Surrey Heritage talks and tours

A list of illustrated talks, guided visits and activities offered by Surrey History Centre

Surrey History Centre staff are happy to visit local societies and groups to talk about the work we do. We are also pleased to give online talks via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other platforms, wherever you are.

Please contact Julian Pooley (Public Services and Engagement Manager) on 01483 518737 or if you wish to discuss booking a talk. The current fee for outside talks is £80 plus travel expenses. We are also happy to host 'Talks with Tea' for groups at Surrey History Centre during office hours for up to 30 people at £6 per head. A list of talks currently available is given below. All talks are illustrated and last for between 45 minutes and 1 hour. Please note that some talks are available during office hours only.

Preserving the Past for the Future: the work of Surrey History Centre

Surrey History Centre holds over a million manuscripts, maps, engravings and drawings recording Surrey's history from the middle ages to the digital age. This talk describes the work we do in locating, preserving and making this wonderful range of information accessible to anyone interested in the history of our county.

A Burden on the Parish: sources for the history of Poor Relief in Surrey

This talk discusses the range of sources for the history of poor relief in Surrey from the sixteenth century to the eve of the Second World War. Parish records, family papers, quarter sessions records, charity and business papers, early printed sources and even illustrations can all provide vivid insights into the plight of the poor and the duties of those responsible for helping them.

Beginning your Family History

Recent years have seen a huge growth of interest in the studying of family history, and many people are keen to begin their research but not quite sure where to start. Researching your family history is a bit like writing your own detective story and getting started is really just getting yourself a bit organised and working out the plot. This talk aims to take you step by step through the basics of family history, where to start, what to do and most important, how you can get help and advice on what is bound to prove an exciting project. It will also include lots of time (and money) saving tips and ideas, and outline some of the ways to store and present your research. This is 'Who Do You Think You Are?' for everyone!

Who Do You Think They Were? Discovering the lives and experiences of our ancestors

This talk discusses the amazing variety of sources that can be used to build up a picture of the past lives and experiences of our ancestors. Early illustrations, poor law papers, sessions rolls, records of institutions, personal letters and diaries can all tell us a great deal about what it was like to live in Surrey in the past. They vividly show the impact upon family life of illness and poverty and bear witness to the experiences of petty criminals, the insane or the vulnerable. These precious details help to bring family and local history to life.

To the Manor Born: an introduction to manorial records for family historians

When we talk about manors and manorial courts, we tend to think of a large country estate with the Lord of the Manor presiding over his lands in a despotic, albeit slightly avuncular, way. Whilst there is a certain amount of truth in this ideal, the actual was a lot less romantic and more prosaic. This talk introduces us to the manorial system, how that system worked, the documents it generated and how these records can be used by the local and family historian. Please note: This talk also forms part of the introduction to the four week palaeography course, Keeping it in the Family.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Sources for the history of Surrey's mental hospitals, 1770 to circa 1990

Was your ancestor in a Surrey asylum? This talk traces the history of the care of people living with mental illness or learning disability in Surrey from the 18th century through to the 1990s. Using the records of Surrey's earliest private asylums , county institutions at Springfield, Brookwood and Netherne, charitable foundations like Royal Earlswood and Holloway Sanatorium and the 'Epsom Cluster' of Horton, Long Grove, The Manor, St Ebba's and West Park, it tells the story of mental health care in Surrey, uses medical records to uncover the hidden stories of patients and the care regime they experienced and draws on photographs, and other records rescued when these vast hospitals finally closed to explore daily life in a psychiatric institution over the course of three centuries.

Richard III in Surrey: a drama in four acts

England's most controversial king is not normally associated with Surrey. This talk explores how the dramatic events of his reign affected the county and its leaders, drawing on Surrey's experiences to shed light on the reasons for his downfall.

