Surrey Hills AONB Board – Annual Review 2020

The Surrey Hills AONB Board Annual Review looks back over 2020 on the achievements of the Surrey Hills Board and Family, whose purpose is to encourage coordinated action by all organisations, agencies and individuals to protect and enhance the natural beauty of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Click here to download a copy of the 2020  Surrey Hills AONB Board Annual Review.

You may also view a copy of the 2019-2020 Surrey Hills Society Annual Review here.

This year the Chairs of the Surrey Hills Family: Surrey Hills AONB BoardSurrey Hills EnterprisesSurrey Hills Trust FundSurrey Hills Society and Surrey Hills Arts have prepared individual videos with an overview of their organisations as well as a review of what 2020 has been like for them.


Society Catch-up by Zoom on 28 November 2020

Due to the current pandemic, the trustees decided to delay the Society’s formal AGM until the beginning of next year.  However on 28 November 2020 we held a Zoom event where our Chairman, Gordon Jackson and our Treasurer, Martin Cantor, presentented their usual reports.  Joining this event was Sarah Jane Chimbwandira, also a trustee of the Society, who gave us an up to date view of the work that is currently being undertaken and planned to preserve the biodiversity of the precious Surrey Hills habitat.

To view the slides of the Chairman’s Report please click  2020 Society Catch Up Slideshow.

Chairman’s Views

The rollercoaster continues! In our last newsletter I wrote about how we were just beginning to start events again as the last lockdown eased. Since then we have managed to put on over 20 events. Although the rules for walks would have allowed us to have as many as thirty in a group we felt happier conducting events in a number of groups of six, each with their own group leader. This format worked really well, and I would like to extend a particular thank you to all those volunteers who helped overcome the various additional challenges that we had to face. There is no doubt that all our members appreciated the opportunity to join our events and almost everything we put on was fully booked! I was most impressed that, despite the limitations, we had a varied programme with visits to a number of gardens, a sculpture park and of course a selection of walks for all levels of ability. You can read more on this topic in the next article.

In the last few weeks, we have of course been in lockdown again and yet more events have had to be postponed, but it has actually been quite a busy time, nonetheless.

The day before the new restrictions, I was delighted to attend the opening of Optohedron (see below) , the new Inspiring Views sculptural bench by Will Nash just above Newlands Corner.

The Society has been involved in supporting this fabulous Surrey Hills Arts project. The sculpture is wonderful, and it now sits in a stunning setting.

The strength of the Inspiring Views project is that it is not only about excellent art, but the accompanying landscape improvement and conservation work provides a lasting benefit to the Surrey Hills. The Surrey Hills Trust Fund is committed to ensuring that the necessary maintenance of all the Inspiring Views locations is carried out on a regular basis.

There are two further benches being planned. Fundraising for the new artwork, Radius by James Tunnard will connect the North Downs Way National Trail to a truly inspirational view at Denbies Hillside.

For a donation of £80 supporters can have their own personalised batten engraved. You can find more information here. Plans for the development of the second bench are currently in an early stage of development.

There is one other important feature of Radius. I informed members in a recent MailChimp that Anthony Wakefield, the former sponsor of our newsletter, died during the summer. In discussion with Anthony’s family, the Society has agreed to sponsor the planting of an oak tree, near to Radius, in his memory. Anthony specifically requested, shortly before he died, that a tree be planted. We all feel that he would have thoroughly approved of this location, especially as he was always a great champion of the arts and sculpture in particular. I’m sure you will all wish to join me in sending our deepest sympathy to Anthony’s family.

You will be aware that we would normally have held our AGM in October / November. Due to the current pandemic, the trustees have decided to delay the Society’s formal AGM until early next year. However, although we can’t meet in person, we have decided to hold a Zoom event. So now we are planning for the Society’s own catch up on Saturday 28th November book here.

Your Events Committee is working to produce a full diary of events as soon as we are allowed to do so and I hope that we may even be able to run a couple of outdoor events in December, although this is obviously dependant on Covid restrictions. In the meantime if your thoughts are turning to Christmas Shopping may I take this opportunity to remind you that a perfect gift is a Society Membership pack which you can order online here.

AND FINALLY Surrey Hills Enterprises is inviting people in Surrey to pledge their support to buy at least 1 in every 5 of their Christmas purchases from a Surrey Hills business and help the local economy and environmental sustainability.

