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Who Was the Photographer Who Took These Pictures of the 1968 Floods?

Published on: 26 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 29 Mar, 2023

By David Rose

The floods that wreaked havoc in Guildford and surrounding areas in September 1968 are still being talked about today.

Plenty of people took photographs of the floods in Guildford town centre after the rain had stopped. However, from images I have in my collections, it appears one person, in particular, took perhaps up to 30 or more photos and then printed copies for other people.

My set of the 5in x 3.5in photos of the 1968 floods with duplicates overlaid.

Who was the person? Did they give them away or were they sold?

I have 36 photos of the floods, all the same size, 5 inches by 3.5 inches, but some are duplicates. For example, I have four copies of one photo, three of another, two copies of another two photos, and so on.

I cannot be sure, but they all appear to have been taken by the same person. Most are printed on the same type of photographic paper, while the exposure varies, some of the same image for example either slightly darker or lighter.

This photo of the foot of the High Street near the junction with Friary Street shows just how high the floods were in September 1968.

They do not appear to have been taken by a “professional” photographer, that is someone who had a photographic business. None have a rubber stamp on the back with a photographer’s name, but some have numbers on them – most written in pencil, but a few with rubber-stamped numbers. The lowest number I have is 18 and the highest is 31, most numbers are in the 20s.

It was on the night of Saturday, September 14, 1968, when it started raining. There was a torrential downpour on the Sunday and by Monday the River Wey had burst its banks and the foot of Guildford High Street was under six feet of water.

As I and my fellow author Graham Collyer wrote in our book Images of Guildford (Breedon Books, 1998), “…the sun shone again on the Monday, which brought out hundreds of onlookers standing on the ‘new banks’ of the river to see what nature had delivered.”

The floods in Friary Street near the junction with Onslow Street.

I was eight years old at the time and came to the town that evening with my parents to see the floods. It was amazing!

Another popular spot that was much photographed at the time of the 1968 floods was here, looking along Friary Street from Onslow Street.

Also noted in our book Images of Guildford, at his home in Guildford, amateur metrologist Dennis Mullen recorded 3.75 inches of rain on Sunday, September 15. While a spokesperson for the West Surrey Waterboard described the floods as a disaster which happened only once in a thousand years.

Across Surrey, thousands of people were forced to leave their homes. Roads were impassible and even electricity supplies were cut. Up to 300 people were evacuated from their homes in Guildford, many of them spending the Sunday night at the Sandfield Terrace Drill Hall, with the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service making sure everyone was as comfortable as possible.

Not only was the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre flooded, but the Town Mill was as well.

Mopping up began on the Tuesday – do you remember the scenes at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre and Plummers’ store?

People helped each other out, especially in Walnut Tree Close, while scouts and guides also lent a hand.

An abandoned car by the Plummers store. Who did it belong to?

It seems the majority of the photos of the floods were taken on the Monday, as by Tuesday the water levels had subsided. I think these photos featured here were taken on the Monday.

This latest look back at the 1968 floods has come about as Nic Smith, a school friend of the Dragon editor Martin Giles, who now lives in the USA, emailed The Dragon three flood photos, writing: “I was going through some old photos and found these of the Guildford flood from 1968. There are some photos online, but not these. I thought you might like them. I have about eight or nine others.”

I instantly recognised the three photos Nic sent as they are exactly the same as two of the 5 inches by 3.5 inches photos I have.

These three photos are the same as the photos Nic Smith has. This one shows the Plummers store in Millbrook. Other people also took photos of the floods from this location.

The Seeboard (South Eastern Electricity Board’s) showroom at the bottom of the High Street. There are two people wading through the water here. Who were they?

Onslow Street, looking south. The buildings on the left are roughly where the goods entrance to the Friary Centre is today. Does anyone recognise the people on the left?

However, not only would it be interesting to find who took the photos, and how people may have obtained their copies, some of the images have people in them. Here are the rest of the 5-inch x 4.5-inch photos I have.

Laundry Road with the Salvation Army citadel and gas holders. Other photos of this view exist, some in colour, of people trying to move the car.

Plummers viewed from what appears to be near the churchyard of St Mary’s in Quarry Street.

Millbrook with the Town Mill on the right and Quarry Street higher up on the left.

Bridge Street viewed from the then Bridge House that stood on the corner of Walnut Tree Close and Bridge Street..

Onslow Street, with the entrance to the gas works on the right.

The London Transport bus garage in Leas Road – extremely well photographed in the floods. Guildford photographer Dave Salmon took some lovely colour photos at this location.

Above and below. Inside the London Transport bus garage. These prints look to be the same as the other photos seen here. Does anyone know why there were two Surrey Country Library mobile library vehicles in the garage?

William Road, off Leas Road.

Another location which was a popular viewpoint to take photos of the 1968 floods – Onslow Street towards the bus station and the Rodboro Buildings.

Vehicles make their way along Onslow Street through the floodwaters. Scores of people here!

This view appears to be looking north with houses in Bedford Road in the foreground, with the gasworks with the cattle market beyond. The photo may have been taken from Bridge House.

With a view towards Guildford Cathedral, the flooded area and river in the foreground may be the water meadows behind Ladymead. If so, this photo may have been taken from an upstairs window of a house in Weyside Road, off Stoughton Road.

The floods at night! Presumably taken from the same location as the previous photo. The outline of the electricity power station that was in Woodbridge Road can be seen, and beyond the water meadows some of the buildings that were off Ladymead can be seen, now about where the B&Q store is at today’s Ladymead retail park.

If you recognise and can name anyone in the photos, please leave a comment in the box below.

And also, especially, leave a comment if you can give details of who the photographer was.

There have been floods in Guildford since – 1990, 2000 and 2013. If nature has its way it will of course happen again. I expect images will be snapped on mobile phones and instantly posted onto social media.

Back in 1968 it probably took a week or more to get your photos back from the chemist or photographer’s, or having to rely on someone else to supply theirs!

By the way, The Dragon’s record coverage for hits, at the time, was when we exclusively covered the 2013 floods, all other local media having signed off for Christmas. The pictorial stories were viewed over 30,000 times with numerous visits from interested readers abroad.

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Responses to Who Was the Photographer Who Took These Pictures of the 1968 Floods?

  1. Jan Messinger Reply

    March 26, 2023 at 2:51 pm

    I always love David Rose’s history articles.

    I have two newspaper clippings of Friday, September 20 1968 from the then Surrey Advertiser and County Times, one taken by James R Hall and the other by T A Wilkie. However, they are different to the ones shown. I have nine more of the 1968 floods from the second section of Surrey Advertiser all different to those in the article, with no names.

    Someone will know I’m sure.

    Do let us know if you find out.

  2. Simon Charleton Reply

    March 28, 2023 at 2:17 am

    Great pictures.

    I remember the flood well as it washed away one of the bridges in Shalford and a friend (Andy Russell, went to George Abbot ) and I spotted it and stopped the traffic on the A281 from falling in to the River Wey. We got a commendation from Surrey Police for our actions which I still have somewhere.

  3. David Reading Reply

    April 13, 2023 at 8:56 pm

    The picture of Onslow Street looking south was taken a few feet from the City Café and the man in the hat is my grandfather, George Reading, who owned and ran the cafe.

    The woman on the left is my Dad’s auntie Deb (Deborah Steer), who worked at the café as a cook. I’m not sure about the other woman but she was probably also one of the cafe staff.

  4. Susan Kay-Attwood Reply

    May 1, 2023 at 6:44 pm

    Not sure who took these but I have a neighbour on Walnut Tree Close who has pictures of a flooded Walnut Tree close if you’re interested let me know.

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