The White Horse - 15th Cent Inn Mentioned in the Domesday Book and dating from Saxon times, Alton is a pleasant little unspoilt market town in northeast Hampshire, southwest of Farnham in Surrey.

A Saxon settlement predated Alton. The name Alton may be derived from the Saxon ea-wal-ton, meaning 'the place of the beautiful springs'. Alton is mentioned in the Domesday Book.

In 1070, King William gave an estate at Alton to Hyde Abbey in Winchester in exchange for land in Winchester on which to build a palace. Edward II granted the town a 9-day fair. Alton would have benefited from being on an important trade route running between Winchester and London. The 'Alton Machine', a six-horse stagecoach, passed through Alton en-route to London or Southampton.

looking down into town centre Alton is fortunate in that it still retains many of its original buildings, which line the main street. Many of these buildings retain their original shop fronts.

Alton is not clone town, identikit shops which are found in every town centre. There are a few High Street names, including a supermarket, but these are not large and so compliment rather than compete with the smaller shops. Most of the shops are independent family businesses.

There are two independent butchers, which can be found at either end of the town. There is also an independent greengrocer which doubles as a florist. The greengrocer is not as good as the one to be found in Farnham.

The traditional pork sausages from Brock's Farm Shop rate as amongst the best in the country, the pork chops are pretty good too. In addition to meat, the shop also sells fruit and vegetables, cheese, chutneys, fruit juices and freshly baked breads. Wherever possible all produce is sourced locally. Brock's Farm Shop is a participant in the Hampshire Food Festival.

Hampshire Food Festival is a county-wide fortnight held at the height of summer to showcase the best of Hampshire produce and food.

The Alton Food Festival, a one-day event, is part of the Hampshire Food Festival. Lots of stalls, plenty of food to taste and buy, cookery demonstrations. July 2006, Sophie Grigson was giving cookery demonstrations and signing copies of her books.

Alton holds an infrequent farmers market. To be a success a farmers market needs to be held on a regular basis, as in Guildford (first Tuesday of the month) or Farnham (fourth Sunday every month).

The Market Hotel in Market Square Alton has a very large number of pubs and small inns. This is how most towns used to be until they were killed off by cheap booze in supermarkets and large theme bars aimed at binge drinkers.

In the summer there is quite a thriving café culture and it is pleasant to sit outside these inns.

There is a good range and choice of real ales in Alton.

Alton used to have two breweries. Both were bought by big national conglomerates, then closed.

local beers from Tripple FFF Brewery In 1763 James Baverstock with his son, built a brew house in Turk Street. This was bought by Abraham Crowley in 1821 and in 1877 it was acquired by Mr H P Burrell who had married into the family.

Alton Ales were popular in London where in Luncheon Bars a glass of ale and a sandwich could be bought for 4d.

Between 1878 and 1902 six other local breweries and their public houses were added to the group.

The brewery was bought by Watney's in 1947, production stopped in 1970, and it was used as a depot by the renamed Phoenix Brewery Company until the site was sold for redevelopment in 1990.

Swan Inn John Hawkins started a brew house on land at the rear of the Swan Inn in the early 1700s and it was bought by Henry Hall in 1841. Courage acquired the premises in 1903 and brewed there until 1969 although they retained the site as a canning plant for a further ten years. Bass acquired the brewery and demolished it.

Alton was an important centre due to the quality of its water, very similar in quality to the water at Burton-on-Trent.

Today the tradition of brewing locally is continued by the Triple FFF Brewery. Cider is also produced locally from locally pressed apples by Mr Whitehead's Cider Company.

The Swan Inn, an old coaching in the centre of town, dates from 1554. The infamous 'hanging judge', Judge Jefferies used to stay at the Swan.

The Old Town Hall - Market Square Leading off from the main street is Market Street which leads up to the Market Square. In the middle of Market Square is the old Town Hall, and around the periphery two old inns.

Alton used to be in the centre of a hop growing area. Girls would come down from London to pick the hops. The square was where the hops were sold. This trade has long since died, hops being imported from overseas. The last local hops grown was at nearby Bentley in 2004.

The Curtis Museum The Battle of Alton, a skirmish in the English Civil War, took place at Alton. The local parish church of St Lawrence still bears the scars of where the Royalists mounted their last stand.

