Guildford’s ‘Honorary Remembrancer’ Matthew Alexander on his perfect Surrey weekend

PUBLISHED: 11:42 11 November 2016 | UPDATED: 11:42 11 November 2016

Guildford's Honorary Remembrancer’, Matthew Alexander, in his ceremonial robes

Guildford's Honorary Remembrancer’, Matthew Alexander, in his ceremonial robes

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As Guildford’s ‘Honorary Remembrancer’, Matthew Alexander plays a unique role in the civic life of the town. Here he tells us more about his interest in the area’s history – and why you might get to sample some Roman recipes if you are lucky enough to dine with him…

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine November 2016

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When I first came to Guildford in July 1975 to become assistant curator of local history at Guildford Museum, I had no idea how deeply I was to become enthralled by this remarkable town. I have spent the rest of my life exploring its past.

You might say that there are two Guildfords; the High Street, at least outwardly, has changed comparatively little over the past hundred years or so. To the south of it, you soon reach open country; the leafy flood plain of the River Wey and the Surrey Hills.

North Street, running parallel only a few hundred yards away, is lined mostly with modern buildings, and is wide and busy enough almost to be a second High Street. Northwards, there is dense urban settlement. Thus Guildford has preserved its ancient character, while still being one of the most modern and dynamic towns in Britain – the University of Surrey being a major factor in that.

It is modern Guildford that now mostly engages me as the Borough’s ‘Honorary Remembrancer’, a post to which I was elected after retiring as museum curator. I produce an annual report for each outgoing Mayor, recording some of the more significant happenings in the Borough during their year of office. I also walk in procession with the Mayor and corporation on special occasions, with the cap, badge and gown worn by my predecessors since the 1930s.

Perfect pubs

My ideal Surrey weekend, though, would certainly begin in the country, with a Friday evening drink in one of the many old pubs with which our county is blessed. I’m spoilt for choice; The Withies at Compton, The Barley Mow at Tilford (best when there’s a cricket match) or The Crossways at Churt (with its multiple guest bitters amounting to a never-ending beer festival).

On Saturday, I might visit Guildford Museum in Quarry Street, to see the current exhibition there. Long ago, I used to give historical tours, but these days the Guildford Town Guides offer an extensive list of themed walks. Now I can meet friends in a pub for a lunchtime drink, and then go round the shops in what is one of the top shopping towns in the south-east. Saturday night might see us host a dinner party. My wife Henriette is a talented cook, and we enjoy entertaining. We are both interested in historic cookery, and Roman and medieval recipes often find their way onto the table.

Historic ruins

Sunday morning would see us visiting a historic site of some kind; perhaps the atmospheric ruins of Waverley Abbey, or a stately home – there’s often something going on at Loseley Park. Otherwise, we might go for a walk in the heathland of south-west Surrey, open country since the Bronze Age. The Three Horseshoes at Thursley is a good stop after a walk on the common. If beef is on the menu for Sunday dinner, I try to get Aberdeen Angus from Stovold’s herd at Lydling Farm. The evening, at this time of year, would be spent by a log fire, in the company of a glass of wine and early music, or preparing some paperwork for the week ahead.

One of the things that has struck me in compiling my annual reports is the astonishing amount of voluntary work that is carried out in the area. There are many charities, some national, some local, and it is hard to select a favourite. However, I can’t think of a better cause than Shooting Star Chase, with its Christopher’s Children’s Hospice in Artington.

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