Alton in old picture postcards
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Over the years much has been written about Alton and its surroundings. DI. William Curtis wrote in his 'History of Alton' in 1896 'The town is noted for being very clean and well kept. The shops are numerous and good,' while in the 1930's the official town guide asked the question 'Why come to Alton?' . lts answer was as follows: 'Those fortunate people who come to Alton benefit in many ways ... The slopes around Alton are continually bathed in sunshine, the health-giving properties of which are well known. Indeed, Alton is one of the healthiest towns in the South Country.' Now, 1'11 go along with the first observation, but I'm not quite so sure about the second! But what exactly would I say about Alton?
Alton is a sm all country town situated in the north-eastern corner of Hampshire, amid rich green pastures, lush farmlands and the open sweep of the downs. Despite being only astone's throw from the suburban sprawl of Greater London, it has maintained its place as a true 'country' town, indeed, it had a weekly market, selling live animals as recently as 1976 and the old Market Square still plays host to local traders every Tuesday. The town's name, said to have been given it by the Saxons, means 'the Village of the Great Spring' and, indeed, one of the first postcards I acquired was a coat of arms of Alton, published in 1908, bearing an heraldic crest depicting a flowing river, with the wording 'Eau-Wal-Ton'. No doubt this 'Great Spring' is the River Wey, which rises in meadows to the north of the town. The river has been the life blood of the town from early times, paper making and brewing being the two most recent industries to bene fit.
In compiling this baak the first impression I gathered was
that little had changed over the years, that any shopper in the 1990's could be dropped into the High Street of 1900 and still find his or her way about. Certainly the buildings would be very familiar, as Alton has managed to avoid the worst kind of urban renewal that changed so many towns forever after the Second World War, but it is the way oflife that has changed dramatically; a way of life which has been captured sa vividly in these old picture postcards. They portray a community which was essentially self-supporting, where there was no need to travel to nearby towns to purchase goods because literally everything was on sale 10cally, and the range of services available was breathtaking. We are indebted to the trade directories of the day; Kelly's, nationally, and the local directories of Moody, White, and the Hampshire Heraid, to give us an insight into who worked where and what they did. Jewellers, grocers, dyers, cabinet makers, builders, boot and shoemakers, drapers, butchers, beekeepers and photographers, the list goes on and on. But in trying to put together this picture of Alton in the early years of the 20th century it is the photographers we turn to, for they chronicled the every-day life in the town as it happened. They were there and, through their postcards, we can be there toa!
We are fortunate that Alton was blessed with several active photographers in the period covered by this book, 1880-1930. Frost, Varney and Aylward are perhaps the best known of those whose postcards have survived over the years, while from outside the town came Francis Stuart. He was based in Southampton, and travelled throughout Hampshire in his carriage, which can usually be seen in his views, along with his coachman. These dedicated pho-
tographers, who recorded for posterity the life of the town, have left us a valuable legacy. But we should remember that photography was not the medium of the masses as it is today, where every family has its own personal record on film. The actual mechanics of photography were far removed from the 'compact' and the 'instant' cameras of today. Most of the original photographs in this baak would have been taken with plate cameras, producing a negative that could have been as large as 10 by 8 inches. The emulsions used to coat the plate were slow compared with modern film technology, resulting in exposures measured in seconds, or even minutes. Bear this in mind when you look at some of the earlier photographs. It must have needed a special skill to have persuaded sa many people to stand still forso long!
I have tried to set out the baak as if the reader is travelling through the town from east to west, beginning with Anstey Raad and Normandy Street and then turning momentarily into Church Street, befare resuming our stroll down Crown Hill and along the High Street. We then take in Market Street on our right and Turk Street on our left, befare continuing up the High Street to West End and out to The Butts. Inevitably the views included are limited by the postcards available and I apologise if your favourite street doesn't even get a mention. But I should point out that this was never intended to be a complete history of Alton. It is a baak of 'glimpses' of moments in time - of everyday people going about their everyday lives - ordinary people, just like you and me, but each one special in their own way. Researching the baak, I've almast come to know sorne of them: George Frost, William (Sooty) Wright, Joe Cox,
Julius Caesar, to name but a few, and I hope you will enjoy meeting them as you turn the pages. And, while I have captioned each picture with what I thought was relevant or interesting, I hope you may find even more. Ifyou were bom befare the Second World War, you will be able to look at sorne of the later postcards and remember the way it was. If, like me, you were bom just after the war, then all of it wil! be new and, hopeful!y, exciting to you.
