There’s more to Basingstoke’s Top of the Town than meets the eye. From its 800-year old Market Place to its famous Burberry fashion connection, the area is surprisingly steeped in local history. Basingstoke has been home to colourful residents over the years and many architectural features relating to them plus some other historically important buildings remain. These are outlined below.
Many thanks to the Basingstoke Heritage Society for this information.
Willis Museum (former Town Hall) - Since the 14th century a Mote Hall has been 1 sited in Market Place, at the top of Church Street. It used to stand just east of what is now Lloyds TSB Bank. It was rebuilt in 1657, and the present building dates from 1832. This has served as the Town Hall, Corn Exchange and Market House. The town’s magistrates used to sit here, and dances were held in the large room upstairs. It ceased to be the Town Hall in 1981 when the Civic Offices were built. Since1984 it has been home to the Willis Museum. The building had a clock tower, the latest one being erected in 1887. It was donated by John May (Mayor and local brewer) to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and was removed in 1961.
Market Place - A market has been held here since at least the 13th century – probably earlier, as one is mentioned in the Domesday Book. In 1214 King John ordered that the market should be held on a Wednesday, and it has been so ever since. The ground floor of the former Town Hall (now the Willis Museum) was open to the front with pillars, which are still visible. This provided a covered area, which would have been used by people selling cheese, milk or meat. It was enclosed after 1864.
Lesser Market (Wote Street*) - Erected in 1864, it has a highly decorated scheme of stucco moulded fruit to link the newly built Corn Exchange with the contemporary enclosing of the open front of the Town Hall. A drinking fountain, set into the facade here, was moved from the alley linking Wote Street with Church Street.
*Wote Street was known as ‘Mote Street,’ but by the 18th and early 19th centuries, was called ‘Oat Street’.
Haymarket Theatre -This was built in 1864 to rehouse the town’s Corn Market, which was previously held beneath the Town Hall, for local farmers to buy and sell crops. In 1951, the building became the Haymarket Theatre, This was formerly known as the Corn Exchange. having once housed the town’s first cinema. Cast iron pillars by Wallis and Steevens can be seen in the restaurant. Wote Street was known as ‘Mote Street,’ but by the 18th and early 19th centuries, was called ‘Oat Street’. The stained glass canopy over the main entrance was commissioned from artists Sasha Ward and Alan Dawson and installed in 1993.
Laarsen's Pub - Known as ‘The Feathers’ since at least 1800, this was one of the town’s many coaching inns, dating in part from the 16th century. It is of timber-framed jettied construction with restorations. A china punch bowl, believed to have been used by a Jacobite club that met here, is on display in the Willis Museum.
George Willis's Shop (3 Wote Street) - George Willis (1878-1970) had a watch repair, clock and jewellery business on this site. He had a keen academic interest in botany and archaeology, and his collection formed the basis of the museum bearing his name. He was Honorary Curator of the museum for many years, and became the first Freeman of the Borough in 1954. Milestones Museum has a replica of Willis’s shop, with the original frontage.
The Church Stone - This sculpture by Michael Pegler commemorates the site of the church of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, (Emmanuel Church), which stood here from 1802 until 1969.
Barclays Bank - A plaque on Barclays Bank, opposite the Willis Museum, notes the site of the Assembly Rooms where Jane Austen (1775-1817) is believed to have attended dances when she lived at Steventon. She may also have attended dances in the 1657 Mote Hall, which was just to the east of where Lloyds TSB bank now stands. The above image shows building work in progress.
Zizzi’s (Formerly ‘The George’ Pub, 1 London Street) - One of the town’s coaching inns, the Exeter Post coach stopped here at 11 o’clock each night. The return was at 3 o’clock in the morning. It dates from the 15th century and was known as the ‘Hole in the Wall’. It had its own well and extensive cellars. For many years the building was known as ‘The George’ as shown below.
Natwest Bank (3 London Street) - Designed by F. Chancellor in 1864, in the Italian palazzo style, this rather grand design is typical of bank buildings of the period.
