History of Godalming

The Pepperpot, Godalming
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Godalming - Its Historical Background.

The town of Godalming is situated among some of the finest countryside in southern England. Its narrow attractive streets, lined with many ancient and historic buildings, lie on well-drained land above the meadows of the River Wey. Beautiful wooded hills rise steeply all around, forming a backcloth which greatly enhances the rural setting of the town.

Saxon Times
The Saxon settlement of Godalming, the name meaning "of the family or clan of Godhelm", was first recorded in the will of King Alfred the Great of Wessex, who died in AD 899. Godhelm and his people had undoubtedly selected this ideal site some two hundred years before Alfred's time yet even today, twelve hundred years later, the inhabitants of the town are called "Godhelmians".

William the Conqueror's Domesday/Doomsday Book of 1086 records a thriving community with three watermills. Later the number of mills in the area increased to eight and they played an important part in the industrial growth and prosperity of the town.

In the 13th century Godalming became the property of the See of Salisbury. In a charter dated 7th June 1300 King Edward I granted the Bishop of Salisbury the right to hold a weekly market and an annual fair in the town. The market had developed into a small but active cattle market by the late seventeenth century and later a good trade was also conducted in corn. However, it was not as a traditional agricultural market town that Godalming found prosperity. In that role it was always overshadowed by Guildford to the north and Farnham to the west and for many centuries the town's economy was based on a variety of industries.

Medieval Times
From medieval times Godalming developed as a centre for the manufacture of woollen cloth. The prosperity of the industry reached its peak during the reign of Elizabeth I and, on 25th January 1575, the Queen granted the town borough status. The Arms of Godalming, granted in 1896, incorporate the woolsack to indicate that this was a major cloth town. Godalming remained an independent borough until April 1974, when it became part of the newly created Waverley District. Today Waverley Borough Council's main offices are situated at The Burys to the rear of Bridge Street

When the cloth industry declined in the 17th century the town switched to the knitting of stockings in wool, silk and later also cotton, on knitting frames invented by William Lee in the late 16th century. Later a great variety of other knitted goods were produced, especially following the opening of the "Fleecy and Segovia Hosiery Manufactory" in the town in 1788. For generations the town has been famous for the quality of its knitted garments.

Tanning, Leatherworking and Paper
Tanning, leatherworking and related industries had early beginnings in Godalming and continued here on a substantial scale until the 1950s. There were several large tanneries and leatherworks particularly in Mill Lane and at Westbrook. It was a dynamo at Westbrook Mills which supplied the power for the world's first public electricity supply system, which was established at Godalming in 1881.

The town was also famous for the manufacture of paper but the last paper mill, at Catteshall, ceased production in 1928. Until the Second World War Godalming was the centre for the quarrying of vast amounts of Bargate Stone from the surrounding hills. The stone was used extensively in the construction of many of the town's buildings, including the Parish Church.

It was also much used in adjacent towns and villages and even transported as far afield as the Midlands. Charterhouse, which stands prominently to the north of the town, was built mainly of Bargate Stone in 1872, when the famous school moved here from London. During the present century much of the stone was crushed into chippings for use as road metalling, but the industry has ceased and there are now no quarries open.

Godalming's position on the main route to Portsmouth also brought wealth to many of its inhabitants. In the heyday of coaching many of the town's inns, such as The King's Arms and The Red Lion, were recognised as among the best along the Portsmouth Road.

The Navigation
Trade in Godalming was greatly enhanced when, in the spring of 1764, the Godalming Navigation was opened, connecting the town to the already existing Wey Navigation at Guildford. The Wharf became a hive of activity as bulk goods such as timber were loaded on to barges there. Although this commercial trade has now ended, Godalming Wharf is today the most southerly navigable point on the main canal and river network of England and is very popular with users of pleasure craft.

The Railway
The railway reached Godalming in 1849 and in 1859 the line through to Havant was opened. This gave a direct route from London to Portsmouth and soon attracted the first "commuters". As a result, many pleasant residential areas have been developed around Godalming during the last 140 years. However, the town has lost none of its rare character, now further improved by the opening of the Relief Road, which has removed most of the traffic from its narrow streets. The recently completed town centre enhancement scheme has also done much to emphasise the attractiveness of this ancient town.

Godalming was the first town in the world to have a Public Electricity Supply in 1881.

Peter The Great of Russia
In 1698 Peter The Great visited Godalming and stayed at the Kings Arms.

Link :Moscow Friendship


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