New Year’s Resolutions

The plan in telling the next episode in Aldershot’s history is to fast-forward to 1861, or possibly a bit before that Census date.

Many changes were already evident by 1857, as described at the end of this postscript. Several key events also took place in that year, at each of the inter-connected layers of the local, the national and the international.

As is told in the Introduction, mention of the name of the village, sometimes as ‘Aldershott’, greatly increased in the country’s newspapers during the years after 1854. This was in part due to its association with troops departing and returning from a war.

The talk of the prospect of entry into the war being waged between Russia and Turkey was everywhere at the start of 1854. War was seen as almost inevitable. The British and French Fleet, having entered the Black Sea via the Bosporus by Constantinople, were sailing around during January carrying Turkish troops to Sinope and other fortifications. The Russian Fleet were keeping themselves restricted to port at Sevastopol.

During February, newspapers were publishing columns headed ‘Preparations for War’, their contents listing various battalions making their way to embark at Plymouth, Portsmouth and Southampton.

By March 1854, Britain eventually joined with France to declare war against Russia, the Government responding to pressure from the country’s newspapers and continuing Russophobia amongst the public. Yet more details about the preparations for war appeared in the nation’s press. They included the formation of a Light Brigade, comprised of two squadrons formed from the 8th and 11th Hussars, the 17th Lancers and the 13th Light Dragoons; to be commanded by the Earl of Cardigan.

Not until September did British, French and Turkish troops attack Russia in the Crimea. The casualties began, prompting return of the injured. The burials of soldiers at St Michael’s Church in Aldershot and St Peter’s Church in Farnborough was followed by the opening of the Military Cemetery in 1856.

The peace treaty, to end what was by then termed the Crimean War, was signed in Paris in March 1856.

The Queen’s Address at the Opening of Parliament on 31 January 1854 made reference to what was still a war between Russia and the Ottoman Porte. Read on her behalf , her wish was “to preserve and to restore peace.” She stated that her Government would make “further Augmentation of My Naval and Military Forces, noting that the Estimates for the Year would be laid before the House of Commons, “with the Exigencies of the Public Service at this Juncture.”

The Government’s proposal for a net increase of 25 per cent in expenditure on the military gained Parliamentary approval in February. Those Estimates included two new items. One was a sum of £85,000 to be spent improving artillery practice at Woolwich; the other, as subsequently reported by the Sun, “was an item of £100,000 for the purchase of land at Aldershott for a camp, which was to be immediately enclosed.”

That was the month when Commander-in-Chief Viscount Hardinge personally “marked out the ground for 20,000 militia, 12,000 on the south side of the canal and 8000 on the north side.”

It would not be as simple as that. Viscount Hardinge had secured the initial finance he needed for a Camp at Aldershot, but all was not yet done. Negotiations with representatives of the Commoners were still underway

Led by Charles Barron, with Captain Newcome in the minority, there was the basis for the two-thirds majority amongst the Commoners in terms of rateable value required for the purchase of the whole of Aldershot Common. This would be with the proviso that the Ordnance Department 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 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.

In April 1854, the Army set about surveying the land on which the Camp would be built.

The Ordnance Department’s representative met with the Aldershot Commoners that September and agreed to purchase their rights for £28,882, the equivalent of £12 per acre, also agreeing to make certain roads at the expense of The Ordnance.

    • In a separate meeting, the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral indicated their wish to take their claim as the Lord of the Manor in the form of copyhold land, assessed at a level not exceeding £2,400. This land would subsequently be made over to Reverend George Sumner in 1856 as part of the Enclosure Allocation, regarded as freehold.

Differences then 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.

Meanwhile, the Government continued to secure land for military use additional to that of Aldershot Common, including a number of copyheld properties in Aldershot and extensive land in the Hampshire parishes of Crondall, Farnborough  and Yateley and the Surrey parishes of Ash and Farnham.

Commander-in-Chief Sir Henry Hardinge lived to see the Camp at Aldershot open in May 1855. He suffered a stroke in the following year and died that September.

The construction of the Camp had brought an influx of hundreds of builders, summoned by newspaper advertisements and handbills distributed across Hampshire.

As indicated, the plan is now to research and report on the impact of all of this upon the villagers.

The Population Census conducted in 1861 provides an obvious source for knowledge about the, both those incoming townsfolk and those who were present as villagers beforehand. There are, however, complications involved in the analysis of the enumeration books, not least that there are some pages missing for parts of the village around St Michael’s Church.

Some sense is also to be had from the Rate Books which show that the number of dwellings in the village had risen to 308 by 1857, up from a count of around 160 in 1853. A further 50 were being built. The population was estimated to have risen to more than two thousand.

    • Richard Allden and James Elstone had remained active on the Vestry. Reuben Attfield, still the Assistant Overseer, reported that a total of £552-8s.-7d was collected in 1857, up by almost 70 percent on the £325-14s.-5d collected in 1853.

By 1857 there were 43 places which sold beer; in 1853, there had been two public houses in the village, plus the Row Barge Inn up by the Wharf.

Enough for now to declare that ‘more research now need’, the result of which entitled, perhaps, as “Aldershot, Just After The Army Came.”