Town Centre of Whitchurch
|Population||7,198 (2018 Census)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
Whitchurch is a town in Hampshire, England. It is on the River Test, 13 miles (21 km) south of Newbury, Berkshire, 12 miles (19 km) north of Winchester, 8 miles (13 km) east of Andover and 12 miles (19 km) west of Basingstoke. Much of the town is a Conservation Area. Because of the amount of wildlife in and near the River Test, its course and banks are designated as Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The name is Anglo Saxon in origin, and means 'white church', although there is evidence of occupation from the Iron Age, archaeological excavations having uncovered Roman and Iron Age pottery, tools and skeletal remains. In October 1987, members of the Andover Metal Detecting Club discovered a hoard of Late Iron Age coins, the Whitchurch Hoard, comprising 34 Gallo-Belgic E gold staters, and 108 British B (or, Chute,) gold staters. The earliest written record of Whitchurch dates from 909 AD in a charter by which King Edward the Elder confirmed the manor of Whitchurch to the monks of Winchester as England recovered from the Viking onslaught of the previous fifty years. It next appears in the Domesday Book of 1086. This records the name as 'Witcerce', occupying 6,100 acres (25 km2) in the 'Hundred of Evingar' and also records that Witcerce was 'owned' by the monks at Winchester. Another theory on the origin of the name is that it means "Place of Proclamation". In parts of the north of England we see it reflected in Whit Walks, with Roman Catholics and Protestants choosing different days over the Whit Period for their Whit Walks. Whitchurch is well placed, being at the crossroads for north–south, east–west travellers.
By 1241, it was known as Witcherche and was becoming prosperous, holding a market on Mondays in the market place. This was a vital feature of medieval society, and produce such as butter, eggs, fruit and livestock were brought in for sale from the outlying farms and villages.
Witcherche received a royal charter in 1285, having become a borough in 1284. The land ownership had by now passed to a form of tenure known as a burgage. As a borough, it was governed by a Court Leet. Meetings were held in the village hall each year, in October, to elect a mayor and burgesses. Witcherche's prosperity was again on the rise due to its widespread sheep farming, the wool being a valuable commodity at the time.
The River Test provided the power for at least four watermills, located every half-mile along the river through the town. The Town Mill was the source of power for milling corn, and other mills were used for finishing wool, weaving silk and dressing cloth. Only Whitchurch Silk Mill survives, the others having been converted into residential dwellings. The Silk Mill is a popular visitor attraction where silk is still produced after a very small interruption in 2012.
When Henry VIII died in 1547 his nine-year-old son, Edward VI, inherited the throne. Under Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Edward Seymour the Lord Protector, England became more Protestant, and the people of Whitchurch were persecuted for their religious beliefs for six years until the death of Edward and the succession of Mary.
Also during the 16th century, under the reign of Elizabeth the town had become large and prosperous enough to send its first two members to Parliament in 1586. Until 1832, it was known as a Rotten Borough, as the members were nominated by an absent landlord.
The town hall was built during the reign of Queen Anne. In 1712, Henri de Portal, a Huguenot refugee from France, established a paper mill at Bere Mill in Whitchurch, producing exceptionally hard and close-textured paper. The quality of the paper was considered so high that within twelve years, Portal was supplying the Bank of England, a tradition that still continues. Portal eventually naturalised to English nationality, and established a second mill at Laverstoke; in more recent times the business moved to neighbouring Overton, where it is still based today. He died in 1747, and is buried at All Hallows, Whitchurch.
In 1888, the Star newspaper reported:
Whitchurch is in Hampshire. People who live IN it call it a town. People who live OUT of it call it a village. It is about as big as a good-sized pocket handkerchief. It has three shops and 19 public houses.
Also in 1888, Charles Denning and Clara Thomas married in Lincoln. They set up home in Whitchurch, where Clara's father had purchased two houses for them in Newbury Street. Here Charles established a drapery business. It was also here that one of their children, Alfred Thompson or "Tom", grew up. He later became one of the most renowned judges in English legal history – Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls. The house in Newbury Street is today marked with a commemorative plaque. Before returning to the Court of Appeal as Master of the Rolls, Denning, for a time, was a member of the judicial committee of the House of Lords, taking the title Baron Denning of Whitchurch.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Salvation Army and its open-air services were the dominant talking point. They maintained that they had a right to hold these services but were prosecuted for obstructing the highways and causing a disturbance. The conviction in 1889 of one group, and their subsequent treatment by the authorities, led to demonstrations. In October 1889, 5000 Salvationists and 12 Salvation Army bands demonstrated in the Town Square at Whitchurch. They were charged with riot, unlawful assembly and rout, and the Salvationists applied for the case to be heard in the High Court of Justice. In July 1890, the court found in their favour and set down laws granting the public the right to hold orderly public demonstrations, which were the rules followed until the beginning of the 21st century, when the government overturned them.
