Guildford

1913 saw the opening of a handsome new Electricity Works on Onslow Street to provide power for Guildford town centre.  As electricity consumption rose over the following years it became clear that a bigger station was needed.  A replacement building opened on another site in May 1928. The Electricity Works was retained as a distribution centre and all the town centre mains radiated from this point.

After 1968 the building lay dormant, used only as a scenery store for the various amateur theatre groups based in the area. Twenty years later the building's potential as a theatre was recognised.  Guildford Amateur Theatre Association (GATA), representing the interests of the many amateur arts companies in the area, began to lobby the Borough Council for a new base. GATA was successful and 1997 saw the opening of ‘The Electric Theatre’.

The design project was undertaken by the Borough Council architects.  The 1913 Electricity Works building houses the theatre space itself, with extensions housing the foyer, bar, restaurant, dressing rooms, Farley Room and toilet facilities.  The Theatre has retractable seating for 210, a wooden sprung floor, an orchestra pit and first class technical equipment.

'1913
ELECTRICITY WORKS.'
is still boldly readable in white condensed capitals on the rear of the building which overlooks the river Wey, but it's clearly readbale from the restaurant of the YMCA, from which these photographs were taken. On careful inspection, rather than stuck on characters, these appear to be in white ceramic tile, built into the brickwork: hence the bright colour.
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In 1895 John Dennis (1871-1939) opened the Universal Athletic Stores in High Street, Guildford. He was joined by his brother Raymond Dennis (1878-1939) and they began producing the 'Speed King' and 'Speed Queen' bicycles. The brothers expanded into motor tricycles, and by 1900 were making motor quadricycles.

In 1901 Dennis Bros. Ltd moved into a factory designed for the production of their motor vehicles on the corner of Onslow Street and Bridge Street, in Guildford. This building was later known as Rodboro Buildings, after the Rodboro Boot and Shoe Company who bought the building from Dennis in 1917 and subsequently it became a confectionery warehouse. The latest renovations were undertaken in the early 1990s. The Dennis brothers launched their first motor car in 1902, buses in 1903, followed by vans and lorries, and fire engines, the most famous of Dennis vehicles, from 1908. Dennis vehicles, especially fire engines, were exported around the world, including to the fire services of Singapore, Athens, Brisbane, Barbados, Cairo, Penang and Shanghai.

This three-storey, brick-walled building is probably the earliest surviving purpose-built car factory in England. Cars were lifted from floor to floor by lift to be finished on the top floor under roof lights; they were then lowered to the ground floor showroom. The building was soon outgrown by the company who moved production elsewhere in 1905 although it continued to use the Rodboro Buildings as offices.

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We deduce that the word in caps painted under the screw-on lettering '('Rodboro Buildings') is "RODBORO' as its flanked by the smaller lettering below, which is then followed by the word 'WORKS' (see above). Compare with lettering at the rear of the building. Once threatened by demolition, this Grade II listed building is currently occupied by Wetherspoons as a pub/club on the ground floor and The Academy of Contemporary Music above.
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'WHOLESALE TOBACCO
CONFECTIONERY
DISTRIBUTORS'

'FANCY GOODS
WAREHOUSEMEN
1ST FLOOR' (+ pointing finger)

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Here, at the rear of the bulding is rather more vestigial characters (probably two generations of lettering): 'RODBORO WORKS'[?] and underneath (probably): 'DENNIS BROS. MOTOR WORKS (PARTS?)' after the original owners. It looks as if the Initial 'D' of 'Dennis' is covered up by the white-painted background bearing the vertical lettering 'Lloyds Bar'. The Rodboro Building is well-known locally as being in the centre of a large roundabout including the Electric Theatre and the YMCA: the traffic is certainly fast and hazardous. We now move up the steep High Street.

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The Angel Posting House & Livery whose story stretches back to the Middle Ages is a fascinating timber-framed building in the centre of Guildford's Historic High Street. It occupies two of the plots laid out in Saxon times; however at some time in the fifteenth century the properties were combined under one ownership. The oldest part of the hotel is the stone vaulted undercroft that dates back to the 1300s and still has the remains of the original spiral staircase.

