Alton. Looking north east along the High Street
Alton shown within Hampshire
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Alton is a market town and civil parish in the East Hampshire district of Hampshire, England. It has a population of 17,816 according to the 2011 census and is administered by the East Hampshire district council (EHDC). It is located on the south west source of the River Wey and is the highest town in Hampshire. The town is famous for its connection with Sweet Fanny Adams.
The town was recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086 under the name Aoltone and was notable for having the most valuable market recorded therein. The town contains three secondary schools and its own railway station.
The Alton Hoard of Iron Age coins and jewellery was found in the vicinity of the town in 1996 and is now in the British Museum. A Roman road ran from Chichester to Silchester and there is evidence of a Roman posting station at Neatham near Alton, probably called Vindomis, and a ford across the River Wey. Centuries later, an Anglo-Saxon settlement was established in the area and a large 7th century cemetery has been discovered during building excavations. It contained a selection of grave goods which included the Alton Buckle which is on display in the Curtis Museum, and is considered to be the finest piece of Anglo Saxon craftsmanship found in Hampshire. The buckle was found in the grave of a warrior, and has a silver-gilt body, set with garnets and glass.
In 1001 Danish forces invaded England during the First Battle of Alton. When they reached Alton, the forces of Wessex came together and fought against them. About 81 Englishman were killed, including Ethelwerd the King's high-steward, Leofric of Whitchurch, Leofwin the King's high-steward, Wulfhere a bishop's thane, and Godwin of Worthy, Bishop Elfsy's son. Danish casualties were higher, however the Danes won the battle and fleeing Englishmen took refuge in Winchester.
The Treaty of Alton was an agreement signed in 1101 between William the Conqueror's eldest son Robert, Duke of Normandy and his brother Henry I of England. Henry had seized the throne while his elder brother was away on the first crusade. Robert returned to claim the throne, landing in Portsmouth. The two brothers met in Alton and agreed terms which formed the Treaty of Alton. Part of the main street through Alton is called Normandy Street, probably reflecting this event.
The first recorded market in Alton was in 1232, although the market at Neatham first recorded in the Domesday Book may also have been in the town. Blome wrote in 1673 of a 'market on Saturdays, which is very great for provisions, where also are sold good store of living cattle'. The Saturday market is featured on Kitchin's map of Hampshire (1751) which marks the town as Alton Mt. Sat.
1307 was, in fact, the first year of Edward II’s reign but Edmund of Woodstock was not lord of the manor then. According to the Victoria County History (written after Curtis’ book):-
- ‘In 1273 Edward I granted the manor [of Alton Westbrook] to his mother, Queen Eleanor, who died in 1291, when it reverted to the Crown and was granted in 1299 as dower to his second wife, Margaret of France. On the death of Queen Margaret in 1317, it again came to the Crown, and Edward II gave it in 1319 to his brother Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent.’
As can be seen, Queen Margaret held the manor until 1317 and so the fair could not have been granted to Edmund of Woodstock in 1307.
The correct date for the grant seems to be 22 November 1320 (according to the Charter Rolls, 14 Edward II, no.15). The grant was for a 9-day fair - the vigil [eve] and feast of Whitsuntide and seven days after.
The two main manors in Alton - Alton Eastbrook and Alton Westbrook - had a fair each. That of Alton Eastbrook has no extant charter, and may never have had one. It was originally held on St Lawrence’s Day and so its origin was, presumably, the patronal festival. The religious aspect would have ceased when the country was no longer Roman Catholic. This fair seems to have been held on Crown Close (which is in the manor of Alton Eastbrook) in the early 19th century. When this land was built upon, the fair moved and was held where ever the Westbrook fair was - the Market Place, various meadows and the Butts.
The date of the Eastbrook fair was changed to Michaelmas in the mid-18th century as it came during harvest time and the farmers were not satisfied. Some accounts for this fair in the early 18th century do survive and show that there was a cheese fair as well the usual mix of travelling and local people with stalls and stands - people selling lace, gloves, books, gingerbread, bodices, sugar plums, toys [small items - not for children], soap and knives, to name but a few. By the late 19th century, this fair was said to be mainly for horses, sheep and, occasionally, hops. Alton still has an annual fair, but it now takes the form of a carnival.
Eggar's School was founded in 1640 by John Eggar of Moungomeries as the Free Grammar School. It later became known as Eggar's Grammar School. It occupied a site in Anstey Road until it moved to a new site in Holybourne in 1969.
