Caring for our town - past, present and future

Registered Charity No 1000447

Basingstoke Heritage Society

Basingstoke Blue Plaques Walk


In the summer of 2013, as part of the events for the Basingstoke Festival, two members of the Heritage Society provided guided walks around the centre of the town describing the historical significance of the Heritage Society Blue Plaques. This is the script for those walks which will enable anyone interested to take themselves around the circuit.

The Heritage Society have produced and funded 20 Blue Plaques over the last 20 years. Twelve of these were put up in a four year period between 1998 and 2002. Many people see Basingstoke as essentially a “New Town” and are amazed to find that it has such a rich history. The plaques record particularly notable locations, events or persons in our Town’s history. Most of the plaques were originally bronze coloured and not very noticeable. Three years ago the Society arranged for them all to be refurbished and repainted in blue with white lettering.

In just 90 minutes (providing you maintain a reasonable pace) you will be able to see 17 of them. The other three require a car but for the sake of completeness we have added some information about those three too. If you are unfamiliar with the town a copy of the FREE Town Trail Booklet (which can be obtained from the Willis Museum) will help you locate these plaques.

The walk starts from the Basingstoke Triumphal Gateway at the end of London Street. Incidentally a book which describes the significance of the sixteen bronze panels on this structure, recently published by the Friends of the Willis museum, can be obtained from the Willis Museum.


Thomas Burberry (on Knight Frank offices in London Street)

Our first plaque is in memory of the founder of what today has become a nationally recognised luxury fashion house brand – Thomas Burberry.

This building, which dates from 1892, was the retail outlet fronting one of several Burberry workshops in the town. This one continued to manufacture until 1957. Burberry (1835 to 1926) established his drapery business in Basingstoke, aged 21, in 1856. Burberry noticed that the linen smocks worn by shepherds and farmers, were, as a result of the lanolin absorbed from handling sheep, both windproof and waterproof. In 1888, using a revolutionary technique to make garments he patented a cloth (made from cotton rather than wool) known as Gabardine. It was used to make army uniforms and was worn by explorers and royalty. An early Gabardine raincoat can be seen in the Willis Museum. Roald Amundsen left a Burberry Gabardine tent at the South Pole as evidence to Captain Scott that he had reached it before Scott. Incidentally you may not know that Thomas Burberry is buried in our South View cemetery.  

This plaque was unveiled in 2000 by Barbara Weeks, Burberry’s great granddaughter. The firm also provided a temporary exhibition of old garments for display in the Willis Museum. The unveiling & exhibition were shown on BBC South television several times over the following weekend.

Rev George Whitefield (on side wall of Tonic Bar in London Street)

This plaque records a significant event in the development of the non-conformist religious movement in the 18th century. George Whitefield (1714 to 1770) was an English Anglican preacher who encouraged the development of the evangelical movement. The Anglican Church did not assign him a pulpit, so he began preaching in parks and fields in England on his own, reaching out to people who normally did not attend church. In 1738 he went to North America but returned to the UK the following year to raise funds for an Orphanage in the US. He preached publicly at this site (formerly the Kings Head) on 8 February in 1739, it being our understanding that this was the first time he had preached within non-church premises. However a Society member recently suggested that the first occasion was in fact the day before in Windsor. Never the less this was the start of what is now known as the Great Awakening. Whitefield acted as chaplain to Selina, Countess of Huntingdon and some of his followers joined the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, a non-conformist sect whose chapels offered a form of Methodism. Until 1966 a church in Wote Street served this group. George Whitefield lived much of his later life in the US and died in Massachusetts.  

This unveiling in January 2004 was a very low key affair because the then owners of the premises were far from supportive of the whole idea.


John Curwen (on United Reformed Church in London Street)

This plaque records the ministry here in the mid-19th century of an individual who made a significant contribution to the technique of reading music.   

The Reverend John Curwen (1816 to 1880) was an English Congregationalist minister, educationalist and singing instructor who developed the tonic sol-fa method of teaching music (doh, ray, me etc) from work originally started by Sarah Glover (1785 to 1867). He was the minister here between 1838 and 1841. It is said that his failed efforts to try to teach the children of Basingstoke to sing and to read music inspired him to develop this method in Stowmarket (after he left Basingstoke) and as a result many children & adults were later able to sight read music accurately.

This plaque was unveiled in 1999 by the mayor, Derick Mirfin at his personal request because he had been made to learn the tonic sol-fa as child. The URC congregation provided a “period” choir for the unveiling.

