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History of the Guildhall

Explore the history behind the most iconic building on Guildford's High Street.

Guildhall history banner image

The Guildhall in Guildford High Street is where the Mayor and Corporation of Guildford met to regulate the commerce of the Borough, and where the various Courts of Law sat in judgement.

The hall itself is Elizabethan, but very probably stands on the site of the medieval Guildhall which is known to have existed in the 1300s. It was extended at the north end in 1589, on the occasion of one of Elizabeth I's visits to the town and her Coat of Arms in stained glass was inserted in the window above the Judge's Bench.

Later the Arms of James I's Queen, Anne of Denmark, were also inserted, together with the Arms of the Borough itself. Above the Bench hangs a 16th century two-handed sword which has been carried before the Mayor in formal processions since 1922. There are paintings of Charles II, James II and William and Mary, and also one of the colour party of the Queen's Regiment commemorating the presentation of the Freedom of the Borough in 1946.

In 1683 the Guildhall was refurbished with the insertion of a Council Chamber at first floor level. This had a balcony over the street and a bell turret above. The story is told of a London Clock maker, named John Aylward, who presented the projecting clock to the Corporation in return for freedom to trade in the Borough.

Upstairs, the Council Chamber has fine wood panelling and a carved chalk fireplace which is said to have come from the demolished Stoughton Manor House at the end of the 1600s. The paintings include a portrait of Admiral Sir Richard Onslow after his victory at Camperdown, painted by John Russell RA, whose father was four times Mayor of Guildford.

Borough Plate

Pride of place though, must go to the Borough Plate, which is kept in the Guildhall. This fine collection of beautiful silver includes pieces which form the insignia of municipal authority and items used in connection with banquets and other functions.

Guildford has the rare distinction of having two maces: the older is of silver gilt and may date from the late 1400s although it was altered in 1581. The larger mace was given by Henry Howard, High Steward, in 1633. An unusual item is the Mayor's Staff of campeachy wood or logwood, said to have been given by Elizabeth I. It bears the date of 1565 and the castle which figures in Guildford's Coat of Arms.

The Mayor's Badge and Chain are of gold, dating from 1673, and there are similar badges in gold for the Mayoress and silver for other dignitaries.

Outstanding among the silver used for municipal entertainments are the basin and ewer bequeathed in 1574 by John Parkhurst, a Guildfordian who had become Bishop of Norwich. Notable also are several fine silver tankards and table decorations. Every item in the collection has been given to the town and people of the borough.