We are currently celebrating people from the county who have played an important role in shaping Surrey’s history. We are calling these our Surrey Heroes. From the very well known to those less so, we hope to share different aspects of Surrey’s history and encourage visits to discover more about our Surrey ‘Stars’.


Ethel SmythComposer, writer, Suffragette (1858-1944)

Ethel Smyth found fame as a composer in the late 19th century and as the author of novels such as Female Pipings for Eden. She became a driving force in the Women’s Social and Political Union Suffragette movement, which led to repeated arrests.

Stories are told of how, when in prison, she conducted fellow prisoners in a performance of her self-composed ‘The March of the Women’ with a toothbrush through the cell window. In 1922 Ethel Smyth was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Ethel Smyth lived in Frimley, Surrey for most of her life, and then Woking, near the golf course, next to which her ashes were scattered in the woodland.

Image courtesy of artist Jennie Waugh


Jack PhillipsChief Wireless Operator of the Titanic (1887-1912)

Jack Phillips, the Chief Wireless Operator on the Titanic, was born in Farncombe and learned Morse code working at Godalming Post Office.

After the Titanic hit the iceberg, Jack started to send the distress signals, which would bring the Carpathia to rescue the survivors in the lifeboats.  The Marconi station at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, reported that throughout ‘there was never a tremor out of him’.

Even after Captain Smith declared ‘every man for himself’, Jack continued to send. His last message was cut off as the ship’s power failed, minutes before the Titanic sank. Jack's body was never recovered.

Image courtesy of Godalming Museum Collection


George AbbottArchbishop of Canterbury (1562-1633)

Born in Guildford, son of a cloth-worker, Abbot was educated at the Royal Grammar School then Balliol College, Oxford. By 1600 he was the University’s Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Winchester.

Abbot took a leading part in preparing the authorised version of The New Testament. In 1609, he arranged a union between the churches of England and Scotland, to the delight of King James. In 1611, Abbot became Archbishop of Canterbury.

Abbot loved his home town and in 1619 laid the foundation stone of the Hospital of the Blessed Trinity (Abbot's Hospital). George Abbot is buried at Guildford’s Holy Trinity Church.
Image courtesy of Surrey History Centre, image ref: PX/72/253


lumpy stevensPioneering cricketer (1735-1819)

Edward “Lumpy” Stevens was the most famous bowler of his age. He was born in Send and buried in Walton-on-Thames. Cricket then was played with two stumps and only a single bail.

In a 1775 match against the famous Hambledon Cricket Club, ‘Lumpy’ bowled the ball between the two stumps without dislodging the bail, three times, but the batsman, John Small, was given ‘not out’.

This caused a huge outcry and as a result, the patrons agreed that a third stump be added. Surrey’s “Lumpy” Stevens’ bowling prowess changed the game forever. “Lumpy” Stevens is one of Send & Ripley History Society Museum’s heroes.

Image courtesy of Send and Ripley History Society Museum, with kind permission of Roger Mann


Thomas HollowayPatent Medicines & Philanthropist  (1800-1883)

Often described as the Richard Branson of the nineteenth century, Thomas Holloway was a Victorian entrepreneur who became a self-made millionaire from the sales of his patent ‘cure all’ medicines, pills and ointments. These claims often raised an eyebrow, and in reality were later found to have very few medicinal properties.

However, Holloway was one of the great philanthropists of the Victorian age, founding Holloway Sanatorium in Virginia Water, which opened in 1885, and Royal Holloway College in Egham, opened by Queen Victoria in 1886. Both epitomise the spirit of the age and widened access to what today are considered essential public services. Egham Museum tells his story.

Image ref: RHC PH/281/4/1 Archives, Royal Holloway University of London 


Ralph Vaughan WilliamsComposer (1872-1958)

Ralph Vaughan Williams is arguably one of Britian’s greatest composers, with notable and powerful compositions such as Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and The Lark Ascending.

He was the son of a vicar and his mother was a niece of Charles Darwin. He had strong Surrey connections for most of his life, composing many works during his life in Dorking, including Five Tudor Portraits and Magnificat. His childhood was spent at the family home in Leith Hill Place, near Dorking, and he was also a pupil at Charterhouse, Godalming.

In 1905 he founded the annual Leith Hill Music Festival, and became its conductor for many years. The festival still continues.

