Old Map of Surrey
Old Map of Surrey Detail from an old map of Surrey Detail from an old map of Surrey

Surrey – an old map by John Speed


An Old Map of Surrey by John Speed

In 1610, even though Surrey was close to the seat of power, it’s still remained remote from London. This was mainly due to the river Thames, which created a physical barrier that was bridged only at Kingston, Chertsey, Staines and Southwark. Compared to London the air of Surrey was thought, by John Speed to be “most sweet and delectable”.

Henry V11 and Henry V111 built historic residences in Surrey, at Richmond and Nonsuch respectively, both of which can be seen illustrated on this fine old map.   

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Contained in John Speed’s atlas The Theatre and Empire of Great Britain were his observations of each county. These were shown on the rear of the maps (the verso in old map speak). Here are his thoughts on Surrey which we have attempted translation from the old English text where we thought necessary for the sake of readability.

SURREY, written by the Saxons as Sudrea, lies separated upon the north from the Counties of Buckingham and Middlesex, by the great River Thames; upon the East Kent doth inbound it; upon the South is held in with Sussex and Hampshire, and her left part is bordered upon by Hampshire and Berkshire.

The heavens breathing air in this Shire [and] the air is most sweet and delectable, for that for the same cause many royal Palaces of our Princes are therein seated, and the county better stored with game than with grain.

In this shire the Regni (an ancient people mentioned by Ptolomy) were seated, whom he branched further through Sussex, and some part of Hampshire. And in the wane of the Roman government, when the land was left to the will of the Invaders, the South-Saxons under Ella here erected their Kingdom, which with the first was raised, and soonest found end. From them no doubt the County was named Suth-rey, as seated upon the South of the River; and now by contraction is called Surrey.

And albeit the county is barren of cities or towns of great estate, yet is she stored with many princely houses, yea and five of his majesties, so magnificently built, that of some she may well say, no shire hath none such, as is none-such indeed. And were not Richmond a fatal place of England’s best Princes, it might in esteem be ranked with the richest: for therein died the great Conqueror of France, King Edward III; the beautiful Ann, daughter to Charles IV Emperor, and entirely beloved wife to King Richard II; the wife of King Henry VII, and the rarest of her sex, the mirror of Princes, Queen Elizabeth, the worlds’ love and subject of joy.

(6) At Merton likewise Cenwulf King of the West-Saxons came to his untimely end: and at Lambeth the hardy Canute, and last of the
Danish Kings, died [herein]. But as these places were fatal for the last breath of these princes, for others in this county have been graced with the body and beginning of other worthy monarchs: for in Chertsey Abbey King Henry VI, who was deposed and made away in the Tower of London, was first interred without all funeral pomp, but for his holy life was reputed a Saint, And lastly intombed at Windsor. At Kingston likewise stood the chair of majesty, wherein Athelstan, Edwin, and Ethelred sat at their Coronation, and first received their sceptre of Imperial Power. Guildford likewise hath been far greater than now it is, when the Palace of our English Saxon Kings was therein set.

Neither can we account Oakham and Ripley, two small villages, the least in this shire, which have brought forth the well known men, William of Ockham, that deep philosopher and scholar, and George de Ripley, the ring leader of our alchemists and mystical impostors; both of them born in this county and very near together. But why speak I of these? [since] a place nearer to fight, and greater for fame, even Lambeth, is the high seat of ecclesiastical government, piety and learning, and the Palace of Canterbury’s Archbishops, the Metropolitans of England; and ever since hath been the residing of all those worthy [bishops] of our Church, who in a long succession(even from anno 596) have continued to him, that now most worthily sits at the Churches stern, George by God’s Providence Lord Archbishop, a most faithful and prudent counsellor unto King Charles, and a most learned and provident guide of our most flourishing Church: whose gracious favour undeservedly conferred upon me, hath been a great encouragement to these my poor endeavours.

Memorable places for battles fought before the Conquest, were Wimbledon, where (when the fulness of prosperity burst forth into Civil dissentions among the Saxons) a bloody battle was fought betwixt Cheaulin the West-Saxon and young Ethelbert of Kent, wherein he was discomfited, and two of his principal leaders slain, about the year of Christ 560 and 333 years after King Alfred with a small power overcame the Danes with a great slaughter at Farnham in this county, which somewhat quelled that of his savage enemy.

Religious Houses erected in this shire by the devotion of princes, and set apart from public uses to Gods Divine Service, and their own salvation, as then was taught, the best in account were Shene, Chertsey, Merton, Newark, Rygate, Waverley, Horsleg, and in Southwark, Bermundsey and St. Maries. These all flourished with increase, till the ripeness of their fruit was so pleasing in fight and taste unto King Henry VIII that in beating the boughs he broke down body and all, ruinating those houses, and seizing their rich possessions into his own hands. So jealous is God of his honour; and so great vengeance followeth the sin of idolatry.

In this shire have stood eight fair and strong the divisions castles: such were Addington, Darking, Starburg, of Surrey. Rygate, Guilford, Farnham, Goseford and Bletchingley : but of greater state are Woking, Oatlands, Nonsuch and Richmond, his majesties royal Manors. And for Service to the Crown or Commonwealth Employments, this Counties Division is into 13 Hundreds, wherein are seated nine market towns, and one hundred and forty parish churches.

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