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Opinion: Guildford Has a Great Heritage and Deserves a Decent Museum

Published on: 24 Jul, 2015
Updated on: 27 Jul, 2015

Guildford_High_Street_(c.1828) Charles Deane 1200By Gavin Morgan

Gavin Morgan is a member of the Surrey Archaeological Society, the Guildford Society and is a friend of Guildford Museum. He has worked under former curator Matthew Alexander, spent 12 years at the Museum of London and is also is the author of the book: The Guildford Guy Riots (published by Northside Books).

The recent articles and letters about Guildford Museum and the Surrey Archaeological Society highlight a broader issue: we need a positive and open debate about our heritage services.

It is a sad year for heritage in Guildford. With many others I have waited patiently for years whilst Guildford Museum has pursued its lottery bid, only to see hopes for a new museum vanish.

Opinion Logo 2We have seen Clandon House burnt to a shell and now the very future of the museum is under review, its relationship with the Surrey Archaeological Society in doubt.

The heritage services have been gradually run down and the muniment room and the Surrey Records all went to Woking.

It has been a while since the museum had an energetic curator. In fact it has been a while since it had a “curator” at all.

Meanwhile, we have seen other towns overtake us. Woking has the award winning Lightbox, funded partly with a lottery bid. It also has the Surrey History Centre.

Godalming has a delightful local history museum, also funded with the help of the lottery.

What is strange is that we have a stronger base from which to build an excellent heritage service than either of these towns. We live in the county town of Surrey and have many fine historic monuments.

There is also a thriving community of people in the town who are involved with the promotion of our heritage including volunteer town guides and the Friends of Guildford Museum.

We have various local history groups and every September the Guildford Society (in conjunction with the borough) organises one of the most successful open house days in the country.

We deserve a decent museum to act as a focus for the town’s heritage. On the one hand our heritage is good for tourism and the town’s economy. It adds to the town’s prestige and quality of life, making the town a popular place to live.

It is also the very soul of a town such as ours: if we don’t understand our history we won’t value it. With a new Local Plan soon to be released the need to understand what is of value has never been so important.

A debate about the importance of our heritage and how we want to celebrate it, is long overdue. All of us who believe in the importance of history to our town have something to contribute whether we are teachers, local historians, archaeologists or just love our historic town.

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Responses to Opinion: Guildford Has a Great Heritage and Deserves a Decent Museum

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    July 24, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Perhaps like the successful Guildford Vision Group, the Flood Forum and the Road Forum in north Guildford, we should get a “Heritage Forum” in place to discuss how we can move forward, copying or emulating our neighbouring communities to gain funding and find a location within the Castle area (the obvious location) to promote our history?

    Such a forum should hold those responsible to account for their inaction and rattle the cages to get things moving. Perhaps the Guildford Society could instigate the inaugural meeting with their contacts with the community and officials.

  2. Gavin Morgan Reply

    July 24, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    I like Jim Allen’s suggestion. I have just created a Guildford Heritage Forum Facebook page to get things started.

    Nothing on the page yet but I will sort that out over the weekend. I will also speak to people I know about taking this forward along the lines Mr Allen suggests.

  3. Julian Lyon Reply

    July 25, 2015 at 9:27 am

    Thank you Gavin for your comments and Jim for your response.

    The Guildford Society has a Design & Heritage Group which I am sure would be a good starting place for us. I am sure they would welcome Gavin to focus on this topic alongside their current works.

    At the recent AGM I unveiled my vision for the society including a campaigns group for just this sort of activity and I would welcome Guildford Society members to come forward to help bring that about – this seems an admirable focus to start with.

    It is true many of our public activities are more about the built environment, but as Jim says we did help bring about the Guildford Vision Group as a campaign group and, on a particular issue, a subject matter expert.

    I would welcome a similar approach to the museum and to perhaps co-ordinate this with a renewed attempt to be able to display Guildford’s art collection.

    We are as nothing without these exhibitions and repositories of history, creativity and endeavour and on behalf of my executive colleagues I look forward to working with Gavin to find a fitting solution.

    Julian Lyon is Chair of Guildford Society

  4. Gordon Bridger Reply

    July 25, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Gavin Morgan and others express some genuine concerns which need attention.

    I am puzzled, as are others, at what appears to be a premature decision about a community organisation. In policy terms, the council should see the Surrey Archaeological Society as an asset that should be supported.

    According to a recent consultants report, London apart, Guildford is the richest community in Britain, our council tax is low, only about 10% of the total and while we need to be prudent financially, this does not mean that we cannot, or should not support people who are seeking to preserve our heritage. Any suggestion that we cannot afford to do so would seem most odd.

    It has been a great loss that Matthew Alexander and then Mary Alexander are no longer with the Museum and that after years of trying we did not get any heritage funding, while the Guildford Spike got well over a £1m from their first bid.

    I understand the idea of a third approach for Lottery Heritage Funding has been ruled out but we should still aim for and welcome a new and better museum. To achieve our aim we should seek to harness support from as many community members as possible.

    The suggestion to establish a “Heritage Forum” sounds a very good idea and one which I am sure the council would welcome as we need new and better ideas.

    Gordon Bridger is an hon. alderman and former mayor of Guildford.

  5. Mary Bedforth Reply

    July 25, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Can I put in a word for the Borough’s wonderful art collection also in storage and mostly unseen.

    You can see it online.

    Look for John Russell’s pastels especially the portraits.

  6. Jim Allen Reply

    July 26, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    This response is excellent.

    The FAST museum Farnborough – showing of the History of the Royal Aircraft Establishment ( have, within the last six months or so, just achieved ‘status’, at the first attempt.

    Perhaps setting up a meeting or visiting them would give some vital clues how to proceed.

  7. Gavin Morgan Reply

    July 27, 2015 at 11:34 am

    I would like to thank all those who have commented.

    I will be picking up on all these suggestions starting with a discussion with the Guildford Society Design and Heritage Group.

  8. Mary Alexander Reply

    August 1, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Things went wrong at Guildford Museum when a ‘manager’ was appointed rather than a ‘curator’. A curator is a specialist in a relevant subject; a manager manages, and what has been the result?

    Most other local museums have done well, but we must be aware that Godalming, which Gavin rightly praises, is a trust and has one professional curator and many volunteers.

    I don’t think we should look at a similar model for Guildford. We have important county-wide collections which need professional curators from several disciplines.

    The Friends of Guildford Museum should be leading a campaign but while we wait for their response a forum would be a good idea. It must include all the relevant groups such as the Surrey Archaeological Society and the Friends as well as concerned individuals.

  9. Valerie Thompson Reply

    August 14, 2015 at 10:20 am

    It might be an idea to move the museum from its out of the way site to Guildford House, which is generally under-used and where the old rooms could form a wonderful backdrop to the collections, stored paintings etc.

    One room could be used to create a picture of life in Guildford in another century, with costumed mannequins and antique furniture.

    If the museum were sited more centrally it should attract more visitors, and with a modest entry fee (and some good concessions) pay for itself. Maybe the Surrey Archaeological Society might be persuaded not to remove their collections.

    It is not far to the castle from Guildford House, so visitors could be directed there on a Guildford History Trail, including the Lewis Carroll connection (and can someone get the plaque restored to Lewis Carroll’s house please?).

    As it is, the Tourist Information Centre sits in a miserable, limited corner of the front room and also needs a new, more dynamic site.

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