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View from the station forecourt
Grid reference: SU637523
Location: 51°16’0"N, 1°5’15"W
Population: 82,913  (2008 est.)
Post town: Basingstoke
Postcode: RG21, RG22, RG23, RG24
Dialling code: 01256
Local Government
Council: Basingstoke and Deane

Basingstoke is a modern town in north-eastern Hampshire, spread across a valley at the head of the River Loddon, 48 miles south-west of London and 19 miles north-east of the county town, Winchester.

It is often mistaken for a New Town, but although Basingstoke has been developed heavily and hastily in the modern styles of its time as an overspill town for London, it was never designated a New Town nor had any development corporation imposed upon it; it did this to itself. Basingstoke began as an old market town lie any other in Hampshire, but it expanded in the 1960s as part of a tripartite agreement between London County Council, Hampshire County Council and Basingstoke Borough Council. It was developed rapidly, along with nearby Andover and Tadley, to accommodate part of the London 'overspill' as perceived under the Greater London Plan, 1944.[1]

Basingstoke has been nicknamed "Doughnut City" or "Roundabout City" due to the number of roundabouts. The result of the development has been a 1960s town of roads, flyovers, retail parks, concrete and rundown neighbourhood estates. The centre of Basingstoke at least retains some of its original character, such as has not been bulldozed in the name of modernity.

Basingstoke market was mentioned in the Domesday Book and Basingstoke remained a small market town until the 1950s. It still has a regular market, but is now bigger than Hampshire County Council's definition of a market town.[2]

Basingstoke is an economic centre with low unemployment, and is the location of the UK headquarters of several substantial companies in finance, industry, pharmaceuticals, information technology, telecommunications and electronics.

Name of the town

The name of Basingstoke is found in a charter of 990 as Embasinga stocæ,[3] and in he Domesday Book as Basingestoches. The name is believed to have been derived from the town's position as the outlying, western settlement of Basa's people.[4]

Basing, now known as Old Basing, is a village a few miles to the east and it is thought to have the same etymology, but is considered by some to be the older settlement.[5]


The town lies sprawled across a valley through the North Downs at an average height of 289 feet. It is a major interchange between Reading, Newbury, Andover, Winchester, and Alton, and lies on the natural trade route between the south-west and London. The M3 passes by it.

The precise size and shape of Basingstoke today are difficult to identify, and it has expanded to swallow many old towns and villages, some of which survive as civil parishes.

Basingstoke sits on a bed of cretaceous upper chalk with small areas of clayey and loamy soil, inset with combined clay and flint patches. Loam and alluvium recent and pleistocene sediments line the bed of the river Loddon. A narrow line of tertiary Reading beds run diagonally from the northwest to the south-east along a line from Sherborne St John through Popley, Daneshill and the north part of Basing. To the north of this line, encompassing the areas of Chineham and Pyotts Hill, is London clay.[6]

Divisions and suburbs

Basingstoke's expansion has absorbed much surrounding farmland and scattered housing, transforming it into housing estates or local districts. Many of these new estates are designed as almost self-contained communities, such as Lychpit, Chineham, Popley, Winklebury, Oakridge, Kempshott, Brighton Hill, Viables, South Ham, Black Dam and Hatch Warren.

The M3 motorway acts as a buffer zone to the south of the town, and the South Western Main Line constrains the western expansion, with a green belt to the north and north-east, making Basingstoke shaped almost like a kite. As a result, the villages of Cliddesden, Dummer, Sherborne St John and Oakley, although being very close to the town limits, are considered distinct entities. Popley, Hatch Warren and Beggarwood are seeing rapid growth in housing.[7][8]

Nearby towns which have escaped the clutches of Basingstoke and retain their own charm are Hook, Hampshire|Hook]], Tadley and Whitchurch.


Early settlements

Remains of the 16th-century Chapel of the Holy Ghost, Basingstoke

The hillfort at Winklebury (two miles west of the town centre), known locally as Winklebury Camp or Winklebury Ring[9] dates from the Iron Age and there are remains of several other earthworks around Basingstoke including a long barrow near Down Grange.[10] Nearby, to the west, Roman Road and Kempshott Lane mark the course of a Roman road that ran from Winchester to Silchester. Further to the east, another Roman road ran from Chichester through the outlying villages of Upton Grey and Mapledurwell. The Harrow Way is an ancient route that runs to the south of the town.

