Beech Parish
Beech Parish  

History Pages

History - From Farm to Village.

 

The earliest known reference to Beech as a separate entity is in records dated 1190 referring to land at “La Beche”. The Anglo-Saxon name of Tedena was first documented in 1168 and at that time the area of fertile land that represented Thedden was 1000 acres.

 

In 1233, the domain of Austin Canons - Selborne Priory was granted by Henry III to the Bishop of Winchester. The land comprising Thedden (and hence Beech) fell within that domain.  In 1484 this land was transferred to Magdalene College, Oxford.

 

A court roll, dated 1467, suggests the manor of Beche north of Chawton was to be divided and farmed by neighbouring farmers.

 

The first farm to be built in Beech was Wyards Farm, a red brick house of mediaeval foundation.. Wyards Farm is by far the oldest property in Beech, dating back to the 11th Century.  It assumed its present appearance in the 1680s except that, in the 18th century, sash windows were added though the leaded casements were retained. It is protected as a Grade II listed building. Wyards Farm is of particular interest in that it was well known to Jane Austen during the last two years of her life.  In 1815, it was a farmhouse, and part of it was rented by young Mr. and Mrs. Ben Lefroy. The latter had been Anna Austen, the daughter of Jane's eldest brother James. Anna was very close to Jane and was the author of Jane Austen’s biography.  

 

Two cottages were added to the Wyards Farm post WWII and some of the land was used to build two bungalows near to Medstead Road in the 1980s. The land around the curtilage of Wyards Farm forms the central part of the area covered by the non-coalescence policy BPC03 relating to Beech and Alton.

 

Beech Park Farm was built in 1503 by a John Carpenter who paid rent for lands to Thedden. Beech Park Farm had a donkey wheel enclosure added in the 18th century.  The well is said to be some 300 ft deep. This structure still stands across the road from the farm in Wellhouse Road and is listed.

 

Beech Park Farm is now renamed The Old Farmhouse. But confusingly Old Farm was a totally separate farming entity also dating from pre-Tudor times. It was a sister farm of Chawton Farm. Old Farm farmed the area in the gap between Bushy Leaze Wood and Medstead.   The land of Old Park Farm (as it is now called), south of Kings Hill, still exists as it was at the turn of the 16th Century, other than for some remains of parkland which was added at the turn of the 19th century. This land forms part of the area covered by the non-coalescence policy relating to Beech and Medstead.

 

Between 1655 and 1695 a number of farm cottages known as Wellhouse Cottages were built. The historic listed house Norton Bavant was a later addition.  The land it occupies was not built on when sold in 1857.

In 1808 at a public auction, Thedden, by then consisting of 369 acres of arable land and 116 acres of coppice land was bought by Admiral Sir Laurence Halsted, who used his prize money to build a new mansion incorporating the previous manor and renamed it Phoenix Lodge, after his ship, and it remains much the same today. He added a coach house, two large walled kitchen gardens and a Home Farm. He also laid out the parkland following the fashion of the time, with rolling lawns that came up to the house, and trees planted in clumps and individually. In 1835 an industrialist, John Wood, purchased the property renaming it Thedden Grange.  Between 1838 and 1844 John Wood built a new drive from Keepers Lodge (on the Basigstoke Road) to bypass the steepness of Snode Hill. John Wood was a national figure having brought in the First Factory Act which reduced the hours of child labour. He was also responsible for building the New Odiham Road and getting the railway to run via Alton through to Winchester.

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One of the first examples of the village name Beech is in Greenwood's map of Hampshire dated 1826, which shows a "Beech Farm" between "Wivelet" (the current Wivelrod) to the west, and "Wellhouse" to the east, now Wellhouse Road in the current Civil Parish of Beech. This is likely to be John Carpenter’s 1503 homestead.

 

In 1892 Magdalene College sold the land encompassing Beech Park Farm to William Carter who proceeded to sell off small parcels of land for housing - much of it built in the low-cost "colonial" style of wood and corrugated iron. Some 50 plots were sold but few still survive. As the map shows, the village Recreation Ground was donated to the village at this stage.

 

In 1894 part of the land to the west of Kings Hill was given to form Alton Abbey. Completed in 1904 the Abbey still exists as a religious community. As such the Ecclesiastical Exemptions apply.

