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• Introduction

• History
• The Godalming

• The Wey

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• Introduction

• Lock
• Barges
• Life on the

• The Horse-
drawn IONA

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• Introduction

• Watermills
• Flour & Bread
• Fulling & Cloth
• Chilworth

• Charcoal

• Brewing
• Papermaking
• Ice Houses
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• Introduction

• Habitats
• Trees & Plants
• Insects
• Birds
• Fish
• Countryside

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• Introduction

• More About

• More About

• More About

• More About

• More About

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• Introduction

• Legends
• The Big Names
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• Introduction

• Boat Art
• Inn Art
• River Graffiti
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• Basingstoke

• Wey & Arun

• The Thames
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More About
Alton, Hampshire

A prosperous market town with its wealth historically founded in farming the fertile lands all around, Alton has a long and distinguished history. The town also retains the valley's last major brewery, an industry that was once virtually omnipresent throughout the Wey Valley.

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The ten most expensive roads based on house prices in the Alton area are:
Common Hill, Medstead
Ashdell Road, Alton
Hawthorn Lane, Four Marks
Homestead Road, Medstead
The Street, Upper Farringdon
Will Hall Farm, Alton
Castle Street, Medstead
Grosvenor Road, Medstead
Blacknest Road, Blacknest
Church Road, Privett

And the ten cheapest are:
Market Square, Alton
St Marys Close, Alton
Ketchers Field, Alton
Calendar Close, Alton
Paper Mill Lane, Alton
Raven Square, Alton
Wincanton Close, Alton
Cross & Pillory Lane, Alton
Falcon Court, Alton
The Kilns, Alton
Source: ourproperty.co.uk, November 2006

Captain Lynn Barton from Alton, who was British Airways first female pilot, had the honour of flying the first ever aircraft into Heathrow's Terminal Five on the 27th March 2008. MORE HERE

“Alton, a well wooded Town, seated on the Road, and on a small River. The Town is pretty large, but poor, and hath a Market on Saturdays, which is very great for provisions, where also are sold good store of living cattle.” Blome 1673

“To make Seed Cake”
Farnham 19th century recipe
“Take a pound of flower and 3qrs of a pound Caraway Seeds & some Sugar, a little Currant & Seed beate very fine, half a pint of Creame, a little Spice, half a pint of Butter milked, half a pint of Ale 2 whites and 4 yolks or 4 Eggs mixed all together very well, bake itt an our.” Old Surrey Receipts & Food for Thought. Daphne Grimm

A property developer made a £200 donation (March 2012) to The Curtis Museum in Alton after running a competition to name a new estate of 172 homes in Anstey. 'Barley Fields', which includes 'an element of affordable housing', was suggested by the Anstey Residents Group inspired by the town's long history of barley growing and malting for local breweries..

The common carp is not an original British species of fish but was introduced to the valley by the Romans. It quickly became a favoured food, and the many monastaries along the Wey Valley established 'stew ponds' in which they farmed carp to ensure a dependable supply. The fish were fed on boiled grain to speed up the fattening process.


“East Hampshire is a plum Tory seat. Including the towns of Petersfield (the old constituency name) and Alton, east Hants also includes villeges such as Ropley, Meonstoke and Four Marks.

"At the last general election the scores on the doors were; Conservative 24,273 votes 45.7 share down −1.9% / Lib-Dems 18,764 votes 35.3 share up +5.4% / Labour 8,519 votes 16.0 share down −3.6% / UKIP; 1,583 votes 3.0 share up +0.2% Majority 5,509 10.4 Turnout 53,139 66.9% +2.6

"I work that out as a -3.7% swing and the only thing to worry the Conservatives is that the Lib-Dems are increasing their vote at each election steadily- in the 2001 election they polled 15,060 votes which was itself 2% up on the '97 result." Blogger: Matt Dean, Southampton 26th November 2006

“If like me, you love steam trains, you’ll certainly enjoy a trip on the Mid-Hants Railway, or the Watercress Line as it’s also known. And a trip is probably easier than you think. All you have to do is hop on a train to Alton at London’s Waterloo, and in a little over an hour, you can swap your ‘electric machine’ for a wonderful old steam locomotive.

"The journey actually begins in Alton where, before boarding one of the retro-coaches (what memories those slamming doors evoke!), you can watch the engine being topped up with water – an unenviable task, particularly on a cold winter’s day.

"The whistle blows and you’re steaming towards a gradient of 1 in 60 just ahead of the first station Medstead & Four Marks (hands up all those who remember the rhyme about the little train that puffed “I think I can, I think I can…” all the way to the top of a steep incline?) where the stationmaster’s house is a separate structure rather than part of the platform buildings. Yet even here, there are reminders of the past, such as milk churns and olde world baggage carts.

