Robert Brown's article published in The Gazette August 22, 2003

JUST recently a small notice was placed outside Key House, the office block near Winton Square, to inform the public that the building is planned to be demolished to make way for a block of flats.

Less than 20 years old, the 8,500 square feet of offices, built in 1984 for Morgan Commercial Properties in association with Investors in Industry, complete with 38 parking spaces, was constructed on land that once held the Primitive Methodists Church.

The church was built in 1902 at a cost of £4,643, with 580 seats for both the congregation and the choir.

The original Methodist chapel for that area of Basingstoke was in premises in Flaxfield Road.

In July 1898, the church trustees decided to borrow money to purchase land at the top of Sarum Hill to build a larger building.

They sought the assistance of the Christian Endeavour Society, the choir of the church and other organisations, and between them decided that the new church should provide accommodation for no less than 500 people, with a circular gallery and recess behind the rostrum for the organ.

They also agreed that a large schoolroom should be built at the rear of the church to hold 300 children in four classrooms.

On September 5, 1901, the foundation stone was laid with great ceremony, with the Methodist Band leading a procession to the site.

Some 400 programmes of the event were sold for one penny each to commemorate the occasion. The church was completed within a year, and on July 17, 1902, the official opening was carried out.

Meanwhile, in lower Church Street, arrangements were being made to dismantle the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, (which was built in 1875) and rebuild it at Cliddesden village.

A larger church was erected on the site and opened in 1905. Thus two Methodist organisations were about to expand their congregations.

The Sarum Hill church saw many changes in the following years, with the formation of a string band in 1904, and the establishment of open-air services in various parts of the town.

During the First World War, the school room was used as a social club for soldiers, many of whom were in tents on Basingstoke Common prior to being sent over to France to fight the invading Germans.

In 1923, electricity was installed in the church and, in conjunction with this service, a £1,000 organ was fitted some seven years later to replace the older hand-pumped one.

In 1932, the Methodist Union decided on combining the three groups, Primitive, Wesleyan and United, into one large religious organisation.

When the Church Street Methodist Church was damaged by a bomb during the Battle of Britain in August 1940, the members were invited to use the Sarum Hill Church. This they did until their church was finally repaired in 1950.

During the Second World War, the schoolroom was used to look after the young evacuees who had been brought from London, Southampton, and other areas affected by German bombs.

A day nursery was later established and this continued until 1951.

In the years after the war, the church organisations flourished as the town’s population increased, such as the sunday school, the Men’s Fraternal, the Ladies’ Circle and Church Fellowship meetings.

In the 1950s, the youth club, held in the schoolroom, became very popular for young people between the ages of 14 and 21.

Various outings were arranged, including a regular visit to the Basingfield Old People’s Home at Basing, where the members of the youth club entertained the elderly folk with music and songs.

When the Church Street Methodist Church was demolished in 1966, to make way for the new shopping centre, its members joined the Sarum Hill congregation. But the increased number of people and cars led to a decision to have a more modern church built with more parking spaces.

In 1969 it was decided to move the church further down the hill, so a row of houses just below the church was acquired and demolished.

Within a year a new building was constructed, and on May 24, 1970, the last service was held in the old church, prior to the opening of the newly named Trinity Methodist Church on May 30.

During July and August of that year the old church was demolished, with the exception of the schoolroom at the rear. Then, in 1984, this, too, was pulled down to allow construction work to begin on an office block – which is now planned to be demolished for flats.

In recent years, Basingstoke has become synonymous with the demolition of buildings that are only 20 or 30 years old – such as at South Ham, Brighton Hill, South View, and Oakridge, as well as in the town centre. The removal of Key House after 19 years will be another one to add to the list.