Falcon Inn site (on Tea Bar in London Street)

We are at the site of the Falcon Inn where it is understood that Oliver Cromwell stayed during the final days of the siege of Basing House, a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War. It finally fell to the parliamentarians, on 14 October 1645. After the Surrender the owner, John Paulet, Marquis of Winchester, was stripped of his finery and held prisoner in the cellars of the Bell Inn which stood on the London Street site now occupied by the RSPCA and HSBC bank. He was then sent to the Tower of London on a charge of high treason but unlike many others he survived and in time the ruined site of Basing House was returned to him.

The plaque was unveiled on the anniversary of the surrender on 14 October 2000 by Alan Turton, curator of Basing House, in the presence of Mayor Marilyn Tucker.


Market Place (on Timpsons at the corner of Wote Street and Market Place)

A weekly market has been held in this Market Place since at least 1214, but probably even earlier as a market in Basingstoke is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. It was in 1214 when King John ordered that the Market should be held every Wednesday and so it has continued to be held for the last 800 years. A fascinating graphical representation of the Domesday Book entry for Basingstoke can be seen on one of the bronze panels on the Triumphal Gateway with a detailed explanation provided in the book mentioned earlier. The site was enlarged by an Act of Parliament in 1829 and a new Town Hall (now the Willis Museum) built to replace the earlier Mote Hall was opened in 1832. The ground floor of the 1832 Town Hall was originally open to the front with pillars which provided a covered area selling cheese, milk or meat, until it was enclosed in 1864. There is, incidentally, a different style of plaque marking the site of the Old Mote Hall on the side of Lloyds Bank.  

This plaque was unveiled in 2005 by the then mayor, Mrs. Paula Baker.

George Willis (vacant property at top of Wote Street [No 3], next to Laarsens)

This plaque reminds us of one of Basingstoke’s most outstanding 20th century personalities and benefactors – George Willis (1878 to 1970). His contribution to the town and the surrounding countryside, that he loved so much, is incalculable.   

Between 1902 and 1964 these premises were George Willis’ workplace and shop. He was a Watch maker, Clock maker and Jeweller and became the Borough’s very first Freeman in 1954. He had a keen academic interest in botany and archaeology and was made a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries for this work. His collection of early man-made tools and fossils found in the fields around Basingstoke, formed the basis of the Museum now bearing his name. Milestones Museum has a replica of Willis’s shop, with the original frontage (this shop facade that we are actually looking at is therefore a copy!). If you would like to read more about this remarkable man can I strongly recommend a small book called “Dear Mr Willis”, written by a Friend of the Willis Museum, Derek Wren, the same man who produced “The Story of Basingstoke” DVD. The book can be obtained from Waterstones or the Willis Museum for about £6.00. It is an excellent read.     

This plaque was one of three unveiled by mayor, Derick Mirfin, in 1998.

Assembly Rooms site (on Barclays Bank in Market Place)

This plaque tells us that just behind this bank building, which is on the site of the old Angel Hotel, is the location of the Assembly Rooms where the renowned novelist, Jane Austen (1775 to 1817), is known to have attended dances whilst living at Steventon between 1775 and 1801. The Assembly Rooms were only demolished in the 1970s.

This was very much the forerunner of our Blue Plaques, being put up by the Heritage Society in 1993. The colourful unveiling by the Mayor, Keith Brant, included three ladies, dressed in original costumes loaned by the National Trust, representing Jane; her mother & her sister. The event was covered by local TV.

From here you have to walk down Winchester Street and cross New Street at the traffic lights.   

Wheatsheaf Hotel (in Winton Square at top of Sarum Hill)

This plaque records the fact that this old coaching inn played a key behind-the-scenes role in one of the most significant events of the Second World War – the D-Day landings. In 1942 it became the Officers Mess of the celebrated 1st Airlanding Brigade when Major John Howard, who led the capture of the “Pegasus” bridge as the spearhead for the 1944 landings, first arrived in Basingstoke. The whole story of his time in Basingstoke was covered in some depth in the October 2012 edition of our Newsletter which you can read on our Web Site.

This was our most recent plaque when unveiled on Remembrance Sunday in 2012 by a veteran member of the Parachute Battalion after addresses from Mayor Martin Biermann and from David Robotham, Head of Basingstoke’s historic Kings School, based on his knowledge of Major Howard’s exploits. At the time the Wheatsheaf mounted a wall display on Howard and the events at Pegasus Bridge.

From here retrace your steps to Market Place and turn left down Church Street.

