Places

Guildford was one of the first places in Western Australia to be settled by Europeans in 1829.

Before that date Aboriginal people had gathered here, in the area they knew as Mandoon, for over 40,000 years.  Their careful method of fire stick farming greatly impressed Captain James Stirling’s expedition party during an exploration up the Swan River in 1827.  Stirling reported to the British Government that the land was suitable to form a free settlement.  He then led the first group of settlers to the Swan River Colony.

Guildford is situated on a peninsular formed by the meeting of the Swan and Helena Rivers.  In Colonial times, its strategic importance was as a river port, servicing agricultural expansion in the Colony.  The layout of the town copied English designs of a central village square and an Anglican church.

The 1830’s and 1840’s were hard times due to the lack of manpower, money and exhaustion of the viable land.  Even the landed gentry had to work to survive.  Kangaroos were shot for food and the traditional Aboriginal hunting grounds were soon lost to the developing farms.  Although initial contact had been friendly, conflict began as Aboriginals were restricted from using their land.

A petition by the State Government was sent to England, asking for convict labour.  Convict transportation started in 1850, with almost 10,000 male convicts arriving over the next 18 years until 1868, when transportation to Australia ceased.

The Guildford convict hiring depot was established in 1852 on the corner of James and Meadow Streets.  Here, well behaved convicts, granted conditional release via a ‘ticket of leave’ were available for hire to farmers and business men, as they worked towards completing their sentences in the community.  A strict 10pm curfew was enforced at the Depot.  Today, a replica curfew bell can be seen alongside the Colonial Gaol building.

Convicts cleared the scrub at Stirling Square, and built new roads and bridges in the area.  Some of their work can be seen at the Mechanics Institute, sections of the Gaol, and the Courthouse.  Barkers Bridge, the original structure over the Swan River leading to the Swan Valley was built by convict labour.

Mechanics Institute Guildford

Mechanics Institute Guildford

In 1881, the railway connecting Guildford to Perth and Fremantle started a new chapter in the town’s history.  Now it became a suburb of choice for the wealthy.  Some of their lovely homes can still be seen in the town.

Guildford played an important role during World War I, where a remount depot in South Guildford was used by the WA 10th Light Horse Regiment.  During the second World War, Guildford Grammar School was requisitioned by the American troops as the 5th Station Military Hospital.

Guildford Grammar School Chapel

Guildford Grammar School Chapel

The town was declared a National Trust Historic Town in 1984.  In 2019 Guildford town was added to the State Heritage Register of Places, the first to be registered under the new Heritage Act 2018.