During the night of 7 February 2018, Henri de Portal's former paper mill, Bere Mill, which had been converted into a farmhouse, was largely destroyed by a major fire.
All Hallows' Church
The Saxon church was the original "white church", because it was built of limestone or chalk. The church and all its property were given by Henry de Blois in 1132 to St Cross Hospital in Winchester and the gift was confirmed by Richard I in 1189.
Little is known about the earlier Saxon structure because its Norman lords built a more imposing successor which is the basis of the present parish church of All Hallows. One Saxon remnant is the grave cover of Frithburga. The first stage was completed in about 1190 when the three western bays on the south side of the nave were added. A north aisle was added in the 15th century. The tower was re-built in 1716 but still features the original oak stair turret. The whole church was largely re-built in 1866 and the square Norman tower was capped by a Gothic Revival spire.
It is a Grade 2* Listed Building and the oldest remaining structure in the town. All Hallows is also widely known for its 3-manual pipe organ with 41 stops dating from 1935, and a peal of 10 bells in the tower. The earliest of the six bells in the tower is of 15th-century origin and the others were gifts made in the 17th and 18th centuries. The bells were cast in a field belonging to a farm in Wood Street, now called Bell Street. The spire of All Hallows weighs 500 tons and is held in place by its own weight.
The population is 8,962. The town is a growing community with a combination of residential areas and some light industry, and serves as a small commuter town to London (approximately 60 miles to the east) and to a lesser extent Basingstoke, Andover, Newbury and Winchester. Lynch Hill Park, a small housing development, was used in a TV advert for Roysters crisps because of its "typical" American appearance. The centre of the town is a roundabout known as The Square.
The B3400 road (Basingstoke to Andover) runs through the town. Bus services include Stagecoach routes 76 (Andover-Whitchurch-Overton-Basingstoke) and 86 (Winchester-South wonston-Sutton Scotney and Whitchurch town centre ) The railway station is at the north end of the town. The former Whitchurch Town railway station (closed 1960) was closer to the town centre.
Testbourne Community School is a foundation school and was rated as "outstanding" in November 2010 by Ofsted. It has had performing arts specialist status since 2005 and educates around 1000 students aged 11–16.
Whitchurch Church of England Primary School serves the younger students in the town and its surrounding areas. It was rated in January 2011 as "good" with a number of "outstanding" features, by OFSTED. The headteacher, Sarah Peters, started in April 2008, and left in 2014. Zoe Newton, the deputy headteacher, acted as headmistress until September 2015. The current headteacher is Kate Steven.
Leisure and sport
Whitchurch has a Non-League football club Whitchurch United F.C., which plays at Longmeadow. Also at the Longmeadow sports facility is a Bowls club with indoor and outdoor pitches, and a Squash club with 2 squash courts. Whitchurch also have two Cricket teams playing at the local Cricket Ground (Parsonage Meadow) where skipper Simon Ralph and his band of merry little cricketing men try to avoid relegation for the second year in a row.
As well as the thriving amateur theatre group called WADS, which was established in 1958, there is also an annual beer festival held at the Longmeadow Sports and Social Club, this is run by the North Hampshire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale. Being positioned on the Southern edge of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as at the junction of several river valleys, Whitchurch has many opportunities for cycling, both strenuous and sedate, on-road and off. Popular cycle routes include over to the Bourne Valley, the Hampshire County Council Off-Road Mountainbike loop, and down the Test Valley to Longparish.
There is a BMX cycle track and a 'Sk8' board area in Daniel Park, which together with its adjoining open space next to the primary school, has been put forward as a Queen Elizabeth II field in the hope of protecting it forever.
The Whitchurch Town Council maintains a couple of children's playgrounds: one in Kingsley Park, and the other at the bottom of Alliston Way between the schools. Other play areas are at Caesar's Way and Park View.
