Trade in the 18th and 19th centuries

Although the cloth and tanning trades declined in the 17th century, the town regained some of its former prosperity during the 18th century with the regular coach service bringing many visitors and new trade, together with the movement of troops and arms, to Portsmouth for the European, North American and Asian wars. The growth of coaching inns on the London-Portsmouth road and the numerous coaches on the turnpike routes passing through the town reached their peak around 1830.

The statue of William III in The Square is  rare monumental memorial in England. It was cast in lead in 1753 by John Cheere, and put in its present position in 1812. It is modelled on the grand bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitoline Hill in Rome.

In 1820 a new annual market was introduced on the Heath for cattle and sheep traders. It was called the Taro market, as when all the Welsh cattle merchants drove their livestock through the town to the fair they would shout “tarw”, the welsh word for bull, pronounced as taro. The locals adopted this as the name for the market and it has adapted over the years to become the Taro Fair.

The arrival of the railway in 1859 transformed the town, making the coaching trade obsolete, but bringing new commerce, new housing and an increased population. A milk distribution centre was set up beside the new Petersfield station to serve local dairy farmers, who began transporting their milk directly to London; and a corn exchange was built in the Square in 1866. Also in the 19th century new churches were built: the first Wesleyan church was constructed in 1826, but moved to a new chapel in 1871 (now St. Peter’s Hall); the Methodists’ new church came to Station Road in 1902. St. Laurence’s Roman Catholic Church was built in 1890.

With its weekly cattle markets and horse sales, the town retained its central position and importance in the agricultural life of the community until the mid-20th century, the last cattle market taking place in 1962. The extensive 90-acre Petersfield Heath, incorporating a 22-acre pond, was held in trust by the Lords of the Manor, but was acquired by the Urban District Council in 1913 for the use of the inhabitants of the town.