WHEN you enter or leave Joice’s Yard, off New Street, in Basingstoke, have you ever wondered what used to be in that large gap?

If you look at the high wall at the rear of the Chicago Rock Café, you will see various patterns of brickwork where a building used to be joined to it. That building was John Mares’ clothing factory, which was built one hundred years ago and demolished exactly 60 years later.

John Mares became interested in the manufacture of clothing in his early life, in the middle of the 19th century. After a two-year apprenticeship at Thomas Burberry’s factory in Basingstoke, he slowly built up his own business.

He was keenly interested in Burberry’s attempts to find a waterproof material for outdoor clothes, and Mares experimented with various materials until he found a cloth that prevented rain water soaking through. From this discovery he produced raincoats which became world famous. He called them Pletinvain coats.

By 1896 business became so good that the factory which he acquired was extended to allow more production to be carried out. But in April the following year, a fire consumed most of the building, causing some £7,000 worth of damage. He was able to sell part of the salvaged stock, including suits at 25 shillings (now £1.25).

In the following years, Mr Mares struggled along in cramped conditions, but he managed to sell enough clothes to have a new factory erected in New Street in 1903.

He provided essential services for his staff, both male and female, and gave them social outings and other entertainment. In January 1908, the business was converted into a private limited company, with Mr Mares as chairman. But, by then, he had suffered a personal tragedy – the death of his only son from typhoid.

In September 1905, a workman accidentally blocked a sewage pipe in Reading Road, close to the waterworks which existed there at that time, and a large amount of sewage entered the water pipes in that area.

Mr Mares’ 26 year-old son Frances drank some of this water and fell ill. He was one of 168 other people who suffered, and the 15 who died during the following weeks.

John Mares and his family were members of the Congregational Church in London Street (now the United Reformed Church) and it was only natural for him to place a plaque in May Place Hall two years later, in memory of his son.

John Mares was a great contributor to church funds and, as his son was so well treated at the cottage hospital in Hackwood Road prior to his death, Mr Mares also gave much money to the hospital funds as well.

He devoted much of his private life to the welfare and progress of the hospital and, as chairman of the committee and a trustee from 1915 onward, he was responsible for the hospital being one of the best equipped in Southern England.

John Mares’ private life also included being a Justice of the Peace, from 1927, and a trustee of the Municipal Charities. He was also very interested in horticulture and attended various functions relating to that subject. He was twice married, his son being from his first wife, while his second wife gave birth to two daughters. They later married and their husbands became directors of the John Mares business.

The Mares family lived in a small house in Winchester Road at first, but as time went on and business became better, John Mares had the house completely rebuilt. This meant that the frontage was almost onto the road, but he compensated for this by having a large rear garden so well laid out that it became one of the most colourful in town. John Mares would often invite large groups of people to his garden in summer to admire the beauty of it.

In March 1930, John Mares became ill and was confined to his bed. He died in early April that year, with his family around him.

The clothing business continued for another 38 years, but imports from foreign countries in the early 1950s brought the business to a halt and the John Mares factory was closed down in 1960.

In April 1964 the building was demolished and several small shopping units were built on the site.

Then these were removed and a road was constructed to allow traffic into Joice’s Yard for access and parking. Only the uneven brickwork, mentioned before, shows where the factory used to be.

Mr Mares’ house became the offices of the Southern Electricity Board by the 1950s, and the cottage hospital in Hackwood Road was demolished in 1993 after being empty for several years.

After the typhoid epidemic of 1905, the waterworks was moved to a new site at West Ham, where it is still in operation.