Image courtesy of Surrey History Centre, image ref: PH/165/89


Munstead HouseJekyll,(1843-1932), Lutyens, (1869-1944)

Jekyll created over 400 gardens in the UK, Europe and America and her influence on garden design continues. A childhood in Bramley forged Jekyll’s love of Surrey, later moving to Godalming. Jekyll’s collaborations with Sir Edwin Lutyens are well known, designing gardens for many of his houses, including Orchards, her own home in Munstead.

Most of Lutyens Surrey life was spent in Shere, Thursley and Godalming before his remarkable career. Local designs include Red House at Frith,
Tilford Institute and Farnham Liberal Club, and of wider acclaim, The Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall, and New Delhi’s Viceroy’s House. Godalming Museum has Jekyll’s notebooks, drawings and photographs of Lutyens’ work.

Image courtesy of Surrey History Centre, image ref: CC1101/3/21/136


Alan TuringLogician, mathematician, cryptanologist (1912-1954)

2012 marks the centenary of Guildford-born Alan Turing, described as the father of the modern computer. His life's work included both breaking the German 'Enigma' code in WW2, and in laying the foundations of computer science.

Turing's post-war work included research on the earliest stored program computers, definitions of 'artificial intelligence' (the 'Turing test') and mathematical biology.

However, in 1952, Turing was prosecuted for his homosexuality which most-likely contributed to his suicide two years later.

In September 2009 the British Government issued a formal apology for Turing's treatment, saying 'he deserved better'.

Image courtesy of Surrey History Centre


john henry knightInventor extraordinaire (1847-1917)

Farnham hero, John Henry Knight (1847-1917) was a wealthy landowner and a prolific inventor.
In 1895 he built Britain’s first petrol-powered motor vehicle, and was prosecuted for using a locomotive with neither a licence nor a man walking in front with a red flag.

Knight was a founder member of the Automobile Association (AA) and was instrumental in the repeal of the Red Flag Act. 

Image courtesy of The Museum of Farnham

Knight’s other inventions included a steam powered  hop-digging machine, a brick-laying device, a heat saving radiator, a speedometer, and a wooden motor car tyre made of ash slats, in response to the high price of rubber tyres.

John Henry Knight was a keen photographer and a pioneer of colour photography. He has left a valuable  photographic record of what Farnham looked like 100 years ago.


William CobbettPolitical reformer and essayist (1763-1835)

William Cobbett “The Poor Man’s Friend ”is arguably the most influential person Farnham has ever produced.

A thorn in the flesh of successive governments as a political journalist, Cobbett occupied a unique position of power for nearly forty years using his brilliant pen to support the labouring poor, exposing corruption and dishonesty.

In 1802 he established “Hansard”, the first official record of parliamentary debates. Cobbett also penned “Rural Rides” from observations of what was happening in towns and villages as he rode around the country on horseback.

No ordinary individual before or since has influenced public affairs so widely on both sides of the Atlantic.

Image courtesy of The Museum of Farnham


John Evelyn17th Century scholar and diarist (1620-1706)

Evelyn's diaries or memoirs are largely of the same period as the other noted diarist of the time, Samuel Pepys.

Over his long life and career, Evelyn contributed to most of the fields of knowledge of his age, and was a friend to contemporaries Sir Christopher Wren, Samuel Pepys, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle and Sir Isaac Newton.

His diaries shed considerable light on the art, culture and politics of the time. He witnessed the deaths of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, the last Great Plague of London, and the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Over the years, Evelyn's Diary has been over-shadowed by Pepys's chronicles of 17th-century life. Evelyn and Pepys frequently corresponded, and much of this has been preserved. Evelyn is one of Surrey History Centre's heroes.


Mrs BeetonAuthor (1836-1865)

Universally known as “Mrs.Beeton”, Isabella Beeton was a publishing phenomenon, becoming a household name that far outlived her 28 years. She lived much of her early life at Epsom racecourse where her step-father was clerk.

After marriage to publisher Samuel Beeton and moving to Hatch End, she wrote articles on cooking and household management for his popular magazines.

‘The Book of Household Management’ was ahead of its time, seizing an opportunity to provide a definitive guide to running a Victorian household. Her book contained 1,000 pages of fashion, child care, animal husbandry, poisons, management of servants, science and religion - and over 900 recipes. It was the first cookery book with colour plates and recipes in a format still used today.


John Wornham PenfoldArchitect, surveyor, photographer (1847-1917)

John Wornham Penfold, born at Courts Hill (now ‘Penfolds’) in Haslemere in 1828, spent much of his working life as an architect and surveyor in London. His most significant project was to oversee a vast construction project in Cripplegate following a destructive fire in 1889. Penfold was a founder members of The Institution of Surveyors.

