Town Hall clock, High Street
Guildford is the county town of Surrey, lying in the heart of the county. It is situated 27 miles south-west of London on the A3 trunk road linking the capital to Portsmouth. Its position was its foundation and its fortune, for the town stands in the gap in the Downs where the River Wey forces its passage and where it was ancient days forded by the Harrow Way. To the west of the gap rises the Hog's Back and to the east the North Downs rise steeply, are thus all traffic had to come here to pass through this gap, until the Guildford Bypass was forced across the hills. Today, houses climb up the sides of the hills, but they are no less steep and the main roads still cross the Wey on two bridges in the narrow gap of the Downs.
The town has Anglo-Saxon roots and an Old English name. The town grew enough in importance that by 978 it was home to the Royal Mint. With the building of the Wey Navigation and Basingstoke Canal, Guildford was in the centre of a network of communication by road and by water that aided its prosperity.
In the 21st century Guildford is a bustling town, with a High Street paved with granite setts similar to cobbles, numerous shops and department stores.
It is a market town and the market is 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. In 2006, Channel 4’s "The Best and Worst Places to Live in the UK", Guildford was ranked the 9th best place to live in Britain, perhaps an underestimate.
Guildford is one of the most expensive places to live in Britain outside of London. Guildford is the most attractive and safe shopping destination in Britain, according to the Eve Prime Retail Survey 2004 and ranked 27th in the country overall.
It is believed that Guildford was founded by Saxon settlers shortly after Romans had been removed from Britain in the early fifth century. The site was likely chosen for where the Harrow Way (an ancient trackway that continues along Hog's Back) crosses the River Wey at a ford here, which ford is echoed in the town’s name. The root of the first part of the name is argued between those who refer it to the ancient guild which governed the town and those who take it from gylden ford; a golden ford, perhaps from the distinctive golden sand showing on the banks of the River Wey where it cuts through the sandy outcrop just south of the town.
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.
The site of Guildford Castle was occupied in Anglo-Saxon times, and perhaps not much earlier as its situation overlooks the pass through the hills and the ancient ford across the Wey; a strongpoint for the military control of a key route across the land. It was at Guildford that one of the most notorious events of the early eleventh century took place. In 1035, on the death of King Canute, Prince Alfred, son of the later King Ethelred II, landed from Normandy and made his way towards London. At Guildford earl Godwin met him and offered hospitality in the town, but as they slept, Alfred's men were murdered and the Prince himself wounded, blinded, bound and dispatched to Ely, where he died. In the 1920s, a mass grave of several hundred soldiers was found to the west of Guildford dating from this time and assumed to be Prince Alfred's bodyguard.
Guildford appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Geldeford and Gildeford, a holding of The king. The king held 75 hagæ (houses enclosed in fences) and the town rendered £32. Stoke, a suburb within today's Guildford, appears in the Book as Stoch, and was also held by William. Its domesday assets were: 1 church, 2 mills worth 5shillings, 22 ploughs, 16 acres of meadow, and woodland worth 40 hogs. Stoke was listed as being in the King's park, with a rendering of £15.
William the Conqueror had the castle built, or rebuilt, in the classic Norman style, the keep of which still stands. 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 the afforested land 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 the 12th century Guildford Synagogue. While this remains a matter of contention, it is likely to be the oldest remaining synagogue in Western Europe.
Until the reform, Guildford elected two members to the House of Commons. From the 14th century to the 18th century, it prospered with the wool trade, which is remembered by the woolsacks on the town's arms.
In the 14th century 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 programme 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 by way of 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 by way of the road that runs on the ridge of the Hog's Back.
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 Second World War, 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.
In May 1968, inspired by the Paris student riots that had broken out, students at Guildford School of Art began a "sit-in" at the School in Stoke Park which lasted until mid-summer. Unlike the soixante-huitards of France, the Guildford arts students have sunk into obscurity.
On 5 October 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. Four men, 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 into confessing and in 1989 after a long legal battle their convictions were overturned and they were released.
Guildford has the most visited Art Gallery in Surrey outside the metropolis, Guildford House Gallery, drawing in over 120,000 visitors a year. The Gallery is situated in the High Street, in a 17th-century Grade I Listed Town House and is run by Guildford Borough Council. Its own art collection includes works of Guildford and the surrounding area, and work by Guildford Artists, most notably John Russell R.A.
Also run by the borough council is Guildford Museum.
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 Café Bar and Terrace.
A new live entertainment and conference venue, G Live, opens in September 2011. G Live is operated by HQ Theatres Limited on behalf of Guildford Borough Council.
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.
Radio stations Radio Lion, 96.4 The Eagle, County Sound Radio 1566 AM, GU2 Radio, and BBC Surrey are all based in Guildford.
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