A Bit of Aldershot History
This extract comes from
A Guide to Aldershot and Its Neighbourhood
by W. Sheldrake
Published in 1859
“On my return from my travels and my wanderings , how changed I found all things in the hamlet where I had passed the earliest years of my childhood; -the factory had usurped the place of the village school, and rows of dingy-looking huts covered the spot which erst had been devoted to the gambols and the sport of the youth of the neighbouring cottages.”
FIVE years ago, when the traveller on the Portsmouth road had proceeded about two miles, after leaving the skirts of the picturesque and sequestered village of Farnborough, having both on his right and left, for nearly the whole of that distance, the bleak and dreary expanse of Aldershot and Cove Commons, covered with scarcely anything but heather, and with hardly a tree deserving of the name to variegate the scene, and with the gloomy looking Frimley Ridges staring him in the face a little to his left, he would arrive at a wayside inn, at the entrance of the retired and scattered village of Aldershot, the prospect on his right, with its charming rural scenery of green meadows and golden cornfields, contrasting strangely with the barrenness and solitude through which his path had previously lain, and with the prospect even now immediately on his left.
He might there refresh himself and ruminate on the chances and changes to which all things sublunary are subject; but, of however imaginative a turn of mind he might be, and however fertile his genius and copious his invention, it is more than a thousand to one that he would ever conceive the possibility of that dreary waste, -of that vast solitude, within the short space of five years, becoming the permanent habitation of thousands of human beings; -that the clang of arms, the shrill call of the trumpet, and the boom of cannon, should ever be sounds heard there as an every-day occurrence; -that the sight of manoeuvring masses of infantry, of charging cavalry, and thundering ordnance, should be things with which the child of that secluded village should become as familiar, in that short period, as with the brook that babbled by the wayside, near which stood the humble cottage of his parents, or the sounds of the bells of the village church, summoning him one day in seven to repair to that sacred editice, where his forefathers had repaired for generations before him, and to witness the spot where their ashes securely reposed…
But, nevertheless, so it is: all things are now changed. The song of the linnet has almost ceased to be heard on the heath-covered moor; the rabbit has been scared from his warren, the hare from her seat, and the fox from his hole, and their place has been taken by the soldier and the war-horse; and what was then bleak, bare, barren, and desolate, has become invested with life and motion, and made the abode of thousands of living active human beings, devoted to the most stirring and exciting of mortal occupations, bringing in their train also thousands of others, ministers to their wants, their pleasures, or their crimes .
Yea, true it is, that not more than four years since, Aldershot was one of the most pleasant and picturesque hamlets in Hampshire. The population of the whole parish – the village and all its detached farmhouses included- did not reach 900 souls, chiefly engaged in agricultural pursuits: the poor hardly knew the use of coals; for their fires were made of the turf which the Common abundantly supplied them, and which they could cut at pleasure in any quantities they might require.
The scenery away from the Heath was most rural and romantic, and there were spots, which are now spoiled by being levelled or built upon, which could vie with any in the neighbourhood as a beautiful and luxuriant landscape.
The lanes around were, -and some of them are still, -especially pretty, secluded, and rural; the trees in many places extending their branches from one side to the other, and their boughs becoming interlaced and forming a natural arch of surpassing deliciousness and coolness in the heat of the noonday summer sun; and the rich foliage of the copses was the resort of the charming denizens of our woods and groves, who sent forth their sweet and grateful strains of melody, unmolested, in the midst of their haunts of privacy and seclusion.
But alas ! these thickets are now in great part (but, thank goodness! not all) destroyed, and a few months have wrought a change which no inhabitant of the place ever conceived, or even thought possible.
The plain, modest, and unpretending Parish Church still stands as a monument of rural antiquity. The quiet nook was well chosen by the forefathers of the hamlet, for the purposes of public devotion and as the resting-place of their dead; for, although close by the highway-side, it is quite secluded, and is even now far away from the din and turmoil of the busy Camp.
