Archive for the ‘Photographs’ Category

Alresford Christmas 2016

The Christmas trees on the shops in Alresford, organised by the Alresford Pigs, have always made the town look really special – but with the growth in the numbers of businesses and residents who subscribe to this scheme, the whole town has stepped up a gear. The trees have spread down the Dean, up Pound Hill, and up Jacklyn’s Lane, as well as to some of the out-lying parts of the town.

For 2016, several businesses, notably those in West Street, added a lot more in the way of decoration, internally and externally: and it was good to see that these seemed free of any real vandalism in the evenings.

It would be unfair not to mention that the window decorations inside the shops were also particularly attractive this year, notably in Caracoli and the Oxfam shop, and the Swan Hotel entrance was beautifully framed.

A large selection of photos for 2016, and for previous years, are shown on the FlickR album on https://www.flickr.com/photos/83468450@N03/albums/72157662148395779, which is also accessible via tinyurl.com/NewAlresford. Some of my favourites from 2016 are shown below.

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Still here – the Alresford Fair

For 2016 the Alresford Fair took over Alresford Broad Street from Wednesday 2pm till Thursday after midnight, in one week in October. The massive constructions and large vehicles involved for Fairs these days mean that this timescale is needed, and the road needs to be clear of parked vehicles, so the trailers can be manoeuvred into position on the Wednesday afternoon. This was helped enormously by the Traffic Wardens from Winchester, who were present to add weight to the “No Parking” restriction granted from the Wednesday.

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Thursday morning – not an easy path for cars or lorries!

By Thursday morning the road width was significantly restricted, offering a single lane with small passing places. The Fair stalls are large, and they do take up lots of space! The conditions can be seen in the picture above. So it was quite fun to see two watercress lorries heading down Broad Street, meeting two others coming up Broad Street, and trying to cross in the middle of the Fair. It made for a small delay of about 15 minutes in any traffic passing through around 0900. The salads lorry drivers had been told to avoid Broad Street, by their bosses in Alresford Salads: they were advised to take the alternative route – but of course they ignored this. The chaos continued all morning, and whilst simple “Stop/Go” boards would have helped regulate the traffic flow along the single lane section, they were not allowed. And from later experience they would probably have been ignored by frustrated car drivers.

There were plenty of barriers and indications that Broad Street was not one where you would want to go, and many people sensibly opted out. So it was remarkable how many vehicles looking for a quick snack purchase at Tesco spent half an hour going down to the bottom and then turned round to come back! Then there was one notable young lady who refused to accept that she could not park her car in Broad Street, outside Tesco, on the grounds that it was her town! You would have thought she would therefore know that the Fair comes here every October.

The road was closed from 1300. There were people who argued about the odd two minutes showing on their car clock, but it was blocked by Fairground equipment anyway. One charming executive trying to get to Old Alresford Place said his limousine was too big and too smart to go down the diversion round Drove Lane, but we pointed out that various builders lorries and brick transporters had already been diverted down there. He was not very pleasant, but hopefully he did not get brick dust on his car.

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Finally, after 1300 the road is closed fully!

Here’s a selection of photos from the Thursday morning, showing the problems experienced by some people, and the Fairground stands.

That Morris Minor Traveller Has To Be Our Dad’s Car!

The people who supply prints of old postcards, www.francisfrith.com, have 135 old pictures of “New Alresford” on their website: you need to use the “New” in the Search box to distinguish it from the other town in Essex. Plus they encourage people to write in and post their memories of the town under the pictures.

The following, with thanks to Francis Frith and to John Dear, who sent the comments in, back in 2012, is his memory sparked by the postcard, which seems to show his Dad’s old Morris Minor parked at the top of Broad Street, by the Chemist’s, in about 1965. Slightly edited for clarity, he writes:

“My family lived at No 3 (the top flat), Corner House, at the top end of Broad Street, first on the left looking at the photo (but just out of the picture) for many years from 1947 or so. I was eleven when we moved to Alresford from Bournemouth. My brother Rex and I have both lived in the North East of Scotland since our early twenties. But in Alresford, in the early fifties, a butcher, a chemist and a flower shop occupied the building below our flat, at street level.

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May I offer my disjointed and rambling memories of Alresford?

We went to primary school ‘down the Dean’ – Mrs Warburton was Headmistress, or was it Mrs. Waldron? Warburton’s was a newsagent’s shop? Then Perins, and by steam train – now known as the Watercress Line, and a preserved steam railway – to Peter Symonds in Winchester. SCATS feed mill – still working then, was in the railway station yard, with kindly Mr Gordon Porter, who with his dear wife Nancy, who lived at Ladycroft, where the high road and the low road, (the bus route to Winchester), went their different ways. There was the bike shop (for sales and repairs) on the corner of Station Road, next to the Post Office. My dad Bob worked at Conders, in Winchester. My mum Esther, ran Dr Skegg’s flower/vegetable shop which was just under the flat. Cruickshanks the grocers was opposite, across Broad Street and ’employed’ me – bagging sugar in neatly folded bags and other ‘help’ (I hope I wasn’t a nuisance). Biscuits were sold from big glass topped tins, and I was allowed to take home broken biscuits and bacon pieces from the slicer – for my own fry-up! The big ironmongers down Broad Street, is it still there? (Yes, its still there – Ed) Brian, a good go-about friend, where is he now? And Thelma Lane from their Dad’s electricians down West Street. Looking across to St. Johns Church, its lovely pealing bells and striking clock. Watercress beds, streams (paddling), the outdoor cold! A swimming pool, little used for swimming, but model boats, yes. The Fulling Mill, trout, waving water weed in clear water, meadows, cowslips.

Our four uncles, Gordon (and Barbara), Sidney (and Gladys), Charlie (and Marjorie) and John (and Mollie) running C.E.Evans (our Grandad), which was the butchers down the Soke, at No. 7. Their slaughterhouse round the back, bacon smoker with oak sawdust, sides of bacon in brine. Jimmy Whyte and his cars, down the lane. Follow round to the big working mill, eels in the water, wild playground next to it (built on now, I expect), the big Weir (the ‘little weir’ on the opposite side of the watercress beds- a nice track with trees). Going to Old Alresford, the Pond down the lane, Robin Greenwood’s cottage, a ‘big pond!’ Walk right round if very daring, rickety bridge, high reeds, willow trees to sit and climb on. Abbotstone Down, New Farm Road, paper round including the Institute (the dear souls did so enjoy their papers). Sun Lane, deep chalk railway cutting, tame jackdaw, flying model airplanes on the Golf Course (Jetex fuel pellet engine and fuse – or elastic band). Opposite the Cricketers Arms – we’d be in the middle of a motorway now! (Well its just the bypass – Ed) Double decker bus to Winchester through the Worthies – sitting upstairs and the tree branches brushing the bus. Owls in cool, misty, still evenings, swans, ducks, coots, moorhens, water voles, Miller’s thumb fish, sticklebacks, minnows, cadis fly larvae in their stone tubes and more eels. Bike ride to Bighton and to Syd and Gladys at the Ramblers at Ropley, woods and deep lanes. Charlie and family up Pound Hill on the way to The Avenue – a beautiful avenue of lime trees. The pubs, the London to Bournemouth Stagecoach, stopping overnight at The Bell Inn, looking down on and listening to the Broad Street Fair.

We walked everywhere, safe and sound and had no need to get thrills from vandalising anything – though I readily admit to much harmless trespass… hmm…yes…”

While there are not that many eels left any more, John, the Broad Street Fair continues: pictured from today:

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Teaching at the Dean School, Alresford

The following account is provided by Chris Pines, who remembers his four years teaching the Juniors at the Dean School in Alresford, from 1968-73. Chris writes:

“My first teaching post, back in 1968, was in New Alresford Junior School, in The Dean – half way down the road on the right, just after the caravan park. It was an old, 1887-built, flint and brick building, with a tarmac playground at the front of the school, and two huge beech trees, with a small grass area at the rear which also housed two huts, the outside toilets and the caretaker’s store and coal room. Just before I arrived, the infants’ classes had moved out, and were established in a brand new school building on Sun Hill Lane.

I arrived in 1968, and stayed for four years, joining – among others – the headmaster Ron Longley, deputy head Arthur Hodkin, and teachers Lionel Ginsburg, Grace Strong and Cathy Phillips. My feeling is that a lot of time was spent preparing the children for the eleven plus, and a strong “them and us” feeling was present – that may just have been my view though. My memory says that during the first year there, I caught the train from Winchester to Alresford every day, but after the railway closed, I then used the bus, going along the old Winchester road.

