Charles Burgess was born on the 23rd April 1847 in Barley, Hertfordshire, the son of a farmer. At the age of 24 he was a grocer and draper and came to Godalming in 1874 to take over the business of Mr William Balchin, a grocer at 51 (old number 88) High Street, now ‘Work Station’. He was also listed in the 1875 Directory at No 1 (old number 109) now ‘The Lounge Bar’. In the 1881 census he was listed in the High Street as master grocer employing 10 men. In the 1905 Directory ‘Burgess’s Borough Stores’ was listed at Nos. 88-94 (old number 35), then between Moss Lane and the Angel Hotel, now Angel Court. He had other stores in Haslemere, Milford, Hindhead, Liphook, Guildford and Farncombe, and his staff grew to 100 by the time of his retirement. After his retirement in 1932 the stores carried on under the aegis of a private company, Burgess Stores Ltd. In 1963-72 the Directory continued to list Burgess Stores (Godalming) Ltd, grocers & provision merchants; wines & spirits; poulterers; butchers, greengrocers, fruiterers & florists.
It was in 1878 – only four years after he came to the town – that he joined the Town Council, on which, except for an interval of three years, he served for 54 years until his retirement in 1932. After his retirement from the Town Council he presented to the Corporation the piece of Lammas Land owned by him opposite the Police Station. He was made an alderman in 1889 and served for 43 years. He was Mayor seven times, a record for the borough. He was the first person to be made Honorary Freeman of the borough in 1920, and his private telephone number was Godalming 1.
In 1884-5 he was Mayor for the first time, and the Godalming Museum Local Studies Library has a seating plan for the ‘Borough of Godalming, Annual Dinner of the Mayor and Corporation on Wednesday 4th November 1885. He was Mayor in 1896-7 during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and was presented to Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace. In 1900-1 he was Mayor when Queen Victoria died, and the country was involved in the South African War. In 1901-2 he was present at the Coronation of King Edward V11 in Westminster Abbey. His fifth mayoral duty was during the anxious days of the Great War in 1916-7, and his sixth was marked by the peace celebrations in 1918-9. In his seventh office in 1926-7 he celebrated his 80th birthday, his last term of office being 42 years after his first.
In the 1901 census he lived on Summerhouse Hill, at Birch Hanger. Charles Burgess died on the 15th October 1936, aged 89. He was buried in Eashing Cemetery, and the burial register records that he was of Birch Hanger, Godalming, provision merchant.
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