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A Tour of The Spike Heritage Centre

“History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.”

I was invited to have a tour around The Spike Heritage Centre by John Redpath General Manager of the building’s owners the Charlotteville Jubilee Trust.  In my opinion the Spike is one of Guildford’s most underrated hidden treasures.  John explained that 15 years ago the building was derelict, the place had been vandalised and was infested with pigeons.

The Trust had a fight on their hands to ensure the building was going to stay, in November 1999 the building was listed. The council said they were not going to knock the building down, they were going to use the building as housing for key workers instead, be it for nurses or police officers.

The Spike in 2003

Fast forward to 2003, a couple of public meetings and a near riot, Guildford Borough Council finally decided to support the mammoth task of getting the Spike Centre back to where it needed to be.  At this point the Trust only had £1000 and a lot of good will from around 160 supporters, more money was needed!  That £1000 eventually grew to more than £1.6M with help of the Heritage Lottery Fund (£1.2M),  GBC(£341K), SCC(£35K) and SITA Trust(£45K)  The deal made with the Lottery Fund was to keep the Spike Heritage Centre open to the public for 25 years. The Spike has now been open for 10 years and continues to go from strength to strength.

The Spike Center today

The Spike earns income from giving Heritage Tours, hiring rooms in the Community Centre and from a successful Montessori nursery located in the undercroft.

John then took me inside the Spike Centre. He explained when they first came to the building, everything was boarded up, water leaked in and they would leave itchy from the lice that were under the pigeon guano that lined the floors.

I was led out into the garden where I was shown the bee hives, in the summer the lids are Perspex so the children can have a look at the bees, a lovely touch. As we walked in on the left was a statue of a woman washing clothes, John explained that in the workhouse people who arrived would have to have a bath and have their clothes fumigated or disinfected to rid them of lice. I was taken upstairs to the men’s cells each measuring 8ft x 4ft has been kept as authentic as possible, the beds were a mental frame with springs, on top of these were a thin mattress which was stuffed with straw. Straw was used as it was cheap and, when the mattresses were finally too filthy to use anymore, they could be burnt and cheaply replaced.  Inmates would have only had a single blanket to keep themselves warm and a pillow would have been too much of a luxury.  The toilet was a metal bucket in the corner of the room.

In other rooms within the Spike can be found other statues and manikins who depict what the building would have been like as well as giving the visitor a real understanding of life as it was back then.

The rest of the tour consisted of taking me into different cells that were ‘occupied’ by different characters, each one had their picture on the wall and a brief story about what brought them to the Spike.  Downstairs there is an exhibition room where you can see more of the history of the Workhouse and the NHS Et Luke’s hospital the evolved on the site.

I can’t recommend this experience enough, whether it is a day out with the children or just to learn more about the amazing history that Guildford has to offer.  A lot of work has gone into this building to make it what it is today. It deserves to be visited and enjoyed by all!

To learn more about The Spike Centre visit their webiste: http://www.guildfordspike.co.uk/

Written by Claire Taylor

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