Hog's Back

From Wikishire
Jump to: navigation, search
Hog's Back
Hogs Back.jpg
View from the Hog's Back
Range: North Downs
Summit: 505 feet

The Hog's Back is a long hill ridge in Surrey, that runs in a straight west-east line between Farnham and Guildford. It is part of the North Downs. At Guildford, the eastern end of the Hog's Back comes into the town centre, where the River Wey breaks through the chalk. Its continuation to the east is on the Merrow Downs.

The A31 road between the two towns runs along the top of the Hog's Back.

The Hog's Back is raised quite dramatically over the surrounding countryside, reaching a height of 505 feet above sea level and therefore offers exceptional views, albeit that these views are difficult to see from the busy road. The view to the north includes many towns and villages, including Ash and Aldershot, but on a clear day the north facing views extend to London, as far as Canary Wharf, 30 St Mary Axe ('The Gherkin'), Wembley Arch and Heathrow Airport. The view to the south is unspoilt and has been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty as well as a site of special scientific interest. These views extend to Hindhead and the Devil's Punchbowl.


The name "Hog's Back" is descriptive of the shape of the ridge.

Jane Austen, in a letter to her sister Cassandra dated Thursday 20 May 1813 from her brother's house in Sloane Street, wrote of her journey to London in a curricle by way of "the Hog's-back" and said:

Upon the whole it was an excellent journey & very thoroughly enjoyed by me; the weather was delightful the greatest part of the day. Henry found it too warm, & talked of its being close sometimes, but to my capacity it was perfection. I never saw the country from the Hogsback so advantageously.[1]

Though the ridge was known as the Hog's Back by Jane Austen's time, it had an earlier name. The mediæval name for the ridge was Guildown, recorded first in 1035 where it was the site of the abduction of Prince Alfred of Wessex by Earl Godwin. The name appears later in the Pipe Rolls for 1190 and onwards. The name 'Guildown' is no longer in use but it survives in Guildown Road, a residential road which climbs the southern side of the ridge on the southwestern fringes of Guildford.

Various explanations have been suggested for the relationship between the names of Guildown and Guildford. Guildown may be an abbreviation of Guildford Down: Guildford is the point where the River Wey cuts through the Hog's Back. Alternatively, both Guildown and Guildford may derive independently from a gold-coloured feature; either the yellow flowers of the marsh marigold or the gold-coloured (sandy) soil of the hillside,

The name 'Guildford' has been translated as 'gold ford', perhaps after the golden coloured sandy soil at the Ford in the River Wey,[2][3] but more frequently as "Guild Ford" after the assembly of burgesses, the guild, known to have governed the town since Anglo-Saxon times.


The road along the Hog's Back is ancient, since its raised position offered travellers a vantage point and also kept them above the thick ancient woodland of the valleys on either side. It is held by some to have been part of the ancient ridgeway which runs from Wiltshire down to the east coast of Kent.

The Hog's Back was also part of the road from London to Winchester (as it still is). Although there is very little archaeological evidence in support, it has been suggested that a Roman road ran from London to Winchester and that, at this point, it passed, either over the Hog's Back or perhaps a little to the north.[4]

According to the Victoria County History of Surrey, the road over the Hog's Back was "the Via Regia of early deeds and Hundred Rolls".

What is now designated the A31 along the Hog's Back originally formed part of a road leading directly from Winchester into Guildford High Street and from there into London. However, the modern A31 adopts a slightly less direct and less steep approach to the High Street, and reorganisation of central Guildford into a roundabout road system centred on the Friary Centre (named after the mediæval Dominican Friary there) has also broken up this direct stretch of road at the point that it reaches Guildford.

When the idea of the Pilgrims' Way to Canterbury was popularised in the nineteenth century, a route over the southern slopes of the Hog's back, parallel with the ridgeway and running through Seale and Puttenham, was incorporated in its course. In order to avoid the A31, however, the Pilgrims' Way does not run along the top of the Hog's Back.

