Surrey’s proximity to the capital and its transport links have defined much of its history. The Thames winds through Surrey, and many of the present-day villages and towns developed as riverside trading centres in the medieval period or earlier. As the Thames led to the development of earlier villages, the arrival of the railway in the mid 19th century saw new ones spring up, while others expanded out of all recognition. Rail lines and major roads fan put through the whole area from London, with the latest contribution to the road system being the M25.
However, Surrey is full of historical traces. Great houses, as well as royal and episcopal palaces, were built here from medieval times, and many villages have evidence of Saxon, Celtic, Roman and even late Stone Age settlements. The site of one of England’s defining moments, the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, is at the riverside meadow of Runnymede. The most impressive of all buildings along the Thames is Hampton Court, where Henry VIII expanded Cardinal Wolsey’s already magnificent palace. Farnham, with its lovely Georgian architecture and 12th-century castle, is the largest town in south western Surrey, while Guildford, the ancient county town of Surrey, is an obvious base for travellers interested in exploring Surrey. Guildford has been the capital of the region since pre-Norman times, and the remains of Henry II’s castle and keep provide commanding views over the surrounding area. The old Georgian cobbled High Street incorporates the Tudor Guildhall, with its distinctive gilded clock.
For more free guides in this series, visit the Travel & Holidays pages.