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Hampshire's Countryside

Petersfield Heath

The heath is all the more delightful for the surprise of finding its great expanse of grass, heathland and pond such a short walk from the High Street. Wisely the town authorities have resisted demands that would have turned it into a municipal park. Public enjoyment is indeed positively catered for within its 69 acres, plus 22 acres of water. It has boats for hire, a children's play area, a golf course, cricket pitch, a car park, and plenty of space for picnics.

All these activities, however, are absorbed without losing the natural landscape appeal, in which the Scots pines and the ever-changing surface of the water are the chief elements. Canada geese, ducks and swans have made it their home as well as many land birds. Herons can sometimes be seen. The pond owes its existence to the 18th century farmers whose animals grazed the common and frequently drowned in the marsh that then occupied its centre. A pond, they thought, would be safer. Nature could not have done better.

In the lonelier parts it does not seem at all strange that here, on the Heath, have been found the oldest traces of man anywhere in East Hampshire, in the form of a camp site of early hunting folk, living before the invention of agriculture.

Their tiny flint implements, probably in the main the cutting edges and barbs of spears, darts and arrows of wood, have been placed by archaeologists in the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age, somewhere between 5000 and 2000 BC. The Bronze Age has left, from some time perhaps around 1500 BC, a group of 21 barrows or burial mounds of several types, one of the most important groups to be found anywhere in Britain.

 

Each year, on 6 October (if that is not a Sunday), the 700-year-old Heath Fair draws large crowds. It was formerly known as the Taro Fair, and an important part of it was the morning horse fair.

Now it is held in the afternoon and evening, and the accent is on entertainment for children and adults. The bustle, the gaiety of the roundabouts and stalls, and the lovely setting, have inspired many artists. When the Fair ends the Heath returns to its ancient peace.

 

The Heath (formerly 92 acres, including 22 acres of pond), was acquired for the town in 1913. In 1614 the Heath was leased for the cutting of turf by the Lord of Mapledurham for 40 shillings a year. A large part of it was at that time little more than a marsh, and in 1741 the tenants in the tythings of Minstead and Sheet who had a right to pasture their cattle on the Heath, threw up a bank to form a pond which they stocked with fish.
An extract from "The Common Lands of Hampshire", L. E.Taverner, HCC 1957

The Heath was inclosed in 1867, presumably by a wooden fence, as it is said that the towns people thinking they were to be debarred from using the Heath, for five ensuing years burnt the fences as often as they were put up. In 1913 the Urban District Council acquired the greater part of the Heath for the town; and in due course introduced a Cricket Pavilion, Golf House, Lawn Tennis Courts and a Children's Corner.

 
 

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