Wilfred Owen in Guildford and Godalming

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.


Title: Godalming
Description: Godalming High Street, photograph by by-nc

Guildford High Street

Title: Guildford High Street
Description: Guildford High Street, photograp by-nc

Two weeks later he was telling his mother:

I made my usual sally into Guildford and had a happy enough ramble around Thorpeā€™s Bookshelves and the Town and the little River, where there are Punts and Canoes. It is hardly wide enough for skulls.

Guildford Bookshop

Title: Guildford Bookshop
Description: Guildford Bookshop, photography by Chris Bent by-nc

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

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