FOR this week’s Flashback, we are sharing one of the columns written by the late historian and photographer Robert Brown for the Gazette in April 2005.

In 1905, workmen put the finishing touches to a brand-new hotel on the corner of Junction Road and Station Hill – the site of which is now part of the gardens to the left of the railway station entrance.

It was called the Station Hotel and was built mainly for the accommodation of railway passengers.

Public and private bars were included in the large building, which faced the front of the station, to attract people arriving by train into Basingstoke.

It was the third building to be built on the site in the course of 50 years, to provide refreshment and rest for the hundreds of people who passed that way.

Back in 1828, there were just four hotels in the town and they were all at the “Top of the Town” as it is now called. They were the Crown, George, Angel and Red Lion.

But when the railway arrived through Basingstoke in 1839, there was not one hotel in that area, only pubs.

The trackway that led up to the station from the bottom of Wote Street was improved gradually until a proper roadway was built between 1860 and 1870. This resulted in several businesses opening up along the road, including Wallis and Steevens, which made agricultural machines, and Gerrish, Ames and Simpkins, which produced clothing.

In 1871, another road was built between Chapel Street and the road that led up to the station, which, by then, was called Station Hill. This new road was named Junction Road.

Meanwhile, a Mrs Sarah Basing had opened up a wooden, one-storey building with a thatched roof opposite the railway station in the 1860s, which provided “ale and porter” for travellers.

The business proved such a success that a brick building was constructed and called the “Junction Hotel” and her other building, called “The Trial” (or “The Hut” as some people called it), was pulled down.

Built about 1870, the Junction Hotel benefited from the opening of a cattle market in 1873, and the public bar became the venue for the many farmers who attended the various cattle sales.

As more people began to travel by train and arrived in Basingstoke on business or pleasure, so the hotel realised that it needed larger premises. So, in 1904, work began on a more modern hotel with luxury rooms and better kitchen facilities.

Within a year, the new building was opened and called the Station Hotel.

The proprietor, Arthur Smith, advertised his business with notices stating “Bed and Breakfast is five shillings (now 25p); accommodation for 100 people; meals – meat, two vegetables and bread, one shilling (five pence)”.

The Station Hotel was used for sales and auctions, as well as for wedding receptions and other social functions.

But there was one downfall in being so close to the railway station in those days – the steam locomotives proved too noisy for a few people staying overnight. As the trains charged – at speed – through the station, those guests who were not used to them would be awoken.

The proprietor had to use his discretion so he would reduce the fee or give them a few extra pints of beer free of charge!

By the time the Second World War broke out, in 1939, the hotel had become a popular place. During the war it saw crowds of soldiers, sailors and airmen using the bars to quench their hunger or thirst.

At times, some of them would fall asleep in their seats and the staff had to wake them to make sure they got their trains to their destinations.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the hotel return to normality, with the market people diving across the road for a quick drink before the next sale. A man by the name of Freddie Dorkins (“Dorky”, as he became known) would walk to the main door of the cattle market and ring a large hand bell to call them back in when the next sale was beginning. With the public bar being yards away, the farmers would tumble out!

In May 1966, the cattle market closed down in preparation for the Town Development Scheme. This resulted in a loss of revenue for the Station Hotel and, within a year, it had to close down.

The building was taken over for eight years by the borough surveyor’s office of the local council, until the Civic Offices were opened in 1975. This was due to the large amount of administration work that was needed during the development of the town.

The Station Hotel was demolished later that year to make way for the second phase of the new shopping centre.

On a national basis, the first hotel in this country was Low’s Grand Hotel, in Covent Garden, London, which was opened in January 1774 by David Low.

It differed from the inns and taverns of that time as they only offered refreshment and limited letting of rooms.

It closed down in the 1880s. The first hotel with a bathroom in England was the Savoy in London, which was opened by Richard D’Oyly Carte in the 1880s. He ordered 70 bathrooms to be fitted in the building, before its erection, which prompted the builder to ask him if his customers were expected to be amphibious!

■ A regular columnist for the Gazette, Robert Brown has written eight books on Basingstoke history. He passed away on March 25, 2019.