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You don’t have to go far in Guildford to see that Archbishop George Abbot has left his mark on the town.
You can’t miss his famous almshouse, Abbot’s Hospital, at the top of the High Street; his statue nearby; a school named after him; and a pub near his birthplace that bears his name.
He is Guildford’s most famous person in our nation’s history. But what about his remarkable family and the town of Guildford as he was growing up here?
Historian Mary Alexander’s new book, George Abbot’s Guildford, neatly answers those questions. It is a gem of a book in which she paints a fascinating picture of Guildford life in Tudor and Stuart times, woven around the story of George, his parents and his siblings.
She also puts paid to some of the ancient tales surrounding the Abbot family, in which they have sometimes been portrayed as a poor family – facts reveal that they were actually quite wealthy.
She also explores the story of George’s mother and the vivid dream she had when expecting him. She dreamt that if could eat a pike, her son would grow up to be a great man. The story goes that she drew up a pail of water from the river and in it was a pike – which she then ate. The rest, that George went on to Oxford and then rose to be Archbishop of Canterbury, was one of the translators of the King James Bible in 1611, was with James I when he died, and crowned Charles I, we know is true.
The book gives details about George’s parents, Maurice and Alice, and all his brothers. For example, Robert became Bishop of Salisbury and Maurice (or Morris) was a very successful businessman and Lord Mayor of London.
But that is not all, Mary weaves into the Abbot family story lots of detail about the life of Guildford folk in those days. She has combed existing records of the townspeople, their occupations and life in general.
Their lives were bound up with the word of God and regular worship, which at the time was going through a great deal of change.
At the book’s launch on Thursday last week (April 19), held at Abbot’s Hospital, Mary said that she particularly likes “Guildford’s earlier history”. The book has been published by the Guildford History Press. Mary said this is an informal business partnership with Steve Place of Giddon Place, the Guildford based print and design firm.
The logo of the Guildford History Press is based on one of the town’s old metal trade tokens. It features a woolsack and the castle. It was, of course, the wool trade that made Guildford a prosperous town in medieval times. The Guildford which George Abbot grew up in was much concerned with clothmaking. Indeed, Maurice Abbot was a clothier.
Mary added that her next book will be about Guildford’s woollen industry.
George Abbot’s Guildford is A5 in size with 46 pages and a good number of colour illustrations. It costs £5.99. Copies are available from Guildford Museum. Highly recommended.