Guildford

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Guildford (/ˈɡɪlfərd/) is the county town of Surrey. England, as well as the seat for the borough of Guildford and the administrative headquarters of the South East England region. It is situated 27 miles (43 km) southwest of London on the A3 trunk road linking the capital to Portsmouth.

The town has Saxon roots, and likely owes its location to the existence of a gap in the North Downs where the River Wey is forded by the Harrow Way. The town grew enough in importance that by 978 it was home to the Royal Mint. With the building of the Wey Navigation and Basingstoke Canal Guildford was in the centre of a network of waterways that aided its prosperity.

It is believed that Guildford was founded by Saxon settlers shortly after Roman authority had been removed from Britain (which was c.410AD). The site was likely chosen because the Harrow Way (an ancient trackway that continues along Hog’s Back) crosses the River Wey at this point, via a ford. This probably gives rise to the second half of Guildford’s name. The root of the first part is gold rather than society or meeting place.The Saxon name would have been Gyldeford, meaning golden ford. It has been suggestedthat the gold may refer to golden flowers by the ford , or the golden sand , but this is not certain. There is an old coaching Inn on the Epsom Road previously called the ‘Sanford Arms’, which almost certainly derives from ‘Sand Ford’, so this adds weight to the suggestion that ‘Guildford’ is a corruption of ‘Gold Ford’, referring to the very distinctive golden sand showing on the banks of the River Wey where it cuts through the sandy outcrop just south of the town.

In Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Guildford is identified with Astolat of Arthurian renown. Guildford’s model railway club, the Astolat Model Railway Circle, and a local pub, the Astolat, are just a couple of the modern day reminders of the legend to be found in the town.

From 978 Guildford was the location of the Royal Mint.

Guildford Castle almost certainly was built shortly after the Norman conquest of 1066, although there are no documents about its early years . Its situation overlooks the pass through the hills taken by the Pilgrims’ Way, and also, presumably, once overlooked the ancient ford across the Wey, thus giving a key point of military control of this important East-West route way across the country; just as Windsor Castle and the Tower of London once guarded the Thames.

Guildford appears in Domesday Book of 1086 as Geldeford and Gildeford, a holding of William the Conqueror. The king held 75 hagæ (houses enclosed in fences) and the town rendered £32. Stoke, a suburb within today’s Guildford, appears in the Book as Stoch, and was also held by William. Its domesday assets were: 1 church, 2 mills worth 5s, 22 ploughs, 16 acres (65,000 m2) of meadow, and woodland worth 40 hogs. Stoke was listed as being in the King’s park, with a rendering of £15.

William the Conqueror used The Pilgrims’ Way when he sacked the countryside, including Guildford, after his victory at the Battle of Hastings. He then had the castle built, or rebuilt, in the classic Norman style, the keep of which still stands. Another major purpose of Norman castle building was to overawe the conquered population and at Guildford this also was the case.As the threat of invasion and insurrection declined the castle’s status was demoted to that of a Royal hunting lodge as Guildford was, at that time, at the edge of Windsor Great Park. It was visited on several occasions by King John and King Henry III. The surviving parts of the castle were restored in Victorian times and then in 2004; the rest of the grounds are a pleasant public garden.

In 1995, a chamber was discovered in the High Street, which is considered to be the remains of the 12th century Guildford Synagogue. While this remains a matter of contention, it is likely to be the oldest remaining synagogue in Western Europe.

Guildford elected two members to the Unreformed House of Commons. From the 14th century to the 18th century, it prospered with the wool trade.

In the 14th century the Guildhall was constructed and still stands today as a noticeable landmark of Guildford. The north end was extended in 1589 and the Council Chamber was added in 1683. It was in 1683 when a projecting clock was made for the front of the building and can be seen throughout the High Street.

In 1598, a court case referred to a sport called kreckett being played at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford which was built in 1509 and became a Royal Grammar School in 1552 granted by Edward the Sixth. The Oxford English Dictionary gives this as the first recorded instance of cricket in the English language.

In 1619 George Abbot founded the Hospital of the Holy Trinity, now commonly known as Abbot’s Hospital, one of the finest sets of almshouses in the country. It is sited at the top end of the High Street, opposite Holy Trinity church. The brick-built, three-storey entrance tower faces the church; a grand stone archway leads into the courtyard. On each corner of the tower there is an octagonal turret rising an extra floor, with lead ogee domes.