The ground is adorned with some fine old trees; one, a widespreading and sturdy yew, is the admiration of the neighbourhood; and in days of yore strangers have travelled miles to pay it a visit.
As a matter of course, with the increase of inhabitants, an enlargement of church accommodation became requisite, and, in order to meet this demand, an additional aisle is being added to the Church, and its interior space thereby considerably augmented; yet, although internally its aspect will be somewhat modernized, and its fittings-up lose somewhat of their present very plain and even rustic simplicity, little alteration will be made in that part of the exterior of the building visible from the roadside; so that it will still preserve its rural and unostentatious character of a simple village church in a retired out-of the-way country hamlet.
The edifice of the Church is supposed to be of ancient date; but the oldest register does not go farther back than 1500; yet judges of ecclesiastical architecture suppose it to be a structure of the twelfth century.
It forms a pleasing object in the surrounding scenery, whether viewed by day, or when the moon sheds her pale and silver light on the woodland and the grove, coming so suddenly into the view of the passing stranger, as he rounds the corner of the churchyard-wall abutting on the turnpike-road.
It contains inside some interesting monuments of the Tichborne family.
There is one of Lady Tichborne, in a kneeling posture, with her seven sons before her, and her six daughters behind her, in the same attitude. The mural tablet assigns as the time of her decease the year 1606, and contains the following motto, which, through the kindness of the Incumbent, the Rev. Mr. Dennett, we were permitted to copy. FELIX EORUM MEMORIA QUIBUS NEC VITA MISERA NEC MORS INVITA.
There are also other monuments of the Whit or White family, and of the Henshaws, mostly of the early part of the seventeenth century, one of which has the following motto: MORIRE MUNDO VIVAS DEO.
There are also two ancient helmets suspended from the wall of the Church, near the communion table, which are supposed to be family relics of the Tichbornes; and, altogether, the Church is well worthy of a visit, both from the pleasant and retired scenery in which it is placed, and the interest which necessarily attaches to all places which have become venerable by time, and from the changes and vicissitudes in human affairs which they have witnessed, in however remote a corner of the world they may be placed.
The residence of the Incumbent, a plain, unpretending, but comfortable looking building, we may add, is close by, on the opposite side of the way, surrounded by a very pretty garden, neatly laid out, and evincing the taste and skill of the gentleman who occupies it.
As a proof of the wildness and desolation of the site of the Camp, and the country in that direction, the Parish Register relates how some have been found dead, through losing their way, and dying from want in consequence, in the season of winter.
The following is a curious and interesting entry of another character, which we copy verbatim et literatim from the Parish Register: —-
“ELLEN WHEELER, wife of Will. Wheeler of Freerock was killed in Small Shot, in thunder, she was stroke throw her head and almost all her hair tooke away, a great hole stroke into the top of her head, her hair was burnt in two places, and the porteiones lying by her, her side burnt and rose up in bladders that you might have thumped them of with your hands, and her coatest not burnt. This was done on teuesdaii the xxijth daii of Julii Aº 1606, and she was buried the sandaii, and she had a hole strooke into her shoulder that went into her bodie.”
The living is a perpetual curacy, the emoluments of which are not large; but with an increasing congregation, the duties of the clergyman will, as a matter of course, increase also, and with them we trust will his power of doing good to the poorer portions of his parishioners and their families, be proportionally augmented, especially in the promotion and establishment of schools for the instruction of the rising generation.
It may be convenient for the inhabitants and visitors to be informed that divine service on Sundays takes place in the Parish Church at half-past 10 and 3 o’clock, and every possible accommodation is afforded to strangers which the limited extent of the edifice will allow.
Its local charities, moreover, need the help of the generous and the affluent, and any contributions towards this object would be gratefully received by the Incumbent. There is a school for boys, girls, and infants; also a coal and clothing club for the poor, and a shoe-club for children.
