There's no place like... Alton

A historic market town ideally placed for commuters, Alton offers Georgian splendour, excellent shopping and easy access to the countryside, says Jill Belcher

Alton has been a sought-after place to live since Neolithic times and today its popularity shows no signs of waning.

Favoured by the Romans as a place to cross the River Wey, it was named Aewieluntun, the village of the great spring, by Saxon residents, after the head springs of the river, north of the present town.Pilgrims walking from Winchester to Canterbury stopped here and King Edward II granted Alton a charter in 1307, enabling it to hold an annual fair.In December 1643 the town’s St Lawrence’s Church was the scene of a massacre of Royalist soldiers by Roundheads and the scars of that battle remain in the form of slashes and dents on the church door.  Alton became known for weaving and among its products was bombazine, a mixture of worsted and silk used in mourning. Tanneries, paper-making, and wood-carving thrived and the town’s prosperity is reflected in the gorgeous Georgian buildings which we enjoy today.There are the well-preserved Geale’s Almshouses on the north side of Church Street, given by Thomas Geale in 1653 to house eight poor people who were born in Alton. The town’s former workhouse, built in 1793 for the unfortunate poor, is now the centre of a much more enlightened and comfortable sheltered housing scheme for the elderly.The Swan Hotel, in the town centre, is a 16th century coaching inn popular with shoppers as a place for coffee but also much favoured by the infamous ‘hanging’ Judge Jefferies. Two hundred years ago, Alton became a prominent centre for brewing.Alton’s history is displayed at the Curtis Museum, one of the finest local history collections in Hampshire and the Allen Gallery has one of the south’s most outstanding ceramics collections.Today the town’s superb selection of individual retailers and national names are a magnet for shoppers for miles around, and the market tradition continues with weekly markets every Tuesday in the High Street as well as Alton Friday Market at the community centre and Alton Farmers’ Markets monthly in the High Street.Alton is also a magnet for lovers of steam, as the Watercress Line, which runs from Alresford via Medstead and Four Marks, offers a train ride back into time. But modern-day commuters need not despair – Alton’s mainline station will get you into London Waterloo in just over an hour!Drivers find its position ideal, as it’s just 20 minutes to Farnham on the A31 and less than a dozen miles to the M3 and Basingstoke.Alton’s town council are an active group and this month are holding Alton Yuletide Festival, complete with miniature donkeys and reindeer and a French market on Sunday, December 5.If you decide to move to Alton, you will be joining a list of distinguished residents, including the recently beatified Cardinal Newman, who wrote Lead Kindly Light, and Faerie Queene poet Edmund Spenser. Not to mention a certain Miss Austen, whose home was just outside the town in Chawton...

SchoolsRated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted for two consecutive inspections, Alton College is one of the country’s top sixth form colleges. Leading independent Catholic day school, Alton Convent School takes girls from two to 17 years and has a mixed sixth form. At Long Sutton, Lord Wandsworth College is a co-educational boarding and day school for students aged from 11 to 18 years. Local state schools are generally good and above average.

Close byEasily-accessible countryside, including the Alice Holt Forest and Woodland Park, the 21-mile Hangers Way (which starts at Alton railway station), lots of lovely country pubs in nearby villages and, of course, Jane Austen’s home at Chawton.

Why we love Alton

Maggie Tesolin and her husband, Tiziano, own and run Bottega dei Sapori in the centre of Alton, and moved to Alton in 1995 after running a very successful restaurant in St Peter Port, Guernsey.“We chose Alton as I grew up in a small village nearby and my parents still live there,” says Maggie. “We felt that Alton needed an Italian restaurant at the time and set up the Osteria Antica in Amery Street which we ran for about eight years, until the lease came up.“By this time we had our son, Francesco, and decided it would be better for ourselves and Alton to open an upmarket coffee/retail shop where people could buy quality Italian products. “We like Alton because it is a friendly, safe environment with a lot of history and community spirit and everything you require for day-to-day living. There is a very diverse mixture of people and ages, all the independent shop owners all try hard to help each other out by supporting and promoting each other which gives a great feeling of community.”“There are good recreational facilities to keep all ages amused. We’re very lucky because everything is close at hand. Over the years I have come to realise how many interesting and talented people live or have lived in Alton and the surrounding area so it definitely must inspire a lot of people.”

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Superb location for commuters Wide variety of homes Excellent range of shops Close to countryside Beautiful architecture