The root of the first part may be the word "gold" rather than
Guild, a society or meeting of tradesmen: the only known 10th-century (Saxon) record uses Guldeford and in the 11th century Geldeford
[n 2]; both meaning gold and ford. Local historians with an interest in
toponyms cite the lack of gold in the region's sedimentary rocks and have suggested that the mention of "gold" may refer to golden flowers found by the ford itself,
 or the golden sand;
 several older sources such as
Lewis's topological dictionary of 1848 prefer and give an unreferenced assertion there was a guild.
There is an old coaching inn on the Epsom Road previously called the "Sanford Arms", which may derive from "Sand Ford", adding weight to the suggestion that the first part of "Guildford" and its many historic predecessors may refer to the very distinctive golden sand showing on the banks of the River Wey where it cuts through the sandy outcrop just south of the town.
Sir Thomas Malory's 1485 fictional series
Le Morte d'Arthur, Guildford is identified with
 however only rural Celtic
Bronze Age pieces have been found in the town.
 Continuing the Arthurian connection, there is a local
public house, the Astolat.
Some of the tiles built into
Guildford Castle may be Roman, and a Roman villa has been found on Broad Street Common
 at the end of Roman Farm Road just west of Guildford's Park Barn neighbourhood.
The Dark and Middle Ages
It is proven by
archaeology and contemporary accounts that Guildford was established as a small town by
Saxon settlers shortly after
Roman authority had been
removed from Britain
[n 3]. The settlement was most likely expanded because of the
Harrow Way (an
ancient trackway connecting the ancient cities of
Canterbury) crosses the
River Wey by a
ford at this point.
Alfred the Great, the first
Anglo-Saxon king of unified
England, named the town in his will.
 Guildford was the location of the
Royal Mint from 978 until part-way through the reign of
William the Conqueror.
Guildford Castle is of
Norman design, although there are no documents about its earliest years.
 Its situation overlooks the pass through the hills taken by the
Pilgrims' Way, and also once overlooked the ancient ford across the Wey, thus giving a key point of military control of this long distance way across the country.
Guildford appears in
Domesday Book of 1086 as Geldeford and Gildeford, a holding of
William the Conqueror. The King officially held the 75 hagae (houses enclosed in fences or closes) in which lived 175 homagers (heads of household) and the town rendered £32.
 Stoke, a suburb within today's Guildford, appears in the Book as Stoch and was also held by William. Its Domesday assets were: 1 church, 2
mills worth 5
ploughlands with two Lord's plough teams and 20 mens plough teams, 16 acres (65,000 m2) of
woodland worth 40
hogs. Stoke was listed as being in the King's park, with a rendering of £15.
William the Conqueror had the castle built in the classic
Norman style; the castle keep still stands. A major purpose of Norman castle building was to overawe the conquered population. It had £26 spent on it in 1173 under the regency of the young Henry II.
 As the threat of invasion and insurrection declined, the castle's status was demoted to that of a royal hunting lodge: Guildford was, at that time, at the edge of
Windsor Great Park. It was visited on several occasions by
Eleanor of Aquitaine and
King Henry III.
 In 1611 the castle was granted to Francis Carter
 whose grandson's initials EC and the year 1699 were above the entrance way.
 The surviving parts of the castle were restored in Victorian times and again in 2004; the rest of the grounds became a public garden.
In 1995, a chamber was discovered in the High Street, which is considered to be the remains of the 12th century
 While this remains a matter of contention, it is likely to be the oldest remaining synagogue in Western Europe.
Guildford elected two members of the
Unreformed House of Commons.
 From the 14th century to the 18th century the
borough corporation prospered with the wool trade.
In the 14th century the
Guildhall was constructed and still stands today as a noticeable landmark of Guildford. The north end was extended in 1589 and the Council Chamber was added in 1683. In 1683 a projecting clock was made for the front of the building: it can be seen throughout the High Street.
Post Renaissance/Dissolution of the Monasteries
Royal Grammar School was built in 1509 and became Royal gaining the patronage of
Edward VI in 1552.
 In the years around 1550, a pupil at the school was
John Derrick who in later life became a Queen's
Coroner for the county of Surrey. In 1597, Derrick made a legal deposition that contains the earliest definite reference to
cricket being played anywhere in the world. This is preserved in the "Constitution Book" of Guildford. On Monday, 17 January 1597 (
old style date, with the new year reckoned as 25th March, and thus 1598 by modern reckoning), he bore written testimony as to a parcel of land in the parish of
Holy Trinity in Guildford which, originally waste, had been appropriated and enclosed by one John Parvish to serve as a timber yard.
