Wednesday, 4 December 2013


The Royal Grammar School, Guildford

We met up with our friends Viv and Giles for this walk around Guildford. Giles attended the Royal Grammar School some years ago and so the walk featured a tour of parts of it. An extension of the walk to St Martha's Church had to be postponed until next time because of our late arrival and the indifferent weather.

We started the walk at St Nicolas church just across the bridge over the river Wey. There has been a church here since the 14th century, but the current incarnation dates from 1877 and is the work of S S Toulon. Pevsner thinks it is "ugly, but good and urban", whatever that means.

Inside, the west end has an extravagant font with a marvellous canopy ("ugly, but genuine, like the church" says Pevsner.) The wall behind is covered by a wonderful mural painted in 1893 by Joseph Pippet. Pevsner doesn't even mention it and one can suppose he must have been having bad day when he visited.

Just beyond the church in Bury Street are Caleb Lovejoy's almshouses of 1838. A two storey central building is flanked by two single storey ones, all with elaborate barge boards. The chimneys of the central building have very elaborate brickwork.

We crossed the river and walked up the High St, turning right to visit St Mary's church, whose tower is from the 11th century, predating the Norman conquest. Most of the rest dates from about 1180 and is transitional in style between Norman and Gothic. We could only go in as far as the Christmas card shop unfortunately.

From here it is not far to the ruins of the Norman castle, a huge 12th century keep.

We now headed towards the High St, reaching it opposite the Guildhall. It dates from the 14th century and was extended in 1589 and re-fronted in 1683, when the wonderful projecting clock was added.

Further up the High St is the remarkable Abbot's Hospital, an almshouse founded by George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1619-22. The massive gatehouse is reminiscent of earlier buildings such as Hampton Court Palace or St John's College Cambridge.

The gatehouse leads to a small quad - you could be in almost any Oxbridge College.

A little further up the hill is a statue of the great man, a local boy made good.

Soon after that we reach the Royal Grammar School, founded in 1509 and given a charter by Edward IV in 1553. On our tour we saw the actual charter in the headmaster's office which also contains a rare library of chained books (we saw one of the other three such libraries in Wimborne Minster a couple of years ago). As you enter from the High St, you go through into a small quad - a curious echo of Abbot's hospital.

It was now becoming dusk and my companions felt a need for tea. I decided to carry on exploring and headed along nearby Chertsey St and into Stoke St to locate another set of almshouses I had read about, the Parsons' Hospital of 1796. It was by now quite dark and I have my camera's excellent ability to cope with low light to thank for this picture. The plaque under the central gable explains that it was given by the brothers William and Henry Parson.

Conditions: grey and cloudy at first, but becoming brighter.

Distance: three miles, including my detour at the end.

Rating: four star. Some really lovely buildings - and great fun too.

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