Aldershot Place, the residence of Charles Barrow, Esq., is an estate of great antiquity, and was formerly of considerable extent.
The present handsome mansion was built by the above-named gentleman in 1842, and is a most convenient and well constructed edifice: the grounds are also pretty and tastefully laid out.
The property was for many years the family abode of the Tichbornes, the last resident of that name being, we believe, Sir Walter Tichborne.
The porteullis, loopholed towers, drawbridges, and moat, have been removed during the present century.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is said to have been frequently a guest at this demesne; and it is also reported that King John slept here the night before signing Magna Charta; which seems not improbable, since he was at Basing and Odiham about that time.
Adjoining the churchyard is also another very pretty estate, which opens on Aldershot Green on the other side. There is a good, genteel residence erected thereon, with an extensive park and well laid-out gardens. A very pleasant footpath leads through the Park from Aldershot to the Church. It is the residence of Captain Newcome, who is a magistrate for the county, and generally resides here.
Let us now take a view of the Town of Aldershot as it now stands; for such we are entitled to denominate it.
Shortly after the establishment of the Camp, it became evident to enterprising men that a new field was thereby opened for the profitable investment of capital; and it was not long before the vacant ground contiguous to the Government property, and near to the place which had been pitched upon for the site of the Permanent Barracks, became dotted with erections of a more or less substantial character; but most of them were very frail affairs, as things about the Camp itself had not assumed that air of duration and stability which would have justified a speculator in investing much money in the construction of a building which might only have been of temporary requirement.
And even most of those that were erected at that time were devoted to the sale of beer and spirituous liquors, a few refreshment-rooms, and shops of a very general and heterogeneous character.
But when it became evident that it was intended that there should be preserved a permanent establishment, houses of more substantial character and greater pretensions were erected, embracing shops of all kinds, as well as private residences for those who were employed in the construction of the Camp and Barracks; streets began to be laid out, and the propriety of establishing a market was a question soon mooted and freely discussed by the residents of all classes.
This was at last agreed upon, and a company was formed for the purpose of carrying that resolution into effect. Ground was purchased for its erection, facing the Infantry Barracks, and abutting on what is now called the High Street, where is the principal entrance to the market.
Sufficient money for the purpose having been raised, no time was lost in commencing the construction of the market, and in the month of May of this year it was finished, and then formally opened by Lieutenant-General Knollys, commanding the Division, in the presence of a numerous assembly of the officers of his staff and others, both military and civilian.
So that the place may now be well called a town, and the
hamlet be regarded as a mere adjunct.
The population, at a rough guess, may be estimated at 3,500; but as none of the streets are hardly yet finished completely, the place presents a somewhat disjointed and unconnected appearance; but this will in time be remedied, and a few years more will no doubt witness the establishment of a flourishing town, able to supply the wants of its inhabitants, as well as the
demands of the military.
Indeed, it already can boast of its lawyers and doctors, its bank, and its printing-office and local paper; booksellers’ and newsagents’ shops, building-yards, and places of sale for the more necessary requirements incident to all assemblages of the human species.
Whilst, as to public houses and beer-shops, their name, as might almost be infallibly presumed, is legion; there being no fewer, at the present time, than seventy-five of these necessary but sometimes ruinous establishments, which are, nevertheless, on the whole, tolerably well conducted, many of them providing musical and other entertainments in the evening, which are attended by the military until gun-fire, and by the civilians after that period.
There remains, however, a great deal to be done towards placing the town in a desirable state; -the streets must be paved, paths laid down by the sides of the houses, water laid on, and drainage effected (a requirement which we are glad to state is even now in process of execution), and numerous other improvements made, before the place can be pronounced an eligible one for comfortable domestication.
But these things, we have no doubt, will be all done in due course, and by the time we shall have the pleasure of issuing another edition of this book (which, by the bye, we trust will not be long) we shall, we are confident, be able to report a considerable improvement in the appearance of the town as a whole.