"I travelled back in time just two days before Christmas on a Santa Special which came complete with wine, mince pies and, of couse, Father Christmas. Even so, the star of the show was the train itself, pulled on this occasion by a 9F Class Number 92212. Pure magic." Source: Lizzie Guilfoyle indieLONDON 7th January 2007

In an Easter Special (April 2007) The Observer newspaper gave a Top Twenty of 'best days out for Easter'. The Alresford to Alton Watercress Line was rated in ninth place in their national listing. The railway which is run by enthusiasts provides the opportunity to ride on steam trains along a 10 mile stretch of track. Special Easter events include full-size steam engines dressed as Thomas the Tank Engine characters with races through the station organised by The Fat Controller. Observer 1st April 2007

Severe weather (12th July 2007) caused flooding, landslides and trees to fall resulting in 750 flood-related calls in 12 hours to the Hampshire Fire & Rescue service. Alton was amongst the worst affected areas with extreme flooding on several key roads. A lorry jack-knifed in deep water on the A31 three miles east of Alton. No one was injured. Source: bbc.co.uk 12th july 2007

Students from Alton College achieved (2007) a 99% pass rate for their A levels for the third year running. 53% achieved the highest A and B grades with near equality between male and female students.

Alresford resident Nic Joly took up miniature sculpting initially as a hobby to impress family. However he soon found himself in the public eye and in great demand for commissions when news of his incredible eye for detail, and the fact that he uses no visual aids to complete the miniature 1cm models, got out. Selling for up to £1,200 a pop the sculptures can take up to a week of painstaking work to complete using clay, wire and paper.

"I started making miniatures and leaving them around the house for him[son Theo] to find," Joly said. " "I did it all by hand. I started with little tables and chairs. I also created some little doorways, which I stuck to the skirting boards. Visitors to the house then began to notice them and started asking me to do miniatures for them. Some wanted me to make a family portrait, some even wanted a model based on a funny experience they'd had. One woman commissioned me to recreate an occasion where she'd become stuck while retrieving her keys from a drain. My models became little bits of theatre." dailymail.co.uk 20th April 2012

Joly's pieces are showing at top galleries and fairs including Chelsea Art Fair.

Alton's Pride, a best bitter produced by the Triple fff Brewery from Four Marks outside the town was awarded the accolade of Champion Beer of Britain 2008 at the Great British beer Festival in London.

Triple fff was launched in 1997 by Graham Tott, head brewer and owner. “It’s everything I've strived for. It's one of the hardest beers to brew because there are fewer ingredients in it and we've managed to put a lot of flavour into a low-alcohol beer and keep it consistent," he said. "The water that comes from the local North Downs hills is perfect for brewing bitters." Source: AFP 6th August 2008

A survey conducted by a British internet security company (September 2008) awarded Alton the dubious honour of being one of the most spammed town in the country. Spam messages (unsolicited emails) were averaging 167 per business user per day placing Alton only second behind Egham with 189 spams. Source: vnunet.com 26th September 2008

The town lost (November 2008) one of its biggest employers as travel insurance giant fell victim to the global credit crunch. 120 members of staff lost their jobs as IGIS which is part of the RBS group closed their Alton office. The IGIS office in nearby Farnham is unaffected.











Saxon Beginnings

“There are few spots in England more fertile or more pleasant; and none, I believe, more healthy.” William Cobbett 1823

Alton is a thriving country market town in the county of Hampshire on the source of the North Branch of the River Wey.

A Roman road ran from Chichester to Silchester and there is evidence that a Roman posting station existed near Alton where there was a ford across the River Wey.

The town grew around a wealthy Saxon settlement, and from which had developed the most valuable recorded market in the Domesday Book.

Accounts of the settlement’s name are variously stated as deriving from the Saxon word eawalton meaning ‘the place of beautiful springs’, or aewielltun meaning 'farmstead at the source of the river'. Saxon discoveries, including the famous Alton Buckle, are among the artifacts displayed in the Curtis Museum in the town. The buckle, used to fasten a belt, has a silver gilt body set with garnets and glass and shows signs of considerable contemporary use with ancient repairs in evidence. It was found in the grave of an Anglo-Saxon warrior alongside a sword, shield boss and spear heads.

Alton High Street 1898
Alton 1898
Reproduced courtesy of The Francis Frith Collection

The Danes having invaded England were in the process of plundering and terrorising the population when they reached Alton. The men of Hampshire formed a fighting force that stopped the Danes in their tracks with the loss of 81 men including the King's high-steward. Danish casualties were higher but the Danes won the battle.

The Treaty of Alton was signed in 1101 between William the Conqueror's eldest son Robert Duke of Normandy, and his brother Henry 1st of England. After the death of William I, Robert ruled in Normandy and Rufus ruled in England. Rufus was killed in the New Forest and his brother Henry became king here - although some thought that Robert should have been King of England as the eldest son.

In 1101, Robert of Normandy is said to have landed at Portsmouth and marched to Winchester. Henry had thought that Robert would land in Sussex and so had to rush back to Hampshire. When Robert reached Winchester, he found the Queen about to be confined and so he set out to meet Henry. "Near Alton, he came upon the the king and his army, who, he was told, were on the other side of a wooded down, ‘al bois de Altone’." (from ‘Roman de Rou’ by Maistre Wace) The brothers so concluded their treaty.

Alton Market Street 1928
Market Street 1928
Reproduced courtesy of The Francis Frith Collection

In 1373, an inquisition was taken as to what damage there might be to the King (Edward III) in William de Trenchant, a ‘Norman alien’, holding a certain wood called Kingeswode which Edward I (1272-1307) had given him, as well as other lands in Alton which he himself had acquired. One of the properties that he had ‘acquired himself’ was the present site of Currys and ex-Powerhouse - used as Truncheant’s manor house and then The White Hart Inn. William would have had a household with him and these would have probably all been Normans. They would have needed to have settled near him in order to perform their duties and so would have lived in the area and it could then have become known as ‘Normandy’ - in a similar way to ‘China Town’ - although the true origin of the name is unknown.

