FIFTY years ago, in 1952, the fields of Oakridge Farm, to the east of Sherborne Road, were the scene of a massive construction scheme to build a housing estate for the many people who were due to work at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston.

Six roads were laid out and some 400 houses were constructed, with a county infant school and the prospect of other facilities at a later date. The roads were Oakridge Road, Stratfield Road, Upton Crescent, Sutton Road, Maple Crescent, and Scotney Road.

Oakridge Farm, kept by the farmer Douglas Phillips, lay to the immediate east along a track half a mile from a row of cottages and the Soldier’s Return inn which stands in Sherborne Road. Mrs R Faiers, the proprietor of the public house at that time, was kept busy by the constant flow of workmen wanting “refreshment” during the following months, while the homes were being built.

The decision to build an estate in Basingstoke came after it was realised that the staff needed to operate the large atomic site at Aldermaston had nowhere to live, especially as many had been brought in from all over the country.

A great deal of land at Tadley and Baughurst was acquired for housing estates, but these would not be ready in time for the completion of the AWRE. The Oakridge estate was one of the first to be finished and transport for those without cars was supplied in the forms of coaches and buses along the seven mile route to Aldermaston.

The story of the AWRE goes back to April 1950, when construction work began on a disused aerodrome at Aldermaston to provide accommodation for the hundreds of builders who were contracted to build the huge complex of specialised processing structures. The director of the establishment, Dr William Penney, lived in a detached house on the outskirts of the site between 1953 and 1959, while he was in charge.

The Oakridge estate was soon completed, although a few squatters in the old temporary buildings erected for military purposes during the Second World War, at the farm, caused some delay. Over the years, some of the homes on the estate were bought by the residents, so consequently the houses were altered and extended to their liking. But there are still a few of the original designed buildings to be seen on the estate.

The Town Development Scheme of the early 1960s brought about further housing on the Oakridge farmland, both to the west and east of the original estate. Some 1,443 homes were built during the period 1965 to 1971, while a 13 storey tower block of flats and a shopping centre was included in the new scheme.

It is rather ironic that the name Oakridge was also the place in Tennessee, America, where an experimental and research area was built during the Second World War for the making of the atomic bomb.

Was it a coincidence that Oakridge at Basingstoke was chosen to house people working at an atomic site? Who knows!