Market town

St Michael's Church

Basingstoke is recorded as being a market site in the Domesday Book, and has held a regular Wednesday market since 1214.[11]

During the Civil War, and the siege of Basing House between 1643 and 1645, the town was a garrison for large numbers of Parliamentarians. During this time, St Michael's Church was damaged whilst being used as an explosive store[12] and lead was stripped from the roof of the "Chapel of the Holy Ghost"[13] leading to its eventual ruin. Cromwell is believed to have stayed in the town towards the end of the siege and wrote a letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons addressed from Basingstoke.[14]

The cloth industry appears to have been important in the development of the town until the 17th century along with malting.[15]

Brewing became important during the 18th and 19th centuries, and the oldest and most successful was May's Brewery, established by Thomas and William May in 1750 in Brook Street.

Victorian Basingstoke

London Street with its mixed architecture

The London and South Western Railway arrived in 1839 from London, and within a year it was connected to Winchester and Southampton. In 1848 a rival company, sponsored by the Great Western Railway built a branch from Reading, and in 1854 a line was built to Salisbury.[16] In the 19th century Basingstoke began to move into industrial manufacture, Wallis and Haslam (later Wallis & Steevens),[17] began producing agricultural equipment including threshing machines in the 1850s, moving into the production of stationary steam engines in the 1860s and then traction engines in the 1870s.

Two traders who opened their first shops within a year of each other in the town, went on to become household names nationally: Thomas Burberry in 1856 and Alfred Milward in 1857.[18] Burberry became famous after he invented Gabardine and Milward founded the Milwards chain of shoe shops, which could be found on almost every high street until the 1980s.[19]

Ordinary citizens were said to be shocked[20] by the emotive, evangelical tactics of the Salvation Army when they arrived in the town in 1880, but the reaction from those employed by the breweries or within the beer trade quickly grew more openly hostile. Violent clashes became a regular occurrence culminating on Sunday 27 March 1881, when troops were called upon to break up the conflict after the Mayor had read the Riot Act. The riot and its causes led to questions in Parliament and a period of notoriety for the town.[21]

In 1898 John Isaac Thornycroft began production of steam-powered lorries in the town and Thornycroft's quickly grew to become the town's largest employer.[22]

Twentieth century

Basingstoke was among the towns and cities targeted during the Second World War, and suffered bomb damage including St Michael's Church. After the war, it had a population of 25,000.

As part of the London Overspill plan, Basingstoke was rapidly developed in the late 1960s as an 'expanded town', along with places such as Harlow and Swindon. Basingstoke town centre was completely rebuilt. At this time many buildings of historic interest were replaced by a large red brick shopping centre and concrete multi-storey car park. Many office blocks and large estates were built, including a ring road.

The shopping centre, following money issues, was built in phases. The first phase was completed by the 1970s and was later covered in the 1980s, and was known as The Walks. The second phase was completed by the early 1980s, and became The Malls. The third phase was abandoned and the site was later used to build The Anvil concert hall.

Twenty-first century

The town has not been considered kindly. In 2003, Basingstoke was voted ninth in a humorous guide to the worst places to live in Britain.

Later that year, the Basingstoke Gazette launched its "Basingstoke – A Place to be Proud of" campaign, aimed at changing people's perception of the town.[23] The campaign is struggling on and is marked by the presentation of annual awards to individuals, organisations or businesses nominated by the public for commendable local achievement.[24]

Festival Place shopping centre

The central part of the shopping centre was rebuilt in 2002 and reopened as Festival Place. This has bought a dramatic improvement to shoppers' opinions of the town centre, but it is unclear if it has softened the town's overall image.[25]

Further work to improve the image of the town continues with the latest Central Basingstoke Vision project coordinated by the Borough Council.[26]

In the mid 1990s, numerous reports described sightings of the Beast of Basingstoke, a big cat believed to be a lion or a puma, possibly two. Local legend suggests the animal was shot and killed, although no official news sources document any capture or killing of the beast.[27]

During the severe snow storms of December 2009, Basingstoke and the surrounding area was one of the worst hit regions in the UK, where an estimated 3000 motorists were forced to abandon their vehicles around the town and on the ring road during the evening rush hour of the 21st.[28]


The Malls from the railway station, before the 2011 refurbishment

Festival Place, a new shopping centre, opened in autumn 2002, adding a huge boost to the town centre,[29] transforming the former The Walks Shopping Centre and the New Market Square. Aside from a wide range of shops, there is also a range of cafés and restaurants as well as a large multiple-screen cinema.

