George Abbot’s Gift to Guildford

June 7, 2023| Past Issues, Editorial

Sitting at the top of the High Street in Guildford is a large 400 year old Grade 1 Listed Building which most passers-by hardly seem to notice. It is called Abbot’s Hospital, but it is a beautiful Alms House, providing accommodation for the elderly poor of Guildford, just as it did when it was given to Guildford by George Abbot.

George Abbot was born in Guildford in 1562 and rose to be Archbishop of Canterbury. He was chosen for that role by his patron, James 1st, who had involved him in a number of projects including the translation of the Bible, and an attempt to merge the Church of England with the Church of Scotland.

In 1619 Guildford was suffering badly from the decline in the wool trade and George Abbot built the Hospital to provide shelter and work for the suffering townspeople. He had been the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University and copied the Tudor brick style he was familiar with from the colleges there. It only took two and a half years to build, and the first residents arrived in 1622, 10 men and 8 women. The rules were strict: they were all over 60, single, poor, a resident of Guildford and of good character.

The residents were required to go to chapel twice a day and to church in Holy Trinity on Sundays and holidays. Failure to attend could lead to admonishment, a fine and even expulsion.

Abbot’s Hospital Upper Court.

Today the 28 residents are all over 60, largely from Guildford and ‘of modest means’. Since the controversial building of the Lower Courtyard in the 1980s, the Hospital has been able to accommodate couples. Chapel is no longer mandatory but there are services every week. Whereas in the past residents would live out their lives there, now they must be capable of independent living. While there is still a Master and a Warden managing the Hospital, the days of assistant masters, assistant wardens, matrons and assistant matrons are past.

The original Upper Courtyard contains many wonderful original architectural features. Apart from the residents accommodation, there a number of common rooms. The Masters Lodge contains some exquisite wood-panelling. The Presence Chamber, which was once George Abbot’s office when he was staying with his brother Richard whom he made the first Master, contains many historical artefacts including the original charter and George Abbot’s handwritten rules for the residents. There is also a fine portrait of him.

Above the Presence Chamber in the Tower over the Gatehouse was the Treasurer’s Office, accessible only by a stone spiral staircase. In 1685 it was thought to be the most secure room in Guildford, so it was there that the young Duke of Monmouth was imprisoned after his unsuccessful rebellion against James 2nd on his way back to London to be beheaded. It is now always known as the Monmouth Room

In 1619 Guildford was suffering badly from the decline in the wool trade and George Abbot built the Hospital to provide shelter and work for the suffering townspeople.

The Common Room is where the residents used to take their meals, and still contains much of the original furniture as well as a wonderful collective portrait by renowned local artist Jane Allison of the residents in 2019.

Inside the Chapel.

The Chapel has always been a central part of the Abbot’s community. Its simple interior is highlighted by beautiful stained glass windows recording the life of Jacob from the Bible. It is a tribute to George Abbot’s patron James 1st.

At the back is the Garden once used to grow vegetables, but now a haven of tranquillity for the residents.

George Abbot’s later life was blighted by a tragic accident when on a visit to his friend Lord Zouche he was persuaded to go hunting and accidentally killed a game keeper. His enemies in the church used the incident to attack his authority, and the divisions within the Church of England widened dramatically. It was a portent of the English Civil War to come.

George Abbot died in 1632 and is buried in Holy Trinity Church opposite in a splendid tomb which survived the collapse of that church one hundred years later.

Today the Hospital is an independent charity. It is home to 28 residents so access to the public is limited. There are guided tours (costing £5) at 11.00am every Thursday and Friday from Easter to October, and also on the first Tuesday of those months to coincide with the Farmers Markets on the High Street. The hospital also welcomes pre-arranged Group Tours.

More details including a film about the Hospital are available on the website: or from contacting the Master at