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Shalford House and Thames Water

Shalford Mill
Copyright Allianz Insurance plc

Shalford House had its origins as the parsonage house of Shalford – not to be confused with the vicarage. Until 1305 the parson or rector of Shalford was a clergyman whose house lay behind the church. After 1305, when the parsonage or Rectory Manor was transferred into monastic ownership the house behind the church continued to be called the Parsonage, even though the officiating clergyman at Shalford was now the vicar who lived in the vicarage further along the road.

After monastic lands were taken back into the King’s hands at the Dissolution of the Monasteries the Rectory Manor was sold on, eventually bought in 1599 by brothers George and John Austen. John Austen was a member of the Haberdashers Company in the City of London and sat as MP for Guildford. George became Mayor of Guildford in 1579, 1588 and 1600, and was its MP from 1604–11. The Austens also possessed property in Guildford, lands and manors to the south of Bramley, at Nore near Hascombe, at Smithbrook and around Selhurst Common.

The brothers decided to create an estate conveniently close to Guildford and in keeping with their status. The medieval Parsonage House was demolished in 1608 and replaced by a new building on the adjacent ‘tymber yard’, just behind the churchyard. When it was completed in 1610 it was probably the largest house in the parish, with a hall, two parlours, three studies, eight chambers and two staircases, along with the usual offices of kitchen, bakehouse, buttery and larder. Outside were stables, a pond, a brick-lined well and brick privies with a channel through them. The contents of the privies were flushed into the Wey.

Shalford Mill
Copyright Allianz Insurance plc

The new house kept the name Parsonage House. Over the next two and a half centuries the family bought up land in and around the village to become the principal landowners in the parish. During the eighteenth century it became fashionable for the gentry to live apart in secluded parks. This can be seen in Shalford with the transformation of fields, meadows and glebeland into Shalford Park, and the makeover around 1797 of the mansion, enlarged and completely refronted, with the addition of a third storey. George and John Austen’s timber framed building was encased inside the more impressive exterior. Now no longer called the Parsonage House it was more grandly known as Shalford Park.

A hundred years on from the transformation of the house into an imposing mansion the family was in financial difficulties. In 1898 Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen went bankrupt and moved out of the house. It was let briefly as a boys’ school, then as the Shalford Park Hotel until 1936. Guildford Borough Council bought Shalford House and the park from the Godwin-Austen estate in December 1938, principally to protect the park from development and preserve the views on the southern approach to Guildford. This echoed their purchase of The Chantries from the Godwin-Austen estate in 1936 with the same object of preserving the beautiful aspect of the southern edge of town.

Guildford Borough envisaged that Shalford House would eventually be demolished, but a lease had already been granted to the Cornhill Insurance Company who were moving their offices and staff out of London in anticipation of war. Staff slept upstairs in dormitories, on three-tiered bunks made of tubular scaffolding (apparently quite comfortable). They had a hut in the grounds for entertainments and recreation and were able to make use of the former hotel’s golf course, tennis courts and shooting rights. Cornhill’s lease was a non-repairing one and when they moved out in 1955 the property was in a very bad way. It might have been demolished then, but struggled on for a dozen more years as a furniture store.

By the mid 1960s the site had caught the eye of the Guildford and Godalming District Water Board. The confluence of the rivers Tillingbourne and Wey just beside Shalford House promised to deliver all the water the district could possibly need – all that stood in the way was the house. In fact there was never any doubt that the water intake was to be sited there: the clean fast flowing waters of the Tillingbourne ran at 5 million gallons per day, and would only be supplemented from the Wey (much dirtier) if necessary. But the treatment works could have been built somewhere else and the water from the intake pumped to it. Alternative sites for the works included one in Shalford Park beside Shalford Road, about where the car park and changing rooms are now, another on fields at the end of Tilehouse Road, and yet another on East Shalford Lane beyond Tilehouse Farm. These would spoil the views from The Chantries or across Shalford Park and Meadows and be much more costly to operate. So the house had to go, despite being Grade II* listed. The site was chosen because it was the least obtrusive and the most efficient to operate. Shalford House was demolished in 1967.

Shalford Mill

The water extraction and treatment works are now operated by Thames Water. On average, 190 litres a second flow into the plant, equivalent to 16.4m litres or 3.6m gallons a day, taken more or less equally now from the Tillingbourne and the Wey. The Wey is much cleaner than it was forty years ago. The journey of the water through the works takes about 6-12 hours when, cleansed and purified, it is pumped to reservoirs at Pewley Hill, The Mount, Frith Hill and Munstead, supplying 105,000 people in Guildford and Godalming with water.

So, are the plentiful supply of clean water we all take for granted, and the preservation of the views from the Chantries and across Shalford Park worth the sacrifice of Shalford House?

© Margaret Dierden 2012