Guildford (Pronunciation /ˈgɪlfəd/) 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 some 50 km (31 miles) 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 by 978 to be 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.
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.
Alfred Atheling, son of King Ethelred II, had been living in Normandy in France during the Danish invasion of Saxon England. After Canute died, around 1040, Alfred returned to England, where he was met and entertained in Guildford by the Earl Godwine. Godwine handed him to Harold Harefoot's men, who blinded and mutilated him to the extent that he died not long after.
Guildford castle may date back to Saxon times, if not much earlier. 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. It was held by William the Conqueror. Its domesday assets were: a town; the king held 75 hagæ (houses enclosed in fences'). It rendered £32. Stoke, a suburb within today's Guildford, appears in Domesday Book of 1086 as Stoch. It was held by William the Conqueror. Its domesday assets were: 1 church, 2 mills worth 5s, 22 ploughs, 16 acres of meadow, woodland worth 40 hogs. It was in the King's park. It rendered £15.
William the Conqueror himself 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 maybe rebuilt, in the classic Norman style, the keep of which still stands. There can be no doubt that 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 a 12th century 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 1300s 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 November the fifth, wearing masks or bizarre disguises and armed with clubs and lighted torches. With the onset of nightfall, or maybe before, 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 68 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.
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.
On October 5, 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 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.
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 has been shut since January 2004, but is due to be replaced.
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.
Guildford Cricket Club play their home matches at the Woodbridge Road ground. Surrey County Cricket Club also play one or two matches a season there. The town is home to two-time BCAFL Southern Conference, Southern Division Champions, and the Surrey Stingers American Football team. Charlotteville Cycling Club is based in Guildford and named after one of the areas of the town. They promote the Guildford Town Centre Cycle Races that take place on the cobbled high street each July. There is also a martial arts and fitness centre, AJIMA located on Cabell Road in Park Barn.
Probably the best-known school in the town is the Royal Grammar School, Guildford. The 'old school' building which was constructed over the turn of the Tudor and Elizabethan periods and houses a chained library, lies towards the top of the High Street. The feeder school for the Royal Grammar School is Lanesborough School which is the choir school for Guildford Cathedral. Other private schools in the town include Rydes Hill Preparatory School, Guildford High School and Tormead School.
The town is home to the inaugural campus of The College of Law and to the Guildford School of Acting. Other institutions in Guildford include Guildford College of Further and Higher Education and the Academy of Contemporary Music.
Other organisations of note that have headquarters in Guildford include Surrey Police and SEEDA, the South East England Development Agency. The South East England Regional Assembly also meets in Guildford.
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 2006 Financial Times annual list of Top 500 Global Companies listing four major businesses with a significant presence in the town - the list includes Vodafone, Mitsubishi, Electronic Arts, and Colgate-Palmolive. Other notable companies include the games company Lionhead Studios, run by Guildford-born Peter Molyneux, and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. 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.
Due to the location of the main railway station on the other side of the river from the bus station, only a small proportion of bus services stop at the railway station leading to poor integration between bus and rail services. There was a free shuttle services which linked aspects of the town centre, the Guildford Shuttle, until its withdrawal in August 2008.
There is also a popular park and ride service, with three main sites.
In music, Guildford lays claim to rock group The Stranglers, who were based in the town in the early 1970s and were briefly known as "The Guildford Stranglers". Drummer Jet Black ran an off-licence in the town and bass player Jean Jacques Burnel attended the Royal Grammar School. Prog rock musicians Mike Rutherford, of Genesis and Andrew Latimer of the band Camel, were both born in Guildford, as was jazz saxophonist Iain Ballamy. In more contemporary music, drum and bass producers Cause 4 Concern are from the town, and Sam Sparro lived in Guildford at the turn of the 21st century before moving to the United States.
Several actors and actresses live in the area, including: Edward Kelsey, who plays Joe Grundy in The Archers;, Stuart Wilson, and Bonnie Langford. Yvonne Arnaud, singer and actress, lived in the town for many years before she died. Terry Jones, the Monty Python writer, went to the Royal Grammar School from 1953-61. Other entertainers born in Guildford include WWE wrestler Paul Burchill and Holly Samos – radio researcher and presenter, and former member of Chris Evans' Zoo Squad.,
Other notable residents include the model Jodie Kidd who was born in the town, mathematician, logician and cryptographer, Alan Turing, whose family home was in Guildford; Michael Buerk, BBC newsreader; Roger Fry, the English artist, critic and member of the Bloomsbury Group who lived in the house (Durbins) he designed and built in the town from 1909 to 1919; .
In January 2003, Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Tweedy was arrested for the assault and racial abuse of a toilet attendant in Guildford at The Drink nightclub. Four years later in April 2007, Sugababes singer Amelle Berrabah was arrested following a dance floor brawl in Bar Med.