Our Library Collection

Explore the wonders of the Institute’s Library and Archives


Library Opening Times
Tue – Fri 10.00 – 15.00
Saturdays 10:00 – 14.00

The Institute closes completely from Maundy Thursday until the Wednesday after Easter and from Christmas Eve to New Years’ Day (inclusive).

The Guildford Institute
Ward Street, Guildford

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01483 562142

Click on the collections below for more information.

Historic Posters and Notices Collection

The Historic Posters and Notices Collection brings together a variety of promotional and publicity material for local events, and shows how ephemera can offer real insight into local life and times.

Our earliest poster is dated 1804, an announcement of an Ancient Market selling cattle, calves, sheep and hogs every Tuesday and one for ‘buying and selling Rye Malt and Oats at the Market House’. There are announcement notices too including the Paving of the Town of Guildford in 1811. People enjoyed hearing books read aloud in the 19th century, and there is a bound collection of handbills for the Penny Reading Society dated 1862-64.

The town’s political life is well represented including a large print of the specially published poster circulated in 1835 by James Mangles MP repudiating the petition for his removal as MP; campaign details from the Guildford Municipal Elections 1876, praising one candidate and vilifying the opposition; and a reminder to vote for a particular candidate, written in verse, from 1910.


Notable Historic Volumes Collection

Over almost 180 years, we have acquired some remarkable books for our library. Many were purchased on publication, some must have been deliberately acquired as collector’s items.



These are gathered into a separate collection for ease of conservation, and together form a unique resource not widely available. Some are beautifully produced and bound such as The Cathedrals of England and Wales(1836) in three volumes, or the four volumes of The Dictionary of Needlework(1882); some cover local interests, such as Manning and Bray’s History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey (1804) and A Pilgrimage in Surrey(1914) by James Ogilvy; while others cover subjects of more general interest, such as the Life of Cecil Rhodes(1910) by Sir Lewis Michell or Birds Eggs of the British Isles (1904). To see the complete list of titles, please search our online catalogue using “Notable Historic Volumes” as the keyword. Books in this collection can be viewed by prior arrangement.


Pamphlet Collection

Our archive holds a fascinating and diverse collection of leaflets and pamphlets from the 1800s to the present day, including old Town Guides, exhibition and festival information, and a variety of local history booklets, as well as pamphlets covering an array of leisure pursuits.

The leaflets and pamphlets, most of which are in good condition, are well used by researchers & enquirers. Unique records of Guildford and other Surrey locations, they allow a perspective on 125 years of change and development; their value as a record of local history and an important resource for research has been acknowledged for some time. For local people they also provide a nostalgia trip – as they contain photographs of long-vanished buildings and views. The collection is currently being catalogued and indexed in greater depth. A more detailed database will soon be searchable via our online catalogue.


Parlour Music Collection

Our 38 volumes of sheet music, vocal and instrumental pieces were published around the turn of the 19th century.  In March 1912 The Guildford Institute Librarian welcomed the 50 specially-produced bound volumes as “a good addition to the library”. A century later, this collection is a nostalgic reflection of a more leisured age, when people indulged in music-making in their parlours as amateur singers and pianists.

Much of the music consists of songs and piano music, produced by the publishers Cassell and date from about 1905-1908. Also known as “Music in the Home”, each cost only 2d., so there was a large market for them. Lavish illustrations adorn the covers.

The songs were sometimes sourced from operas and religious works but most were independent and the names of librettists and composers appear repeatedly. There are also patriotic songs and some from the musical theatre.


Photograph & Picture Collection

Our impressive and extensive photograph and picture collection is a prized part of the Institute’s Local History & Heritage Collections. It has been gradually assembled by members and officers of The Guildford Institute since its inception and is arranged into broad categories which reflect various aspects of the local area and its essential character.

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Many views of Guildford and surrounding villages are included together with images depicting the changing architectural face of Guildford; from historic buildings such as churches and the cathedral, the Abbots Hospital, Guildford Castle and the Royal Grammar School to ordinary High Street shops and the Cattle Market.

These are supplemented by a number of maps, plans and perspectives of Guildford, from the celebrated ‘South West Prospect of Guildford’ (1738) to a rare aerial photograph of the town taken in 1919.

There are portraits of people who made a major contribution to the town such as mayors, civic officials and leading philanthropists, but everyday life is also portrayed with images of local residents at work and play.

