Whitchurch is a town in Hampshire, England. It is on the River Test, from Newbury, Berkshire, from Winchester, miles from Andover and miles from Basingstoke. Much of the town is a Conservation Area. Because of the amount of wildlife in and near the river, parts of the town are designated as Site of Special Scientific Interest. Whitchurch is the largest town to not have traffic lights.
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. 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 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 cross roads 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; although it stopped weaving silk in December 2011.
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. de 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.
19th centuryIn 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 favor 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.
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. 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.