The building was well past its sell-by date even in the 1960s. In the winter the boys’ toilets froze up (they were in an outside building) and this produced no end of inventive solutions, which included the use of buckets of hot water etc.

A picture of the school from the www.alresfordheritage.co.uk website, which is from a Hampshire Chronicle newspaper article around the time of closure of the Dean School: Chris Pines thinks the fugure guiding the children across the road would be Mr

A picture of the school from the http://www.alresfordheritage.co.uk website, which is from a Hampshire Chronicle newspaper article around the time of closure of the Dean School: Chris Pines thinks the fugure guiding the children across the road would be the deputy head, Mr Hodkin 

My classroom was in the main building, and was a long high-ceilinged room with windows way above our heads. The children sat at old beech desks, in front of the teacher’s high desk: there was a coal burner stove with a rail around, and this always smelt of sour milk. This came from the children’s one third of a pint milk bottles, which were lined up around the fire to warm them up, for those children who liked it that way: these were then issued by the milk monitors at morning break. Several times each winter, especially in October/November, we had a minor flood when it rained – from a little outside passage surrounded by walls, where the drain regularly blocked up with fallen leaves. My job would be to take a long stick and poke away at the drain cover until the water ran away freely.

At the back of the main building, and on the rising ground, were the huts – and a small field of grass, which was used for breaks and lunch-breaks. There we buried my first class “pet” – a guinea-pig which somehow escaped from its cage one night and stuffed itself into its jar of food, where it ate itself to death. For months after the small grave was marked by little crosses that the children made from lollipop sticks and shiny sweet wrappers.

Games and sports were held in a field that seemed to be half way across the town – the trek there reduced the time we had for sports by half every afternoon! But, during the summer term we were able to take nature walks along the river path – going not quite as far as the eel-house in one direction or the swimming pool in the other, but it was always a pleasure to go past the beautiful Fulling Mill, set straddling the main river flow.

Many of the children attending The Dean came from smaller villages such as Old Alresford, Kilmeston, Beauworth, Bishop’s Sutton – so were always a wide mix of experiences and local farming backgrounds – including at least one lad whose main diet seemed to consist of whatever was in season on the farm where his Dad worked. Several of the children had special traditional skills and commitments – every year in July several of the older boys disappeared for what seemed like a long weekend, which coincided with the Alresford Sheep Fair – my guess is they were earning a few shillings helping out.

Although this was over 40 years ago, I still occasionally bump into some of the children I taught then, and have followed their (sometimes glowing) careers with interest.”

Editor’s comment:

Chris Pines went on to teach at the Winnall Primary in Winchester, where he says he spent many happy years: he also became a local City Councillor, and then eventually a Mayor of Winchester (apparently number 808!). Chris still lives in St Cross.

From Chris’s comments, one of the fascinating aspects of teaching in one area over many years, appears to be seeing how the children grow up and develop in later years, and then even teaching their children! One young lady he taught at the Dean School in Alresford, Carol, had three children who went through his classes in Winnall: similarly a young man, Clive, from the Dean School in Alresford, later became a City Councillor in Winchester, and sent his own four children to Chris’s school in Winnall. Some of Chris’s students have developed along previously unexpected lines – one runs an Art Shop, and another developed to be a well-known film star!

A further comment comes from Godfrey Andrews, still living in Alresford, and a member of the Facebook Group “I went to the Dean School, Alresford”, which regrettably only has 12 members currently. Perhaps I should say that I asked Godfrey to comment particularly on the children’s toilets at the Dean School, as I had heard rumours! He comments:

I do remember the school toilets, oh so well! They stood on their own in the small yard at the rear of the old school building. If you needed the toilet during school time you had to face the humiliation of putting your hand up in front of the whole class, to request a toilet visit and then face the further humiliation, as the teacher would issue you with the regulation ‘three sheets of toilet paper’.

I also remember one playtime when it was raining heavily and water was gushing down from a broken drain pipe in the boys’ urinal, and my friend Roger and myself were stood under the full force of the water, getting absolutely soaked. When we were caught by one of the dinner ladies, Mrs Cox, we were instantly sent to the headmistress’s office, to be punished: which meant to receive the cane. We hadn’t expected that, as Mrs Cox was actually Roger’s mother!

Sun Hill Schools:

Your Editor moved to Alresford in 1981, and my son, also called Nick Denbow, went to the Sun Hill Infants School, when Mr Longley was Headmaster there: he enjoyed being taught by Grace Strong, who Chris Pines says has now retired. If anyone else has memories of the Dean or Sun Hill Schools they want to add here, please send them in, either via the NATT website, or direct to nick@nickdenbow.com.