Artists, Antiquaries and Collectors: illustrations of Surrey collected by Robert Barclay of Bury Hill, Dorking, circa 1800

The late eighteenth century witnessed a craze among antiquaries and gentlemen collectors for collecting engravings and portraits to bind into published works of local history. Robert Barclay's collection of over 2000 prints, watercolours and drawings, compiled to illustrate his copy of Manning and Bray's History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey (1804 to 1814) includes over 500 original watercolours of Surrey buildings by John and Edward Hassell, John Carter and Henry de Cort, which reflect the opposing contemporary tastes for picturesque views and antiquarian precision.

Owen Manning, William Bray and the writing of Surrey's county history, 1760 to 1832

Manning and Bray's History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey took more than forty years to research and thirteen to publish. Though acknowledged as one of the finest county histories of its day, its production was fraught with difficulties. The papers of those involved testify to the support given by a national network of antiquaries. This paper, drawing on the rich archive materials of Manning and Bray, the antiquary Richard Gough and the printer, John Nichols, charts the research and production of a county history which remains a basic tool for students of Surrey's past.

The Gentleman's Magazine: a panorama of Georgian Surrey for local and family historians

Founded in 1731, The Gentleman's Magazine was the world's first magazine, reporting domestic and foreign news, announcing the latest discoveries in science, medicine and technology, reviewing books and recording freak weather, births, marriages and military promotions. Its obituaries of the deceased laid the foundation for the later Dictionary of National Biography and are a major source for the lives and deaths of thousands of 18th century people. This talk provides an introduction to the magazine, explores its value for family and local historians and uncovers hidden stories of Surrey people and the county's history throughout the Georgian period.

A Tudor Gentleman of Surrey: Sir William More of Loseley

Sir William More, builder of Loseley Park, was a friend of many of the great figures of the Elizabethan court and a trusted servant of the Queen herself. He was a participant in the dramas of the Reformation, the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and the Spanish Armada, and his surviving papers document his life in compelling detail.

Netherne, circa 1959: a Surrey mental hospital in focus

Netherne Mental Hospital, Coulsdon, was opened by Surrey County Council in 1909. Initially accommodating 960 patients, by 1950 numbers had increased to 2,000. The hospital closed in 1994. The surviving archive, now preserved at Surrey History Centre, includes 19,500 patient case files and around 10,000 photographs taken circa 1955, exploring all aspects of the hospital's life. From the wards to the airing courts; the art therapy unit to the operating table, these vivid images provide a rare glimpse of daily life inside a Surrey psychiatric hospital, allowing us to take a tour of the hospital on a typical day at what was a turning point in its history.

John Evelyn in Surrey

The talk discusses the diarist, virtuoso and horticulturalist John Evelyn (1620 to 1706), born in Surrey to a family made wealthy through the early English gunpowder industry. Evelyn's diary, covering circa 1643 to 1706, is what now makes him famous, and since its first publication by William Bray, the Surrey antiquary, in the early 19th century, it has been a key source for 17th century scholars and local historians of Surrey.

The Most Wretched Man in the World: the lives and loves of the 5th Viscount Midleton

This talk traces the stormy life of George Brodrick (1806 to 1848), 5th Viscount Midleton, who married scandalously, patronised the great Catholic architect Augustus Pugin at Peper Harow, near Godalming, saw his Irish estates ravaged by the Irish potato famine, and finally committed suicide.

Aladdin's Cave: some major family and estate archives in Surrey History Centre

What do a map of the St Germains Estate in St Albans, drawn in 1637, an eyewitness account of a dinner with a grumpy Duke of Wellington in 1849, a season ticket for the Great Exhibition of 1851, a propaganda pamphlet by Joseph Goebbels, glass slides of beheaded Turkish soldiers and a lock of hair of Napoleon's niece have in common? They are part of a Surrey family's archive held by Surrey History Centre and vividly show the extraordinary variety and unexpected content that can be found in many family archives. This talk takes us on a journey through some of our leading family and estate collections, discussing the extraordinary histories behind them, the sheer luck that they survived at all and highlighting some of the unexpected riches they contain.

Corsets and Cameras: 19th century costume for dating old photographs

An introduction to the history of late 19th and early 20th century fashion, with particular emphasis on the change in women's costume through the years 1860 to 1920. The talk gives tips and techniques to use when dating or identifying old photographs or drawings, along with hints on how to avoid some of the pitfalls that may be encountered. A useful handout will be provided which includes a list of books and websites to use for further reference.