United Reformed Church - This building dates from 1800. A plaque notes that John Curwen (who devised the tonic sol-fa method of teaching music - doh, ray, me etc) was minister here from 1838-1841. It is said that his efforts to teach children to sing and read music inspired him to develop this method. By this means, many were able to learn to sight read music accurately. A sculpture in front of the church, by Mike Smith, is titled ‘The Family’.
Mark Lane (off London Street) - Opposite Yates’s Wine Bar, this small lane was the site of a forge and smithy. From 1890 to 1967 the town’s police station was here.
26, 28-30 London Street - The first floor of no. 26 contains substantial remains of a 3-bay timber-framed dwelling of about 1500, but the original jetty is missing. The adjoining property of similar date still retains its jetty and has unusual mathematical tiles added to give the impression of brickwork. Nos. 28- 30 has significant remains of a building of the 14th century and is the earliest surviving timber framing in the town.
Thomas Burberry (27 London Street) - This building, which dates from 1892, was the retail outlet fronting one of several Burberry workshops in the town. Burberry established his business in Basingstoke in 1856 in Winchester Street, using a revolutionary technique to make garments. He had previously been apprenticed to a small country draper, and noticed that the linen smocks worn by the shepherds and farmers were, as a result of the lanolin absorbed from handling the sheep, windproof and waterproof. They were also cool in summer and warm in winter. He patented his cloth in 1888. The cloth was used to make army uniforms, as well as worn by explorers. One tent made of gabardine was left at the South Pole by Amundsen. King Edward VII referred to his ‘Burberry’, which made the product as well-known as it is today.
Deane’s Almshouses (29/41 London Street)- A plaque in the centre of these eight almshouses explains that they were endowed in 1608 as the gift of Sir James Deane. A pig market used to take place in front of the houses, which are still managed to this day by a group of Trustees. As shown.
Pages Old Almshouses (corner of New Road/London Road) - This small group of three homes was re-built in 1930.The original almshouses were erected in 1802 in Hackwood Road by Joseph Page. They provided housing for poor men and women belonging to “the congregation of protestant dissenters of the independent persuasion of Calvinistical principles, meeting at the chapel or meeting-house in London Street.”
The Triumphal Gates (London Street) - This eye-catching modern sculpture by Peter Parkinson and Richard Quinnell has stood at the entrance to the old town since 1992. The 16 decorative panels depicting local stories were cast at the Morris Singer Foundry. As shown.
13 London Street - The plaque on this building notes the site of the Falcon Inn. Oliver Cromwell stayed here during the final days of the siege of Basing House, which fell on 14th October 1645. Basing House was a royalist stronghold and had been under a long siege. After the surrender, John Paulet, Marquis of Winchester, was stripped of his finery and held prisoner in the Bell Inn cellars (on the site of 6 and 8 London Street) before being sent to the Tower of London. Architect Inigo Jones was also held prisoner here after the siege.
Goldings and the War Memorial Park (London Road) - This house, together with the houses next to it – numbers 3 and 5 London Road, - date from about 1600, and were modernised in the 18th century. The two Venetian windows on London Road were added at this time. In about 1800, the main entrance was moved to its present location. A form of imitation brickwork, called ‘mathematical tiles’, was used to save money. By tapping the ‘bricks’ around the former London Road entrance, the mathematical tiles can be identified, as they sound hollow. Goldings contains some classical painted panels in the style of Robert Adam. In 1919 Thomas Burberry bought the house and park and held it for the town as a war memorial. The park contains a concealed ditch or ‘ha-ha’, which allowed the landscape to be enjoyed without the need for fences to keep animals away from the house. The Register Office now uses this house for marriage ceremonies.
War Memorial and Bandstand (The War Memorial Park, London Road) - A winged Victory tops this fine war memorial by L F Roslyn which was erected in 1923 near the London Road entrance, on a plinth of Portland stone. Go through the park gateway and follow the path round to the right. The bandstand was a gift to the town in 1902 from brewer John May, and was previously in Fairfields Recreation Ground. In 1921 it was moved to the Park where it stood alongside tennis courts. Recently the parkland has been restored to its 18th century appearance, and the bandstand has been moved to the Festival of Britain Gates entrance in Hackwood Road. Leave the park by these gates, cross the road and continue along Southern Road.