Find out more here and be inspired by the outstanding local products and gift experiences, all with the Trade Mark Surrey Hills accreditation. 

Gordon Jackson

The Society, Events and Walking Festivals

Those of you who check out the Events programme of the Society will have seen that in September we had a lot going on. Unlike many organisations, we were able to get back up and running but Covid constraints meant that we needed to focus on outdoor activities. That month we managed to put on four events – which is typical of a monthly offering. Dunsborough’s Dahlias, Vann House Gardens and Caxton House Gardens were all private viewings which added something really special to the visits – and have led to feedback that attendees want to go back in due course. We also altered our first Sunday of the month “walk” to become a guided exploration of the various sites which make up the Watts Gallery complex.

But the Society is about much more than just visits for members. Every year, your Society has been a sponsor of Guildford Walking Festival (Walkfest) – and indeed, it’s Chairman plus a number of the walk leaders are active SHS volunteers.

In previous years, the format of Walkfest has been fairly relaxed with advance booking desirable but with the ability for extra folk to turn up on the day.

This year, the organisation had to be far more rigorous with advance booking being compulsory and with sufficient walk leaders available to allow for splitting the attendees into compliant sized groups.

The Society already has an effective booking system in place for the regular events programme so it was logical for us to make use of it to book these extra events which were being hosted by the Society. There were eleven such walks during the month so the programme on our website did look a bit busy and skewed towards walking events. However, be assured, this does not mean that SHS is intending to mutate into an organisation focused on walks.

To put this into perspective, amongst the key reasons for the existence of the Society are “to promote the area to the public” and “encourage people to explore and learn about the special qualities and distinctiveness of the area”. Walkfest ticks both those boxes. In addition, those of you who attended the 2019 Surrey Hills Symposium will have heard about the importance of getting folk out into ‘green spaces’, increasing exercise and socially interacting. Again, this walking festival helps us to support these important aims.

Involvement in Walkfest also has other benefits to the Society. In total, just under half the participants in the SHS hosted walks were members of the Society so we were providing an extra service to them. The balance of the walkers were obviously people who wanted to get out and learn more about the area and, as such, were potential members. Indeed, we gained a number of new members as a direct result of specific walks and, probably, there will be a ripple effect with extra memberships arising over the coming months.

Several of the walks were to places in, or around, Guildford borough that your Events team knew little about.

Thus, an added benefit of our involvement has been to discover new locations and features on which to base future SHS visits or walks. We also met fascinating people who have their own specialist knowledge and can add to the richness of our events.

The one thing that we have all learned during our SHS activities is that there always seems to be somewhere new or something to discover whenever we get involved in initiatives across the county.

Ken Bare

Famous Surrey Victorians

Thinking about the great Victorians with links to the Surrey Hills, the first names that probably come to mind are those related to the Arts & Crafts movement. Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll probably topping the list being respectively, the “go to” architect and landscape gardener of the day.

Close to the top is possibly Thomas Cubitt (photo left), renowned master builder, whose connection includes Denbies’ estate which he designed and subsequently purchased in 1851. And, of course, Mrs Isabella Beeton who grew up in Epsom and was one of the first celebrity chefs!

However, there are many other prominent Victorians, with links to the area: including writers, artists, social reformers and scientists.

Several major literary figures have been inspired by the Surrey Hills including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who is said to have written the ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ at his home Undershaw in Hindhead. Charles Dickens stayed at The White Horse in Dorking where it is believed he wrote part of ‘The Pickwick Papers’ and Alfred Lord Tennyson perhaps wrote some of his best poetry whilst living in Haslemere.

HG Wells was certainly inspired by the area when living in Woking. ‘The War of the Worlds’ covers a whole host of Surrey locations, whilst his less well known 1895 novel ‘The Wheels of Chance’ covers a cycling holiday which references various Surrey Hills towns including Haslemere, Godalming and Guildford. Even Lewis Carroll, usually associated with Oxford, had links to the area having moved his family to Guildford and subsequently being buried there.

Less than five miles away in the village of Compton are the graves of the renowned Huxley family, along with the stunning Watts Chapel created by designer and artist Mary Watts. Also in the village is the Watts Gallery, dedicated to the work of her husband George Watts, considered by many to be the greatest Victorian painter (picture of Tennyson by G F Watts).