 This land, said Derrick, he had known for fifty years past and:
Being a scholler in the
ffree schoole of Guldeford, hee and diverse of his fellows did runne and play there at creckett and other plaies.
John Derrick was then aged 59 and his testimony confirms that cricket was being played by children in Surrey c.1550 and it is perhaps significant that cricket is the only one of the "plaies" referred to by name.
 Derrick was a coroner and so it must be assumed his deposition was accurate.
The Hospital of the Holy Trinity still has a charitable role in modern society
George Abbot founded the Hospital of the Holy Trinity,
 now commonly known as
 one of the finest sets of
almshouses in the country. It is sited at the top end of the High Street, opposite
Holy Trinity church. The brick-built, three-storey entrance tower faces the church; a grand stone archway leads into the courtyard. On each corner of the tower there is an octagonal turret rising an extra floor, with lead
One of the greatest boosts to Guildford's prosperity came in 1653 with the completion, after many wrangles, of the Wey Navigation. This allowed Guildford businesses to access the Thames at
Weybridge by boat, and predated the major canal building program in Britain by more than a century. In 1764 the navigation was extended as far as
Godalming and in 1816 to the sea near Arundel via the
Wey and Arun Junction Canal and the Arun Navigation. The
Basingstoke Canal also was built to connect with the Wey navigation, putting Guildford in the centre of a network of waterways.
Post Industrial Revolution
The Chilworth gunpowder works operated right through the Industrial Revolution, and transported much of its wares through Guildford and its toll paid
A six-mile (10 km) branch of the
London and South-Western Railway from
Woking to Guildford was opened in May 1845. In 1846, Acts were passed for making two railways from Guildford: one leading to Godalming, and the other to Farnham and Alton; and in the same year, an Act was obtained for a
railway from Reading, via Guildford, to Dorking and Reigate.
 All of these followed in the 19th century
 and remain in use.
From 1820 to 1865 Guildford was the scene of severe outbursts of semi-organised lawlessness commonly known as the "Guy Riots". The Guys would mass on the edge of the town from daybreak on
Guy Fawkes Night, wearing masks or bizarre disguises and armed with clubs and lighted torches. At nightfall they would enter the town and avenge themselves on those who had crossed them in the preceding year by committing assaults and damaging property, often looting the belongings of victims from their houses and burning them on bonfires in the middle of the street. In later years attempts to suppress the Guys led to the deaths of two police officers. In 1866 and 1868 the Guys were dispersed by cavalry and this seems to have brought an end to the riots. Similar disorder surrounding the St Catherine's Hill Fair, held just outside the town on the Pilgrims' Way, was suppressed around the same time.
 In 1906 the Guildford Union Workhouse Casuals Ward ("The Spike") was built on the grounds of the Workhouse near the castle; today The Spike is a tourist attraction.
After the death of their father in 1882, brothers Charles Arthur and Leonard Gates took over the running of his shop, which held the local distribution franchise for
Gilbey's wines and spirits, and also sold beer. However, in 1885, the brothers were persuaded to join the
temperance movement, and they poured their entire stock into the gutters of the High Street. Left with no livelihood, they converted their now empty shop into a dairy. Using a
milk separator, they bought milk from local farmers, and after extracting the cream and whey, sold the skim back to the farmers for pig feed. In 1888 three more of the Gates brothers and their sons joined the business, which led to the formal registration of the company under the name of the
West Surrey Central Dairy Company, which after development of its
dried milk baby formula in 1906 became
Cow & Gate.
Guildford High Street in 1945
World War II, the Borough Council built 18 communal
air raid shelters.
 One of these shelters, known as the Foxenden Quarry deep shelter, was built into the side of a disused chalk quarry. Taking a year to build, it comprised two main tunnels with interconnecting tunnels for the sleeping bunks. It could accommodate 1000 people and provided sanitation and first aid facilities. Having been sealed since decommissioning in 1944, it has survived fairly intact.
 The quarry itself is now the site of the York Road car park, but the shelter is preserved and was occasionally open to the public.
In May 1968 students at
Guildford School of Art began a "sit-in" at the School in
Stoke Park which lasted until mid-summer.
On 5 October 1974, bombs planted by the
Provisional Irish Republican Army
went off in two Guildford pubs, killing four off-duty soldiers and a civilian. The pubs were targeted because soldiers from the barracks at
Pirbright were known to frequent them.
 The subsequently arrested suspects, who became known as the
Guildford Four, were convicted and sentenced to long prison sentences in October 1975. They claimed to have been
tortured by the police and denied involvement in the bombing. In 1989 after a long legal battle, their convictions were overturned and they were released.