‘Originally a Saxon settlement, Guildford wasn’t always the desirable hot-spot we see today. It started out as a Saxon town, mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086 as Geldeford, and was briefly home to the Royal Mint.’
It remained a quiet settlement throughout the Medieval period despite the wool industry, and it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution arrived that the town began to thrive with a corn exchange, new public parks, and the life-changing railway line connecting this neglected beauty spot with the busy capital.
The population boomed with the arrival of the railway in 1845, but this is no mere commuter town despite the speedy 35 minute to London connection. Guildford offers a thriving independent community, with a vast array of dining options, a top-rated university and even a trio of theatres. Unfortunately, all this bustle and beauty does come at a cost, with the average house price in Guildford now over £500,000 – more than double the UK average.
With around 137,000 inhabitants, Guildford is a relatively compact town and its residential areas reflect this. The most popular spots include Pewley Down, Pewley Hill, Burpham and Onslow Village, while Park Barn, Belfields and Stoughton are generally seen as less desirable, although often much more affordable. Most of the housing is early twentieth century, although some beautiful Georgian properties can be found, and there are increasing numbers of modern new builds springing up to house the growing student and young professional population.
‘Guildford offers a thriving independent community, with a vast array of dining options, a top-rated university and even a trio of theatres’.
Guildford’s reputation as a commuter haven has only improved over the years, with direct train connections to London Waterloo now taking just 35 minutes on the fast train. The town is served by two stations, Guildford and London Road, and offers direct trains to a myriad of destinations including Portsmouth and Reading. While central Guildford is largely walkable (and so charming that you’d probably prefer to), the area is well-served by buses if you’re looking to travel further afield. Just south of the A3, it’s also easily accessible by road if you’re looking to travel towards the capital or further into the depths of the stunning Surrey Countryside. However as a historic town with small roads, traffic can build up quickly at peak times, particularly in the town centre.
Genteel yet lively, Guildford is essentially a historic hub with all the amenities of a modern metropolis. There are over 200 restaurants, ranging from high-street favourites such as Bills and Côte, to high-end spots with a Michelin mention such as Kingham’s. Cool, independent restaurants are particularly well represented, with local favourites including Positano and Kokoro Sushi. On the weekends, it’s hard to beat brunch at Glutton & Glee, while once the sun goes down young professionals and students can be found dancing the night away at swanky bars such as Five & Lime.
Guildford High Street couldn’t be further from the faded blocks and run-down shops seen in some county towns. It’s arguably one of the most charming in the UK, with cobbled streets and hidden lanes offering an array of popular brands, delicious delis and luxury boutiques, ranging from Jo Malone and Whistles to the Partisan Cheesemaker and cult apothecary Space NK. For everything else, Friary Shopping Centre has all essentials covered with the likes of HMV, Topshop and Holland & Barrett across three floors.
For foodies, there’s a popular farmers market every Tuesday, and specialist supermarkets such as Rumwong Thai Market are welcome additions to the town for any keen home chefs interested in international cuisine. As for the weekly shop, the town is well served by a Sainsbury’s superstore, a Tesco superstore and a large Waitrose.
Health & Sport
Had a long week at work? The plush Champneys Spa on the High Street is popular among locals seeking a pampering session, while others tend to head to one of Guildford’s excellent sporting facilities, which include Airhop trampoline park, an open-air lido, and the award-winning Spectrum Leisure Centre, as well as the expansive Guildford Golf Course and the thriving Guildford Cricket Club.
Meanwhile, as you’d expect from such an affluent town, arts and culture have not been neglected with three excellent theatres to choose from in the form of G Live, the Electric Theatre and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (the latter regularly receiving plays after sell-out runs in the West End), as well as large Odeon Cinema. For history buffs, Guildford Museum, Guildford Castle and the old Guildhall offer endless inspiration, and the annual Book Festival is always a real highlight – former resident Lewis Carroll would certainly approve.
‘The best schools in Guildford include Holy Trinity CofE, Burpham Foundation and St Thomas of Canterbury RC, both judged ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, while St Joseph’s and Guildford Grove are also highly recommended’.
Schools and Education
With such a family friendly ambience, it comes as no surprise that the state primary schools in Guildford are particularly strong. The best schools in Guildford include Holy Trinity CofE, Burpham Foundation and St Thomas of Canterbury RC, both judged ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, while St Joseph’s and Guildford Grove are also highly recommended. Sandhill in central Guildford and Weyfield off Woking Road, on the other hand, are in need of improvement with the former deemed ‘Satisfactory’ and the latter ‘Inadequate’ in recent Ofsted reports. State secondary schools don’t fare quite as well, although St Peter’s Catholic School and Guildford County School are both rated ‘Good’, with over 75% of pupils achieving *A-C grades at GCSE.
As you’d expect in an affluent county, there are also a number of very highly rated private schools in the area, including the Royal Grammar School for boys (regularly voted among the top 20 schools in the UK), and Guildford High School and Tormead for girls. Slightly further afield but still popular with local Guildford residents, the neighbouring town of Godalming (around fives miles away by road) offers the highly sought-after Charterhouse School in the private sector, and Godalming College in the state sector, one of the top sixth form colleges in the country with an exam pass rate of 99.5%.
When it comes to higher education, Guildford boasts one of the nation’s finest establishments in the form of The University of Surrey, ranked 4th in the UK by The Guardian as of 2017. In addition to offering a top-notch education, it was also recently voted as one of most LGBT-friendly institutions in the UK, so students don’t have to fear sacrificing support and pastoral care in favour of excellent rankings. The town is also home to Guildford College for apprenticeships and vocational qualifications, although it has recently come under criticism, and improvements have been recommended.
Whatever area of Guildford you choose to live in, you’ll be glad to know that the town is among the safest in the UK, with just 0.3 robberies per 1000 population over 3 years and the highest proportion of crimes belonging to the antisocial behaviour category. It has also been voted as the fourth safest student city in England as of 2016 , so you can rest assured that staying safe and well in Guildford shouldn’t be a problem.
When the mood for a stroll in the countryside strikes, Guildford residents are in a prime position as the town is gently nestled on the edge of the North Downs, with easy access to the gently rolling Surrey Hills. Closer to home, many enjoy the rose gardens of Loseley Park, the woodland areas of Stoke Park, or merely ambling alongside the peaceful River Wey on sunny weekends. All these green spaces make Guildford hugely popular with families who want their children to enjoy a town and country lifestyle.