Surrey - History
Surrey is a county of contrasts, where modern suburbs co-exist with a beautiful scenery of hills and valleys, rivers and streams, hidden villages and ancient woodlands. Surrey is now officially the most wooded county in England. The nature of the countryside seems to change with every mile - a diversity resulting from the underlying geology of sands, clays and chalk limestone. Wherever you live in Surrey you are never far away from the countryside.
On the sands of south-west Surrey there are nationally important heathland habitats, the haunt of rare species such as the dartford warbler, the hobby and the natterjack toad. The North Downs, which stride dramatically across the county from east to west, are home to many rare species, particularly butterflies. To the south the greensand hills rise up to the highest point in south-east England, Leith Hill. The top of the tower on the hill is said to be 1,029 feet above sea level. The county's rivers and streams teem with wildlife and on its two main rivers, the Wey and the Mole, the heron and the kingfisher are a common sight.
Until 1889 the county of Surrey stretched right up to banks of the River Thames opposite the City of London but, with the creation of the London County Council, much of the extreme north-east of the county including Lambeth, Camberwell, Southwark and Wandsworth was lost. In 1965 there were further changes when towns such as Kingston, Richmond, Wimbledon and Merton were absorbed into the newly created 'Greater London'. However, in that same year Surrey gained several places which had previously been part of the now defunct county of Middlesex. These included Staines, Ashford, Shepperton and Sunbury. In 1974 there were more adjustments to the county boundary when Surrey's share of Gatwick Airport was transferred to West Sussex.
The landscape of modern Surrey has been shaped by more than 10,000 years of human activity starting in the Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age. The county has numerous Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, and several fine Iron Age hill-forts such as Holmbury and Anstiebury. The Romans were active here too and the remains of a number of Roman villas have been discovered over the years. There were also major Roman settlements at Staines, known as 'Pontes' by the Romans, where a bridge crossed the Thames, and Ewell on the Roman road now known as Stane Street.
The Abbey at Chertsey was founded in 666 A.D. and seven years later the Saxon, Frithuwald, ruler of 'Sudergeona' endowed the Abbey with a great estate. 'Sudergeona' means 'southern region' and the document outlining Frithuwald's endowment constitutes the earliest surviving reference to Surrey. At sometime during the 7th century London was re-established and it soon began to exert an influence on Surrey, as it continues to do so to this day.
The draw of London prevented any of Surrey's towns from developing as large cities and it also dictated the pattern of most of the county's road and, later, railway networks. There is still no town with city status in the county. Much of Surrey's agricultural development was dependent on the demands of the metropolis - the produce from its market gardens and hayfields, and its cattle and horses were all destined for London.
The Domesday Survey of 1086 shows that Surrey was not a rich county but gradually through the centuries the county began to change. Londoners were on the move into Surrey. Firstly came monarchs such Henry VIII with his magnificent palaces at Nonsuch near Ewell and Oatlands near Weybridge. The gentry soon followed with the development of country estates which were within an easy carriage ride of London.
The steam railway arrived in Surrey in 1838, and was to become a major factor in the shaping of the modern county. By 1860 the core of Surrey's rail network was in place and most of the towns and villages of the county could now be quickly reached from London. The rail commuter had arrived and soon a tide of house building began.
Fortunately, many of those who came to live in Surrey did so because of the quality of its countryside and they had no wish to see it destroyed. As a result, it was in Surrey in the late 19th century that some of the first campaigns were mounted for the preservation of footpaths and bridleways, commons and heaths, and ancient and historic buildings. Later campaigns led to the creation of the 'Green Belt'. It is thanks to these campaigners that Surrey has retained a wealth of beautiful countryside for its residents and visitors to enjoy.