Whitchurch, Hampshire. A historic town sat on the River Test close to to the Wiltshire/Hampshire border.
A pretty place with a rich history, Whitchurch is also located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The Starting Point
We began at a local landmark: Whitchurch Silk Mill. I am fascinated by the idea of a silk mill , it seems incredibly luxe. I know many British town built their fortunes on textiles, but I’d usually think cotton or wool. Silk? Not so much.
Turns out there is a whole world and history of British silk production. But that’s another story, for another post. Let’s stick with the lovely Whitchurch for now.
Whitchurch Silk Mill
The story of the silk mill begins in 1817, when silk merchant William Maddick purchased an existing mill and reinvented it for silk production. He added a middle floor here, a mill pond there and he was in business.
The mill’s fortunes have fluctuated over the years. In the 1870’s a local draper bought the mill at auction, held in the White Hart Hotel. It’s still going today. You can’t miss it; just look for the impressive corner exterior and huge white deer mounted up on the roof.
Under new local ownership, the mill entered a period of prosperity. It wove silk for Burberry, producing linings for the iconic Burberry raincoats. By the 1970’s , production had switched under new owners to the production of Ottoman silk for legal and academic gowns.
Eventually, the mill fell into disrepair. The people of Whitchurch weren’t ready to give up on the much loved local landmark. The fabric of the mill was rescued by Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust (HBPT), whilst the Whitchurch Silk Mill Trust devised plans to secure the mill’s future and the survival of traditional production methods.
The mill today, with the adjacent Silk Cottage, is a pretty local landmark. The millpond is now home to ducks and fish, with the grounds around them creating a tranquil garden space. There are events, exhibitions, a cafe and a shop.
And you can still buy genuine Whitchurch silk here, produced traditionally and sold locally. Isn’t that a lovely happy ending for the old place?
The mill is also the starting point for the Mill Trail, a lovely looking walk that takes in four mills, river views and a handful of other historic buildings. We set out to follow the trail but- if you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll know how this goes- we forged our own route.
Would you like to know what we found in Whitchurch when we sort-of-but-didn’t-quite walk the Whitchurch Mill Trail?
C’mon them. I’ll show you.
Woodland & Fields
From the mill we wandered through the edge of Whitchurch and out into the fields alongside the River Test. I’ve said it before and will again, but these walks make me feel very lucky to live here. The English countryside is just glorious.
Following recent heat wave conditions, the land is looking a bit parched. But there is still beauty and colour and all the signs of good things to come. Apple trees are laden and the hedgerows bursting with a bumper blackberry crop.
Anyone for homemade cordials and crumbles?
Being so close to the military heavy Wiltshire, no one batted an eye lid when a couple of helicopters started flying low above us. Noisy and out of keeping with the bucolic views, but impressive. I call these ‘twos-ers’ on account of the double rotors, but I’m told they are Chinooks. So now I know.
Bere Mill & Farm
The countryside wandering brought us out at Bere Mill. This is another bit of local history that has survived, reinvented and then woven itself into the heart of modern Whitchurch.
The original mill was founded by Henri de Portal for paper production. A Huguenot refugee, Portal went on to produce paper of such a high quality that he ended up supplying to the Bank of England. He died in 1747 and is buried locally.
The mill is now a private home with gardens and a farm. The farming side of things has gone back to traditional methods that are in keeping with the unique natural setting. Read more about that here.
After the mill, an old brickwork bridge took us over the water and back into Whitchurch. Both the bridge and mill look equally historic, but only the bridge has true age. Bere Mill and house were destroyed by fire in 2018. What is seen today is the result of comprehensive reconstruction.
Homes & Garden, Whitchurch Style
I love admiring homes and gardens. The whole world is one big, real life Pinterest board to me and I do like a bit of a lurk. Whitchurch is good lurking territory. I’m aware that sounds a bit creepy so let me share a couple of things as well as sharing what caught my eye.
Firstly, I think years of living in the strange sort-of-renting world of Married Quarters has bred my interest in the homes and gardens of others. I find myself looking more and more at houses the closer we get to buying our own.
Secondly, it all comes from a place of admiration. If anyone ever spots their home or garden on my blog or social media, know that I admired it very much and I hope it will be taken as a sincere compliment.
Whitchurch lurks included some gorgeous allotments full of beautiful blooms, some handsome terraced homes and a period property or two.
I was also tickled to find a fig tree growing boldly over a fence. Lovely sight, lovelier scent. Being from the frozen North, seeing what thrives down here fascinates me. Figs, palms, vines. The North is lovely but the South wins out on climate.
A Green Plaque
I’ve seen the blue ones, but the green are new to me. This one a tribute to the Right Honourable Lord Denning who was born and bred in Whitchurch.
Confession: I had no idea who he was. My daughter, the former law student, knew exactly who he was and suggested I look up some of his quotes. I’ll leave you to do your own research. Make what you will of him, he was certainly interesting. And maybe a bit of his time.
I wonder if he ever wore any robes woven of Whitchurch silk?
And It All Ended Happily…
At the pub. It’s a good walk that ends in a pub.
The Kings Arms has been serving visitors and locals alike since 1675, and we figured a local that’s been around that long must be doing something right.
The old building, with beams overhead and wonky floors underfoot, feels exactly like an old place should. Pictures of Whitchurch across time line the walls. The warren- like interior leads to a courtyard beer garden with comfy seating.
The beer is cold but the welcome is warm. There’s a good range of beers and ales ( and Pimms!) on tap for the humans, and dogs have their own barrel. Even bar snacks, in the form of a jar of dog biscuits on the bar. A lovely touch from a lovely place.
Find the Kings Arms online here.
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