“Alton has manufactures of corded stuffs, figured baragons, ribbed druggets, serges, &c. and round the town are plantations of hops. It is seated on the Wey.” Brookes 1815

"AL'on, where is a School for forty Boys and twenty Girls, who are taught to read, write, and cast Accompt, and the Girls learn also to sew, knit, &c." Cox's Hampshire 1738

Church of St Lawrence, Alton, Hampshire

The 11th-Century Church of St Lawrence (GR: SU717396) in Church Street was the scene of the death of Royalist leader Colonel Bolle in the Civil War’s ‘Battle of Alton’ 1643 in which the Roundheads under Sir William Waller succeeded in capturing the town. Bullet holes are still clearly visible in the south door of the church.

St Lawrence Church, Alton, Hampshire

The original church was built in a commanding position in Alton when it was a Saxon settlement. The tower of the building standing today dates from 1070. In the 13th and 15th centuries the church was considerably expanded to form two naves separated by a seven arched arcade. The font dates to Saxon times and the pulpit is Jacobean, at which steps it is believed a number of Royalists were killed during the fighting with Roundheads.  

17th century Quakers Meeting House, Alton, Hampshire

The Quakers Meeting House (GR: SU717397) at 39 Church Street near St Lawrence was built in 1672 at a cost of £204 and is believed to be the second oldest in the world still in active use. The building today is almost unaltered with the exception of a new floor laid in 1730 and modern amenities such as electricity, toilets, heating and a kitchen installed much more recently. A cottage was erected to the end of the building in 1832. Quakers, who in the 17th century were much persecuted for their faith, first started to meet in the town in 1664.

Coaching inns in Alton benefited from its location on the trade route running between Winchester and London, and a six-horse stagecoach The Alton Machine ran a scheduled service through the town en-route for London and Southampton.

Alton Town Hall in Market Square

The Town Hall (GR: SU716394) was erected in 1813 and further extended 27 years later to cater for the needs of a thriving market town. The Grade II Listed building was extensively restored in 1987 and for which the town council received the John Ambrose Award (1). The building has a Council Chamber and offices on the first floor with retail units below. Over the years usage of the Town Hall's facilities has been considerably varied and has included a corn exchange, fire station, county court, cinema, school room, library and a dance hall. The cupula, clock and weather vane were added in memory of a former Town Clerk, one Ewart Ings.

(1) The John Ambrose Award is an annual award given to new or restored buildings in Alton that 'excel in architectural design, is well constructed, uses pleasing materials and is fit for the purpose it was built'.

The Alton Assembly Rooms (GR: SU718396) located off the High Street and facing the Curtis Museum in Crown Close were completed in 1880. The building was designed by the great grandson of Sir Charles Barry who was responsible for designing Westminster Palace. Initially privately owned the building had various uses including conversion to a Red Cross hospital during the First World War before being passed to town ownership by the wealthy Hall family to commemorate the allied victory. The recently refurbished main hall which can seat 210 people has a sprung maple wood dance floor and curtained stage with a 'state-of-the-art' sound and lighting system. The building is listed as being of special architectural and historical importance.

The Butts, medieval archery field in Alton, Hampshire

To the southwest of the town centre is a triangle of open land which is named after a historical use for the space in medieval times. The Butts (GR: SU712386), which had earth target mounds to one end, were used as a range by men of the town for compulsory training in the use of longbows. This training, which was enforced by a series of laws passed to ensure that the crown had a dependable force of skilled archers to call upon, traditionally started with boys as young as seven years old. Edward IV (1442 - 1483) passed a law that every Englishman from the age of 16 to 60 should own a longbow and to practice every Sunday after church and on feast days. Other statutes introduced in the 14th and 15th centuries banned a number of field sports in order to protect regular archery practice.

Edged by chestnut trees the open space over ensuing centuries has been used variously for casual leisure pursuits, fairs and travelling circuses. The Butts was donated to the town by the Lord of the Manor of Westbrook in 1981 and for which a stone plinth was erected 18 years later in commemoration. The inscription reads:

The Butts - this piece of land is so named as originally it was used for archers to practice - butt signifying a mound behind their target or shooting range. Designated as common land it was given to the people of Alton by the Hon. Ralph Dutton Lord of the Manor in 1981. This commemorative stone was purchased for the town in 1999 by the Alton Herald.

Alton is twinned with Pertius in Occitania southern France and Montecchio Maggiore in Italy.

Many thanks to Alton historian Jane Hurst for her contributions to this article

First World War Memorial, High Street, Alton, Hampshire

Alresford, near Alton, has Roman ponds in the old village. New Alresford was founded in 1200 and was one of the top ten producing wool towns in England.

Alton Abbey

Alton Abbey (GR: SU676377) is a Benedictine Monastery in the Church of England located in Beech just outside Alton. The Abbey has had close links with mariners since its foundation in 1895, and provides practical support for the Seamen’s Friendly Society through temporary accommodation and financial aid for merchant seafarers that have fallen on hard times. The Times newspaper recently described Alton Abbey as 'the best-kept secret in the Church of England’.

