Owen Manning (1721-1801) was born in Northamptonshire and educated at Queens College, Cambridge. He was rector of Chiddingfold between 1760 and 1768, vicar of Godalming from 1763 and rector of Peper Harow from 1769. Already well-known as an antiquary and pioneer of Anglo-Saxon studies, Manning brought his linguistic skills to the history of Surrey. His revolutionary intention was to begin with Domesday Book and trace the history of each estate to the present day. He commissioned the first facsimile engraving of Domesday Book and, by the time of his death in 1801, had gathered together a mass of historical notes and transcriptions. Although assisted and encouraged by a large network of antiquaries, Manning never felt ready to publish. Furthermore, his blindness from 1796 and death in 1801 placed the completion of his work in jeopardy. His collaborator William Bray accepted the task of completing the work.
As solicitor to many Surrey families, William Bray had access to documents vital for tracing the history of properties and the families who owned them. Letters by Owen Manning show how closely the two men worked together, exchanging information, documents and good-humour. On 28 January 1779 Manning teased Bray that,
‘In making out your pedigree I have been so exceedingly plagued by my Lady Magdalen Bray, that, if she was not a relation of yours I should be very angry with her… I hope you will not suspect me of a studious design to dishonour Sir Reginald, by making out that his Lady was a Hussey, and of the family of Black-Legs’. (Surrey History Centre ref. G85/3/4/19-21)