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10 things you might not know about Whitchurch

PUBLISHED: 09:55 30 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:13 02 August 2019

Whitchurch (Illustration by Lucy Atkinson)

Whitchurch (Illustration by Lucy Atkinson)

Lucy Atkinson

Silk, potatoes and gin all play their part in the history and popularity of this characterful town

Romantic Pillbox

In 2014 the village held a small ceremony to re-open a Second World War pillbox lying at the end of the garden of Alun Rees, in Lynch Hill Park. Built to defend the village against possible prisoner of war escapees, the pillbox's re-opening, which came after vegetation was removed, was inspired by local artist, Graham Burgess. As part of the grounds survey, two lovers' lockets were found. The building can now be seen from Newbury Street.


Gin Glorious Gin

Less than two miles east from Whitchurch town centre lies one of the area's most popular attractions, the iconic Bombay Sapphire Gin distillery at Laverstoke. Tours take around two hours where visitors can learn just what goes into making this most fashionable of tipples. Then, when you've had your fill, it's time to taste what all the fuss is about and enjoy a drink on the house.


Famous Residents

Watership Down author, Richard Adams, set his classic tale about rabbits in an area six miles north east of Whitchurch and lived in the town until his death on Christmas Eve, 2016. Whitchurch was also the home to the actor, James Robertson Justice who played Lord Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and, in more recent years, to musician Carl Barat of The Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things.


Food and Drink

For light bites and cakes from a place with five-star reviews, pop into Kudos Coffee in Church Street. The White Hart in Newbury Street is highly praised, not just for its bistro-style food, with plenty to interest the vegan and vegetarian, but also for its modern, elegant interiors. For a fantabulous curry, check out The Blue Ginger in Bell Street. It hosts a popular Sunday banquet and its new dessert menu has ice cream from Swiss company, Mövenpick. 


Spuds You Like

The last weekend of January sees up to 2,000 keen gardeners and vegetable growers from across the south of England converge on Whitchurch for the annual Hampshire Potato Day, where they search for seed potatoes not available anywhere else in the country. The event is said to boast the largest selection of varieties available to amateur growers in one place in the world. 


Sally Revolts

When a Salvation Army member was prosecuted for obstructing the highways and causing a disturbance in 1889 with an outdoor service, Salvationists took action. In October that year 1,000 of them and 12 Salvation Army bands demonstrated in Whitchurch's town square. They were charged with riot and unlawful assembly but, after winning their case in the High Court, they established the right to hold orderly public demonstrations.


Hankies and History

In 1888 the Star newspaper said about Whitchurch: "People who live in it call it a town. People who live out of it call it a village. It is about as big as a good-sized pocket handkerchief." In 1987 a hoard of coins dating back to the late Iron Age was discovered in Whitchurch. It was visited by the Romans and, in 1644, Charles I stayed at what is now King's Lodge, opposite All Hallows Church.The town has character and a rural feel - aided by the River Test which runs through it. 


At a Loose End?

Well, if you like sports, Whitchurch has a squash and a football club, plus a bowls club with indoor and outdoor facilities at Longmeadow. Its cricket club was formed in 1776, making it one of the town's oldest institutions. The village is central to some popular walking trails too.


The People's Judge

Judge Alfred Thompson Denning, known as Tom, rose to become Master of the Rolls and was revered for his judgements, many of which championed the rights of ordinary people and were all delivered in a fine, Hampshire burr. He wrote a legal report on the Profumo sex scandal and worked to improve the legal position of deserted wives. Living to 100, he never lost his connection to his home town. Part of his former home, The Lawn, is on Airbnb.


Smooth as Silk

Given that Lord Denning lived here, how appropriate is it that Whitchurch Silk Mill created the fabric used by barristers who 'take silk'? Until 1985 the mill wove fabrics for legal and academic gowns. A visitor attraction, it's still weaving from its Georgian building, using 19th century machinery. Past commissions include material for Burberry fashion house; it created silk insulating cables during the Second World War and even, it's claimed, cream silk for garments worn by the Kray twins.


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