From 1859 with the opening of Haslemere Station, visits to his family home grew frequent and he became involved with local projects including the rebuilding of Saint Bartholemew’s Church, The Workman’s Club and the building of the Cottage Hospital on Shepherds Hill. Penfold was a keen photographer and Haslemere Museum has a collection of glass plate negatives, many of local scenes.

Penfold was also the designer of the green hexagonal post-boxes. These achieved some fame on the cartoon Danger Mouse, whose side-kick was named after JW Penfold, and whose hideout was a post-box on Baker Street – though not a genuine Penfold design!

Image copyright of Haslemere Museum


Hilda Hewlett1st British women pilot & flying instructor (1864-1943)

In 1910 at the age of 47 and with 2 children, Hilda Hewlett set up a flying school at the Brooklands motor racing circuit with business partner Gustave Blondeau.

It was the first school in England to graduate a full-fledged pilot, and it was here on August 29th 1911 that Hilda became the first British woman to receive a pilot’s licence. She went on to become a flying instructor, the first English woman to do so.
The partners also set up business building aircraft for the Royal Aircraft Factory during the First World War. Hilda Hewlett still serves as a role model to other women all over the world and her achievements continue to inspire generations.
Image courtesy of Brooklands Museum, Weybridge


G F WattsG.F Watts Victorian painter and sculptor (1817-1904)

In his own lifetime George Frederic Watts was widely considered to be the greatest painter of the Victorian age, enjoying an unparalleled reputation.

He was an important member of the ‘symbolist’ movement. This meant much of George’s artwork was intended to symbolise emotion and ideas. He created a sense of drama in his work by suggesting both movement and stillness at once.

Watts was the finest and most penetrating portraitist of his age, a sculptor, landscape painter and symbolist, which earned him the title ‘England’s Michelangelo.’

Among George Watts’ most notable works are 'Physical Energy'; a large sculpture in Hyde Park in London and his iconic paintings entitled 'Hope' and 'Love and Life'.   

Mary WattsMary Watts Victorian painter, sculptor, designer (1817-1904)

Mary Watts was one of the leading Arts & Crafts figures of her generation; she was a painter, sculptor and designer who created the spectacular Watts Cemetery Chapel in Compton.  

She enjoyed sculpting and worked with a variety of materials such as terracotta and metal. She also believed in preserving traditional handicrafts.

George and Mary's work is exhibited at the Watts gallery in Compton.

Images courtesy of the Watts gallery, Compton


William MoreLoseley manuscripts (1520-1600)

Sir William More is, perhaps, an improbable Surrey hero. Though a fine, upstanding gentleman, friendly with some of the great names of the Elizabethan age, including the Queen herself, he was not a statesman, soldier or author, but a typical Tudor gentleman who spent most of his time managing his estates and involving himself in county affairs. It is what he left behind that causes us to pay him tribute.

In the 1560s he rebuilt Loseley House outside Guildford, a splendid mansion still cared for by his descendants. In its muniment room there accumulated over centuries, the Loseley Manuscripts; private letters and official documents relating to the family’s activities.

The manuscripts, now in Surrey History Centre, give a wonderful insight into Surrey in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Image courtesy of Surrey History Centre, Woking


Alfred, Lord TennysonEnglish poet and Poet Laureate (1809-1892)

Poet Laureate during much of Queen Victoria’s reign Alfred, Lord Tennyson came to Haslemere in 1868.

His poetry captured the sentiments of the age and inspired a huge following.

By moving to a remote spot on Blackdown he hoped to escape the attentions of his fans. To warn them off on his long walks, he carried a dog whistle.

Whilst living here, Tennyson finished the last poems in his Idylls of the King series, based on the legends of King Arthur.

Image courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum


Hon. Charles HamiltonLandscape visionary (1704-1786)

Painshill’s magnificent Grade 1 listed 18th Century Georgian landscape garden was created in the naturalistic style between 1738 and 1773, and was the artistic vision of one English gentleman, the Hon. Charles Hamilton, 9th son and 14th child of the 6th Earl of Abercorn.

Inspired by Renaissance and contemporary art and visits to Italy on the Grand Tour, Charles Hamilton decided to create a tranquil landscape setting enriched by follies, water, trees, shrubberies and a vineyard.

A painter, plantsman and brilliantly imaginative designer, he dedicated his creative genius to the layout and composition of a landscape which was unique in Europe and remains so today.
Image courtesy of Painshill Park Trust

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