The earliest documentary evidence for the building is in a deed from Pancras Chamberlyn of 1527 when Sir Christopher More bought the building called the Angel for £10.00. His son and heir who was a favoured minister of Queen Elizabeth, and who built nearby Loseley House (open to the public), sold the lease in 1545. The new owner was John Hole, a shoemaker but the details of rooms and stabling suggest it was an inn by this time. The roof of this period still remains and from the inn you can see the northern gable which conceals curious timbers.

In 1606 John Astret left this "Hospitio" (inn) to his son and it may have been at this time that the inn was largely rebuilt. The splendid Jacobean woodwork and panelling is very much a feature of the hotel as is the massive brick fireplace, although this would have been built earlier. By the main staircase hangs an original"Parliamentary" clock which would have reminded travellers when their coaches were due to depart. Since Guildford was on the main road from London to Southampton, Winchester and Portsmouth throughout the centuries numerous travellers would have passed through the town, especially soldiers and sailors. Guests brought prosperity to the Angel; however due to compulsory billeting of soldiers, the inn was bankrupt in the late 1770's. (Sadly history seems to have repeated itself in 2009!)

The next owners were local brewers, firstly Frances Skurray and then in 1819 the Elkin family. It was in the height of the coaching era and they probably added the present frontage. A stucco facade was applied to the old timber-framed building and the signs added: 'POSTING HOUSE' to indicate that fresh horses could be hired here, and 'LIVERY STABLES' to show that customer's horses could be cared for in their absence. Another reminder of this period is the hoist from the hayloft at the right of the inn yard. More modern lettering over the archway, 'ANGEL GATE' indicates the original coaching entrance, in modern times it leads to a restaurant, shops and an alleyway.

The arrival of the railway in Guildford in 1845 brought an end to the lucrative coaching trade, when in the High Street alone there were six coaching inns and over 30 beer houses.With the exception of The Angel, all the great coaching inns have disappeared over the years. One famous guest who stayed here in 1876 was the young Prince Imperial of France who was later killed in the Zulu Wars. The shadowy spectre of another foreign soldier of this time has been seen occasionally in one of the timber-beamed bedrooms.

In 1989 The Angel was sold to property developers who wished to convert it into shops, but after a great public outcry planning permission was refused and the hotel was saved. In 1990 the hotel was sold to professional hoteliers who took great care in refurbishing the inn, retaining much of the original structure and atmosphere of this important centre of hospitality for many generations.

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 A huge sundial hangs above Superdrug, 101 High Street bearing the Latin motto: 'DISCE DIES NUMERARE TUOS' (“Learn to number your days”). A vertical sundial of a type common in the 17th and 18th Centuries, this example may actually date from the earlier 19th Century. (See Links page for Suffolk Sundials and more sundials at Aldeburgh and Woodbridge.)
          
Here also is a typically deco shop front of:
'MONTAGUE BURTON
THE TAILOR OF TASTE'
This trading banner predates the later and more commonly seen  'Burton' and  gives the full name of the company's founder on a building sign (albeit very high above pedestrians). 'Montague' is angled in a scroll; 'The' and 'Of' have underline and overline, the rest in 1930s flourish font. 1900 saw Lithuanian émigré Montague Burton arrive in Britain and borrow £100 to set up his own menswear business in Chesterfield. By 1906 he has started to establish a chain of shops selling both ready-to-wear and bespoke suits. In 1910 the business relocated to Leeds.  A philanthopist, Burton received a knighthood in 1931 for 'services to industrial relations'. By the end of the Second World War Burton was estimated to be clothing around a fifth of the British male population. In 1952 Sir Montague died. At the time of his death his company was the largest multiple tailor in the world with 616 stores.

Burton's shop managers were told that if there was any surplus space in the building, a poster was available from head office saying 'Billiard Hall to let'. Initially Burton allowed these to be run by other people, but finding that many of them also sold alcohol, and deciding this compromised his hard-fought respectable image, he took them over himself. Dance classes or offices were sometimes allowed to use the extra space, but billiards, being an exclusively male activity, was the preferred option. Many people still remember attending dance classes in ballrooms above their local Burton shop.

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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. The spectacular gold and black clock is clearly dated '1683' at the bottom. Our photograph was taken during a Heritage Open Day in 2009, when visitors had access to the balcony.




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