Gertrude Jekyll, gardener and craftswoman

Gertrude Jekyll (1843 to 1932) was not just a gardener. She was an artist, photographer, designer and social historian whose work was highly regarded by her contemporaries and whose influence is still felt today. This talk provides a brief overview of her life and achievements, discusses the wide range of materials relating to Gertrude Jekyll that are held by Surrey History Centre and explains how to use them and other archive and local studies materials we hold to uncover the history of gardening in Surrey.

Planting Ideas: sources for the history of gardening in Surrey

This illustrated talk explores the wide range of sources held by Surrey History Centre that can be used to study the history of Surrey's gardens – ordnance survey maps, tithe and enclosure maps, charity records, deeds, estate plans, sale particulars, family papers, photograph albums, business and society records, watercolours and engravings can all be used to uncover the history of garden design, planting and the skills of Surrey's gardeners over some seven centuries.

Discovering the Story of your Home

Every house has a history. Whether it is a cottage in the Surrey Hills, a terraced house in a large town or a semi-detached in suburbia, there will be a story to tell about the land it is built upon, the builders who constructed it, changes to its shape and fabric by later extensions and renovations and the diverse families and people who have lived it – some for generations, others for just a couple of years. Anyone who has enjoyed watching David Olusoga's recent fascinating studies of individual houses in Bristol and Leeds in the series 'A House Through Time' will have wondered what stories about their own homes might be discovered through similarly forensic archival research. This talk discusses some of the many sources that we hold at Surrey History Centre that will start you off on that journey.

James Henry Pullen (1835 to 1916) and the Royal Earlswood Asylum for Idiots, Redhill

Dr Andrew Reed's pioneering 'Asylum for Idiots' was founded in Highgate in 1847 and moved to its permanent home, the Royal Earlswood Asylum Redhill, in 1855. The charity aimed 'to take the Idiot and Imbecile under its care, [and] by skilful and earnest application of the best means in his education, to prepare him, as far as possible, for the duties and enjoyments of life'. James Henry Pullen, very deaf and unable to communicate easily, was admitted in 1850. He became known as an 'idiot savant' for his extraordinary skills as an artist, craftsman and modelmaker. This talk uses the surviving archives of Earlswood Asylum to explore its early history and the life and work of its most famous patient.

Where there's a Will…!

Whilst there is no getting around the fact that not everyone left wills, they can still be a wonderful resource for genealogical research and provide a fascinating window into our ancestors' past. This talk looks at wills and probate records – primarily to establish what type of records they are, where they might be found and most importantly, what can they tell a keen family and local historian. Please note: This talk forms a small part of our four week 'Keeping it in the Family' palaeography course.

Making Archives Matter

The ways in which people use archives are changing. Alongside our work to rescue, preserve and make accessible archives charting nine hundred years of Surrey's history, we are constantly exploring new ways to make archives and history relevant and accessible to people in new and imaginative ways. This talk discusses the challenges of using mental health records for research and highlights our award-winning work with mental health, disability and dementia groups to enrich lives through the materials of the past. It shows how we use HLF funding to blend traditional archive work with innovative outreach activities and how we work with different communities to ensure the county's diversity is reflected in the archive for present and future generations. It also highlights how we work with volunteers to enhance and improve access to our collections.

Life and Labour in a County Village: or learn to love your Ag Labs!

A talk based on a study of a rural village on the Surrey/Hampshire border which reveals the often hidden lives of agricultural workers in the latter half of the 19th century. The talk focuses on the changes to agricultural life in general during this period, and also how these changes affected individuals and small communities. It also explores some of the many sources that can be used to discover more about agricultural labourers up to the outbreak of the First World War.

