Sources for Epsom and Ewell History
Sources for Epsom
and Ewell History

Title Page
Brayley Books

Surrey is fortunate in having not one, but two county histories. The first was The History and Antiquities of Surrey, brought out between 1804 and 1814 by Owen Manning and William Bray. Then, within a surprisingly short time, there came A Topographical History of Surrey, the work of Edward Brayley, with the assistance of John Britton and published between 1841 and 1848 by Tilt & Bogue. This also contains valuable material on Epsom and Ewell, which can be found here:


Though the two histories are so close in date, they represent very different ways of approaching the past. The physical size of the two works gives a clue: Manning and Bray brought theirs out in ponderous folio volumes, suitable for consulting on a library table, while Brayley's was a small quarto which could be read more like a novel. Manning and Bray laboured over forty years to trace the descent of manors and parishes. Brayley, who worked on a much quicker timescale, was more interested in people and places. This reflects not just a difference in personality but a real social change. The 1820s and 30s had seen the rise of an enfranchised middle class, a new audience who were interested in history – and they wanted their history to be interesting.

Edward Wedlake Brayley was born in 1773 to an working-class family in Lambeth. He served his apprenticeship with an enameller, but being a bookish young man he determined to make a living as a writer. His break came when he met John Britton, a teenager from Wiltshire whose parents had died and who was making a living in London helping in pubs, working for lawyers and singing at a theatre. Later, when he had become an eminent antiquary and published an autobiography, Britton said that it was Brayley to whom 'I am more indebted for literary acquirements and literary practice than to any other person'. After a few false starts the friends hit on the idea of a popular topographical series covering the whole country, to be called The Beauties of England and Wales. They worked together on the project from 1800, starting at Bedfordshire and getting up to Herefordshire as joint authors. Brayley brought out the London volume in 1810, after which the series was farmed out to other authors.

The format for the Beauties was much the same as that followed by Brayley later on in his Surrey; a local history, illustrated by engravings, paying particular attention to places that the tourist might like to visit. The research was done from secondary printed sources rather than manuscripts, although that didn't mean it was easy. Britton, speaking for both of them, wrote that 'I found it essentially necessary to read a variety of books which were previously unknown to me; and whose language, style, and matter, frequently were almost as unintelligible as if couched in Greek. Embarked in the undertaking, I studied diligently; sought the company, conversation, and advice of authors, particularly such as had written on topography and antiquities; and embraced the earliest opportunity to travel to different places, and obtain introductions to persons likely to enlighten and aid me'.

Authors and publishers of the elder generation – including John Nicholls and Richard Gough, who had worked with Manning and Bray – became first mentors, then colleagues, and finally friends. But local history was still hard to access. Feudal tenure and ecclesiastical canons, the daily business of a lawyer like Bray, were forbidding stuff for a young man from an artisan background. Consciously or not, the gentry and professional classes had placed barriers around the history of their manors and estates - barriers not just of legal jargon, but even of access to the books themselves, since these were published in expensive runs for the country-house market. Both Britton and Brayley made a habit of buying the more expensive works, taking all the notes they needed, and then selling them on again via their network of publishers.

But by the 1840s Brayley was able to summarise and interpret the older work on Surrey with ease, and then add to it the material which interests us today – his first-hand accounts of historical houses and properties. Presumably these were supplied by the owners or other interested parties; Henry Pownall contributed the section on St. Martin's church from his book, while the details of the Grandstand are likely to have come from Henry Dorling, and the account of Nonsuch Mansion House and grounds (complete with meticulous measurements of the trees there) is evidently the work of Captain W.F.G. Farmer. The Topographical History was conceived as a supplement to Manning & Bray, rather than a replacement for it; some information, such as the lists of parish clergy, is given only from 1814 onwards.

When the Surrey history was published, Brayley was credited as author but he acknowledged the help of his old friend Britton, as well as his son, Edward William Brayley, who went on to become a popular scientific author in his own right. The illustrations were the responsibility of Thomas Allom, who made the original sketches of buildings (several of these are now at Surrey History Centre, SHC 8582) and handed them over to his engraver, Matthew James Starling.

The Topographical History of Surrey soon became as respected as its predecessor, and forty years later it was seen to be in need of updating. Between 1878 and 1881 Virtue & Co. brought out a new edition, revised by Edward Walford, author of Village London as well as other genealogical and antiquarian works. When compared to Brayley's original plan, Walford's emendations are disappointing: he leaves out much interesting contemporary detail (such as the garrotting of Baron le Tessier's gamekeeper) and adds very little apart from noting who was currently living in the great houses of the neighbourhood. However, as this information can sometimes be useful, it has been included in the main text, marked off by square brackets.

Otherwise the text presented here replicates, as best we can, the early Victorian presentation and punctuation of the original, except that footnotes have been turned into endnotes, and Brayley's own square brackets have been doubled to avoid confusion with the inserted passages from Walford.

Jeremy Harte January 2014

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