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All about Overton

PUBLISHED: 12:10 11 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:21 20 February 2013

St Mary's Church is as much at the centre of the community today as it was back in 1907

St Mary's Church is as much at the centre of the community today as it was back in 1907

Famous for its sheep fairs, scarecrow festivals and strong sense of community, Overton still has strong links to its past and continues the old traditions, as Elizabeth Barnett discovers

Situated in the upper Test Valley, Overton is large in comparison to some of the other villages around the Basingstoke and Deane area. It has a population of around 3,800 people but despite this, still manages to keep a strong sense of community among the villagers. Evidence dating back to the Stone Age found in various spots around the village shows that the area has been a prime settlement for centuries.
Lying within a mile of the River Test, Overton would have been the perfect place to find food and shelter and it seems that it remained inhabited right through to its first recording in the Middle Ages under the name 'Uferanton'. In AD909 King Edward the Elder granted the estate to the Bishop of Winchester who founded a community to the south of the River Test, the structure of which still remains within the village.

Taking stock
Before the Bishop of Winchester relocated the village to the south of the river, the Domesday Book of 1086 showed that the settlement was situated on the north of the river. St Mary's church was recorded as being in the centre of the settlement but would have been a shadow of what can be seen today after it was enlarged several times during the following three centuries.
During 1218 the Bishop of Winchester settled on a grid pattern for the new village with a wide centre street, or Winchester Street as it is known, which would have been perfect for trading fairs and markets. Winchester Street played host to the annual Overton Sheep Fair for decades, celebrating the varieties of sheep within the area and throughout the UK.
During modern society this tradition was abandoned in favour of a carnival until eight years ago when it was decided that the Sheep Fairs should once again become part of Overton's festivities. Every four years the villagers enjoy the two-day event filled with entertainment, stalls and of course, sheep. The event is entirely free with any money made going to local charities and further events within the village.

Money matters
Although arable crops and livestock did provide a living for the town, their main trade was in milling. The Domesday Book records a vast array of corn mills which, throughout the centuries were converted in to paper mills, a trade that has successfully developed in to a thriving industry within Overton. Families from Overton would have worked for Portal's Paper Mill for generations, with many coming to work in the town from surrounding areas.
Today however, the mill has been taken over by De La Rue, a company which is famous for manufacturing watermarked currency paper for customers all over the world. Now most of the work is done by machinery, which has lead the villagers to find work outside of Overton, typically this could have caused the community to disperse but it seems the strong traditions and regular events have ensured this does not happen.

Going quackers
This community vibe has remained very much a part of Overton village life today, every summer the residents come together to celebrate the Great Overton Duck Race. This year over 400 people turned out to cheer on the 150 ducks racing their way down the Test. After eight rounds the first duck to reach the finish line wins a 20 prize with the winner of the Grand Final taking home a cool 100. To keep the crowds well entertained there were barbecues, bars, face painting, tombola, tea and cakes and craft stalls, all organised by the local committee with proceeds of over 2,000 going to the village hall.

Staying power
Talking to some of the villagers in Overton, it seems that once you have moved to the area it is virtually impossible not to become a part of its welcoming community.
As well as the duck race, families within the village spend a great amount of time working on an extra member to be involved in the scarecrow event. Every year scarecrows seem to pop up in our local villages and now Overton is
no different.
This year was their first event and the village saw over 300 different scarecrows grace the gardens of every family taking part.
It seems that Overton has achieved great success
throughout its history because of its lovely location and ongoing community spirit.
When the Portals Mill was active people would have worked
together, lived together and played together and although the mill is no longer there, the close vibe is still
a major part of what makes the
village tick.

My Overton
Tony Morris has lived in the area for 23 years. After his retirement he became very interested in photography and now captures village life for his website www.overtonpictures.com.
"Overton is a fantastic place to live, it is friendly and vibrant and there is always something going on. We have a huge variety of clubs and societies for all ages and there is a real sense of community spirit within the village. A few years ago the outside space at St Mary's hall was renovated and for the past two years it has won first prize in the Best Community Garden at the Basingstoke in Bloom Awards.
"We pay for our own sports facilities and Overton Recreation Centre is always holding superb fundraising events that truly show how supportive the people of Overton can be. There is an awful lot of charity work taking place both for the village and for causes abroad and within the UK and even if there isn't a club already set up around your interests, people will always make sure you are given the chance to start your own."

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