A history of Havant
PUBLISHED: 12:08 11 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:33 20 February 2013
Famous for its parchment paper, Homewell Spring and community spirit, Havant is bursting with history just waiting to be explored, as Charlotte Tomlinson-White discovers
Characterised by its fine Georgian buildings and narrow footpaths known as Twittens, Havant is a thriving market town with weekly markets held on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Its population has reached an impressive 120,000 somewhat greater than when the town was first established and recorded in the Doomsday Book yet it has still managed to hold on to its strong sense of community spirit.
Most of Havant Town is a conservation area and many archaeological artefacts have been discovered here. Mesolithic flints, Neolithic instruments and the remains of ancient dwellings all indicate Havant has been inhabited for thousands of years. It is thought that the ideal location, combined with the excellent source of water from the spring, attracted the Romans to the area.
Havant blossomed with trades reliant on the spring. With rich soil, fed by the spring, the land was ideal for growing corn and grazing stock. Flour and meal was ground in the local mills and sheep farming rose. The wool trade thrived but declined by the 16th century with the introduction of a standard cloth size by Parliament. Tanning and brewing were then dominant; however it was the manufacture of parchment that put Havant on the map. This parchment, made from inner layers of sheep and goat skin, was much whiter than other parchments (a result of the mineral-rich spring water used during production) and held in very high regard. It is said that it was used for the Magna Carta and the Treaty of Versailles.
Glimpses of Havants industrial history can still be seen. The windmill on Langstone foreshore remains; this is the only one to survive in the area. Havant watermill used to stand just outside the town; it closed in 1934 and was demolished years later.
Havant still maintains a strong economic base in manufacturing, although not in agriculture and animal by-products; today mechanical, electrical and instrument engineering are much more prominent.
Road to success
Havant is a vital communication centre with plenty of transport links but this wasnt always the case. Back in the day the roads were described as ruinous and deep.
In 1760 a fire broke out in West Street and ripped through the centre of Havant with devastating effects. There wasnt an organised fire brigade and many fine buildings were lost. The fire did however provide the perfect opportunity to improve access and as a result streets were widened and roads (eventually) surfaced properly. This meant Havant then saw a rise in passenger traffic and trade.
Along the right lines
Connections continued to improve with the arrival of the railway; the London Brighton & South Coast Railway Company opened its lines from Brighton to Havant and to Portsmouth and coach traffic deteriorated as a result. In 1958, two rival railway companies went head-to-head in an event that has become known as The Battle of Havant. Track points were removed and an engine chained to the Havant crossing in an attempt to stop trains running through the town while the argument of access rights was settled.
With an average of 2.5million passengers passing through each year, Havant has become a major interchange railway station with services going to Portsmouth, Southampton, Chichester, Brighton and London.
Home from home
During the 19th and 20th centuries, East Street was the rich residential area of Havant. Built on higher ground and therefore safe from flooding, houses were large and very grand. A few remain but most have been divided into smaller apartments and flats, or turned into commercial properties such as shops and dentists.
Havant played an active part during the Second World War; purpose-built camps housed thousands of service personnel, a searchlight station was built and anti-aircraft batteries set up. A first aid post was established in St. Faiths Church Hall and The Lavant Stream was dammed for fire fighting.
The war brought about a lot of change and Havant moved away from being a quiet little market town, forming a metropolis with Langstone, Warblington, Bedhampton, Leigh Park and Denvilles. The chisel in the wall in East Pallant and chips in the kerb stones in East Street, caused by military tanks, act as reminders of the activity Havant endured during the war.
Did you know?
Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, lived in Havant for the last 22 years of her life. Interrogated at Warblington Castle, she was found guilty of treason and executed at The Tower of London in 1543.
Havant has one of the oldest pubs in the south. The Old House at Home, in South Street, dates back to the 16th century and apart from parts of St Faiths Church, is the only building to survive the great fire of 1760.
Havant had two earthquakes, one in 1784 and then again in 1811. The quakes lasted for 2-3 minutes in the early hours of the morning.
Keats wrote his last poem To Autumn in Bedhampton, in Havant.
The Homewell Spring didnt run dry until 1970.
Ralph Cousins, 72, was born in Havant and has lived there his entire life. Involved in newspaper production for many years, he was a local councillor for 18 years and became an honouree ombudsman.
He has seen Havant change considerably over the years: Havant was a quiet market town before the war. The war brought lots of activity and the town developed rapidly afterwards. Some view Havant unfavourably but take it from a local who knows it best: Havant is a pleasant place to live, nestling between the countryside and coast, it has good facilities and is easy to travel around with quality road and rail links, but most importantly there is a good sense of community spirit.