Local Landscapes and History

Although its archaeology is frequently under-rated, Surrey is a unique area of rich history. Numerous
nationally-important archaeological sites include Palaeolithic camps, a unique and extensive Mesolithic
microlith industry, the Stanwell Neolithic cursus and Badshot Lea long barrow, Bronze Age centres (e.g.
Runnymede) and an unusually high number of Iron Age hillforts. Its historic heritage is equally exceptional,
including Roman temples, villas and pottery industries, Saxon cemeteries, medieval monasteries, churches
and castles, and Tudor palaces such as Nonsuch which are arguably the most spectacular in the country.

Bronze Age barrow at Thursley, Hascombe’s Iron Age hillfort and Roman road at Limpsfield (photos Anne Sassin and Judie English)

The modern era witnessed the development of leisure activities such as racing, cricket and theatre, as well as
the establishment of significant historic parks and gardens (e.g. Albury, Wotton and Deepdene). The county
claims a noteworthy history of intense industrialisation, from the Tillingbourne gunpowder mills to the stone
quarries at Brockham, eased considerably by the early canals and railways. Surrey sites also form a major
part of the national database of late 19th/20th-century defence sites.

Chilworth Gunpowder Works, Reigate mobilisation centre and Atlantic Wall at Hankley Common (photos Anne Sassin and Chris Reynolds)

Historically, the River Thames was a vital resource and highway for people, goods and ideas, and was central
to Surrey’s development, though the expansion of London, with its insatiable demand for housing and
infrastructure, led to many of the historic towns and villages becoming lost without record. Surrey lost considerable archaeological remains without record prior to the implementation of PPG16 (NPPF) which brought sites under the protection of UK planning authorities. Even now, major threats to archaeological resources endure, especially those resulting from agricultural decline, subsequently lowering water tables and drying-out organic deposits. In most cases, it is likely that significant information survives, calling for constant consideration of the historic landscapes in light of planning and land management. Surrey is also still predominantly open countryside, with the highest percentage of woodland of any county, leaving great potential for more archaeological landscapes to be recognised and recorded.

For more information and resources on the history and archaeology of the county, we recommend the Surrey Archaeological Research Framework, Exploring Surrey’s Past, and Surrey Historic Landscape Characterisation, amongst other resources.

Scroll to top