If I had a quid for everytime someone mentioned this…

money examples

The River Test in North Hampshire has a history of paper mills and banking and to this day its links with printing money exist.

Let’s start with a nice story. There is a ‘myth’ which doesn’t seem to go away…  For centuries, the founders, The Portal family and the present owners of the Overton mill, The De La Rue Group, have made and printed banknotes for many countries, including the Bank of England. The site of where this factory is a hamlet called Quidhampton. In 1984 the last UK pound notes were withdrawn. These were fondly refered to as ‘Quids’. Is this just a coincidence?

quidhampton map
North of Overton, Hampshire  © O.S. 1:25 000 Series 1937- 61

Henri de Portal (1690 – 1747), a refugee from France established the paper Mill and a long tradition working closely with the Bank of England. Learning his craft firstly at Stoneham near Southampton,  He brought his first premises, Bere Mill, on the outskirts of Whitchurch in 1716.

Bere Mill, Whitchurch © Copyright Peter Facey

As the business grew he looked to expand to other mill sites along the Test. in 1718 he aqquired a mill at Laverstoke. By 1724 Portals had the contract with the Bank of England, to print British banknotes. Laverstoke Mill was to be much expanded, and accomodation for workers was also provided nearby, which you can still see today.
Portals owned other mills including a site at Overton, but for 200 years this was their main headquarters, and close to the family estate.
Today the Laverstoke complex has been restored, and the building is occupied by the Bombay Saphire Distillery which can be visited.

Laverstoke Mill © Copyright Dr Neil Clifton

It was in 1922 that the Portals finally moved their operations to Overton to a purpose built facility, by the railway. It wasn’t just the printing that linked Portals and the Bank of England.
With the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939, The Bank saw fit to move its whole operation out of London to relative safety, and Whitchurch & Overton, helped house staff and family in accommodation and prefab chalets. You could say there was a mutual benefit for the residents of Overton, following the war who with the gratitude of the B.O.E. financed the village new facilities, such as replacing St Luke’s Hall. I find this a fascinating footnote, and more can be read here.

There are also some local peoples accounts here of the effect on Overton, which I found useful.

Bank of England staff billeted to Overton during WW2. © Bank of England Archive
The Quidhampton site today

After the war things retuned to some normality, but not entiely – Portals carried on being an important player, but the world was changing. As countries part of the British Empire sought their independence, they too looked to other sources to print their new currencies. Portals had to adapt and keep abreast with new printing technologies, to guarantee new contracts. To it’s credit The Portal Group remained a successful international business, but was taken over by the De La Rue group in 1995. It’s a testament to it’s heritage and service, that the Quidhampton plant is still the main headquarters today.


Undulated bliss

Lavender crop Summer Down, June 2016

My motive for the blog is to share info and highlight places you may not be aware of, and through photography and maps, show why I Iove this area of North Hampshire so much…

I don’t want to be lamenting about the loss of places and history all of the time, (although thats important!), so this will be more of a photo journey of a round walk from Malshanger I did last summer. (2016). The walk took me about 3 hours, but I didn’t hurry.

I’ll discuss Malshanger House in a future blog, but it’s first recorded mention was in 1086 around the time of Doomsday.  Several prominent familes have been connected including William Warham, (1450 – 1532), who became an Archbishop of Canterbury. More recently the Colman family, (of Mustard fame), have owned the house…

My walk starts opposite some pretty cottages which I imagine were originally estate workers dwellings – all very well maintained, with flint decoration.

Flint cottages at Malshanger, most probably dwellings for estate workers in the past

Passing the Oakley Bowling club and opposite the house entrance, I turned left and followed a signposted footpath across a field to Shear Down Farm. On the opposite side of this I came across a small grass landing strip. No planes here today – being no pilot, I can’t tell if the wind sock position is good, bad or indifferent…

Malshanger air strip

The path carries on through what looks unusual dark flora … I soon smell that its a type of mint. I feel a bit bad walking through this crop, but thats the way the path is taking me, clearly! Turns out to be grown by Summerdown Farms. They make herbal teas, and add their ingredients to toiletries and chocolates… Read more here.

Mint crop

Through a gap in the hedge and the landscape opens up again. I find photography doesn’t always capture the rolling essence of this Hampshire landscape, which is undulating hills. Its subtle, but not flat either, which you’ll know if you walk or cycle it.

