History

ACCI Logo 1909 Alton Chamber of Commerce & Industry was founded in 1909.  Edward 7th was King and the country was in transition, moving away from the horse and cart towards the age of motor vehicles, aeroplanes and telephones. Louis Blériot made the first “heavier than air” flight across the English Channel on the 25th July and on the 5th November Woolworths opened the doors of its Liverpool branch, its first shop in the UK. The country was in a depression and nearly 8% of the working population was unemployed.
David Lloyd George The Liberal Government, led by Lloyd George (pictured), tried to tackle the depression by announcing the “People’s Budget” pre-budget report in November 1909. The House of Lords and the King rejected it, locking parliament in a deep constitutional battle.  This was because the “unwritten constitution” established after the English Civil War traditionally meant that neither the Sovereign nor Lords could overturn bills and policies of the House of Commons. Once this agreement was broken, there was an argument over sovereignty that wasn’t settled until after the First World War.
Swan Hotel 1907 Whilst all this political turmoil and the war was just around the corner, in May 1909 local businessmen and residents were simply concerned about making ends meet and trying to find ways to get their voices heard in the right places. The chairman of the Alton Urban District Council was asked to do something about this and a meeting was called; more about this below. Essentially people wanted a mouthpiece organsiation and that was why the Chamber was established – it remains our primary role all these years later.
 Pictured: Swan Hotel in 1907 (Hampshire Records Office HPP5/2/08)
ACCI advert for first meeting 25th May 1909 It is unfortunate that the Chamber has no historical records of its own, but we can be thankful for the meticulous reporting of the ‘Hampshire Herald & Alton Gazette’ for telling us about our inaugural meeting.  It was held in the lower committee room at Alton Assembly Rooms on 25th May 1909 – the advert for the meeting is pictured here and you can download a PDF of the copied text from the meeting report.
ACCI Centenary Cake The newspaper report lists the names of many who were present – a number are still associated with Alton: Stoodleys, Trimmer, King, Curtis, Caesar, Pritchard and Kerridge. The article reports that there was quite a discussion about whether we should be called a rate-payers’ association or a chamber of commerce. The vicar seemed to have a great say in matters, but we have a Mr. G. H. Castle to thank for presenting the case for it being a chamber of commerce. In 2009 the Chamber of Commerce held its Annual General Meeting in the same room to mark the occasion, as well as holding a separate celebratory event, complete with cake (pictured).
ACCI President's Gong The President’s chain of office, usually referred to as ‘the president’s gong’, helpfully has all the names our presidents from 1966 onwards listed on the chain. Between 1966 and 2015 we have had 36 Presidents, although David Gay has been President on four different occasions and Andy Goodall twice, so that’s 32 people who have filled the role in that time. The role of our President is to represent our organisation in official capacities, to chair meetings when required and to steer the Chamber’s committee. It has been noted that a new President finds that there are quite a few duties to perform, be it laying a wreath on Remembrance Sunday, judging the teams at the Victorian Cricket or speaking at our AGM. Behind the scenes, the President is just one of several volunteer committee members whose task it is to keep the Chamber on the straight and narrow.
Old Alton Town Guides Regrettably there are no records of the Chamber’s activities other than the reports to be found in the local papers and the old Town Guides (pictured).  For the sake of clarity, these guides have always been produced by the council (Alton Urban District Council, then Alton Town Council), but the oldest also mentions the Chamber on the front cover. It is interesting to note that each of these guides states a slightly different name for the Chamber: the oldest (on the right) dating from the Edwardian period (about 1910) refers to the Chamber as ‘Alton & District Chamber of Commerce’; the left-hand Town Guide (green), dating from about 1971, calls us ‘Alton & District Chamber of Trade’; the top centre guide (orange) from about 1975 calls us ‘Chamber of Trade’. Thus we can conclude that the current version of our current title is comparatively modern.
What we can tell you is that in times past, Alton Chamber was closely linked with Alton Golf Club (the first in the area) and the Masons.  Membership of these organisations in their day offered local tradespeople status in the local society and some of this still lingers as a sort of myth or folk lore.  Whilst social status is no longer something that the chamber can offer, it retains a reputation for speaking for businesses.  Local councils recognise the purpose and status of the chamber, so we do have an important role to play.  As a ‘town chamber’, our job is to concentrate upon local issues and projects that help local businesses to succeed and prosper.

Downloads

Article from Hampshire Herald & Alton Gazette reporting meeting of 25th May 1909
Click to download PDF

List of Presidents 1966 – 2015
Click to download PDF