Cultures and Communities

Contrary to popular belief, Surrey’s history is intertwined with cultural diversity. From encounters of the Surrey Regiments with diverse cultures around the world, to travellers from overseas passing through Surrey from Portsmouth to London, people from many different communities have made Surrey their home over the centuries. Woking, in particular, has grown to be one of the most diverse towns in the South East region, with wonderfully varied cultures present and a huge number of different languages spoken by residents. The Italian and Chinese communities are especially well-established in Woking, along with Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri, all making the area their home for a variety of reasons.

The history of some ethnic minority and excluded communities is captured in the county’s local history, archives and archaeology. Surrey Heritage is committed to proactively collecting records of all Surrey’s communities. For over twenty years we have been revealing often uncomfortable and hidden histories from our archives in an effort to promote better awareness of the context of past injustices and discrimination. We will continue to promote and expand upon Surrey’s diverse stories on this website, which, allows everyone to enjoy the unique and important material in our care. Read on to discover some of the stories that have been researched.

If you have material relating to Surrey’s diverse communities we would very much like to hear from you. Please contact us at [email protected].

For an article by the Guildford Heritage Forum on Guildford and migration, see

Click on the images below to see larger copies.

Quentin Crisp (1908-1999). Author, actor and gay icon. Stately Homo book cover

Quentin Crisp, Author, actor and gay icon
Stately Homo book cover

Cultural diversity – a bibliography

Click here to download a list (pdf PDF ) of the books and periodicals in the library collection at Surrey History Centre. Further suggestions can be found in the community specific bibliographies: Roman Catholic Records, Sources for Jewish History and Gypsy, Romany and Traveller Bibliography. Other books can be found by searching the Surrey Libraries Virtual Library Catalogue.

The Migration Museum Project

The Migration Museum Project has created created the UK’s first dedicated space to explore how the movement of people to and from Britain across the ages has made us who we are – as individuals and as a nation. The museum tells this story in a fresh and engaging way, with workshops, exhibitions and community articles covering all aspect of migration to and from the UK, from Huguenots to Windrush, and C19th German refugees to South Asian economic migrants of the 1960s.

Portrait photograph of John Springfield, c. 1880s (Ref/1714/1)

Portrait of John Springfield, c. 1880s
(SHC ref 1714/1)

Black History

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people have lived in and travelled through Surrey for hundreds of years and appear in the county’s historical records from the sixteenth century. Through these records we can see the true diversity of the county’s inhabitants and glean an insight into the lives of Black people in Surrey over the centuries. Surrey was home to both freed and escaped slaves, slave owners and abolitionists, and our Black History pages reveal more about this hidden history with a fascinating series of case studies based on sources held at Surrey History Centre. You can also discover more about how to research Black History, trace BAME ancestors, and find out about Black History Month. Find out more.

The Surrey regiments around the world

Surrey History Centre holds the vast archive of The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment and its predecessors. The regiments served all over the world, in China, India, Africa, the Caribbean and the Far East. Click here to see a small sample of photographs from the archive of the Surrey Regiments which show the cultures encountered in China, Trinidad, and West Africa.

Click here to read about the regiments in India.

For over 200 years Gurkhas have been a part of Britain’s armed forces. Click here to find out more about Gurkhas in the archive of the Surrey Regiments.

Click on the images below to see larger copies.

Gipsies Camp Chobham Common, Surrey History Centre ref 6791/1/3 slide 3105

Gipsies Camp
Chobham Common, c.1890
(SHC ref 6791/1/3 slide 3105)

Gypsy, Romany, Traveller

Surrey’s travelling peoples have been here since the sixteenth century. Surrey History Centre holds a range of archives, photographs, and published works which illustrate the fact and fiction surrounding this community over the centuries. Find out more about this established Surrey community and discover Gypsy, Romany and Traveller family history.


Vietnamese Boat children 1978.

Vietnamese Boat children helped by the refugee charity Ockenden, 1978.

Surrey has a long history of receiving and welcoming refugees, from Huguenots escaping persecution in the 16th century to Belgian refugees in the First World War. Read about Surrey’s links with the Kindertransport, post-war Refugees helped by Ockenden International and the local residents and charities that have played an important role in helping refugees start a new life. Find out more here.

The Polish community in Surrey

Modezelan family documents from The Tweedsmuir Project archives (SHC ref 9196/1/2/- ;courtesy of The Tweedsmuir Project)

Modezelan family documents from The Tweedsmuir Project archives
(SHC ref 9196/1/2/-; courtesy of The Tweedsmuir Project)

There has been an established Polish presence in Surrey since the early twentieth century, with migrant workers finding their way to the county from London for employment, or setting up their own businesses. A large number of Poles, however, came to the UK during the Second World War either as servicemen in the Polish Allied Forces, refugees, or members of the Polish Resettlement Corps (PRC). Some notable Poles have made Surrey their home over the years, including the poet Marian Hemar. Find out more about the Polish community in Surrey.


Surrey has been home to a huge number of religious groups over the centuries, many of which have placed archives with Surrey History Centre. Read more about the following:

Click on the images below to see larger copies.

Dirk Bogarde (Cobblestone House sale particulars SHC ref SP/4080)

Dirk Bogarde (Cobblestone House sale particulars SHC ref SP/4080)


Surrey has many famous LGBTQ+ personalities who at one time made the county their home. Developing our LGBTQ+ library and archive collections helps us to reveal more stories of LGBTQ+ lives and raises awareness of their experience in Surrey. Working with LGBTQ+ organisations and individuals brings relevance to both our collections and our work in ensuring that this history is not lost.

Find out more about the history of Surrey’s LGBTQ+ community, including famous personalities, project news, current Surrey LGBTQ+ organisations, and how we celebrate LGBT+ History Month and IDAHOBIT (International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia).

Click here to see a pdf (pdf logo) copy of an LGBTQ+ bibliography listing a range of published works held at Surrey History Centre.

Disability and mental health

For a history of disability and mental health in Surrey see

To celebrate the handing over of the Paralympics from Beijing to London 2012, a small group from Surrey’s Riding for the Disabled (Samber RDA) met at Newlands Corner on 17th September 2008. Click here to read more.

Surrey had one of the largest number of asylums in the country. Surrey History Centre holds a vast collection of records for these institutions and the records are an indispensable source for not only studying the treatment of mental health but also architecture and family history. Find out more.

Brookwood Hospital female ward SHC Ref.3043 Box 4, 20, p.45

Brookwood Hospital female ward
SHC Ref.3043 Box 4, 20, p.45

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *