On New Year’s Day 1853, one hundred and seventy years ago, those who lived and worked in the village of Aldershot had no inkling of what was soon to transpire. The talk then was all about the awful weather: the past six months had been the wettest since records began and the severity of the winter bringing floods all along the Thames valley.
At the start of 1854, when the three bells rang out from the belfry of the Church of St Michael the Archangel, the future of the village was all but cast.
With Parliament still prorogued, the House of Commons had not yet given its approval for the funds to purchase Aldershot Common, as Chancellor Gladstone had insisted. However, Commander-in-Chief Viscount Hardinge had secured the support of his Cabinet colleagues to establish a military camp on the Hampshire/Surrey heathlands. With the approach of war to defend Turkey from Russian aggression itself almost certain, the prospects of securing Parliamentary endorsement seemed assured.
The ‘Commoners’, the landowners in the parish, led by Charles Barron Esq., had agreed in principle to sell to the Government – although the haggling was not yet done, no price had been agreed.
Those two men, Hardinge and Barron, played by far the larger part in matters that would soon establish the Camp at Aldershot.
The Iron Duke had died in 1852 and perhaps had never heard of the place; it can also be argued that the camp might not been established had he lived on a further few years.
Similarly, Charles Barron Esq is another name that deserves more recognition on behalf of the landowners of Aldershot, more so than that of Samuel Eggar.
As is explained in the twelve monthly chapters of Before The Army Came, https://aldershotvillage.net, Samuel’s brother John Eggar came to own the largest copyhold estate in the parish in 1808 through inheritance from their uncle, Thomas Buddle.
John Eggar was undoubtedly very influential in the parish during the years that followed. Because of him, the Eggar family were one of the four yeoman families who took out the lease for the advowson and tithes, along with the Allden, Andrews and Tice families.
John Eggar, however, sold up in 1842, moving back to his home village of Bentley. He sold the ‘Great House’ and its estate to Matthew Bridges and disposed of the larger part of his copyhold farming lands to his younger brother Samuel.
Bridges later sold to the brother-in-law of Captain George Newcome who occupied what came to be known as ‘the Manor House’. Samuel’s nephews managed what also became known as ‘Manor Farm’. That reference was to the ‘Aldershot Manor Halimote’, not as grand as it sounds. Frederick Eggar, another of the nephews of John and Samuel Eggar, would later take over ‘Manor Farm’ and make claim to the ‘Aldershot Manor Halimote’.
In 1853, the Samuel Eggar was indeed one of the largest ‘Commoners’ who could vote to accept or reject the proposals from the Government’s Ordnance Department to buy the collectively owned Aldershot Common. However, he did not hold the largest vote, which was weighted by rateable value. It was Charles Barron who held property valued the largest, at £243. Barron owned the Aldershot Park estate as freehold, having been gifted that by his mother from his stepfather, along with the Grange Farm estate at Tongham. By 1853, James Elstone held property valued at £162 Richard Alden at £152 and Samuel Eggar, as absentee landlord of the residual ‘Manor Farm’, let to Henry Twynam, had property valued at £147.
Parliament would reassemble in February 1854 which was when the Ordnance Estimates were passed authorising £100,000 for the purchase of land and build of the Camp. In March Britain joined with France to declare war against Russia, the Government responding to continuing Russophobia amongst the public and pressure from the country’s newspapers.
Back in the village, there had been the basis for the two-thirds majority amongst the Commoners, led by Charles Barron, with Captain Newcome in the minority, for the purchase of the whole of Aldershot Common. This would have the proviso that the Ordnance also agreed to make alteration to some roads at their own expense.
Perhaps reflecting that change in mood, Charles Barron replaced Captain George Newcome in March 1854 to resume his role as Chairman of the Vestry. Captain Newcome was also replaced by James Elstone as one of the two churchwardens, although he was made an Overseer alongside Richard Allden.
Negotiations between representatives of the Commoners and the Ordnance Department were still underway in February 1855. Differences emerged in March 1855 between the Commoners and the Ordnance Department about the detail of the agreement for the purchase of Aldershot Common. The Ordnance were of the view that the £12 per acre for the Fee Simple included the enfranchisement that was due to the Lord of the Manor. The Commoners held contrary opinion, considering that it was for the Government to settle with the Winchester Dean and Chapter with respect to their rights. A stand-off ensured, the Committee appointed by the Commoners making plain that they would not carry out the agreement until that point was accepted.
Commissioner Blamire advised that reference to an independent jury would risk an increase in the price. He therefore recommended that the Government comply, noting that the Royal Engineers had declared one of the roads mentioned in the agreement to be an obstacle to their plans; if that could be removed from the agreement, then the obviated cost would outweigh payment to the Cathedral. The Commoners agreed to given up their claim to two roads, selling them at £12 per acre for an additional £101-5s., but retaining claim and ownership for the road from Sandy Pit to the Turnpike Road.
The routing of the public road to the Turnpike was changed in 1855, notice given in the Hampshire Chronicle in August of that year. Known as the ‘Coach Road’, it was diverted as it passed the house of George Finch, the father of Emanuel Finch who would later establish the firm of undertakers still known as E. Finch & Sons.