One of the greatest boosts to Guildford’s prosperity came in 1653 with the completion, after many wrangles, of the Wey Navigation.This made it possible for Guildford businesses to access the Thames at Weybridge by boat and predated the major canal building program in Britain by more than a century. In 1764 the navigation was extended as far as Godalming and in 1816 to the sea at Arundel via the Wey and Arun Junction Canal and the Arun Navigation. The Basingstoke Canal also was built to connect with the Wey navigation, putting Guildford in the centre of a network of waterways. Although the Wey was never made navigable as far as Farnham, that town also benefited greatly from the existing navigation, being able to transport produce to and from Guildford via the Pilgrims’ Way.

In the years from 1820 to 1865 Guildford was the scene of severe outbursts of semi-organised lawlessness commonly known as the “Guy Riots”. The Guys would mass on the edge of the town from daybreak on Guy Fawkes Night, wearing masks or bizarre disguises and armed with clubs and lighted torches. With the onset of nightfall they would enter the town and avenge themselves on those who had crossed them in the preceding year by committing assaults and damaging property, often looting the belongings of victims from their houses and burning them on bonfires in the middle of the street. In later years attempts to suppress the Guys led to the deaths of two police officers. In 1866 and 1868 the Guys were dispersed by cavalry and this seems to have brought an end to the riots. Similar disorder surrounding the St Catherine’s Hill Fair, held just outside the town on the Pilgrims’ Way, was suppressed around the same time.

After the 1882 death of their father, brothers Charles Arthur and Leonard Gates took over the running of his shop, which held the local distribution franchise for Gilbey’s wines and spirits, and also sold beer. However, in 1885, the brothers were persuaded to join the temperance movement, and hence poured their entire stock into the gutters of the High Street. Left with no livelihood, they converted their now empty shop into a dairy. Using a milk separator, they bought milk from local farmers, and after extracting the cream and whey, sold the skim back to the farmers for pig feed. In 1888 three more of the Gates brothers and their sons joined the business, which lead to the formal registration of the company under the name of the West Surrey Central Dairy Company, which after development of its dried milk baby formula in 1906 became Cow & Gate.

The Catholic order of Franciscan Friars built a friary for the training of young friars at Chilworth, on the outskirts of Guildford, with the building completed in 1892. The friars continue to minister at Chilworth to this day.

The diocese of Guildford was created in 1927, and Guildford Cathedral was consecrated in 1961. Previously, Guildford had been part of the diocese of Winchester.

During World War II, the Borough Council built 18 communal air raid shelters. One of these shelters, known as the Foxenden Quarry deep shelter, was built into the side of a disused chalk quarry. Taking a year to build, it comprised two main tunnels with interconnecting tunnels for the sleeping bunks. It could accommodate 1000 people and provided sanitation and first aid facilities. Having been sealed since decommissioning in 1944, it has survived fairly intact. The quarry itself is now the site of the York Road car park, but the shelter is preserved and open once a year to the public.

In May 1968 students at Guildford School of Art began a “sit-in” at the School in Stoke Park which lasted until mid-summer.

On 5 October 1974, bombs planted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army went off in two Guildford pubs, killing four off-duty soldiers and a civilian. The pubs were targeted because soldiers from barracks near Guildford were known to frequent them. The subsequently arrested suspects, who became known as the Guildford Four, were convicted and sentenced to long prison sentences in October 1975. They claimed to have been tortured by the police and denied involvement in the bombing. In 1989 after a long legal battle, their convictions were overturned and they were released.

In the summer of 2007, a farm near the local village of Normandy, Surrey was the centre of a foot and mouth disease crisis amongst livestock. A major operation occurred to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease.

In the 21st century Guildford is a bustling English town, with a High Street paved with granite setts (frequently referred to as cobbled), numerous shops and department stores. It is a market town with the market being held on Fridays and Saturdays. A farmers’ market is usually held on the first Tuesday of each month. There is a Tourist Information Office and several hotels including the historic Angel Hotel which long served as a coaching stop on the main London to Portsmouth stagecoach route. According to Channel Four Television’s “The Best and Worst Places to Live in the UK” TV show Guildford was the 9th best place to live in Britain in 2006 but slipped to 12th position in 2007, largely due to the pollution produced by the numerous cars found on the roads. Guildford still remains one of the most expensive places to live in the UK outside of London. Guildford is the most attractive and safe shopping destination in the UK, according to the Eve Prime Retail Survey 2004 and ranked 27th in the country overall.

Guildford has the most visited Art Gallery in Surrey, Guildford House Gallery, with over 120,000 visitors per annum. The Gallery is situated in the High Street, in a 17th century Grade I Listed Town House and is run by Guildford Borough Council. Its own art collection includes works of Guildford and the surrounding area, and work by Guildford Artists, most notably John Russell R.A. Also run by the borough Council is Guildford Museum.

The town’s principal commercial theatre is the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre which often shows productions before (and after) they have spent time in London’s West End. The Electric Theatre opened in 1997 to host performances by musicians and amateur drama groups. It also hosts regular film, family and music festivals as well as comedy and has a Riverside Cafe Bar and Terrace. Guildford also has an Odeon cinema multiplex, which is as of June 2007 the only cinema in the world showing digital 4K films to the public . Guildford Civic Hall was the town’s main arts and entertainment venue. It closed in January 2004 and has been replaced by a new live entertainment and conference venue, G Live, which opened in September 2011. G Live is operated by HQ Theatres Limited on behalf of Guildford Borough Council. In 2009 the Mill Studio in Guildford featured the English premiere of the one-woman musical, Estelle Bright, starring actress/singer Sarah Tullamore.

Stoke Park is the venue for both the Guilfest music festival during the summer and the Surrey County Show (agricultural and general) on the last bank holiday Monday in May. Previous to 2007, the Ambient Picnic was held in Shalford Park, by the River Wey.

 

The town of Guildford forms part of the larger area administered by the Borough of Guildford, which in turn forms part of the county of Surrey. Whilst the rest of the borough’s area is split into civil parishes, the urban area of Guildford in unparished. Thus, within the town of Guildford, the Borough Council takes the role of both first and second tier local authority, whilst the County Council forms the third tier of local authority.

Though often referred to as a city Guildford is a town, but has applied for city status several times. Guildford’s 2002 application to be granted the status of a city was unsuccessful, losing out to Preston, the only English town being formally recognised as a city as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. Traditionally, the establishment of a diocesan cathedral in a town conferred city status, and the presence of a University is often used as a rule of thumb in determining a settlement’s status. Guildford has both of these institutions, has a rich social history and is a significant economic hub in Surrey, a county with no city.

Even though Guildford is the county town for Surrey, the council itself has its administrative base in Kingston upon Thames which, although formerly in Surrey, is now in Greater London. Public sector organisations of note that have headquarters in Guildford include Surrey Police, the South East England Development Agency and the Government Office for the South East.

Politically, the constituency of Guildford is thought of as a traditional Conservative seat. However, for the first time in over ninety years, the 2001 general election returned a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, Sue Doughty. The 2003 Borough Elections returned a majority council for the Conservative party, replacing the Liberal Democrat-controlled council. In the 2005 general election Guildford returned a Conservative Party MP, Anne Milton – by a narrow margin (0.7% of the voting electorate, or 347 votes) and despite a 0.5% rise in the Liberal Democrat vote. The Conservatives also held the council majority in the local elections of 2007.

Guildford is a thriving commercial town with the 2011 Financial Times annual list of Top 500 Global Companies listing five major businesses with a significant presence in the town – the list includes Philips Electronics, Ericsson, Colgate-Parmolive, Allianz and Sanofi. Electronic Arts (formerly Bullfrog Productions), Media Molecule, Lionhead Studios (acquired by Microsoft Game Studios) and also Criterion Games have helped the town become a centre for video game production. The fire engine manufacturer Dennis Specialist Vehicles and bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis are also located in the town as well as military vehicle builders Automotive Technik. The Surrey Research Park, contains a number of world leading  companies including satellite manufacturers Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd and BOC part of The Linde Group the largest provider of industrial, medical and specialist gases in the UK and Ireland.

There are two railway stations in the town. The main station, entitled Guildford, is located near the original town bridge on the west side of the River Wey and serves the main line between London Waterloo and Portsmouth. There are also lines to Ascot, Reading, Epsom, Gatwick airport, London Bridge and occasional long distance services, operated by CrossCountry, connect Guildford with Birmingham and Newcastle upon Tyne. The town’s other station, London Road, is to the North East of the town centre. It serves stopping services running between the main station and Waterloo and London Bridge stations.

Guildford lies at the beginning of the A31 and is bypassed by the A3, which links London and Portsmouth. The M25 is to the north-east of the town.

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