10 interesting facts about Surrey and its past
- Credit: The flag of Surrey via Wikimedia Commons (Blake) - CC BY-SA 4.0
People have lived in Surrey since 450 AD, so it’s no wonder that the county is rich with history. Ahead of Surrey Day 2019, Matthew Alexander, honorary remembrancer of Guildford, outlines 10 interesting facts about the county and its past
1. Surrey has its own flag, a blue and gold chequer pattern. This was originally the coat of arms of the de Warenne family, created Earls of Surrey in 1088. The male line of the family ended in 1347 with the death of the 7th Earl. However, the coat of arms continued to be used as the symbol of the county, and was officially registered as the flag of Surrey in 2014.
2. In the Middle Ages the kings' judges would go on tours or 'circuits' of groups of counties, trying cases at the assizes. The Home Circuit consisted of Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Consequently, Surrey became known as one of the Home Counties.
3. Until the London County Council was formed in 1889 Lambeth, Southwark, and Wandsworth were all in Surrey. Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Sutton and part of Richmond upon Thames were until 1965, when they too were absorbed into London. At the same time Staines and Sunbury-on-Thames were transferred to Surrey.
4. The earliest reference to the game of cricket comes from Guildford. In 1598 a dispute over a piece of land in North Street in Guildford came to court. John Derrick, aged 59, gave evidence that when he was a schoolboy at the Royal Grammar School "he and diverse of his fellows did run and play there at cricket". This must have been in the years around 1550.
5. A dragon was said to have once terrorised the people of West Clandon. A soldier, condemned to death for desertion, promised that he would slay the dragon if his life was spared. Together with his dog, he fought and killed it. A carving of the battle survived at the church, and in 1977 an outline of a dragon was carved into the chalk embankment beside the Epsom Road, now recently restored.
6. In 1726 Mary Toft of Godalming said that she had given birth to rabbits. John Howard, a local surgeon, seemed to support her claim, and it caused a public commotion. The King's personal surgeon himself accepted it as genuine, but others had doubts. Mary Tofts was brought to London, and under questioning she admitted that it had been a hoax.
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7. The Battle of Dorking was a story published anonymously in 1871. It described a fictional invasion by the Prussians, in which the defending rifle volunteers failed to resist the professional German army. It caused a stir at the time and twenty years later inspired the army to build a series of defences along the North Downs. Box Hill Fort and Henley Fort at Guildford survive as a reminder
8. From 1450 until 1832 the Borough of Gatton elected two Members of Parliament, despite only consisting of Gatton Park, an estate near Reigate. In effect the Lord of the Manor chose who those two MPs would be, and money could change hands for the nominations. The unfairness of this was eventually acknowledged, and the constituency was abolished as one of the most rotten of all the rotten boroughs.
9. The world's first purpose-built motor racing circuit was opened at Brooklands, near Weybridge, in 1907. Hugh Locke King built it to help the development of the British motor industry, the banked track enabling speeds far higher than the 20 mph speed limit on public roads. It was also one of the earliest British airfields, and the last motor race was held there in 1939 when Brooklands concentrated on wartime aircraft production.
10. In 1618 a mineral spring was found on Epsom Common, and the magnesium sulphate in the water was found to be medicinal. Epsom soon grew to be a fashionable spa town, and visiting royalty and gentry expected entertainments. Horse racing on the open downs proved popular. In 1769 the legendary racehorse Eclipse first ran there. The classic race The Oaks was begun in 1779 and The Derby in the following year.