Almast a hundred years have passed since some of the photographs in this collection were taken. Businesses have come and gone, buildings have disappeared or been modernised, sometimes not for the better. But the real spirit of a town is in its inhabitants and their friendliness and helpfulness has not changed over the years, unlike the fabric and style of the buildings. Wherever we enquired, people were willing and able to give us of their time and local knowiedge. Amongst those I would like to particularly thank are the following: The Alton Gazette, whose newspaper archives gave such a fresh insight into the people and events of the time; Gordon Frater and the staff of Alton Library, whose knowledge and patience was greatly appreciated; Charles Hawkins, who allowed me to use several photographs from his father's collection; Courage Ltd., who lent me photographs of the brewing industry in Alton at the beginning of the century; Kevin Osmond, Chris Mardel!, Joyce Kemp, Mary Rumsey and all the other people of Alton who helped with information or allowed me to copy their photographs. Last, but not least, I must thank my husband, Chris, for his continuing support and patience.
1. A view of Alton from Windmill Hill around the turn ofthe century. The Parish Church of St. Lawrence rises above the trees to the right, while the white building on the left is Culverton House. Built by a Spaniard, it is a picturesque house, which, at the time this picture was taken, had a walled garden running down to the River Wey. In the foreground you can see the tracks of the Mid Hants Railway, Iinking Alton with Winchester . This line was opened in 1865 . Up until that time Alton had been a terminus, an extension of the Guildford-to-Farnharn branch of the London and South Western Railway. Further lines were opened to Basingstoke in 1901 and to Fareham in 1903. Sadly, today, Alton is back where it was in 1852 - a terminus with trains from London going no further than Alton station. However, trains - and steam at that - do still tra vel along this particular stretch of track, in the shape of the Mid Hants Railway Preservation Society, better known as 'The Watercress Line'.
2. Another view of Alton, postmarked 1917, from a little further along Windmill Hili. Crowley's brewery with its tower can be seen on the left, while Courage's brewery is in the centre of the picture. You can see Culverton House again, immediately behind the long low buildings on the right. The house is just one of several in Alton reputed to be haunted. Apparently the Spaniard who built it had a beautiful daughter, whose constant companion was a large black dog. She also had a sweetheart whom her father would not allow her to marry, and one day the daughter disappeared. The dog was inconsolable, and spent all its time searching for her. Years later the house was purchased by Mr. Frederick Crowley, who asked a maltster at the brewery, Mr. Cox, to live there as caretaker with his wife while he was abroad. Mr. Cox aften heard a door sIam in the middle of the night and the sound of a dog panting and padding up the stairs, but never found any sign of the dog!
3. The original Eggar's School is one of the oldest in Hampshire. Situated in Anstey Raad, it was built in 1641 under a trust deed set up by John Eggar of Crondall, although, sadly Mr. Eggar died before it was completed. On 11th April 1642 the new 'free schele' was opened and the fifteen Governors, or Feoffees, as they were described, appointed the Reverend Henry Welsted of Froyle as headmaster. The present head teacher, Mr. T. V.B. Morrison, B.A., M. Phil., is the 24th person to have held this position. In 1879 the school was closed for two years, while a new scheme was formulated by the charity commissioners and the school was renamed Eggar's Grammar School, Alton. In 1911 girls were admitted to the school. In 1968 the school moved into the modern buildings it now occupies in Holybourne, the old school still being used for certain classes and known affectionately to the children as 'Osh' (Old School House). Eggar's Grammar School became Comprehensive in 1979.
