Alton, a small town and a parish in Hants, on the L. & S.W.R., 47 miles from London. The river Wey rises close to the town, which dates from the time of the Saxons; was the scene of a meeting with the Danes in 1001; sent a member to parliament in the time of Edward I.; and was taken, in 1643, by the Parliamentarian forces of Sir William Waller from the Royalist force of Colonel Boles. It consists chiefly of one long steep street, contains some handsome houses, is a seat of petty sessions, and has two banks. It formerly had a considerable manufactory of bombazines, and afterwards manufactures of silk, druggets, serges, and other fabrics. It now has extensive breweries of much note, and a large paper mill. A weekly market is held on Tuesday, and fairs on the Saturday before 1 May, 11 July, and 29 Sept. The market-house has been enlarged, and other aids to the market effected. The parish church is a spacious edifice, variously Saxon, Norman, and Later English, with square embattled tower and spire, and contains some wall paintings of the 15th century; it has been restored and much improved. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Winchester ; value, £320. Patrons, the Dean and Chapter of Winchester. The Church of All Saints is situated at the west end of the town. The living is a vicarage; net value, £300, in the gift of the Bishop of Winchester. There are a grammar school, mechanics' institute, an extensive museum, a cottage hospital, assembly rooms, a Constitutional Club, and workhouse. There are chapels for Congregationalists, Wesleyan Methodists, Baptists, and Quakers, also a Roman Catholic church. A popular adage makes the town noted for its Quakers, and Bernard Barton has embalmed them in his verse. The Dominican friar William de Alton, of the time of Edward II., the biographical author John Pitts, born in 1560, and the botanical writer William Curtis, born in 1746, were natives. The parish comprises 3925 acres; population, 4671. A chief residence is Thedden Grange. Hops are extensively grown. Alton has two post and money order offices, and a telegraph office.
A cemetery of 6 acres, at the north end of the town, was formed in 1854, at a cost of £1,800, and was enlarged at a cost of £1,000.
The register of St. Lawrence dates from the year 1615.
The register of All Saints' dates from the year 1875.
The church of St. Lawrence is an ancient and spacious edifice of stone in the Perpendicular style, with double nave, south porch, and a tower of Norman date, with spire, and containing a clock and 8 bells: there are choir stalls of the 13th century: the church was restored in 1867 at a cost of about £3,600, and a new organ-chamber added: there are five stained windows, one of which, placed in 1884, is a memorial to Louis Leslie M.D.: the church affords 800 sittings.
The church of All Saints, on the Winchester road, is a stone building in the Early English style, erected in 1874, from designs by Mr. F. O. Dyer, architect, London, at a cost of about £3,500, and consisting of chancel, nave, transepts, south porch, organ-chamber, and a tower with spire erected in 1881, and containing a clock and 3 bells: there are 400 sittings.
The Catholic church, near The Butts, erected in 1911, has 100 sittings.
The Congregational chapel, in Normandy street, erected in 1835, on the site of one founded in 1662, has 500 sittings; the Wesleyan chapel, in West end, High street, erected in 1846, seats 300: and there is a meeting-house for the Society of Friends, and a Baptist chapel, erected in 1891.
At The Beech was a Mission church, seating about 80 persons.
Alton was the head of a Poor Law Union, formed in April 1835, which initially comprised the following places: Alton, Bentley, Bentworth, Binsted, Chawton, Faringdon, Froyle, Hartley Mauditt, Holybourne, Lasham, Medstead, Neatham, Newton Valence, Selborne, Shalden, Tisted (East), Wield, Worldham (East), Worldham (West). The parish of Kingsley joined at a later date. The population of the union in 1901 was 16,435; area, 61,760.