Text by Chris Bent
During his time at Witley camp, Wilfred was keen to explore the local area. He developed a genuine affection for some of the nearby towns and villages.
One Sunday evening, 20th June, 1916, Wilfred wrote to his mother Susan :
This afternoon I borrowed a (very groggy) bicycle and rode through Godalming to Guildford, in perfect weather. I accomplished being alone and conversed with no creature all the five hours. Guildford is an old town of great charm, with suggestions of Shrewsbury. I had tea in an old casement overlooking the High Street: a real old lattice Bay, no shams: I remained there an hour longer so pleasant was the place…Guildford seems to exist in another age than Buildwas (an Abbey in Shropshire) & Much Wenlock. It is a rather peculiar type of country, neither mountain nor plain. There were some lovely bits of road, field, cottage and street. As I was coming back the footpaths undulated with saluting arms.
Two weeks later he was telling his mother:
I made my usual sally into Guildford and had a happy enough ramble around Thorpe’s Bookshelves and the Town and the little River, where there are Punts and Canoes. It is hardly wide enough for skulls.
The Thorpe book business was established in 1883 with the shop in Guildford High Street opening just a few years later. Sadly, the demand for specialist books declined and the shop closed in January 2003. The structure remains and is a Grade II listed building.
Ten days before the battalion moved on to Oswestry and then Southport, Wilfred met his brother Harold at Witley and told his mother:
Harold came over yesterday afternoon in response to my telegram. He came out with me on my Afternoon Work and we had a little supper in Guildford. He stayed the night in my Hut where I am now writing at present.
Read more about Wilfred Owen in Surrey:
Acknowledgement for the Letters is made to: Wilfred Owen: The Collected Letters, eds. Harold Owen and John Bell (Oxford University Press, 1967)
Acknowledgement is made to the Wilfred Owen Literary Trust