THE destruction of an historic house, complete with battlements, was one of the factors that led to the setting up of Basingstoke Heritage Society.

The house in question was Hillside, otherwise known as 1 Vyne Road, in South View, and was once the home of one of Basingstoke’s foremost citizens, John Burgess Soper.

He owned an iron foundry on Basingstoke Wharf – where Basingstoke Canal came to an end, which is now where the bus station is in Festival Place.

Elected mayor in 1888, Mr Burgess Soper was a magistrate and his name still lives on with Burgess Road and Soper Grove in South View.

The crenellated Victorian house was demolished in 1989 and this caused an outcry among concerned townspeople who were asking what was next for the bulldozer. Since the 1960s, much of Basingstoke’s heritage had been lost whilst it was redeveloped as a London overspill town.

Back in 1989, John Burgess Soper’s once fine home was left in a very poor state after its last occupant passed away.

Sadly, the building had been the target of vandals, which was all too often the case when premises were left empty.

However, it was not the first time that the Victorian building had been attacked by mindless yobs.

It was once the target of a rowdy rabble – known locally as the Massaganians – who tried to drive away the drink-abstaining influence of the Salvation Army in Basingstoke.

The rabble themselves were under the influence of alcohol, often plied to them by local brewers and publicans.

On several occasions in the 1880s, members of the Christian group were attacked in the streets, leading to what was known as the Salvation Army riots.

One Sunday, on March 20, 1881, John Burgess Soper, along with other upstanding townspeople, who admired the aims of the Salvationists in their fight against drink, were attacked by the Massagainians while walking in procession with the Salvation Army. Some members of the business community, including local brewers, stood by and did nothing.

The Hants and Berks Gazette came under attack too, as the editor had championed the Salvation Army in a leading article.

The mob smashed The Gazette’s Church Street offices and then tore up to Vyne Road and took revenge on John Burgess Soper by stoning his house, smashing his windows.

Following the demolition of Hillside, the editor of The Gazette called for a civic society to be set up, and for several weeks the issue was a hot topic in The Gazette’s letters pages.

The subsequent threat of a similar fate befalling the Cottage Hospital in Hackwood Road proved to be the last straw, and in 1989, the Basingstoke Heritage Society was formed to champion the past, present and future.