Alresford comprises two communities less than a mile apart. Old Alresford is an attractive village with a stream running through the green. New Alresford is a pleasant market town which was established in the twelfth century by the Bishop of Winchester. The street layout has changed little from the middle-ages, when the market was held in, what is now aptly known as Broad Street. It is at right angles to the main Winchester to London Road. There are very few really old buildings, as the town suffered a serious fire in 1689.
The town has many Second World War connections. From 1943, the headquarters of the 47th Infantry Regiment 9th Division United States Army, was in a house in Broad Street and on the river bank, is the burial stone of their regimental mascot, a dog called “Hambone Junior.”
Alresford is closely associated with the production of watercress. The fast flowing springs of pure water provide a constant temperature, which allows year long cultivation.
The preserved steam railway, which runs the 10 miles between Alton and Alresford, has adopted the title of “The Watercress Line” in recognition of the specialist produce which was despatched by rail for many years. The railway was closed by British Rail in 1973 and re-opened by the Mid-Hants Railway in 1977. It is now a tourist attraction, recreating the age of steam on the railways. It runs a regular passenger service, operated largely by volunteers, every weekend, with weekday services at the height of summer.
The clean water of the stream gave rise to another local occupation, “Fulling”, a process by which cloth was washed, beaten and thickened. At the Fulling Mill, raw cloth was mixed with fullers earth (clay) in baskets, which were then lowered into the water. After shrinking, the cloth was stretched out with “tenterhooks” on a large frame, before being trimmed with fuller’s shears.
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