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.
Alton began as a Roman settlement known as Vindomis. 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. Alton is twinned with Pertuis in France, and Montecchio Maggiore in Italy.
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.
The River Wey has a source in the town, and the name Alton comes from an Anglo-Saxon word "aewielltun" meaning "farmstead at the source of the river".
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 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 also 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):-
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.
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.
The Victorian era also left its mark on Saturday, 24 August 1867, when an eight-year old girl, Fanny Adams, was murdered. Her assailant, Frederick Baker, a local solicitor's clerk, was one of the last criminals to be executed in Winchester and 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: