Godalming

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Godalming (/ˈɡɒdəlmɪŋ/) is a town and civil parish in the Waverley district of the county of Surrey, England, 7 kilometres (4 mi) south of Guildford. It is built on the banks of the River Wey and is a prosperous part of the London commuter belt. Godalming shares a three-way twinning arrangement with the towns of Joigny in France and Mayen in Germany. Friendship links are in place with the state of Georgia in the United States and the city of Moscow in Russia. James Oglethorpe of Godalming was the founder of the colony of Georgia.

The town has existed since Saxon times (see also Godalming (hundred)), and probably earlier. It is mentioned in the will of King Alfred the Great, and the name itself has Saxon origins, ‘Godhelms Ingus’ roughly translated as “the family of Godhelm”, and probably referring to one of the first lords of the manor.

Godalming grew in size because its location is roughly half-way between Portsmouth and London, which encouraged traders to set up stalls and inns for travellers to buy from and rest in.

Godalming appears in Domesday Book of 1086 as Godelminge. It was held by William the Conqueror. Its domesday assets were: 2 churches (both held by Ranulf Flambard) worth 12s, 3 mills worth £2 1s 8d, 25 ploughs, 40 acres (16 ha) of meadow, woodland worth 103 hogs. It rendered £34. Its population was roughly 400 people. At the time, its manor belonged to the King, but a few hundred years later, ownership transferred to the Bishop of Salisbury, under a charter granted by King Edward I of England.

In the year 1300, the town was granted the right to hold a weekly market and an annual fair. Its major industry at the time was woollen cloth, which contributed to Godalming’s prosperity over the next few centuries, until a sudden decline in the 17th century. Instead, its people applied their skills to the latest knitting and weaving technology and began producing stockings in a variety of materials, and later to leatherwork.

A willingness to adapt, and move from one industry to another meant that Godalming continued to thrive. For example, papermaking was adopted in the 17th century, and paper was still manufactured there in the 20th century. The quarrying of Bargate stone also provided an important source of income, as did passing trade – Godalming was a popular stopping point for stagecoaches and the Mail coach between Portsmouth and London. In 1764, trade received an additional boost when early canalisation of the river took place, linking the town to Guildford, and from there to the River Thames and London on the Wey and Godalming Navigations.

In 1726 a Godalming maidservant called Mary Toft hoaxed the town into believing that she had given birth to rabbits. The foremost doctors of the day came to witness the freak event and for a brief time the story caused a national sensation. Eventually Mary was found out after a porter was caught smuggling a dead rabbit into her chamber, she confessed to inserting at least 16 rabbits into herself and faking their birth.

So successful was Godalming, that in the early 19th century it was considerably larger than today’s county town of Guildford, and by 1851 the population had passed 6,500. Already, it was becoming a popular residence for commuters, for it was connected to London by railway two years earlier, in 1849, and to Portsmouth in 1859. Today the town is served by Godalming railway station on the Portsmouth Direct Line. The first mayor of Godalming was Henry Marshall who also founded the firm of Marshalls Solicitors in 1831.

The town has around 230 listed buildings, including Tudor timber framing and 17th century brickwork. Godalming Parish Church has an early Saxon chancel and Norman tower. The 19th century town hall, nicknamed ‘the Pepperpot’ due to its cupola, is a distinctive octagonal building situated on the High Street. Due to its unique design, it has become the defacto ‘logo’ of the town today.

The current building dates back to 1814 and replaced the medieval “Old Market House” that had occupied the site since the early Middle Ages. It was in this Market House (and its predecessors) that the local Hundred Court met and discussed matters of local importance for more than a thousand years. The upstairs rooms continued to be used for civic gatherings until 1908. The Pepperpot later housed the town museum, and continues to be used as a public function room. The arched area beneath the building, at street level, has been used as a marketplace.[2]

Other significant buildings in the town include Edwin Lutyens’s Red House, and a significant English public school, Charterhouse stands about a mile from the town, on the top of Charterhouse Hill. Charterhouse won the FA Cup as the Old Carthusians in 1880 and 1881.

Winkworth Arboretum, with its collection of rare trees and shrubs, is situated a few miles to the south.

Godalming came to world attention in September 1881, when it became the first town in the world to have installed a public electricity supply, which made electricity available to consumers. It was Calder & Barnet who installed a Siemens AC Alternator and dynamo which were powered by a waterwheel, located at Westbrook Mill, on the river Wey. There were a number of supply cables that fed seven arc lights and 34 Swan incandescent lights, some of which were laid in the gutters. Floods in late 1881 caused problems and in the end Calder & Barnet withdrew from the contract. It was taken over by Siemens. Under Siemens the supply system grew and a number of technical problems were solved. But later on in 1884 the whole town reverted to gas lighting as Siemens failed to tender for a contract to light the town. This was due to a survey he undertook in the town that failed to provide adequate support to make the business viable, and Siemens had lost money on the scheme in the early years, but was prepared to stay on to gain experience. Electricity returned to the town in 1904.

Godalming railway station is on the Portsmouth Direct Line between London (Waterloo) and Portsmouth, and is served by South West Trains. The station has been recognised for its floral decorations including 10 hanging baskets.[4] The next stations up and down the line are at Farncombe and Milford which in many respects (for example transport and education) are effectively suburbs of Godalming.

Roads running through, or close to, Godalming are:

  • A3 – major trunk road London to Portsmouth, bypasses Godalming
  • A31 – main trunk road Guildford to Winchester, bypasses Godalming along the Hog’s Back
  • A281 – main road Guildford to Brighton, bypasses Godalming
  • A283 – main road Milford to Shoreham-by-Sea
  • A286 – main road Milford to Birdham just beyond Chichester
  • A3100 – local main road Guildford to Milford, runs through Godalming

The Wey and Godalming Navigations terminates at the United Church.

In a charter dated 7 June 1300, King Edward I granted the Bishop of Salisbury the right to hold a weekly market and an annual fair in the town,Godalming remains a typical English market town, with a market every Friday and a selection of independent and national retailers selling clothing for all ages, shoes, watches, jewellery, fine art, books, gifts, stationery, music, guitars, computers, photography, pine furniture, antiques, flowers, hardware, food of all sorts, and household goods. In addition there are the ubiquitous banks, building societies, estate agents, travel agents, solicitors, accountants, employment agencies and charity shops. There are several pubs, restaurants and cafes, occasional visiting French and Italian markets, and an annual Godalming Food Festival.

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