This town, in the south-west of Surrey, lies in the valley of the River Wey. The river has been important to the town throughout its history.
Mesolithic and Neolithic flints suggest that prehistoric people may have lived in the area that is now Mint Street and Bridge Street.
A number of sherds of Roman pottery show that people also lived nearby in later times. There is a possible Roman settlement at Binscombe, on the edge of Godalming.
Ethelwald was left the manor of Godalming in the will of his uncle, King Alfred, in about 880 AD. However, the place name ‘Godalming’ might well be older than this – meaning ‘the people of Godhelm’. It would suggest that the Saxon town started to develop in the 7th and 8th centuries.
The parish church of St Peter and St Paul existed by the 9th century – fragments of sculpture dating to this period have been found in the churchyard. The windows in the tower are also Saxon in date.
Click here to see the catalogue of the St Peter and St Paul, Godalming Parish Records (1582 -1893) held at the Surrey History Centre.
Excavation in Mint Street, in advance of building the relief road, revealed the first evidence for the Saxon settlement of Godalming, with a series of pits uncovered, dating to the 12th and 13th centuries.
At the time of the Domesday Survey (1086) the manor was relatively large and wealthy, valued at 30.
The hundred court was held at Godalming. This was a key part of the Saxon justice system, administering law and order in the surrounding area.
William de Warenne held the manor during the 12th century. Ownership passed to the Bishop of Salisbury in 1221. The manor remained in the Bishop’s possession until 1541/2. It passed to Sir George More of Loseley in 1601.
Godalming became an important market centre in the Middle Ages. It received the first known grant of a market and of an annual fair held by the bishop in 1300. The site for this is now occupied by the Pepper Pot building, the former Town Hall (see photograph).
The woollen trade was very important for the town in the later Middle Ages and during the 16th century. Godalming grew into a thriving centre for the cloth industry. This, however, started to decline in the 17th century, being badly affected by the plague of 1636-7.
By 1850, this trade was being replaced by machine or framework knitting, first record in Godalming in 1681. Evidence of this has been found in a number of houses on the High Street, up until the late 19th century.
Tanning was a local industry from perhaps as early as the 15th century. Papermaking was also important to the town from the middle of the 17th century. Access to the river was vital – for good quality water for these industries and to power the mills.
Bargate stone was quarried from the early medieval period right up to the 20th century.
Godalming has become an important transport link in more recent times. When the Portsmouth Road was turnpiked in 1749, the bridge on the River Wey had to be improved.
The Kings Arms in the High Street, built in 1753, served as a coaching inn along this important route.
The river was also important for transport. The Wey Navigation was extended from Guildford to Godalming in 1760 with four locks.
The coming of the railway caused Godalming to continue to grow into modern times. The London and South Western line was extended from Guildford to Godalming in 1849.
In 1828 Edward Hassell painted a watercolour of a shop front in Godalming, click here for more information.
Godalming was the first town in the country to receive public electricity supply in 1881.
Did You Know?
A Roman farmstead at Charterhouse School, Godalming, with two ditches and two pits filled with Roman pottery, was found during excavations before the building of a new sports hall.