The Abbey, situated at the top of Kings Hill, was built by the monks through their own labour under the guidance of the renowned ecclesiastical architect Sir Charles Nicholson (1867 - 1949). The Abbey was constructed with 23 guest rooms and a guest house and cottages to cater for the merchant seamen that Fr. Charles Plomer Hopkins had cared for since the late 1880s. A plot of land had been purchased at Kingswood Copse with the monks taking up residence in tents and wattle huts. The first monastery building was constructed from corrugated iron, with this and the wattle huts not being demolished until the 1980s.

Father Hopkins, who in 1884 was River Port Chaplain of Rangoon, Burma, worked among merchant seamen in foreign ports and was a key figure in settling the crippling seamen's strike of 1911-12. He was invested with an OBE by King George V in 1920.

After Father Hopkins' death in 1922 the community developed a greater emphasis on monastic activity and the Seamen's Friendly Society took over practical support for the mariners associated with the Abbey.

The Times (February 1995) described Alton Abbey as 'the best-kept secret in the Church of England’ saying that 'The Abbey is that rare combination of Anglican and Catholic that seems to work' and highlighted the building as having parts that "are recognised as masterpieces of 1930s Architecture".

The Abbey offers outsiders organised retreats utilising the guest accommodation.

Beech Village

The Parish of Beech is two miles away from Alton and has a linear layout confined to a valley serviced by a minor road with the Benedictine Monastery at Alton Abbey at one end.

The parish is in a rural setting with a broad mix of woodland and farmland. The village (GR: SU690385) originally served as a centre for agricultural workers but as farming practices have changed in the area the 600 villagers have little to do with agriculture today. The original settlement can be documented to the 12th century but the modern development is largely down to the selling off by a local farmer of parcels of land for housing in the 1890s. Many of these houses were constructed in a colonial style of wood and corrugated iron, although these were largely replaced in the 1960s by more modern constructions.

The parish church was built in 1902 with the nearby village hall constructed in 1932.


Alton Ashdell rustic bridge 1897
Ashdell, Alton 1897
produced courtesy of The Francis Frith Collection

Centre of Industry

Like many of the major towns along the Wey Valley, Alton built up much of its wealth from farming, cloth manufacture and brewing. Unlike the other towns along the Wey Valley Alton is still an influential brewing town and today Coors Brewers produces Carling, Grolsch and Worthington in the town. Various other industries were centred on the town including a paper mill and not surprisingly given the importance of brewing in the town, hop growing.

There is historical evidence of there being a market at Alton since ancient times and helped to establish the town as a significant centre for trade.

"A market on Saturdays, which is very great for provisions, where also are sold good store of living cattle." Blome 1673

There is no existing charter for Alton Market. It was recorded in the Domesday Book (1086) and therefore was likely to have been functioning in Anglo-Saxon times. Although there has been debate amongst historians over the location of the market it is very likely that it was always held within what is now Alton and was one of the most valuable markets listed in the Domesday Survey.

Market Day originally fell on a Saturday but in 1813 the monthly cattle market was changed to a Tuesday and in early 1840 the weekly market had shifted to the same day. However this change of day caused the Church School a great deal of difficulty being located in the adjacent Town Hall and subject to the distraction of a great deal of noise. The school had to relocate to St Lawrence's a little further away.

Many thanks to Alton historian Jane Hurst for her contributions to this article.

Alton from Windmill Hill 1880
Alton from Windmill Hill c1880
Reproduced courtesy of The Francis Frith Collection

Alton's Ancient Fairs

In 1320 King Edward II presented the town with a Charter giving rights to hold an annual fair, a major event in those days. The grant, which was made to the Lord of Westbrook Manor, Edmund Woodstock who was the king's brother and Duke of Kent, was for the 9-day fair Westbrook Fair starting on the vigil (eve) of Whitsuntide.

Another fair, for which there is no record of a charter but may have preceded Westbrook, was held in the Manor of Eastbrook in the area around Crown Close. When it became built upon in the 19th century the location of the fair shifted to various sites that had been shared by the Westbrook Fair which included the Market Place, various meadows and the Butts. Eastbrook Fair was originally held on St Lawrence's Day (1) with its origins suggesting that it could have been a patronal festival. Once the country became non-Roman Catholic this particular religious connection appears to have ceased. By the mid-1700s the date of the Eastbrook Fair had been changed to Michaelmas (2) to better suit the farming community as the earlier date had resulted in disruptions at harvest time.

Some accounts of the 18th century fair survive and provide an interesting picture of how the fair must have looked at the time. As well as the usual melee of travellers and local people with their stalls there was an established cheese fair. Typical items on sale included lace, gloves, books, gingerbread, sugar plums, soap and knives. Also mentioned in the accounts were bodices and toys. By the late 1800s the fair appears to have been the place to sell horses, sheep and hops, the latter for which the Wey Valley was renowned at the time.

(1) The Roman Catholic feast of St Lawrence is kept on the 10th August. Lawrence was a 3rd-century archdeacon of Rome at a time when Christianity was outlawed. He was put to death by the Romans by being 'cooked to death on a gridiron' in 258.

(2) Michaelmas is the Christian feast of St Michael the Archangel celebrated on the 29th September and dates back to the 5th-century.