Arthur Attwood (on brick pillar supporting the Arch into Joice’s Yard – opposite slope into Town Centre)

Like the plaque in memory of George Willis this plaque remembers one of our modern day citizens who will probably be little known outside Basingstoke.  

If you have lived in the town for any length of time you will have heard of and probably seen Arthur Attwood (1916 to 2002). From the age of 4 he lived in the same house in Basingstoke and was actively involved in much of the town’s daily life, as a churchman, scout leader, school governor, Trustee of many charities, in every aspect of music and theatre and through his work as a Journalist on the Gazette. He used the knowledge he gained as a journalist with the Basingstoke Gazette over forty years as the basis for researching the town’s history which he went on to record in thousands of articles and a number of books. He became a Freeman of the Borough in 1989 and was awarded the MBE in the 2000 Honours List. In later years he was affectionately known as “Mr Basingstoke”. This is the entrance to the site where the Gazette’s printers, Bird Brothers, had their printing works between 1878 and 1975.

This plaque was unveiled in December 2011 by Mark Jones, the Editor of the Basingstoke Gazette, in the presence of the Mayor, David Leeks. BBC South Today covered the unveiling that evening.    

Now head for the west end doorway of St Michael’s church using the bridge to cross the Town Centre service road.

Petty School Site (on Boiler House building opposite West Door)

This plaque marks the nearby location of the Town’s Petty School, founded in 1618 following the death of Sir James Lancaster.    

Sir James Lancaster, who died on 6 June 1618, came from Basingstoke and was a prominent Elizabethan trader and privateer. He was a founder and Director of the East India Company. His will of 1618 provided for the maintenance and cost of a master for the Basingstoke Petty School, which was sited in part of the Church Cottage car park adjacent to this church and which provided a very basic education (probably just enough for people to learn to read their Bible). In 1810 the master of the Petty School became the master of the Blue Coat School in Cross Street and, from that date, the Petty School pupils were taught with the Blue Coat boys in the Cross Street premises (the site of which is now marked by a statue, erected by the Heritage Society in 1994).

This plaque was one of five erected in 1999 and was one of three unveiled by mayor, Derick Mirfin. It occurred in pouring rain and a howling gale (appropriate for a seafaring connection) and resulted in the Rector opening the main West door of the church to stop the guests getting soaked.

Now continue down Church Street to Chute House, beyond the Rectory.

Thomas Warton (on the gatepost of Chute House)

This plaque records the fact that Thomas Warton, an 18th century Poet Laureate, was born in the Vicarage on this site in 1728.

Thomas Warton (1728 to 1790) became Professor of Poetry of Oxford University in 1757 and Poet Laureate in 1785. He grew up in the Vicarage as his father, Revd. Thomas Warton, was Vicar of Basingstoke between 1723 and 1745. He himself had been an Oxford Professor of Poetry. You may not appreciate that the River Loddon runs through the Gardens behind this more modern building and under Church Street. In 1777 Warton wrote a poem to the River Loddon, describing it as his “sweet native stream”.

This was one of two plaques unveiled by the Rector of Basingstoke, Philip Welsh, on 29 October 1999. The other was the one we are about to go and see.  

Cross the road to the foot of the steps up to Town Centre shops

Site of the Hospital of St John (on the brickwork of the shopping centre)  

There was in the town, by a very early foundation of unknown date, a small hospital, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, for the accommodation of sick folk and wayfarers. Walter de Merton (1205 to 1277), a native of Basingstoke, was appointed Chancellor by King Henry III in 1261 and went on to found Merton College in Oxford between 1262 and 1274. In later life he became Bishop of Rochester. Walter de Merton never forgot this small hospital in his home town and between 1230 and 1250 extended its area, rebuilt both the house and chapel and took steps to insure its permanence by placing it under the protection of the Crown. He made it primarily a place of retirement for aged and infirm priests, though it was still to exercise hospitality towards 'the wayfaring poor of Christ.' After the death of his parents, he bestowed on the hospital the whole of his Basingstoke estate.

This plaque marks the site of that hospital. In 1778 the old hospital house gave way to new brick buildings, but some remains of the chapel were still standing in 1819. All trace of the site disappeared with the 1960s development.

As mentioned previously this was one of two plaques unveiled on the same day (29 October 1999) by the Rector of Basingstoke, Philip Welsh.


Now cross Churchill Way using the bridge to the Anvil, cross Alencon Link, and head up Chapel Street through the tunnel under the railway.   