A Guildford Gazette Extraordinary: an introduction to the archives of Lewis Carroll at Surrey History Centre

Guildford and its environs were a part of Lewis Carroll's private and family life for 30 years, and he is buried there, in the Mount Cemetery. The Lewis Carroll collections now at Surrey History Centre are a focal point for the study of the man and his life, and this talk gives a brief history of his connections with the county, the evolution of the collections and some of the strengths of our holdings.

Fashion and Folly

This talk focuses on the alarming and bizarre things that people have done over the years to enhance their beauty and be regarded as fashionable. It may surprise you to know just how dangerous our ancestors' clothes and makeup were and the extraordinary lengths they were prepared to go to just be à la mode. Let this be a cautionary warning from history! This talk is available during office hours only.

Let the Road Rise to Meet You: tracing your Irish ancestors

This talk offers practical advice as to where to find information on sources for Irish genealogical research, both in the UK and Ireland. It will offer tips and techniques to using the many resources offered online, help tackle some of the problems that might be encountered but also address some of the myths that have grown up regarding Irish genealogical research. This talk is available during office hours only.

Land of My Father's Father: tracing your Welsh ancestors

Croeso! Tracing Welsh ancestry has its own set of specialist research techniques and this talk will concentrate on where to find valuable resources, what can be found online and how to tackle any unique challenges associated with researching in Wales. This talk is available during office hours only.

Maps for Local Historians

Maps are an important but often overlooked resource for family historians. This talk explores how maps can enhance our understanding of a local area and also shed light on the places where our ancestors lived their daily lives. It will show what can be found in local libraries and record offices and also what is available online. It will also explore some practical aspects of using different sources alongside maps to explore where and how our ancestors lived and hopefully help us to walk in their footsteps

The Book That Changed My Life

This talk tells the story of how the purchase of an anonymous pocket diary in a London bookshop led Julian Pooley to discover extensive and previously unknown archives of John Nichols (1745 to 1826). Nichols was one of Georgian London's most prominent printers and a leading antiquary whose History and Antiquities of the Town and County of Leicester 4 vols (1795 to 1815) transformed the way that English local history was written and illustrated. For three generations he and his family edited and printed the Gentleman's Magazine. The vast archive of family and business papers which he and his successors accumulated inspired his granddaughter to form her own collection of autograph letters, augmented by exchange with other collectors and by purchases in the London and Paris salerooms. This internationally significant collection, which includes many documents relating to Surrey, is now part of the 20,000 Nichols papers calendared and accessible via the Nichols Archive Database which is available via appointment at Surrey History Centre.

Find it, File it and Find it Again!

As family historians know (or will soon come to realise!) genealogical research can generate a huge amount of information, documentation and, if we are lucky, some very precious family archives. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of these resources, and this talk aims to help you arrange, file and store your family history archives and records. With useful hints and practical suggestions you will soon be able to organise (and more importantly) find your sources again!

The Secret Marriage of John Donne, and Connected Lives in Jacobean Surrey and beyond

'John Donne, Anne Donne, undone!': Metaphysical poet John Donne secretly married the young Anne More of Loseley in 1601, and was briefly imprisoned for it, on the instigation of her father Sir George More. This talk looks at some of the archive evidence of the story which survived in the Loseley manuscripts and elsewhere, and explores some of the connections between its participants in the early 17th century.

Magna Carta, Runnymede and All That

One of the most famous events in English history took place on an obscure Thameside Surrey meadow in June 2015 when an angry king John was forced by his equally angry barons to accept limits on his power. This illustrated talk explores the background to Magna Carta, what happened afterwards and the later histories of the great charter and the place where it happened.

Paupers, Beggars, Criminals and Aspiring Gentlemen: Georgian Society Preserved in Print, 1731-1820

The closely printed pages of each monthly issue of the Gentleman's Magazine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries provide a snapshot of Georgian and Victorian society. The rich, the aspiring, the ordinary, the eccentric all jostle for space alongside artisans, tradesmen, shopkeepers, clergy, criminals, paupers and beggars. Every column inch of print provides vital details for our family trees, but also preserves precious insights into the everyday world of our ancestors, allowing us to glimpse the lives, aspirations, personalities and characters of our ancestors, and the communities they formed part of two centuries ago.

