Guildford - George Abbot Trail
GEORGE ABBOT TRAIL, GUILDFORD
Guildford follows a recent trend for new tourist trails and now has a George Abbot Trail that celebrates the borough’s most famous son. Leaflets outlining the trail are sometimes available from the Tourist Information Centre in Guildford House, a 17th century building on the High Street with café, gallery and shop.
WHO WAS HE? George Abbot (1562-1633) was born into a fairly well off family. His father was a local politician in Guildford, also a successful merchant in the wool trade – the town had an important medieval cloth industry, including exports to the continent. George Abbot was a great scholar who rose to be a Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, then Bishop of Lichfield & Coventry, Bishop of London, and finally was chosen to be an Archbishop of Canterbury, a position he held for 22 years. He also held Royal favour, being one of the translators of the Bible for James VI & I, producing the Authorised Version. As head of the Anglican Church, George Abbot also crowned Charles I (1625).
BIRTHPLACE. The trail starts logically enough at George Abbot’s birthplace. He was born in a cottage at the west end of Guildford’s High Street, across the road from St Nicolas Church and just west of the Town Bridge over the River Wey. This building is said to have become The Greyhound, a public house which was rebuilt in 1808. Previous names included The Row Barge and The Jolly Sailor but in the 1990s the pub was renamed THE GEORGE ABBOT to reflect the historical importance of this site.
Cross the High Street from the pub and there is ST NICOLAS CHURCH. This is where George Abbot was baptised (1562) but, once again, the medieval church is no more and the present day church is Victorian (1875) and is the third one on this site. It contains the Loseley Chapel, burial chapel for the More-Molyneux family of nearby Loseley House. St Nicolas has a high church feel to it and has an ornate Victorian font.
UPBRINGING IN GUILDFORD. Head east from St Nicolas, go over the Town Bridge which spans the River Wey and follow the High Street to The Star Inn on the right. This is one of the oldest inns in Guildford. Turn right here into Quarry Street which was once the main road south. Some 50 yards along Quarry Street is ST MARY'S CHURCH which George Abbot would have recognised. This is where his parents were married (Maurice Abbot and Alice March, 1548). St Mary’s is the oldest building in Guildford, has Saxon stonework in its tower, and its fabric is mostly unchanged since the reign of Henry III although today's fittings are mainly Victorian.
Continue along Quarry Street for another 50 yards, go past Guildford Museum on the left, and turn left under Castle Arch. This leads to GUILDFORD CASTLE which George Abbot would also have been familiar with. The biggest remains are the Great Tower (ca 1300), a stone keep on top of a circular motte (mound). The tower (admission charge) was kitted out with new flooring on two levels in 2003-2004, contains a small exhibition and there are good views from the roof of the Wey Gap through the North Downs. Around the castle are well kept gardens plus remains of earthworks and walls where the bailey (castle town) was located below the motte.
Leave the Castle Gardens by the upper gate and return by way of Tunsgate to the High Street. Turn right and head uphill for 200 yards where the ROYAL GRAMMAR SCHOOL (named the Free School when George Abbot was a pupil) is located on both sides of the upper High Street. The old school (1558-86) is the whitewashed four storey, gabled building on the right and it is permissible to look into the quadrangle if the street door is open. RGS received its Royal charter in 1552 from Edward VI and also has a celebrated chained library. George Abbot received his education here in the 1570s, then went up to Balliol College, Oxford in 1579, took Holy Orders in 1583 and rose to Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University in 1600. Later he became Bishop of Lichfield & Coventry (1604), Bishop of London (1605) and finally Archbishop of Canterbury (1611) – the head of the Anglican Church.
LEGACY IN GUILDFORD. Return back down the High Street, past the major junction with North Street where there is a MODERN STATUE OF GEORGE ABBOT. This was created by local artist Faith Winter and unveiled in 1993 by Robert Runcie, the then Archbishop of Canterbury.
Just beyond the statue, on the right, is his most important legacy, the red brick ABBOT'S HOSPITAL (1619-22), full name The Hospital of the Blessed Trinity. This is not a hospital in the modern sense but a Tudor Spital, an almshouse for old people which he paid for. It has rooms for twelve men and eight women who had to fit local rules – they were single, over 60 years old, lived in the town for 20 or more years and had to wear dark blue uniform with a mitre badge. A massive gatehouse, with two with ogee-capped towers, has an old wooden doorway with armorial bearings. This leads into the quadrangle which is lined by the 20 rooms, a common room and accommodation for George Abbot too. Visitors can look through the gateway and guided tours are also undertaken periodically (small fee) - the almshouses are still occupied. A less fortunate occupant was the Duke of Monmouth, held captive here one night in 1685 on his way from the Battle of Sedgemoor to the Tower of London.
Across the cobbled High Street, opposite the Hospital, is HOLY TRINITY CHURCH. This has a medieval chantry chapel but the fabric is now Georgian - rebuilt (1760s) since George Abbot’s day. George Abbot’s younger brothers were baptised here but the church is more famous for being the burial place of his parents, some of his five brothers and of George himself. He lies in a large Renaissance-style tomb carved by John and Matthew Christmas (still a family name in the Guildford area). Holy Trinity also served as Guildford Cathedral before Sir Edward Maufe’s church on Stag Hill in the west of the borough was consecrated (1961).
About 50 yards further down the High Street is the GUILDHALL. This is Guildford’s most instantly recognisable building with John Aylward's famous overhanging clock (1683). George Abbot’s father was one of the Approved Men who administered the Corporation of Guildford from this Elizabethan hall - but the clock and frontage post-date the George Abbot era.
Further down the High Street is retracing your steps over the Town Bridge and back to the George Abbot pub at the beginning of this Trail. Perhaps it is now time for a refreshing ale and a bite to eat.
A modern day commemoration of George Abbot is found in Burpham, an eastern suburb of Guildford. Here is the modern GEORGE ABBOT SCHOOL with a sought after catchment area for secondary education.
Guildford Borough Council – Link
St Mary’s Church - Link
Holy Trinity Church – Link
St Nicolas Church - Link
Royal Grammar School - Link
The Breweries and Public Houses of Guildford. Mark Sturley, 1990.
Abbot's Hospital - Link