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

The original Swan River People had been gathering in the Guildford area for over 40,000 years.  Their careful method of fire stick farming greatly impressed Captain James Stirling’s expedition party when they explored the Swan River in March 1827.  Stirling reported back to the British Government on the suitability of the land to form a free settlement.  He then led the first contigent of settlers to the Swan River Colony in June 1829.

Guildford town was established 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 strategically important as a river port, servicing agricultural expansion in the Colony.  The layout of the town was based on that of an English village with the village square and Anglican church at the centre.  Its name also comes from England – Captain Stirling’s father-in-law was a Member of Parliament for Guildford in Surrey.

The early years of settlement were hard, 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.

The small population of white settlers struggled through the 1830s and 1840s.  Besides the lack of manual labour, a lack of knowledge about local agricultural conditions meant that food was in short supply and many people left for Sydney or Melbourne.  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 build the infrastructure.  Convict transportation commenced in 1850, with almost 10,000 male convicts arriving over the next 18 years, until 1868, when all 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.  At the depot, a strict 10pm curfew was enforced.  A replica curfew bell can still be seen at the side of the Colonial Gaol building.

Guildford has always had at least three inns or pubs, resulting in some riotous behaviour by drunken revellers.  In 1841 a lockup was built to contain drunk and disorderly inmates.   This was the beginning of the Old Colonial Gaol building, which was added to by convict labour in 1855 and 1866.  The Gaol was used right up to 1969 as a police station.

Convicts also built new roads and bridges in the area.  Some of their work can be seen at the Mechanics Institute hall, and the Courthouse in Meadow Street.  The original bridge over the Swan River leading to the Swan Valley, called Barkers Bridge was built by convict labour.

Mechanics Institute Guildford

Mechanics Institute Guildford

The building of the railway which connected Guildford to Perth and Fremantle from 1881 started a new chapter in Guildford’s history.  Guildford now became a suburb of choice for wealthy people to build extravagant houses.  Some of these lovely homes 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.