Welcome to Guildford.org.uk – a brand new site dedicated to showcasing the very best of what Guildford has to offer. We’re busy working behind the scenes to bring you an in depth, detailed guide – so bear with us and come back shortly to see how we’ve been getting on.
In the meantime, we’ve come up with a quick guide to the in’s and out’s of the town including a bit of history, a guide to some of the top attractions and a few interesting facts…
For many visitors approaching Guildford, the county town of Surrey, their first view is of the 20th century red-brick cathedral and its golden angel weather-vane, perched high on Stag Hill where it overlooks the town and the university campus, dominating the surrounding landscape.
The town itself is situated on the banks of the River Wey, occupying a natural gap in the North Downs that provides excellent road and rail connections to the South East of England. Although now used mainly for pleasure, the Wey Navigation and links to the Basingstoke Canal once afforded Guildford easy access to England’s extensive canal network, providing routes to London and further afield. Although the wharfs and warehouses no longer operate, parts of the waterfront have been preserved, offering a glimpse into the town’s not-so-distant past.
Located equidistant from London and Portsmouth, the town gained early importance as a staging post for travellers, civilian and military, as well as fulfilling its local role as the regional market place, occasional seat of the County Assizes, and location of a Royal hunting lodge.
In modern times the town has retained its importance as a communication hub and market town, and gained a contemporary cathedral, modern university, world-class sports facilities and extensive shopping and commercial developments.
The modern town can trace its origins to the Roman occupation of Britain, evidence of Roman dwellings having been found throughout the area. By Saxon times a small town was well established and, as the Saxon era ended, William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a castle from which the new order exerted control over the local inhabitants. By the late 14th century the castle was of little practical importance and was abandoned, although the ruins and grounds continued to be used for less grand purposes, including cock fighting and farming.
The town didn’t prosper in Mediaeval times, having a population of just over 1,000 souls, equivalent to a handful of villages. A Grammar School was founded in 1507 (and remains as a school today), but this improvement in the town’s fortune was promptly countered by a dramatic decline in the wool trade, triggered by Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.
The arrival of the railway in 1845 brightened the towns’ prospects, although it wasn’t until 1942 that the town could boast a public library. The following 40 years saw the addition of modern landmarks, including the Yvonne Arnaud theatre, civic hall, the university and the Royal Surrey Hospital.
Attractions: What To See & Do
The partly restored Norman keep is open between March and October, although opening times should be checked in advance. A trip to the top of the keep affords excellent views across the town and surrounding countryside; the grounds are well maintained and include a pond, bowling green and ornamental gardens.
Perched on Stag Hill, adjacent to the university campus, the cathedral is an example of modern design utilising equally modern materials. Build of red brick, the building was commenced in 1936, but the Second World War, and material shortages after the war, delayed its completion. The cathedral was finally consecrated in 1961. Unlike many cathedrals, stained-glass windows are noticeably absent; almost all the windows are of plain glass, allowing natural light to flood the white interior. The cathedral is open every day, admission is free, and photography is permitted for personal use.
The imposing, and rather steep, High Street has been described as one of the most attractive streets in England, and the claim is well deserved. From the well-worn cobbled surface, to the elegant façades of the shops, and the remarkable Guildhall clock that dates back to 1693, the street oozes elegance and charm. Unlike many shopping areas it has not yet been entirely swamped by chain stores and coffee shops, although the usual companies can be found amongst the smaller and more local businesses. Book shops, specialist art suppliers, jewellers, independent coffee and tea shops, food halls and major banks can all be found along the High Street.
Off the High Street, particularly in Chapel Street, the visitor can browse in boutique shops or eat out, selecting from a plethora of styles and cuisines. In these areas a vibrant life continues late into the evenings.
There are two market locations in Guildford, the High Street where a Farmers’ Market is held on the first Tuesday of each month, although not in January, and North Street where a traditional market flourishes on every Friday and Saturday. The Farmer’s Market extends along the length of the High Street, and includes food, craft and plant stalls. The market in North Street is more general, including fruit and vegetables, flowers and home goods.
Entertainment and Leisure
Theatres, cinemas, a museum and numerous pubs provide year-round entertainment, whilst G5 and the nationally acclaimed Guilfest bring the best of national and international music and performance to the town.
In addition to the main streets and side alleys, Guildford has a major, two-story shopping centre, complete with adjacent multi-story car parking, and several covered shopping malls. In fact, over 240 different retailers compete to attract your attention as you browse through the main shopping localities.
Did You Know? Interesting Facts About Guildford
- Over 200,000 people contributed a brick to the cathedral construction fund.
- The university is ranked among the top 10 UK universities.
- Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carrol, wrote “Through The Looking Glass” whilst living in Guildford.
- Henry III, King John, and Eleanor of Castile all stayed in Guildford Castle.
- The remains of what is believed to the oldest synagogue in Western Europe were found under the High Street.
- Parts of the film, The Omen, were filmed at Guildford Cathedral.
- Alan Turing, code-breaker and mathematician, lived in Guildford.
- Although Guildford has a cathedral it is not a city. In 2002 Guildford applied for city status, but was turned down.
- The first written reference to cricket appears in a 16th century court case involving the Royal Grammar School in Guildford.