Friday 17 June 2011

The Jellicoe Roof Garden

On the top floor of the House of Fraser in Guildford, that lies between High Street and North Street, is a grand roof garden. This was built and opened in 1957-58, when this was Harvey's of Guildford.

The garden was designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, a noted landscape and garden designer responsible for many public commissions (including the Kennedy memorial at Runnymede). It was requested in the wake of the Soviet 1957 Sputnik triumph; Jellicoe said it was ...primarily a sky garden,... the underlying idea has been to unite heaven and earth; the sensation is one of being poised between the two.

At the time it was a revolutionary installation and attracted a great deal of attention. It afforded magnificent views of Guildford and the North Downs. The garden eventually fell into neglect and disrepair, but was recently rediscovered and refurbished: it now includes a view of Guildford Cathedral, which had not been built at the time of its opening.

I lived in Guildford until 1959 when I was 4: I have very few memories of the town but the Jellicoe Garden is one of them – I visited it shortly after its opening in 1958. At the time my father was the Harvey’s haberdasher; he would regale us with stories about the commanding figure of Denis Pink, then Harvey’s MD. Encountering two young men taunting the fish in the garden’s extensive water features, he adroitly kicked one of them into the deep, saying, “Sir, I am so sorry for my clumsiness.” No complaint was brought.


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