Major community events include as the ‘Beating of the Bounds’, the Royal Counties Agricultural Show (now the Surrey County Show), Shalford Park Cyclists Camps, the paving of the High Street, military parades and royal visits and special celebrations such as the Coronation Parades of Edward VII (1902) and George V (1911), and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

An intriguing collection concentrates on accidents and disasters that have occurred in the local area including fires, floods, railway and traffic incidents and the Great Storm of 1906.

The collection has now been fully digitised allowing images to be downloaded and viewed on screens, making it more accessible than ever. This will help to prevent any further deterioration of the pictures and preserve the resource for future generations.


Postcard Collection

At the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, sending picture postcards was all the rage – the equivalent of Facebook!  Millions of cards were posted and many more bought as souvenirs of visits, holidays, and important events.

Our collection of over 1000 postcards includes pictures of Guildford and surrounding villages, covering a wide range of subjects: street scenes, institutions, sites of historical interest, notable events and local people engaged in their everyday work and leisure activities. Many of the postcards were printed by Surrey-based photographic companies of the period By far the most well-known local company was Frith & Co. of Reigate established by the Quaker greengrocer and pioneer photographer Francis Frith (1822-1898). Another local postcard publisher was Frank Lasham (1850-1925) of Guildford, who was President of the Natural History and Literary Society and Chairman of the Institute.


Scrapbook Collection

The Scrapbook Albums, dating from the 1880s to the 1930s, form one of the most valuable elements of our Local History & Heritage Collection.

Twenty-eight albums were compiled by members and staff principally as collections of contemporary newspaper cuttings, ephemera and graphic material to provide a detailed record of public events, customs, matters of local interest and biographical information on prominent townspeople.

A small number of albums were compiled as surveys of the topography, antiquities and the built heritage of Guildford and neighbouring villages. Photographs and prints of these subjects provide a valuable record of the appearance of the town and feature many buildings which no longer exist or have been remodeled beyond recognition.

Hours of painstaking labour were involved in the on-going work of gathering and arranging material, pasting it into the albums and annotating and indexing. Work on the albums continued up to the late 1930s when the outbreak of war disrupted the Institute’s activities.

The albums are highly regarded by both members and visiting researchers as a rich source of historical information and for a wealth of illustrations of events and people.

Between 2002 and 2006 a full index of the albums was compiled to replace original manuscript indexes which were rapidly deteriorating, created a valuable research aid. The Scrapbook Collection has now been fully digitised allowing images to be downloaded and viewed on computer, making it truly accessible. This will help to prevent further deterioration of the collection and preserve it for future generations.


Southern Counties Cyclists Camps in Shalford Park (1886-87)

By the 1880s cycling had become a very popular pursuit; Guildford had its own Cycling Club which met at the White Hart Hotel in the High Street – now Sainsbury’s.

In 1886, the Southern Counties Cyclist Camp committee agreed to stage their camp and race meeting in Guildford. The camp took place from 30 July to 5 August in Shalford Park, with races held at the cricket ground in Woodbridge Road. Many thousands went along to view the spectacle, and an array of additional entertainments and activities were provided to cater for them. The races consisted of six laps of the ground, with categories for tricycles, tandems and the “high ordinary bicycle” – better known as the Penny Farthing. The 1886 Guildford camp was so popular that it was repeated the following year on an even grander scale, and in 1888 a further camp was held at Busbridge Park in Godalming. Our collection comprises a scrapbook of early photographs of competitors and races, descriptions of the events, locations, and people, race results and reports, and programmes of race meetings and the associated ‘grand events’ and entertainments.

The Natural History & Literary Society Collection

In spring 1893, members of the Guildford Working Men’s Institute decided to form a Natural History and Microscopical Club.  The club became The Guildford Natural History and Literary Society in 1908; its committee boasted such illustrious names as Lady Stanley (widow of the famous explorer), the writer F Baring Gould and the press baron Lord Northcliffe. The Society thrived for 85 years as the NH & LS until 1993 when it adopted its present title of The Guildford Natural History Society.


One of the treasures which the Institute holds on behalf of the Society is the “NH & LS Miscellany”, an exquisite series of wonderfully illustrated bound manuscript volumes dating from 1904 featuring a rich variety of lecture and field reports, drawings, photographs, letters from members and newspaper cuttings. These document much of the history of the Society’s many activities; such as the annual Midnight Ramble to hear the Nightingales and a special event on June 29th 1927 when 100 members gathered on St. Martha’s Hill at 4:30am to view an eclipse of the sun.

