Guildford’s High Street, laid with setts (not cobbles), its historic buildings and famous Guildhall clock, have been described as one of the most attractive high streets in the country. The High Street, and the streets and alleyways around the castle close by, are the historic heart of the town.
All its early buildings are concentrated into these few hundred square metres. It has been a place to live and to shop, a place of business and pleasure for centuries.
These photographs record the High Street from the 1860s to the 1960s. Take a close look at each one to see buildings that are no longer there, or find those that remain, perhaps little changed but with a different use.
Although the building dates back to the 1300s additions have been made over the centuries. The Tudor hall was extended in 1589 when Elizabeth I visited, and in 1683 the first floor Council Chamber and clock were added. The Guildhall continues to be used as the venue for civic ceremonies and important events in the Guildford calendar.
The Guildhall clock is clear in this view from the top of the High Street. The photograph dates to around 1900, a time before the motorcar was widely available. The lady in the white dress on the right is walking by the entrance to Abbot’s Hospital. This opened in 1619 to provide shelter for local elderly people. It was paid for by George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, as a gift to Guildford “out of my love to the place of my birth.”
The many shops lining the busy High Street have their awnings out to protect goods on display in the windows from the light, although the weather in this photograph looks a bit overcast and certainly the road appears wet.
The White Hart Inn stood just down from Abbot’s Hospital, on the other side of the High Street. It was one of several inns and hotels in Guildford which catered for travellers on their way between London and Portsmouth, as well as locals. The White Hart Inn was demolished in 1905 and Sainsbury’s grocery shop was built on the site. The large white hart sitting above the hotel entrance is now in Guildford Heritage Services collections.
The first (background image) is an unusual view from The Mount, south of the River Wey, looking north across the Town Bridge and up the High Street. It shows the High Street decorated with flags. We thought this could be to celebrate Victoria’s 60 years as Queen in 1897, but our records say the image is dated 1871. What happened in 1871 to cause such festivity in Guildford?
This amazing arch was put up at the crest of the High Street, just by Abbot’s Hospital on the right, and Holy Trinity Church on the left. This was in 1937 when the town celebrated the coronation of King George VI.
The rest of the High Street, including the landmark Tunsgate arch were dressed for the occasion too.
The image below is one of the earliest photographs in our collection. From the dress of the woman we think it dates to the 1860s. It must be later than 1864 though when the setts, clearly seen here, were laid on the High Street.
Setts are usually made of granite and worked to a rectangular shape. The rough surface of setts provides a better grip for horses’ hooves than smooth cobblestones. This made them especially suited to use on sloping streets at a time when transport was horse drawn. This photograph was taken outside Drewett’s at 47 High Street. The shop was owned by Edgar Drewett, a photographer working in Guildford from 1861 to 1883. We guess he took the photograph.
Childerstone butchers on the High Street, 1890.
Today the High Street is a prestigious shopping area. It’s surprising then to see it in these early photographs as the site of animal markets and fairs. Despite being a market town, Guildford has never had a market square. The markets were held at different sites around town, including the High Street. The cattle market was too disruptive in the High Street and so it relocated to North Street in 1865.
It then moved to a purpose-built market in Woodbridge Road in 1896. It finally moved to Slyfield Green in 1969 until its closure in May 2000. The photograph with the horse in the foreground is of a May fair in the 1860s. These photographs must show some of the last stock markets held on the High Street?
In Elizabethan times a corn market was held in front of the Guildhall. From 1626 it was held in a building opposite, which was part of the Three Tuns Inn. In 1818 the inn and the market were demolished and replaced by this very grand arch to cover the market. The market closed in 1901 and this photograph records that event. Look behind the people standing on the left. You can see a roadway that is now gone, linking the High Street to the area behind.
This 1920s postcard captures the aftermath of an accident when a wagon upturned and shed its load of bricks
Firemen in their very ornate uniforms attend the aftermath of a fire in Lyons Gate on New Year’s day, 1922. The alley ran from the High Street, opposite the Guildhall, coming out halfway along Tunsgate. The property was rebuilt, and the gate sealed, but the yard and the buildings on both sides still look the same today.
Guildford experienced extreme weather in the 1960s including record rain and snowfall. Photographer Thomas A Wilkie FRPS AIBP recorded both events in wonderful photographs. Torrential rainstorms hit the south-east of England in mid-September 1968. Rivers rose and burst their banks, thousands of homes and businesses were flooded, and tragically many people also drowned. In Guildford the River Wey flooded wide stretches of the town by its banks. This RNLI rescue boat is floating at the foot of the High Street, just above Friary Street on the right. The railings of the submerged Town Bridge are visible in the background.
Also, in the 1960s heavy snowfall across the country brought chaos to Guildford’s streets. Here policemen clear the snowbound traffic on the slopes of the High Street just below Chapel Street on the right by Boots the Chemist. Snow began falling on Boxing Day 1962. Cold weather in early 1963 made the snow freeze and disruption continued for months.
A Quiet Street?
Today North Street is busy with road traffic and shoppers, so these photographs of North Street as a quiet, almost empty road may be a surprise. In this 1870s photograph a single figure stands between a tree and the Engine House. He would be flattened by traffic if he did this today. The tree has long since gone. But the Engine House, then home of the local fire brigade, remains as a public toilet. The house next to it, on the corner of Ward Street, is now the site of RBS bank with the Guildford Institute above.