The Winchester Riot of 1908

Audrey Chalk has provided some postcards and information about the Winchester Riot of 1908: the story was told in a report published under the header “Snapshots of the Past” by the Hampshire Chronicle.

This report focused on Joe Dumper, who was the leader of this riot: “Some said he was an anarchist and rabble-rouser, others that he was a God-fearing Englishman acting in a noble and self-less cause.”

Whichever was true, Joe (Joseph) Dumper was the heartbeat of The Great Winchester Gun Riot of May 1908, when for three days and nights, mobs rampaged through the streets of the normally genteel Cathedral city.

Its cause was trifling enough: for over 50 years a Russian Cannon had stood in the Broadway, at its junction with East Street. Captured at Sebastopol, it was seen as a monument to the Winchester-based Rifle Brigade soldiers who had fought in the Crimean War (1853-1856). To the townspeople, it became a symbolic soapbox, where meetings were held and bands played.

The Winchester Riot crowd, triumphant on top of the gun, with Joe Dumper.

The Winchester Riot crowd, triumphant on top of the gun, pulled from the carriage behind.

In May 1908, anticipating the city’s National Pageant, scheduled for that summer to raise essential finance for the Cathedral’s structural repairs, the Mayor, Alderman Billy Forder, and City Council decided on a face-lift for the gun and carriage, and planned to remove the railings around the gun, to display it better, and to re-gravel the site and re-paint the gun and carriage.

However there were many townspeople who felt that removing the railings would mean the gun would become a ‘nuisance’ with children. A protest meeting was rapidly convened, led by local house painter Joe Dumper. Before a citizens’ petition was considered however, the railings were removed. Another public meeting was held, and quickly got out of control – it turned into a riot. The Rioters used ropes to pull the gun from its carriage, and then embarked on an orgy of destruction, breaking street lamps and windows of shops and homes owned by councillors. Dumper, as ringleader, was carried around the town by a mob several thousand strong. The City Clock, windows and streetlights were smashed. A ‘chariot’, which was to be used in the forthcoming National Pageant, was thrown into the river from the City Bridge. At Wolvesey Palace, they wrecked preparations for the pageant, and one man tried, unsuccessfully, to torch the band-stand.

The gun barrel displaced from the carriage

The gun barrel displaced from the carriage

The disorder was only calmed when more police were brought in, and the ringleaders, including Joe, were enrolled as special constables, and ordered to help restore the peace.

But the people had their victory, marked in the first photo above. [Here the report went wrong, as it was suggested that Joe was the seated figure, centre left. His great great Grandson, Steve Dumper, has sent a picture of Joe, see below!]. Next day, to defuse the crisis, the authorities quickly enrolled the riot leaders as special constables and peace was restored. The gun and its railings were replaced and survived until melted down during the Second World War.

Replacing the cannon onto its cariage

Later, replacing the barrel of the Cannon onto its carriage

Audrey Chalk’s postcard of the crowd, which was said to show Joe Dumper, is embossed with the name Fred Wright, Photographer, of Winchester, just visible at the bottom right corner. The picture below is from another postcard, supplied by Steve Dumper, which shows his Great-great-grandfather Joseph standing on the gun carriage, some time after the riot!

Joseph on the cannon

It seems likely from these photos that the gun carriage was positioned around where the statue of Alfred now stands, before the roundabout was created.

What happened to the gun?

Steve Dumper was able to add some comments about what happened to the gun later. In February 2016, Steve wrote:

Some years ago I obtained from the Hampshire Record Office  a copy of the letter that Joe Dumper sent to Winchester City Council protesting about the removal of the railings from around the Gun and they kindly sent me that together with some other documentation.
Included in that documentation was an “Account of the Winchester Gun Riots (25.05.08)” written by someone with the initials AGW. This account records the fact that the large Russian Gun was acquired in 1857 as a trophy from the Crimean War. It also includes the following comment:-
‘Sadly the great gun – beloved by many generations of Winchester people – was quietly taken away in 1940 to be melted down for munitions of war. So disappeared a cherished part of the Winchester scene.’
There is also mention of the railings (and presumably the gun) being melted down in the Hampshire Chronicle – the article is dated 30 December 1999.
According to ‘Bloody British History – Winchester’, the City Council, mindful of earlier events, approached Joe Dumper before the gun was taken away: his response was “There have been enough arguments. Let them have it.”

