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Changing face of the Upper High Street

01st November 2011

With Guildford’s new G Live entertainment venue now open, memories of the town’s former civic hall in London Road will now begin to fade.

G Live opened its doors in September 2011 and has been built on the site of the former Guildford Civic Hall (later called Guildford Civic) that closed in 2004. That building was opened in 1962.  However, I believe discussions for such a venue in the town were taking place as far back as the late 1940s!

I consider that Guildford Civic Hall served its purpose well throughout its 42-year history. I have fond memories of it – as a member of the audience at many concerts, as well as performing there myself as a musician on a number of occasions. The atmosphere in the main hall was, in general, good. And from a musician’s point of view, it was a great stage to play on. Perhaps it will be remembered more for its interior than exterior?

In 2004, one of my From the Archives stories in the Surrey Advertiser focused on readers’ memories of Guildford Civic Hall. One person wrote in saying that she recalled the singer-songwriter Elton John playing there in 1972. He told the audience how much he always liked playing at Guildford Civic Hall because the acoustics were good.  She added: “I felt very proud because my father, a master plasterer, had built the ceiling in the hall. I’ll always remember him coming home from work saying that the beams of the hall were made of plaster hung on chicken wire and could come down at any time. He always laughed about it at the time, but I think he was a bit concerned about this. He need not have worried, because the ceiling beams outlived him, so his work was better than he thought.”

The Radisson Edwardian Guildford Hotel is an even newer building in the town, and is situated next door to G Live. The four-star, 181-room hotel incorporates part of the former White Horse Hotel fronting the Upper High Street.

There appears to have been an inn of some kind on the site as far back as the 18th century. An advertisement for the hotel was placed in the Surrey Advertiser in 1864. It stated: “This old established and commodious hotel is replete with every comfort and supplying articles of the best quality under the entirely new management of its proprietor, George Head, wine, spirit and bottle ale merchant.”  It later passed into the ownership of the Guildford based Friary, Holroyd & Healy’s Brewery. In 1963, the hotel was practically re-built. It re-opened the following year offering 24 bedrooms and a restaurant that could seat 50. Further redevelopment of the interior took place in 1988.

However, the look of this part of town could have been entirely different if suggestions back in the 1920s had been taken up.

In May 1928, a conference of the then new Diocese of Guildford decided that a new cathedral should be built within the borough of Guildford. Several sites for it were put forward. One suggestion included the demolition of a house on land between London Road and Epsom Road near the junction with Upper High Street, and building the cathedral there!

By local historian and writer David Rose

David Rose is a journalist and local historian well known for the column he used to write in the Surrey Advertiser. His articles on a wide range of local history topics can now be read on the St Catherine's Village website. David spoke at The Society’s meeting in October. He has generously undertaken to publish some of his work in the Newsletter, which will also be put on the website.

Rose, D. From the Archives column, Surrey Advertiser, January 30, 2004.
Sturley, M. The Breweries & Public Houses of Guildford. (Charles Traylen 1990).
Newman. S. The Building of Guildford Cathedral, article in Through Time section of the St Catherine’s Village website

Posted by: David Rose