THE opening of the Festival Place shopping centre on Tuesday will bring into the town a surge of people from afar to see the country’s largest shopping and leisure development to open this year.

As they walk around the area, some folk are bound to ask what was there before all the construction took place. Well, here’s the answer.

Way back in 1952, Basingstoke became a receiving district for the reception of the overspill population from London under the Town Development Act.

Ten years later, plans were revealed about how it would affect the town centre.

The plans meant that much of the lower part of the shopping area would be demolished to build a large concrete shopping centre. This scheme involved parts of Wote Street and Church Street down to the railway station.

In November 1966 this work began, with the loss of many familiar old buildings such as the Methodist Church in Church Street, various public houses and offices, a school, houses, the Savoy Cinema and other places.

The work spread eastward to Goat Lane and to the edge of the bus station, which was opened in 1962, where a new market place was built with shops and offices.

It was this part of the shopping centre that was demolished in August 1999 in a new scheme to enlarge and improve the area.

It also meant the demolition of the rest of lower Wote Street, together with the old Waldorf Cinema, part of the 1960s concrete shopping centre and a section of its multi-storey car park.

This new shopping centre was planned to have among its many shops a 10-screen cinema complex with 2,000 seats, similar to the one at West Ham.

Much of the Festival Place shopping centre was built on land that was originally the wharf of the old Basingstoke Canal. This waterway was constructed between 1788 and 1794 from the River Wey in Surrey to its terminus at Basingstoke and cost £153,464, over £60,000 more than was estimated.

With the arrival of the railway in 1839, goods normally brought down from London on barges were gradually transported by train. By 1900, the goods service was discontinued on the canal.

The lack of maintenance of the waterway led to the last barge creeping along through the weeds and shallow water in 1914.

Basingstoke Wharf, with its expanse of land, became the site for commercial ventures, including a timber yard, which was the scene of a huge fire in December 1890.

In 1947, the wharf was sold and demolished, although a few wooden buildings were retained.

These huts were used by the Venture Bus company when the land was taken over as a parking area for its buses.

In 1962, the land was made into a bus station for the Wilts and Dorset bus company.

The Festival Place centre has led to the bus station being reduced in size.

It is ironic that the cinema complex is close to Basingstoke’s first cinema, the Electric, in lower Wote Street, which was built in 1910. It became the Savoy in 1939.

Basingstoke can now boast a brand new shopping centre with varied shops.

The town centre has seen many changes over the past 40 years – will this be the last?