Surrey Boundaries!

May 29, 20206:23 amLeave a Comment

Last year I was working away in the History Centre when a lovely American couple pitched up in reception with that excited and keen look on their faces which any family historian will recognise – yes, a follow enthusiast!

They were so delighted to be with us and yet we had to deliver them some fairly crushing news; the parish registers they wanted to see (Southwark) were not with us but with the London Metropolitan Archives.  Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence and I cannot stress too emphatically how important it is to check with the relevant repository that they do actually hold the records you need to see.  Archives and record offices around the country do their very best to hold the records relevant to that county but when boundaries and borders change, counties are abolished and new dioceses created, this can cause all sorts of problems in tracking down records – particularly in metropolitan areas, that is, around the big cities.

Now I’ve come across this problem with my Lancashire relatives and also those in Berkshire (who are now in Oxfordshire!) and my own birth will occasion problems for future generations as, so far, I was born in 3 different places, depending on when you look!

Therefore I thought we’d have a quick look at Surrey  – just to try and get a handle on how the county has changed over the years and what it means to family historians trying to work out what is where!

The county of Surrey has always been relatively prosperous.  Situated near to London it forms a highway to the important ports of Portsmouth and Southampton, and shares a direct conduit to the East Coast via the River Thames.  The major towns of Guildford, Reigate, Farnham, Dorking and many others supported a prosperous wool and iron trade but agriculture has always played a major part in its economic history.  Forming as it does a buffer between London and the coast, it’s not surprising that our Surrey ancestors did a fair bit of moving around!

Surrey County Boundaries 1889

Over the last 130 years or so, the ever expanding population and changes to local government administration have caused the county to change its boundaries from time to time, and these changes can make researching our Surrey ancestors a little confusing.  I’m not going to chart every single boundary change in the last 150 years but the main changes are important to note.

In 1889, Surrey lost to London the boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth and all the parishes they included.  They also lost small parts of what is now Lewisham and Bromley – namely parishes in the Penge and Deptford area.

The Lost Parishes included: Southwark, Bermondsey, Newington, Rotherhithe, Battersea, Clapham, Lambeth, Camberwell, Streatham and Tooting-Graveney.

There were further changes in 1965, when separate boroughs were created for Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Sutton and Richmond upon Thames.

Also in 1965, when the county of Middlesex was abolished, Surrey gained the borough of Spelthorne including the parishes of Staines, Stanwell, Ashford, Sunbury, Littleton, Halliford and Shepperton.

So what does this mean for the Surrey Family Historian?  Well, parish registers are usually stored in the record office or archive relevant to the diocese and county and therefore you may find that your parish records are held either at the London Metropolitan Archives (for those parishes lost to London in 1889 and those formerly in Middlesex which were in the Diocese of London) and Surrey History Centre for everything else.

Don’t despair!  There is a definitive guide to Surrey Parish Registers on our website at to help you find where the original parish registers are held.

The moral of this tale, to reiterate, is when in any doubt, please do not hesitate to email us and we will be happy to advise you further.  This advice also goes for any other record offices you might be wanting to visit – particularly when the county is blessed with two or more centres such as Suffolk or Yorkshire.

Watch my video about the changing boundaries of Surrey

The changing boundaries of Surrey and how to find records.Download a pdf (PDF) copy of a transcript for this video.

Keep safe and well and stay indoors if you can so that you can keep looking for all those ancestors.  Bye for now and Happy Researching!

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Written by Jane Lewis - Modified by ESP Admin

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