Not so well known is that the Victorian actress Dame Alice Ellen Terry was briefly married to Watts when she was just sixteen.

Another interesting building with links to prominent families is Leith Hill Place, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ home, before he left it to the National Trust (co-founded by another Surrey Hills Victorian, lawyer and conservationist Sir Robert Hunter who lived in Haslemere.) In the Victorian era Leith Hill Place was home to Josiah Wedgewood III and his wife Caroline Darwin. A frequent visitor was Charles Darwin, the renowned naturalist, who conducted experiments within the grounds.

The Victorian era saw enormous economic and social change followed by social reform. One such reformer was William Cobbett, who died just before Victoria came to the throne, but whose mission had a long-term impact on rural Surrey. After the 1832 Reform Act women’s suffrage also gained ground and Surrey was home to several leading activists. They included Dorothy Hunter, one of the most significant female speakers of her day, and Augusta Spottiswoode, one of several Surrey women to sign the first petition for women’s suffrage.

Women were also gaining ground in the world of science. Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron and a true visionary, is recognised as the world’s first computer scientist. After her marriage to the Earl of Lovelace in 1835 she moved to East Horsley and later to Horsley Towers. She sadly died aged just 37.

And finally, another interesting character, well worth a mention at this time is John Springfield, one of several people of colour to have contributed to Surrey’s culture.

He was born to a Zanzibar chief, captured by Portuguese sailors aged just nine, before ultimately being rescued by Dr David Livingstone. He then spent time in America before settling in Guildford where he is said to have integrated into the community working as a cobbler and preaching against slavery.

Susie Turner


  • Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson by George Frederic Watts, National Portrait Gallery NP1015, link here
  • John Springfield sepia photo, courtesy of Surrey History Centre

Cycling in Victorian Surrey

2012 saw a new era for cycling in the Surrey Hills. Inspired partly by the desire to emulate the feats of the athletes who took part in the Olympic road races, and partly by the beautiful countryside that the aerial television shots revealed on the route, literally thousands of enthusiastic amateurs have flocked to the area ever since. Box Hill is the most popular climb in the World and as of last year over 100,000 enthusiasts had attempted the official segment of the climb more than 770,000 times between them.

But the history of cycling in Surrey goes much further back. The first true bicycle, known as the Velocipede, was invented in 1860 by two Frenchmen, Ernest Michaux and Pierre Lallement. However, it had no brakes and resulted in many treacherous “headers”. The more comfortable, but still dangerous, Penny Farthing was developed in 1870 and the popularity of cycling blossomed alongside the development of more and more sophisticated machines throughout the last 30 years of Queen Victoria’s reign.

By virtue of its Macadam surface the old Portsmouth Road, later to become the A3, was a popular route out of London. Ripley was a convenient distance and was described by Lord Bury in 1887 as “the Mecca of good cyclists”.

One has to admire the courage and endurance of the young men, who took their lives in their hands riding their early primitive cycling machines such a long distance.

It is no small wonder that Mrs Harriet Dibble and her two daughters of the Anchor Hotel in Ripley ran a highly successful business from the mid 1870’s providing refreshments and accommodation to these early pioneers.

Visitors’ books were kept and those from 1881 to 1895 still survive. Some of the books contain over 6,000 entries per year and H G Wells, who was an enthusiastic cyclist, signed one in 1887.

Of course, there were other routes and Dorking was also a major hub. There is a lovely story about one of the first recorded rides in 1875 by a London Draper, Stanley Boorer. He apparently terrified the local housemaids by cycling his “boneshaker” from Denbies to Dorking in the dark with glow worms attached to his hat! Soon the cycles became commonplace and Londoners would pedal down through Morden and Merton, and out via Box Hill to Dorking. By the 1890s the affordable price of a safety cycle, with tyres and a chain, meant the sport grew hugely popular. Dorking Cycling Club was formed in 1887 and had 100 members by 1892.

At first cycling was mostly the domain of young men. Riding in the long heavy Victorian skirts was extremely difficult and dangerous for women, but this did not deter them for long. Although some people were morally outraged, the Rational Dress Society gained much support, promoting knickerbocker suits for ease of movement. In 1898, Richard Cook of the White Horse in Dorking wrote in the Daily Mail that he would not admit women in “rational dress” to his coffee room. He was not alone, but progress could not be held back and soon many were hailing cycling as a great emancipation for women that was nothing short of a “social revolution”.