Many thanks to Alton historian Jane Hurst for her contributions to this article

Edmund Spenser's house in Alton, Hampshire

Famous Sons and Daughters

A well preserved Tudor cottage stands at 1 Amery Street (GR: SU715393), claimed to once having been the home of the poet Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599), although the historical facts supporting this claim are currently being disputed (Jane Hurst. Alton Papers 11 2007). A plaque above the door (red door at centre in picture above) reads simply: 'Here lived Edmund Spenser Poet - 1590'. Also above the door is a Sun Fire Office insurance plaque (1) bearing the motif of a sun with face and the number 150997 beneath. These were common in the 18th century and clearly marked a property as being insured against fire and hence guaranteeing the local brigade would be paid should they have to visit the property. Spenser was a contemporary of William Shakespeare and in some minds is considered to be the greatest English poet of his time. ‘The Faerie Queen’ is one of his better known works. He is buried in Westminster Abbey close to the grave of Chaucer.

(1) The Sun Fire Office was established in 1710 after the concept of establishing fire brigades was introduced following the Great Fire of London (1666). Initially these were not publically funded and would only tackle fires in buildings belonging to those who had paid a premium to their company. The Sun Fire Office had a virtuakl monopoly until the early 19th century and still operates as an insurance company today under its original name.

Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser
Picture in public domain

Other notables who lived in the town include William Curtis (1746 - 1799). The Alton born influential botanist served his apprenticeship as an apothecary before devoting the rest of his life to the study of British plants. His lavishly illustrated magazine The Flower Garden Displayed launched in 1787 continues today as Kew Magazine. Curtis was also the Praefectus Horti at the Chelsea Physic Garden from 1771 to 1777 and published a pioneering work that studied all aspects of urban plant life in the six-volumed Flora Londinensis (1777 - 1798). The plant genus Curtisia is named after him and currently has but one sole species, the Curtisia dentata or Cape Lancewood, an evergreen tree native to southern Africa.

The Alton home of the young Cardinal Newman

Cardinal John Newman (1801-1890) was an English Catholic who at the age of 15 moved to Alton with his parents and lived at 59 High Street for three years after his father took over the Baverstock Brewery. The house dating to 1769 bears a blue plaque by the door highlighting the fact and is occupied by an estate agent's office today.

Newman went on to become the first rector of the Catholic University of Ireland, and who made a profound impact on the thinking of the church at the time. He had an unhappy childhood it would seem as his father frequently struggled financially which very likely placed severe stress on the family.

Cardinal Newman
Cardinal John Newman
Picture in public domain

The young John often preferred to stay at his boarding school rather than come home, as this letter written to his mother in 1834 serves to illustrate.

"As I got near the place, I many times wished I had not come, I found it so very trying. So many strong feelings, distinct from each other, were awakened.’ He continued:- ‘As we came near, and I saw Monk’s Wood, the Church, and the hollow of the other side of town, it was as fearful as if I was standing on the grave of someone I knew, and saw him recover life and rise again. .... I wished myself away from the pain of it. ... Meanwhile the coach went on, and I found myself at the Swan.

In 1874, he also wrote the following.

" Some of my letters between 1817 and 1819 will be found dated from or directed to Alton in Hampshire. I wish no reference to be made, in any Memoir of me, to my or my family’s residence there, which took place at that time."


The nearby village of Selborne and The Wakes was the home of the Reverend Gilbert White (1720-1793), who consolidated much of his considerable knowledge of the local wildlife into his ‘Natural History of Selborne

Gilbert White
Rev Gilbert White
Picture in public domain

The Wakes is also associated with Captain Lawrence Oates (1880 - 1912) who as an explorer on Scott's perilous expedition to the South Pole uttered the immortal words before leaving the party to face his death:

"I am just going outside and may be some time."

Captain Oates
Lawrence Oates
Picture in public domain

Today the house is owned by the Oates Memorial Trust and there is a museum devoted to the Antarctic explorer.

Many thanks to Alton historian Jane Hurst for her contributions to this article.

Jane Austen

The Georgian novelist Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) lived in Chawton just outside Alton from 1809 until her death, and it is here that she wrote or revised her six novels, none of which had been published prior to her settling here. Her novels included Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park and Sense & Sensibility.

"A fine running stream," wrote Jane Austen in 1817 of the spring that gives rise to the Wey's northernmost course. "It is nothing but what beautifies us and does to talk of."

Jane Austen
Jane Austen
Picture in public domain

Austen’s charming red-brick 17th century Chawton House (GR: SU708375) is open to the public and many original documents, personal belongings and her donkey cart are preserved there. The house, which has a separate bakehouse, a cellar for food storage and its own well, perfectly complements this little village with its thatched cottages, pub and tea room.

Jane Austen's house, Chawton near Alton, Hampshire

It was here that Austen lived with her widowed mother and sister Cassandra, writing on the small round table in the drawing room. , The walled garden designed between 1818 and 1822 by Edward Austen Knight, the author's brother, is today still planted with the varieties he favoured including vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers. An orchard was located in the field behind the house. An oak tree planted as a sapling by Austen stood next to the house, and others were planted here too as a notice pinned to a young oak tree in the garden explains:

There were two large trees on the outside wall and as far as we know there was no preservation order on them. They were planted by Jane Austen, her mother or sister. the first tree was taken down prior to 1980. the second tree (of which the remains are at the back of the Bakehouse) was felled because of fungal infection, and it was leaning heavily to one side and was considered unsafe.

(This tree) is a self-sown seedling found under the wall and was relanted to its present position in 1986 by Miss JK Bowden, Curator 1984-1994.

