WG Nicholson, the former Member of Parliament for Petersfield, achieved an incredible feat 100 years ago this year by winning his eighth general election in 1923 – setting him on the path to becoming the longest-serving MP in the now-defunct constituency’s 436-year history.

Nicholson was born into a family of distillers and his family ties to Privett, a village in Hampshire, ran deep. In 1863, his father purchased the estate of Basing Park, which later became his seat. Nicholson grew up in the estate and was educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge.

Nicholson served as the Director-General of Mobilisation in the Second Anglo-Boer War and was promoted to Honorary Colonel commanding the 3rd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. He was also an alderman of Hampshire County Council, a Justice of the Peace, a Deputy Lieutenant of Hampshire, and was a keen horticulturalist.

Nicholson’s political career began in 1897 when he was elected to the House of Commons as the MP for Petersfield. He held the seat for 38 years, winning a further three elections after his 1923 victory before retiring in 1935. 

During his time in office, Nicholson made several lasting contributions to the community, and the village of Privett, which Nicholson called home, was greatly influenced by the Nicholson family.

In 1870, Nicholson’s father bought the estate of Privett, which consisted of 8,446 acres and created a virtually new village, endowed with a new church, a vicarage, a school, and several cottages. 

Froxfield Choir at Holy Trinity Church in Privett, July 2022.
Froxfield Choir at Holy Trinity Church in Privett (Froxfield Choir)

The church, known as Holy Trinity Church, was built between 1876 and 1878 and was the crown jewel of the village. Sir Arthur Blomfield, a celebrated London architect, designed the church, which was made of flint with Doulting Stone dressings.

The interior was as stately as any great Victorian town church, with Italian marble mosaic floors and a reredos stretching across the entire east wall that cost £22,000. 

The church and the village flourished under the Basing Park Estate’s benevolent influence. But after a hundred years, with the departure of the Nicholsons, the church was considered too big for the parish, and many of the fittings were sold. 

It was declared redundant and since 1980 has been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

The Nicholson family's legacy in Petersfield and Privett continues to this day, with the Holy Trinity Church still standing as a testament to the Nicholsons' generosity and influence. Every Christmas, a carol service is held in the church, attracting a large congregation, who marvel at the cathedral-like splendour of the architecture. The church is also used regularly for concerts.

After Nicholson's death in 1942, the Basing Park Estate began to decline. The house fell into disrepair and was pulled down in the 1960s, and the land was sold off. With the hall gone, the school has closed to become a residential centre, and the village has become part of the parish of Froxfield with Privett.

The Petersfield constituency was also abolished for the 1983 general election, giving rise to the present day East Hampshire parliamentary constituency.

Despite these changes, Nicholson's legacy in Hampshire and his family's ties to Privett will undoubtedly continue to be remembered and celebrated for years to come.