The Exciting History of Guildford: Exploring Surrey’s vibrant past

If you’re looking for a rich heritage, areas of outstanding natural beauty and tight-knit communities – Surrey is the perfect town to explore. The exciting history of Guildford specifically is one that dates back to the 10th century. However, people chose to live in the modernised town for many reasons. From the balance between rural and urban life to the easy commutes between Surrey and London, it is an ideal location for anyone looking to relocate. It offers fantastic scenery with you being surrounded by the beautiful Surrey countryside.

Homes in this area come at a full range of prices and provide a choice between flats, family homes and quaint cottages. You certainly wouldn’t be short on options – nor would you run out of things to do! We’d definitely recommend you come to visit to truly see what is on offer. But let’s look back further into the past. While Guildford is a fantastic place to be today, it has an interesting history to explore too. Some of which is still hidden amongst our modern shops and businesses. 


Early Guildford

Beginning as a Saxon village called the guilden (golden) ford – it is thought the name originates from the golden coloured flowers growing by the river and its location by the ford. After its life as a village, it became a town in the 10th century. This saw it being home to one of the first British mints as well as many of the historic buildings including St Mary’s Church which still stands today.

The most likely reason for its expansion was the Harrow Way that connected Winchester and Canterbury across the Wey River. While it is thought to have had a population of only several hundred, it was a thriving area of the South East just as it is now. This may seem tiny, but back then, settlements rarely had a population of more than about 150. However, by the middle ages, we were seeing a population closer to the thousand mark as the town continued to thrive and expand.


The Exciting History of Guildford Castle

When the Saxon era came to an end, William the Conqueror wanted castles to be constructed in towns in order to exert control over the locals that no longer ruled. The castle was built upon a ridge of Pewley Hill located on the south side. This was done specifically so it occupied the higher ground and allowed for the best defence. This was needed due to its use as a Royal Palace and private residence. It’s thought that it was also used as a prison but could have been allocated many more functions during its time.

Having been built shortly after the Norman invasion in 1066, the castle and grounds remained active for a long period until they were finally sold to the Guildford Corporation in 1885. It was then opened to the public, celebrating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. As a result of this, it became known for vibrant floral displays and extremely well-kept grounds that attract a host of wildlife. In the summer you can find people settling down to a picnic outside the castle keep. It provides great status for the exciting history of Guildford as the only Royal castle ever to be built in Surrey!


Guildford High Street

The famous Guildhall clock that peeks out into the high street is a popular landmark for the town. Many visitors stop to photograph the eye-catching piece and often capture the views from the top of the high street in the background. Its cobbled streets are widely recognised as one of the most attractive in the country and are widely used on television as an icon of the South East. The exciting history of Guildford shines through in the well-preserved town and remains an integral part of its character.

We are lucky to still have a number of listed buildings that pepper the high street and have since become homes to a number of family-run and independent businesses. Although, by the mid-nineteenth century – locals were already starting to make use of the new commercial life that was springing up in the town. As the buildings were rarely numbered, it is hard to know what each was used for. But we do know that it didn’t take long to become the bustling high street we know and love. With cabinet makers, ironmongers, offices and bakers; the locals of the nineteenth century enjoyed the area much as we do today.


The Cathedral 

Whilst Guildford Cathedral is not as historic as many other areas of Guildford, it does have a rather remarkable backstory. Construction began in 1936 but was halted three years later due to the outbreak of World War 2 and the devastation it brought. It took years for materials to become available again and restrictions on construction to be lifted. However, with limited funds – locals were determined to have the building completed and fully functional. 

To help with this, a local buy-a-brick campaign was run and generous fundraising saw work re-start on the Cathedral in 1954. 200,000 people in the community, which remains tight-knit to this day, became owners of a brick laid to complete the construction. Not only this, but they came together to upcycle old furniture and salvage what they could to fully furnish the interior and allow for it to become a true community space. The building was finally consecrated in 1961 by Bishop George Reindorp, but the building was not fully completed until later in 1966.

Guildford in the 19th Century

At this time, the area was still considered small for a town with a population of around 2000. However, throughout the 19th century, it expanded rapidly and even gained a gas supply in 1821 which allowed the locals to have safer lit streets. After this, the Borough Council was formed and paved the streets in the late 60s – forming the majority of what we see today. (Although there has been extensive repair work since then.) 

It wasn’t until the 1890s that sewers and drains were introduced alongside the first electrical supply in 1891. This was an incredible step for the historic town and was the time we saw it being modernised – reflecting much of what remains. 

Another well sought after benefit of the town today is the ability to commute into the city. The reliable public transport aids anyone wanting the best of both worlds to live by the countryside and work in the bustling capital. 1845 saw the beginning of this with the arrival of the railway. This was a huge change for local businessmen who could now commute to London – broadening their horizons from the now fairly dormitory town. 


Fun Facts About Guildford

Through The Looking Glass’ was written here! While Lewis Carrol never actually lived in the town, he spent a lot of time visiting and writing while he was here. To recognise this and celebrate the contribution he had to the town’s past – you can find many tributes to him around the area. This includes two statues – an ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’ located in the castle grounds. As well as an Alice in Wonderland by the river Wey.

It was home to the famous Alan Turing. His most well-known achievement was breaking the Enigma – the encoder used by the Germans during WWII. He lived in Guildford following his father’s retirement and continued to visit even after relocating.

Come and Live In This Historic Town

Why not follow in the footsteps of some of history’s most famous faces and take a leap into the beautiful town of Guildford. Left behind by its amazing past are some wonderful landmarks, architecture and a close-knit community. It is important to remember where the area started – as it paved the way for what we have today. 

There is so much on offer – you are a stone’s throw away from some of Britain’s favourite Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, some of the best educational facilities in the country, including the Royal Grammar School and plenty of ways to explore the arts. This is why we believe the town is perfect for any type of family or individual looking for a fresh start. 

If you want comedy clubs and theatre shows on the weekend or scenic hikes and shopping sprees – Guildford has it all. Pair that with the easy commutes into London and other parts of the country and we really see no reason why you can’t tick all your boxes living here. So if we’ve sold it to you, let’s get started.



Our Seymours team have nearly 30 years of experience selling properties within Guildford and the Surrey area and can provide you with property peace of mind with a service you can rely upon. Our dedicated, passionate team will be on hand to offer you support and reassurance whenever you need it and we guarantee a proactive approach to guarantee you the best possible price for your home.

Read how to work with the best Estate Agents in Guildford

If you’d like free market advice or need more information about the area, get in touch with the team at Seymours Guildford on 01483 576833 or email us directly here.

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