Wey Navigation – Harry Stevens

The Navigation offices were at Friary Street, long since demolished, and now the site of the new road that passes between the Rodborough Buildings and Debenhams. The site included a wharf, warehouses and a treadmill crane which still exists.

The Navigations office in Friary Street, Guildford in the sixties. Picture by permission of the National Trust (with whom the copyright remains)

When the Stevens family were at work they could keep an eye on the navigation from their offices. And when they were at home they could still keep an eye on the navigation if the wished. It wasnt any effort to do so. Lets see why. The Stevens lived in Castle Cliff House, which commanded a fine view of the valley through which the river runs. The river was visible especially along the Millmead stretch. From the towpath at Millmead, this picture shows Castle Cliff House, ringed by a red square for easy identification:


This is Castle Cliff House. Its now an elderly people’s home. It has a splendid view over the Wey Valley, the panorama includes the hills to the south and Guildford Cathedral. The Stevens clearly had a good view of the progress of new cathedral’s construction betwene the 1940’s and the 1960’s. In the left background on the picture Guildford Castle can be seen.

The end wall of the house that Lewis Carrol lived in whilst at Guildford can also be seen. Carrol’s house (like the others in Castle Hill) were built much earlier, and Castle Cliff House was a much later addition. The grounds that are now part of the castle were orginally a paddock, which was bought by William Stevens in 1897.

William Stevens wasnt just a bargeowner but also a landowner. There are a number of records of lands in and around Guildford being bought and sold by him, and no doubt the plot known as the castle paddock was one of his purchases. The top end of the plot was chosen as the site for Castle Cliff House which he had built soon after.

Harry Stevens resided here until the 1960’s when the Wey Navigations were transferred to the National Trust. The actual date of transferral was May 7th 1964. In late 1969 Mr Stevens was very poorly and was transferred to a nursing home, where he died on 13 January 1970. The funeral took place at St Mary’s church, Guildford, on Monday January 19th at 11.30am followed by a private cremation. He left an estate worth £126,069.

A view of Castle Cliff Gardens. This public open space seen in the picture above was formerly Harry Stevens’ front garden! The view includes the cathedral (ringed in red) Bordering the west side of the gardens is Quarry Street which was originally the main road through Guildford.

This very narrow thoroughfare is one reason why the wholesale demolition of many historic buildings along the bottom of the valley occurred, including the Dickensian Wey Navigations offices and wharf.

Ironically Harry Stevens had a good view of the road that was soon to be the cause of the destruction of his own offices. The Friary Street buildings were demolished in December 1969 and Harry Stevens died in Janaury 1970, a fact that Paul Vine commented upon (as shown below.)

Left: News article on donationing the Wey Navigations to the National Trust. Right: Obituary by Paul Vine (author of London’s Lost Route to Basingstoke – and London’s Lost Route to the Sea.) Both items undated and sources unrecorded, in a scrapbook belonging to Stephen Gunner (deceased).

Mr Gunner’s family had a very long association with the Stevens and the Navigations, beginning with Stephen’s father taking up as resident lock keeper at St. Catherine’s just as World War II was beginning. The Gunner family posessed some of the best private archives seen of the Navigations as well as the Basingstoke Canal.

Some of the archives I was able to photograph. It is now understood the archives have gone to the Harmsworth family – formerly the Basingstoke Canal’s owners – now residing in Minehead, Somerset.

Wey Navigation Pages:

Thames Lock – Weybridge Town / Coxes – Parvis Wharf / Parvis – Walsham Gates / Newark – Worsfold Gates / Worsfold – Stoke / Stoke – Guildford Wharf / Town Mill – St Catherine’s / Shalford – Godalming / Harry Stevens

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