The “Hampshire Eurofest”, and the Story of the Alresford Carnival

An article from the Hampshire Chronicle of 17th July 1992 gave the following report on the “Hampshire Eurofest 1992”, an Alresford event that celebrated the entry of the UK into the EEC, otherwise known as the Common Market:

“Alresford’s historic Broad Street took on a continental air on Sunday as residents turned out in their hundreds to join in the fun of the town’s Eurofest.

Café tables lined the street, residents and visitors alike enjoying lunch or liquid refreshments whilst listening to music.

Local organizations, under the banner of the Chamber of Trade, had joined together to put on a day of fun for everyone to celebrate entry into the single European community.

Festivities began at noon, as the Eurofest was opened by BBC South Today and Radio Solent presenter Sally Taylor, together with colleague Mark Longhurst, who sent up a shower of balloons. Nick Kingsford and Alistair Dilley welcomed the crowds in every one of the languages of the countries of the EEC.

Chamber Chairman, Jan Robb, said the day had been made possible by the efforts of many people. She spoke of a wider European community in which Alresford, an energetic, outward-looking town, was eager to play its part.

She thanked the sponsors and praised traders and businessmen who had taken part, with special mention for Nick Kingsford, David Birmingham, Sue Gentry and Alistair Dilley, who had worked hard since January.

Euro-MP, Edward Kellet-Bowman, there to join in the fun, congratulated everyone on putting on such a good show.

Eurofest, 1992, Pound Hill

Eurofest, 1992, Pound Hill

Everyone had entered into the spirit of the event. The Swan Hotel became a Greek taverna; The Bell was offering John Bull Specials, including jellied eels and cockles and mussels, while in Broad Street, the Horse and Groom was an Old English pub with traditional roast beef.

The queue for food at a barbecue laid on in Broad Street by the Old School House Restaurant never seemed to get any shorter, whilst El Pigador’s (Alresford Pigs) offer of “Amazing Tapas” was also popular.

A “bouncy castle” was in the garden at the rear of Hunter’s, where a children’s tea party was held later in the afternoon. Alresford Twinning Association offered crepes, whilst the Rotary Club and the ladies of the Inner Wheel sold Italian ices and enticed all-comers to “be photographed in a gondola”.

Bishop’s Sutton Village Hall Committee offered Dutch fare and the New Alresford WI’s “Eurotunnel” had demonstrations of continental flower arranging, painting, lace and broomstick crochet.

Perin’s School represented Germany, with students offering a five minute German lesson, whilst the Community Association picked Denmark and offered a free draw for two air tickets to Denmark, courtesy of MaerskAir.

Sun Hill kids, 1993

Sun Hill kids, 1993

There was entertainment throughout the afternoon, with music from Winchester Brass Band, the Chris Walker Quintet and Perin’s School Band, plus Scottish dancing and country dancing from the two Sun Hill schools.

Jugglers Matthew and Dunn featured fire-eating, while the Turn on the Taps Appalachian dancers gave two displays of tap dancing.

Shop window displays featured other countries. The library had a splendid display representing Ireland: Eddolls, the United Kingdom; Portman Building Society, Greece. There were others featuring Portugal, several the UK, whilst Styles China Shop chose Denmark.

In the George Yard there was a display of ten cars from the 1920’s to 1960, put on by the Allsorts Motor Club.”

ENDS

This cutting from the Hampshire Chronicle is included alongside the set of colour photos taken on the day by Nelson Trowbridge, of South Close, Alresford. These were made into a presentation booklet about the event, created by Nelson, which was later donated to the Alresford Museum. All the photos can be seen on the website www.flickr.com/photos/83468450@N03/sets/72157632786815255.

Included in this 1992 booklet was the following account of “The Story of the Alresford Carnival”, charting its origins, leading up to when the Alresford Rotary Club took over the organisation of the event in 1989:

“The Story of the Alresford Carnival

Although the Parish Council’s Recreation ground in Arlebury Park only dates back to the late 1970’s, the park lands saw the first Carnival in recent years as far back as 1953 when the town put on a celebration on June 2nd, the day of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation.