The bakehouse at Jane Austen's house in Chawton near Alton, Hampshire

A prolific letter writer Austen left many clues as to the ups and downs of life at Chawton. The following are extracts from letters written in 1809.

“Our Pond is brimfull and our roads are dirty and our walls are damp, and we sit wishing every bad day may be the last”.

“We have had a great deal of fun lately with Postchaises stopping at the door; three times within a few days, we had a couple of agreeable Visitors turn in unexpectedly.”

“Our Chawton home - how much we find
Already in it, to our mind,
And how convinced that when complete
It will all other Houses beat,
That ever have been made or mended,
With rooms concise or rooms distended.”

Much of Austen's fresh food came from the now defunct nearby Wood Barn Farm.

"We shall have pease (1) soon - I mean to have them with a couple of Ducks from Wood Barn." Jane Austen letter to sister Cassandra 1809
(1) Old spelling for vegetable 'peas'

Austen, on falling seriously ill with Addison’s disease at the age of 41 at Chawton, moved into lodgings in Winchester close to her doctor, and it was there that she died. Austen is buried at Winchester Cathedral.

"Jane breathed her last ½ after four in the morn; only Cass[andra] and I were with her. Henry came, Austen & Ed came, the latter returned home" Diary of Mary Austen July 1817.

A 'in-memorium' locket containing what is believed to be Jane Austen's hair is being auctioned (June 2008) by Dominic Winter Auction House near Cirencester. The locket, with the light-brown hair arranged into the shape of a weeping willow with gravestone behind in which the hair is used to trace out the writer's name, is expected to fetch over £5,000. However the provenance of the piece, which is said to have used hair from several locks that Austen's sister Cassandra is documented to have removed just before the coffin was sealed, has not been proven.

"We have shown it to various Austen and decorative object experts including Tom Carpenter, curator at the Jane Austen House, Chawton, in Alton, Hampshire, where we compared it with the only other known lock of Austen's hair," said Dominc Winter of the auction house. "Their lock is discoloured and the evidence from direct comparison was inconclusive. First-hand accounts of Jane Austen's hair colour vary too, from light to darkish brown.

"We have taken the back off the frame and examined all the materials and in our opinion this could have been made at the time of Jane Austen's death in 1817, or slightly later as the backing paper and frame look closer to mid 19th century as Austen's fame rose.

"There is no sign that this was made recently or to deceive, the lucky vendor who spotted it some 20 years ago among some bric-a-brac having no idea of its previous provenance. We think that Museums and Jane Austen Collectors worldwide will be intrigued enough to bid on this visual piece to enhance their collections." Source: guardian.co.uk 2nd June 2008

A very rare presentation copy of Jane Austen's three-volume set Emma was auctioned (2008) for £180,000 by London auction house Bonhams considerably outstripping the upper estimate of £70,000. Only 12 presentation copies were produced for the novel published just before Austen's death in 1817 and set a new record for a printed book by the author. The book was given by Austen to her friend Anne Sharp who was governess to her brother's children. Source: Reuters 24th June 2008

The Curtis Museum and Assembly Rooms, Alton, Hampshire

The Curtis Museum

The Curtis Museum in the High Street started life as a series of small temporary exhibitions established by local people who wanted to provide an education into the history, nature and art of the town. In 1854 the librarian of the Alton Mechanics and Apprentices Library, one John Gale, organised the Exhibition of Works of Art and Industry and of Natural Objects which generated such a high level of interest that the proceeds from this one event alone enabled the Mechanics Institute to purchase a house in Market Street. This was converted by the members into a Reading Room and Library on the ground floor, with space set aside on the first floor for a museum to house permanent displays.

Early displays were focused on local geology but also included the skulls of mammals and birds as well as examples of taxidermy. At one time there was also on display bones of a Dodo (3) and an Egyptian mummy. Dr. William Curtis (1803 - 1881) presented his collection of natural history, geological and other specimens to the museum.

The Dodo
Mauritius Dodo (Raphus cucullatus)
Photo by Ballista - released under GNU Free Documentation License

The Mechanics Institute as an educational society for the people of Alton had been Curtis' vision. It had achieved that status to such great popularity that the Institute was able to raise enough money by subscription which, combined with the sale of the house in Market Street, enabled a new building to be constructed which is still the museum  today. Alongside the building runs the fittingly named Mechanics Alley.

A year after the new museum opened in 1880, Curtis died and it was renamed in his memory. This Curtis is often confused by name with the botanist of the previous century. Dr Curtis was the son of Jane Austen's (see above) doctor and was related to William Curtis the botanist having descended from one of his brothers.

Since 1945 Hampshire County Council has been responsibility for the museum which explores the history of the local area.

(3) The Mauritius Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) was a three-foot (1m) tall flightless bird which became extinct largely due to human activity in the 17th century.

Many thanks to Alton historian Jane Hurst, and Tony Cross curator for the Curtis Museum for contributions to this article


Treloar's College

In 1907 Sir William Purdie Treloar, the Lord Mayor of London, founded Treloar's to provide education for young people with physical disabilities. The college provides specialist facilities as well as therapy and medical care to help pupils achieve their full academic potential and help build their confidence and independence. The facilities include a building housing purpose-built flats with aids to assist the severely disabled youngsters in learning how to live independently. Former pupils include the actress Julia Fernandez, the playwright and actress Robyn Hunt, and the celebrated mouth and foot artist Tom Yendell.

