A place to be proud of? Basingstoke

A victim of bad press and with a reputation for being a concrete jungle, Basingstoke has often been referred to as 'Boringstoke'. Claire Pitcher looks at why the town has been judged so unfairly

Poor old Basingstoke; it’s always been considered Hampshire’s ugly duckling – prodded and poked by the media, as well as some of its very own residents. Country Life readers once voted Basingstoke’s town centre as the sixth ‘most hated eyesore’ in the UK – harsh words. And then it was dealt another low blow when co-authors of Crap Towns Sam Jordison and Dan Kieran wrote that the town centre ‘resembles Ground Zero on September 12’ (a little insensitive). When the Basingstoke Gazette picked up the story they discovered that the authors had never actually visited the town and they had based the listing on votes they had received from a public survey. So the editor invited the pair to have a tour of the town and they were joined by the mayor as well as few more of Basingstoke’s dignitaries – all up in arms and determined to show off its best bits.

Step back in timeMany say that Basingstoke was ruined by post war developers, who completely rebuilt the town in the 1960s, partly to accommodate the growing number of people leaving London. At the time, most of the historic buildings were replaced by office blocks and large estates were constructed, along with the ring road. The large, red brick shopping centre complete with concrete multi-storey car park, had to be built in phases due to money issues. The first phase was completed by the 1970s and it was later covered over in the 1980s when it was named ‘The Walks’. The second phase was ‘The Malls’, completed in the early 80s; but the third phased was abandoned and it now stands as ‘The Anvil’ concert hall.However it’s not all high rises and housing estates, in 2002 Festival Place was opened – the eighth largest shopping centre in the UK. As well as all the top high street stores there’s a plethora of great restaurants in Festival Square, as well as a Vue Cinema. Basingstoke has now turned into a popular shopping destination – a far cry from the ‘Boringstoke’ of years gone by.If it’s independent stores and restaurants you’re after, then head for the Top of Town. This is where the market is held every Wednesday and Saturday, at the junction of London Street, Winchester Street, Wote Street and Church Street. Basingstoke is recorded in the Domesday Book as being a market site since 1214.

“Basingstoke has now turned into a popular shopping destination – a far cry from the ‘Boringstoke’ of years gone by.”

Culture vulturesOther notable historical buildings in this preserved part of town include two of Basingstoke’s cultural places to visit: The Haymarket theatre, the former corn exchange, and the Willis Museum, which was once the town hall and is the place to visit to discover even more fascinating facts about Basingstoke and its colourful past. Part of Anvil Arts, The Haymarket has played host to many national touring shows, and prides itself on promoting local theatre talent. Playing soon is the controversial Mark Thomas and South Pacific, both in May.Comedians such as Jimmy Carr, Stephen K Amos and Michael Macintyre (to name a few) always visit The Anvil when they’re on tour; but if comedy isn’t your thing then try a musical, marvel at Anton and Erin from Strictly or soak up the sounds of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

Celebrity spottingIn fact, Basingstoke has plenty of connections to the rich and famous: Alex Thompson, chief correspondent for Channel 4 news and perhaps you have heard of that popular actress Liz Hurley; or the not-as famous Tanita Tikaram (late 80’s singer-song writer) who went to the town’s Queen Mary’s College to study A-level politics, sociology and English. Football’s rising star Tom Cleverley was also born in Basingstoke – currently he’s on loan to Wigan Athletic from Manchester United. The town even has royal connections as Sarah Ferguson, former wife of Prince Andrew, was raised in nearby Dummer.

Second chancesThere are a plethora of websites dedicated to clearing the harsh names that Basingstoke has been called over the years, and the Basingstoke Gazette has a long-running campaign aptly called ‘A Place to be Proud Of’. The town does have a lot going for it: gone are the days of run down shops and concrete eye sores and if you haven’t already – I suggest you shirk your preconceptions and pay it a visit.

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Upcoming dates for your diary

May 8, 11am – 5pmBasingstoke Festival of TransportThis huge free event takes place in War Memorial Park and is run by the Thornycroft Society. Over 900 vehicles, including classic and vintage cars’ fire engines and military trucks will be on display – a great way to spend a Sunday.

July 9 and 10Basingstoke LiveTimes TBCHeld in War Memorial Park, 30,000 people attended last year’s music festival. Both local and national bands played at the free event.

August 7, 11am1940s event at MilestonesStep back to the 1940s for this special event. See re-enactors, vehicles and much more. If you belong to a classic car or WWII military vehicle group or are an individual who owns one and are interested in displaying your vehicle outside the museum for this event please contact Louise Mackay. Tel. 01256 477766www.hants.gov.uk/milestones

Top places to visit

Milestones MuseumHampshire’s living history museum…with a maze of streets lined with shops, a pub, and even a village green. Discover all the things that we used in the past – from gramophones to the famous Thornycroft vehicles.Tel. 01256 477 766www.hants.gov.uk/milestones

Basing HouseSteeped in history, Basing House was a major English Tudor palace and castle that once rivaled Hampton Court Palace in its size and opulence. Today only its foundations and earthworks remain. The ruins are a Grade II listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Pay a visit on a weekend when there’s a re-enactment.Tel. 01256 467 294www.hants.gov.uk/basing-house

The VyneOriginally built as a great Tudor ‘power house’, The Vyne was visited by King Henry VIII on at least three occasions and later became a family home, cherished by the Chute family for more than 350 years. Now owned by the National Trust, they regularly hold family events such as walks and Easter egg hunts.Tel. 01256 883858www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-thevyne

Did you know?An episode of Top Gear was filmed in Festival Place in November 2008. Jeremy Clarkson was testing the new Ford Fiesta in the town in the early hours of the morning.

Did you know?Basingstoke’s 279’ high Skyline Plaza, converted from the former IBM ‘Liquorice Allsort’ building, is the tallest building between London and New York.

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