Fields looking across to Warren Bottom Copse

Mals6The path joins up with a bridleway before exiting at a cross roads.
I’m near Ibworth, but we’re not heading that way today. I love these country signs.

Staying on the road it goes down into a dip and I can’t see much, but its a very peaceful spot. The only house is set back from the road, but you must enjoy your privacy if you choose to live in a place like this.

As the road begins to rise and I take a footpath through a gate on the
left, and I’m in a mix of fen and woodland. Its a bit undefined and overgrown, and contines to rise.



At the edge of the wood, thankfully the path I should take becomes much more defined again!


This is more like it. I’m so pleased the path is maintained,  but equally I feel in a spot not
too frequented, and today there is not a soul to be seen…



I decide this is a great spot to stop for lunch… and a bit of shade.

From what I know this landscape was part of the ancient ‘Freemantle Forest’, Where King John enjoyed hunting from his lodge near Kingsclere. The land is much altered by farming methods but a ‘forest’ in Norman times didn’t mean extensive woodlands either.
The paths goes back into ‘Warren Bottom Copse’, which immediately feels old – Signs of ‘coppicing’ have kept the trees small. The path joins the road again but to the right is a
‘Hay Wood’, wherethe sound of bird song adds to its old world charm. This wood has a
mix of Birch and Oak.

After turning right into Whitehill lane, and a gradual rise, I pick up part of the Wayfarers Walk , a 71 Mile trail through mainly Hampshire to the coast. I attempted this stretch once before but didnt get far as it was so muddy. Today is much better. I’m now heading towards Oakley direction. The path skirts the edge of Great Deane Wood which shows some ‘enclosures’ marked on the map – again, I think this relates to times of the forest and hunting.


This golden wheat field was lovely to walk through on a fine summers day… Leaving the Wayfares Walk, then along the road by Summer Down Farm and back into Malshanger Park. Another fine example of an estate building using flint. I assume this was a gatehouse or a Lodge.


There are normally sheep and other livestock to be seen grazing on the estate, but seeing this tree made me chuckle. Its been a good walk, with a couple of medium inclines, but a lot of even paths.


Fort Hill School and Winklebury

Winklebury before the school

Uh-Oh… Fort Hill School built in the Winklebury Ring could be threatened with closure. It looks like the first ‘tough decisions’ have been taken… I can’t really comment on the school itself, but don’t be surprised if the word ‘Housing’ pops up a bit too quickly…

To learn more about the history of the Winklebury Hill Fort read my blog here

Kingsclere… Ah now it makes sense!

King John out hunting

For the past 7 years, my journey to work has taken me through the village of Kingsclere in North Hampshire. With its stunning example of a Norman church, a village centre of tidy streets full of examples of 16th – 18th Century houses, it feels an historic place, that may have had held some importance in the past.

To the south on the downs, are the stables which have bred champion racehorses, and as you drive over White Hill the connection with racing is clear to see with the gallops.
I have often wondered about the name Kingsclere, (as also Highclere & Burghclere are near by). ‘Clere’ often refers to a clearing but the ‘King’ part was intriguing.

Kingsclere montage

Ok… so maybe it’s not real shock to find out, that several Kings have been associated with the area, most notably King John, (r.1199 – 1216), who had a hunting lodge up on the slopes above the Village. While we’re in the solving mood, Clere relates to to ‘Clere Manor’ a Norman ancestral estate in the area. Keith Briggs in the Journal of the English Place-Name Society has much more detail on this.

About 2 years ago, I was researching the ancient Royal Forests of Hampshire, and there was one called ‘Freemantle’ which as far as I could tell was in this region. I remembered from an earlier walk near White Hill, a farm called ‘Freemantle’ we walked by, on the edge of North Oakley. These Royal Forests of the Norman period, like the New Forest, were a mixture of woodland and open spaces with hunting lodges for the Kings party to use. I guess the hunting party of a King was pretty free to roam where they wanted, so although there were inclosures, the boundaries were a bit fluid. I think there is a further blog for ‘Freemantle’ and the Royal forests to be written here…

So as normal, my first port of call was an O.S. map, and then check some historic examples online – National Library of Scotland’s database is a great one to cross reference. Sure enough, on the old maps, it says “Supposed site of King Johns House” marked close where the Hannington Radio mast is today. On later editions this seems to have been removed. From excavations, almost no building remains has been discovered there, but this site that has been rebuilt  and used several times, now with its transmitter station, and a resevoir. (Being on high ground there is also evidence of prehistoric activity, so it shouldn’t be a surprise this spot could have been prefered by King John).

