Page:VCH Surrey 1.djvu/394

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

A HISTORY OF SURREY Two possible traces of some early occupation of part of the county, and of West Saxon occupation of the western parts, may be added. The system of compact villages, as opposed to scattered hamlets, which Professor Maitland has taught us to see preserved on the face of the Ordnance Survey, 1 strikes the eye in Surrey in the country which stretches along the edge of the chalk downs from the Kentish frontier in the north-east away towards Guildford south-westward, and in the Thames valley ; less markedly in the land between them. This represents the country most easily accessible to people coming over the Thames and most attractive to them generally. The slopes of the chalk downs were open and dry, yet had springs of water, and were probably already cultivated by the provincial Britons. Over precisely this same tract of country the common fields are known to have still existed com- paratively recently, while there are very few traces of them elsewhere. Here in 24 places there were in Domesday 570 villam with ploughs. In 126 other places named in Domesday there were 1,812, an average of 23! to the former, of 14^ to the latter places. It is possible that here we have the original village settlements of the early inhabitants. In the county west of the Wey, or south of the chalk, in places separated from these former villages, with the one exception of Ockshot which lies more east, the suffix shot occurs in local names. Without discussing the meaning of the syllable, we may note that it is also common in the West Saxon lands in Berkshire and Hampshire, but uncommon elsewhere. The geographical position of Surrey is the key to its history, and its history is to be found in its roads. It was traversed by roads coming from every harbour, and converging upon London, from Southampton on the south-west to Richborough on the south-east, or by roads to the Roman bridge at Staines, Ad Pontes, and by the British trackway along the North Downs which later took the name of the Pilgrims' Way. This system of roads was of more ancient origin than London Bridge, perhaps than London itself. The absence of any great centre of population within the borders of Surrey, except in the outskirts of London, have caused its history to take a peculiar form. Its historical events are those concerning people or armies traversing its roads with the aim of reaching something beyond the county, not moving upon something in the county itself. It is a thoroughfare, with the all-important centre of the whole country, London, upon its borders, the old English capital of Winchester on one side of it, the Kentish ports and the ecclesiastical metropolis on the other. It also lies between the Sussex ports and the Thames valley. It is to London and the continent what the Megarid was to Athens and the Peloponnesus. Armies operated in Surrey because their bases and their objects were continually upon its opposite sides. After the establishment of the English people in Britain 300 years elapsed without any fresh invasion. 1 Dmetday Book and Beyond, p. 1 6. 330