The college recently (2007) went public over their ground-breaking 'sexuality policy' for their physically disabled teenagers over 16. The policy was designed to counter one of society's most enduring taboos, that of disability and sex. Their policy, which is officially summarised in a three-page document, has not only dramatically changed the ethos of the college but has also hugely influenced the attitudes of other institutions who are now also looking to follow their lead. The college believes that their young adults have the right to experience emotional and physical relationships, a belief that is caught on film in a documentary being screened (October 2007) by Channel 5 as part of the channel's Extraordinary People series. The film follows the story of a Treloar's student, 19-year-old Stuart Wickison who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and who speaks candidly about his emotions over personal relationships.
Source: observer.guardian.co.uk 7th October 2007

Steam & Watercress

The Watercress Line, operated by volunteers, runs through the Wey Valley with heritage steam trains over a ten mile route from Alresford to Alton, with stops at four stations en-route. The Mid-Hants Railway was opened in 1865 by the Alresford & Winchester Railway Company connecting to Southampton, Guildford and London. The section of line in operation was closed by British Railways in 1973.

The Watercress Line volunteers between 1977 and 1985 succeeded in reopening the line which included having to re-lay large stretches of track which had been lifted by British Rail after closure. Engine and goods sheds, warehouses, signal boxes and signaling, and footbridges as well as original station buildings have been preserved. Various locomotives, including steam engines, and rolling stock are regularly run along the line providing trips for the public.

The 30th anniversary of the line re-opening falls in April 2007 for which special celebrations are planned by Mid-Hants Railway.

Sweet Fanny Adams

Few people today who have heard the phrase ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ (often wrongly vulgarised to Sweet FA) are likely to know that its origins were based around a horrific murder, let alone that this murder occurred in Alton in the Wey Valley. On Saturday 24th August 1867 an 8 year old Hampshire girl Fanny Adams (1859 - 1867) was playing with two other children in Flood Meadow only 400 yards (365 metres) away from her home in Tan House Lane. Her mother, Harriet Adams, had no reason to suspect that the children were in any danger, and certainly not from a passing solicitor’s clerk who worked locally. What drove the 29 year old Frederick Baker to murder little Fanny was never publicised, however the extreme violence Baker used paralysed the whole country to such an extent that their utter disbelief was immortalised forever in the phrase, ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’. The victim had been decapitated and brutally mutilated, with her body parts scattered over a wide area. Grotesquely the phrase was popularised by sailors in the Royal Navy who in 1869 on being presented with the newly introduced tinned meat said that the tins contained the remains of ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’.

Baker was arrested within hours still in his bloodstained clothing having coldly written in his diary: ‘killed a young girl.’ The trial was held at Winchester Assizes in December of that year, with the jury taking a mere 15 minutes to deliver their unanimous guilty verdict. In front of a crowd of 5,000 angry spectators Baker was hanged outside the county prison in Winchester, the last public hanging to be held at Winchester.

Baker Execution
Contemporary illustration
from Curiosities of Street Literature
by Charles Hindley 1871
Image in public domain

Fanny Adams was buried in the churchyard at Alton cemetery in Old Odiham Road.

"Sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams aged 8 years and 4 months who was cruelly murdered August 24th, 1867. Fear not them which kill the body, but rather fear Him who is able to kill both body and soul in hell. Matthew 10 v 28. This stone was erected by voluntary subscription." Headstone inscription.

Several of the town’s public houses display replicas of the public execution notices. These include The Crown and Eight Bells.

The Purple Emperor

Not far from Alton, and close to the River Wey, is the Alice Holt Forest (GR: SU810420) . Famous for its oak trees and home to the spectacular Purple Emperor butterfly, the forest is open to the public. MORE ON ALICE HOLT FOREST

Purple Emperor
Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)
Photo by Heiko Blaeser
released under GNU Free Documentation License

Mr Whitehead's

The only press commercially producing cider in the Wey Valley is Mr Whitehead's Cider Company in Selborne just outside Alton.

Established in 2003 by Angus Whitehead, who had been producing fruit-based drinks as a hobby since the age of fifteen, Mr Whitehead's has gone on to win awards and establish a rapidly growing network of outlets for its products.

The company, which uses traditional production methods, pressed 60 tonnes of apples to produce its first output of 50,000 litres of cider which went on sale in the spring of 2004. The pressing process takes place from late August through to Christmas and on into January. The majority of apples and pears Mr Whitehead's use are grown on the south-east facing Hampshire Downs of the neighbouring Blackmoor Farm Estate in Selborne. Currently producing over 350,000 pints of cider Mr Whitehead's are targeting a one million pint output by 2010.

Their first award was for Best Cider at the 2004 Huddersfield Beer Festival. The company was awarded the Bronze Medal in the 2006 CAMRA National Cider and Perry competition for their Perry Midnight Special and was named Hampshire Drinks Producer of the Year by Hampshire Life Magazine in the same year. They were also chosen by Michelin Star Indian chef Atul Kochhar as his preferred supplier of cider for his dessert creations in the BBC's Great British Menu series.

In 2008 Mr Whitehead's announced that they were to join forces with the Hogs Back Brewery near Farnham (MORE HERE) in order to consolidate their sales and distribution efforts. Hog's Back will be taking on Mr Whitehead's product range which complements their own.

