Medstead feature article

Reproduced with permission from the Hampshire Chronicle [published June 23, 2011]

Mindful of its history, but always ready to move with the times by Joseph Curtis

To describe Medstead as a village that is switched on would be a bit of an understatement.

Not only does word of mouth spread quickly across the place, but they have also embraced technology, taking their history and activities online.

It's a far cry from a village that has existed for 3,000 years and spent most of that time as a farming community. In fact, the website documents just about everything there is to know about the village, from the history of the church to the next meeting of the bowls club.

Mike Overy, of Paice Lane, set the site up five years ago to keep the village aware of local goings-on.

He said: "Any location should have a website and Medstead was in obvious need of one, so I got on and did it. It's made for people who are living here, or thinking about moving here.

"Medstead is an active place. We are spread out in that we have the village centre in the High Street, but around 2,000 houses in the vicinity. There are lots of regular events. If somebody wanted to start some­thing, it'd be easy enough to do."

Stan Whitcher, who has lived in the village for more than 30 years, reckons the village has changed from a place of vibrant business to a commuter area.

Mr Whitcher of Hussell Lane, said: "It was quite busy. Now you are getting a lot of houses being turned into larger houses. People moved in with different work and different salaries."

But Medstead has succeeded in retaining some business in the heart of the village, including a hardware store and a village shop.

John Goodyear has been running the hardware shop since 1964 and has seen a hairdresser, a butcher, greengrocer and haberdashery all fall by the wayside.

He said: "It was sad to see all the other shops go, but then they have been disappearing over the years. Business has been pretty good over the years. We have been pulling in trade from a very wide area. I think we have built up a good reputation."

But the shop in the High Street, which has housed a post office since 1981, is now facing an uncertain future, as Mr Goodyear is looking to retire, although he hopes it will stay as a shop.

He said: "We have just recently put the business on the market. We did not want to, but age has caught up with us. It's solely for that reason. I still enjoy the business and what I'm doing here.

"I think the village needs this place to stay as a shop. We have expanded it considerably over the years. We do some very keen pricing, actually and we are known for our good value."

Just up the road is the Handy Store, the village convenience store, which goes above and beyond for its customers, certainly where newspapers are concerned.

Tony and Jenny Shelton-Smith have run the business for almost 14 years, and have been growing their newspaper business to the extent that they deliver for miles around.

The shop has benefited from its location and a lack of competition in neighbouring villages to provide a reliable service to Medstead and others.

Mr Shelton-Smith said: "We have grown every year for 13 years, both in turnover and profit, but that's only really happened because we have reached out to other villages where their local shops have closed."

Mrs Shelton-Smith added: "It's really because we are on the through road to Basingstoke. If we had to rely on just the village trade, we would struggle." But the village community has been particularly active for decades and remains so today. Like many other Hampshire villages, the make-up of its residents has changed as well, with plenty of commuters arriving.

Ken Kercher, lifetime resident and chairman of the parish council, said: "The rural character of the village attracts people here and it's convenient for commuters because we have Alton and Basingstoke stations nearby and the A31.

"There are a great many commuters here now and little employment in the village itself, even though we do have an industrial estate. But a lot of the units there are vacant and some have never been used."

But Mr Kercher said the village's community spirit and activity made up for a lack of trade. "I think our sense of community is the best thing about Medstead. I have heard it said that you could not get involved in every activity in the village because there would not be enough time to do them all." Medstead is home to many clubs and societies, from sports teams like the tennis club and cricket club, to dance clubs, singing work­shops and the Medstead Players drama group.

As well as offering a strong social scene, Medstead is also served by St Andrew's Church, Medstead Prima­ry School and the Castle of Comfort pub, meaning it offers as much as a village could ask for.

Head teacher, Ian Waine, said: "We get huge support from parents and we have strong links with other organisations and good links with St Andrew's Church."

He added: "We have a very creative staff who do lots of exciting things and I'm really proud of our curriculum and what we can offer the children. It's a great place to work, because of the enthusiasm of the children, the staff and the parents."

A common thread to many of Medstead's groups is the village hall, in Roedowns Road, host to many meetings over the years.

But disaster struck in 2009 when an electrical fire damaged much of the building, robbing the village of a focal point. Now after eighteen months of planning and hard work, it looking as good as new.

Graham Bennell, has been chairman of the hall committee for the past year and paid tribute to the village for coming together after the fire to restore it.

Mr Bennell of Red Hill, said: "It was a blow, no doubt about it. I think everybody has worked incredibly hard; all sorts of people here have been working quietly away. We are virtually there now with the rebuilding and the opening is planned for September.

He added: "I hope in the end that it's worth it. It would be disappointing if people were not pleased with the result. There were those who wanted a new hall and we might have been able to do that if we had found the money."

To welcome the hall back to the village, the Medstead Players will be putting on their traditional pantomime at the end of the year.

Perhaps Mr Whitcher sums up Medstead best: "Medstead is a village that's like a big family. You all move in a few close circles, you have your different factions; you have rows, good times, agreements and disagreements. But that's life."

Facts and figures [2001 census data]

  • Population: 1,881 (924 males, 957 females)
  • Number of households: 724
  • Homes with no vehicle: 35
  • Households with one vehicle: 195
  • Households with two vehicles: 321
  • Households with three or more vehicles: 109
  • In "good" or "fairly good" health: 93.3 per cent