All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

Surrey, once a kingdom, became, in the course of the 19th cent., largely a suburb and dormitory of London. Its main rivers, the Mole and the Wey, drain into the Thames, which forms the northern boundary. Across the middle of the county run the chalk downlands, from Farnham to Guildford along the Hog's Back, and east to Dorking and Reigate. The southern border with Sussex is the line of the Weald, for centuries densely forested and a great obstacle to travel. Separating Surrey from Hampshire to the west were the sandy and infertile soils around Bagshot, and as late as the 19th cent. much of the county remained uncultivated. The meaning of the name—Suth-rige—as the land or region of the south people prompts the suggestion that the area may have formed part, in the early Saxon period, of a larger kingdom with Middlesex or Essex. So small a kingdom was bound to have difficulty in resisting more powerful neighbours, particularly Kent, Mercia, and Wessex. Ecclesiastically, it came at an early period under the authority of the bishopric of Winchester, founded in 660.

The region suffered considerably from Danish attacks from the 9th cent. onwards. In 851 a Danish force was cut to pieces at Ockley, south of Dorking, but there were further depredations in the 870s and again in the 1010s. By the latter date, Surrey had become a recognized county unit. Kingston upon Thames, close to the Wessex–Mercian border, was a royal town, and a number of Wessex coronations and burials took place there.

But as early as the Domesday survey in 1086 the future pattern of the county could be perceived. Much of the shire was still waste and relatively inaccessible. Only two towns were separately identified—Guildford, the county town, and Southwark, itself a suburb of London: the other towns were of only local significance. Surrey remained a predominantly agricultural county, producing mainly for the London market. Camden, visiting towards the end of Elizabeth's reign, found the shire ‘exceeding pleasant: the parks are everywhere stored with deer, and the rivers with fish’. But Defoe, surveying west Surrey 150 years later, was less impressed: ‘here is a vast tract of land, some of it within seventeen or eighteen miles of the capital city, which is not only poor, but even quite sterile, given up to barrenness, horrid and frightful to look on, not only good for little, but good for nothing—much of it is a sandy desert.’ Guildford was busy, though the assizes were not held there; Woking ‘is very little heard of in England’, Leatherhead ‘a little through-fare town’. But towards London it was different. There were large numbers of gentlemen's seats, Croydon was ‘a great corn-market’ for the capital, and Southwark had ‘a prodigious number of inhabitants’.

In the first census of 1801, we can trace the effects of the capital on the county. The inner towns were still small—Kingston 4,400, Epsom 4,400, Farnham 4,300, Godalming 3,400, Dorking 3,000, and Guildford 2,600. But Lambeth had 28,000, Newington 10,000, and Southwark 66,000. By the 1840s the railways were pushing out into the shire. In 1851 Lambeth was 139,000, Southwark more than 100,000. By 1901 the suburbs had taken over—299,000 in Lambeth, 259,000 in Camberwell, 169,000 in Battersea, 134,000 in Croydon. In the 1990s, Surrey retained its county status.

The pivotal point of the county may be said to be at Merstham, where the M25 crosses the Gatwick to Victoria line, reminding us that, because of its geographical position, Surrey has historically been a county of people on the move.

J. A. Cannon

views updated

Surrey County in se England, bordering Greater London. From e to w are the North Downs, which slope down to the Thames Valley. The Wey and the Mole are the principal rivers. Much of the land in the w is devoted to farming, with dairy and market-garden produce, wheat and oats the chief products. Guildford (1999 pop. 129,200) is the county town, but the county council is in Kingston-upon-Thames (pop. 146,615), a Greater London borough no longer in Surrey. Area: 1679sq km (648sq mi). Pop. (1997) 1,078,100.

views updated

sur·rey / ˈsərē/ • n. (pl. -reys) hist. a light four-wheeled carriage with two seats facing forward.

views updated

surreycurry, dhurrie, flurry, hurry, Murray, scurry, slurry, surrey, worry •penumbrae • sundry •comfrey, Humphrey •hungry • Cymru • sultry •country, upcountry •Guthrie • backcountry