My week started off badly when, on Monday, I ‘mislaid’ my credit card. In a state of abject panic I phoned the provider and cancelled it straight away only to find the wretched thing a day later. So while I wait for the replacement to arrive I’m without funds. It’s half term – I’ve got a week off – what to do?
Be a tourist in my own town, that’s what. Come and join me for a wander around as I take notice of places we normally rush past.
Guildford is my home town and it just happens to be the county town of Surrey. With a plethora of high street and individual shops, cafés and bars it is usually the ideal place for a spot of retail therapy but there’s more, much more here than just shopping.
From the car park I favour near the Castle, let’s take this path through the churchyard of the Holy Trinity Church. I love this little square of houses. Through the trees you can just see one of Guildford’s many old pubs – The Royal Oak. The path brings us out at the top of Guildford High Street which is a good place to start. We’ll work our way down the cobbled street towards the river Wey.
First though, I want to show you the Royal Grammar School in the Upper High Street. Dating back to 1509, when one Robert Beckingham, a wealthy local grocer left provision in his will to provide a free school in the town of Guildford, the RGS is now a selective independent (fee paying) school for boys.
There has been a school on this site since the 1600’s, its status and fortunes changing over the centuries. During the 19th century this beautiful building fell into disrepair whereupon a local committee was established and raised funds to rescue it. In 1962 a fire swept through the building causing widespread damage which took over two years to restore. During this time lessons were continued in the newly built extension, on the site of old Allen House situated behind me on the Upper High Street.
Several years ago now, having applied for a place at RGS, the eleven year old son of a friend of mine was duly called for interview. When asked what luxury item he would take with him to a desert island he replied that he’d like a solar powered games console. He didn’t get in which I always thought was rather short sighted. They obviously thought they were dealing with a lazy little toad and not one of life’s natural problem solvers.
From the grammar school we’ll retrace our steps back to the Holy Trinity Church and gaze from its steps at the building across the cobbled High Street.
The Hospital of the Blessed Trinity or Abbot’s Hospital as it is better known today was founded in 1619 by George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury. It was never intended as a hospital as such, but as a place of shelter for needy folk in the town. A Jacobean Grade 1 listed building, Abbot’s Hospital continues to provide homes for local elderly people who are able to live independently within a supported environment.
The twenty flats are situated overlooking this courtyard – a stone’s throw from the lively centre of town. There is a waiting list for those over sixties who can prove they are of limited means.
Continuing our stroll westwards down the High Street, we pass Guildford House Gallery.
This is now home to the local tourist board where you can pick up lots of brightly coloured leaflets which, if you’re anything like me, get left in the car and forgotten about. However, if you carry on through past the information desk, there is a basement café, a gift shop selling jewellery and ceramics as well as the best range of unusual greetings cards in town while upstairs there is usually an exhibition (either art or local crafts) to have a browse around.
The High Street is linked to parallel North Street by a series of narrow pathways, like this one. North Street houses Guildford’s public library, more shops and is also the site of the 1974 Guildford pub bombings.
The name of this particular alleyway has elicited many a schoolboy snigger over the years.
Here’s a view down the High Street, looking towards the Surrey hills. The old clock, projecting out over the road is 17th century and is fixed to the front of the Guildhall.
The Guildhall is Elizabethan but stands on a site thought to date back to the 1300’s. Used as a court of law it was where the Mayor would regulate the borough’s commerce. In honour of a visit by Elizabeth I, a stained glass window bearing her coat of arms was inserted above the judge’s bench.
Both the courtroom and council chamber are open to the public and available to hire for meetings and receptions.
Well, the clock says it’s time for coffee, so I’m heading down to the Angel Hotel. This old building also dates back to the 1300’s: the stone vaulted under croft and part of a spiral staircase can still be seen today. It’s thought that there were originally two buildings which were amalgamated in the 15th century. Apparently it has always been some sort of hostelry – the Posting House was added in the 19th century to indicate that fresh horses were available for hire.
The restaurant is on the first floor but I’m slipping down through Angel Gate under the archway to Bill’s coffee shop in the courtyard. I’ll sit here a while with an Americano and try to make sense of my scribbled notes. Let’s take a break here – call this Part One. Once I’m caffeined up we can commence Part Two where we’ll have a look at the oldest building yet as well as one of the newest. See you soon.
* From Disobedience by A A Milne