At the vanguard of preserving the town has been the Guildford Society. Nothing illustrates this better than the presence of Lloyds Bank in Guildford High Street. The historic frontage supports the banks image and adds to the High Street and the story behind its survival is a good one.
The Guildford Society as we know it was formed in 1935 but it had a predecessor called the Old Guildford Society. In October 1896, George R Williamson, the Guildford Antiquary and Honorary Remembrancer, received a letter from the new newly established Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). The letter expressed concern about the future of Guildford High Street and asked Williamson to form a “watching committee”. A public meeting was held at which concern was expressed about houses being built at the top of Pewley Hill. A letter was read out from none other than William Morris emphasising the dangers to the towns “incomparable” High Street.
The Old Guildford Society was formed and its first (and most important) campaign was to save the Guildford Old Bank at the top of the High Street, now Lloyds). Attempts to dissuade the owners from demolishing the bank fell on deaf ears but Williamson had connections. As an art historian he moved in distinguished circles and knew many influential people from Queen Victoria to Lewis Carroll. The younger royals frequently broke their journey between Osborne and London to do some discreet shopping in Guildford. So Williamson wrote to Princess Louise explaining the problem and inviting her to visit the bank and meet its owners. This was done and plans to demolish the bank vanished as the brass plaque outside testifies.The telegram Williamson received from Princess Louise still exists in the archives of the Old Guildford Society. The Society dwindled when Williamson left the town in 1904 but a new society was founded in 1935. Today it plays an active part in the life of the town, reviewing planning applications, contributing to the local plan, run design awards and advising on transport.