The slopes of White Hill and by the Hannigton Radio mast, the site of King Johns Lodge?

OS 6 inch series 1888-1913

Where there is (literal) concrete evidence though is Johns Father, Henry II (r. 1154 -1159) who had earlier connections with the Kingsclere area… He is know to have developed a residence at nearby Tidgrove Manor. (There is even evidence of his wine order from 1176!). The remains of this house have been excavated and researched by  archaeologists from University of Southampton & The Kingsclere Heritage Asociation in recent years.  So we can speculate that John built the other property nearer Kingsclere as a lodge as he enjoyed hunting in the area and visiting so much. He has a Castle near Odiham too.

As for other Kings, In the 13th Century, John’s son Henry III, (r.1216 – 1272), improved and enlarged Tidgrove, which was being called “Freemantle” by this time, and his son Edward I kept ties, but with the passing of time they were less inclined to visit as other matters of state and rebellions took their attention! The records show The lands of Freemantle were still shown to bepart of the Crown Estate at the time of Queen Elizabeth I, but the land was held by Trustee’s before Lord Cottington (1579 – 1652) acquired the land, ideally placed between his two large estates of Hanworth and Tisbury near Salisbury.
Today its ‘Cottington’s Hill’ that can be seen clearly marked on O.S, maps.

Kingsclere hasn’t really changed that much. Its grown a little with time, has a by-pass and is pleasant to wander around if you have some spare time. But the best connection to its royal heritage today would be a walk along from White Hill to Cannon Heath Down. Theres a good chance you’ll catch the race horses training. Afterall its ‘the sport of Kings’.

If you want to read more on Tidgrove’s and Freemantle’s history see here.

Recent excavations near Tidgrove by Southampton University


Battledown, (and the Battle of Aclea)

Quiet fields between Basingstoke & Oakley – Now… © Nigel Smith

Close to where I live now in Oakley Hampshire, the railway divides in 2 directions, at Battledown Flyover, for the South and the West Country. Battledown has been well known to train buffs for over century. But what of the name, and could Battledown be a plausable site for the ancient The Battle of Aclea?

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes a battle in 851 between invading Vikings landing around the Thames, against Beorhtwulf The King of Mercia, and then King Aethelwulf of the West Saxons. The West Saxons whilst coming to the aid of their saxon ‘Brothers’ strengthened their own influence with their victory against the Danes at Aclea . (Aethelwulf’s son Alfred, would later galvinise the saxons further leading the first recognisable ‘English’ kingdom as we know it, with his capital at Winchester Hampshire.

There has been much specution about where the battle took place but no one has been able to confirm for sure the exact location. Aclea meant ‘Oak field or glade’ and Ockley in Surrey, an Oakley in Bedfordshire and Water Oakley in Berkshire are all suggested candidates for this battle.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reference is as an event, but it doesn’t give exact hints of location. From the point of view of the Vikings landing in the East from the Thames direction, Surrey and Kent would seem likely… However from the Thames, the course of the Viking insurgecy went west, across Bedford, Surrey & Berkshire. There was no M4 corridor then, so a skirmish could have easily meandered!

area-mapOakley, Hampshire’s location in South England

It was in the late Victorian period the idea of Oakley Hampshire being a possibilty was raised. In a letter to The Hampshire Chronicle Newspaper in 1884, Charles Cooksey explained why he felt the setting for the battle was in Hampshire. In 1910 Charles Oman’s book ‘England before the Norman Conquest’ also highlighted Oakley a possible site. Philologist Richard Coates relection on the Anglo Saxon Chronicle in 1989 also felt Oakley had some mileage away from the Ockley in Surrey location. The arguements have carried on being debated, and is still not convincing to everyone. ‘Surrey Medieval’ blog in 2013 still has it’s concearns against this evidence.

So why do I think Battledown could be the scene of the battle? As said, I’m no way the first person to suggest it should be considered a possiblity. The point is no-one can really be sure 100% sure of the location.


