Now a suburb of Perth, it was once the favoured site for the first Swan River settlement.
Guildford is now a suburb of Perth located on the Great Eastern Highway 14 km from the city centre. Given that it is now part of Greater Perth it is hard to imagine that its origins lie in Captain Stirling's determination to establish three settlements in the Swan River area - a port at Fremantle, an administrative centre at Perth, and a rural centre at Guildford. Thus the market town and inland port of Guildford is as old as Perth and Fremantle. There is even some evidence to support the idea that Guildford would have been Stirling's first choice for a settlement and certainly, when the Government established the first schools in the area in 1834 they appointed three teachers - one for Fremantle, one for Guildford and one for Perth.
The importance of Guildford at this time was a combination of the fact that it was located at the upper limit of navigation on the Swan River and that the land around the infant settlement was sufficiently good (good clay loam soils) to sustain agriculture.
Stirling was so impressed with the region around Guildford that he chose a piece of land between the Swan and Helena Rivers for his country retreat and it was here that he built 'Woodbridge' (it no longer exists but was a mudbrick structure which stood where the Governor Stirling High School Assembly Room now stands).
Stirling obviously loved the area. In 1827, before the Swan River colony had been established, he travelled up river and standing on the site now occupied by the All Saints Church, he observed: 'Here then, on a high bank, we pitched our tent. The richness of the soil, the bright foliage of the shrubs, the majesty of the surrounding trees, the abrupt, red-coloured banks of the river occasionally seen, the view of the blue summits of the mountains from which we were not far distant, made the scenery round this spot as beautiful as anything of the kind I had ever witnessed'.
As the land to the east - Toodyay, Northam, York in the Avon Valley - was opened up, Guildford became an important transportation centre. Initially boats brought settlers and supplies to Guildford. Later, after the arrival of convict labour in 1850, the roads from Perth improved and it was possible to travel from Fremantle, via Perth and Guildford, to the Avon Valley by road.
In her excellent book, The Swan Valley: A Perspective in Time and Place, Dorothy B. Robinson notes: 'Until the 1880s, Guildford was a flourishing market town and river port, with warehouses and wharves and many stores and hotels. Teamsters brought down loads of wheat and oats, hides, skins and tallow, and timber and sandalwood, and went back to the country loaded with clothes and clothing materials, stores, hardware and household goods, and implements for use on the farms.'
Guildford's importance declined with the construction of the railway line. The town of Midland grew as the railhead in the district and slowly the port facilities at Guildford fell into decline.
Today Guildford is rich in history and reminders of the early development of the Swan Valley.
Things to see:
Swan Valley Heritage Trail
The best way to see the major historic sites in Guildford is to follow the excellent Swan Valley Heritage Trail: Settlement of the Swan River Valley, Western Australia which combines a 40 km drive up the Swan Valley from Guildford to Upper Swan as well as a Historic Guildford Walk. It takes five or six hours to do justice to the trail.
The journey up the Swan Valley is basically a retracing of Captain Stirling's expedition in 1827. It was on the basis of this journey that Stirling managed to persuade people in England that the Perth area was a land of boundless potential.
In 1827 Stirling moored his ship Success in Cockburn Sound and made his way upstream past the present site of Perth until he found a 'spring of delicious water' at the base of a hill which he named, with a nice sense of a pun, 'Success Hill'. Success Hill Reserve, where the Heritage Trail commences, is located in Seventh Avenue, Bassendean on the western side of the Swan River. This place which caused Stirling to enthuse about the Swan Valley was also the point where Stirling and his party first made contact with the Aborigines of the area. Success Hill was an important sacred site for the local Aborigines. It was believed that a snake-like spirit of the Dreaming lived in a nearby cave. Today there is a track through the reserve which offers excellent views of the Swan River, includes opportunities to inspect the flora of the district, and crosses the spring which persuaded Stirling that the area would be suitable for settlement.
An Historic Walk around Guildford
The walk around Guildford encompasses a number of important sites and buildings.
1. The Guildford Hotel
The Guildford Hotel (1886 with additions in 1899) is a superb hotel. Much of the original hotel is now obscured by the extravagant additions and the unusual octagonal belvedere. The extravagance of the hotel is a symbol of the wealth which flowed across Western Australia as a result of the gold boom in Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie.
Stirling Square, originally called Church Square, was set aside and surveyed in 1829. It was originally twice its current size but in the 1840s and 1860s sections were sold off and trees were planted in 1874 and 1897.
2. St Matthew's Church
In the centre of Stirling Square is St Matthew's Church. This is the third St Matthews Church in the area. The first, built of mudbricks in 1836, was replaced by a wooden building which was blown down by a hurricane in 1860. The current building was constructed in 1873 and is notable for the way the bricks have been laid alternately lengthwise and pointing inwards to reinforce the structure. It was designed by Frederick Sherwood.
Riversleigh, sometimes known as Crosslands House, at 132 Swan Street was built in 1896 and is a good example of the luxurious homes which were built in Guildford around the turn of the century when it became a fashionable outer suburb of Perth. The house was built for Charles Crossland, a surveyor and land agent in Perth, who wanted to live in relative rural tranquillity. It is not open for inspection.