The phrase 'Sweet Fanny Adams' originated from an infamous Victorian murder in Alton. Used up until at least the 1950s, 1960s, the phrase is now little heard and has these days degenerated into 'sweet FA', or even worse, 'sweet fuck all'.

The Crown Hotel A young girl, Fanny Adams, was murdered by Frederick Baker, a local solicitors clerk. He was one of the last murderers to be executed at Winchester. An original notice of the execution can be found in The Crown Hotel.

At the time, the Royal Navy introduced tinned meat as part of the rations. The sailors who were suspicious of the new food said the tins contained the remains of 'Sweet Fanny Adams'.

Fanny Adams lies buried in the local graveyard.

In the town can be found the Curtis Museum (local history), and the Allen Gallery (containing one of the most important ceramic collections in the country).

The Curtis Museum was founded in 1856 by Dr William Curtis, who persuaded local brewers to donate land and money to houses his collections. The museum houses one of the finest local history collections in Hampshire.

One of Alton's best kept secrets is the tea shop and gardens associated with the Allen Gallery. It would be difficult to find a more pleasant place to relax with for afternoon tea on a summer's day than in these well-kept gardens.

Alton water meadows The River Wey flows through Alton, but it is a very shy river and you can easily spend a day in Alton and be unaware of its existence. Even more difficult to locate but well worth visiting are the water meadows.

Tucked behind Alton Station lies King's Pond. A rather dreary place not worth visiting.

Alton is the end of the Waterloo line from London. The station is 10-15 minutes walk from the town centre.

The Sherwood Forester In addition to the mainline to London, Alton Station is also the terminus for the Watercress Line, so named because it used to be important for shipping watercress to London. Prior to rail closures, the line used to connect to Winchester. Now it only runs as far as Alresford. The Watercress Line is run by volunteers.

In 2005, the Watercress Line celebrated the 20th anniversary of the re-opening of Alton Station. 2005 also represents the 140th anniversary of the original line.

In 1861, Parliament granted consent for what was then known as the Alton, Arelsford and Winchester Railway. In 1865, the Mid Hants Railway opened. Mid Hants Railway staffed the stations, whilst London & South Western Railway provided the rolling stock and locomotives and operated the trains. The line was closed in 1967. In 1973, the line was partially re-opened, in 1983 extended further, and in 1985 re-opened as far as Alton to join the mainline London service. The Watercress Line is now once again operated by Mid Hants Railway.

A little way outside Alton lies the village of Chawton where can be found the house of novelist Jane Austen. It was here she wrote some of her novels. The house is now the Jane Austin Museum, administered by the Jane Austin Memorial Trust.

Jane Austen is not Alton's only literary association. The English poet Edmund Spenser (c 1552-1599) lived in Alton and the town was the 'Galton' of Sir Compton Mackenzie's novels.

When social reformer and commentator William Cobbett rode through Alton on his way to Winchester following his release from Newgate Prison, his daughter Ann recorded that the bells rang out for an hour.

Also not far from Alton lies the village of Selborne where resided Gilbert White. The house of Gilbert White is open to the public and in 2005 celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Gilbert White (1720-1793) was author of The Natural History of Selborne, one of the earliest books on natural history. Gilbert White's House has been restored and contains the original hand-written manuscript.

Alton Whitedown Cottages, 1820 Alton is located in the midst of very attractive countryside, countryside which is never very far from the centre of town. It is a very good area for walking with a large number of public footpaths. A local leaflet shows three circular walks accessible from the town centre. Books of local walks can be purchased in the town.

Hangers Way is a 21 mile long-distance walk running from Alton Station to Queen Elisabeth Country Park. This is a pleasant walk to Selborne.

St Swithun's Way, another long-distance walk, passes through Alton as it runs from Farnham onwards to Winchester.

Not far from Alton lies Alice Holt Forest, an ancient open heathland forest. Oak from Alice Holt was used to build a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on the side of the Thames in London. Alice Holt Forest is accessible by alighting at Bentley Station.

Well to the south of Alton on the South Downs, Queen Elizabeth Country Park. Located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. An area of chalk downland and woodland. The park is dominated by three hills, Butser, War Down and Hall Down.

The South Downs, a chalk escarpment running through Hampshire and Sussex and terminating on the south coast in the dramatic chalk cliffs of Beachy Head and the Severn Sisters, is awaiting official designation as a National Park.

Surrey-Hants ~ Farnham
(c) Keith Parkins 2005-2009 -- June 2009 rev 3