The weather forecast for today is sunny and hot so we thought we should make the most of it. For our planned destination we take the train at Waterloo and, knowing how crowded this station is likely to be on a Saturday, with long queues for tickets, we bought ours yesterday evening on the way home from work. It was just as well, then, that the weather was fine, as forecast
On the bus, we fell to talking about all sorts of things and thus managed to miss our stop. We jumped off at the stop opposite the Cambridge in Charing Cross Road and were lucky to get a bus that took us to Waterloo.
We reached Waterloo 10 minutes before our train was due to depart and so we just had time to buy sandwiches and a cold drink by way of breakfast. We have eaten these as the train starts its journey into Hampshire. The sun is shining as forecast but there are also big white clouds in the sky which from time to time hide the sun. The temperature is mild rather than warm but that may change as the day progresses. In any case, neither of us likes extreme heat.
As usual, I dozed off and awoke with a start as they announced our destination, Petersfield. This little town is just inside Hampshire, near the border with West Sussex.
According to official history, the town was developed in the early 12th century. The name seems to come from the chapel around which the town grew and which was called “St Peter’s in the Fields”. There exists a rich variety of buildings of different ages in Petersfield. Many have changed usage during its history, like the pair above which were once dwellings and whose ground floors have become commercial premises.
We walked down from the station and arrived in Chapel Street. This looks like the high street of any small market town but that is only one aspect of Petersfield, as we soon discovered.
Despite the pub’s sign that shows a military drum, the sort that you beat with drumsticks, the real Drum from which the pub takes its name is the stream that runs beside it.
The sandwich we had eaten for breakfast was not sufficient for a day’s explorations so we repaired to the local branch of the Poppins chain of cafes for an omelette lunch. Thus fortified, we set out to wander the streets of what soon turned out to be a pretty and intriguing town.
We soon began to discover items of interest. For example, there was this substantial building dating from 1530 and apparently still in good robust order. Once a farmhouse, it was later owned by two mayors of Petersfield, Thomas Osbourne (1591) and Thomas Walker (17th cent). Today, as is often the case, it has been invaded by businesses.
The above house stands on an open space known simply as The Square, and it is here that the market takes place. It was in full swing when we arrived. You may notice an equestrian statue in the middle of it. I will come back to that later.
This old police station has flints incorporated into the cladding, something that is very common in this area. Petersfield buildings show an immense range of styles and building materials. There is something new around every corner.
Here we have a building that claims a date of 1580. Called Toby’s Cottage and today divided into two, it seems to be resisting the depredations of time well, despite a little subsidence at one end.
We saw a sign for “Heath Pond and Millennium Walk” and decided to take a look. Our way led along Sussex Road, which was lined with a wide variety of houses, including old cottages with low doorways. One in particular attracted my attention.
I saw that this neat cottage had a sign over the door and, at first sight, it looked like a Masonic symbol, such as a drawing instrument. A closer look showed that it was really the monogram “AJ”.
At the top appear the initials “N · S · I · B” (or is the third letter a ‘T’?). I might have thought these were the initials of the architect or owner but for the fact that it says “EST[ablished] 1860”, suggesting that the NSIB is a society or organization of some sort. I have no idea what it might have been.
We later visited the museum and I took the opportunity to ask there about the house and its sign. They were unable explain the sign there and then but took my email address and promised to let me know if they discovered anything. If new information emerges, I will add an update to this post.
A short walk later, we arrived at Heath Pond, a beautiful pond or lake with greenery all around it. The Millennium Walk is a trail that runs around the pond. We didn’t have time to follow it but I imagine it’s a pleasant stroll.
There were wild fowl on the pond, including ducks, coots and Canada geese. The latter were all out in the middle of the pond, apparently holding a conference, but the ducks and coots were busy around the edge.
I started by photographing some coots and found they were not at all timid. Despite this, I was still startled by what happened next.
Far from the coots being nervous of us, we suddenly found ourselves the object of a coot rush! They came right off the water and ran up the bank to us. They obviously expected us to feed them. I have never seen coots behave like this before.
Fortunately, we had some seeds and the coots were soon gobbling it up. Naturally, it wasn’t long before the ducks joined in.
