Spotlight on Guildford
Surely one of London’s most attractive commuter town choices, Guildford lies 30 miles south-west of London and is connected to it by the A3 and a 35-minute train journey to Waterloo. It has many of the ingredients of a city — such as a cathedral and a university — but remains proudly a town, albeit Surrey’s county town.
Surrey is the most expensive of the counties around London to live in, but this has not always been so. Before the arrival of commuters, its poor agricultural land left it isolated and impoverished.
This has left a legacy of some of the most beautiful and surprisingly remote countryside anywhere in the home counties. The Surrey Hills area of outstanding natural beauty has wooded hills and valleys, hamlets and villages, cricket greens and village pubs.
It was here that the young architect Edwin Lutyens worked with the older garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. At Munstead, he built her The Hut (not a hut at all but a spacious three-bedroom house) then a much larger house, and she designed the first of her many gardens.
It was a partnership which defined the sunlit days of the years before the First World War. Down the road at Dorking, Vaughan Williams was so enchanted with the countryside that he wrote The Lark Ascending after long walks through the woods and over the hills. Houses were built in the vernacular style with lofty chimneys, gables and tile-hung walls, and the landscaped gardens overflowed with cottage garden plants.
This is the Surrey style which has never gone out of fashion, and, even if few people can afford a Lutyens house with a Jekyll garden, it is a style which many Londoners come to Guildford and its surrounding villages in search of.
Houses and flats for sale in Guildford
With the exception of Georgian architecture, of which there is little, Guildford offers a wide range of homes, including period cottages in the villages, Victorian terrace houses, large Edwardian homes, Twenties houses, modern postwar houses and some town centre flats.
On average, house prices are still below the peak they reached in the autumn of 2007, although Andrew Giller, the manager of the Guildford branch of estate agents Savills, says for the right house in the £2 million to £5 million bracket, people will pay a premium and prices are now well above the last peak.
The area attracts: according to Andrew Giller, the top end of the Guildford market is driven by City money, and many families move from the banker belt of south-west London to Guildford for a house with more space and the country life.
Best roads: the roads to the south of the town with views over Pewsey Common are the most desirable, particularly Warwicks Bench and Warwicks Bench Road.
What’s new: the development everyone is talking about is Albury Park (Strutt & Parker 01483 306565) in Albury. Up a long drive through stunning parkland, this historic house, formerly the home of the Duke of Northumberland, is being converted into 12 separate homes by specialists Michael Wilson Restorations. Prices range from £1 million to £5 million.
The Quarry (01483 789710), by Latchmere, is a development of 15 modern homes tucked away in a former quarry. Four-bedroom houses here range in price from £1.25 million to £1.45 million.
Boxgrove Gardens (01483 789638) is a development by Linden Homes of 199 houses and flats on Epsom Road, where prices range from £349,995 for a two-bedroom flat to £459,995 for a three-bedroom terrace house.
Highpoint (Savills 01483 796810) is a development of eight contemporary flats on Nightingale Road. Prices start at £390,000 for a two-bedroom ground-floor flat.
Up and coming: Onslow Village is an unusual enclave designed along the lines of a garden suburb. Situated south-west of the town centre, three-bedroom houses start at £380,000.
Schools: Many London families make the move to Guildford for the private schools, especially the highly academic Royal Grammar School (boys ages 11 to 18) whose ancient buildings are a feature at the top of the high street.
Girls have an even wider choice with Tormead (ages four to 18) and St Catherine’s in Bramley (day and boarding ages 11 to 18). There are prep schools too: Lanesborough is also the cathedral choir school (boys ages three to 13); Longacre (co-ed ages two to 11), Rydes Hill (boys ages three to seven and girls ages three to 11) and St Catherine’s Prep at Bramley (girls ages four to 11).
But there are good state schools as well: The following infant schools (up to age seven) are judged “outstanding” by the government education watchdog Ofsted: Pewley Down in Semaphore Road; Onslow in Powell Close; Stoughton in Stoughton Road, Shalford in Station Road, Shalford and Merrow CofE in Kingfisher Drive.
The following primary schools (up to age 11) are also judged “outstanding”: Holy Trinity CofE in Addison Road, St Thomas of Canterbury RC in Horseshoe Lane West, St Joseph’s RC in Aldershot Road and Guildford Grove in Southway. George Abbott in north east Guildford is the most popular and successful state comprehensive school; other top performers are Guildford County on the south west side and St Peter’s RC on the east side.
Shops and restaurants
With its cobbled high street, overhanging clock, ancient Guildhall and grammar school, Guildford has one of the prettiest high streets in the south of England. There are two department stores — House of Fraser and Debenhams — and more than 60 shops and places to eat at The Friary Centre, with lots of upmarket chains.
For quirkier, independent shops, wander down the little side roads off the high street to find the likes of women’s boutique Courtyard, in Angel Gate, and interiors shop Bardoe & Appel, in Tunsgate.
There are lots of chain restaurants including Côte, Pizza Express, Zizzi, Jamie’s Italian and recent opening, Bill’s. There are country pubs serving good food in the villages around Guildford. The Parrot at Forest Green has its own farm shop. Drake’s restaurant at nearby Ripley has a Michelin star.
The Surrey Hills comprise a major centre for mountainbiking and the area has a number of leading bike shops. Capitalising on the popularity of last year’s Olympic road races, Mayor of London Boris Johnson has launched the RideLondon-Surrey 100 event taking in the county’s roads and hills, with 20,000 cyclists expected to take part on August 4.
Guildford Spectrum in Stoke Park close to the A3 has ice skating, swimming, tenpin bowling, a gym and a spa. There is a nearby lido for summer swimming.
The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre enjoys a riverside location, while the Electric Theatre, near the station, puts on film festivals, plays, music events and comedy. G Live is a £26 million newly opened venue at the top of the high street. The Guildford International Music Festival is held in March each year.
Travel: Guildford is close to the A3 which, since the opening of the Hindhead tunnel, has improved access to the coast. The commuter train service from Guildford takes around 35 minutes to Waterloo and an annual season ticket costs £3,224.00.
Council: Guildford borough (Tory controlled); Band D council tax for the 2012/2013 year is £1,497.20.
Photographs by Graham Hussey
Average prices: Buying flats and houses in Guildford
Average prices: renting flats and houses in Guildford
One-bedroom flat: £800 to £1,000 a month
Two-bedroom flat: £1,000 to £1,200 a month
Two-bedroom house: £1,200 to £1,500 a month
Three-bedroom house: £1,500 to £2,000 a month
Four-bedroom house: £2,000 to £3,000 a month
Five-bedroom-plus house: £3,000 to £15,000 a month