Wherever you live, there’s treasure to be discovered!
Not just gold and gems, but stories of buildings, locations and people.
Our heritage is a great wealth… and it’s all around us.
Sometimes standing proud in the open air, sometimes hidden behind some bushes.
To help find it, we asked for your help and to become Heritage Heroes.
Alresford is a lovely Hampshire town packed with interesting. In fact, there are two Alresfords – the Georgian New Town and the village of Old Alresford a mile to the north.
Many of the colour washed houses on Broad Street are Georgian, which means they were built before Queen Victoria came to the throne at the turn of the 19th century.
There’s not many older houses in this street. In fact, older houses are quite rare wherever you are in the UK.
Broad Street would have been a bustling hub for the townsfolk, with its coaching inns, and at one time seven saddlers and fourteen blacksmiths! Number 46 is the address of the last working blacksmith.
Here’s what you told us… “Hi, we looked on the internet to try and work it out, and found that houses that were 300 or more years old were often built of stuff like wood and with thatched roofs, and could catch fire really easily. So they’re more likely to be destroyed and replaced by houses built of stone or more often brick which last a bit longer.”
Old Fire Station
The old fire station at the bottom of Broad Street was designed by local architect William Hunt and erected in 1882.
It continued until 1940. The garage for the vehicle was built at the cost of £120 and completed the next year.
It now houses a horse-drawn Victorian stream driven pump for our appliance and is open to the public on certain days of the year.
Here’s what you told us…
“The old fire station at the bottom of Broad Street was designed by local architect William Hunt and erected in 1882. It continued until 1940. The garage for the vehicle was built at the cost of £120 and completed the next year. It now houses a horse-drawn Victorian stream driven pump fire appliance and is open to the public on certain days of the year”.
“I chose it because I think it looks really old and I think the vehicle inside looks really old and cool and every time we pass it on the way to school I always look at it and and I don’t know, I like it. It looks like it’s got very big wheels, and they don’t have tyres and it’s made with quite a lot of metal and lots of built-in parts that are open that would usually be open on a fire truck now and it just looks really old and it’s got materials like steel… I read that fire stations were run usually by insurance companies and if you weren’t insured, fire people would just turn around and let your fire burn. Previously insurance companies had organised all of the fire engines and made sure that they only put out their own fires by placing a fire mark, a plaque on the buildings that they insured. If the firefighters were called to a fire and they didn’t find their own plaque on the walls, they turned tailed and let the flames do their worst.”
Alresford’s Toll House
It’s a Grade II listed building that dates back to the 19th century. It had an important role in the town’s links with Winchester.
In 1753, the Winchester to Alton Turnpike Trust was created, tasked with the responsibility of maintaining the 19 miles of road between them.
To fund repairs, road users would be charged to travel along the road and would have to pay numerous tolls. The house made the Turnpike Trust a lot of revenue – £1,400 in 1835!
A turnpike is basically a gate where you have to pay to pass through.
Unlike today, where local authorities and national agencies look after our roads, many years ago roads were funded by individuals and private companies.
By charging a fee or ‘toll’, they raised money which they spent some of to improve the road surface… although quite often they kept a bit for themselves!
Some became very rich – after all, there weren’t many roads to choose from so if you had to get from A to B, you’d be stuck paying the toll!
In the Victorian Era rail overtook roads as the main way for people to travel longer distances and turnpikes fell out of fashion.
St John’s Church
The parish church of New Alresford stands on a site where Christian worship has continued since 1200.
It has been the Parish Church of New Alresford since 1851. However, we know from the Domesday Book that there was a church in New Alresford soon after the Norman Conquest.
Apart from the west tower, the building is from 1898, in perpendicular style, with a nave and aisle of 4 bays and chancel with north and south chapels.
The year was 1897, The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, when the reconstruction of the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist in New Alresford commenced.
At 11 o’clock on 17th August 1898 the service celebrating the reconstruction of the Parish church was led by the Bishop of Winchester.
The clear chalk streams around Alresford have attracted people for many centuries – even in stone age times. As well as watching the fish swim in the water, there’s some really interesting buildings along the river.
Eel House is one of the last remaining buildings of its kind – to trap eels as they set out to breed.
You’ll find Eel House on the pretty riverside footpath about a mile and a half from Alresford’s centre. It straddles the clear waters of the tranquil River Alre and was built in the 1820s.
On dark moonless nights between August and November eels set off from the tributaries of Old Alresford Pond, travelling down the Alre to the River Itchen and onto the English Channel and across the Atlantic Ocean to return to their spawning grounds to breed, deep in the salt waters of the Sargasso Sea.
