Towns in Surrey
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Surrey is a county in the south east of England and also one of the home counties bordering Greater London. Surrey shares borders with 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. The county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits extraterritorially at Kingston upon Thames, administered as part of Greater London since 1965. With a resident population of 1.1 million, Surrey is the most densely populated and third most populated county in the South East region, after Kent and Hampshire.
Today, administrative Surrey is divided into eleven districts: 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, birth, marriage, and death registration, and social and children’s services are administered by Surrey County Council. The London boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark, Wandsworth, and parts of Lewisham and Bromley were in Surrey until 1889. The boroughs of Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Sutton and Richmond upon Thames 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.
Surrey is noted for being a particularly wealthy county due in large part to its proximity to nearby London and Heathrow and Gatwick airports along with access to major arterial road routes (including the M25, M3 and M23) and frequent rail services into Central London. It has the highest GDP per capita of any English county and some of the highest property values outside Inner London.
Surrey is divided in two by the chalk ridge of the North Downs, running east-west. The ridge is pierced by Surrey’s principal rivers, the Wey and the Mole, which are tributaries of the Thames, the river which formed the northern border of the county before modern local government reorganisations. To the north of the Downs the land is mostly flat, forming part of the basin of the Thames. The geology of this area is dominated by London Clay in the east, Bagshot Sands in the west and alluvial deposits along the rivers. To the south of the Downs in the western part of the county are the sandstone Surrey Hills, while further east is the plain of the Low Weald, rising in the extreme south-east to the edge of the hills of the High Weald. The Downs and the area to the south form part of a concentric pattern of geological deposits which also extends across southern Kent and most of Sussex, predominantly composed of Wealden Clay, Lower Greensand and the chalk of the Downs.
Much of Surrey is in the Metropolitan Green Belt. It contains a good deal of mature woodland (reflected in the official logo of Surrey County Council, a pair of interlocking oak leaves). Among its many notable beauty spots are Box Hill, Leith Hill, Frensham Ponds, Newlands Corner and Puttenham & Crooksbury Commons. Surrey is the most wooded county in England, with 22.4% coverage compared to a national average of 11.8% and as such is one of the few counties not to include new woodlands in their strategic plans. Box Hill has the oldest untouched area of natural woodland in the UK, one of the oldest in Europe. Surrey also contains England’s principal concentration of lowland heath, on sandy soils in the west of the county.
Agriculture not being intensive, there are many commons and access lands, together with an extensive network of footpaths and bridleways including the North Downs Way, a scenic long-distance path. Accordingly, Surrey provides much in the way of rural leisure activities, with a very large horse population.
The highest elevation in Surrey is Leith Hill near Dorking. It is either 293, 294 or 295 metres (961, 965 or 968 ft) above sea level and is the second highest point in southeastern England after Walbury Hill 297 metres (974 ft) in West Berkshire.
Surrey has a population of approximately 1.1 million people. Its largest town is Guildford, with a population of 66,773; Woking comes a close second with 62,796. They are followed by Ewell with 39,994 people and Camberley with 30,155. Towns of between 25,000 and 30,000 inhabitants are Ashford, Epsom, Farnham, Staines and Redhill. Guildford is the historic county town, although the county administration was moved to Newington in 1791 and to Kingston upon Thames in 1893. The county council’s headquarters have been outside the county’s boundaries since 1 April 1965 when Kingston and other areas were included within Greater London by the London Government Act 1963. Recent plans to move the offices to a new site in Woking have now been abandoned. Due to its proximity to London there are many commuter towns and villages in Surrey, the population density is high and the area is one of the richest parts of the UK. Surrey is Britain’s most densely populated county, excluding Greater London, the metropolitan counties and Bristol. Much of the north east of the county is an urban area contiguous to Greater London. In the west, there is a conurbation straddling the Hampshire/Surrey border, including in Surrey Camberley and Farnham.
British and Roman Surrey
ore 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 portion 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. 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
Frithuwald (c.673 – 675)
Frithuric? (675 – c.686)
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 at 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 Æthelwulf 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 and raided in Hampshire and Berkshire. Withdrawing with their loot, the Danes were 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 Æthelred the Unready in 978, and, according to later tradition, also of other 10th century Kings of England. 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 King Æthelred, 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.