Many people have the mistaken idea that Basingstoke is a new town, deliberately planned and created in the years after the Second World War to house the overspill from London. As we shall see, this is not the case. Basingstoke was an ‘expanded town’ which grew rapidly in size in the 1960s, but the original town has ancient roots which can be explored by any visitor to the area. The seeker after history staying in a Basingstoke Bed and Breakfast establishment, or who is staying outside the town in a Bed and Breakfast in the Hampshire area, will find much of interest in this town, which has been around for more than a thousand years.
Basingstoke first appears in history in 990 AD during Anglo-Saxon times. It was then known as Embasinga stocae. By the time the Doomsday Book was written in 1086 it had become Basingestoches. The name is thought to describe the town as the western most settlement of Basa’s Folk. The village of Old Basing was another enclave of the people of this otherwise unknown Saxon worthy. By 1214 a weekly Wednesday market had been established by royal charter as a feature of Basingstoke’s life and this persists to the present day.
It seems that Basingstoke, situated as it is at the confluence of a network of roads and ancient tracks, has always been a bustling and lively place, full of energy and activity. As well as being a market town and thus the centre of life in that part of Hampshire, Basingstoke was involved in the cloth industry; there were three mills operating as early as 1086.
Basingstoke had a lively time in this historic struggle between King and Parliament. St. Michael’s Church was used as a gun powder and damaged by an explosion, Basing House was besieged for two years and the town was host to no less a personage than Oliver Cromwell himself, who wrote a surviving letter to the speaker of the House of Commons while he was staying in the town.
Industry and Innovations
This violent interlude aside, most of Basingstoke’s history involves people working hard and establishing businesses that brought prosperity to the town. From the eighteenth century brewing flourished, the most prominent establishment in this line being May’s Brewery in Brook Street. The arrival of the railways in 1839, connecting Basingstoke to London, saw an upsurge in industrial activity. Famous names who started up in Basingstoke include Wallis Steevens, manufacturers of steam engines and traction engines and Thorneycroft’s who produced their first steam powered lorries in 1898.
Perhaps even more famous were two Basingstoke shop owners who went on to enjoy lasting national success – Thomas Burberry who invented Gabardine and whose name lives on in a line of clothing famous to this day and Alfred Millward whose chain of shoe shops flourished for more than one hundred and twenty years.
There’s much more to learn about Basingstoke’s thousand year success story. Anyone staying in a B&B around Hampshire should seriously consider taking the Basingstoke Town Trail, which starts in the Market place and visits more than forty fascinating sites.