William Bray (1736-1832) of Shere was solicitor to many county families, steward of Surrey manors, treasurer of charities and an indefatigable antiquary. As such he was uniquely qualified for the task of sorting through Owen Mannings notes for a county history and seeing the work through to publication. Manning had recognised Bray as an ideal partner in his project in 1767 when Bray first wrote to ask him about his work. The two men worked closely together, swapping research notes and engaging the help of other Surrey antiquaries, such as William Bryant and Ambrose Glover of Reigate, George Hardinge of Kingston and the Rev Richard Penneck of Abinger, who was Keeper of the Reading Room at the British Museum.
When Manning died in 1801 his papers passed to Richard Gough of Enfield who urged Bray, now nearly seventy, to complete the work. Bray had already published several antiquarian works, including a history of Henry Smiths charity in 1800, and had also contributed many articles to the ‘Gentlemans Magazine’.
Bray took up the project with characteristic energy and enthusiasm. During the next thirteen years he visited all but two of the countys churches, researched extensively through local and national records and excavated historic sites with other Surrey antiquaries.
William Bray kept a daily diary for much of his long life. Those for the period 1801-1814 chronicle his work on the history of Surrey. On Saturday 30 July 1808, a pleasant day with flying clouds, he rode to Walton Heath with Ambrose Glover and dug for Antiquities, till near 5. The same page shows that he kept in regular touch with Owen Mannings widow, drinking tea with her on Tuesday 26 July and meeting her again on Sunday.
The three volumes of ‘The History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey’ were published between 1804 and 1814 and remain the basic printed source for Surrey historians today.
Brays success as a solicitor and antiquary owed as much to his personality as it did to his energy and ability. He was Treasurer of the Society of Antiquaries, 1803-1823 and, after completing Owen Mannings history of Surrey, was the first to transcribe and publish the diary and writings of John Evelyn. He also identified and arranged many of the Loseley manuscripts. In 1761, through the patronage of a later John Evelyn, he became a clerk of the Board of Green Cloth, a department of the royal household.
Read Julian Pooley’s article – Owen Manning, William Bray and the writing of Surrey’s county history, 1760-1832 in the Surrey Archaeological Collections, Volume 92, 2005.