The Bishop’s Waltham Society was formed in 1986 in response to the scale and pace of change at that time. In the 1940s and 1950s Bishop's Waltham had a sad air of decay and dereliction and it was even the subject of an article entitled 'The Town that is Dying' in The Illustrated magazine in April 1953.
In the following two decades many old properties were demolished in the town centre to make way for new development and car parking. Properties were also demolished to build the town’s bypass and new estates were built around the edges of the town. Gradually Bishop's Waltham began to thrive again. By the mid-1980s it was a very popular place, and property prices and development pressures were increasing substantially.
These included some major development proposals which threatened the historic and semi-rural character of the town, and it was in response to these threats that a small group of people – including Trevor Harvey, Judith Fairhurst, Alan Inder, John Hayter and Alan Bretherton – held a public meeting at which the decision to form the society was taken. Trevor Harvey was to become the first chairman of the Bishop’s Waltham Society and in 2016, as part of the Society’s 30th anniversary celebrations, he wrote an article for our newsletter that explained the prompts for its formation (read his account here).
One early successes was saving Southbrook House from demolition to make way for a new Co-operative supermarket. Although outwardly a Victorian house, its walls concealed a much older building (see below). We fought for the building's retention and restoration as part of a development scheme which permitted some small shops and new housing within its old grounds.
Southbrook House as it looks today
We also planted the trees and shrubs along the B3035 road to Corhampton, worked with Hampshire County Council to turn the disused railway line into a public footpath (now the Pilgrim’s Trail), and surveyed the entire Parish by dividing it into 40 separate sectors and recording the character and individual environmental features of each area. In the interest of local wildlife, we started a Barn Owl Box Scheme to try to maintain the local population of barn owls. We also planted daffodil bulbs by the ponds and trees on the Ridgemede estate.
Over time, we have donated several thousand pounds to projects, such as the purchase of the Moors SSI, as well as Claylands and Dundridge local nature reserves. Substantial donations were also made to the purchase and erection of the town clock in St George’s Square around the turn of the Millennium.
More recent history
In 2010 the Society voted, at its Annual General Meeting, to oppose plans by Sainsbury’s to open a new superstore adjacent to the Palace and the South Pond and to work with the Bishop’s Waltham Action Group (BWAG) who were leading the fight against these plans. Many Society members became involved and joined in protests held in Winchester.
A BWAG petition with 4,500 signatures was presented to the Leader of Winchester City Council. The Society’s then chairman, Roddy Roddis, is on the left wearing a boater
A print out of the petition is unrolled outside the Guildhall in Winchester in April 2011
Also in 2011, in partnership with Bishop’s Waltham Museum, we published a book called The Changing Face of Bishop’s Waltham by Alan Inder. Its 100 pages are crammed with ‘before and after’ photographs of the town, supported by an informative text that explains the changes that have happened. Published before Christmas 2011, it had sold out within about a year. A completely revised edition was published in 2017 (see Publications for details).
The 2011 edition
In 2012 we were approached by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) to be part of their on-going research into the significance of local food chains within small town economies. CPRE had already studied a number of towns across the country but this particular piece of work was designed to understand the impact of the proposed new Sainsbury superstore in the CPRE’s first ever ‘before and after’ pair of studies. However, since plans for the superstore were first postponed and then dropped, only the first part of the study was partially completed.
In early 2013, we were contacted to see if the town wished to apply for a £100,000 Mary Portas Pilot Study grant offered by the government. We immediately took the lead in the formation of Bishop’s Waltham Town Team, which included representatives of the Parish Council, the Chamber of Trade, the Bishop’s Waltham Museum Trust and Bishop’s Waltham in Bloom, and later Winchester City Council and Hampshire County council. The team had just two weeks to make a bid which had to include a video (this six minute video is viewable here).
In fact two bids were made during 2013 and although neither was successful, the Team was awarded £10,000 which allowed it to employ a Market Towns Development Officer, Heidi Isa. The Society’s chairman, Tony Kippenberger, chaired the Town Team for its first five years and we continue to actively support the Town Team with one of our trustees, Robin Shepherd, being its current chairman.
In 2015, we worked with the Town Team to provide background information and support for the “Road to Agincourt” celebration of Henry V’s two-week stay at the Palace in 1415, as the King and his army prepared to embark for France. A video of the event, at the Palace, is available on YouTube. It was a remarkable example of cross-community collaboration (as the acknowledgements at the end of the video illustrate).
For more recent and current activities, see Our Activities.