The Society meets at the Institute during winter and spring terms and organises outings during the summer and walks all year round.

The Original Collection

The Guildford Institute has always owned and loaned books to its members. This library grew to over four thousand volumes; those that remain from the early years are preserved as our Original Collection.



The range of our members’ interests clearly went beyond the educational to much wider horizons; hobbies and pastimes, current affairs and even children’s books for their families. Exploration, in a fast expanding world, was of particular interest, resulting in a rich collection of travel literature published during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Titles such as In Darkest Africa by Henry M. Stanley (1890), The Romance of Early Exploration (1907), India by Victor Surridge (1909), Russia with paintings by F. de Haenan (1908), Tramps in Dark Mongolia (1910) and Through the Alps to the Appennines (1911) give a fascinating insight into a time where maps were largely coloured “Pink”. The emerging technologies of engineering, radio and electricity were of intense interest, reflected in titles such as The Wonders of Wireless Telegraphy (1913), The Romance of Modern Mechanism (1910), and Every Boy his Own Mechanic (1918). Ladies were also catered for with instructional tomes such as Three Hundred and One Things a Bright Girl Can Do (1911). We have always held an impressive collection of biographies and autobiographies, a legacy that continues in our current collection. While many of the great and the good celebrated in the Original Collection biographies were prominent in their day, most are rarely written about now, so these books offer a particularly useful information source. One of the joys of browsing these shelves is that many of the titles were published in beautifully illustrated and coloured covers; a few examples are reproduced here. Much of this collection can be borrowed by members.

The World War One Record

This poignant record in the form of a scrapbook is a lasting memorial to the thousands of local heroes who gave their lives in the Great War.  It’s a detailed, almost week-by-week account of The 5th Battalion of the Queens (Royal West Surrey) Regiment – as their lives and action are documented from 1915 onwards, with an index of the names of local servicemen.

News cuttings from The Surrey Advertiser and County Times range from personal reminiscences of India or Mesopotamia to the carnage in the trenches. Each issue contains a Roll of Honour – in the July 15th 1916 issue alone, 90 Surrey officers were reported killed, wounded or missing. The ‘home front’ is covered too, with printed pleas for rationing from the King, leaflets for fundraising, information publications and conscientious objectors’ cases in court. The record also details how the Guildford community supported its soldiers with Christmas hospitality for billeted soldiers, entertainment for the troops and programmes for Commemoration services in local churches. Finally, the commemorative war memorials are documented, including one in the Institute unveiled in November 1918 in memory of 27 Institute members who gave their lives for King and Country.

Theatre Collection

Guildford has a long, vibrant history of theatre dating back to the Guild Merchants’ Mysteries in the early 17th century. We hold a diverse collection of playbills from 1830 onwards.


Early plays were performed in the cockpit of the Red Lion Inn in Market Street until the prolific impresario, Henry Thornton, built the adjoining Guildford Theatre which flourished from 1789 until 1860. Two large volumes of playbills were presented to the Guildford Institute by Frank Lasham.

The playbills reveal the extent of an evening’s entertainment, which could include two major plays from light comedy to Jacobean tragedy interspersed with comic songs and recitations, extraordinary speciality acts, tableaux and conjuring, and animal acts from performing dogs to pageants with horses. Playbills usually detail the full cast, a synopsis of the main play, prices of admission and those who might benefit from the performance.

After the Guildford Theatre waned, the building was demolished and The Borough Hall in North Street became a new venue for entertainment. Our collection of 210 playbills and programmes from The Borough Theatre and The Large Hall ranges from 1880-1895; they are of varying sizes and ornamentation and contain programme notes as well as cast lists, a list of sponsors and notable patrons.

The Theatre Royal was one of the later theatres, although the Institute holds no programmes, but the Guildford Repertory Theatre, one of most innovative and successful of its kind in the country, shared the building from 1955. The Institute has an intermittent collection of their programmes from 1955-1963, when the building was burnt down.

In 1965 the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre opened, named in memory of the French comedienne and pianist who lived locally. Our collection of its programmes includes the Opening Festival, and a varied selection from the 1960s with a more comprehensive collection from 1970 onwards.