A battle was fought in Alton during the English Civil War. A small Royalist force was quartered in the town when on 13 December 1643 they were surprised by a Parliamentary army of around 5,000 men. The Royalist cavalry fled, leaving Sir Richard Bolle (or Boles) and his infantry to fight. Outnumbered, the Royalists were forced into the Church of St Lawrence, where Bolle was killed along with many of his men. Over 700 Royalist soldiers were captured and bullet holes from the battle are still visible in the church today.
In 1665, Alton suffered an outbreak of bubonic plague, but soon recovered. On Saturday, 24 August 1867, an eight-year-old girl, Fanny Adams, was murdered in Alton. Her assailant, Frederick Baker, a local solicitor's clerk, was one of the last criminals to be executed in Winchester. One of the original public notices advertising his forthcoming execution hangs in the Crown Public House. Fanny Adams' grave can still be seen in Alton cemetery. The brutal murder, so the story goes, coincided with the introduction of tinned meat in the Royal Navy, and the sailors who did not like the new food said the tins contained the remains of "Sweet Fanny Adams" or "Sweet F A", hence the expression which for over a century has meant "sweet nothing".
Here are a few events in the past two hundred years:
- 1813 — New Town Hall was built
- 1844 — Alton gained a gas supply
- 1852 — Rail connection to London
- 1856 — Curtis Museum was founded
- 1862 — Sewage works were built
- 1865 — Rail connection to Winchester
- 1876 — Waterworks were built
- 1874 — All Saints' Church was consecrated
- 1880 — Assembly Rooms were built
- 1901 — Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway opened
- 1908 — Lord Mayor Treloar Hospital was built
- 1927 — Alton gained electricity
- 1938 — Alton Convent School opened
- 1966 — St Mary's Roman Catholic Church was built
- 1968 — Alton by-pass was built
- 1972 — Alton Sports Centre opened
- 1974 — Alton Health Centre opened
- 1975 — Alton Community Centre opened
- 1978 — Alton College opened
- 1978 — Alton Magistrates Court opened
- 1985 — Preserved portion of the former railway line to Winchester (Mid-Hants Railway) reopened to Alton.
- 1992 — Alton gains its own local radio station, Wey Valley Radio (later known as Delta Radio and Kestrel FM, now known as The Breeze).
- 2005 — Alton Maltings Centre, a renovated malthouse, opened
Alton is between Farnham 9 miles (14 km) to the northeast and Winchester 16 miles (26 km) to the southwest. London is 52 miles (84 km). Nearby Brockham Hill, situated 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometres) northeast of Alton, rises to 225 metres (738 feet) above sea level.
The nearby village of Bentworth is the highest village in Hampshire.
Along with the rest of South East England, Alton has a temperate climate which is generally warmer than the rest of the country. The annual mean temperature is approximately 9 °C (48.2 °F) and shows a seasonal and a diurnal variation, but due to the effect of the sea the range is less than in most other parts of the UK. January is the coldest month with mean minimum temperatures between 0.5 °C (32.9 °F) and 2 °C (35.6 °F). June and July are the warmest months in the area with average daily maximum around 25.5 °C (77.9 °F). Alton is the highest town in Hampshire which receives colder than average weather and is usually seriously affected in the snow.
Brewing used to be one of Alton's main industries. Hops and barley were grown in the surrounding area (indeed, Fanny Adams's butchered remains were found in a hop field) and the barley would have been malted in the town. The maltings still stand in Lower Turk Street, although it is no longer used for that purpose. They belonged to Halls Brewery from 1841 and were still producing malt in 1949.
The Pearce family in Alton owned and operated the Timber and Saw Mills from the 1890s to 1939, employing over 100 people and producing all the wooden tools used for the brewing industry in the town.
There have been a number of breweries in Alton since 1763. Until 2015, Coors Brewing Company (among the ten largest brewers in the world) had a brewery in Alton which produced Carling, Grolsch and Worthington.
Alton today has businesses in the retail and service sectors in the centre of the town, and over a hundred businesses in the four industrial areas of Mill Lane, Newman Lane, Caker Stream and Omega Park, ranging from light industrial to computer software production. Clarcor, TNT N.V. and Poseidon Diving Systems all have businesses in Alton's Industrial Site, Mill Lane.
