County histories are the foundation of English local studies, and Surrey has one of the best in the three volumes of The History and Antiquities of Surrey by Manning and Bray, published between 1804 and 1814. Ewell features in the first volume, Cuddington and Epsom in the second. It's a book from an age which was not just pre-digital, but without record offices, photography or even maps; a world in which the only way of recording historic data was to copy them with a quill pen or sketch them on a drawing-board. And yet the work was done so well that it remains a basic source for Surrey history. 'Their general accuracy is wonderful', wrote the editor of the Victoria County History a century after Manning and Bray was published; and a hundred years further on, his judgement still stands.
The two authors came to local history by different paths. Owen Manning was born in Northamptonshire in 1721 and went to Queen's College, Cambridge, where he became a fellow. Originally a scholar of Old English (he was the first person to publish King Alfred's will) he took an interest in Surrey from 1760, when the college presented him to the rectory of Chiddingfold. But he didn't become serious about writing a Surrey history until 1763, when he became vicar of Godalming and took up residence in the town, where he was to remain until his death.
It was common for clergymen to write county histories - partly because they came to the job with the necessary skills in Latin and palaeography, but partly also as a way of keeping up an intellectual life once they'd gone down from university and found themselves in a rustic parish. Godalming was a busy country town but even so Manning must have welcomed a project which gave him links with a wider scholarly world. The antiquarian tradition, which was in its full strength at the time, had come into being as a measured, rational overhaul of what had previously passed for history. Traditional histories had often been exercises in rhetoric and prejudice at the expense of facts. Antiquarianism, by contrast, involved the transcription and summary of documentary sources without selection or personal judgement. It was hard work, but the sense of achievement was palpable.
Like other intellectual movements, antiquarianism had its movers and fixers, and foremost among these was Richard Gough. He didn't publish much himself, but he was tireless in getting other people's work through the press. He had an ally in the printer John Nichols and the publisher John White. Between them they had the experience, and the financial stability, to get massive multi-volume folios through the press and sell them.
By 1767, Manning had announced his intention of writing a county history, although there was already something of the kind in print. This was The Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey, brought out in 1718-19 under the name of John Aubrey, but really a publisher's posthumous compilation based on notes which Aubrey had made decades before. He was a brilliant observer of people and places, and the first field archaeologist in England, but he didn't have the patience for archival research. When it came to a documentary history of Surrey, Manning was starting from scratch.
News of the proposed work soon got around, and in 1767 he received an offer of help from William Bray of Shere. Manning must have been delighted: this was the voice of old Surrey speaking, for there had been Brays at Shere since the days of Henry VII. William was born there in 1736, and it remained his home until he died, although he also had a lawyer's practice in London. In an age full of disputes over manorial and ecclesiastical rights, Bray found that his legal and antiquarian interests combined easily. He could spend days at work searching through old evidences for the rights of his clients - many of whom were also his distant relatives - and make his own historical notes along the way.
The two men got on well, and soon there was a regular correspondence between Godalming and Shere. Manning was elected to the Society of Antiquaries in 1770, widening his field of support. Meanwhile Richard Gough hovered in the wings, supplying transcripts of inaccessible documents and circulating details of archaeological discoveries. At one point he even offered to find a curate for St. Peter & Paul's at Godalming, so that Manning wouldn't be distracted from research by having to do his day job. The offer wasn't taken up, but it reflected a real problem. As the standards of research advanced, the writing of a county history was becoming too much for one person to handle. Work on Surrey had been in progress for thirty years, and the materials were still nowhere near a final draft. Then, in 1796, everything collapsed. Manning had lost his sight.
The next few years, up until Manning's death in 1801, were taken up by negotiations over the future of the manuscript. There was to be as little delay as possible. Immediately after his friend's funeral, William Bray wrote to Nichols 'if my poor services could be of any use to you... I need not say that you may readily command them'. He might have not been so ready if he had known what he was taking on. Manning's introduction was ready for the press, as was his section on Domesday; but for the main part of the book, only five parishes had been completed. The rest, as Bray tactfully expressed it, 'consisted in notes, put down as they occurred; and a reference to the original Records was necessary in many cases'. In other words, a lot of the work had to be done all over again.
