Aldershot is proud of being a Victorian town. Every year (pandemic allowing) it holds its ‘Victoria Day’, which begins with a grand parade through the town led by “Queen Victoria”, with marching bands, floats, vintage vehicles, and community groups all coming together to celebrate Aldershot’s nineteenth-century heyday.

The Victoria Day Parade in Victoria Road. (A-Z of Aldershot, Amberley Publishing)

It is sometimes forgotten that Aldershot did exist before the Victorian era, but before the 1850s it was a small rural village based around farming, no different to many similar villages of the time. It had existed since medieval times, centred around the twelfth-century parish church, the Manor house, and two inns marking the boundaries of the village. This quiet life vanished forever when the Army chose Aldershot Heath to build its great Army Camp, the first permanent training camp to be built in Britain. The first Army units took up station in Aldershot in 1855, and within a couple of years around 15,000 troops were based here. Many entrepreneurs and businessmen set up trading establishments for all types of goods and services on the edge of the Army camp, and the centre of gravity moved from the old village to this new town, a little over a mile to the north-west. This burst of economic activity led to a building boom and within a couple of decades the new town centre had become established, and it is the legacy of this Victorian growth which gives Aldershot its distinctive character and which is celebrated in modern times.

Gates of Willems Cavalry Barracks. (A-Z of Aldershot, Amberley Publishing)

Aldershot continued to grow and prosper into the twentieth-century. The importance of the garrison to the national defence effort was demonstrated in both world wars when Aldershot was given priority in mobilisation and in both 1914 and 1939 the resident divisions formed the First Corps of the British Expeditionary Force. After the Second World War the garrison was transformed, and in the current century both the military and civilian towns have undergone extensive modernisation and rebuilding.

Barrack block from Marlborough Lines, now part of Aldershot Military Museum. (A-Z of Aldershot, Amberley Publishing)

In preparing ‘A-Z of Aldershot’ there was a wealth of history on which to draw. Aldershot became famous across the country as ‘The Home of the British Army’, and today the Army remains an important presence. The growth of the town and the garrison are inextricably linked, although in recent decades the Army influence has declined, and the civilian town has begun to take on a new character. The question was how best to reflect this unique and fascinating history and produce a book with a coherent theme while following the ‘A-Z’ format.

The Manor House, owned by John Eggar. (A-Z of Aldershot, Amberley Publishing)

As an A to Z guide, the criteria for selecting the subjects was not only their historical importance to the story of Aldershot, but also to highlight the heritage which remains. So, each subject would have something in the modern town which the reader could visit, whether a building, memorial, or place connected with that person or subject. In this way the book does more than just present a historical record, but also, it is hoped, provides a starting point for the reader to go out and explore more of the local heritage.

The Masonic Hall. (A-Z of Aldershot, Amberley Publishing)

The subjects range from some of the most famous people to be associated with the town, such as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who were frequent visitors, to some lesser-known individuals who made an impact on the town, such as philanthropist Walter Finch, mill owner Richard Simmonds, or shopkeeper Edgar Jerome. All types of buildings are included, barracks, churches, theatres, houses and shops, and the stories of historic streets show the growth and development of the town.

The General Post Office. (A-Z of Aldershot, Amberley Publishing)

‘A-Z of Aldershot’ was a challenging project, to cover such a wide-ranging and rich history in a single volume. I hope that it does justice to the subject, and that readers will find much to interest them, some stories they may not have known, and an introduction to the history of this most fascinating of towns.

Paul H. Vickers's book A-Z of Aldershot is available for purchase now.