4. Andrew Moulton's Cottage
Around the corner at 27 Meadow Street (it is not open for inspection) is Andrew Moulton's cottage which dates from 1842. Moulton was a successful merchant in the days when Guildford was an important river port and transportation centre. He exported local produce - sandalwood, leather, wool and timber - to Asia until he was killed by his Malay crew while shipping sandalwood to Hong Kong in 1846.
5. Guildford Town Wharf
Further down Meadow Street, beside the Swan River, is the old Guildford Town Wharf, sometimes known as Moulton's Landing. The wharf on this site was part of the planning for Guildford and dates from 1829. It was used as the central transport node of the town until the arrival of the railway at Midland in the 1880s. After that it fell into disrepair and disuse. A replica was built and opened in 1984. Barker's Bridge dates from 1948 although there has been a bridge continuously at this point on the river since 1854. The first bridge was built with convict labour and was named Barker's Bridge after the local storekeeper, Samuel Barker.
5. Barker's Store
Barker's Store at 124 Meadow Street near the corner with Swan Street, dates from 1854. It was originally a complex of six buildings which combined a general store with a warehouse. The complex dominated the economic life of the town from the 1850s until the 1880s.
6. The Old Courthouse and Gaol
Further up Meadow Street are the old Courthouse and Gaol. The Gaol was constructed in 1840–41 with additions in 1866 and, until the construction of the Courthouse in 1867, operated as both court house and gaol. The Gaol was built at the request of the local Government Resident who felt that Guildford's three hotels caused enough bad behaviour in the town to need a gaol. The Courthouse is now used by a number of community groups and the gaol is a museum run by the Swan–Guildford Historical Society.
7. Mechanics Institute
The local Mechanics' Institute (1865) in Meadow Street was originally built to improve the education of the local tradesmen and is now the headquarters of the Swan-Guildford Historical Society. It is open on Sundays from 2.00 p.m. - 5.00 p.m. Nearby, on the corner of Meadow and Stirling Streets, is the Post Office, an imposing building with a clock tower which was built in 1900 on a site originally occupied by the old Convict Depot hospital.
8. Other Buildings
Across the railway line in Meadow Street are the Commissariat Store, Du Cane's House (14 Meadow Street) and King's Cottage (11 Meadow Street). The Commissariat was built in 1853-53 by Lieutenant Edmund du Cane who supervised the convict work parties in the district. Du Cane's house, which is much altered from its original structure, dates from the time he arrived in Guildford.
King's Cottage (1860s) built by the local bootmaker, George Ogilsby King, is a fine example of a modest tradesman's house from the period. It has not been significantly altered.
The Swan Shire Council has published a brochure Guildford: A guide to some historic buildings and landmarks which, apart from including these prominent buildings also includes a number of interesting historic hotels and private homes. It lists a total of 22 buildings between the Swan River and Helena Street which are of significant historical interest.
The Heritage Trail does have some notable omissions the most significant of which would be the superb Rose and Crown Inn (originally built in 1840, rebuilt in the 1850s with additions in the 1880s) at 104 Swan Street. It was originally used for public meetings until the Mechanics' Hall was built. The alterations in the 1880s converted it into a fine example of a Colonial Georgian hotel. It is one of the oldest hotels in Western Australia.
Woodbridge and Midland
The Swan Valley Heritage Trail then leaves Guildford town centre and moves along the river to Woodbridge (not the house built by Stirling) which was built by Charles Harper, a successful local businessman and parliamentarian, in 1883–5 and given to the National Trust in 1968. This magnificent late Victorian house on the banks of the Swan River has been restored to its original glory with extensive displays of paintings, furniture and antiques. It was here, in 1896 in the billiard room, that the school which would eventually grow into Guildford Grammar School, was started. The building was opened to the public in 1970 and can be inspected Monday to Saturday (closed Wednesday) from 1.00 p.m. - 4.00 p.m. and Sunday 11.00 p.m. - 5.00 p.m. Take Third Avenue off the Great Eastern Highway. Nearby is the Governor Stirling High School - the site of the original 'Woodbridge'.
Beyond Midland the Heritage Trail stops at St Mary's Church and Graveyard in Yule Road, Middle Swan, a small Gothic Revival Church which was built in 1868-69 and the Houghton Homestead, Dale Road, Middle Swan (1863) described as an outstanding example of homestead architecture of the period. It is now part of the famous Houghton vineyards and is open from 10.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m. Sunday. For more details on the vineyards of the Upper Swan Valley see Midland.
The final stop on the Swan Valley Heritage Trail is All Saints Church in Henry Street, Upper Swan. This was the furthest that Captain Stirling and his party reached in 1827. The church's foundation stone was laid in 1839, the first service was held in 1841, and due to its original construction of rammed earth it was effectively rebuilt with bricks in 1860.
Guildford to York Heritage Trail
For people heading towards York there is the interesting Guildford to York Heritage Trail brochure which has 13 stopping points on the route from Guildford to York via the Great Eastern and Great Southern Highways.
Anyone interested in the geology of the Swan Valley, and for that matter the whole of the western coastline around Perth, should read The Swan Valley: A Perspective in Time and Place by Dorothy B. Robinson. It is an excellent and very readable account of the history and geology of the Swan Valley with lots of interesting and unusual pieces of information of the whole region including Midland and Mundaring.