Naturally beautiful countryside, pretty villages and quaint towns made Surrey an attractive destination for London commuters and day-trippers alike. By 1914 however, the expansion of London, housing developments, an increase in motor vehicles and the growth of the railway meant that whilst some parts of Surrey remained rural with village greens, fields, farmhouses and mills, other parts were rapidly changing with new roads and housing estates.
The improved railway network and new motor buses allowed workers to enjoy the Surrey countryside and have a job in the city, but a growing commuter population demanded more housing.
The National Trust and Reigate and Redhill Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society bought Colley Hill in 1912 to prevent houses being built on the land.
Conscious that rural life and society were changing rapidly, Gertrude Jekyll, gardener and craftswoman of Busbridge, photographed farmhouses, cottage gardens and household utensils, for her book, Old West Surrey (1904), which sought to record Surrey’s disappearing rural life. Her work was part of the Photographic Survey and Record of Surrey’s project to preserve photographically the antiquities, anthropology, buildings and scenery that was thought to be representative of the county. By 1914 the collection numbered 8000 images.
Walter George Tarrant (1875-1942), who built many of the houses on the idyllic St George’s Hill Estate in Weybridge, was one of the most influential and prolific builders in Surrey at this time but by October 1914, he was under contract to the Director of Works (France) to build portable wooden huts for the British Expeditionary Force.
“When I was a child all this tract of country was undiscovered; now, alas! It is overrun”
Gertrude Jekyll, Old West Surrey preface
Part of the Last Summer display