Several hundred members of cycling clubs from all over the South East came together for a fortnight of competition and excursions in Dorking in the 1890’s, camping at Poultry farm, south of St. Paul’s School. The camps were open to the public and in August 1896 over 6,000 entrance fees were taken. Entertainments included dancing, singing and sports, plus a burlesque sports day with 3-legged races and a tug-of-war. The annual highlight was a torchlight procession through the town with 200-300 cyclists in fancy dress led by a band.

As cycling developed as a sport then so did those that supported it. In 1895, the 24 year old John Dennis opened his “little cycle shop”, United Athletic Stores, near Guildford Bridge. Shortly afterwards he was joined in the business by his younger brother, Raymond. Three years later and sensing the advent of self-powered transport, they launched their own motorised tricycle and by 1901 they were producing cars. Today, Alexander Dennis Limited is a global leader in the design and manufacture of double deck buses and is also the UK’s largest bus and coach manufacturer.

When you next see a group of lycra-clad enthusiasts spinning through the Surrey Hills, spare a thought for those that went before them. A passion for the outdoors and the inspirational beauty of our special landscape is a common thread that draws them together over a span of 150 years.

Gordon Jackson


This article is just a short summary of a wealth of facts and stories that survive from the period.  We would like to acknowledge the excellent websites of The Surrey History Centre, The Send and Ripley History Society and Dorking Museum that have helped inform this article.

  • Cyclists outside the Anchor at Ripley, courtesy of Send & Ripley History Society
  • Lady cyclists in Dorking, courtesy of Dorking Museum

Victorian Artists of Surrey

It is probably undisputed that George Fredrick Watts OM RA (1817 – 1904) was the most influential Victorian artist of, not only the Surrey Hills, but the entire UK. Often referred to as England’s “Michelangelo”, he was the celebrity painter of his day, even painting royalty.

His legacy for the Surrey Hills is the home and studio he created with his wife Mary Watts (1849-1938), towards the end of his life. Today it is the highly regarded and award winning Watts Gallery at Compton. However, for me, it is the work of his wife, artist Mary, who has had an iconic influence on the Surrey Hills. She created Watts Cemetery Chapel, an unusual terracotta structure, with the help of local residents whom she was training up in craft skills to break the cycle of labouring and domestic service whilst keeping them employed. She also founded the Compton Potters’ Arts Guild that went on to sell at Liberties in London and which continued right up until 1956.

Both Mary and GF Watts were influential members of the Arts and Crafts Movement which was created as a reaction to the industrial revolution and the age of the machine. They championed the traditional crafts and, along with architects like Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, helped make the Surrey Hills an iconic area for the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Another, less well known gallery, is the Sidney Sime Gallery in Worplesdon – just outside Guildford (and the venue for a recent SHS visit). This was the home of Sidney Sime (1865 – 1941), an artist best known for his fantastic and satirical artwork, especially his illustrations for Irish author Lord Dunsany.

No list of famous Surrey artists would be complete without mentioning Helen Allingham (1848 – 1926), who lived in Haslemere. Her watercolours of idyllic rural life scenes of the Surrey Hills can be found in galleries around the world (A cottage with Sunflowers at Peaslake shown above).

She studied at the Royal Academy School (which later became the Royal College of Art). Although women could not gain the same recognition as men at the time, Helen Allingham was one woman who made a real impact in the age of the Victorians, with artists like Van Gogh being influenced by her. The Helen Allingham Society was formed in 2000 to celebrate her beautiful art and unique talent.

Although living before the Victorian era, artist John Hassell took a huge interest in Surrey landscapes and architecture. His son, Edward (d.1852) also became a popular early Victorian artist and was particularly fascinated by the interiors of churches. His work has been a useful reference when looking to restore many Surrey church buildings. Over 500 of John and Edward’s works appear amongst 2,000 prints, watercolours and drawings by Surrey artists collected by Robert Barclay and used to illustrate his copy of “Mannings and Bray’s History and Antiquities of Surrey”.

Originally from Scotland, Arthur Melville (1855 – 1904) lived in Redlands, Witley for most of his adult life. He is mainly known for his orientalist subjects. One painting is in the V&A Museum in London and many are in Scottish galleries and museums (image of A Cabbage Garden shown left).

