Robert Brown's article published in The Gazette January 2, 2004

LOOKING back over the past two centuries, Basingstoke has seen a great change in its character and size, and now that it is the year of 2004 it is interesting to look at some of those events that stand out in the town’s development in 1854, 1879, 1904, 1929, 1954 and 1979.

One hundred and fifty years ago the railway line was built between Basingstoke and Salisbury, and at Oakley the railway station was opened on July 3, 1854.

Not far away, at Aldershot, the present Army camp was built on 4,000 acres of heathland and common, which had been purchased by the Government for military purposes.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago the town saw the pinnacles placed on St Michael’s Church tower; the Cottage Hospital in Hackwood Road was opened; and May Street was built in a straight line on what is now Churchill Way.

A century ago, in 1904, the railway station was rebuilt and extended due to the laying of four lines of track (instead of the two, which were put down in 1839). In the same year, the Church Street Methodist Chapel (on the site where the main entrance to Festival Place is in Church Street) was dismantled and removed to Cliddesden village, to allow a larger church to be built there.

Seventy-five years ago the Basingstoke bypass was built between the Black Dam ponds and the Stag and Hounds public house in Winchester Road; and the railway company was grouped into the Southern Railway.

Fifty years ago, in 1954, the Shrubbery Girls School was opened in Cliddesden Road; the Plaza cinema at the top of Sarum Hill closed down after some 30 years in operation; and Hampshire County Council took over the Basingstoke Museum, in New Street.

The big news event of the year was when a Mr Hughes won £75,000 on the football pools.

When his daughter was married that year it was the wedding that everybody wanted to see. St Michael’s churchyard was so crowded that the photographer could hardly take his pictures. There were 10 bridesmaids.

Twenty-five years ago, the New Street General Post Office saw the demolition of its sorting office and telephone exchange, after they had been transferred to other buildings.

The year 1979 also saw the completion of the Development Group’s housing projects to finish the 1961 Development Scheme, to bring overspill population into the town.

Ten years ago, The Anvil Concert Hall was completed and opened in May; and the firm of Lansing Linde (previously known as Lansing Bagnall) decided to demolish most of its old buildings to allow the land to be used for other commercial properties.

Of all the anniversaries of the year 2004 there is one that remains a mystery. In 1944, George Formby came to Basingstoke to film part of a film entitled He Snoops to Conquer. It was released for public viewing that year, but since then has never been seen on a cinema screen or on television. The George Formby Society has recently seen a copy of it, but they have no control over its distribution for public viewing.

While on the subject of anniversaries it is interesting to look at the national events of 1954, 50 years ago, when the television licence was raised from £2 a year to £3.

Oxford won the annual boat race in its 100th year, Royal Tan was the winner of the Grand National horse race, and West Bromwich won the FA Cup Final, against Preston North End, 3-2.

Also that year, food rationing finally ended in July after 14 years in operation, having begun at the beginning of the Second World War; and the National Cancer Institute in America discovered that there was a link between smoking and lung cancer.

The top songs of that year were Eddie Calvert’s Oh Mein Papa, Doris Day’s Secret Love, Frank Sinatra’s Three Coins in the Fountain, and David Whitfield’s Cara Mia, were among the many popular tunes of that time.

The government decided to allow a new television channel to open that year, called ITV, but it was insisted that the programmes were not likely to offend good taste nor incite crime or disorders.

But the most interesting item for that year was the publication of a book called The Lord of the Rings by an author called J R Tolkien. Sounds familiar?