Godalming is a historic market town, civil parish and administrative centre of the Borough of Waverley in Surrey, England, SSW of Guildford, traversing the banks of the River Wey in a hilly, heavily wooded part of the London commuter belt and Green Belt.
Godalming is southwest of London and shares a three-way twinning arrangement with the towns of Joigny in France and Mayen in Germany. Friendship links are in place with the state of Georgia and Moscow. James Oglethorpe of Godalming was the founder of the colony of Georgia.
Godalming is regarded as an expensive residential town, partly due to its visual appeal and favourable transport links. In recent years it has been ranked the UK's third most desirable property hotspot, voted the fourth best area of the UK in which to live and judged in 2013 to have the highest quality of life in Great Britain.
The town has existed since Saxon times (see also Godalming (hundred)), and probably earlier. It is mentioned in the will of King Alfred the Great in 899 (where it and Guildford are gifted to Alfred's nephew, Æthelwold) and the name itself has Saxon origins, 'Godhelms Ingus' roughly translated as “the family of Godhelm”, and probably referring to one of the first lords of the manor.
Godalming appears in Domesday Book of 1086 as Godelminge. It was held by William the Conqueror. Its domesday assets were: 2 churches (both held by Ranulf Flambard) worth 12s, 3 mills worth £2 1s 8d, 25 ploughs, of meadow, woodland worth 103 hogs. It rendered £34. Its population was roughly 400 people. At the time, its manor belonged to the King, but a few hundred years later, ownership transferred to the Bishop of Salisbury, under a charter granted by King Edward I of England.
In the year 1300, the town was granted the right to hold a weekly market and an annual fair. Its major industry at the time was woollen cloth, which contributed to Godalming’s prosperity over the next few centuries, until a sudden decline in the 17th century. Instead, its people applied their skills to the latest knitting and weaving technology and began producing stockings in a variety of materials, and later to leatherwork.
A willingness to adapt, and move from one industry to another meant that Godalming continued to thrive. For example, papermaking was adopted in the 17th century, and paper was still manufactured there in the 20th century. The quarrying of Bargate stone also provided an important source of income, as did passing trade - Godalming was a popular stopping point for stagecoaches and the Mail coach between Portsmouth and London. In 1764, trade received an additional boost when early canalisation of the river took place, linking the town to Guildford, and from there to the River Thames and London on the Wey and Godalming Navigations.
In 1726 a Godalming maidservant called Mary Toft hoaxed the town into believing that she had given birth to rabbits. The foremost doctors of the day came to witness the freak event and for a brief time the story caused a national sensation. Eventually Mary was found out after a porter was caught smuggling a dead rabbit into her chamber, she confessed to inserting at least 16 rabbits into herself and faking their birth. Court testimony of 1764 attests to how purchasing one of the mills in Godalming and dealing in corn and flour brought a substantial income.
So successful was Godalming that in the early 19th century it was considerably larger than today’s county town of Guildford, and by 1851 the population had passed 6,500. Already, it was becoming a popular residence for commuters, for it was connected to London by railway two years earlier, in 1849, and to Portsmouth in 1859. Today the town is served by Godalming railway station on the Portsmouth Direct Line. The first mayor of Godalming was Henry Marshall.
Public electricity supply
Godalming came to world attention in September 1881, when it became the first town in the world to have installed a public electricity supply, which made electricity available to consumers. It was Calder & Barnet who installed a Siemens AC Alternator and dynamo which were powered by a waterwheel, located at Westbrook Mill, on the river Wey. There were a number of supply cables that fed seven arc lights and 34 Swan incandescent lights, some of which were laid in the gutters. Floods in late 1881 caused problems and in the end Calder & Barnet withdrew from the contract. It was taken over by Siemens. Under Siemens the supply system grew and a number of technical problems were solved. But later on in 1884 the whole town reverted to gas lighting as Siemens failed to tender for a contract to light the town. This was due to a survey they undertook in the town that failed to provide adequate support to make the business viable. Siemens had also lost money on the scheme in the early years, but was prepared to stay on in order to gain experience. Electricity returned to the town in 1904.