One of Alton's largest commercial employers is the financial services sector. Lumbry Park, which used to be known as Lumbry Farm, is on the B3006 Alton to Selborne road, and is occupied by Inter Group Insurance Services (IGIS), a subsidiary of The Royal Bank of Scotland. Inter Group employs over 170 people on this site, and specialises in travel insurance. The company has operated in Alton since 1999. It was acquired by Churchill Insurance in 2001, becoming part of RBS Insurance division in 2003 as part of an RBS takeover. However, on 11 November 2008, Inter Group announced its proposal to close its office in Alton in August 2009 due to "changes in the travel insurance market", leading to the loss of 104 full-time staff and around 16 part-timers. The head of Inter Group, Bob Andrews, said that the decision to close the Alton site had been forced by "a fundamental shift in the third-party travel insurance market in the last few years" and that "Major clients of Inter Group have recently taken their travel insurance business back in-house and sadly we have no alternative but to make this announcement today". He said, "We have explored every possible avenue before proposing this unfortunate action."
Today, Alton's town has a range of brands including: W H Smith, Dorothy Perkins, Waterstones, Peacocks, M&Co., Boots Clintons, and Clarks, and independent shops including greengrocers, butchers and a hardware shop. The three main supermarkets that serve the town are Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer and Iceland, the biggest Iceland store in the country. A newly opened small Waitrose supermarket is situated near the rail station. A Tesco superstore has been given the go-ahead by the Planning Inspectorate, but construction has been delayed indefinitely.
The town has developed a cafe-culture in recent years, with cafes including Costa Coffee and Caffè Nero opening in the town. The town houses various pubs and restaurants, including PizzaExpress and Prezzo. An application by Wimpy has been recently received by the council.
Alton WordFest is a celebration of the spoken and written word held in late September or early October each year. The festival includes writing competitions for children and adults, a children's spelling bee, a literary lunch, book launches and talks by authors and workshops. Since 2010, Alton WordFest has hosted The Pint Pot of Fire - a story-telling competition among champions representing writers' circles, public speaking groups and oral-tradition story-telling clubs from around the area. The Pint Pot of Fire has run annually since 2005 and was formerly held in Guildford (2005) and Farnham (2006–2009).
The Allen Gallery serves as Alton's art gallery. It houses a large, permanent ceramics collection as well as temporary exhibitions.
Alton Fringe Theatre was formed in 1988, regularly performing at Alton Maltings and other venues in the region.. Holybourne Theatre is on the site of a former Nissen hut that was converted into a theatre by German prisoners-of-war during World War II. Plays have been performed there since 1950, but the official opening was not until 1971.
Local choirs include Alton Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, established in 1921, who perform two musical shows and one play each year in a wide variety of musical and dramatic styles. Alton Community Choir sings unaccompanied Hampshire folk songs as well as some African, gospel, blues and calypso music.
Since January 1948, Holybourne Dramatic Club has put on performances of plays and pantomimes in Holybourne Theatre.
Alton also has the following facilities: The Palace Cinema is in Normandy Street and has shown films seven days a week since 1932. The Alton Independent Cinema Project was formed in May 2011 to help secure the future of independent cinema in the town. Alton Maltings Centre was built in around 1850 and was used as a maltings until about 1970. It was renovated in 2004-5 and is now used by Harvest Church and is available for hire for events such as conferences, receptions, business meetings, etc. Alton Library was rebuilt in 2005, designed by Hampshire County Council Architects. The new library consists of a lending library, reference library, computer facilities and a cafe. Alton Sports Centre is open to the public and includes a swimming pool, gym, indoor and outdoor courts, etc. The Curtis Museum was founded in 1856 by Dr William Curtis and houses one of the finest local history collections in Hampshire
The Town Gardens contains a bandstand (built in 1935 for the Silver Jubilee of King George V), a children's playground, flower beds, trees and shrubs (4.5 acres (18,000 m2)).Bandstand replaced 2013 to commemorate Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee. Anstey Park, a large open space with playing fields and a small children's playground (32 acres (130,000 m2)); the park is home to the town's rugby club. King's Pond, with parking, a surfaced path all round, ducks and swans (11 acres (45,000 m2)) The Butts, 2 acres (8,100 m2) of common land now used for visiting circuses and fairs, and used in medieval and Tudor times for the weekly archery practice which all men were legally required to do (see archery butts) Flood meadows, about 15 acres (61,000 m2), lie close to the source of the River Wey through which rivulets weave and public footpaths give access through the diverse plant and animal life A Tourist Information Centre is in Cross and Pillory Lane (near Market Square in the centre of the town). Alton has 5 allotments: Borovere, Hawthorn, Spitalfields, Wooteys and Whitedown.
Alton lies approximately mid-way between the University of Winchester and the University of Surrey at Guildford but its nearest University campus is the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham. It is home to Treloar's, an independent educational establishment founded in 1907 by Sir William Purdie Treloar, Lord Mayor of London, to provide education for young people with physical disabilities. Treloar's now runs Treloar College, a college of further education in Holybourne, and Treloar School in Upper Froyle about three miles (5 km) away. Treloar's provides specialist facilities, therapy and medical care to enable pupils to achieve their academic potential and develop their confidence and independence. Former pupils include comedian and actor Spike Breakwell, actress Julie Fernandez, mouth and foot painting artist Tom Yendell.
