture postcard Surrey countryside with 17th-century tiled houses surviving. Finely crafted musical instruments continue to be made here.

LEATHERHEAD Another market town another modern theatre (this one is the Sybil Thorndike Theatre). John Wesley preached his last sermon in this Surrey town before he died.

RICHMOND Originally called Shene (Shining or splendour because it was so fine) and became Richmond after Henry VII took a summer residence there (he was earl of Richmond in Normandy before being crowned king, hence the name).

SOUTHWARK The surroundings have undergone massive re-building as Shakespeare's Globe Theatre rises again (thanks to Sam Wanamaker) but the cathedral started life in 1106.

WIMBLEDON Synonymous with tennis and HQ of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. There is an attractive heath with two ponds and windmill (1817).

WOKING Once had the biggest mosque in England.








Places to Visit

Hampton, Surrey

Hatchlands Park, Guildford

Loseley Park, Guildford

Ham House, Surrey

Polesden Lacey, Surrey

RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey


April: Leith Hill Music Festival at Dorking.

May: Farnham Festival of Youth & Music.

June/July: Polesden Lacey Open air Theatre Festival at Leatherhead.

October: Croydon Fair.

July: Metropolitan Police Horse Show at Imber Court, Thames Ditton.

1st week in June: Derby (Oaks) Race Meeting at Epsom.

August/September: Guildford Agricultural Show at Guildford (Stoke Park) while the Surrey County Show, also at Guildford, takes place in May.

July: Annual music festival at Haslemere features medieval music and instruments made locally.

August: Egham & Thorpe Royal Show at Runnymede.

Famous names from the region

Three of the Beatles lived on the private St George's Estate during the 1960s.

Other more contemporary artists who reside in the county include members of Squeeze and Soul II Soul and pin-up actors Tim Roth and Gary Oldman.

Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World was born in Godalming in 1894.

William Cobbett, the writer and social commentator, was born at Farnham in 1762. In this famous book Rural Rides he castigated the influence of London in corrupting and destroying the pastoral beauty of his home county.

John Keats and Robert Louis Stevenson both stayed at the Burford Bridge Hotel at the foot of Box Hill, where the poet John Keats finished writing his epic poem Endymion. Now the nearby car park is a haven for bikers out for the weekend.

George Meredith, the novelist, lived at Flint Cottage on Box Hill for 40 years, and is buried in the cemetery at Dorking.

Lewis Carroll often stayed with his sister at Guildford where he died in 1898.

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