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Guildford Walking Tour : Yvonne Arnaud theatre and the Town Mills

Yvonne Arnaud theatre

Between you and the river you have the Yvonne Arnaud theatre. How much better the river would look if the theatre were not here, but it is. I wonder if the Guildford Foundry, which once occupied this site, was better to look at. It probably was. The foundation stone was laid by Vanessa Redgrave in 1963, the building was topped out by Susan Hampshire, and it’s named after French born actress Yvonne Arnaud – a long time resident of Guildford – whose ashes were scattered at St Martha’s church.

The Town Mills

To the right of the theatre you have the Guildford Town Mills. It’s unclear just how long these mills go back, however records show a mill here as far back as 1295. In 1701 pumps were installed in the mill to supply Guildford with water, which was pumped up to a reservoir at the bottom of Pewley Hill. In the 1960s the building was taken over by the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre and is home to the Mill Studio. In 2006 a turbine was installed that generates 260,000 Kwh of sustainable energy annually. The swirling water you see in front of you was the scene of a sad loss when a young lad (Gilbert Scott) was drawn underwater by the eddies, and the kind soul who went to save him (Murray Mark Boxall) also lost his life.
Guildford Town Mills

At the main road, turn left, and then cross the road using the pedestrian crossing in a few metres time.

If you had turned right (please don’t), and walked about 400m you’d find the Guildford Millennium Vault – a securely sealed “capsule” containing a wide range of items from the 21st century.

Set in ‘tunnel-like’ features that were once Victorian ice-house vaults beneath Quarry Street, the Guildford Millennium Vault is reportedly the largest in Europe. Sealed in March 2000, and due to be opened in the year 3000 (I won’t be there), Dame Vera Lynn was in attendance at the event. The vault contains a wide range of artefacts from the later decades of the millennium, including a post-box, a mini, a violin, a microwave oven, and a Sony Walkman.

On the outside of the vault is etched the poem “To a Poet a thousand years hence“, written by James Elroy Flecker:

I who am dead a thousand years,
And wrote this sweet archaic song,
Send you my words for messengers
The way I shall not pass along.

I care not if you bridge the seas,
Or ride secure the cruel sky,
Or build consummate palaces
Of metal or of masonry.

But have you wine and music still,
And statues and a bright-eyed love,
And foolish thoughts of good and ill,
And prayers to them who sit above?

How shall we conquer? Like a wind
That falls at eve our fancies blow,
And old Moeonides the blind
Said it three thousand years ago.

O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.

Since I can never see your face,
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.

In this poem, Flecker doesn’t care for the technological shape of the future, being more inquisitive as to whether love, art, wine, and creativity have flourished. In many ways, this poem is an embrace across the millennia between people who can never meet, and who are bonded through matters of the heart more than achievement. (I have a tear in my eye).

Having crossed the road, turn left, walking a few paces before turning right into Mill Lane. Walk along Mill Lane until you arrive at the entrance to St Mary’s church on your right.

Next : St Mary’s Church

Previous : Millmead Lock

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