Robert Brown's article published in The Gazette, October 10, 2003

WHEN The Feathers Hotel in upper Wote Street recently reopened with the name of Laarsens, it joined several other inns that have lost their identities in Basingstoke over the years.

In the 1950s, the Black Boy Hotel in upper Church Street was changed to the Hop Leaf as it was thought to be a racist name, but further research by a local historian found out that the old title referred to King Charles I. It was a nickname given to him by crowds of people after his defeat at the battle of Naseby in 1645. It was an abbreviation of “You have blacked your reputation, boy”.

In the 1980s, two public houses changed their names to try to improve their reputation.

On the South Ham estate, the Beacon was re-titled Clouds, but this was later given back its old name.

In the new shopping centre, the Goat and Barge was renamed the Nightjar, and remained as such until its closure and demolition in 1999, to make way for Festival Place.

Then, in September 1999, the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Winton Square was renamed the Winton, after having the old title since 1820.

The re-naming of the Bass House at Hampstead House in the shopping centre to Laarsens some time ago was short-lived, as it is now closed and the name has been given to the Feathers Hotel, a building with a long history.

Its origins go back to a hostelry that stood on the site in the 16th century, where travellers could stay the night while passing through the town.

In the late 17th century, when stagecoaches started to arrive in Basingstoke enroute to their destinations, the hostelry was rebuilt to allow coaches to stop there, and give both passengers and horses a place to rest.

Over the years, further sections were built on, and the interior of the building was designed to attract people of all classes.

In the years after King James I fled the country following his abdication from the throne in 1688, due to his insistence on being a Roman Catholic, many of his partisan friends would meet at the Feathers Hotel and other inns about the country, to toast their drinks to “the King across the water”.

James I died in France in 1701, having lived there for 13 years. The group called themselves the Jacobites, as Jacobus was Latin for James.

The name of the Feathers Hotel was first recorded in 1738, when it was mentioned that a “curious old house” next to the inn was where gloves were made.

This same building, which was partly in the yard of the Feathers, had an external gallery where men used to fight with “short sticks”, watched by crowds of people on the ground. These “sticks” were probably cudgels – an old style of weapon.

The stables in the yard became unused when the railway arrived in the town in 1839, although the occasional horse and cart rested there overnight.

Then, on June 18, 1890, the hotel found itself with the problem of dealing with 58 horses belonging to the 14th Battery of the Royal Artillery, which was passing through the town and which needed accommodation for the night. There were also four officers and 71 men who needed a rest, so the hotel took as many as it could and then sent them to other inns in the town.

Four large guns, which were also brought from Farnham, where they were based, were parked in the Market Place for the night. In the morning, the local children had the time of their lives climbing on the guns until the officers put a stop to them.

During the 20th century, the Feathers was extended and refurbished several times, with the yard entrance being sealed off with an extra doorway. To the south of the hotel, the sweetshop of Frank Scott, which was established in 1932, was acquired to extend the bars, after Mr Scott closed down the shop in January 1966.

Though now called Laarsens, the Feathers Hotel will always be known under its old name by the local folk.

As one old chap said last week: “This town has seen so many changes that I can’t cope with any more, and that building will always be the Feathers to me.”