The ducks were bolder than the coots and at least one of them was willing to eat out of my hand. One of the coots did so at first but then suddenly became less brave and wouldn’t do it again.
There is boat hire and a children’s playground and I have heard that there is a cafe though I didn’t see one.
We returned to town by a rather circuitous route which took us through The Spain, a curiously named area with a green surrounded by houses. Various theories have been advanced to explain the name but none seem indisputable. At one point it was called Spyne, so perhaps “Spain” emerged as a popular over-correction.
Many famous and interesting people have lived in Petersfield and here, in The Spain, is the house of John Goodyer (1592-1664) of botanical fame.
We found ourselves back at The Square where we stopped for coffee. Nearby is the church the gave its name to the town. Dating from Norman times, it has of course, been modified and added to during the centuries. You will find some information about it here and here.
I spotted this cattle trough and added it to my collection. The dedication on the side shows it was donated as an individual gift. There is an inscription along the side and although it’s a little eroded, I think it reads as follows: “PRESENTED BY J D MONEY COUTTS 1882”.
We visited Petersfield Museum which is sited in what was once the old magistrates’ court. As a museum it is quite small but well stocked and arranged with care. Photography, unfortunately, was not allowed. You know my opinion of this if you have read my other posts on the subject.
At the end of the High Street, just before its junction with the picturesquely named Dragon Street, stands the War Memorial. This commemorates those who died in the First World War but has additional plaques for those who died in later conflicts, including WWII and Afghanistan.
On a wall in Dragon Street is this handsome map of Petersfield executed as a mosaic. Made by Rosalind Wates, it celebrates what was seen as an important event in the life of the town in 1994 – the completion of the by-pass. Having seen towns degraded by constant streams of heavy traffic running through them, I have some idea of what a relief this must have been for the townsfolk.
Opposite the map was a bus stop where we caught a bus and went for a ride. It brought us, an hour later, to Havant. If you pass through the inevitable shopping centre, you arrive at West Street in the older part of town. Once part of the Roman Road from Wickham to Chichester, it has been reduced to a “precinct” in modern times.
The church is said to date from the 12th century, though it was extensively rebuilt in the 19th century. Foundations of a Roman building have been found beneath it. Perhaps is was a tavern for travellers or a temple.
We had a quick look around and then sneaked into Caffé Nero which was getting ready to close. On jaunts such as this outside London, you have to take care to find out the time of the last bus or you are likely to be stranded, as has happened to us a couple of times. The Londoner is apt to forget that the buses go to bed early in some parts… With bus travel, you at least get a chance to see the landscape through which you are passing and sometimes that gives you ideas of places to visit another time.
We caught the bus back to Petersfield and prospected for dinner. The Indian restaurant was booked up so we ended up at PizzaExpress. At least the food there is reliable and the service amiable as long as you don’t mind being continually addressed as “guys”.
After dinner we went for a last walk around and were able to have an uncluttered view of the equestrian statue that I mentioned earlier. This was commissioned by the Jolliffes, a principal family in Petersfield, with a bequest from the will of Sir William Jolliffe who died in 1749. It seems they were rather keen to advertise their Protestant credentials and a memorial to King William seemed a good way to do it. There is a suitably sycophantic inscription in Latin which is today accompanied by an English translation.
Before turning back to the station, we took a stroll down Sheep Street, a sloping street containing picturesque old houses, some of which go back to the 15th century. Number 18, in the centre of the photo has an interesting feature, though you need to be sharp-eyed to spot it: the upper storey is faced, not with bricks but with “mathematical tiles”. These are designed to give the appearance of bricks but are tiles nonetheless.
There are various theories as to why mathematical tiles were used and perhaps different reasons apply in different cases. One reason was to avoid the brick tax imposed in 1784 to help pay for debts incurred fighting the War of American Independence. (The tax was repealed in 1850.) Another is that the tiles can be used to give an old house a “modern” appearance of brick but are easier and cheaper to apply. The tiles may be glazed and this gives them good weather-proofing.
We had not been to Petersfield before. It was very much a case of going there to see what, if anything, there was to see. We were not disappointed. Petersfield is a pretty town, full of interesting traces of its long history. While we saw a few of its treasures, I am sure there are many that we missed such as the Physic Garden. Perhaps we will return to improve our acquaintance with this pleasing town.