A visit to Guildford

Today started dull, as did yesterday, but as we had done our shopping on Saturday, the whole day was ours and was not to be wasted. We took a bus to Waterloo and bought train tickets and a take-away breakfast of baguettes and coffee. Autumn is well under way with the trees changing colour and shedding their leaves. The temperature is still very mild and during the day it can become warm though there is a chill on the air in the morning and in the evening. I am still wearing my favourite "spring-and-autumn" red jacket but I put on underneath it a fleece jerkin so thick that for many people it would suffice on its own. I hate to feel cold.

The Surrey Scholar
The Surrey Scholar
By Allan Sly, Guildford High Street

From Waterloo, Southwest Trains carries us to Guildford, our destination for today. For the first part of the journey, during which the train stops at local suburban stations, it is crowded. Then we leave London and suddenly, the train is nearly empty. The sky is leaden, threatening rain. This is why we chose an inland location today: the seaside needs sunshine and is apt to seem miserable in the rain.

A dominating position
A dominating position
The Cathedral stands above the town on Stag Hill

As the name suggests, Guildford dates from Anglo-Saxon times. It sprang up at a ford where the ancient Harrow Way crosses the River Wey. The original Anglo-Saxon words mean “Gold(en) Ford”. Some say this is because of the golden flowers that grew in profusion around the ford and others that the name refers to the sand of the ford which is yellow in colour.

Tall and massive
Tall and massive
A solid brick-built structure

We went to visit the Cathedral but as it was Sunday and a service was in progress, we contented ourselves with exploring the outside. In plan, the Cathedral is long and narrow but it is also tall and, therefore, from close up it appears massive. I – possibly unkindly – dubbed it “God’s power station”.

The West Door
The West Door
A mixture and old and new styles

For reasons best known to people who worry about such matters, churches are usually built with the high altar at the eastern end. This is the case here, so the main entrance, from which you have an immediate view of the altar, is the West Door. In style it seems to combine the old (pointed arches reminiscent of Gothic revival) and modern (in the rather Art Deco decorations).

An autumnal view from the hill
An autumnal view from the hill
Once a Norman hunting ground

The site chosen for the Cathedral was Stag Hill, once a hunting ground for Norman nobles – hence the logo of a stag that occurs in the building.

"Understanding" or...
"Understanding" or…
“Receiving a divine head massage”

The Diocese of Guildford was created by carving a piece out of the oversized Diocese of Winchester in 1927. The plan to build a cathedral, however, proved controversial, partly because the suggested site was out of town.

Medieval imagery
Medieval imagery
These images balance the modern designs elsewhere

Fund-raising began and a design was done by Edward Maufe. The foundation stone was laid in 1936 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Work ceased, however, with the onset of war in 1939 and there were fears that the building would never be completed.

Seeds of Hope Children's Garden
Seeds of Hope Children’s Garden
Sculptures by Christine Charlesworth

In 1952, fund-raising began again and the new Cathedral, the only church in England to be dedicated to the Holy Spirit, was consecrated in 1961. A scheme to raise money was the “Buy a Brick” scheme under which people could literal buy a brick for the Cathedral and write their names upon it. Visible in the fabric is a brick signed by one Elizabeth R.

A place marker
A place marker
Made of timber from HMS Ganges

At the eastern end of the Cathedral stands this oversize model of a Roman execution device. It was originally erected in 1933 to mark the intended site of the new Cathedral. It was made of timber taken from HMS Ganges, a Royal Navy sailing warship, launched in 1821 and, after a life of active service and no few name changes, broken up in 1930. There is still an HMS Ganges Association, set up to commemorate the ship’s history and to reunite those who once served aboard her.

Mitre and date
Mitre and date
Cathedral drainpipes

There are numerous drain pipes around the building, bearing the mitre of the bishopric and a date in Roman numerals. This one reads 1939, the year when work was suspended. Unlike most buildings where the drainpipe date refers to the year of completion, here we have several dates, depending on when that part of the structure was built.

Guildford High Street
Guildford High Street
Dampened by a light drizzle

From the Cathedral, we made our way to the High Street. By the time we arrived, a light drizzle was falling but it did not seem to dampen people’s mood. There were a couple of street performers and most shops were open, all making for a lively scene.

Angel Inn and Angel Gate
Angel Inn and Angel Gate
Their history goes back at least to the 16th century

We walked through Angel Gate (“gate” meant a  passageway) beside the venerable inn to which it belongs. An inn has stood here since the 16th century and perhaps earlier, though the livery stables are now just a memory of times gone by.

The Guildall
The Guildall
Elizabethan with Restoration additions

Further up the hilly High Street is the Guildhall. This would have been where the town’s principal officers met to regulate trade and where certain court cases were heard. This Hall was built in Elizabethan times, possibly on the site of a forerunner but the upper chamber and overhanging balcony were added in the reign of Charles II (1683).

Guildhall Clock
Guildhall Clock
Telling the time since 1683

The fine clock, which projects out over the street, would have served as a timekeeper for the whole street in the days when personal clocks were rare. It is said that London clockmaker John Aylward provided the clock in return for the freedom to trade in the borough. I think both parties got a bargain.

Tunsgate Arch
Tunsgate Arch
Provided cover for the sale of corn

Almost opposite the Guildhall stands the Tunsgate Arch, so called because it was built on the site of the old Tun Inn. The road beyond is called Tunsgate. Market stalls were set up in the High Street but corn dealers used the front part of the Guildhall to protect their goods from rain. In 1818, the Tunsgate Arch was built to provide more room for the corn market.

