Guildford is a special place with deep roots –  one of the first places in Western Australia to be settled by Europeans in 1829.

Captain James Stirling first identified the Swan River region as a suitable place for a free settlement on an expedition in March 1827.  He then returned on the Parmelia with the first contingent of settlers at the Swan River in June 1829.  Guildford became an inland port servicing the Swan Valley agricultural region.

The Swan River People have occupied land in Guildford and the Swan River for over 40,000 years. Their careful Aboriginal fire stick farming had helped create the favourable impression that the first British expedition party had of the Guildford area.

Guildford was established from 1829 on the peninsular formed by the Swan and Helena Rivers. It was the furthest navigable point on the Swan River, and soils were fertile. It was planned as a townsite and river port servicing the agricultural expansion.  Its layout was based on that of an English village with the village square and church at the centre.  Its name also comes from England – Captain Stirling’s father-in-law was MP for Guildford in Surrey.

However, the early years were marked by hardship due to the lack of manpower, money and exhaustion of the viable land. Even the landed gentry had to work hard 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, conflicts arose as Aboriginals came under restrictions that stopped them from freely using the land.

Life was harder than expected and the small population struggled through the 1830s and 40s.  There was a lack of manual labour; lack of agricultural knowledge in a very different environment from Britain and food was short. By 1837 self-sufficiency in wheat and flour production was achieved, but there were not markets for the surplus and other food was in short supply.

A call went out for convicts to come to Western Australia to help.  Convicts arrived from 1850 and almost 10,000 male convicts arrived over the next 18 years.  Those with good behaviour were given conditional release on ‘ticket of leave’ who were allowed to be hired out and complete their sentences within the community.

Guildford had a large Convict hiring depot at the corner of James Street and Meadow Street from 1852.  Here men could be hired, or convict gangs would be put up overnight.  A strict 10pm curfew was in force.  A replica bell can still be seen at the side of the Colonial Gaol in Meadow Street.

Guildford was the transport hub for travellers from Fremantle to the agricultural regions and Albany. T he three licensed inns generated much riotous behaviour and 1841 a lock up was built to house drunk or diorderly inmates.  This was the start of the building that is now the Colonial Gaol – it was added to by convict labour in 1855 and 1866 and used right up to 1969 as a police station.

Convict labour greatly improved Guildford’s prospects with new buildings, roads and bridges built.  Many of these buildings including the Courthouse and Mechanic’s Institute in Meadow Street can still be seen in Guildford today.

Mechanics Institute Guildford

Mechanics Institute Guildford

Guildford acted as a market town for agricultural produce from the area to the east.  Wheat was important and the Peerless Flour Mill was a large flour mill in Guildford that sadly burnt down in 1975.  Sandalwood was also important during the 1840s and was exported downriver to Perth from Town Wharf by Barker’s Bridge.

The building of the railway which connected Guildford to Perth and Fremantle from 1881 started a new chapter in Guildford’s history.  Guildford became a suburb of choice for wealthy people to build extravagant houses.  Some of these can still be seen on Swan Street opposite Stirling Square.

Queen Victoria’s Jubilee was celebrated in 1897. Many of the stately Sugar Gum trees that still line the streets of Guildford were planted as part of the celebrations.

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. In World War II Guildford Grammar School was requisitioned by the American troops as the 5th Station Military Hospital.

Guildford Grammar School Chapel

Guildford Grammar School Chapel

Guildford was declared a National Trust Historic Town in 1984.  Heritage Trails have been developed to guide you through its streets and parks, highlighting its richness of history and heritage buildings.  Why not pick up a leaflet at the 1866 Courthouse (now the Swan Valley Visitor Centre) and explore for yourself?