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Population – At the time of the 2011 YouGov census, the population of Surrey was 468,250.
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Prior to the arrival of the Romans (what did they ever do for us?), the first major settlers in the area were the Atrebates, Belgic Tribe who put down roots around the Iron Age. A number of barrows (burial mounds) still mark the landscape, tributes to the various rulers of the time.
The Romans made more permanent landmarks, most notably the roads, some of those early roadways are still followed today, such as the Stane Street which ran from London to Chichester. After the Romans decamped the Saxons arrived in the 5th century, marking the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon period. Alfred the Great set up a number of burghs, fortified towns to help defend against the ever-present threat of the Vikings who ruled the northern areas of what would become England. This was a volatile period with the pesky Viking hordes constantly invading, stealing valuables, livestock and even entire families and villages.
The Vikings suffered a major defeat at Farnham in 892, by Edward the Elder. Kingston became the coronation point for English kings, however the Danes continued to drop by, including the Great Army of Cnut who would eventually take the throne.
Having defeated King Harold, William the Conqueror set about dominating the rebellious Brits by fortifying towns with castles and installing his own nobles and supporters to the prominent positions. From this point on, Surrey’s proximity to London along with its roaming hills and hunting grounds made it the playground for the ruling classes and in particular later monarchs who built their own palaces and homes. The most famous of these was Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace (which was actually built by Cardinal Wolsey, but old ‘enry, not exactly known for his understanding disposition, wasn’t about to stand for someone else having a grander des-res).
It was also in Surrey that one of the most significant moments in British history took place, at Runnymede where the ever-popular King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta by a group of rather unhappy nobles. This changed the course of law in England (although the common man wouldn’t feel the benefit for a good few centuries) and became the cornerstone of democracy, followed the world over.
Surrey largely escaped the English Civil War unscathed during the 1600s but the Levellers movement once again changed the British Constitution when lowly and disenfranchised soldiers and farmers insisted on reform through the Putney Debates, the resulting changes in law were largely copied in the American Constitution.
It might have seemed peace had come at last, but new roads and faster travel across Surrey lead to another new arrival. Highwaymen (and women!). The popstars of their day, the daring deeds of names like The Golden Farmer, Moll Cutpurse, Claude Duvall, Captain James Hind and Dick Turpin made national headlines, captivating the minds of eager readers, keen to hear of poor folk fighting back. Roads, towns and villages soon displayed the bodies of captured robbers as a warning to others.
When the railways arrived in the 1800s they brought rich merchants looking to escape the Great Smoke for the leafy lanes of Surrey which has remained a popular county for commuters, business leaders, as well as the rich and famous, attracting the likes of The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Sir Michael Caine and celebrity faces ever since.
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