One of six planned new towns by the Bishop of Winchester was New Alresford, often referred to as just Alresford, which is pronounced 'awls-ford' despit it being on the River Arle. And in the time before the Norman Conquest the main London/Winchester Road ran along the Northern boundary of the Parish of Tichborne. The newly found town by the Bishop was the most valuable of his plantations, he already had a strong interest at Bishop's Sutton as he had a residence there.
Around 1200 King John granted Godfrey de Lucy who was the Bishop at the time a market, fair and river mills which would attract more settlers andy by the early part of the 13th century more than forty burgesses were attracted to the town and the Bishop then had to build a market hall and rebuild the fulling mill. At the end of the same century Bishop de Lucy was to turn the Itchen into a navigable canal and a head for this was provided by Alresford Pond as well as a source of power for a number of mills.
The fourteenth century saw one of the country's ten greatest wool markets here as it was a collecting centre for the downlands to the east and north-east of Winchester. The town had a straightforward street layout and today it remains more of less the same as it was in the 13th century with a spacious market place now Broad Street at right angles to the main Winchester road at the top of the town. Broad Street has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful streets in the county with its lime trees and ol fashioned street lamps that have been refurbished and electrified.
There had been numerous fires in the town during the 17th and 18th centuries and one is said to have been deliberately started by retreating Royalist troops from the Battle of Cheriton. But by far the worst fire was in 1689 when the church was badly damaged and a lot of the towns buildings were complete gutted.
One of the celebrities of the town was the novelist Mary Russell Mitford who was born here in 1787 and until she was ten years of age resided at 37 Broad Street, her most famous book being Our Village, which was about Three Mile Cross in Berkshire. She also penned Recollections of a Literary Life, Belford, Rienzi and Atherton. The actor and manager Francis Benson spent his childhood at Langton House.
Another house in Broad Street bears a plaque declaring that the 47th Infantry Regiment of the US Army had their headquarters there during WWII in the days prior to D-Day, but they had to leave their mascot Hambone Jnr behind as he had been killed in a motor accident but the dog's grave can be found on the walk by the river from the Dean.
But by far the main attraction in New Alresford is the Watercress Steam Railway which brings in thousands of tourists each year who are keen to travel from Alresford to Alton on some of the old rolling stock which has been carefully refurbished, not only in the summer time with Thomas the Tank Engine but at Christmas there is the Santa Claus special and 1940s Day when local people play their part by dressing up in the fashions of the era, including fully kitted out soldiers with the faithfully restored military vehicles.
When visiting the town make sure you make the most of the river and visit the Old Fulling Mill. Another favourite is the walk past the Town Mill to the famous watercress beds to Old Alresford, this takes you along Little Weir and you come back along Great Weir which is opposite Alresford Pond.
Most of the shops in the town centre are specialist and these contain jewellers, antiquarian booksellers, antiques, tapestry and embroidery and quality furnishings, interspersed with green grocers, butchers, travel agent, pet food and a small supermarket as well as the usual banks and local hostelries. The Market is held every Thursday and a street fair is held in October which is popular with people from miles around, as is the annual Alresford Show which is held on the first Saturday in September at Tichborne Park. Though New Alresford was a chapelry of the Rectory of Alresford and despite being bigger the mother church is at Old Alresford, in fact there were three churches within the Liberty of Alresford.
The Fulling Mill,
so named from the fact that the
The church is dedicated to St John and here there are some interesting memorial stones which are in memory of French prisoners of war who were buried here from 1808 to 1814 during the Napoleonic Wars. It is thought that around 200 prisoners were on parole in Alresford and a number of them died here and were buried in the churchyard, and their gravestones have been cared for ever since.
Local folklore has it that a group of Saxons had engaged in battle with a group of Danes in the vicinity of a village by the name of Tistwood or Tisted which lies 5 miles east of Alresford and completely destroyed most of them. Those that survived were given quarter on the condition that they went to the Ford of Arle to be baptised to which they agreed. In recognition of this a statue of the Virgin Mary was erected in the churchyard at Old Alresford and crowds from all over the country came here to pay homage to the shrine and it was found that there were so many pilgrims here new buildings had to be erected and this is where New Alresford is today.
IMAGES OF THE WATERCRESS LINE
Nostalgic memories from an Alresford lad.