History heroes of Surrey – 10 of the best

PUBLISHED: 22:36 05 June 2014 | UPDATED: 14:16 15 January 2015

Alan Turing

Alan Turing


Surrey Heritage shares ten of their favourite historic Surrey heroes with us...

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2012




The Titanic hero

Chief wireless operator on the Titanic, Jack Phillips (1887-1912) 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 that 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 the distress signals. His last message was cut off as the ships power failed, minutes before the Titanic sank. Jack’s body was never recovered.


The pioneering cricketer

Edward Lumpy Stevens (1735-1819) was the most famous bowler of his age. He was born in Send and buried in Walton-on-Thames. Before Lumpy, cricket was played with two stumps and a single bail. Then, 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 on each occasion. This caused a huge outcry and, as a result, the patrons agreed that a third stump should be added.


The Arts and Crafts partnership

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) created over 400 gardens in the UK, Europe and America and her influence on garden design continues today. Jekyll loved Surrey; she grew up in Bramley and later moved to Munstead Wood in Godalming where she ran a garden centre. Today, some of Jekyll’s gardens have been faithfully restored and can be visited. She also collaborated with the great British architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), creating gardens for many of his houses. Lutyens’ work includes The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, and the Viceroys House, New Delhi. He spent most of his childhood in Thursley and Godalming and designed buildings including the Tilford Institute, Farnham Liberal Club and Red House at Frith Hill. Godalming Museum has notebooks and garden drawings of Jekyll and books and photographs of Lutyens’ work.


The political reformer and essayist

The Poor Man’s Friend, William Cobbett (1763-1835) was born and buried in Farnham and the Museum of Farnham tells his story. Through his journalism, Cobbett became known as a controversial, radical political thinker. For over 40 years, he wrote and campaigned about social inequality and the plight of the rural poor; he was arrested several times. In the 1820s, he rode through England writing about what he saw, later published as the famous Rural Rides. In 1802, he established the official record of parliamentary debates, Hansard. From 1831 until his death, he kept a farm in Normandy, near Guildford.


The domestic advice goddess

Universally known as Mrs Beeton, Isabella (1836-1865) was a publishing phenomenon, becoming a household name and brand that far outlived her 28 years. She lived much of her early life at Epsom Downs racecourse. After marriage to publisher Samuel Beeton and moving to Hatch End, she began writing 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 comprehensive guide to running a Victorian household. Her book contained over 900 recipes and was the first cookery book with colour plates in a format still used today. Supposedly, recipes were plagiarised but Isabella never claimed the contents were original.


The philanthropist

Thomas Holloway (1800-1883) was a Victorian entrepreneur who became a self-made millionaire from the sales of his patent cure all medicines, pills and ointments. In reality, these claims 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.


The suffragette

Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) first found fame as a composer in the late 19th century and later as the author of novels such as Female Pipings for Eden. A friend of the Pankhursts, she became a driving force in the Women’s Social and Political Union (suffragette movement), which resulted in her repeated arrest. Stories are told of how, when in prison, she conducted her fellow prisoners in a performance with a toothbrush through the cell window. She trained as a radiographer during World War One. Dame Ethel had several romantic passions, mostly with women, and frequently wore male attire. She lived in Frimley for most of her life and then Woking.


The Archbishop of Canterbury

Born in Guildford, the son of a cloth-worker, George Abbot (1562-1633) was educated at the town’s Royal Grammar School and then Balliol College, Oxford. By 1600, he was vice-chancellor of Oxford University 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, and in 1611 became Archbishop of Canterbury. Abbot loved his home town and in 1619 laid the foundation stone of the Hospital of the Blessed Trinity (Abbots Hospital). He is buried at Holy Trinity Church in Guildford.


The logician, mathematician and cryptologist

Alan Turing (1912-1954), who grew up in Guildford, has been described as the father of the modern computer. His life’s work included breaking the German Enigma code in World War Two and laying the foundations for 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, Turing was prosecuted for his homosexuality in 1952, which is believed to have 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. He is commemorated by a statue striding across the University of Surrey campus.


The composer

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was the son of a vicar and his mother was a niece of Charles Darwin. Vaughan Williams grew up at Leith Hill Place near Dorking. He spent his early years touring the countryside finding and recording folk tunes. In 1905, he founded the annual Leith Hill Musical Festival, and became its conductor. He lived much of his life in Dorking at White Gates, now demolished. After traumatic experiences in World War One, he composed some of his most popular works such as The Lark Ascending. His compositions included songs, ballets and film scores and anthems for the coronation of Elizabeth II.


• Surrey Museums Month takes place every year. To find out more, visit www.surreymuseums.org.uk and www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk.




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