All Saints’ Church (Victoria Street) - This fine building of Bath stone was designed in 1915 by Temple Moore (1856-1920), the last great architect of the Victorian Gothic period. He was articled to architect George Gilbert Scott Junior, and influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement. The bells were donated by John May – nine instead of the customary eight. The church houses a ‘Head of Christ’ in bronze, by Dame Elisabeth Frink, installed in 1986, and stained glass.
The Winton Pub (Winton Square) - ‘The Winton’ pub, known as ‘The Wheatsheaf’ until 1999, was a coaching inn. In an adjacent field the town’s Michaelmas hiring fair was held, where men and women sought employment for the coming season. Winton House opposite is a fine example of a restored late Georgian town house of five bays, with an impressive portico of two pairs of Tuscan columns. Brinkletts farmhouse survives, at 15 Winchester Road, but the old farmyard and the barn are to be redeveloped.
May’s Bounty Cricket Ground (Bounty Road) - Known as ‘The Folly’, the first recorded game by a Basingstoke side was played here in 1817. John May, of the town’s brewing family, bought the ground in 1880 and later built the pavilion. The ground became known as May’s Bounty and is the home of the Basingstoke and North Hants Cricket Club. County matches were played here until recently. This image shows the ground in the 1960s.
Fairfields School (Council Road) - The Education Act of 1870 called for the provision of free elementary education for all children. This was the town’s elementary school from 1888, managed by a board of elected members. George Willis was among its first pupils. John Arlott attended this school from 1919-1925.
Innovation Court (New Street) - The life size bronze sculpture entitled ‘Father and Child’ by Diana Thomson was commissioned during the 1981 Year of the Family.
Joice’s Yard (Winchester Street) - This was originally the coaching entrance to the Old Crown Inn. George Whitefield (1714-1770), a dissenting Anglican like John and Charles Wesley, is known to have preached here in 1739. The name derives from John Joice, who started a carriage works here in 1880, which later built and repaired car bodies.
London Street/Winchester Street - Narrow, roofed Alleyways were ancient pedestrian ways in and out of the town. Jacob’s and Caston’s Alley are examples, as is that next to number 17 Winchester Street, which is on the route of an ancient path from St Michael’s Church to Winslade (about two miles away). An inn called ‘The Maidenhead’ stood here in the 16th century. In the 19th century it became a bank, and the town’s crest can be seen in the gable. On or near here, stood the house of Mr Kingsmill, where Catherine of Aragon lodged overnight on her way to meet her future husband, Prince Arthur, at Dogmersfield Park in November 1501. She was betrothed to Arthur, who died the following year. In 1509 she married his younger brother, to become the first of Henry VIII’s six wives.
21 Upper Church Street (formerly the ‘Hop Leaf’ Pub) - This inn, in existence by the early 18th century, still shows internal evidence of its original timber framing, and has an interesting carved wooden fire surround from about 1600. It was formerly known as ‘The Black Boy’ and later ‘The Hop Leaf’. The Black Boy sign was removed from the pub when the name was changed, and can be seen in the Willis Museum.
Carved Panels in the pavement (Cross Street) - This work of Richard Kindersley dates from 1992 and refers to Basingstoke’s twin towns in Europe. As shown.
The Blue Coat Boy Statue (Cross Street) - The representation of a Blue Coat scholar was put here by the Basingstoke Heritage Society in 1994. It is on the site of the Blue Coat School, founded by Richard Aldworth in 1646. He left money to the town, his mother’s birthplace, which is still used today to benefit those in need.
Church Street Methodist Chapel - A plaque in the floor on the pavement near the entrance to Festival Place marks the site of this church. It was damaged by bombs in the Second World War, rebuilt, and finally demolished in the 1960s’ town development.