Featured image of Guildford Castle

Guildford Castle – History & Architecture

LocationGuildford, County of Surrey, England (Google Maps)
Open for VisitorsYes
Owned byGuildford Corporation
Official WebsiteGuilford Castle
Rooms AvailableNo

Standing on the beautiful grounds in the town centre of Guildford, Guilford Castle is a beautiful ruin of a fortress having a long history of almost a thousand years. 

Guildford Castle History

The first castle in Guildford was built as a wooden motte and bailey fortress shortly by William the Conqueror post the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Stone defences replaced the initial wooden motte and bailey structure during the early 12th century, and a Keep was constructed. It was built in 2 stages and is believed to have been the work of King Stephen. The first stage of the construction was nothing more than a shell that was later heightened and strengthened. Once the Keep was completed, it was used as a private apartment for the ruling monarch. During the second stage of construction, the curtain walls were crenellated.

North East View of Guildford Castle
North East View of Guildford Castle, by Karlunun, is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Later in the 12th century, the Keep became the headquarters of the sheriff and county jail for the counties of Surrey and Sussex. King Henry II, by this time, had built private living accommodations in the bailey.

King Henry III also contributed magnificently by making several lavish modifications to the castle in the 13th century, and the perception of Guilford Castle changed from a castle to a palace. Unfortunately, the Great Hall in the castle suffered fire damage in 1254; however, it was soon restored. Henry also purchased additional land to extend the bailey to construct rooms for his son, Edward. During his reign, Guilford Castle became one of the most luxurious royal palaces in England; however, after his death, it fell into disrepair. By 1379, almost the entire castle had fallen, except the Keep and the great chamber. The castle’s ownership came into the hands of John Daborne in 1544. During the 16th century, the Daborne family added brick windows and fireplaces to the property.

King James I sold Guilford Castle and surrounding estates to Francis Carter in 1611. Francis attempted to convert the Keep into a private residence, but this proved unsuccessful. The floors and roof of the Keep were removed in 1630. Francis then rented out sections of the castle grounds to nearby farmers. Lord Grantley from Wonersh later became the owner of the castle, who then sold it to Guildford Borough Council in 1885. The Corporation restored the Keep, castle walls, and gardens and opened the property as public gardens in 1888.

Guildford Castle Architecture

Guildford Castle Architecture
Guildford Castle Architecture, by Richard Nevell, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The only remaining part of Guilford Castle that survives today is the Keep and parts of the curtain wall. The original curtain wall was made of chalk, as was the Keep. The original Keep was a modest 2-story building that served as a private apartment for the King. The Great Tower, as it is called today, looks like an unusual survival of its 1000-year-long history. Guilford Castle gardens are famous for their vibrant floral displays centred on the 11th Century Castle Keep. Other attractions inside Guilford Castle are a life-size Alice Through the Looking Glass statue, a bowling green, and music concerts on the bandstand. The Guilford town’s war memorial stands on the castle grounds, and an open-air theatre takes place during summer.

Inside Guilford Castle
Inside Guilford Castle, by Richard Nevell, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Inside Guilford Castle, you can climb to the first floor where the building has been preserved and see it as it would have been in times gone by. You can also continue climbing up the winding stairs to the top of the castle, where you can see the panorama view of the whole town and the gorgeous countryside of the Surrey Hills.

Frequently Asked Questions

When was Guildford Castle built?

The first Guildford Castle was built shortly after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, by William the Conqueror, as a motte and bailey fortress.

Who built Guildford Castle?

Guildford Castle was built by William the Conqueror shortly after the Norman invasion of England in 1066. 

Have you visited this castle before? If yes, why not share some beautiful pictures with us!
You can email us your pictures of the castle at castrumtocastle@gmail.com. Please use the name of the castle in the subject line.
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