Sun Hill School, 1980s

Sun Hill School, 1980s

Like many things that happen in Alresford, it was organised by a group of like-minded people who wanted the town to join together in a day of family fun, and by all accounts it was a great success. Mrs Rita Blundell of Ropley was the very first Carnival Queen, a position which she held for several years! After the first, and special, celebration, the Carnival moved to what was then known as the Whit-Monday Bank Holiday, and a procession was led from the Station Yard to that part of Arlebury Park now occupied by Mrs Mary Hide’s Caravan Club location. Celebrities sometimes opened the event, including on one occasion Julia Lockwood, the film actress.

A popular event was the Donkey Derby. One year the donkeys failed to materialise, and Miss pring, who kept a small riding school was called upon to supply suitable mounts, at very short notice. Another year, a six foot diameter leather ball was pushed along in the procession – until it ran away down West Street, causing havoc! Luckily no-one was injured, and having been rescued it was used for a game of “push-ball” in the arena. Water seems to have played a large part in the proceedings, with a large tank in which duckings, and ‘Crossing the Line’ initiations were carried out!

1984, Cub Scouts(?) in Broad Street

1984, Cub Scouts(?) and floats in Broad Street

The late Mr Geoffrey Cradduck was the “human dynamo” whose enthusiasm kept the event going for several years, but like many other events organised by a small number of people it became difficult to sustain. After the present Arlebury Park land had been purchased by the Parish Council, the Arlebury Park Association decided to revive the Carnival using the new ground for entertainment following on from the procession. They too found it difficult to organize an annual event with a shrinking committee, and invited the newly chartered Rotary Club to take it over in 1989. This year [1992] will be the fourth run by the club and we are determined that it will not meet the same fate as its predecessors.

Although it raises a considerable amount for our charity funds, the Club see the Carnival as a service to the town and surrounding villages, and hope that other organisations may wish to become involved in the organisation of the Carnival, as well as participating on the day.”

ENDS

Alresford Carnival photographs

The Alresford Museum has several sets of photographs relating to the early Alresford Carnivals: these are visible on the Museum website, www.museum.Alresford.org. These photos show the large leather football quoted above, and several water features! There is also a cine film from the 1950s, which we hope to be able to load onto the website soon.

Later Carnival pictures, including those taken by Nelson Trowbridge, are available as FlickR web-albums:

1981:        www.flickr.com/photos/83468450@N03/sets/72157632678990604

1983-89: www.flickr.com/photos/83468450@N03/sets/72157632549426213

1991:       www.flickr.com/photos/83468450@N03/sets/72157632576372045

1992:       www.flickr.com/photos/83468450@N03/sets/72157632786815255

1993:       www.flickr.com/photos/83468450@N03/sets/72157632556709582

1995:       www.flickr.com/photos/83468450@N03/sets/72157632560335768

If you have other pictures taken at Alresford events, like the Carnivals, why not let us copy them and show them via our stories and websites? Maybe you can also add a story to describe the photos? Please contact us via this website, or via the Museum Committee of the New Alresford Town Trustees, at clerk@towntrust.org.uk.

Alresford Crafts: Dolls and soft toys for Collectors and Children.

scan186For around 25 years Alresford Crafts was a major business venture in the town, making dolls and soft toys. Perhaps more than any other, this business promoted the name of Alresford to consumers across the world, until 1992! John and Margaret Jones started trading from the two lower floors of the Town Mill, a building at the bottom of Mill Hill, Alresford, which dates from 1189. Water flowing out of the pond, and under the bridge at the lower end of Broad Street, used to fall down a vertical shaft inside the mill building and there rotate a turbine, which could drive the hoist and other machinery: then the water flowed under the mill floor and downstream.  Following an accident with a tree-trunk ramming down this shaft and smashing the turbine housing, causing a flood in the basement, the mill was modernized in 1972, when the stepped waterfalls were introduced, keeping the river outside the building: the basement became more habitable!

DSC01962a softtoysWhen John and Margaret moved into the mill, in 1964, their first business was that of a mail order gifts company, mainly involved in Christmas gifts. In order to expand they began co-operating with a lady from Salisbury, who used a network of home workers around there: eventually they took the business over from this lady, in about 1972, when more home workers were recruited around Alresford. In the first five years or so, Alresford Crafts just made soft toys, designed by Margaret Jones, and the business grew and became known for quality hand-made toys: the work was brought in-house as a method of ensuring this quality. Mrs Jones says the Brighton Toy Fair made an enormous difference, with lots of orders, but it alerted a lot of the competition, like Steiff (teddy bears), to their new materials.

