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History Of The Star Inn, With A Few Queries Over Its Live Music

Published on: 19 Oct, 2018
Updated on: 22 Oct, 2018

By David Rose

With Guildford’s Star Inn in the news over its live music and a noise abatement order, its history is worth a quick look at along with some stories associated with it.

It is, without doubt, one of Guildford’s oldest pubs, but perhaps not as old as you’ll hear it is claimed. Someone on social media recently claimed there has been live music there since the 1400s!

The Star in Quarry Street, Guildford, pictured in the early 1900s.

In fact, Guildford does not have many ‘old’ pubs if thinking in terms of hundreds of years. Those that remain and those that once graced the town mostly date to the 19th century at the time Guildford expanded following the arrival of the railway in 1845.

The earliest recorded name of an inn with the name of The Star in Guildford goes back to 1723. This fact was noted by the renowned Guildford pub and brewery historian, the now late Mark Sturley. He cites that the Star was mortgaged to a John Child from a baker by the name of Arthur Davis. He repossessed the property, after which it then had a succession of owners including victualler Edward Sturt, carpenter Arthur Alexander, cheesemonger John Stovell, and later his son George.

All of these may have had tenants running The Star, for example when Stovell senior owned the inn the occupant was a Henry Moon.

More owners came and went including, in 1833, Thomas Chennell, the owner of the town’s Stoke Brewery. The occupant at that time was a Jessie Boxall (died around 1846), who had been there since around 1742, a name that was to be associated with the pub for a long period in the years that followed.

However, a William Smith had taken over the running of the Star by 1839, yet in 1845 the freehold was purchased by another Jessie Boxall (1822-94), grandson of the previously mentioned publican.

Stoneware bottle marked ‘J Boxall Porter & Spirit Merchant Guildford’.

This Jessie Boxall was a dealer in porter and spirits and, according to stoneware bottles that exist with his name on, he also brewed at “The Star Brewery”.

The “back room” in the Star Inn where the live music has been taken place was built as a function room in the 1840s (remember the date).

It was originally called the Court Room. This was never a court of law but was a meeting room of the Guildford Castle Court of the Ancient Order of Foresters. A national organisation, it exists to this day and is now called the Foresters Friendly Society, and provides its members with savings policies.

There are conflicting claims as to when live music in modern times started at The Star. The pub is not mentioned in Nigel Enever’s book Guildford The Rock ‘n’ Roll Years. I have also spoken to several musicians and gig-goers who were on the local music scene in the late 1950s and 60s, and they do not recall The Star having live music then.

It is widely acknowledged that legendary band the Stranglers, who were formed in Guildford and originally went by the name of the Guildford Stranglers, played their first gig under that name at The Star in 1974. From a search of the internet, I have been unable to find a date. I would be interested in hearing from readers if it is known and did anyone go to it?

So, was live music at The Star a regular event in the early 1970s?

Guildford’s honorary remembrance and former curator of Guildford Museum, the extremely knowledgeable Matthew Alexander, recalls hiring the back room at The Star in around the latter part of the 1970s for the Pilgrim Morris Men, who used it as their base for their May Day celebrations in the town.

Moving into the 1980s, if I am right in remembering, the back room was used by a local folk club for a while. I do remember going there a few times. But was it used for any other type of music? Perhaps readers can supply specific details?

Sammy Rat’s Big Big Blues Band. From left: Gavin George, David Collins, David Rose, Neil Dewey and Glyn Edwards.

I have played in bands locally for many years. My band, Sammy Rat’s Big Big Blues Band, did not play there in the 1980s when we played just about every live music venue in the area, large and small, including Guildford Civic Hall seven times. If we had played at The Star and there was rock and blues music there on a regular basis, I am sure I would remember. Please correct me if I’m wrong!

When “The Rats” reformed in the early 2000s, we did play at The Star, twice, if I remember correctly, with local band The True Deceivers. I thought it was a bit of a dive and not the nicest of places for our followers to come and see us.

Also, I didn’t like the idea that the pub was not paying the bands – as had been the norm at similar venues. You had to hire it and charge admission at what price you deemed appropriate with your own person taking the cash on the door. The Star was promoting itself as a live music venue, but as I saw it, for the bands, it was no different to hiring a community hall and putting on a gig yourself.

Back to the previously mentioned Boxall family, associated with the pub for years: publican Jessie Boxall III was also a member of the town council. He was known to locals for sitting outside The Star smoking a long clay tobacco pipe, always wearing a hat but no coat. If he came back today I wonder how he would describe the sound in the “back room”?

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Responses to History Of The Star Inn, With A Few Queries Over Its Live Music

  1. Jan Messinger Reply

    October 19, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Very interesting history of our historic town, as always David. A good read.

  2. Peta Malthouse Reply

    October 19, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    The book I have says it was probably purchased by John Child in 1684. He was mayor of Guildford in 1676, 1681 and 1691. He apparently mortgaged the property but died just afterwards before it was repaid. These details and much more are found in Breweries and Public Houses of Guildford. The details about it as an entertainment centre come from Secret Guildford by Marion Field.

    It is recorded in Secret Guildford that The Star has been there since the early 1600s and that Morris Men and Mummers performed there The Wassail, apparently started thereafter Mummers play was performed. On social media, it is claimed that it has been an entertainment venue for 400 years or from its beginnings.

    I feel strongly that more should be published about our historic buildings. This one is Grade II Listed with an entertainment licence allowing music and performances until 1am at the weekends. The flats that were created clearly were not supplied with enough noise insulation.

    It is not rocket science these days. Assessments can easily be made of the amount needed. The developer has been careless in the face of known facts.

  3. William Robert Reply

    March 12, 2022 at 3:06 am

    I did a history project back in the 1970s, pubs have been part of Guildford history since the 1500s if not before.

    Inns in Guildford were the halfway point from London to Portsmouth. The Three Pigeons has been around since the late 1600s in various forms and was a hotel and inn.

    The Crypt at the Angel hotel is from the 12th century as is the crypt opposite.

    David Rose adds: William is certainly correct in that Guildford’s tradition of inns and hostelries go back hundreds of years. According to the late Mark Sturley, who extensively researched the topic and published them in his 1990 book The Breweries and Public House of Guildford, the earliest mention of the Three Pigeons pub in Guildford is from 1786, in a conveyance to the house next door. It describes it as next to “the message which bearing the sign of the Three Pigeons now in the occupation of John Betts on the west”.

    Sturley adds: “Although this is the first recorded message of the sign of the Three Pigeons, the title deeds of the property date from June 1, 1646, when Henry Snelling, blacksmith, son and heir of George Snelling, blacksmith, sold it to George Heather for £51 and five shillings.” We may assume that it was not technically an inn or pub until sometime in the 18th century.

    Although the Angel Hotel has for a long time called its ‘underground’ room a crypt. It, along with the one on the opposite side of the High Street, are actually undercrofts, where traders stored or sold their goods and therefore not places of worship.

    It’s also worth bearing in mind at all times in relation to Guildford’s history, that it was a tiny town until the railway arrived in 1845 and only then did the town begin to expand. In the terms of the volume of Guildford’s history, the vast majority of Guildford’s pubs (open or now long gone) were established in the 19th century for a growing population that must have been very thirsty.

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