Basingstoke is all too often thought of as a contemporary town. However, there is a rich historical tapestry woven through Basingstoke and its surrounding areas. It’s been home to Tudor banquets and Regency balls, with tales to tell of Henry VIII and Jane Austen alike. So what are the historical milestones of Basingstoke from these bygone times? And where should you go if you want a taste of the town’s varied past?
Its proximity to London made the area of Basingstoke ideal for the building of grand manor houses.
Sir William Paulet, the 1st Marquess of Winchester, began building Basing House in 1531. Rivalling Hampton Court in its extravagance, the palace consisted of the “Old House” built on mediaeval castle foundations, and the “New House” of 360 rooms built outside the ancient defence system.
Basing House was a palace of power and influence through generations of Tudor royalty, thanks to the steadfast allegiance of Sir William. Henry VIII visited Basing House with Anne Boleyn in 1534, by which point Sir William had forsaken his previous Catholic faith in favour of the new Church of England. As Henry VIII’s lineage took their turns on the throne, Sir William converted his religion a total of five times and avoided falling out of favour as many of his contemporaries did. Perhaps the perfect location of Basingstoke to London played a part in this, being close enough for solidarity yet far enough to escape scrutiny.
Ironically, it was the Paulet family allegiance to the crown which finally brought destruction upon Basing House. In 1645 during the English civil war, the siege of Basing House ended in Oliver Cromwell’s victory. The house was raised to the ground, leaving the ruins, walled garden and Great Barn which are now a visitor destination.
Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain, Lord Sandys constructed The Vyne from a cluster of mediaeval buildings at the start of the 16th Century. Although the house retains its Tudor chapel, it has vastly reduced in size since its heyday when it welcomed Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
The Vyne survived the English Civil War but left Lord Sandys destitute. He sold the premises to Speaker of the House of Commons, Chaloner Chute. In this family, the house would remain until its bequeathment to the National Trust in 1956. It’s now a popular Basingstoke National Trust site full of Tudor atmosphere.
The link between Hampshire and Jane Austen cannot be missed if you’ve ever visited the county. Hampshire road signs proudly proclaim “Welcome to Jane Austen Country”! So where should you go to find the echo of Jane’s footsteps?
Born in 1775, Jane Austen lived the first 25 years of her life in Steventon, around 7 miles from Basingstoke town centre. The Rectory at Steventon church was where Jane wrote Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility. It was demolished in 1824 but is commemorated by a lime tree. The 12th Century church itself where Jane’s father was rector stands as it did then
Now the four-star Oakley Hall Hotel situated 6 miles from the centre of Basingstoke itself, this manor house was one of Jane Austen’s closest neighbours. Jane would walk to the house to visit her friends, the Bramston’s, there and would join them in their carriage to attend balls held in Basingstoke.
Although she was a countryside girl, we know that Jane often frequented Basingstoke for dances. The party destination was often the Town Hall (now Lloyds Bank). Or sometimes they would head to the Assembly Rooms which sat at the rear of what was The Angel Inn at Market Place (now Barclays Bank). The Willis Museum is a great destination for any Austen fans to rediscover Basingstoke history. Don’t forget to say hello to the bronze statue which is situated outside the museum to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Jane’s death.
Basingstoke is a town steeped in enough history to keep visitors returning again and again!
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