Famous sons and daughters of Surrey

With its proximity to London, Surrey has long been a county that has attracted creatives, scientists and artists. PG Wodehouse, Alfred Tennyson and and Lewis Carroll all have strong links with the county and they are just a few of the many illuminaries who have lived and worked here.

In this article, we take a quick trip back through history to take a look at some other, not always so well-known, people who have made a huge contribution to our society while living in one of the smallest but most populated counties of England.

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834)

Malthus was a cleric and scholar who grew up in Dorking. He became famous for his work on demographics. His theory, that population would be kept in check by disease and famine, became known as the Malthusian catastrophe theory and his work was highly influential throughout the 19th century.

Ada Lovelace (1815-52)

Mathematician Ada Lovelace is known as the world’s first computer programmer because of her work with Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine – believed to be the first mechanical general purpose computer. Ada Lovelace was also the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932)

Gertrude Jekyll – sister to the cleric who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's book Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – was brought up in Bramley House, just a few miles outside Guildford. She is one of the best-known garden designers in the world, creating over 400 gardens and contributing to 1,000s of magazine articles on the subject. She was also one half of the Arts and Crafts movement – which promoted traditional craftsmanship and  simple form – thanks to her partnership with the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. She designed the landscape for his housing projects.

Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944)

Although Edwin Lutyens best known work was the building work he undertook in New Delhi, including the iconic India Gate, Lutyens was also a prolific designer of English country houses and has been called the ‘greatest British architect’. Among his commissions were Lindisfarne Castle and Castle Drogo, as well as numerous war memorials from the First World War. Although his early style was Art and Crafts, towards the end of his career, his work became far more classical.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

Vaughan Williams was a symphonist, best known for The Lark Ascending and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. He was born in Gloucester but the family soon moved to Wotton in Surrey. Williams himself was a nephew of Charles Darwin. Williams trained under the french composer Maurice Ravel and says his music was influenced by two great events in his life, World War I - where he served in the army - and the love of his life, Ursula, his second wife.

Alan Turing (1912-1954)

It is fitting that the greatest code-breaker of World War Two remains a riddle. Alan Turing, who spent much of his early life in Surrey, was a brilliant, maverick mathematician and widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. He invented an electromagnetic machine called the 'bombe' which formed the basis for deciphering Germany’s Enigma codes during the Second World War. Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts, and died two years later of cyanide poisoning. In 2009, Gordon Brown, the prime minister, issued an official public apology for the ‘appalling way” Turing had been treated.  

The crucial contribution Turing made at Bletchley Park, one that has been credited with shortening the war by two years and saving countless lives, did not become public knowledge until twenty years after his death. His mother, brother and friends did not know until long after they’d mourned him, the extent of his heroism.