The Hog's Back stretch of the A31 is now a dual carriageway, but the two directions of the road are separated by a central area of trees, some of them very old. The original road ran along the stretch now occupied by the lanes running from Guildford to Farnham, which is to say from east to west. The other two lanes, running from west to east, which are a little below the high point occupied by the original carriageways, were added in the early 1970s.

Archaeology and Seven Ditches

Roughly midway along the ridge of the Hog's Back between Farnham and Guildford (at SU911483) the remains of at least six human skeletons were discovered in 1935 when ground was being dug for a new water pipe.[5] They were buried less than a yard from the then-northern edge of the road (now part of the central grass verge between the two carriageways).[6] One of them was buried prone and another showed signs of having originally been bound or trussed, and scholars now believe that they were criminals buried here after execution at different times over an extended period (Reynolds in 2005; Briggs in 2010).[7] Their burial place was at the meeting point of the parishes of Wanborough, Seale (originally Farnham) and Puttenham, which were each in the different hundreds of Woking, Farnham and Godalming respectively.[8]

It is suggested by Rob Briggs that an elevated site at the junction of different hundreds and parishes was probably a site of general assembly and he identifies it with the place name Seven Ditches, found in the charter of King Caedwalla of Wessex confirming Farnham to the Bishop of Winchester (following the original grant by King Edward the Elder in 909 AD) (Latin "vii dican"); and also in a feoffment defining the Shoelands estate in about 1210 (Latin "Seuedic"); and also in the plea rolls of the 1263 Surrey Eyre, noting the hanging of one Robert de la Felde of Send at (Latin) "Seinedik", translated Sendike or Seven Ditches.[9]

Secular buildings

On the north side of the Hog's Back near the turn off to the village of Seale formerly stood a mansion known as Poyle Hill Lodge. This was once one of the Admiralty semaphore stations because of its high vantage point. In 1935 it became the Hog's Back Hotel, initially owned by the Guildford Friary Brewery,[10] and it remains a hotel, now officially known as the Ramada Farnham.

On the south side of the Hog's Back, a little to the east of Poyle Hill, another large mansion was built in 1873 called Great Down, attributed to Robert Kerr. This was demolished in about 1950, but the parkland and other associated buildings, such as a lodge and stables, remain.

The Hogs Back Brewery is an independent real ale brewery based in Tongham, which is a village just below the Hog's Back.

Towards Guildford, on the east side of the Hog's Back, lie Down Place and Blackwell Farm. The manor of Down Place was demolished in 1963, Blackwell Farm is now a place of controversies since the University of Surrey, its owner, announced its plan to build a "Garden Neighbourhood" as part of Guildford Borough Council's local plan consultation.[11]


The Hog's Back is mentioned in

  • Richard Thompson's song MGB-GT
  • The Freeman Wills Crofts detective novel The Hog's Back Mystery (1933) ISBN 1-84232-396-2
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley


  1. Jane Austin: Letters
  2. E. Ekwall (1960). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names (4th edn ed.). "Guildford and Hog's Back" 
  3. A. D. Mills (1991, reprinted with corrections 1995). A Dictionary of English Place Names. "Guildford and Hog's Back" 
  4. Bird, David: Roman Surrey, 2004
  5. Briggs, Rob (October 2010). "Six Skeletons at Seven Ditches". Bulletin 423; Surrey Archaeological Society: 6. 
  6. Briggs, Rob (October 2010). "Six Skeletons at Seven Ditches". Bulletin 423; Surrey Archaeological Society: 6. 
  7. Briggs, Rob (October 2010). "Six Skeletons at Seven Ditches". Bulletin 423; Surrey Archaeological Society: 6. 
  8. Briggs, Rob (October 2010). "Six Skeletons at Seven Ditches". Bulletin 423; Surrey Archaeological Society: 6–7. 
  9. Briggs, Rob (October 2010). "Six Skeletons at Seven Ditches". Bulletin 423; Surrey Archaeological Society: 6–9. 
  10. Holmes, Thomas William (1983). The Semaphore. pp. 201. 
  11. Watkins, James (2013-12-06). "Hog's Back group 'staggered' by scale of university homes plan". Surrey Advertiser. http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/local-news/hogs-back-group-staggered-scale-6376859.