Verena Harper worked there during 1976, as a checker and finisher, and particularly remembers the machinist girls making the toy otters had problems, because their tails seemed to twist round. Verena will be pleased to see the otters in the Alresford Museum collection seem OK. However, Mrs Jones was also interested in making dolls, and was convinced that a quality manufacturer in England could produce porcelain dolls for collectors worldwide.

DSC01991 alr crafts dollsSo in 1977 Alresford Crafts started planning a workshop where doll’s heads, hands and feet could be produced. Initially these were made of bone china, but then production switched to using porcelain. They were proud of producing their dolls wholly in England, and did not call their dolls ‘China dolls’. In fact the company adopted a logo that just used the word ‘Alresford’ – and so had to add a subheading of “…say it Alls-ford” to help with the problem of pronunciation, maybe particularly for the Chinese and Japanese people, when trying to order the dolls! The staff who made the soft toys found the transition to doll making, with their soft bodies, and the doll’s clothes, fairly easy. The first baby dolls were produced in 1978, and in 1979 boy and girl dolls were added, with 11 different styles. Each year saw fresh designs of doll, and soon the business moved to larger premises in another mill, a corn storage mill in the Railway Station Yard in Alresford, known as Station Mill. Next to the old Police Station, this is likely to be converted into retirement flats shortly!

Production at the Station Mill

scan188The Station Mill is a four storey building, and was used for producing both the stuffed toys and the dolls. On the ground floor a carding machine combed and straightened the fibres of non-inflammable synthetic material used for stuffing the toys, and the bodies for these animals were cut out in fabric by machine. On the second floor the bodies were sewn together on machines. On the top floor under the rafters the bodies were stuffed and the remaining seams sewn by hand. The toys then descended via a long chute to the ground floor, and were taken to the Town Mill for inspection, packing and despatch – going to children and collectors all over the world. Even by 1980 Alresford Crafts quoted official Distributors in Australia, Japan, France, Germany, The Netherlands and the USA. The company won design awards for their products in the USA and Japan: at one stage they even had their own warehouse in the USA, with their own sales staff.

The first floor was devoted to making and dressing the dolls. Normally Margaret Jones designed the dresses and cut the material out. On one side of the workroom the “Dress-makers” made the under-garments, dresses and bonnets:  in addition home-based workers were again recruited, this time to sew the doll’s clothes. Before working full time at the Town Mill from 1986, Jenny Lawes was one of these home workers, and remembers being paid five pence each for sewing a pair of doll’s pants!

scan185Production and painting of the porcelain heads, lower arms and legs was transferred in 1982 from near the Town Mill to a new Ceramics Department, located in the single storey building next to the Station Mill, which was run by Colin Larkin. Eventually the whole business employed around 35 people, including the home-workers. Most of the dolls were fairly large, typically 60cms, or two feet, tall.

Famous toys from Alresford

Today the Alresford Crafts soft toys and dolls are well known, and often sold on internet auction sites, as collector’s items. The Alresford Museum has acquired a collection of these soft toys, including the hedgehog, kangaroo (with a baby), Teddy bear, Polar bear, dinosaur and squirrel. One of the Alresford Crafts Teddy bears, known as a Honey Bear, was said to be unique in that it was designed to have a flat bottom, which made it easy to bend its legs and make it sit down properly, without having to lean against anything.

The Hand Of Fear pt4 102Another famous Alresford Crafts stuffed toy was the owl, which was produced in various styles and colour combinations. One of these, Oliver, the dark brown owl with large eyes, made a guest appearance on the BBC’s “Dr Who” programme, in Episode four of ‘The Hand of Fear’ as Sarah-Jane’s owl, when she leaves the Tardis: as yet we have not managed to find this particular version for our collection, but if you see one, let us know!

ET sceengrabs aaThe same owl appeared in the film ‘ET’, amongst the cuddly toys in Elliot’s wardrobe, which is where ET hides. Many thousands of this style of owl were produced.

Jenny Lawes also remembers Alresford Crafts producing the first versions of Pudsey, the BBC’s “Children-in-Need” bear, with the eye patch: these Alresford prototypes, built to a BBC design, had the bandage over the other eye (his left eye!). There was other work for the BBC, one presenter on children’s TV had a lamb puppet from Alresford Crafts, and the company was featured in a “Made in Britain” film, and in a Pebble Mill report. The mill also hosted visits from Angela Rippon, and even Kate Adie, but not when the latter was a war correspondent!

