The history of Eastleigh, Hampshire, is a fascinating tale of transformation, from humble beginnings to a bustling railway town and beyond. Nestled between Southampton and Winchester, Eastleigh's story is intricately woven with the threads of industry, innovation, and resilience.

Archaeological evidence suggests a settlement existed here as early as the Roman era. Roman remains, including a lead coffin unearthed in 1908, hint at their presence and at the possibility of a small Roman settlement or farmstead near modern-day Bishopstoke.

Fragments of pottery, both imported and locally made, found in various locations indicate Roman presence, though not necessarily permanent or substantial.

Despite excavations, no substantial Roman buildings or structures have been unearthed in Eastleigh. This makes it difficult to determine the exact nature and size of any potential settlement.

Compared to documented Roman towns and villas elsewhere in Britain, Eastleigh's Roman period remains shrouded in relative obscurity.

Daily Echo: Eastleigh railway worksEastleigh railway works

Dense forests sprawled where Eastleigh now stands, occasionally broken by clearings carved by early settlers. The Anglo-Saxons, arriving in Britain around the 5th century, brought their language, customs, and way of life to this fertile land.

A Saxon village named "East Leah" thrived in the area by 932 AD. The name itself, meaning "clearing in the east," evokes the image of a community emerging from the woods.

Timber-framed houses, thatched with reeds, likely dotted the landscape. Farming would have been central to their lives, with fields yielding wheat, barley, and beans. Livestock, such as sheep, cattle, and pigs, provided vital sustenance.

Though no grand Saxon structures remain above ground, archaeological finds tell their stories.

The Domesday Book of 1086 mentions the settlement as "Estleie," providing valuable insights into its medieval life and population.

Daily Echo: Manor BakeriesManor Bakeries

Life for medieval residents was a picture painted with colours of faith, toil, and merriment. Farmers tilling the land, skilled craftsmen shaping wood and metal, and traders bartering in bustling markets formed the canvas it was painted on.

The rhythm of life was dictated by the church bells, calling for prayer and marking the passage of time. Churches like St Mary's in Bishopstoke and St Andrew's in North Stoneham served as spiritual anchors, their stained-glass windows and soaring bells drawing villagers together.

While the medieval villages of Eastleigh have changed over time, their legacy lives on. The quaint streets of Bishopstoke, the babbling waters of the Itchen in Chandler's Ford, and the ancient stones of North Stoneham all carry whispers of their medieval past.

A new parish was formed in 1868 to the south of Otterbourne writer Charlotte Yonge's home containing the villages of Eastley and Barton.

The author donated £500 towards the parish church, equivalent to more than £43,000 today, and was asked which of two villages the parish should be named after.

Daily Echo: Manor BakeriesManor Bakeries

Charlotte chose Eastley, but decided that it should be spelt “Eastleigh’’ as she thought it seemed modern.

Residents and visitors can sit and read with Charlotte - next to a bronze resin statue of Ms Yonge sitting on a bench with a book. The historical landmark can be found outside Eastleigh railway station.

The London and South Western Railway Company built a railway station in 1838 near the village of Barton, initially named Bishopstoke Junction. This marked a pivotal turning point in Eastleigh's history. 

The railway's arrival spurred the town's growth, particularly with the establishment of the Carriage Works in 1890 and the Locomotive Works in 1910. These workshops became major employers and fuelled Eastleigh's industrial development. 

The influx of railway workers led to rapid urbanization, with Eastleigh evolving from a small village into a bustling town. Housing estates, shops, and public amenities were built to cater to the growing population.

Daily Echo: Charlotte YongeCharlotte Yonge

The Carriage and Wagon Works weren't just brick and mortar; they were the beating heart of the LSWR. Here, generations of skilled craftsmen built, maintained, and repaired some of the most iconic locomotives of their time.

Names like the Adams class, the King Arthur class, and the iconic West Country class locomotives rolled out of these workshops, leaving their mark on British railway history.

Being a railway town wasn't just about locomotives and workshops. It permeated every aspect of life. Railway employees formed the backbone of the community, their uniforms a familiar sight on the streets. The  recently-closed Railway Institute served as a social hub, offering recreational activities and a sense of belonging for railway families.

Children grew up amidst the rhythmic clang of hammers and the scent of coal smoke, their lives forever intertwined with the railway's heartbeat.

Eastleigh was granted a Royal Charter in 1936, becoming a Municipal Borough and gaining greater autonomy. The town continued to expand, incorporating nearby areas like Chandler's Ford.

Daily Echo: Eastleigh Comedian Benny Hill opening Townhill Park Eastleigh Comedian Benny Hill opening Townhill Park

While the railway was undoubtedly Eastleigh's lifeblood, the town wasn't solely defined by it. Local businesses thrived, serving the needs of a growing community. Pubs buzzed with conversation, cricket matches drew cheering crowds, and cinemas - of which there were two on Market Street - offered a welcome escape from the daily grind.

Eastleigh's identity was a multifaceted tapestry, woven with threads of industry, community, and everyday life, all set against the backdrop of the ever-present railway.

Manor Bakeries established its Eastleigh plant in 1937, initially focusing on bread production.

However, by 1978, sugary delights took centre stage as the factory transitioned to making cakes. It soon became synonymous with the iconic Mr Kipling brand, churning out millions of beloved treats like Viennese Whirls, Cherry Bakewells the ever-popular Battenberg cake.

Unfortunately, changing market trends and fierce competition led to the factory's closure in 2005.

Daily Echo: Eastleigh's railway works.Eastleigh's railway works.

The news reverberated through Eastleigh, impacting hundreds of families and leaving a void in the town's economic landscape.

The iconic chimneys ceased to smoke, and the familiar fragrance of baking faded, marking the end of a sweet chapter in Eastleigh's history.

Famous faces to have emerged from the railway town include Chrystabel Leighton-Porter, the real-life inspiration for the iconic Second World War propaganda cartoon character Jane. The cartoon became a symbol of British resilience.

The iconic comedian Benny Hill, best known for his slapstick humour and cheeky sketches, spent his formative years in Eastleigh. He even worked as a milkman in the town, which inspired his hit song Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West).

The popular Radio 2 DJ Scott Mills was born and raised in Eastleigh, even attending the local Crestwood College. His career began at Hampshire's Power FM, paving the way for his successful radio journey.

Daily Echo: Christabel Leighton-PorterChristabel Leighton-Porter

Tommy Green achieved Olympic gold in the 1932 Los Angeles Games for the 50-kilometre walk and formidable boxer Vince Hawkins held the British Middleweight Championship title in the late 1940s. 

In more recent years Paige Wooding, better known by her ring name Jamie Hayter, is a rising star in professional wrestling. 

Nirmal Purja, a renowned mountaineer who has scaled all 14 of the world's 8,000-meter peaks, spent his formative years in Eastleigh. His determination and achievements continue to inspire the local community.

Following the decline of the railway industry, Eastleigh diversified its economy, embracing new industries and businesses.

Today, it's a vibrant town with a thriving retail area and a strong sense of community.