The first land grants in Surry Hills were made in the 1790s. Due to the hilly terrain, much of the suburb was considered remote and 'inhospitable'. Isaac Nichols bought Allotment 20, comprising over 6 acres (24,000 m2).
In the early years of the nineteenth century the area around what is now Prince Alfred Park was undeveloped land known as the Government Paddocks or Cleveland Paddocks. A few villas were built in the suburb in the late 1820s. The suburb remained one of contrasts for much of the nineteenth century, with the homes of wealthy merchants mixed with that of the commercial and working classes. In 1833, the Nichols estate was subdivided and sold. Terrace houses and workers' cottages were built in Surry Hills from the 1850s. Light industry became established in the area, particularly in the rag trade (clothing industry). It became a working class suburb, predominately inhabited by Irish immigrants. The suburb developed a reputation for crime and vice.
Surry Hills was favoured by newly arrived families after World War II when property values were low and accommodation was inexpensive. From the 1980s, the area was gentrified, with many of the area's older houses and building restored and many new upper middle-class residents enjoying the benefits of inner-city living.
Surry Hills Today
Demographically Surry Hills is now characterised as a mixture of relatively affluent newcomers who have gentrified the suburb, long-time residents and a number of transients. There are a large number of hostels and other facilities for transients and the homeless in the area. Surry Hills has a mixture of residential, commercial and light industrial areas. It remains Sydney's main centre for fashion wholesale activities, particularly on the western side.
Statistics of Surry Hills
44.8% of people were born in Australia. The most common countries of birth were England 6.1%, New Zealand 3.9%, China (excludes SARs and Taiwan) 3.2%, Thailand 2.3% and United States of America 1.4%. 47.0% of dwellings have no cars, compared to the Australian average of 8.6%. 32.9% of the population walked to work, compared to the Australian average of 3.7%, and 30.2% travelled to work by public transport, compared to the Australian average of 10.4%