The house must have been demolished before 1881 as that’s when a bigger building took its place and opened as the Royal Arms Coffee Tavern and Temperance Hotel. As the name suggests, this didn’t serve alcohol and provided an alternative place to socialise than the pub. The Guildford Working Men’s Institute bought the building in 1891, the Guildford Institute moved in and merged with them.
Here is a view looking up North Street from lower down its slope. There are a few more people around, and the crinoline skirts of the two ladies on the left suggests the picture was taken in the 1860s. Note their use of parasols on this sunny day. The three figures in the foreground are looking directly at the camera. 1839 is generally given as the birth date of photography, so in the 1860s it would still have been a novelty, and a photographer would attract interest.
Only horse-drawn vehicles can be seen in this photograph, as the petrol-powered motorcar invented by Karl Benz did not appear until 1887. In Guildford, Dennis Brothers produced motor vehicles from 1895. So all quiet in North Street in the 1860s, except on market days.
Home of the Fire Brigade
The Engine House was the home to the Guildford Fire Brigade. Before the engine house was built the fire engine was kept in the Guildhall. There‘s a lot of action going on in the photograph below. The firemen demonstrate their skills and equipment with a practise display including escape ladder, hose, vehicles, helmeted firemen, onlookers and a policeman on the right.
Our images show the North Street markets from the 1890s to the 1960s. This image shows North Street market, 1896, heaving with livestock.
In 1887 high rents in Market Street, linking the High Street and North Street, forced vegetable stalls to move to North Street. They continued trading from there until 1896 when this market also moved to Woodbridge Road. A new market was set up on North Street after the First World War to help ex-servicemen top up their income by selling home grown produce. Friday and Saturday food markets are still going strong on North Street.
Here is North Street market around 1900, near where the Library is now. This image is particularly interesting as it shows a family who have taken their disabled child out in a wheelchair. This was an expensive item which few families could afford. It looks like the photographer, W Shawcross, got all the shoppers to pose for him.
Shawcross had his photography business at nearby Spital Street, which is thought to be short for Hospital Street after the leper hospital that stood there until 1841. Spital Street at the junction of the Epsom and London roads became the Upper High Street in 1901, and became part of the High Street itself in 1961.
The market is flourishing here in this 1960s scene captured by Thomas A Wilkie FRPS AIBP. The woman by the first stall on the right, in the white mini dress fashionable at the time, gives us a clue to the “swinging sixties” date.
Quarry Street is possibly Guildford’s oldest street. The Saxons settled near the River Wey about 500 CE. Dry land above the water, the area where Quarry Street is now, was a sensible place to build. St Mary’s Church in Quarry Street is a survivor of Guildford’s Saxon history. You can see it, with its tower dating between 950 and 1100, in this view taken from the High Street around 1900.
Quarry Street runs along the lower edge of Guildford Castle grounds, connecting it to Guildford’s Norman and medieval history. The Normans built the castle soon after their conquest of England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and it was developed further during the Middle Ages.
In 1898 Castle Arch House was rented from the council by the Surrey Archaeological Society as a home for its collections and a museum, which was open to the public once a week. By 1912 the museum had become the Guildford Borough and Surrey Archaeological Society Museum. The council took over full running of the venue in 1933.
An extension to the museum was built on the walled gap between Castle Arch House and 48 Quarry Street, shown below. It was built to display the collections relating to cottage life in rural Surrey, donated by Gertrude Jekyll in 1907. The extension opened to much fanfare in 1911. It’s now the public entrance to the museum.
A Busy Corner and a Quiet Road
Sydenham Road climbs uphill away from Guildford Castle and the river. With Harvey Road, it forms a boundary to Charlotteville, one of Britain’s first planned suburbs. The development was started in the 1860s by local doctor and property developer Thomas Sells. He named the area after his wife, and the streets within it after famous doctors. The Robin Hood pub, seen on the left, opened in 1865. The women in the photograph appear to be wearing dress fashionable around 1868 to 1870.
By contrast, the photograph on this carte de visite shows a very quiet scene. Our records describe these two grand villas as being built in the 1860s on Portsmouth Road, which runs south-west of Guildford across the river from the town.
Portsmouth Road was once a major coaching route between London and Portsmouth. After the railway arrived in Guildford in 1845, road travel on this route may have reduced.
Carte de visite were small cards, popular in the 1860s and often showed photographs of celebrities of the day. Perhaps this card was produced by the property developer, or proud owners to show off their houses.
A Familiar Building on Chertsey Street
You may recognise this building on Chertsey Street. The photograph shows the Guildford Workman’s Home in 1896. It was also known as Guildford Workman’s Home and Coffee Palace.
The building still stands and looks much the same. It is now Vaughan House, run by a charity providing supported housing to those who are single, homeless or at risk of homelessness.
And Finally ….
A street waiting to be built. This photograph shows undeveloped land. The chalky slopes bring to mind the local landscape surrounding Guildford, with downland that has here and there been exposed or quarried for the chalk beneath. Is this the area beneath Warwick’s Bench which was developed as a residential area in the early 20th century?