The Bourne Valley has a thriving business community, ranging from a large firm with international business interests to small family run firms whose business is largely local.
Without doubt, the largest is Vitacress Salads Ltd. which started as growers of watercress in Abbots Ann and St Mary Bourne as far back as 1951, operating under the name of Hampshire Watercress since the early 60's. The watercress beds near the viaduct are said to be the largest in Europe and the watercress grown there today represents a core part of the business.
In 1993. Hampshire Watercress was renamed Vitacress Salads Ltd since the packing plant receives produce daily by air from 3 continents rather than just from Hampshire. The product range includes mixed salads, spinach, salad onions and many other items in addition to watercress. There was a major rebuild in 1995 to ensure a hygienic temperature controlled environment, meeting the highest quality standards and employing 350 people.
Opposite the cress beds at Hurstbourne Station is the metal processing fragmentation plant of J. Hirst & Sons which houses one of the biggest pre-compression shears in the south of England. This can handle anything from large armoured vehicles and double decker buses to small items of household scrap; to see it in operation is an impressive sight.
Coupled with this plant is the Banktop site in St. Mary Bourne which sells a wide range of 're-useables' including many useful ex WD items for the home and garden. 'Old Joe', and his wife Olga Hirst started the firm in 1947 with £50 saved by Olga while Joe was away during the war. Joe served throughout the war and fought at and escaped from Dieppe, as well as fighting across the North German Plain. His knowledge of army equipment was to serve him in good stead, although his first vehicle was a 1937 civilian Ford pick-up.
'Old Joe' saw his early turnover of hundreds of pounds turn into millions, his single vehicle turn into a fleet of modern trucks and his workforce grow to over 20. Sadly he died in 1992, leaving the firm to be run by Olga and the sons Joey, Keith and David. The Hirst family is most generous to many village activities, including these celebrations, and with their firm's 50th birthday being celebrated in 1996, we wish them every success in the future.
Other family firms who support the village well are smaller but equally helpful, and we are fortunate to have their services within the village. The Culley family run both their farm and the popular PYO which has enabled many to grass over their old vegetable plots.
Unusually we still have a working blacksmith, Robert Mew who is based at Breach Farm. The work ranges from bicycle punctures to the repair of the largest farm vehicles, and includes ornate iron work of the highest quality. There have been settlements in St Mary Bourne since the Iron Age, and records show that there has been a blacksmith in St Mary Bourne since the 16th Century.
A lot of the tools currently in use were first made by Oscar Mew, who settled in St Mary Bourne as a farrier after the First World War and have been in constant use by his son, grandsons, great grandsons (and' grand daughter) and, hopefully, great great grandsons ever since. The present generation take pride in their past and traditional techniques whilst adapting the best of the latest technology to enhance their work.
If Oscar could come back now there is very little that he would not recognise; indeed, there is still much that he himself would have used - including tools that he inherited from the previous blacksmith/farrier in the village.
In a different but related field Alan Haighton runs a thriving agricultural and motor engineer business under the name St Mary Bourne Garage Ltd near the PYO off Egbury Road.
Finally we have four excellent local pubs which support village celebrations and can provide meals and accommodation. These are The Bourne Valley Inn towards the watercress beds, Wyke Down near Picket Piece, The George Inn in the centre of the village and The White Hart at Stoke.