John Arlott (on Cemetery Lodge in Chapel Hill)  

This ornate building, dating from 1856, is the 1914 birthplace of John Arlott, a nationally renowned radio cricket commentator, broadcaster, poet and writer. His father was the Cemetery Superintendent at that time. John Arlott went to school in Basingstoke (Fairfields and Queen Mary’s Grammar), had his first job in Basingstoke and never lost his affection for the town of his birth. He called his autobiography “Basingstoke Boy” and you can hear his celebrated accent when providing the commentary for the “Story of Basingstoke” DVD, which was mentioned previously. He was awarded an OBE in 1970 and died in 1991.

This plaque was unveiled in the summer of 1999 by his son, Timothy Arlott in the presence of Mayor Lynden Jones. A “guard of honour” was provided by members of the Basingstoke & North Hants Cricket Club.

Follow the path into the cemetery, ignoring the first set of paths off to your left, passing the ruins on your right until you get to a pathway T junction. Turn left up to the Burgess Road entrance. The next three plaques are on the boundary wall on your right.   

Mrs Blunden (Boundary Wall, most southerly plaque)

Arguably, Mrs Blunden is our most interesting, but least important resident. It is said that she was buried alive in July 1674. She was the wife of a wealthy local maltster and was reputed to have taken poppy-water (opium) because she was feeling unwell. As a result she fell into a deep sleep, so deep that she could not be revived and “being insensible“ was taken for dead and buried. However, schoolboys heard noises from her grave and it was said they thought they heard the words “take me out of my grave”. After quite a delay whilst permission was sought she was exhumed, but too late. Her state was described as “lamentable” and her body scratched and bleeding. The town was fined a large sum by Parliament for this negligence. Full details of this shocking event are recorded in a pamphlet published at the time, the contents of which can be read in a booklet available from the Willis Museum. The whole episode is also fully described in the Triumphal Gateway book, previously mentioned. According to Arthur Attwood she was buried a little to the south west of the Chapel’s tower.

This was one of two plaques unveiled by Simon Pluckrose, News editor of the Basingstoke Gazette, on 17 March 2002. The other one we shall see shortly.

John James (Boundary Wall, middle plaque)

This plaque is to the memory of a boy born in Basingstoke in 1672, who went on to achieve great things as a nationally recognised Architect.  

John James (1672 to 1746) was an Architect who favoured the Baroque period style and who in later life was appointed Surveyor to the Fabric at both St Pauls Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Some of his more local work included Herriard Park; Swallowfield Park & his own property, Warbrooks House in Eversley. He also designed St. George’s, Hanover Square. He was educated in Basingstoke as his father was Master of the Holy Ghost School located nearby.  

This plaque was unveiled in April 2012 by the Society’s founder chairman, Andrew Benson-Wilson in the presence of Mayor David Leeks.   

Gilbert White (Boundary Wall, most northerly plaque)

This plaque reminds us that the Reverend Gilbert White (1720 to 1793) was educated in Basingstoke. He has achieved lasting fame as an early naturalist and as the author of the “Natural History of Selborne” (1789). Like John James, he was educated in Basingstoke in the 1720s, but quite likely as a private pupil of the then Vicar, Thomas Warton, who was mentioned when we looked at his son’s plaque earlier in the walk. However, like most school boys at that time he would have played in this locality and amongst the Holy Ghost ruins. He later wrote in his book how the schoolboys plotted to blow up the ruins of the Holy Ghost Chapel by setting an explosive charge which brought down some masonry. In 1761 he took the curacy at Faringdon, near Selborne, where he stayed for twenty years as it allowed him to continue his research. He experimented, observed and recorded everything to do with his Selborne garden.   

This was the second of the two plaques unveiled by Simon Pluckrose, News editor of the Basingstoke Gazette, on 17 March 2002  

Now head for the Railway Station.

The Basingstoke & Alton Light Railway (in the information room on platforms 2/3)

In 1897 The Basingstoke & Alton Light Railway was the first railway in Britain to be authorised under the Light Railways Act of 1896, but it was not completed until 1901. Although it closed during the First World War because its track was needed in France, it was re-laid in 1924 and continued until 1936. Its principle claim to fame was as a film set for “The Wreckers” (1929) and “Oh Mr Porter”, starring Will Hay (1937). Branch lines ran into Park Prewett hospital and the Thornycroft factory in Worting Road.

The plaque was put up to mark the Centenary of the Railway in 2001 and was unveiled by the then longest serving member of Basingstoke railway staff, Rodney Dewey, who started work at Basingstoke in 1964 at the age of 15 years. The three co-authors of a history of the line were also in attendance as was BBC South television.