The Abbey, whilst Church of England, was not focused on the local community of Beech but on its own life of prayer, its overseas work and a social ministry to ‘men of the road’ and distressed seamen, over 30,000  of whom had been helped by 1936. The work continues to this day.

 

In 1901 a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was established in Beech; though never a large community it was an enthusiastic one. The chapel was situated at the current entrance to the Recreation Ground. It reportedly had a school for some of its time, the only record of an educational establishment in Beech.  The Chapel was sold in 1938. 

 

Back in 1902 a Commander Anstis gave a plot of land for church use opposite his house on Wellhouse Road. The Mission was built in the wooden style of many of the ‘settlement’ cottages and clad with painted corrugated iron. The bell, which was cast in 1871, came from one of Commander Anstis’ early ships – the Tagus. In 1926 the official name changed from ‘Beech Mission’ to ‘St Peter’s Beech’ but it took until 1974 before the church became licenced to conduct weddings.

 

The end of the 19th century also saw the first commercial activity in Beech. In 1894, having bought the land that is now the Village Hall grounds, Vaux and Crampton’s photo-engraving works located to Beech. The printing works closed in 1904. The Beech Brickworks bought the land opposite and was in operation until 1909. From 1903 to 1914 a garden nursery operated out of Nursery Gardens in Wellhouse Road. The nursery specialised in fir trees and many of the conifers in the village originate from that time.

In 1898 an off licence was opened at 26 Medstead Road. The house and off license was sold to Courage Brewery in 1905.  A general store was added and this survived till the late 1970s. In late 1920 Courage spent some £300 on plans and approval to build a pub on the grounds of what is now 41 Medstead Road only for the plan to be rejected at a village meeting.

 

During the inter-war years growth continued. In 1922, 75 freeholds were listed. In 1931 the property that was the old printing works was acquired and reshaped as the village hall, part of which still forms the current building. A local bus service was introduced, and in 1936 electricity came to Beech.

 

After World War I, the people of Beech took care of what we now call infrastructure. A certain Mr Mills was employed to maintain the roads and keep the drainage ditches open. A Mr Snellock had a car repair shop and petrol pump at 51 Medstead Road. The village ran its own health insurance scheme at the equivalent of 17.5p per annum (£7.20 at today’s prices). It was great value as it included access to a midwifery service. In 1920 at 25 Medstead Road there was a tuberculosis ward associated with Lord Mayor Treloars Hospital. 

Three competing bus companies ran services in the 1930s. The cricket and gardening clubs flourished.

After the war the population growth continued, and water mains arrived in 1952.

 

Development continued at such a rapid pace in the early 1960s that the local planning authority considered suspending planning applications in Beech because of sewerage issues. By 1964, just over 110 homes were registered. Mains sewage did not arrive till 1975 and mains gas in 1994. In addition to the building of new properties, the original colonial-style housing was generally being replaced by larger modern detached houses of high value.

 

In 1985, as part of a countrywide review, the Rural Dispensation Committee adjudicated that Beech was a distinct community and should not be considered as part of the Alton urban area. The Beech Parish Council was eventually created in 1999.

 

In 2001 Beech had 197 homes and 535 residents. The first Village Design Statement was published in 2002. This was an inspired document. Its guidelines included protecting views, trees and hill sides and restricting 'backland development '. It identified the need for parking provision and on-site turning circles. The statement sought official recognition of the gap between Alton and Beech. It called for traffic speed calming and better drainage measures.

 

In 2006 EHDC Local Plan Second Review recognised that, within a designated area of Beech, plot sizes should be maintained at a minimum of 0.2 hectares, to ensure that the character of the area is not harmed.

Thanks to the generosity of local inhabitants in an appeal for funding, supported by the National Lottery, a new Village Hall began construction in 2008 and opened in 2010.

 

In 2012 a Village Parish Plan was produced. It called for faster broadband speeds and better mobile phone signals.  It identified the need for a 20 mph speed limit on Medstead Road, and for the building of smaller homes. The plan emphasised the need to formalise the gap between Beech and Alton, and called for play areas on the Village Hall green and the Recreation Ground (these play areas are now well established).

 

The parish continues to grow as a residential area with a large percentage of professionals working from home. Between 2001 and 2015 planning permission was granted for a further 21 homes, which have subsequently been completed.  


 

We are located at:

Beech Village Hall

Beech

Alton

Gu34 4AQ

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© Anthony Ransley