Wrecclesham’s Early History

Wrecclesham’s long history is evidenced by the discovery in the district of stone tools, Bronze age and Iron Age occupation sites and Roman pottery. It is possible that the original settlement would have developed more to the east of the present village where there was a convergence of tracks leading to the ford at the bottom of the hill. The Street did not become the main road as we understand it until the 1820’s although it would have been an important trackway in and out of the forest particularly when the Roman kilns were active.

By the 9th Century, the Bishops of Winchester had acquired the Manor of Farnham and Wrecclesham formed one of the smaller administrative divisions known as a ‘Tithing’. The original tithing included part of Rowledge, Boundstone and Upper and Middle Bourne. Weydon Mill, formerly at the end of Red Lion Lane in Farnham, but now demolished was also included. The name Wrecclesha m is Saxon in origin but its derivation is unclear. It may derive from the Old English word ‘wrecel’ denoting something driven away and has been interpreted as making Wrecclesham an area for outlaws or outcasts! Another suggestion is that it might have derived from a personal name.

The earliest known mention of Wrecclesham as a name is in 1225. Variations of the name are found with both c’s and k’s. It is ‘Worklesham’ in 1344 and ‘Racelsan’ in 1675. The local pronunciation, ‘Wracklesham’ has persisted into modern times.

Like much of the country Wrecclesham was severely affected by events such as the Black Death and the Civil War but recovery was aided by the range of farming land available, with meadows and wetlands by the river to lighter sandy soils further up the valley. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century hop growing was of particular importance to the local economy with the annual picking in September requiring a huge amount of casual labour. Gradually the village would have taken on the shape we recognise today. The oldest buildings date from the 15th and 16th centuries but as well as these, there are also those from the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Even the modern houses in the Street are often on the site of earlier properties which have now disappeared.

Until the construction of the Farnham to Petersfield Turnpike Road in the 1820’s the present A31 was the main route westwards and the journey to Petersfield was via Alton and Selborne. The road through Wrecclesham led out into the forest and the Street, appropriately was at one time referred to as ‘Holtstrete’.The turnpike required the construction of new stretches of road, including that from Coxbridge to the Street, replacing the narrow River Lane which had been the former way to the village. The new road was then continued through Alice Holt and on to Bordon and beyond.

The nineteenth century saw many improvements to the village, mainly at the instigation of the Bishop of Winchester. Charles Sumner. In 1840 the Vicar of St Andrews church, in Farnham, was asked to consider the provision of churches for both Wrecclesham and Hale. The land for the Church was given by William Pinke Paine, a wealthy local land owner. His son, John Manwaring Paine, who had a quarry at Dippenhall, gave the stone to build the church. The Church building cost £1442 which was met by grants and personal subscriptions of local people. Donations raised £1473. Significantly, the large majority were from Farnham residents who contributed 51% of the funds raised. Less than £7 (0.5%) was raised from Wrecclesham residents. However, this only represented part of the story. Many locals gave contributions in kind. The list of subscribers records that teams of horses were provided for the work by 14 farmers, which amounted to a contribution of 66 horse-days. 12 Wrecclesham men each donated one day’s labour to the building work and 22 others gave items towards the furnishing or fitting out of the church. The Church was opened and consecrated by Bishop Sumner on 15th July 1840, St Swithun’s Day.

A village school was built in the same year. The original school building was close to the church but this soon became overcrowded with local children, who had previously had little or no school opportunity. In 1859 the school was relocated to new buildings up the hill and just above the Church. Unfortunately this building was built on sand and became unstable and, in 1909, the school was again replaced to the site where it remains to this day.

Among the many initiatives designed to improve the quality of life for the residents was the introduction of a water supply and pump for the use of the village. The Almshouses were built in 1861. Sand and gravel had always been dug locally but the coming of the railway to Farnham in 1849 made transportation easier and much land including local hop grounds were given to this profitable venture. In 1872 Absalom Harris moved his local pottery business from the edge of the Alice Holt forest to its present site. The well-known Wrecclesham Pottery soon established a reputation which went far beyond the village.

During the first half of the 20th century, as agriculture lost its dominance so the village changed and light industry appeared. The pressure for housing led to large scale developments around the edge of the village, notably the large pre-war Woodcut and Broadwell estates and now more recently the Riverdale Estate and St Peter’s Gardens. Meanwhile Farnham was spreading its tentacles westwards and large housing estates emerged which almost totally filled the land which had previously provided a gap between Farnham and Wrecclesham.

Traffic through the village increased rapidly during the twentieth century. As well as the main road to Petersfield and Portsmouth, it was also the direct link between the army camps of Bordon and Aldershot. Widening of the Street has taken place from time to time to accommodate the traffic but with the planned growth of Bordon the case for a western by pass to take the traffic out of the village is becoming more and more necessary.

Some significant renovation projects have been carried out to properties in the Street. Albion Cottages has been revealed as an important historical property and restored. Turners Cottages, a terrace of very typical small village properties was acquired by the Farnham Buildings Preservation Trust and renovated. The Trust has also been active in the village. Firstly, by purchasing the Wrecclesham Pottery to preserve it, with a view to maintaining it in working order as a small pottery.

More recently, in 2014, the Trust purchased Yew Tree Cottage one of the oldest buildings in Wrecclesham, possibly late 16th century, although there is a reference to a previous dwelling on the site in 1361. For these and other reasons the centre of Wrecclesham, based upon the Street, has been designated by the local authority as a Conservation Area and enjoys special protection and enhancement.

(The information in this section has been largely adapted from an anonymous paper believed to be written by Pat Heather.)