Caleb Lovejoy

I can never resist an unusual name and this interesting character, still has a commemoration service held every year, over 400 years since he was born.  Caleb Lovejoy was baptised at St Nicholas’ Church in Guildford on May 8th 1603, the son of Phillip Lovejoy.  He was an intelligent boy who was given a free education at the Royal Grammar School before being moved to Southwark by his parents at the age of 14.

In London, Caleb was very successful.  He was a member of the Merchant Taylors’ Company, one of the Great Twelve Livery Companies, which gave him the freedom of the City of London.  He owned the Walnut Tree Inn and other property in Southwark and became a wealthy merchant who supplied wagons to Oliver Cromwell’s army, during the Civil War  His support for the Parliamentary cause was further demonstrated when he ejected the King’s tenants in Walnut Tree Alley.

But Caleb Lovejoy is primarily remembered in Guildford, as a benefactor.  In his will of 1676 he bequeathed property under lease in Southwark to form a charity for the benefit of the poor in Guildford.  He appointed three Guardians as Trustees.  Six pounds per annum was to be provided for, “teaching of poor people’s children their letters until they could read their Testament.”  The teaching to be undertaken, “by some honest poor woman.”  After 45 years four almshouses should be built in the parish of St Nicholas as accommodation for four poor persons of good character.

However it was not until 1839, after the sale of Caleb’s estate, that land was purchased in Bury Street Guildford to build the four almshouses.  The eligible old people were required either to have been born in the parish or have lived there for 50 years.  They were given an allowance and must wear the uniform of a blue home-made gown with a badge of red cloth bearing the letters CL.  The houses were built as a low terrace of sandstone blocks with grey/brown brick dressing.  Attractive wavy-edged bargeboards were put along the bottom of the roof.

Also in his last will and testament, Caleb directed that he should be buried in St Nicholas’ churchyard and that the priest should be paid for a yearly sermon in commemoration of Mr Lovejoy.  There are two brass plates in the church; one giving details of Caleb Lovejoy’s legacy and his death and burial in February 1676 at the age of 74; the other bears the following verse which is said to have been composed by Caleb:

Caleb Lovejoy, here I lye, yet not I,
My body being dead
My soul is fled unto Eternitye
There to injoye that everlasting Bliss
Which Jesus Christ, my Lord
Who’s gon before, prepared hath for his;-
Wherefore my Body rest in hope till then
When he shall joyne thee to thy soul agen
And bring thee unto that most glorious vision
There to enjoye thy God in full Fruition.

N. Chadwick via
St Luke's Parish magazine
British History online
"Rambles Around Guildford" by W C Smith

Florence Desmond

The name “Florence Desmond” may be familiar to those who have attended the Florence Desmond Day Unit at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford but not so many people will remember her for her acting talent during the first half of the twentieth century.

Born in London in 1905, Florence Desmond was performing on stage as a dancer from the age of 10.  She later became known as a singer and comic actress and as an excellent impersonator of famous actresses such as Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.  In her obituary in the Independent in January 1993 she was described as, "Not only the best impersonator of her generation, but by far the best."  She demonstrated a satirical talent without any cruelty to the people she mimicked.

In 1928 Florence performed in, "The Year of Grace," a revue written by Noel Coward and she accompanied the production to New York where she danced with him.  She was to take New York by storm 18 years later at the "Blue Angel" nightclub with her witty and accurate impressions of Hollywood stars using minimal props.  Miss Desmond participated in the Royal Variety performances in 1937 and 1951 and she was the leading lady in two films starring George Formby.  Mr. Formby called her, "an inimitable comedienne."  Florence also acted with Gracie Fields and frequently starred in pantomime as a principal boy.

In 1935 Florence married Tom Campbell Black, an aviator, but she was heartbroken a year later when her husband died at Speke Airport in Liverpool after his plane struck an RAF plane on the ground.  Her second husband, Charles Hughesdon, was also an aviator and in 1937 they set up home together at Dunsborough Park in Ripley.  During the Second World War, Florence toured army camps with ENSA entertaining the troops.  Her peaceful post war life was upset by a daring robbery. Luckily Florence and her husband were away from home and the household staff disturbed the burglars, but not before they had stolen a mink coat and stole. 

In 1963, Florence Desmond began fundraising for the purchase of a Betatron electron therapy unit to be installed at St Luke’s Hospital in Guildford.  She stated that, “If Betatron had been available, cancer might not have killed my beloved father.”  The Betatron, made in Switzerland, the first of its type in the UK, was used to treat primary malignant cancer.  £200,000 was required, of which Miss Desmond personally contributed £9,000 .  The climax of the fundraising was a Royal Gala on the stage of the Odeon in Guildford attended by Princess Alexandra and her husband Sir Angus Ogilvie, with performances by Vera Lynn and Max Bygraves.

The Betatron was installed in 1967 and remained in service at St Luke’s Hospital for 24 years.  A ward at St Luke's was named Desmond Ward in recognition of her considerable achievement. In 1991 when the McMillan Day Hospital was transferred to the Royal Surrey County Hospital it was decided to use her name again for the new Florence Desmond Day Hospital and on October 16th that year Florence visited so that she could see the excellent new facilities.

Florence Desmond spent her retirement at Dunsborough Park, enjoying the attractive gardens and the farm where she was once pictured in the Evening Telegraph with her sow and 10 piglets.  She died in Guildford on January 16th 1993 at the age of 87.

Florence Desmond performing with George Formby.