Notes by Gavin Morgan, 17th August 2020
The “Black Lives Matters” campaign and debates on decolonisation have highlighted Britain’s imperial past. I thought it would be useful to create a page that records Guildford’s connections with the British Empire. It will be updated as more information becomes available.
The British Empire brought goods, people and wealth to Britain from all over the world so nowhere can say it was untouched. However, Guildford’s connections are very different from those of cities like London, Bristol and Liverpool who were directly connected to the slave triangle. It was also different from industrial cities that grew from the output of machines and infrastructure exported all over the world.
Until the middle of the nineteenth century Guildford was essentially a farming community and due to the dense woodland it was not the centre of major industry. A key exception to this were the Chilworth Gunpowder mills which provided gunpowder throughout period of the empire.
Guildford was, however, on a major route between London and Portsmouth and many people of note would have passed through and stayed at the inns in the High Street.
In the nineteenth century many people settled in Guildford and that included explorers and also (apparently) at lot of retired administrators returning from India. This last point is made in a video about the art in St Nicholas Church.
Here is an initial list of Guildford’s connections:
- Semaphore House, built circa 1820 – part of a line of signal stations between London and Portsmouth.
- Henley Fort and site of Pewley Hill Fort – built in the 1870s at a time of heightened tension between Britain and France
- Stoughton Barracks – home of the Queen’s Regiment. In 1851, the Government offered £100,000 to Guildford Corporation for building a barracks for 20,000 soldiers on the Hog’s Back. The offer was declined, but in 1873 Edward Cardwell, Secretary of State for War, decided that Guildford, like all county towns, should have a barracks. Stoughton, still mainly open fields at the time, was selected as the site. Building work was completed in 1876 Chilworth Gunpowder Mills. Click here for more information
- Clandon House and Hatchlands – as major stately homes the owners of these houses were linked to wider political issues. The owner of Clandon married an heiress from a slave owning family. Information can be found on the Surrey History Centre website and also on the UCL Legacies of Slave Ownership website
Locals would have been involved in wars throughout history but particularly the Boer War, First and Second World Wars which captured the public’s imagination. The Crimean War features in Henry Peaks Diaries where he comments on them.
Black History in Surrey
The Surrey History Centre website has a very interesting section on black history
The Surrey History has a section on slavery and Surrey. It is shocking to learn that slave owners were compensated under the Slave Compensation Act of 1837. The compensation has been recorded in the
UCL Legacies of Slave Ownership website and more information about the project can be found it this article