A pocket-sized Castle just right for an Afternoon


Guildford Castle

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.

മലയാളം: Guildford castle - UK

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.

English: Guildford Museum Quarry Street Entrance.

English: Guildford Museum Quarry Street Entrance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

English: Guildford Museum and Castle Arch. On ...

English: Guildford Museum and Castle Arch. On Quarry Street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

English: Guildford Castle Gardens. This is in ...

English: Guildford Castle Gardens. This is in the ditch surrounding the castle which is to the right, out of photograph. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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!).

English: The Keep of Guildford Castle as seen ...

English: The Keep of Guildford Castle as seen from Castle Hill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

English: View From Guildford Castle Photograph...

English: View From Guildford Castle Photograph taken from the viewpoint, in front of Guildford Castle Keep, in the direction of Guildford Cathedral. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For more information about Guildford Castle, please visit http://www.guildford.gove.uk/article/7576/History-of-Guildford-Castle

or contact Guildford Museum directly on heritageservices@guildford.gov.uk

(source of photographs: Wikipedia; source of animation: heathersanimation.com)

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18 thoughts on “A pocket-sized Castle just right for an Afternoon

      • Big life change for you – it’s not easy something like that. How’s Benjie? I think that Mildred wants to join a circus. I moved a garden chair earlier and as it was in the air she leapt through the sides of it and stayed there until I had carried it across the garden. Strange or not?

        • Flatmate S., Benji’s owner has been taken a number of liberties, tresspassing severely on my good nature. I’ve now outlined to her in writing what I’m prepared to do and what not, so hopefully there’s an end to it. Strange about Mildred. Cats are funny things.

          • Oh dear, that’s not on at all. So sorry you’re getting more poo! Thinking of you. Have to tell you that a friend of mine who is an artist and completely besotted with Beethoven has just got back from a trip to Germany where she was researching Beethoven for a series of paintings she is doing. She said that she has never laughed so much in all her life – had the most fantastic time and can’t wait to go back.

          • S. has now emailed that she’s sorted out a dog minder, so don’t think there’ll be any more problems. Gad your friend had such a wonderful time – I really don’t know why the majority of British people still think we have no sense of humour – Berlin for example always had raunchy, sexy, satirical shows on, going back more than 100 years, so did most larger towns and cities. Just because the German language doesn’t lend itself to play on words type humour, doesn’t mean that it cannot be witty or belly-burstingly funny.

            Try Wilhelm Busch, my favourite “cartoonist” – many regard him as the European father of cartoons. There are some excellent English translation online, just type in the name into Google.

          • I will type that name in – this will also interest Will. Yes, my friend was surprised expecting everything to be a little stern. I told her I have come across lots of German people over the years through both work and holidays and have spent quite a bit of time with them – so it was no surprise to me whatsoever and that that is just a stereotype. Anyway, she can’t wait to go back. I also mentioned you dear heart. Hope the problems with S are all sorted.

          • Well, kind of. She’s arranged for a full time dog minder for Benji, but was upset at my comments – I think she got so used to bossing around her alcoholic landlady at her last place that she just carried on here. Would you believe it, after I had walked her dog and looked after it for a week, I asked if her boyfriend could run me round to my storage place to take back the table S. didn’t want in her room – only to be told he “didn’t feel comfortable to get into a car with me, since he didn’t know me” – what an insult, did he think I was going to jump him? Then she sent me email after email changing her plans with regard to the days I was to mind Benji..and left raw liver out for me to cook for her dog in the morning…then she asked me on Friday night, if I could wash the dog’s food bowls out….because she was too busy running off to her boyfriend. Frankly, I told her that I hadn’t agreed to be her personal servant and that I was extremely busy. At one point on Friday night she told me “I should get out more to meet men instead of sitting around at home” – singularly failing to understand that I only stayed at home these past two weeks to look after her dog – and that I don’t “sit around” but work from my laptop.

          • Oh my goodness – I’m surprised that you didn’t strangle her. I am not sure at which point she would have had the dog bowl and food emptied over her head – I am so proud of your patience – it’s like insult upon insult. I think the problem is that she can only see people from how she is. I think you need to take up Yoga or something to refrain from running at the wall with her in a headlock – I also thing you need to buy some rope to keep your hands safely tied behind your back in case you get the urge to lunge. Thinking of you lots.

          • Actually, I’m moving out for a month…into my garage! I’m renting a garage long term and frankly, I really need the money. By coincidence I double booked the room S. took in the end, so I offered my room to H. from Germany. As far as my flatmates are concerned, I’m staying with a friend. I’ll send you a longer email next week, when I’ve got more time to explain my plans. Thinking of you and thank you for being so supportive. You keep me sane! (-ish)

          • I thought that was what you meant but then thought I must have got the wrong end of the stick. You will make yourself ill, I’m sorry for giving unwanted advice but I’m going to give it anyway. Either tell one of them that you’ve doubled booked or tell them your friend has fallen through and you will have to sleep on the sofa in the flat.

          • no, no, I’ll explain next week, when I’ve got more time. this is quite deliberate, an experiment and also a way to make some much needed money. I must clear out the garage by the year end – my landlady is selling the flat that belongs to the garage – so this is the perfect opportunity to clear out loads of old rubbish and books.

          • I’m worried about your health suffering. Going from that, this is another strange thing – last week, I cleared out a lot of rubbish and still have loads to do. I have got more old rubbish than a second hand shop which never throws things away. Please don’t do anything which will endanger your health. Thinking of you.

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