Farnham visit

26 June 2023 by Simon Drayson

Farnham church street view surrey archtecture george james architects

Farnham is a quintessential English market town, steeped in creative history and teeming with independent shops scattered around its pretty streets. Located in Surrey, close to the Hampshire boarder just and just short drive from our studio, Farnham is right on the doorstep of the beautiful Surrey Hills ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ . It is easy to see why this pretty, well located town has been voted one of the best places to live in the Time 2022 survey.

Creative History

There is a strong creative presence in the town, thanks to the influence of the 20th century Arts and Crafts movement in the area, with key figures of the movement working in the surrounding area, including the architect Edwin Lutyens, the landscape architect Gertrude Kekyll and the painter George Watts to name a few. In fact, Farnham was acknowledged as England’s first ‘World Craft City’

In association with this strong movement, the Farnham School of Art opened in 1866, which has since evolved into the University for the Creative Arts. The historic school has long drawn creatives to the area, and has an in incredible reputation for nurturing talent, some notable associates include the painter William Herbert Allen (who was head of the School between 1889 & 1927), the artist Tracey Emin CBE and interior designer Linda Barker.

Architectural Highlights

The town has many architectural gems that we love, with around 360 listed buildings in the Farnham area there is plenty of historical architecture to savor. Perched on top of the hill, overlooking the town, is the stunning Farnham Castle, originally built in the 12 century by the grandson of William the Conqueror and then later updated as a Palace for the Bishops of Winchester. The castle is now predominately used as a wedding and conference venue, but if you are keen to have a peek inside there are tours of the palace available once a week.

The Castle Keep is however open for visitors throughout the year and well worth a visit. The site is now managed by English Heritage, but on this particular visit we had to settle for views from afar was we had Archi in tow. 

In the centre of Farnham is The Town Hall, an attractive Grade II Listed Building with clocktower which has now been converted into residential flats above. The building was designed by Harold Falkner, a local architect who had a huge influence over the design of the town, indeed it is still seen that ‘Farnham today is still very much his achievement.’

new ashgate gallery farnham surrey

Things to do

Aside from just soaking up the ambience of Farnham by wandering the pretty streets, there are many other things you might want to do during your visit. A great place to start is the Museum of Farnham, dedicated to the history of the town which is free to visit. The museum was founded in 1961, housed in ‘Willmer House’ a stunning 18th century, Grade I Listed townhouse on West Street in the heart of Farnham.

New Ashgate Gallery was established in 1959 to champion works of contemporary art and craft. Located on Lower Church Lane, next to one of the main car parks, the gallery always has something worth visiting for with their frequently changing exhibitions.

Parks

The town is blessed with access to many green spaces for all, which adds to the feeling of space and serenity of the town. The most famous is Farnham Park, easily accessible from the town yet offering a feeling of open countryside and views across the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside.

If you are still craving more green space you can enjoy Gostrey Meadow which is located in the middle of town, offering open green space with a children’s play park. A hidden gem within the town is The Victoria Garden, a small community run garden on the site of the former open air swimming pool and now a delightful little oasis. 

farnham historic architecture surrey george james architects

Shops

The town offers a healthy mix of independent and chain stores, so plenty for everyone’s taste. A key store in the town is the local independent department store, Elphicks, located in their prominent High Street location, where they have been trading since 1881.

Lion and Lamb Yard is a pretty, cobbled pedestrianised street offering retail and dining options, although the setting is very attractive it does seem to attract the larger national brands.

We do so enjoy a good bookshop and in Farnham we found Blue Bear Bookshop, a very welcome retreat from the street with a grand interior, finished with chandeliers. The book store is dog friendly too, so Archi could join us for a sniff around the shelves and a much needed caffeine stop in the café.

If antiques pique your interest then you are in luck! There are bountiful places to visit in Farnham offering a range of antiques. Set within the town is Bourne Mill Antiques, a picturesque 17th century mill with over 60 stalls and an excellent café. The Antiques Warehouse is situated just outside the town, housed in two Listed Elizabethan barns and full of various antiques, you could lose yourself for hours having a browse over their extensive collections.

Also located on the fringes of the town is Packhouse, set in an ex-hop kiln it is a hybrid store that we love. Offering a mix of antiques, gifts and collectables for your home and garden it was really hard to leave without buying half the shop.

Farnham cafe culture Surrey george james architects

Eat & drink

There is no shortage of places to stop to eat or drink, the biggest challenge you might have is deciding which one to go for. Here are a few which we have enjoyed. 

The traditional Bush Hotel is an attractive vine-clad building steeped in history which has been welcoming guests since 1618. Internally completed with a mix of old and new, this offers a lovely relaxed ambience and on sunny days the terrace is a perfect spot to unwind.

The Lion and Lamb Café offers alfresco seating on the cobbled streets, a good brunch spot to watch the world go by.

The Castle is an independent gastro pub in the centre that offers a relaxed atmosphere, with a vibrant interior and a pretty courtyard garden, it is a good option for lunch, dinner or even just a glass of something.

The Electric Cycle Cafe is a great local cafe, mixing the need for caffeine with bikes. They even specialise in Cargo bikes, which we think would be a fabulous way to get around with Archi (on a sunny day!).

Nearby

If you have more time to spend around Farnham there is plenty to keep you entertained, here are a few suggestions in the local area.

The Sculpture Park showcases 650 contemporary sculptures outside. The artwork is displayed throughout their ten acres of land, along a meandering trail through woodland and water garden it certainly makes for an atmospheric environment to enjoy art in. 

For those looking for something more adventurous for the whole family, it is certainly worth visiting Alice Holt Forest. Managed by Forestry England, Alice Holt is a well maintained forest with so many things to do, from trail walks, cycle trains, fishing and even Tree Top Adventure challenges.

The Rural Life Living Museum, just outside Farnham in the village of Tilford, the museum tells the story of the countryside through objects from everyday life, agricultural implements and historic buildings.

We do hope you have enjoyed our suggestions of places to visit in and around Farnham, you might also like to read our articles about other local destinations such as Petworth, Chichester, Haslemere and Petersfield

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