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.
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.
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.
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”.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.