Ancient routes near Oakley in location to ‘Battledown’

The Place has got history…

The location of Battledown is important. The Romans built a road from Silchester to Winchester, and we still use this route today (A33). But older than that is ‘The Harrow Way’ which intersects the Roman road at Battledown. This ancient trackway form part of ‘The Old Way’ from the Neolithic period. (The Neolithic hillfort Winklebury camp is also a couple of miles north which you can read in another blog of mine).

Oakley is 16 miles north of Winchester the Wessex capital, less than half a days ride. According to F.H. Baring, he believed several Synod’s of West Saxons, had been held at Acleah in 782 & 789 in Hampshire. An article of ‘Roots.Web’ suggests  A West Saxon Witenagemot or a ‘Kings Council’ I read of took place in 824 during King Egbert’s reign.

I think it is fair to say it was probably a good place to ‘convene’ with its trackways still primary routes across the Kingdom of Wessex.

It is said there was a battle that was fought there in 904 AD when Ethelwulf defeated the Danes, (after a previous battle recorded in 871 againgst the Danes, which had been lost.
In Basingstoke this area is still called ‘Daneshill’ to the North East). King Alfred followed later, but the historic battles with the Danes would have been an influence in his shaping as a King of Wessex.

The area of Battledown today  © Nigel Smith

The Roman road, towards the Winchester direction is marked by the trees on the left.

© Nigel Smith

I don’t wish to get all mystical about the setting, but if you walk or cycle across this spot, (which I recommend just for it peace and subtle beauty), It feels very believable that a battle took place here. As time has progressed, the fact is other sites have gained credability in accademia maybe just because of their logical convenience to London. Oakley has, on the face of it, just become a dormant setting away from the action. I just go back to my original nagging thought, Why has the name ‘Battledown’ endured?




Winklebury, The oldest settlement in Basingstoke?


Its not easy to imagine how one of the post-war development areas of Basingstoke is actually one of the oldest settlements, but the signs are there with the remains of an Iron Age fort and a Roman Road.

Our first house we brought was on a housing estate in Winklebury, on the North western edge of Basingstoke. The imaginatively titled ‘Roman Road’ marked a distinctive boundary to the town, with fields beyond, and when looking for a place to live, we liked the proximety to open countryside. I could also see on the maps an earthwork feature which gave its name to the area.

fortclose up
1897 Ordanance Survey Map of Winklebury

Approaching Basingstoke from the A339, the fort still rises above the housing around it. In the past it would have been noticable on the gentle slope and a good strategic point.
The hillfort dates from the Iron Age. Excavations that were carried out in the 1970’s indicate it being established around the 6th Century BC, and possibly earlier. Hillforts weren’t always used as a ‘fort’ as we think of them, but certainly as a means of defending supplies and livestock. The evidence suggests that the defences were strengthened again
in the 3rd Century BC.

The roman road from Silchester to Winchester ran close to the fort and they may have utilized the enclosure. There are several roman sites in the area and a stone coffin was found on ‘Winklebury Hill’ with a skeleton. “Fred” can now be visited in The Willis Museum in Basingstoke, where he will tell you a little bit about his life!

After the Romans left, the site continued through the years to be used for various farming needs. From the medieval period through to the post war development, we can see the evolution of the name. It was always an area ‘away’ from the town, maybe a happily neglegted cluster of small holdings which didn’t rouse the attention of the authorities. ‘Bury’ meaning fort and was also a name of a farm, till the housing arrived in the 60’s.

An early photo of the scrubland nature of Winklebury in 1902

Below  is an aerial photograph of Winklebury before World War 2, with the old A339 Newbury Road, east to west (Now Wellington Terrace), and ‘Roman Road’ running north to South.

Wink then

Thankfully much of the original boundaries to the earthwork have survived, although eroded. The Fort Hill School being built within the ring has also protected the boundaries to a degree. The ring is now a Scheduled  Ancient Monument.


This southern section of the ramparts is a scramble up from ‘Corfe Walk’, Winklebury.
You get some sense of the elevation, which is lost on the northern edge.

You wonder how many of the locals really know about their bit of heritage. Thankfully there are dedicated group of residents who have set up a project group The raise awareness and maintain the structure with the help of English Heritage, The School and The Councils. Thankfully, there can’t be any more building around the ring, but it’s an important landmark to keep preserving.