Heritage centre plans advance to tell the story of New Milton

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The station master’s house in the early 20th century

MONEY, memories and memorabilia are being sought as plans advance to transform the disused railway station master’s house at New Milton into a heritage centre telling the history of the area.

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Milton Heritage Society is working alongside the town council to create a free-to-access attraction available to everyone called No.1 New Milton, in recognition of the fact that the house was the first building erected in what would become known as New Milton.

Speaking to the A&T, the historical group’s chairman Nick Saunders explained it is hoped the development, expected to cost around £45,000, will be completed by the end of the year.

Around half of the sum needed has so far been received through donations from local councillors, authorities and members of the public.

The town’s railway station was built in 1886 in an area which was at the time simply made up of fields and trees. But, as Mr Saunders explained, it would be another two years before the first trains steamed alongside the platforms, with tragedy among the main factors.

“There were all sorts of problems with building the railway line, particularly in Sway,” he said.

“It was all constructed by hand then, and the navvies working there struck quicksand and some of the embankment collapsed. Some of them were killed and they were buried at St Luke’s Church in Sway.”

An artist’s view of New Milton from an 1888 sales catalogue

Prior to the station’s arrival, the nearest area of development was the village of Old Milton, which dates back centuries and is mentioned in the Domesday Book along with Bashley, Ashley, Barton, Fernhill and Ossemsley.

The Domesday Book reference is set to be featured in the exhibition, telling how the value of land changed once the area became part of the New Forest in the 11th century.

Soon after the station’s introduction, a new community of houses and shops started to grow around it.

“There’s rapid expansion aided by people like Winchester brewer Hugh Wyeth,” Mr Saunders said.

“He saw much potential in the area, particularly in its location between the sea and the Forest, and he built a big hotel called the Milton Hotel.

“Many people will now recall it as the Speckled Trout, which it later became before it was knocked down in 1996. Arnewood Medical Practice now stands in its place.”

Station master’s house

Mr Saunders told how the christening of the area as New Milton originated from a decision made at the new post office by the station to ensure its deliveries were not sent to the wrong branch.

“The sub-postmistress, Emma Newhook, was having problems with the mail for the area being misdirected to the other post office by the Wheatsheaf pub at Milton Green, so she started to call her post office the New Milton Post Office,” he explained.

“London and South Western Railway was looking to name the new railway station and a member of staff tasked with the job saw the sign for the post office and thought, if that name’s good enough for the post office it’s good enough for the station.”

The station master’s house has been disused and empty for about six years, and the heritage group and the town council hope to lease it from the rail company for 12 years.

Its interior will be fully renovated and the exterior cleaned, with the project including re-wiring, re-plumbing and re-painting.

Extensive displays would then be installed in several of the building’s rooms telling the history of Milton parish, covering Barton, Bashley, Ashley, Milton village and New Milton.

“Our intention is to tell the story of our area – our district – from the Eocene period, with the fossils discovered at Barton, right through to the present day,” Mr Saunders explained.

“There have been some exciting discoveries recently on Barton beach, including a number of flint tools. Some of these are beach-rolled, so they’re not sharp flint tools, but nonetheless they are indicative of our history.”

Some of the area’s more recent historical events set to be featured include smuggling, and the development of Milton village and its outlying areas.

Milton Heritage Society is currently researching the history of welfare in Milton village, including the former almshouse to the rear of Fusee House on Old Milton Road.

Here, children were involved in a cottage industry linked to what is now the Red House Museum in Christchurch but was then a poorhouse.

The Domesday Book

“They used to make tiny, microscopic watch chains called fusees, some of which are already on display at the Red House Museum,” Mr Saunders said.

“When I say microscopic, I do mean that. How those children were able to work and make those chains is just extraordinary.”

Other topics expected to be covered at the heritage centre include the impact the two world wars had on the area. This would cover the arrival of Indian troops at Barton during the First World War.

A handwritten scroll naming 100 men from Bashley who joined up to serve in the 1914-18 conflict could also be displayed.

“What we’re seeking to do is gather all the information we can on our history from a variety of sources,” Mr Saunders continued.

“We’ve been offered assistance from St Barbe Museum in Lymington and the Red House Museum in Christchurch. We will also be conducting our own research, including at the Hampshire Records Centre in Winchester.”

The project has been offered support from the A&T, with managing director Eddie Curry set to provide back issues of the newspaper from which copies can be taken.

“To actually be able to research a historic article in the paper is of great value to us and we’re very grateful to Eddie for offering us that support,” Mr Saunders said.

“The point of having one room as a study centre is to make it available for people coming to research a particular topic. The idea is to make this as available as possible to as wide an audience as possible, including groups of school pupils.”

Mr Saunders expressed gratitude to those who had so far given money towards the scheme, including local residents and groups, and town councillors John Ward, Geoffrey Blunden and Neil Tungate.

Nick Saunders and Cllr John Ward outside the station master’s house

A bid for a grant from the Big Lottery Fund was recently turned down, but the heritage society and the town council are in the process of applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The New Forest National Park Authority has already handed out a £2,000 grant, with the partnership encouraged to apply for another £2,000.

One recent non-financial but very valuable contribution has been received from New Milton Library in the form of over 300 maps of New Milton and its surrounding areas. These include some very early Ordnance Survey maps which name every house and shop in and around Station Road.

Milton Heritage Society is appealing for the public to help by allowing it access to any photographs or maps of the local area they may have, along with memorabilia of the town’s history. Copies of this would be taken for display.

People of all ages are also being urged to come forward if they would be interested in having their memories of events in the town recorded on audio for possible use in the centre.

Memory garden

It is intended that the garden of the station master’s house be totally refurbished and replanted to create a dementia-friendly memory garden to compliment the heritage centre.

The heritage society has been seeking advice from the New Milton Dementia Action Group regarding the most suitable plants and flowers.

“At the moment the garden is a bit of an eyesore and we want to turn it into a lovely gateway or entrance to the town for people arriving by train,” Mr Saunders commented.

Although it will not be possible to provide disabled access to the building’s first floor, following advice from the New Forest Disability Information Service, a plan has been formed to help compensate for this.

Inspired by a similar scheme at Eling Tide Mill, it is intended to employ cameras on the first floor, with footage of the exhibits fed to monitors downstairs so less mobile visitors do not miss out.

A number of people have already come forward in response to an appeal for volunteers to help run the centre, which it is hoped will be up and running by the end of the year.

“Local history and heritage is very important,” Mr Saunders said.

“It gives us a sense of place, it helps us to value our local community, and understand how our town grew.

“Once you start to value it and understand our history, you grow to love our town and you want to do something for it to help it progress. It’s what Historic England would call the virtuous circle.”

Anyone wishing to volunteer or donate funds towards the project is asked to contact the heritage society’s treasurer, Alan O’Sullivan, by calling 01425 620964 or emailing treasurer@miltonheritagesociety.co.uk

Those interested in contributing to the exhibits of memorabilia and memories can contact Mr Saunders by calling 01425 618 549 or emailing nick@miltonheritagesociety.co.uk.

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