NEXT month, The Anvil concert hall celebrates its 10th anniversary of providing an entertainment venue for the people of Basingstoke.

This building has all the facilities to give the local folk what they need to keep them amused and provided for.

Among the many facets of the entertainment centre there is a restaurant, bars on two floors (with views over the town), a spacious foyer, an auditorium with 1,400 seats, and a computerised box office, which is linked with the Haymarket Theatre in Wote Street and Central Studio in Cliddesden Road.

Theatres have existed in England since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century. The first permanent one was The Theatre in Finsbury Fields, London, which was built in 1576.

Prior to this, plays were first performed in churches as part of the service, these being dramatised versions of Bible stories. Bands of strolling players also performed plays in the courtyards of inns.

William Shakespeare’s plays were performed in oval-shaped theatres with galleries that were covered inside the building, but the stage and floor (where most of the people were) were open to the weather.

Admission was one penny (half-apence now) but seats in the gallery were 2d (1p).

When the celebrated Globe Theatre was built, its timbers came from the demolished The Theatre in 1598.

In the 17th century, other famous theatres were built, such as the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane (1663) and Sadler’s Wells (1683), both in London.

From then on, more theatres were built around the country and going to the theatre became a weekly habit for many people.

In Basingstoke, one of the first buildings designed to hold audiences for shows and general entertainment was the Mote Hall, which was on the corner of Church Street and the Market Place.

Although designed for the local council to use as offices, it became the venue for dances, plays and other activities.

The novelist Jane Austen, who lived at nearby Steventon village, often visited the Mote Hall.

When the Mote Hall was demolished in 1831, to allow the Market Place to be extended, a Town Hall was built close by and this became the alternative venue. (It is now The Willis Museum).

In 1865 the Corn Exchange was built in upper Wote Street and its spacious interior was later used for entertainment purposes – including roller skating, film shows and plays – well into the 20th century.

After a destructive fire in 1925, it was rebuilt and, in 1951, it became the present Haymarket Theatre. It had previously been known as the Grand Theatre in its entertainment years.

Other buildings in the town that were used for entertaining the populous were some of the many halls that were built from 1880 onwards.

The Sarum Hill Drill Hall, built in 1883 for the local Voluntary Corps, had a sprung dance floor and an extensive stage.

On this latter structure shows were performed and, in 1893, during one drama, a real steam roller rumbled onto the stage. The structure was specially re-inforced for the occasion. In 1931 it became the Plaza Cinema. It closed in 1954.

Another hall, next to the Congregational Church in London Street (now the United Reformed Church), was often used for plays and other shows. Known as the May Place Hall, it later became used for offices.

At Park Prewett Hospital the large hall became well known for its shows, especially pantomimes, while, during the carnival years, it was used for the carnival queen selection shows.

In 1978, Central Studio opened in Cliddesden Road.

The Anvil concert hall was built following comments by the 1984 Mayor of Basingstoke, Councillor Brain Gaiger, that “the town must have a civic centre” – and the public and various local organisations agreed with him.

Of the few sites available in the town, the land between Alencon Link and Churchill Way was one that was considered.

Funds were soon forthcoming, including £4,000 from a Walkathon in April 1985.

Then, in the summer of 1991, a windfall of £6.1million was received and, a year later, in June 1992, work began on constructing the entertainment centre. By December of that year the name Anvil was chosen.

A further £250,000 was received from the Foundation for Sports and the Arts, based at Liverpool, towards the £12.5million needed to complete the construction of this “jewel in the crown”, as one local person called it.

In August 1993 the topping-out ceremony was held some 25 metres above the ground, when the last shovel of concrete was placed in the building.

By March 1994 the building was completed and Costains, the builders, handed it over to the local council.

In May that year The Anvil was officially opened, and, now 10 years later, we can enjoy the results of those shows which have been seen on the stage of this modern concert hall.