THE recent report in The Gazette about the 400th anniversary of the Deane's Almshouses, in London Street, Basingstoke, has prompted some research into other almshouses that were established in the town.

In regard to the Deane's Almshouses, these were founded by Sir James Deane in his will, dated August 19, 1607, with a sum of £1,837.

They were built in 1608 and were designed to provide a home for elderly people who had no proper shelter and who were from the parishes of Basingstoke and district.

Over the years, there was an annual distribution of money among the individuals who lived in the eight homes. For example, in 1935, the total sum was £123, most of which was used to give each person six shillings and four pence per week, while at Christmas, 13 shillings and four pence was handed out.

In the middle of the 19th century, a pig market was held in front of the almshouses, but the weekly odours became too much for the residents to bear, so the market was moved to the top of Victoria Street.

In 1964/5, the rear of the almshouses was renovated to give the residents better facilities.

Just around the corner, in Hackwood Road, is where Page's Almshouses used to be situated, founded by Joseph Page, in 1802, for "two or more poor men or women, belonging to the congregation of Protestant dissenters, meeting at the chapel in London Street".

Each resident had six shillings a week and a ton of coal yearly.

In 1930, the almshouses were rebuilt as bungalows at the top of New Road, on the corner of London Road, but still only for three people.

In 1975, new bungalows were built further down the road to allow more elderly people to live there.

At the top of Flaxfield Road were Acton's Almshouses, bequeathed to the poor by James Acton in 1690. The four residences were rent-free.

One of Mr Acton's descendants, Mrs Anne Cowslade, left £400 in 1814 for repairs to the property, which was then demolished in 1955.

In Chapel Street, just below the right-hand side of the railway bridge, were two almshouses that were established in 1891 by John Burgess Soper. They were demolished in September 1965.

In Reading Road, on the north side, were the Little Almshouses for three people. Apparently, though, they were unendowed and their founder seems to be unknown. They were built in 1837 and demolished in 1968.

The provision of these almshouses began in the Middle Ages, a period of European history which began in the fifth century, when certain churches or bishops decided to open up homes for elderly people who were poor or frail in health with no relations or friends to look after them.

Later on, guilds, corporates of merchants and sometimes private persons established these homes. An early example of this was St John's Hospital, in Canterbury, which was established in 1108.

In Basingstoke, Walter de Merton opened up a home for aged and infirm priests in lower Church Street in the mid-13th century, which existed for several hundred years.

The almshouses in London Street were not the only contribution to the town by Sir James Deane. He left instructions in his will, among various commands, the sum of £1 each year for the repair of the roadway between the Market Place and St Michael's Church.

Another bequest was his benefaction to enable the alderman and wardens of the Holy Ghost School to declare its services free from 1609.

The Deane's Almshouses once had a large elm tree planted nearby, in memory of Guy Fawkes' attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605. Over the years, it grew into "a monster", as one resident reported in 1809, just before it was cut down. This statement was confirmed by the measurement of its girth in its last days, for it was 14 feet around its trunk, at some distance from the ground.

The stagecoach drivers of that time were pleased to see the tree go, for its branches had spread across the street and were causing a hazard.

Nowadays, London Street is blocked off by the Triumphal Gates, with their decorative panels depicting historic items of local interest. As such, the stagecoaches would never get through these days!