I had planned to post this yesterday, but my dog-walking duties and client work got in the way. B’s getting restless again, so I’d better get on with this blog, before there’s a puddle on my carpet.
I have to confess that of all the places I have lived at in the UK, Guildford in Surrey is my favourite. Known as the “stockbroker belt”, Guildford and its neighbour Woking are within an easy commute of London and Portsmouth with trains running approximately every 10 minutes into either direction.
It takes just 45 minutes on a stopping service to get to London Waterloo and half an hour on the fast service. A 40 minute train journey takes travellers with a hankering for the sea to Portsmouth; add another 15 minute journey by boat and you’re on the lovely Isle of White.
My blog series on castles should not miss out Guildford Castle, which will be used as one of the locations in my WIP “The Daddy Snatchers”, a novel for children aged 7 to 9.
Having lived in the town for such a long time, I feel confident of using it as my main location for a story about two small boys trying to come to terms with the loss of their dad and the possibility of their mother marrying again.
Guildford Castle grounds are a lovely place to spend a lazy afternoon in the sun. The gardens are exceptionally well maintained and the castle complex is just large enough (or small, depending on your point of view) to keep you entertained for a couple of hours.
Buy your picnic lunch at the bakery in the High Street, spread out your travel rug on the lawns or kick a lazy student off a bench and enjoy the magnificient gardens and keep!
Construction started reputedly just after 1066 on the order of none other than William the Conqueror himself, who marched into Canterbury and then attacked towns situated along the Pilgrim’s Way, which included Guildford in Surrey.
The above may be a medieval urban myth, but it is fairly certain the castle’s oldest parts date back to the 11th century. The building works aren’t mentioned in the Doomsday Book, which suggests the construction didn’t start until after 1086, when the great book was compiled. The remaining complex was developed up to the 13th century.
Initially Guildford Castle was little more than a motte or mound, consisting of a deep ditch and bailey, which would have been surrounded by a wooden palisade to keep marauders out – marauders in this case being the miffed inhabitants of the area, who were none too happy to see William the Norseman’s hordes occupying their lands.
The original bailey would have encompassed much of what is today the heart of Guildford, Castle Street for example and South Hill as well as Quarry Street, where the museum used to be when I lived there, and the Bowling Green, a wonderful place to sit in the summer and watch the players concentrate with furrowed brow on what must be one of the most satisfying games for the elderly.
At the time the castle was built, Guildford was – along with Southwark – the only sizeable town in Surrey and lay on the important route between London and the coastlines to the south and west of England. In other words, the main supply lines to the shores where William’s Norman troops would land with their ships.
Initially there would have been a wooden tower built on top of the motte, where a lookout would have been posted and the garrison would have found some shelter, too.
It wasn’t until the early 12th century that the wooden palisade was replaced by a chalk wall (shell-keep), large parts of which are still standing today.
During the 1130’s the wooden tower was replaced with a more durable material, namely stone. The location of this first keep or great tower was probably part motte, part shell-keep, as the motte wouldn’t have been able to carry the great weight on its own.
The stone was transported from the Goadalming area, a charming little town with excellent pubs (brewing their own ale), if you happen to be in Surrey, take an afternoon to explore – you can take a local bus from Guildford. The stone is called Bargate stone and has far greater density and therefore durability than chalk.
The castle originally consisted of two floors, of which the first floor would have been reserved for the king’s private apartments. The surrounding walls once carried crenellations, where sentries could keep watch and alert the garrison, should the Guildford population revolt over their meagre supper and their king.
When it proved the king wasn’t all that interested in using the castle as his permanent private residence, the keep became the newly appointed Sheriff’s quarters in the late 12th century.
Eventually, Guildford Castle was used as the county goal for Sussex and Surrey, when the king moved to more comfortable apartments in the bailey, where a chapel and domestic buildings had been erected.
It is assumed the Great Hall was located on the site, where today two houses stand, at the very bottom of Castle Hill. The Hall was constructed from stone and had wooden aisle posts, which apparently had been painted to resemble marble, a savvy cost cutting device employed by a king who was always strapped for cash.
When Henry III made further additions and improvements to Guildford Castle, it suddenly gained the status of “palace”, although there’s little trace of that today – more about the palace in my next blog!
I’m using the town centre with Castle Street and Quarry Street, where my erstwhile solicitors used to have their offices, as settings for a big event in my novel that will be largely determined by the town’s unique location by the River Wey.
Guildford is a charming place to visit for a long weekend. The Wey River Navigation allows houseboats, canoes, kajaks and rowers to fully enjoy the “messing about in boats” a wise Ratty has been advocating for years (get your life-coaching from Kenneth Grahame‘s Wind in the Willows, I always do!).
There’s a lock, a rowing club and a pub overlooking the waterways, as well as a park with picnic areas. The path along either side of the river is perfect for a walk or a trip by bike, if you haven’t found your “sea-legs” or shy away from the rather expensive hire costs of a river barge.
It’s possible to hire these barges for a week or so and travel at the alarming speed of 4 miles per hour through the Surrey countryside. If I’m not mistaken, the Wey River links up with the Thames at some point, so one could make it a two week trip at that speed. The boats come in different sizes and can sleep up to 12 people, if memory serves me right.
For more information about Guildford Castle, please visit http://www.guildford.gove.uk/article/7576/History-of-Guildford-Castle
(source of photographs: Wikipedia; source of animation: heathersanimation.com)