Portrait of a Surrey town between the wars: the photographic archive of Sidney Francis

Jill Hyams and Jane Lewis share fascinating stories of people, places, events and activities captured by a Surrey photographer in the interwar years. Learn more about their discoveries and the value of photographs in researching your own family and local history.

Online Family History Workshops

The following workshops, led by Jane Lewis, a professional genealogist, last for two hours with a short break in the middle. They allow plenty of time for asking questions, sharing ideas and exploring the topics in detail. The cost of each workshop is £150 for a group of up to fifteen people:

  • Family History Online
    A workshop devoted to tips and techniques for exploring your family history using the many and varied sources available online. In addition to learning more about the large commercial websites such as and Find My Past, we will also include information on using the Family Search website and hopefully introduce you to many wonderful free websites. We will also touch on how to share your information online and keep it secure.
  • Beginning Your Family History
    This is Who Do You Think You Are for everyone! This talk aims to take you step by step through the basics of family history, where to start, what to do and most importantly, how you can get help and advice on what is bound to prove an exciting project. It will also include lots of time (and money) saving tips and ideas, and outline some of the ways to store and present your research. This talk is similar to week 1 on the 6 week Family History Course.
  • Researching Your Irish Family History
    A talk devoted to exploring sources and resources for Irish family history. We will cover most aspects of Irish genealogical research, including the recent publication of online Irish records, and there will be a Q&A session along with plenty of opportunities for discussion. There will also be a bibliography and list of useful websites.
  • An Introduction to Family History
    This covers all the basics, with tips for navigating the major family history websites, hints on how to record and store your research, and exploration of some valuable but less-known sources.
  • Crofts, Castles, Trades and Professions
    Explore available resources that show what our ancestors did and how they earned their living. Learn how to use maps, local directories, rate books and more to explore the homes and places where your ancestors lived.
  • Schools and Workhouses
    Find out more about the records of schools, orphanages, universities and colleges, and the information they contain. Learn more about the Poor Law and the work-house, and why it was such an important part of our ancestors' lives.
  • Fighting Talk: An Introduction to Military Records
    Discover the sources we can use to trace our ancestors who served in the army, navy and air force. What can we expect to find and where can we find First and Second World War and earlier records.
  • Mad, Bad and Sometimes Sad
    Was your ancestor in prison or in an asylum? Discover the records of hospitals and asylums, prisons, courts and institutions such as industrial schools. Examine access to sensitive records and the implications of the Data Protection and Freedom of Information acts.
  • Moving On: Immigration, Emigration and Transportation
    Discover why (and how) our ancestors emigrated and the records we can use to trace their journeys and new lives. Explore immigration records, and learn about techniques and resources for overseas research, including Ireland and mainland Europe.

Do you have a visual impairment?

We are also pleased to offer a talk about the work of Surrey History Centre aimed at those with visual impairments. Examples of early papers, parchments, wax seals for example are brought along for tactile demonstrations. Please ask for further information.

Tours and group visits

Tour behind the scenes at Surrey History Centre

Join us on a tour behind the scenes, exploring our archive rescue, cleaning and sorting areas, the conservation laboratory, packaging room, strong room and Surrey County Archaeological Unit. Tours take an hour and a half and cost £100 for a group of up to 12 people. To book, email

Tea and Talk afternoons

Most of the talks that we offer can be delivered at Surrey History Centre for your group. Places are limited to 30 people and cost £6.00 per person. The events run from 2.00 to 4.30 and include tea and cakes, the talk of your choice, the opportunity to ask the speaker questions and a visit to our search room to see a display of archives and local studies material from our collections related to the talk. Please email for further information.

Group workshops

Local groups are also welcome to visit us for the following specialist workshop:

Reading Old Handwriting: Palaeography Workshop

This two hour introductory session with archivists will help you read 16th and 17th century handwriting. You will have the chance to practise reading from copies of items held in the archive. Aimed at beginners and those wishing to brush up their skills.
Limited to 15 people. £20 per person.

To arrange a workshop for your group, please email us at

Files available to download

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