Central Basingstoke has two further shopping areas: The Malls and the Top of Town. The Malls area has declined since the opening of Festival Place and the closure of its Allders department store, though it is still home to several major retailers. The leasehold was purchased in 2004 by the St Modwen development group in partnership with the Kuwait property investment company Salhia Real Estate, with provision for redevelopment[30]

The Top of Town is the historic heart of Basingstoke, housing the town's Willis Museum[31] in the former Town Hall building and the Haymarket Theatre in the former Corn exchange. There are also several locally run shops, as well as the post office, and the market place.

The town's nightlife is split between the new Festival Square, and the traditional hostelries at the Top of Town, with a few local community pubs outside the central area. The town has four nightclubs, two in the town itself, one on the east side and one two miles out to the west.



Churchill Way running through the centre of the town centre

Basingstoke is at Junction 6 and Junction 7 of the M3 motorway, which skirts the town's southern edge, linking the town to London and to Southampton and the south-west. The central area of the town is encircled by a ring road constructed in the 1960s named The Ringway and bisected from east to west by the A3010, Churchill Way. Major roads radiate from the Ringway like spokes from a hub. The A33 runs north-east to Reading and the M4 motorway and south west to Winchester. The A30 runs east to Hook and west to Salisbury. The A303 begins a few miles south-west of Basingstoke to head west towards Wiltshire and the West Country, sharing the first few miles with the A30. The A339 runs south east to Alton and north-west to Newbury. Basingstoke has a reputation for having a large density of roundabouts.


The station, from Alençon Link

The South Western Main Line runs east and west through the centre of the town and Basingstoke railway station linking it to the south-west, London Waterloo (the fastest train Basingstoke to London takes 44 minutes), Winchester, Southampton and Bournemouth, and, by way of the Eastleigh to Fareham Line and West Coastway Line, to Portsmouth and Brighton. The West of England Main Line to Salisbury and Exeter diverges at Worting Junction, to the west. The Basingstoke Branch[32] runs north-east to Reading, providing services to Oxford, Birmingham and the north. The town was also the terminus of the defunct Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway.


Separate provision for cyclists from other road traffic was not part of the remit of the 1960s town redevelopment, and until recently provision for cyclists was very poor.[33] A Basingstoke Area Cycling Strategy was developed in 1999[34] and subsequently an extensive cycle network has been developed[35] mainly utilising on-road routes or off-road routes that run parallel with and directly alongside roads. Basingstoke was linked to Reading on the National Cycle Network route 23 in May 2003 and the route was extended south to Alton and Alresford in April 2006. A Basingstoke Bicycle Users Group meets quarterly to discuss local cycling issues.[36]


There are now no navigable waterways within the immediate area, although there used to be a canal to the centre of Basingstoke, but this fell into disuse and the last five miles of the canal route have now been lost. This section of the canal fell into disuse due to a lack of boat traffic, general neglect and a lack of water levels. There were no locks on this part of the canal and so the route generally followed the contours of the land with occasional cuttings, tunnels and embankments. The route can be partly determined by noting that the canal falls between the 75m and 80m contours on Ordnance Survey maps.

The Basingstoke Canal started at a canal basin, roughly where the cinema in Festival Place is located. From there the canal ran alongside the River Loddon following the line of Eastrop Way. The old canal route passes under the perimeter ring road and then follows a long loop partly on an embankment to pass over small streams and water meadows towards Old Basing, where the route goes around the now ruined palace of Basing House and then through and around the eastern edge of Old Basing. It followed another loop to go over small streams near the Hatch public house (a lot of this section was built over when constructing the M3) and headed across fields on an embankment towards Mapledurwell. The canal then headed towards a small tunnel under the Andwell Drove and then across another field partly on an embankment towards Up Nately.