Alresford Crafts Dolls

scan187Maybe not so well known, except to doll collectors, are the Alresford Crafts dolls, and the first example found by the Museum was a clown, produced in 1981. Notable dolls made by Alresford Crafts included the Royal Baby dolls, celebrating the births of Prince William and Prince Henry. Such was the success of the first (the Prince William doll, a limited edition of 2500 in 1982) that the Prince Henry doll was also created to commemorate the birth of HRH Prince Henry of Wales (Harry). Cast in fine porcelain, and impressed on the neck ‘1984 Royal Baby RB2 Alresford’, (RB2 was a code for Royal Baby 2) the doll had blue glass eyes, painted features and a cloth body, and was dressed in a long cream satin robe with an overlay of lace, a matching bonnet and a pillow. Not quite what he looks like today, and there is not much evidence of red hair, in this model. Each doll was issued with a limited edition certificate, two catalogues and a swing tag. This baby doll measured 40.5cm (16″), and the robe was 71cm (28″) long.

prince henry alr craftsThe Alresford Museum has recently been lucky enough to obtain 25 Alresford Crafts dolls, collected over the period 1980-1983 by Mrs J.K.Gloyn of Taunton, and still in perfect condition in the original packaging. Included in these are the Prince William doll, and several other baby dolls, plus two boy dolls, called Patrick and Benjamin! The girl dolls are too numerous to mention, but all bear the initials of the people working there, who signed the back of the labels to show who made the clothes. The ceramic heads were marked and stamped with the initials of the workers who moulded, painted and completed the ceramics. The production staff were also involved in designing the outfits, and naming the dolls!

Later ventures

In 1982, in response to collectors’ requests for a fully pose-able jointed doll, Alresford Crafts introduced Mellissa (CD74) with a ball and socket jointed body made from a composite material – the head was still porcelain. Most of the other full sized dolls had a stuffed cloth body, upper arm and thigh: the exceptions were some of the baby dolls, particularly CD1/CD2 from 1979/80. The new style Mellissa doll was announced, at a price of £70, 40% higher than the average full sized doll, but were either never sold or quickly withdrawn, as Alresford Crafts were not happy with the quality/reliability.

DSC01967Later in the 1980s, a range of hand puppets and rag dolls were added to the Alresford Crafts doll collection, ie fully dressed dolls with soft bodies, heads and hands/feet. Apparently there was also some production of the black rag dolls previously described as ‘Gollywogs’, which was criticised from some quarters: the major market for these dolls was apparently to be found in export, to Nigeria.

Fiona

Fiona

Plus the factory produced other dolls under the trade name of ‘Margaret Jones Designer Dolls’: one of these was Fiona, a favourite of Jenny Lawes, who helped design and produce her outfit.

The recession of the 1980s, and the rapid growth of lower cost Chinese competition, made the volume of business turn down. The lead they had achieved with the softer filling in their soft toys was eroded by copycat products.

The Alresford Crafts business closed in 1992, with a major sale of the remaining stock, attended by most of the ladies of Alresford. Verena Harper remembers that much of the left-over stock of stuffed toys, mainly rats, guinea pigs and small owls, were given to the Alresford Christmas Tree Committee, to be used as presents for the children attending the Carol singing and Father Christmas evening on Broad Street that year.

STOP PRESS ANNOUNCEMENT!

Oliver the Owl

Oliver the Owl

A specimen of Ollie the owl, just over a foot high, has returned to Alresford from his temporary home up North – in Winsford, Cheshire. Ollie will be making a guest appearance in the Alresford Library display cabinet between now and Christmas, with lots more of the Alresford Crafts soft toys and dolls from our growing collection. So don’t forget to say hello as you collect your library books – unless of course he goes off with Dr Who and Sarah-Jane for another adventure in the meantime.

Now it is important to find some examples of the Alresford Crafts rag dolls for the Museum: and if possible even one of the “Gollywogs”! (Possibly we will be inundated with those emails from Nigeria, suggesting that this can be provided, for a relatively large up-front payment! The answer is ‘No’)

LATEST NEWS!

News as at January 2016: The Alresford Museum has received another collection of over 100 original stuffed toys and glove puppets made by Alresford Crafts: look out for the story and photos soon!