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Guildford History
experienced today

Photo: Guildhall Clock 

uildford's first settlers were believed to be the Saxons, they probably arrived in the C5 after the departure of the Roman legions.  The town's name is believed to take its name from a Saxon phrase meaning ‘ford of the golden flowers’.

The River Wey Navigation near Shalford

The old ford of the Harrow Way (an ancient track along the North Downs) crossed the River Wey here so that part is easily explained, but to which golden flowers were they referring? Now the River Wey Navigation is a source of pleasure, although it has been used for commercial purposes in its day, especially before the railways came to Surrey.  On peaceful summer days its lush green banks slope down to the narrow river quietly flowing unnoticed beneath the busy streets above.  Pleasure boats can be hired along some of its length from the Boathouse in Millbrook, Guildford and from Farncombe Boathouse in Catteshall Road Godalming. 

The Royal Castle

he town of Guildford grew up around the spot where the great east/west road along the chalk ridge dropped sharply down hill and crossed the River Wey. The steep approach from the east became Guildford’s famous cobbled high street and the west approach remained more cut off and residential, in time everything else in Guildford was to follow on from this.  A Royal castle was built south of the High Street and two subservient roads developed in parallel to the High Street now known as North Street and Castle Street, but formerly known as Upper and Lower Back Sides!  North Street was the site of the cattle market until the C19 and still hosts a thriving street market every Friday and Saturday.  The growth of the wool trade made Guildford a wealthy town during the Middle Ages and even with the demise of this industry  the town continued to flourish as it became a convenient stopping off point on the route between London and Portsmouth.  A host of coaching inns grew up along the High Street where now The Angel Posting House and Livery is probably the most famous.


Guildford Cathedral
Stag Hill

uildford’s great character stems from the steep slope of the High Street where the southerly view is twinned by an equally steep rise on the opposite side of the river.   Over the river on the high ground of Stag Hill,  Guildford cathedral is built in a modern style.  Constructed as  recently as 1936 there were further additions over the next thirty years by Edward Maufe who won the job of designing the cathedral in open competition.  The Gothic style results in a cruciform church with a bulky central tower, not something of true traditional wonder, but it is imposing in its commanding position and when lit after dark it is particularly awe-inspiring.  Guildford minted its own silver coins as early as the reign of Edward the Martyr in 957, showing an early indication of its status.

Guildford Castle

The Royal Castle built by William the Conqueror became the centre of local government in Surrey.  Now the oldest part is a huge C11 motte. This was added to in the usual way in the early C12 with a masonry shell keep around the top, now visible chiefly on the southwest side.  This was in turn replaced around 1170 by the impressive Tower Keep built on the east side of the top of the motte, in complete contrast to Surrey’s other surviving castle at Farnham. Guildford was a royal castle and the building represents the grim official architecture of Henry II.  Now roofless and floorless and with nearly all the dressed stone details gone, the rather bizarre late Victorian detailed landscaping of the motte is a stark contrast to the bleakness of the castle’s ruins.  Some outer building still remains by a simple two-order arch in Quarry Street from the outer gateway beyond.   Just south of Castle Hill within a little park is a disused quarry where entrances to old clunch mines can be seen which were later used as Castle cellars.  
Tel: 01483 444702 for further information.

A quick mention here too of Semaphore  House built in 1821 on Pewley Down which was one in the telegraph line from Portsmouth to Whitehall (also at Chatley Heath and Claygate). 

You are within Guildford Borough Leisure Pages. To go to Surrey County Information click the button in the margin.

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