If you like soulless commercialism, run-down creeks, burgeoning housing estates and pubs full of underage louts, then Fareham is the place for you. I'll try to be as objective as I can. My qualifications for writing about Fareham are: a Brownie badge in Fareham's local history... oh, and 15 years of growing up in the place. Settlements have been traced in this area as far back as the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. By the 13th century, Fareham had been promoted from "Manor" of the Bishops of Winchester to "Borough" status, which permitted mercantile rather than simply agricultural activity. Not just a market town, but a small port developed on an inlet of Portsmouth Harbour, where tide mills made it a flour-milling centre. By the 17 hundreds, Fareham was well-known for its bricks, in particular "Fareham Reds", but also grey, "salt-glazed" and white or yellow-brown. These are now the colours of Fareham's housing estates. The town has merged into the tertiary sector's dormitory zone of urban sprawl between Portsmouth and Southampton, visible as you speed past on the M27. My advice is to keep speeding, but if you are sucked into Fareham you'll find a reasonably successful, commercial centre. An undercover shopping mall was built in the seventies, and has recently been refurbished. Improvements include the letting in of some natural light and an increase in cafes. The number of empty units appears to have decreased, and many high street names can be found all under one roof: Marks and Spencer, Dorothy Perkins, River Island, Etam, Burton, BHS, Woolworths, Sainsbury's, Boots, James Thin Books, and H. Samuel to name but a few. An extension to the mall, taking up the carpark where the market is held on Mondays, has been in the offing for years, and rumour has it that John Lewis will lease one of the larger units. This addition will make Fareham into one of the hugest shopping areas
in the South: the town already vies with nearby cities Portsmouth and Southampton and has a vast catchment area of shoppers. Outside the mall, modern sculptures have been created with some millennium money. They are spindly iron and wood structures, that refer to Fareham's glorious role in the industrial revolution, (Henry Cort invented a smelting process that galvanised the exploitation of iron ore, in an outlying village). There is a provincial museum on West Street. The High Street, or "old Fareham", although small, has some listed buildings, a couple of nice restaurants and a handful of independant shops. These cultural tokens do little, however, to lift Fareham's image. The people who frequent the centre are so resolutely grim and miserable that it would require an army of Mary Poppinses to cheer the place up. At the risk of sounding like a Mail reader, which I am not, shoppers often appear unkempt, with scruffy-looking, ill-behaved kids in tow. Or worse: the kids have "grown up" and loiter in the centre on their own: 14, 15 and 16 year olds, tarted up to the nines, smoking and generally looking sulky, seem to make up about half of the weekend and evening clientele. It is not surprising that these kids end up here, as there is sweet fanny adams for people to do in Fareham. Public transport is expensive and not frequent, although trains do go direct to Cardiff, Bournemouth, Winchester, Southampton, Portsmouth, Chichester, Brighton and London...(can you sense that I'm inciting you to leave Fareham? Get out, get out, while there's still time!) If you insist on staying, you'll need distracting. There used to be a youth club on Osbourne Road, but you had to be pretty desperate to go, because you risked getting beaten up rather than making friends. The Ashcroft Arts Centre is also on Osbourne Road, opposite St Peter and St Paul's Church, but it is under-exploited, running a few youth and
adult theatre classes, and showing some Art House films. Ferneham Hall, a large entertainment venue, was opened in the early eighties by the Duchess of Kent. Unfortunately, the programme usually consists of acts like the ShaWaddywaddy tribute band or ancient (and I don't mean cult or classic) film showings. The town wisely allowed its only cinema to be turned into a Macdonalds, during the brief video-induced cinema slump in the eighties. Now the nearest flicks, the Port Solent multiplex, near Portchester, require a car and a wad of cash. The sports centre on Park Lane has some good facilities, but it also seems expensive to me. The last time I went it cost about £3 to swim in a greasy, overheated, 25m pool, and about £8 for a 45 minute game of badminton, including racket hire. Henry Cort (yes, him again, local hero!) Community School provides some Adult Education Classes and community sports. Of course the other activity for young people is hanging around in intimidating groups outside various off-licences, until they graduate to the pubs. I feel safer in most areas of London than I do in Fareham. One of the best things to do if you have the misfortune to find yourself in Fareham, is use it as a base to go elsewhere. Television enthusiasts could wander down to Moody's Yard near Southampton to spot former "Howard's Way" backdrops. For the militarists, Portsmouth has many historical maritime attractions (although they're not my cup of tea). A few country walks emanate from Fareham: Titchfield Haven is a fairly attractive nature reserve leading to the Solent; on the other side of the A27 near Catisfield, you'll find the ruins of Titchfield Abbey, previous abode of Mr WH, the man to whom Shakespeare is supposed to have dedicated his sonnets. Opposite the Abbey is one of the nicer pubs in the area: the Fisherman's Rest, which has a small garden with a stream running through it. On top of Por
tsdown Hill, giving great views onto Portsmouth Harbour, there are some spooky forts. From this vantage point you can also see the ruins of Portchester Castle, which offers a pleasant afternoon's wandering by the sea: Henry VIII supposedly watched his flagship, the Mary Rose, sail briefly into the harbour from here. From Fareham's multi-story Civic Centre, you can see the Isle of Wight, where Britain's equivalent of Woodstock was held in the sixties. It's a quaint place to visit (with sandy beaches!!!), but the Solent is one of the most expensive stretches of water to cross in the WORLD! However, after a short time in Fareham, you'll probably be prepared to pay any price to get away.