Alton Horse and Agricultural Show

Local author Jane Austen’s nephew Edward Knight was a founder of the precursor to the Alton Show as the combined horse and agricultural event is known today.

llama at Alton Agricultural Show

Knight, who lived at Chawton House, had chaired a meeting of a small group of farmers in 1840 at which the North East Hants Agricultural Association (NEHAA) was formed.  The Association, to which Knight was elected its first president, was formed to advance agricultural knowledge in the area and ‘to improve and benefit’ agricultural labourers.

The first NEHAA market was held in the Butts in Alton the same year to show and sell lambs, and a ploughing match followed by a presentation dinner at the Town Hall took place later in the year. The Association introduced a schedule of labourers’ rewards which provided for various classes reflecting contemporary social values. These included ‘Class A’ which was for labourers maintaining the largest families whilst receiving the lowest parochial relief. Top prize was £3, a generous amount of money at the time.

During the 1870s the lamb market was expanded to include other livestock continuing to be held at the Butts but was moved to Anstey Park when the show became the Summer Show and began to charge public admission of one shilling. This first show made a profit of £250. The Summer Show flourished as an annual event until interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1914. Revived in 1919 the show struggled to survive through the depression of the early 1920s eventually being abandoned after a series of losses. The Association managed to keep the ploughing match alive until the full agricultural show was briefly revived in 1944 to raise money for the Red Cross. The charity received the show’s profit of £842 13s 3d. Post war the show returned to Anstey Park, began to grow again and returned a profit. In 1986 it was renamed the Alton Agricultural Show and moved to its current location in Froyle Park.

Falcon at Alton Agricultural Show

Ever-popular today the Alton Show combines the Alton Horse Show, now in its 114th year (2008), and the Alton Agricultural Show between them attracting around 8,000 people at the 50-acre showground in Upper Froyle. The two events have for the last four years shared the date and venue to try and contain the spiralling running costs. These include premiums of £1,800 in insurance, £1,000 for the attendance of two St John’s ambulances and crew, together with staffing for health and safety, parking, traffic management and ticketing. It has been this level of running expense that ensured the demise of the Farnham Town Show and has forced the Aldershot Show to severely cut back on its show schedules.

The horse show has 56 judging classes for 300 riders and continues to secure healthy sponsorship from both equestrian and local sponsors. Showing over four rings the 2008 show included new classes and brand new jumps and equipment.

The North East Hants Agricultural Association’s show continues to grow in popularity and support. The 2008 agricultural event, which at its heart has judging competitions for livestock, saw additional livestock classes created including a specific class for Jacobs Sheep and Angora goats. At the centre of popularity are the heavy horses resplendent in decorative harnesses and plaited tails, sheep dog demonstrations, birds of prey, gun dogs and terrier racing, a ferret show and parades including the dogs, horses and riders of three Hampshire hunts. Static displays include a blacksmith demonstrating iron work at his forge, hedge laying and hurdle making and agricultural machinery including vintage tractors. Several bands playing Country and Western, 1920s jazz and marching music provide entertainment with a grand finale as the Princess of Wales Tigers Parachute Team drop in from high.

horseandhound.co.uk; altonshow.info  6th July 2008

Alton's New Community Radio 

After a hiatus of some 18 years a group of enthusiasts are set to relaunch a community radio station broadcasting from Alton.
Having resurrected the Wey Valley Community Radio Association (WVCRA) they have applied to Ofcom (October 2008) for a broadcasting licence.

The last community station to broadcast from the town was Radio Cracker which used a room provided by the Alton Herald and the original intention was to launch the new station under the name Radio Alton.

The station will have a range of around two-and-a-half miles (4 km) and will target an audience of the over-50s and broadcast music from the 1900s to the 1970s with speech-based programmes generated by local community groups. Although the station will operate a 24-hour service it is envisaged that there will be some programme repetition.

WVCRA has approached Angel Radio, a similar station that successfully broadcasts by and to the over-60s in Havant for advice.

"This is the last round of licences available so we have only got this chance to do it. It will be non-profit making and will have no paid staff. It’s a station by the people, for the people," said Paul Le Feuvre of the WVCRA. "There is nothing like it in the area. It will cover everything, it’s not just music all the time, and hopefully, it will broadcast 24 hours a day. There is nothing for older people, it’s a terrific gap and it will be incredible for the community. In France, there are a lot of community radio stations and I have seen how they work out there."

The WVCRA submitted its application to Ofcom for the station, which will now be called Wey Valley Community Radio, in November 2008. A community radio station of the same name was launched in the town in 1992 and some of the original members are involved in the new project.

“It has been a rush to complete the 49-page document in time for the deadline, but we made it and we should know within six to eight weeks if we have been awarded a Local Community Radio Licence,” said Paul Le Feuvre, chairman of the WVCRA.

It is reckoned that the station will cost around £20,000 annually to run and will be manned totally by volunteers. The terms of its operating licence will prevent competition to existing commercial stations and will not be allowed to carry advertising. The station will therefore rely on donations, sponsorship and fundraising, and already has secured support from East Hampshire District Council.

The original 1992 station which evolved into a commercial station as Radio Alton was taken over twice by large commercial broadcasters before being absorbed into Tindle Radio Group’s Delta FM broadcasting from Bordon.

Alton Herald 31st October 2008; 28th November 2008









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