Fringe Box



When Building of Homes on Warwick’s Bench Was Much Feared

Published on: 14 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 15 Sep, 2012

A ‘Through Time’ article by David Rose

Warwick’s Bench contains some of Guildford’s most prestigious homes – all in a beautiful setting with south-facing views. Seen today from the meadows in Shalford Park, you can just glimpse the opulent houses, due to the tree growth in the gardens that surround them. But who would complain today about the position they occupy just outside the town centre?

A single house is seen in this view of Warwick’s Bench in the early 1900s. Picture: David Rose collection.

But back in 1906, when the area was just starting to be developed, there was a howl of protest that this lovely open space was being built upon with such a great loss to the town. That NIMBY attitude we seem to have so much of today in Guildford was prevalent then too!

Lieut Col H. H. Godwin-Austin’s sketch of land earmarked for development at Warwick’s Bench in 1906.

Lt Col H. H. Godwin-Austin of Godalming was outraged at the development taking place. He wrote to the Surrey Advertiser & County Times on the matter attaching a ‘tracing’ of the area in which he was so concerned about.

He wrote: “The Warwick’s Bench estate is known to all who know Guildford. Until a very few years ago there was not a house upon it, and the public were free to roam at will over turf that carpets the Downs and enjoy un-obstructed views over the beautiful landscapes which meet the eye at every turn.”

He continued: “Within the last eight to ten years… the estate has been opened up for building purposes. Houses of a high-class character have sprung up, and at the present moment the development of the estate is proceeding more rapidly than ever, and the public are being excluded more and more from parts of the Downs where they formerly wandered without let or hindrance.”

A postcard view of Warwick’s Bench from St Catherine’s Hill in about 1910. A number of the then new houses can be seen. Picture: David Rose collection.

Mr Goodwin-Austin was also concerned that others were not complaining about this development. In his letter he added: “Although there are many who must see what is coming, who also deplore this change from rural character into that of suburban, with the extincting of all open spaces, yet it must be said that the town of Guildford is silent.”

He went on: “Here, as by the sea, ladies and nurses may be seen any fine day sitting, reading, or working while children play, and the pedestrian can look away with an unbroken vista over the many ranges of the Surrey hills and the distant South Downs.”

Warwick’s Bench seen from the meadows beside Shalford Park today. Some houses can be seen, but much of the area is covered by trees and bushes thus making it a pleasing view.

I found a cutting of his letter to the Surrey Advertiser & County Times in one of the fascinating scrapbooks held at the Guildford Institute. Click here for its website. I wonder what Mr Godwin-Austin would make of Warwick’s Bench now, along with all the other developments that have taken place in and around the town in more recent times?

If, for example, that during the 21st century development extends from Guildford westwards towards Aldershot and north to Woking, will future generations then bemoan what was once open country?

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