Section 2 Historical Background
The way New Alresford's Conservation Area has developed.
A Sense of Continuity
Alresford is a town, where its economic history in particular, has determined the way it has developed. Each major period of development has left a visible mark on the townscape that people value and wish to protect.
The liberty of Alresford was granted by Cynegils (King of Wessex) in the 7th century when baptised and the Parish boundaries agreed in those charters and later registered in the Doomsday Book, have not changed.
The Church of St John the Baptist (New Alresford) was built on the high knoll south of the river Alre opposite St Mary's, Old Alresford. St. Johns has been rebuilt several times, most notably after the great fire of Alresford in 1689 and then in Victorian gothic style in the 1890's.
A Pre 17th Century
At the turn of the thirteenth century the Bishop of Winchester had economic control of the area, and upon instruction from Canterbury freed his serfs. In New Alresford he provided plots of land (33ft x 330ft) large to give people self-sufficiency, a flourmill, a communal oven, enlarged the pond, and built a bridge across the ford and the great weir across the marsh giving threefold benefit:
- Road improvements,
- A large fishpond,
- A good head of water to power the mills.
The Bishop built a Town Hall (built on the site of the original lodging house for visiting merchants and pilgrims) and later re-built in Victorian times - currently called the Community Centre and obtained the right to 'canalise' the river Itchen with a view to transporting wool to Europe via Southampton.
The town received grants of Privilege from King John in 1200 and 1202, and in 1294 became a Borough with two members of Parliament. The Bishop developed the new well-placed market town with viable wool mills, accessible by road from which tolls would be paid to the diocese. The road to Farnham and London was re-routed via Bighton, across the bridge through Alresford and on to Winchester at the same time.
The original road into town from Basingstoke is now the major route crossing the weir and bridge. One Fulling mill dating from the 14th century can still be found along the riverside.
The broad market place ran north to south from the river Alre, now known as Broad Street, with East and West Streets forming a T-junction at the top. This and the new London to Winchester main road were quickly built up, and are still the commercial hub of the town.
There were 40 burgesses amongst some 120 families, and the dwelling houses and church were built mainly of wood with straw roofs and were close knit.
The St Giles Faire in Winchester added New Alresford as a follow on venue in the 12th Century, and a fair still visits the town on the week closest to the 11th October. Permission was granted for a market three days a week for drovers when bringing sheep through the town.
By the fourteenth century New Alresford was one of the country's major wool markets and entered via Drove Lane and the toll road to the west, via Sun Lane from the east, and the Soke from Basingstoke and Bighton.
B. The Fires of Alresford
The war torn 15th century, cramped conditions, hot summers and straw roofs caused many small fires in the core of the town and during the English Civil War parts of East Street and West Street were destroyed and re-built many years later.
In the seventeenth century there were very hot dry summers, resulting in serious fires. The worst was in 1689 when in three hours 117 houses, the church, and the Market House were burnt to the ground.
Only the Fulling Mill and a few 13th century houses survived near the 12th century Bridge at the bottom of Broad Street. In the Survey responses people said looking up Broad Street towards the Church of St John was their favourite view, and their second favourite view was looking down towards the 13th century houses, 12th century Bridge and the Soke.
King George 3rd asked Parliament for a Royal Brief to re-build the town. This resulted in two thirds of the cost of re-building being donated by other cities in the country and provided new houses with more space to avoid over-crowding.
The buildings were Georgian in design with colour-washed brick and render finish and. were constructed using vernacular materials and construction methods. Lime mortar and slate roofs predominate and some flint, wattle and daub was also used as described in the Section on the Conservation Area.
C. Agriculture, The Railway - Victorian and early Edwardian Development of the Town.
There was then a period of agricultural boom and property remained bright and well looked after and transport became easier with the opening of the new turnpike road. The late nineteenth century agricultural slump resulting from cheap agricultural imports had a devastating effect, and this is reflected by very little new build until the coming and effective running of the railways and gas industries.
The gas company for the town and the railway connecting Winchester with London were opened in 1853 and 1865 respectively. The export of watercress helped the economy a little but the major result of nineteenth century technology was the opportunity for light industry to develop.
This upturn led to some municipal improvements, new building, and refurbishment. A huge mill, the station and goods shed (still in fine condition), and characteristic rows of Victorian cottages were built. A similar mix of industrial building and cottages developed in the Dean with a brewery built on the north side of West Street.
D. The Edwardian development
The Edwardian development of the town was mainly south of the railway bounded by Grange Road and Jacklyns Lane. Built by a successful entrepreneur (Mr. Baker of Broad Street) and mainly occupied by people moving out from the, by then, cramped conditions in the centre of the town to more airy spacious housing. These houses define this period of construction in New Alresford and are now a major defining feature of the character of the Jacklyns Lane and Grange Road areas, described in Section 5.
Between the First and Second World Wars there was another farming depression and a series of worldwide depressions culminating in the world depression of 1932. There was very little new building during this time.
E. Post WW2 Development.
In the post 1950's Alresford's prosperity grew because it had become an attractive place to live. People had better transport and sufficient retirement income to be able to support the development of a wide-ranging variety of bungalows and houses. These are described in the character area East of Jacklyns Lane in Section 5.
The railway closed as a result of the Beeching Report in the 1960's and is now manned by volunteers contributing again to the prosperity of the town as a tourist venue.
F. The Non Economic Contribution of the Population to the Look of the Town (Conservation Area)
New Alresford has always been a welcoming English market town and visited by people from continental Europe - some of which made their homes there.
More recently, French prisoners of war were housed in Alresford during the Napoleonic Wars, and during the Second World War the town housed Italian prisoners of war. Some of both groups remained contributing Mediterranean dimension to the towns homes and population.
Arlebury Park (pre 19th century) was developed in spacious grounds to the north of the Toll road, with beautiful views of the downs as a backdrop. To the south of this, beyond the school, the Stratton Bates Recreation Ground affords walkers similar views over the roofline of the Edwardian bungalows in Grange Road. Both of these were stated in Survey responses as people's favourite views when out walking.
The Town Trustees took on their current role in the late nineteenth century. They are unique amongst Hampshire Town Trustees because they kept their responsibilities and legal status when the Trustees of other towns allowed their legal status to be destroyed.
The Trustees have helped keep the character of the town by maintaining the market area and trimming the trees along The Avenue. They also continue other good works that Town Trustees used to do for example; litter picking, provision of and upkeep of the Trustee bus complete with volunteer drivers maintaining the feeling of a kindly, friendly and polite small town.
New Alresford's sense of continuity is embedded in peoples' minds, and forms their vision of how the town should develop. They value its green and tranquil setting and historic role as a resting place for traders, and pilgrims alike. They also appreciate and like to keep alive the sense of permanency given by the town being in a broadly similar form as a small market town to that originally constructed, and the colourful appearance given to it when rebuilt after the 1689 fire due to its' popularity in Georgian times.
The town's history is a record of how the local community, town trustees, and local council have adapted to, or managed change over centuries and how Alresford developed as a balanced society. The current challenge is to meet current accommodation needs and the needs of industry for 21st century employment, without destroying the way the town was developed to give people light healthy airy homes with glimpse of wildlife and trees between them.