The section of the canal from Up Nately to the western entrance of the Greywell Tunnel still exists and is a nature reserve; there is water in the canal and the canal towpath can be walked. A permissive footpath at the western entrance to the tunnel allows walkers to access public footpaths to get to the eastern entrance of the tunnel. The limit of navigation is about 500 yards east of the Greywell Tunnel. The renovated sections of the canal can then be navigated east towards West Byfleet where it joins the Wey Navigation, which itself can be navigated to the Thames at Weybridge.

The Basingstoke Canal Heritage Footpath roughly follows the canal route for two miles from Festival Place to Basing House.

Plans to reconnect the town with the surviving section of the Canal have been mooted several times in the past and this remains a long term aim of the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society.[37] Another possible idea also considered was to connect the remaining canal to the Kennet and Avon navigation near Reading.

Cultural references

Basingstoke has appeared in literature and popular culture on a number of occasions, though since the 1960s such references have rarely been complimentary.

In the 1887 Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera Ruddigore, the word "Basingstoke" is used as a code word by Sir Despard Murgatroyd to soothe his new wife, Mad Margaret, when she seems in danger of relapsing into madness. Margaret suggests this course of action herself:

Well, then, when I am lying awake at night, and the pale moonlight streams through the latticed casement, strange fancies crowd upon my poor mad brain, and I sometimes think that if we could hit upon some word for you to use whenever I am about to relapse—some word that teems with hidden meaning—like "Basingstoke"—it might recall me to my saner self.

In 1895, Thomas Hardy's fictional version of Basingstoke is "Stoke Barehills" in Jude the Obscure:

There is in Upper Wessex an old town of nine or ten thousand souls; the town may be called Stoke-Barehills. It stands with its gaunt, unattractive, ancient church, and its new red brick suburb". "The most familiar object in Stoke-Barehills nowadays is its cemetery, standing among some picturesque mediaeval ruins beside the railway; the modern chapels, modern tombs, and modern shrubs having a look of intrusiveness amid the crumbling and ivy-covered decay of the ancient walls."

In 1979, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams includes a reference to the town. Just after Ford Prefect has explained to Arthur Dent that they hitched a lift on a spaceship Arthur replies: "Are you trying to tell me that we just stuck out our thumbs and some green bug-eyed monster stuck his head out and said, Hi fellas, hop right in. I can take you as far as the Basingstoke roundabout?".[38]

In 1981, in the sitcom Only Fools And Horses, its revealed that the character Rodney Trotter was expelled from Art College in Basingstoke for smoking cannabis.

In the 1984 Robyn Hitchcock's song "I Often Dream Of Trains", Basingstoke is mentioned as in the following lyric snippet:

I often dream of trains when I'm alone
I ride on them into another zone
I dream of them constantly
Heading for paradise
Or Basingstoke
Or Reading

In the 2005 novel "The Big Over Easy" by Jasper Fforde', Detective Mary Mary from hails from Basingstoke, and is continually claiming to not be ashamed of it, a play on the town's public relations campaign that it's "A Place to Be Proud Of."

Film and television

The 1998 film Get Real was filmed at various locations around the town.[39]

Basingstoke's North Hampshire Hospital was one of two hospitals used for the filming of Channel 4's cult comedy Green Wing.[40]

An episode of Top Gear was filmed in Festival Place in November 2008. The episode was broadcast on BBC2 at 8:00pm on 7 December. Jeremy Clarkson was testing the new Ford Fiesta in the town in the early hours of the morning and drove it around the inside of the shopping centre.[41]

In 1974 Basingstoke is mentioned in a skit from Episode 42 of Monty Python's Flying Circus as the site of a First World War battle. When the General (sitting as president of a court martial) asks "Basingstoke, Hampshire?" he is told no, the battle occurred in Basingstoke, Westphalia (which can only be located on a map produced by Cole Porter).

Basingstoke is also mentioned in a Monty Python sketch where Michael Palin is in the midst of hi-jacking a plane when the pilot (John Cleese) suggest he could drop him off at a "haystack just outside Basingstoke". The footage of Palin falling into the haystack and getting onto a coach was actually filmed on the outskirts of Basingstoke.


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