4. Two ladies collect for the Red Cross at Alton Railway Station during the Boer War, about 1901. The building immediately behind them was, at one time, the actual railway station building, but when the line was extended to Winchester in 1865, a new station was built opposite to allow the trains to pass straight through. The old station buildings were converted into two dwellings, one for the station master and the other for the line inspector. These cottages have since made way for the station car park. At the time of th is photograph the station master was Mr. Richard Tracey. Looking through the KeUy's Trade Directory for 1899 I was surprised to find W.H. Smith & Sons, Newsagent, AIton railway station. Looking in White's Hampshire Directory for 1878 I found them again. Somehow, I hadn't realised Smith's had been in business quite so long!
S. Normandy Street in the snow, about 1903. The fine trees on the left surround Alton House, the home of Miss Gossett. The houses on the right have changed little since this picture was taken and are typical of the type erected all over the country at the end of the nineteenth century. The odd house out, so to speak, third from the right, Alton Cottage, was built by a well-known Altonian, William 'Sooty' Wright. As his nickname suggests, Mr. Wright was the loeal chimney sweep, following in the footsteps ofhis father. He was bom in 1846 and went up rus first chimney at the age of eight. In later life he also turned his hand to building and Alton Cottage was just one of several properties he erected. We even know, from his biography published in 1931, that he sold the house for fl,OSO. Mr. Wright became a respected member of Alton Urban District Couneil and passed away in 1933.
6. The Star Inn at No. 53 Normandy Street, suitably decked out for a royal occasion. Researching this postcard I discovered there was a difference of opinion as to the event. Some say it was taken in 1903 and shows the visitofH. R. H. Princess Louise, Duchessof Argyle, to the military hospital bearing her name, while others think it was taken on the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. I tend to opt for the latter, since the Hampshire Herald's report of the event makes great mention of the fairy lights which adorned most of the buildings in the town. The Star, at this time, belonged to Hall's brewery in Turk Street. Next to the Star we find John Tokeley's East End grocery store. Mr. Tokeley was a tea dealer, baker and bacon eurer. Every grocer who sold bacon had a yard for killing pigs and curing them. The average price of bacon around the turn of the century was 61/2d. for best back, 9d. to Is. for ham or garnrnon, and 41hd. for hock. J. Clement's Caxton printing works can just be seen on the extreme right.
7. The Urban District watercart fills up from a stand pipe outside the Star public house in Normandy Street in about 1905. Compare this postcard of the Starwith the one on the opposite page and you can see that Courage's take-over of Hall's in 1903 had resulted in a face lift for the old pub. Not only new sign-writing, but a notice proclaiming Courage's fine brews. What a shame that, by 1908, the pub would be pulled down. The Barley Mow public house can just be seen opposite the Star. The knife grinder is hard at work outside Frederick Ames, the bootrnakers, while immediately behind him, a few years later, would rise the splendid edifice which was to be Alton's first purpose-built cinema. Known in those early days as the 'Alton Picture Theatre', it opened in December 1912 with two shows a night and seats costing 3d, 6d and 11-.
8. Enticknap's garage on the corner of Normandy Street and Orchard Lane in 1914. Second from the left ofthe picture is Arthur Hayes, then young Harold Quinnell wearing the cap. Mr. Entieknap stands alongside Billy Peremm, who drove the char-à-bane "The Alton Belle', while next to hirn is Frank Maidment. Between the two Morris cars are Ernest Stent and Billy Legg, while either side of the Freneh Darracq are George Gibson and Mr. Millwood. The photographer obviously saw the potentialof including the loeal AA man, with his trusty bicycle , since all the ear registrations on Mr. Enticknap's forecourt begin with AA (Hampshire). We take the AA so much for granted these days that perhaps we forget that they came into being as an organisation to warn motorists of police speed traps. The AA salute meant that all was weIl. If you didn't receive one, then you'd better wateh out - there was a speed trap ahead!