The State secondary schools in Alton are Eggar's School (formerly the Grammar School), and Amery Hill School. There is an independent Catholic day school, Alton Convent School, which educates boys from 3 to 11 and girls from 3 to 18. Sixth-form education is provided by Alton College, which has gained outstanding inspection reports from Ofsted.
Alton has a Non-League football club Alton Town F.C., which plays at the Bass Sports Ground. The club has been under threat of eviction as a result of action by landlords Molson Coors, but the local council is supporting Alton Town's bid to improve a nearby council-owned playing facility to a standard good enough to ensure they survive at Wessex Premier Division level.
Alton railway station also serves as a terminus for the Mid Hants Railway commonly called 'The Watercress Line', a restored steam railway running between Alton and New Alresford, so called because it used to be used to transport fresh watercress to London.
The origins of the Watercress Line date back to 1861, the year in which Parliament granted consent for what was then known as the 'Alton, Alresford and Winchester Railway'. Four years later the Mid Hants Railway opened, and the train service continued until the line was closed in 1973. Then in 1977 the line was partially re-opened, in 1983 it was extended further, and in 1985 it was re-opened as far as Alton to connect with the mainline London service.
Alton used to be a railway junction. As well as the Mid-Hants Railway, from 1903 to 1955 the Meon Valley Railway ran from Alton down the Meon Valley to join the Eastleigh to Fareham line at Fareham. There was also a (now closed) line, the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway, north to Basingstoke.
Passenger buses in the Alton area are mainly operated by Stagecoach and run to towns and villages in the area.
- William de Alton (c. 1330–1400), Dominican Friar, writer and theological philosopher during King Edward II's reign, became famous for asserting that the Virgin Mary was polluted with original sin
- Jane Austen (1775–1817), Georgian novelist, lived in Chawton just outside Alton from 1809 until her death, and wrote or revised six novels there.
- Ian Bone (born 1947), anarchist, studied at Eggar's school in Alton.
- Yvette Cooper (born 1969), Member of Parliament and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was educated at Eggar's School and Alton College.
- William Curtis (1746–1799), botanist, was born in Alton and served his apprenticeship as an apothecary before devoting the rest of his life to the study of British plants.
- James William 'Jimmy' Dickinson (25 April 1925 – 8 November 1982 in Alton), an English football player. Dickinson holds the record number of league appearances for Portsmouth F.C. (764). Only Swindon Town's John Trollope (770) has made more appearances for a single club. His performances earned him a call-up to the England national football team. He won 48 caps for England, making him Portsmouth's most capped English player. During his record 845 club appearances for Pompey and his 48 England caps he was never once booked or sent off, earning him the nickname Gentleman Jim. There is a pub in Alton named after him called The Gentleman Jim.
- Alison Goldfrapp (born 1966), singer of Goldfrapp.
- John Murray (1741–1815), born in Alton, a pioneering minister of the Universalist church in the United States.
- Cardinal Newman (1801–1890), English Catholic, lived in Alton from 1816 to 1819.
- Iona and Peter Opie: Iona Opie (born 1923) and Peter Opie (1918–1982), folklorists and anthologists famed for their research into children's literature, and street and playground games. Their collection of children's literature has been donated to the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
- John Pitts, biographical author, was born in Alton in 1560
- Edmund Spenser (1552–1599), the Elizabethan poet and contemporary of William Shakespeare, may have lived in a now well-preserved Tudor cottage at 1 Amery Street in about 1590. A plaque on the house states that he "lived some time in these parts".
- Graham Wilson (born 1958) studied at Eggar's Grammar School, from 1970 to 1976. Wilson, who worked briefly at the Harp Lager Brewery and Leisure Centre, is the author of several management text books, one of which "Problem Solving and Decision Making", is dedicated to his former Biology Teacher at Eggars, Dr Marion Phillips.
- British Museum Collection
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- Glancey, J. Sense and sensitivity: Alton's new library... The Guardian, 25 April 2005. Retrieved 2011-10-27.
- Mike Pearson (2007). "Mid Hants Railway (The Watercress Line) - a Guide". The Watercress Line Official Website. Archived from the original on 5 November 2007. Retrieved 7 November 2007.
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- Alton Town Council
- East Hampshire District Council
- Alton Community Centre (Alton Community Association)