He was not particularly popular in his own lifetime but it is said that he influenced the “Glasgow Boys”. Today he is a highly collectable artist. His ashes are interred at Brookwood cemetery in Woking.

Another notable Surrey landscape artist was Edward Henry Holder (1847 – 1922) who lived at Reigate and Redhill during his working life. His painting “October in Surrey: Children Nutting” is in the V&A Museum in London. Originally from Scarborough in Yorkshire, he travelled extensively in Europe and as far away as South Africa.

Finally, no list of Victorian artists would be complete without William Henry Allen (1863 – 1943). He was long – time inspirational head of Farnham School of Art and mentor to other creative people, including the architect Harold Falkner.

Allen was known mainly for his watercolours of vanishing English countryside, portraiture and the wonderful use of colour. The Allen Gallery may be over the border in Alton, where his mother and brother lived, but he lived and worked in Farnham. Farnham’s creative links remain with the School of Art becoming, in modern times, the extremely successful University of Creative Arts.

Christine Howard


  • A Cottage With Sunflowers At Peaslake by Helen Allingham, , Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  • A Cabbage Garden by Arthur Melville, 1877, Painting in National Gallery of Scotland. Image courtesy of Stephen C Dickson, Creative Commons   via Wikimedia Commons

How the Victorians Influenced our Local Gardens

Prior to the Victorian age Surrey was a little known county but with the coming of the railways it opened up as people were able to come out from London with their bicycles and enjoy the countryside. It was then that gardening became extremely popular. The wealthy had the space and money to create large, lavish landscapes and the middle class were also able to create beautiful gardens many of which are to be found in Surrey. Let’s now look more closely at the characteristics of Victorian garden style.

Flower beds were formal with showy plants and flowers grown along walkways or in large raised beds. Victorians preferred big, bold plants like lilies, dahlias, ferns and ornamental grasses. Traditional cottage garden flowers such as hollyhocks, snapdragons and sunflowers were considered outdated.

Collecting plants imported from all over the world became a popular hobby and thus necessitated the construction of glasshouses to house these tropical plants during winter. They were situated in the walled kitchen garden which played an important part in Victorian lives. It was the job of the head gardener to prepare displays of exotic fruits for the master of the house as well as elaborate floral arrangements for the table. The mid 19th century garden at Titsey Place (image below), home of the Gresham family for many years, contains a number of glasshouses now fully restored.

Lawns were an essential element of Victorian garden style, designed to frame a lovely house and also for socialising and lawn games. A huge variety of shrubs and trees, both evergreen and deciduous, were used for planting along property lines or in mixed hedges.

The Victorians loved ornamentation, in particular, topiary, sundials on pedestals, cast iron ornaments, statues, pools and fountains, urns filled with flowers and foliage in covered trellises – anything flamboyant.

However, although all these gardens helped to popularise gardens and gardening in Victorian England, because of their romantic image, they do not depict the widespread poverty that was often found in rural areas. Nevertheless the paintings of the Victorian “cottage artist” Helen Allingham showing an abundance of flowers in cottage gardens, and portraying country life at that time, were much sought after by the Victorians.

Most of the gardens from this period were designed in an earlier age but were remodelled throughout the 19th century. Here are some examples:-

Claremont: extensive pleasure gardens and park surrounding a country mansion originally designed by Sir John Vanbrugh but remodelled in the early 19th century. Highlights are a superb serpentine lake, an amphitheatre and a belvedere (a raised gallery or summer house for viewing).

Wotton House: home of John Evelyn’s family for many years, but now a hotel, was the first Italian garden in this country with extensive alterations in early to mid 19th century. Thirteen acres of eccentric formal gardens containing extravagant features such as temples, grottoes, waterfalls and various follies.

Munstead Wood: late 19th century garden, one of many created by Gertrude Jekyll, probably the most famous of all the Arts & Crafts gardeners, full of colourful roses, pergolas and lily ponds. She is especially known for her ability to showcase plants to the best of their advantage by colour, texture and shape according to the season.

Thus the formal style that we associate with the Victorians, in both their elaborate and richly adorned houses and dress and in their love of brightly coloured flowers, was reflected in gardens such as these. The introduction of plants from every continent and climate all helped to increase their knowledge of plant breeding and, together with meticulous garden design, they were able to create the gardens which we still see and admire today.

Virginia Turner