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13 November 2014

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You are in: Hampshire > Places > Places Features > Alresford's famous crop

The Fulling Mill across the River Alre

The Fulling Mill across the River Alre

Alresford's famous crop

Watercress, Hampshire's famous salad leaf, has been picked and eaten by locals for centuries - the peppery little leaf enjoys perfect growing conditions in the mineral-rich spring waters which flow through Alresford.

The pretty Georgian town became the centre of the watercress industry in 1865 when the rail line to Alresford opened, enabling farmers to get their leaves to market in Covent Garden. It has since been named the UK's capital of watercress farming.

Antony Worrall Thompson with the King and Queen

Antony Worrall Thompson and the King & Queen

The aquatic plant, which is a member of the mustard family, grows along stream banks and needs cool flowing water to grow in - the pure spring water which comes from the chalk downs in Hampshire and Dorset provides the perfect growing conditions.

Watercress boom

In the 1800's watercress sandwiches were a staple part of the working class diet in Hampshire and Dorset; partly because it could be picked free from rivers and streams where it grew wild.

The peppery leaf soon got a reputation as a cure-all for everything from lethargy to baldness, scurvy and even freckles which made it highly sort after.  This lead to commercial watercress farms establishing themselves throughout Hampshire.

The Watercress Line

The line was reopened by volunteers

The Mid-Hampshire Railway originally opened in the 1865 to link Winchester with Alton, but it was soon dubbed the 'Watercress Line' as it was used to take supplies of watercress from Alresford to London.

For the last five years in May, the capital of watercress farming has celebrated the little green salad leaves with a free festival during Watercress Week; this year the sixth festival will be held on Sunday 17 May, 10am - 4pm.

The free event features music, Morris dancing, cooking demonstrations, watercress delicacies with everything from the traditional soup to ice-cream; and if you really love the stuff, there's even a watercress eating championship!

The Alresford Eel House

The Alresford Eel House

2008 was a special year for watercress as it marked the 200th year since William Bradbury opened the very first UK watercress farm in 1808.

Thousands of people visited the town to mark the anniversary.  The festival opened with chef Antony Worrall Thompson and the King and Queen of the festival, distributing watercress from their horse and cart.

Historic gems

Alresford's historic hidden treasures are also well worth a visit:

The historic Eel House which sits proudly over the river Arle, was originally used to trap eels as they travelled downstream on their epic 3,000 mile journey to their breeding grounds south of Bermuda.

The house has recently been restored to its former glory.

Northington Grange, nr Alresford

Northington Grange

A walk along the river also brings you to Soke Bridge.  The medieval bridge, was built in 1190 by Godfrey de Lucy, Bishop of Winchester and the picturesque Fulling Mill; a timber-framed thatched mill which straddles the river.

Built in the 13th century, it was once used to prepare cloth using water driven hammers.

The Watercress Line has become one of the county's leading tourist attractions  - with thousands of visitors each year enjoying a ride on the vintage steam trains.

And just outside the village you can visit a grand country house, Northington Grange.  The mansion was was built in 1670, and was later covered in rendering in 1809 by William Wilkins to make it look like a Greek Temple.

last updated: 28/04/2009 at 13:26
created: 07/05/2008

You are in: Hampshire > Places > Places Features > Alresford's famous crop

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