Fringe Box



Dragon Interview – Michael Jeffery, Guildford Society

Published on: 25 Feb, 2012
Updated on: 29 Feb, 2012

As debate about Guildford’s ‘Masterplan’ rages on. What better time to find out more about the chairman of the Guildford Society…

Michael Jeffery

Michael Jeffery, Chairman of the Guildford Society

interviewed by Martin Giles

MG: Tell me about your background. Have you always lived in Guildford?

Michael: I grew up near Leek, North Staffordshire, my father worked in the pottery industry. However, my maternal grandparents moved to Guildford from London. Hence my parents were married here, in St Martha’s. As a boy, I knew the town as a holiday destination. It seemed a wonderful and exciting place to me. I can remember being fascinated by the fishpond in the castle grounds and a Napier car parked in Quarry Street, which was two-way in those days, believe it or not! I attended Leek High School and progressed to study architecture at King’s College, Newcastle, in the University of Durham.

MG: What about your career?

Michael: I first worked in an architectural practice in Newcastle designing Catholic churches and schools. I then moved up to Edinburgh in 1965 and spent four years working for (Basil) Spence, Glover and Ferguson. Work there included an ICI Factory and housing projects in Canongate, as well as work connected with the British exhibition at Expo’67, in Montreal. In 1969 I moved down to London and into a 19th century flat on the Charing Cross Road, opposite Foyle’s. I was working for the Greater London Council/Inner London Education Authority, both now defunct, of course. In 1975 we moved down to Guildford where I still have family connections. I continued to work for the ILEA until 1990, when it was disbanded, and set up a practice with one of my two sons, also an architect who was based for some years in Hong Kong. He has more recently been involved in a prizewinning project in the Lake District and is about to embark on a scheme to design a railway factory in Newton Aycliffe, south of Durham, where a Japanese firm will employ local labour to build Europe’s next generation of trains.

Michael as a small boy (right) with his younger brother perched on their family car

MG: What do you like most about Guildford?

Michael: It is a lovely heritage town in a beautiful setting with fascinating narrow streets, the river linking many of the main features. There exists a blend of buildings of all ages. I do actually like some of the architecture of the 50s and 60s. I know it is not a popular view but I think as time passes we will learn to value some of the better examples from those decades.

MG: What do you dislike about Guildford?

Michael: For most of its development the town seems to have forgotten its own high standard. It has also allowed itself to get into a complete traffic mess. As a result, it has cut itself off from one of its best features, the river.

MG: When did you join the Guildford Society and why?

Michael: Soon after we moved to Guildford in 1975 or ’76. We were living in South Hill and attending Holy Trinity church. Gordon Bridger told me to join because I was an architect. Almost as soon as I joined I was asked to join their ‘design group and after the second or third meeting I attended I was asked to take over its chair!

MG: How do you see the role or function of the Society?

Michael: I see our role as being the guardian of the quality of the town. Our main concerns are the pressure of development and the planning control function. We need to influence work on better traffic management and seek to ensure a high standard of design generally. Additionally, we should encourage a greater interest in the qualities of the town and its history.

Michael introducing Anne Milton MP to speak on the Localism Bill at a Guildford Society meeting

MG: How does the Society operate?

Michael: It invites people to express their own interests through one of the working groups contained in the Society: the planning group who scrutinise planning applications; the transport group who look for answers to our traffic problems and congestion; a design and heritage group to encourage good design of new buildings and protection of the old; and a social group to organise meetings and functions. The Executive Committee meets monthly to identify and approve activities of the groups, ensure that they are adequately supported and avoid conflicts. We also oversee expenditure. Plus we manage the Town Bridge Craft Market, which enlivens an important part of the town, and there are monthly social meetings at which there is normally a presentation.

MG: What are the current issues?

Michael: The overriding issue is the Guildford Masterplan. There is a crying need for a long-term vision for the town: something the current Masterplan lacks. We need to achieve an adequate vision and work out how, over time, we might get there. This has to be done in co-operation with the councillors, council officers and the leaders of both the Guildford Borough Council and Surrey County Council.

MG: What are your predictions for Guildford in the next 25 years?

Michael: I predict, hopefully, that: standards of design will continue to improve; that the nettle will be grasped and Guildford will tackle the problem of traffic congestion; and that a Town Council will be established so that the views of those who live in the town itself are properly represented.

MG: If you could change just one thing in Guildford what would it be?

Michael: I would get the traffic out so that the town could be properly re-united with its river.

Michael, thank you very much for giving your time and sharing your views with us.

Please click here to visit the website of the Guildford Society

(Once there, Michael requests that you click on: ‘Response to GBC Masterplan’)

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