Arms of Freiburg and Guildford
Arms of Freiburg and Guildford
Freiburg is a twin town of Guildford

The central columns of the Arch were moved apart for a road to be made in 1937. The Arch was closed to traffic and the steps replaced in 1992. Mosaics of the arms of Guildford and its twin town Freiburg now grace the footway.

Guildford Castle
Guildford Castle
A Norman motte and bailey castle

We walked up the road on the other side of the Arch, called Tunsgate, because we had once found a very good Indian restaurant here and fancied having lunch there again. Unfortunately, it had disappeared. At the top of Tunsgate is Castle Square from where I took the above photo of the Castle, built by the Normans to control those pesky Guildfordians. We did not visit it today – perhaps we will manage to do so another time.

Abbot's Hospital
Abbot’s Hospital
Still fulfilling its original purpose

Returning to the High Street and climbing to the top of the hill, you encounter this imposing façade, that of Abbot’s Hospital. Founded in 1615 and opened in 1622, the “hospital”, as the word was then used, was in fact almshouses for needy inhabitants of Guildford. They were provided by George Abbot, son of a cloth-worker of Guildford and are still today, after nearly 400 years, fulfilling their original purpose.

The ornate gate
The ornate gate
Allowing a glimpse within

Abbot was a fine (though some say religiously narrow-minded) scholar, who became a teacher at the grammar school, progressed to Oxford and eventually became Archbishop of Canterbury. Out of the wealth accumulated from this position, he founded the hospital with dwellings for 12 “brothers” and 8 “sisters”. With additions and modernization, the establishment continues in use until the present day – much to the credit of the founder.

A Son of Guildford
A Son of Guildford
George Abbot 1562-1633

Near to this imposing statue of the founder of the Hospital, stands the old Royal Grammar School (the school now occupies modern premises elsewhere).

The Royal Grammar School
The Royal Grammar School
George Abbot was both a pupil and a teacher

The school was established in 1512 by a bequest of Robert Beckingham, a merchant, in premises near the castle. Building of a new school began in 1555 and was not completed until 1586. The date 1552 refers to the year when land was granted for it by Edward VI. As Abbot would have been 24 by the completion date, I surmise that he attended as a pupil, and perhaps taught here, while building work was still in progress.

Constitutional Hall
Constitutional Hall
Renewing ties with the past?

What about this strange little building, painted like a tart and looking rather sorry for itself? It was built in 1885 or 1886 for the Tory Party and in 1909 became a cinema. I don’t know when it ceased being a cinema but since that time it has served as a shop for various businesses. Having failed to attract retail tenants, the Council now seems prepared to lease it to a group wishing to turn it once more into an independent cinema. Let us hope that this intriguing return to its past proves a success for both the building and the enterprising would-be cinema managers.

As you can no doubt tell from the above picture, the light was going and the weather was increasingly damp and dull, so we felt it was time to make tracks for the station. Despite the weather, though, it had been a worthwhile outing. It is always a pleasure to visit a town, such as this one, where careful signage and the excellent state of historic buildings show that the townsfolk care about their town and its history and are concerned to protect its aesthetic appeal against predatory developers. Guildford’s beauty and charm are well worth the effort of preserving them.

White Knight
White Knight
Brave knight on a fiery charger

This knight, with a somewhat disdainful expression on his face, rides his fiery steed on the façade of a building but I have no idea who he is or what he represents. I would be intrigued to know.

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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4 Responses to A visit to Guildford

  1. Hemang says:

    Lived in Guildford for a couple of years, Its Beautiful ! Nice pictures on your post.

  2. WOL says:

    The Guilford cathedral has all of the mass but none of the grace of the old gothic cathedrals. I had to laugh at your “God’s power station” comment — apt not only architecturally, but “theologically.” Churches are traditionally built with the altars on the east end so that the congregation faces east — the direction of the rising sun(son). There was a certain amount of “stage craft” involved, particularly in the great gothic cathedrals — the gorgeous stained glass windows behind the altar would be stunning with the sun rising up behind them. During certain historical periods the religion of the deceased can be determined by the orientation of the grave, with an east-west orientation being typical of early Christian burials, so that on the day of judgment when the deceased were resurrected, when they sat up in their graves, they would be facing the rising sun.

    The guildhall clock is a beautiful bit of workmanship. I often wonder how such clocks were powered — perhaps with weights? Have you seen any historical clocks like that where the powering mechanism is on display? — Imagine having the job where once a week, you had to go pull the weights back up on the town clock.

    Is it a trick of the light, or is the old grammar school building seriously out of true? — it looks like that right hand portion is seriously leaning toward the viewer.

    • SilverTiger says:

      As I say, I leave the question of directional arrangement to people who worry about such things – these may well include historians and archaeologists, of course. The whole thing is a mess of delusional nonsense, anyway, and it’s hard to credit that people still believe in it in this day and age.

      I have seen clocks that run with falling weights but all of those were in museums. I think that most, if not all, clocks in public buildings are these days driven by clockwork or by electric motors.

      The fact that many public clocks still need winding has led to a situation where no few such clocks, despite being in working order, have ceased functioning. There is a group trying to get volunteers and clock owners to enter into agreements whereby the volunteers will wind the clocks.

      The wonkiness of the Grammar School is an artifact of the angle at which the photo was taken and the closeness of the camera to the subject. In a town like Guildford where vehicles park all along the road it is often difficult to get a moderately clear shot of a building and I sometimes have to have recourse to less than optimum angles of view.

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