The plaque was originally on the station entrance. It was “temporarily” moved to its present location when the frontage of the station was re-constructed a couple of years ago. Unfortunately in order to see this plaque at the present time you will need to be catching a fast train from platform 2 or 3 or be able to persuade the SWT employee on the barrier to let you on to the station for a few minutes.


End of Town Centre walk

We hope that you have enjoyed this brief walk around most of our plaques. We have been unable to visit three of the “out of town” plaques. They are at Rooksdown, at Audleys Wood Country Hotel (on the Alton Road) and at Daneshill. Some of you may want to go and find them – see below for further information.

For those requiring details of other walks or historical information can we recommend a series of Leaflets recently published by the South View Conservation Group covering the Holy Ghost Cemetery, the Heritage Society/Council produced Town Trail Booklet, the “Beneath Basingstoke” DVD produced by Basingstoke Archaeological and Historical Society, the “Story of Basingstoke” DVD by Derek Wren and the recently published “Basingstoke Triumphal Gateway” book, all of which can be obtained from the Willis Museum.

Now for those who want to see the other three plaques here is the information required.

Sir Edwin Lutyens/Brickworks Office – Kingsland Business Park, Bilton Road, Daneshill (off Wade Road, on the left just after the household waste centre and Stewart Road)  

Whilst this plaque tells us that the building is the work of the renowned architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869 to 1944), it is the magnificent listed building itself which justifies this visit.  It is one of the hidden jewels of Basingstoke, tucked away down this side road in a modern day business estate. It was built in the Tudor style by Lutyens in 1905 as the offices of the Daneshill Brick and Tile Company and is a fine example of early 20th Century English architecture. Much of Lutyens early work was in designing brick built English country houses and it was this demand for quality bricks which led to his involvement in the establishment of the Daneshill business. Prior to his work on this office building he had designed nearby Daneshill House for Walter Hoare, the owner of the brickworks. The original business has long since disappeared but this building survived and is now used by a firm focussed on specialist security products. Whilst Lutyens went on to design many prestigious buildings he is probably best known for his war memorials including the Cenotaph in Whitehall, the Tower Hill Memorial opposite the Tower of London and the Monument to the missing of the Somme at Thiepval in France.

This plaque was unveiled in June 2000 jointly by Mayor Marilyn Tucker and Margaret Richardson, Chairman of The Lutyens Trust, in the presence of a large gathering of enthusiastic members of the Trust.

Sir Harold Gillies (on The Clock Tower building, Limes Park, Rooksdown)

Sir Harold Gillies CBE, FRCS (1882 to 1960), a New Zealander by birth, was generally known as “the father of plastic surgery”. He practised at Rooksdown House, then part of the Park Prewett hospital complex, between February 1940 and March 1959. His pioneer work in plastic and reconstructive surgery was the result of the severe injuries inflicted on individuals during the First World War. During WW2 Park Prewett became a civilian hospital with patients referred from London hospitals. Rooksdown House Hospital closed in 1959 and Rooksdown House itself was demolished many years ago so the plaque is on the building which was originally the main and grand entrance to Park Prewett Hospital, formally known as Clocktower House.

This plaque was unveiled by Mayor David Leeks in October 2011 in the presence of a large number of appropriate guests including two of Sir Harold’s grand-daughters, Roy Nash who in 1945 had been wounded and brought to Rooksdown where Sir Harold saved his shattered hand and Peter Leavey who helped to move the wounded from the wartime ambulance trains to Rooksdown by bus.  

note – it is quite a challenge to find and see this plaque. It can be seen from a slight distance from Park Prewett Road (which is the main circuit road within the development – reached either from the Tadley Road or the Newbury Road) from the top of Peggs Way. To view closer you need to turn off Park Prewett Road into Elder Road, then left into Watertower Way and park by Idsworth Court which is behind the Clock Tower building.              

Viscount Gavin Turnbull Simonds (in the entrance porch to Audleys Wood Country Hotel on the Alton Road, just past the road to Cliddesden on the south side of the M3)   

Viscount Simonds of Sparsholt (1881 to 1971) was Lord High Chancellor between 1951 and 1954, having been appointed to that office by Winston Churchill. Born into the Simonds brewing dynasty in Reading, Audleys Wood was his family home from 1900 until his marriage in 1912. Although Audleys Wood was owned by the Simonds family for many years it was built by Thomas Pain in 1880 when it was known simply as Audleys House.

This plaque was presented by representatives of the Heritage Society to Mayor David Leeks and the Audleys Wood Manager, Andrew Colley, at a function held in November 2011 to mark the launch of the Hotel’s fine dining experience in the Simonds Room.