This past weekend was the Heritage Open Days across the UK. I took this great opportunity to see some of the many amazing historical sites in Guildford and Surrey.
- Abbot’s Hospital is a very striking building at the top of the High Street, commissioned by George Abbot in 1619, which caught my attention as soon as I moved into the area. Anyone is welcome to walk up to the barrier and peer into the incredible quandrangle entrance way, inspired by Tudor architecture and Abbot’s years in Oxford colleges. To this day, the hospital is still in working condition and takes residents – it is not a medical hospital, but a “pity house” for the elderly poor. Due to this, access to the building is very restricted, but they still arrange bi-weekly tours in the summer, or private tours throughout the year, which are definitely worth taking. The building is currently undertaking a restoration effort, and shortly the grand stained glass windows in the chapel will be removed for repair, and any donations will be gratefully received. Excitingly, it is also possible to hire this Grade I listed building for events.
- The Royal Grammar School was our second stop. Not the New Building that serves as the public face of the school these days, but the Old Building over the road. Guests were given tickets to a 30 minute talk on the history of the Chained Library (so named because the books were chained to the shelves). The RGS headteacher is a very lucky man, because this historic room serves as his office. The original Royal Charter hangs in the office, and among the many tomes feature Newton’s Principia (one of the most important scientific books ever written) and a Polyglot Bible (a bible with the text written in multiple languages). Tourists were also given the opportunity to visit the school courtyard and the Big School (the old school hall). Sadly, it’s difficult to visit these historic locations most of the time, due to school terms, but it’s definitely an amazing place to visit should you get the opportunity.
- A brief stop in the Radisson Edwardian at the end of the High Street was next. I have already sung this hotel’s praises in a previous blog post – it’s a very striking new venue opened just a year ago, exhibiting a great sense of grandeur and theatricality. However, it’s definitely not the first building that comes to mind when you think “heritage”. It was included in the Open Days because the site of the hotel was originally the White Horse Inn, a public house so considered a landmark, that when they demolished it to build the hotel they had to keep the signature White Horse statue out front, as it was considered an inherent part of the town’s history. The Radisson had only a small but very educational exhibit in its foyer.
- Finally, we took the lift up the tallest building on the High Street to the Jellicoe Roof Gardens, now part of the House of Fraser Tea Terrace. We enjoyed some amazing afternoon tea while peering over the slightly overgrown grasses that adorn the roof which gives the best views across Guildford besides the Castle and Cathedral. Originally the garden was part of an Italian restaurant and ice cream parlour, where diners could eat right on the water; now a barrier has been erected, and additional building has obscured some of the view. Next time you fancy a mid-shopping snack, take the escalator all the way up to savour some delicious tea and incredible views.
- As if visiting four great tourist spots wasn’t enough, on Sunday we took a fifteen minute drive out of town to Greyfriars Vineyard. Purchased a couple of years ago, the new management has plans to expand the vineyard and winery to commercial size and produce at least 60,000 bottles of still and sparkling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir a year. We were given a tour around the established and newly planted vines, then around the winery where the grapes are pressed, bottled and double fermented to give the perfect flavour, then got the opportunity to try the wines ourselves. I won’t deny that we couldn’t resist buying a bottle to take home, of a wine they are planning to enter in a competition this year. If you too would like a chance to try some delicious made-in-England wines, and see how they’re made, give them a call.
And the most exciting thing? All of these places were barely a fifteen minute walk or drive from home. Surrey is a beautiful county, so next time you have a weekend spare, don’t bother getting the train into London or a flight to Paris: see what your hometown has to offer.