It was Bray's legal background that saved the project. As he himself said, 'the qualifications... are, industry in searching for Records and papers, patience in examining, and accuracy in extracting them'; he could have added that, as a trusted advisor to many local families, he had easy access to the county's old houses as well as its archives. He made a point of visiting every church for himself, as well as keeping up with the growing pace of archaeological discovery. The first volume of The History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey was published in 1804, the second in 1809 (delayed by a year after a disastrous fire at the publisher's), and the third in 1814. Work on sources and citations continued right through the proof stage, in a triangular correspondence between Bray, Gough and John Bowyer Nichols (who had taken over from his father); the last-minute additions are bracketed in the final text by asterisks.
And what does this long production story mean for us, using Manning & Bray as a source today? Well, first and most important, it resulted in a book with the conventional structure of a county history: each section begins with the descent of the manor, followed by that of any subordinate manors that had been carved out of it. Then comes a description of the church building and its monuments; then a sequence of the rectors, and the vicars if there were any. At the end come details from the parish records. Other historical material - and it was hardly possible to ignore Nonsuch Palace, or Epsom Spa - had to be fitted into this framework wherever possible. So the social history of each village is presented very much through the eyes of the squire and the parson; which was hardly a coincidence, given that they were the people in the parish most likely to buy a copy.
But to be fair, this bias was inevitable given the nature of the documents available; before the Victorian revolution in indexing records, manorial and ecclesiastical archives were among the few sources that could be located for particular places. Where other material was available (and the description of Nonsuch owed much to the discovery of tudor family papers) they were used to the full. And over the fifty-year production period of Manning & Bray, a gradual shift of emphasis was taking place. You can see this in the entry for Ewell, which appeared in volume 1 and so is predominantly Manning's work: he followed the order of properties in Domesday, not their geographical location, which is why Ewell is a hundred pages away from its neighbouring parishes. Manning was born only ten years before than his friend, but he kept up some old-fashioned quirks - for instance, spelling manor as maner - which were abandoned by Bray in later volumes. Like the good Anglo-Saxon scholar that he was, Manning is interested in the etymology of place-names, using a special font to print the Old English words; Bray disregarded all this. And Manning is much more ready to discuss his sources. He explains that Domesday villain are 'what we should now call Copyholders' while bordarii 'were a kind of out-of-door Servants'. By contrast Bray, in a note four or five pages later, refers cursorily to a 1394/5 grant of 'lands, rents, services, wards, marriages, heriots, reliefs, escheats, &c', and if you didn't know what a relief or an escheat was, well, that was your problem. He was, after all, a man in a hurry - 68 years old when volume 1 went through the press, and with no way of knowing that in the end he'd live long after the publication of the last appendix and die at the satisfactorily antiquarian age of 96.
But Bray's real achievement appears at the end of the section on Ewell, after the ecclesiastical details, where he suddenly enlarges the scope of historical enquiry with what were virtually contemporary documents - the 1786 Returns of the Overseers of the Poor, the Enclosure Act, and even the 1801 census, which had only just happened. There is a detailed account of village charities beginning with the report submitted by Henry Kitchen II and William Jubb - 'this inaccurate and slovenly return' which rashly listed 'marrying old Maids' as one of the purposes of Smith's Charity. 'This was perhaps intended for wit' sniffs Bray in a footnote. The corresponding return for Epsom was much better kept, under the controlling hand of Jonathan Boucher the vicar, but he ends with regret that some payments are in arrears 'from Mr. William Bray, Attorney at Law'. Regardless of compositor's expenses, Bray rebounds with another additional footnote - 'If any enquiry had been made, full information would have been given'. Clearly you didn't mess with William Bray - Antiquary or Attorney. But it was this tireless energy and attention to detail which not only made The History and Antiquities of Surrey a leading example of its type, but also opened the possibility of new historical worlds.
Julian Pooley, 'Owen Manning, William Bray and the writing of Surrey's county history, 1760-1832', Surrey Arch. Coll. 92 (2005) pp91-123.
Text by Jeremy Harte
The sections of The History and Antiquities of Surrey covering the local area have been turned into three .pdf files, one per parish, with the relevant additions and corrections at the end of each file. Please be aware that the files are large and range in size from 11 to 24 megabytes so depending on your internet connection may take a few minutes to download and open. The files are searchable, by pressing the Ctrl + F keys at the same time, but the search is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate.