A Brief History of Guildford, Surrey

Guildford Castle

Founded by Saxon settlers soon after c.410AD,Guildford owes its location to a gap in the South Downs where the River Wey crosses the Harrow Way at a ford. The Harrow Way is an ancient track way dating from the Neolithic period linking Rochester to Seaton on the South Devon coast. This ford is thought to have given Guildford the second part of its name. In Saxon times it would have been known as Gyldeford or Golden Ford and although not certain, it is thought that the 1st part of the name refers to the golden flowers or the golden sand on the banks of the river.

The main trade in Guildford in Medieval times was wool making – it was cleaned and thickened by pounding it in a water and clay mixture with wooden hammers worked by watermills. Once dry, the wool was dyed. There was also the usual craftsman of carpenters, butchers, bakers and blacksmiths.

Despite early growth, Guildford failed to develop past being a small town in the 14th century, perhaps due to being so close to London, however, this changed with the completion of the Wey Navigation in 1653, which made it possible for goods to be transported by barge to Weybridge and subsequently the Thames and on to London. This opened up the trade opportunities for businesses in Guildford and with the completion of the Basingstoke Canal in 1794 put Guildford in the centre of a waterway network that contributed greatly to the town’s prosperity.

The Borough Council built 18 communal air raid shelters during the Second World War, one of which is known as Foxendon Quarry. It is a deep shelter built into the side of a disused chalk quarry. It consisted of two main tunnels with interconnecting tunnels for the sleeping bunks. It had first aid facilities and sanitation areas and could accommodate 1000 people. It was decommissioned in 1944 and was sealed but has remained relatively intact. The quarry is now the York Road car park, however the shelter itself has been preserved and opens once a year to the public.

Two pubs were bombed in Guildford on 5th October 1974 by the Provisional IRA, which killed 5 people including four off duty soldiers from local barracks and a civilian. The suspects who were arrested and subsequently convicted and given long prison sentences became widely known as the Guildford Four. They claimed the police had tortured them and they all denied any involvement in the bombings. After a lengthy legal battle, they were released and their convictions over turned in 1989.

Modern day Guildford is a bustling market town with a cobbled High Street. The market is held on Fridays and Saturdays and a farmers market is often held on the first Tuesday of the month.