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Opinion: Should We Want A New Guildford Museum or a Surrey County Museum

Museum Sign choiceBy Gavin Morgan

Gavin Morgan is a member of the Surrey Archaeological Society, the Guildford Society and is a friend of Guildford Museum. He has worked under former curator Matthew Alexander, spent 12 years at the Museum of London and is also is the author of the book: The Guildford Guy Riots (published by Northside Books).

Should Guildford Museum, founded by the Surrey Archaeological Society, aspire to be a county museum? The museum has always had a Surrey focus but any ambition for official “county” status is at stake during the current Guildford Borough Council review of the museum’s future.

Some people say it should be the county museum. After all, we are the county town. Henry III’s charter of September 7, 1257, stated that: “the county court of Surrey shall be held in the said town of Guildford forever.”

Other people, say Guildford, as a local borough, should not foot the bill for a countywide resource.

Opinion Logo 2Who is right? Well both sides have a point but I believe the main issue is how we see ourselves as a town and how we wish to present ourselves.

It makes sense that we should not foot the bill for a county wide resource. But it might be in our interests as the county town to run a Surrey museum. Has anyone looked into it? Surrey County Council might be open to a dialogue about this.

Of course a museum dedicated to the whole of Surrey is a big undertaking. However, there is a difference between a Surrey museum – with a policy of collecting every aspect of Surrey’s history – and a museum with a Surrey focus – which is what Guildford has always been.

We already have the collections of the Surrey Archaeological Society and as the county town of Surrey it makes sense that we should be the town that displays them. We also have other collections relating to Surrey, such as items from the Surrey Iron Railway.

Furthermore, you cannot look at the history of Guildford properly without referencing the history of Surrey. We are on a junction of the North Downs and River Wey, London to Portsmouth Road and a railway junction. These are all Surrey features that are also very much part of our history. Our borough also includes many villages so all aspects of Surrey rural life are also an integral part of Guildford life.

The importance of Guildford as the county town is very apparent when you look at the history of the county. Most of Surrey and Sussex was forest for centuries and much of Surrey still is.

The main towns were either close to London e.g. Kingston upon Thames and Southwark, or were along the coast. Guildford was unique in being a large down in the heart of Surrey because it stood on the junction with traffic going east-west along the North Downs and north-south between London and Portsmouth.

William the Conqueror passed through the town as he encircled London after the Battle of Hastings and our castle was one of the earliest built. In fact our castle was the only royal castle in Surrey.

Even in the 19th century, Guildford grew faster than other towns. However, with the growth of London it became a satellite town to London. Woking also arrived as a major town as the railway spread out of London.

museum-brown-signWhen Surrey County Council was set up in 1889, Kingston was chosen as the home of the Surrey County Council. This became a strange choice when the boundaries were changed in 1963. Now Surrey County Council is still in Kingston but Kingston is no longer in Surrey.

Since the 1960s Guildford’s economy has grown largely as a result of the University of Surrey and we are arguably Surrey’s leading town both economically and culturally.

Woking is always snapping at Guildford’s heels but Guildford will always be the county town that Henry III recognised.

So should we have a museum with a county focus or just have a borough museum? The answer depends on how we see ourselves and how much civic pride we have. Are we just a small country town next to a large and growing university are we proud to be the county town of Surrey and keen to fulfil that role?

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4 Responses to Opinion: Should We Want A New Guildford Museum or a Surrey County Museum

  1. Alan Cooper Reply

    August 21, 2015 at 12:06 am

    Kingston, similar to Sutton is still in Surrey, but controlled as a London borough. Letters still addressed to Kingston have a Surrey address. Staines to many still has a Middlesex address. Sutton and Kingston policed by Metropolitan Police.

    It depends on what you mean by “in Surrey”. I suspect most would no longer regard the London Boroughs of Kingston, Sutton or Croydon to be part of Surrey, if one accepts the boundary changes of 1965, and most current county maps reflect this. But some, especially residents who have been brought up in these towns, still feel a strong allegiance to the county of Surrey. Ed.

  2. Neville Bryan Reply

    August 21, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Guildford has always been seen as the main Surrey market town. A nice place to live and work, a historic gap town, and also the county town for the assets of Surrey.

    From the outside this issue seems to have been started by an uncoordinated eviction notice on an important historical body.

    The whole recent museum issue has created an interesting discussion both in the press and private homes. Like many I have spoken too since this news broke, I was only vaguely aware the museum was there, and I admit I have never entered on my many walks past. Recent publicity will I am sure boost its numbers and visibility, but surely there is a much bigger issue.

    Do we not need some improved coordinated management of all the attractions of historic Guildford?

    I am not sure whether it is now too late, but my view is yes, let’s have the museum, suitably housed and in context with the castle and other historic buildings in the centre of town.

    If possible, let’s ask the commercial developers like those organising the Tunsgate development which will overlook the castle site, to be a factor in this. Let’s ensure the town centre “Mastervision” will cover the points too when it is finalised.

    I also ask, if Guildford Borough Council are the right people to run, or recreate this kind of historic attraction? Or, should it be handed over and coordinated by another national body, such as the National Trust or English Heritage, who have far more experience in creating and marketing our heritage assets.

    Maybe these thoughts are all too late. I personally have no issue with changing the current museum arrangements but, as a minimum, it should be done as part of a clear plan and clear vision for Guildford.

    If there is one, sadly I am not seeing one beyond retail overload at the moment.

  3. Gavin Morgan Reply

    August 24, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Mr Bryan makes some very valid points. We will add these points to the list of issues/ideas we are exploring in Guildford Heritage Forum (

  4. Marjorie Williams Reply

    August 25, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    I wish to thank, Gavin Morgan, for all his efforts in trying to preserve Guildford’s Heritage.

    I would like to help as much as possible so would love to receive any information. Unfortunately, physically, due to my advanced age, I am not very active.

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