Three water channels run through Eel House, with iron grills to trap the eels. There’s evidence they were still in working use in the early 1980s.
For more than 160 years, a river keeper would arrive at Eel House. Using a hurricane lamp for illumination, he would open the sluices, set his traps and manoeuvre his catch into a boat shaped eel box.
When the box was full, he would tow it downstream to await the arrival of merchants from Billingsgate in London who took the eels away to be sold, while still alive, at fish markets.
Fulling is part of clothmaking – and this place is basically a mill that used the power of the water to drive hammers that pounded wool to shrink the cloth.
It was built in the 13th century and the Bishop owned it and demanded records were kept of every order but they’re in Latin so they’re not easy to read unless you know latin!
The Fulling Mill is today a private house and was saved from dereliction in 1951 when it was renovated.
It had become derelict having fallen into disuse in the 19th century when the cloth industry established large mills to undertake an increasingly mechanised process taking all of the business from established local mills.
Here’s something that you told us… “So I’ve picked the Fulling Mill which I visited with my family at half term. Fulling is part of clothmaking – and this place is basically a mill that used the power of the water to drive hammers that pounded wool to shrink the cloth. It was built in the 13th century and the Bishop owned it and demanded records were kept of every order but they’re in Latin so they’re not easy to read unless you know Latin!“
Watercress has always grown wild here and was a handy crop for local people to eat and trade with other people.
For many years, people would buy a bunch from roadside stalls. Today its pre-packed on automated lines for supermarkets.
It used to be highly labour intensive. Labourers would wear thigh-length leather boots carefully dubbined against the damp.
Even so, they were not damp-proof and every morning men would wrap hessian strips around their feet and legs to absorb moisture and prevent chaffing.
The trouble is that watercress doesn’t last very long once it’s been picked so if you wanted to sell it, you couldn’t go far… but something in the Victorian era changed all of that.
The arrival of the railway in 1865 meant that local farmers could pick cress in the afternoon, transport it by cart to Alresford Station in the evening and for it to be on sale in Covent Garden in the early hours of the following morning.
That local railway is today a heritage line known as The Watercress Line! And Hampshire is still the main watercress producing area in the country.
The Watercress Line
The railway arrived in Alresford in 1865.
It was called the Mid Hants Railway and ran for 17 miles from Alton to Winchester to serve the local population and also provided an alternative rail route between London and Southampton.
The railway played an important role during both World Wars – and not just for watercress! It carried lots of military traffic between the army town of Aldershot and Southampton. In fact, the US Army’s 47th Infantry Regiment was headquartered in Broad Street between 1943 until D-Day.
Although the original railway closed in 1973, the Watercress Line has been a popular heritage railway since 1977 running between Alton and Alresford.
Alresford station looks a lot like it did in the 1930s, with old buildings and a signal box from 1875. You can even find a water tank for the steam trains nearby.
Next to the station, there’s a big Goods Shed, which houses a small museum about the railway.
Between Alton and Ropley, the line crosses the watershed between the Thames and Itchen basins, and the resulting steep gradients are commonly called by railwaymen as “Crossing the Alps”.
For film fans, the Watercress Line has appeared in a number of films and TV series, including ‘Call the Midwife’.
A footbridge at Ropley will be very obvious to fans of Harry Potter – it’s the bridge at Kings Cross where Hagrid gives Harry his first Hogwarts Express ticket in The Philosopher’s Stone. It was rebuilt here in 2013, as Heritage Hero, Eddie, found out… “The Handyside Bridge is called that after the company that made it, but we call it the Harry Potter bridge because that’s where Hagrid gave Harry his first Hogwarts Express ticket in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. So, it’s a green bridge, it’s got like a crisscross pattern and lots of steps. It’s pretty old, but cool, but it also looks kind of old“.
Old Alresford Pond
It’s a big lake and it’s quite well known for getting lots of wetland birds and waders as well as watercress beds.
It was made in the 13th century so the Bishop could have a water supply and plenty of fish to eat. The Bishop of Winchester was one of the most powerful and wealthy clergymen in medieval England.
His palace needed a reliable water supply for various purposes, such as drinking, bathing and irrigation. In 1200, he ordered the building of a Great Weir to create Old Alresford Pond.
Something else to look for by the pond, in Soke Gardens, is a plaque honouring Captain Robert Cogswell who saved the town from potential disaster during the Second World War.
It says “This honours Captain Robert Coswell 303 Bomb Group US 8 AR whose courage saved Alresford from potential disaster on September 26th 1943 His B17 Flying Fortress Lady Luck with Full Bomb Load crashed east of the pond 1/4 mile from here“.
Nine crew bailed out but the pilot ensured it would clear the town before he jumped to safety.