I have created this article as a starting point to explore the history of immigration in Guildford. At this stage it is just a set of notes and I will be grateful to anyone who wishes to contribute with corrections or more informatio
Up until the nineteenth century Surrey was a bit of a backwater. Heavily wooded it was unsuitable for major industries although the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills was a notable exception. The garden designer Gertrude Jekyll grew up near Godalming and said that as a child it was rare to see a stranger within a few miles of her home. Guildford town centre would have been different. It owed its origins to its communication links and in the seventeenth and eighteenth century it was a major stopping point for travellers between London and Portsmouth. So there would have been a few outsiders visiting the town
The arrival of the railways brought a wave of outsiders and changed the town from a market town to a commuter town. Surrey remained very rural until the early twentieth century. There was a wave of expansion after the Second World War as faster trains made London even more accessible.
This is how my own family came to Guildford. My parents moved to a brand new housing estate, Fairlands in 1957. Growing up there virtually all of my school friends were English but their families had come from different parts of the UK. It was not until I reached secondary school that I befriended true locals. As a bunch of people who had moved to Surrey from outside they had something in common and built a new community from scratch. The local school was built and my sister was one of the first pupils. A local community organisation the FLG was established, money raised for a community hall, the WI was set up, a bar club, theatre group and children were entertained in the school holidays with holiday fun activities organised by Mums.
But the town I grew up in was overwhelming white and as I grew up I became more aware of how insular it was. Perhaps that’s why I wanted to move back to London where my family came from when I went to university. My earliest encounter with people of a different skin colour was in about 1970. I remember the smiling West Indian bus conductor who won my mother’s heart helping her on and off the bus with the push chair and giving my 3 year old sister sweets. She said he was a breath of fresh air particularly as she was fed up with struggling on the bus whilst the grumpy unhelpful Britsh conductors moaned about how she was holding up the other passengers.
Guildford is starting to change but Surrey and Guildford are still behind the national average. In an interesting interview in the Guildford Dragon, Councillor Masuk Miah his on local race relations.
Arriving in Guildford in 1986 he says he experienced some racial comments but that things have improved over the years as more people from different communities have arrived. He is also aware of people who have missed out on job offers almost certainly because of their skin colour and that still happens. Perhaps interestly he implies (if I understand correctly) that the small number of people from other communities has prevented a bigger racial problem in Guildford.
Statistics paint a similar picture and show that whilst diversity has increase it is small steps from a low starting point. A question on ethnic grouping was introduced in the 1991 census to enable private and public organisations to monitor equal opportunities /anti-discrimination policies.
There have been changes in recent decades but they underline just how white and middle class Guildford has been until recently. In 2001 95% of the Surrey population classified themselves as white but by 2011 this figure had changed to 90.4%. In Guildford the change was far less going from 95.9% to 93.5%. Woking is the most ethnically diverse town in Surrey. Surrey and Guildford have a higher proportion of white British (83.5%) than the national average (79.8%).
However the picture gets more complicated when you include white non-British. Surrey (according to the 2011 census) also has a larger proportion of white non- British (6.9%) than the national average (5.7%). At the same time it has a lower proportion of other ethnic groups (9.6%) compared with national figures (14.6%). This seems to confirm the image of Surrey as a wealthy area connected to London’s internationally diverse business community.
This short survey is obviously focuses on where people have come from but of course our community is diverse in many other ways and this is just one measure of who we are.