The opening of a new £371 million tunnel in July will transform the journey to some of England’s loveliest countryside. Ten days ago 7,000 people walked through the new mile-long road tunnel close to the Devil’s Punchbowl, the famous beauty spot on the borders of Surrey and Hampshire, celebrating the imminent opening of a new section of the A3 London to Portsmouth road, which will remove a notorious bottleneck at Hindhead.
The tunnel will make the beautiful towns and villages between Hindhead and the coast much more accessible. And top of the list of beneficiaries is the ancient town of Petersfield.
Fifty miles south-west of London, Petersfield is at the western end of the new South Downs National Park. The town was founded in the 12th century by the Duke of Gloucester and was an important centre of cattle trading. Welsh drovers would bring their cattle to town. Now a fun fair, the Taro fair, from tawr, the Welsh word for bull, is held each year in October on Petersfield Heath as a reminder of the town’s ancient history.
Petersfield’s fine market square is dominated by a large statue of William III, one of only a handful in Britain. Every July, local Orange lodges march peacefully through the town to celebrate Good King Billy’s triumph in the Battle of the Boyne.
Barbara Loweth of the Petersfield branch of Chesterton Humberts describes the town as an “overlooked gem”.
What there is to buy and the best postcodes
Petersfield has a real mix of properties. There is everything from period cottages and houses in the surrounding villages, to three-bedroom Victorian cottages in the town centre which sell for around £300,000, to spacious Victorian mansions with large gardens near Petersfield Heath which sell for between £1 million and £1.3 million, to modern flats and houses on popular estates such as Herne Farm where a one-bedroom flat sells for around £125,000 and a five-bedroom house for around £650,000.
Petersfield falls into two Guildford postcodes: GU31 covers the town itself and the villages to the south; GU32 covers the suburbs of Sheet and Steep and the villages of East and West Meon; GU32 is some seven per cent more expensive than GU31, but there is no absolute distinction in terms of desirability.
In Petersfield itself the best roads are The Avenue, Heath Road and Sussex Avenue, all with fine tile-hung Victorian houses with large gardens. The most popular nearby villages are Buriton, where the distinctive local whitish yellow malmstone is much in evidence, the Hartings, East and West Meon and Selborne, which is famous as the home of the naturalist Gilbert White.
Who comes and who stays
About a third of the buyers are families from London, and of these around a quarter are buying second homes, while the rest are buying family homes to live in. Once families have made the move to Petersfield they tend to stay.
What’s new and up and coming
There is little new development currently going on in Petersfield although Haart’s (01730 265266) is selling a Linden Homes development of eight two-bedroom flats starting at £230,000.
Barbara Loweth of Chesterton Humberts tips Pulens Crescent where there are unfashionable Fifties houses with 100ft gardens that make very good family homes; expect to pay between £375,000 and £490,000 for a three- or four-bedroom house.
Most of Petersfield’s children attend Petersfield Infant School in St Peter’s Road, judged “outstanding” by the government watchdog, Ofsted, followed by Herne Junior School, which is judged “satisfactory”, and then on to Petersfield School, known locally as TPS, and judged “outstanding” from ages 11 to 16. There are three sixth form colleges to choose from, in Havant, Alton and Waterlooville. Churcher’s College (co-ed, age seven to 18) in the centre of the town has a history dating back to the early 18th century; Bedales, the private day and boarding school (co-ed, age three to 18) has an experimental and artistic reputation — the musician Lily Allen is the most famous recent student.
Shopping and playing
Petersfield has a good mix of high street shops — among them Laura Ashley Home, Phase Eight, Fat Face and Waitrose — and independent shops. Look out Rowan’s Deli in Lavant Street, and Hackman & Potter for painted furniture and Tricot Too for clothes and interior accessories, both in Dragon Street.
Wednesday and Saturday are market days in the town square, and on the first Sunday of the month there is a farmers’ market. The Cloisters Cafe is a popular place for a coffee on the market square, Annie Jones on Lavant Street is a popular bistro, while JSW on Dragon Street has one Michelin star. The Harrow is a lovely old-fashioned pub; while the nearby Trooper is renowned for its food; they are both in Steep.
Petersfield Heath on the southern edge of town has a large lake with boats to hire, a golf course and cricket pitch. It is one of the country’s most important Bronze Age sites with 21 burial mounds.
Leisure time and cultural life
The Taro leisure centre in Petersfield is the nearest council-owned swimming pool, which includes a leisure pool with rapids and flume, and in summer there is an outdoor swimming pool, the only heated outdoor pool in Hampshire and run by a charity. The local museum has an extensive costume collection and celebrates the work of artist Flora Twort, who painted scenes of local life in the years between the two world wars.
The Festival Hall holds concerts and fairs, and it is where local drama groups put on plays. The Petersfield Music Festival takes place every year in March.
From July, improvements to the A3 through Hindhead will speed up road connections to the capital. The train journey to Waterloo takes between 62 and 76 minutes; an annual travel card costs £3,604.
East Hampshire District Council; Band D council tax for 2011/12 is £1,456.87.