The River Test throughout the town, including its various branches and banks, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Much of the land to the south of the town centre is old water meadow. One site is administered by Whitchurch Millennium Green Trust, a registered charity. This has an old dam used for flooding the meadow in the past and a sluice and wooden sheep dip hundreds of years old. Its ponds have viewing platforms. The old maps show how it was fed by springs. One key spring still exists at Ninesprings Nursery on The Weir. It originally fed what is now thought to be some of the oldest watercress beds in Britain. They are shown on the 1810 map and the 1872 and 1876 maps show them clearly also the history of how the River Test was diverted. The site now grows aquatic plants that are distributed nationally.
First Place Winner in BT Competition
Whitchurch was ranked first in the BT "Race to Infinity" competition that finished on 31 December 2010. The win meant that the residents served from the exchange (01256-89 prefix) would be one of the first ten rural areas in Britain to be upgraded to fibre-optic technology. The hope was that this would bring faster Internet speeds sooner to residences, businesses, schools and doctors both in the town itself and to its surrounding villages and the rural communities in-between.
The Whitchurch Faster Broadband Campaign saw participation by many volunteers who went "door knocking" in the midst of a severe December snowstorm to secure the votes required to win. In the end, the final score was 104%, as many people without landlines or Internet access were able to cast their vote. In addition, the town also won £5000 of computer equipment from BT for use by a community project. The money was split between the primary school and the Whitchurch Association who created an IT Library.
The Whitchurch Association, a registered charity, spearheaded the campaign and the collection of ideas for the community project; the Whitchurch Town Council underwrote the campaign and several local businesses contributed. The campaign was also supported by the schools, the doctor's surgery, churches, and politicians, including the area's local MP, The Rt Hon Sir George Young Bt.
Roll-out began in May 2012 but progress to reach everyone in town – and in the neighbouring areas – was slow. Some people report that the actual speeds they obtained using the new system was not as fast as they were led to believe they would be.
Following a grant from SEEDA, the town website was launched on 1 May 2010. The site is administered by the Whitchurch Association on behalf of the town residents. Any resident is able to contribute, and the site's ethos is non-political, following that of the Whitchurch Association.
High-Caffeine Drinks Ban
A report given by the police to the Whitchurch Town Council on 4 April 2011 stated, "We have also asked shops in Whitchurch not to sell 'Kick, Red Bull or any other stimulation drinks to youths under 16 on Friday evenings". The story was picked up by local media and later, national media. The police request came after meetings with the Whitchurch Youth Project and an assembly at Testbourne school, in a bid to reduce antisocial behaviour.
Hampshire Potato Day
Actually two days, the last full weekend in January, see the arrival in the town of around 2,000 keen gardeners from all over the South of England searching for seed potatoes not available anywhere else in the country. The event boasts the largest selection of varieties available to amateur growers in one place in the world; in 2008 that was 143.
- Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down and The Plague Dogs, lived in Whitchurch. Watership Down is a real location, about 6 miles NNE of the town.
- Carl Barât of the Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things was brought up in the town from the age of 1.
- Brian Clifton, professional footballer
- Thomas Crompton, MP for Whitchurch in 1601
- Lord Denning, English Judge and Master of the Rolls
- John Hall (1765-1836) millwright, engineer and entrepreneur - born in Whitchurch
- James Robertson Justice, the actor, lived in Whitchurch. Sadly, his son, also called James, died in Whitchurch by drowning in the River Test in 1948.
- Charles Kingsley, the author of The Water Babies, stopped at the White Hart Hotel in The Square.
- Actor Leslie Schofield, who has a long list of acting credits to his name, most notably as Chief Bast in Star Wars Episode IV, Jeff Healy in EastEnders and a French Detective in Chucklevision, lived in Whitchurch.
- Charles I, later beheaded at Whitehall, stayed with the Brooke family of Whitchurch in 1644. The house, which still stands today opposite All Hallows' Church, is named Kings Lodge, presumably after its regal guest.
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- "WE WON! Top in the UK for Rural Broadband!". whitchurch.org.uk. Archived from the original on 7 January 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
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- "…and now we WIN £5000!" Archived 23 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Faster Broadband – List of Articles" Archived 8 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Faster Internet campaigner slowly gets sped up" Archived 11 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
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- "Whitchurch police want ban on high-energy drinks". British Broadcasting Corporation. 13 April 2011. Archived from the original on 16 April 2011. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
- "Today: Town calls for Friday fizz ban". British Broadcasting Corporation Radio. 13 April 2011. Archived from the original on 14 April 2011. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
- "The 21st Hampshire Potato Day 2019". www.potatoday.uk. Retrieved 25 August 2019.
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