A Short History of Basingstoke

Basingstoke is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The parish church of St Michael already existed and the town had a market and 3 mills. In 1214 market day was fixed by royal charter to take place on a Wednesday and has been so ever since. The town probably originally grew up near the Church and River Loddon, but its centre moved up the hill to where the main route from London to Southampton and the West Country was.  The town’s earlier Moot Hall and the later Town Hall (now the Willis Museum) were built where Church Street met London Street.  

During the English Civil War 1642-1648, Basing House was besieged for several years until, in 1645,  Oliver Cromwell himself turned up to finalize the matter. He stayed in the Falcon Inn in London Street, roughly where The Light Lounge is today. When the house fell on 14 October 164 5 the Marquis of Winchester, the owner of Royalist stronghold Basing House, was imprisoned in the cellars of the Bell Inn opposite, today a bank. Cromwell ordered that the house should be ‘totally slighted and demolished’ and indeed it was.

Basingstoke is a town where many roads meet and it became an important town for the coaching trade with its heyday in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Inns such as the George (now Zizzi’s), the Red Lion and others were all places where travellers and carriers changed horses at all hours of the day and night.  Grazing and fodder for horses required lots of grass – most of the area known as Fairfields would have been used for this purpose.

The Basingstoke Canal opened in 1796 and carried all kinds of goods and even passengers to London. This permitted the development of foundries,     the most famous and lasting of which became the firm of Wallis and Stevens. When the railway arrived in 1839 the company, which was well-known for its ‘Advance’ road rollers, was located on Station Hill.

Jane Austen 1775-1817, whose father was rector at nearby Steventon, danced at Assemblies held in the town, either in the town hall, roughly where Lloyds TSB is today or behind Barclays Bank in the Market Place, where an inn called The Angel had an assembly room.  

Thomas Hardy put Basingstoke literally onto his map of Wessex, inventing the name Stoke Barehills for the town. In Jude the Obscure he writes about the railway, which was a junction for the LSWR line from London and the GWR from Reading. There were two separate stations each with a different gauge. The GWR station was on the north side of where the station is today, close to the Great Western Railway pub.

On 31 October 1961 an agreement was signed to expand the town and to provide 11,500 homes for families from London. Basingstoke’s expansion was on. Today the town has an excellent shopping centre and a concert hall to be proud of. A long way from the 1871 population of 5574!!

You can find out more from a unique DVD 'The Story of Basingstoke' which you can buy for £10 from the Friends of the Willis Museum. Listen for ninety minutes to world famous, Basingstoke born, cricket commentator John Arlott telling how our town evolved from prehistoric times illustrated by 200 brilliant colour photos taken before demolition started.  Made by local historian Derek Wren as a slide/tape show in 1964, it has been remade as a DVD and the story brought up to date. You can purchase the DVD at the Willis Museum, at Milestones and Waterstones in Festival Place, or by contacting The Friends through their web site or by ringing their Treasurer on 01256 473947.

Useful Links:

Basingstoke Heritage Society

Basingstoke Heritage and Days Out

30 Things You Might Not Know About Basingstoke

Basingstoke Town Trail

Friends of the Willis Museum DVD Offer



NHCC&I