Robert Brown's article published in The Gazette December 19, 2003

AS CHRISTMAS shoppers flock into Basingstoke and head for the large stores to buy their gifts, it is interesting to reflect that the big stores of today were once the small shops of yesterday.

Before the Town Development Scheme of the early 1960s brought about the demolition of much of the shopping centre, the town centre consisted mainly of rows of small shops, kept by one or two people.

Typical examples were Alan Mussellwhite’s art shop in London Street, Mr Boak’s newsagents, nearly opposite, and the pie shop, a few yards just down the street. The latter is still there.

In Winchester Street there were similar businesses, such as Pearks Dairies, the provisional merchants, and Sanders Brothers, the grocers, among many which employed a few people to serve the public.

In Upper Church Street, the drapery shop of Mr and Mrs Webber was a popular venue for the local people, while at the bottom of that road, Tom Cooper, the chemist, provided the town with its medicines.

Even further down Church Street, near the rectory, just past St Michael’s Church, Mr Gittoe carried out the same task at his shop.

The latter always had a display of photographs in his window, which were taken by the popular photographer, Alfred Bearne, whose son, even now, continues in the business of photography.

In Wote Street, Wilfred Emberton ran his ironmongery shop, called Punters, after the previous owner, while further up the street, Giles bakery would bake bread from 5am.

Meanwhile the multiple stores of Woolworths, Boots the Chemists, and Marks and Spencer were at the “Top of the Town”, as it is now called, selling their goods next to these little shops.

Co-op had a brand-new store built in New Street in the 1960s to replace lots of small shops dating back to Victorian times. But within 25 years this, too, was demolished to make way for a large office block.

Other little shops were situated in Potters Lane, between Church Street and Wote Street, where the Philpott sisters, Ruby and Winifred, sold sweets and confectionery.

Not far away, Charles Everett kept a bicycle business where he sold and repaired bicycles.

Another road with small shops was Brook Street, where Churchill Way now runs through, and it was here Ron and Sid Woods cut men’s hair in their salon. Next door was a ladies hairdressers – Joan Lewis.

The shorter roads in the town centre were Cross Street, where Mr Scott ran a fish and chip shop, and Nellie and Fanny Holder kept a provisions shop. At New Street, opposite the Co-op store, George Wilding ran his photographic shop.

Tucked away in the old police station building was Mrs Doman, who hired out various types of costumes for local functions.

In Winton Square another row of small shops existed, including the ladies outfitters of Wilfred Coombs, and the fruiterers Wilkinson’s.

The crowds that surge into the Festival Place this Christmas will be in the dry if it rains, and will be able to buy most of their goods within a short distance. But, for the local folk before the 1960s, it was a case of walking from one end of the town centre to the other, in all weathers, to get what they wanted.

Basingstoke has seen many changes over the years but, for shopping, it has been a good change for many people.