A NEW book re-examining the history of Basingstoke has been launched.

Basingstoke: a medieval town was launched on April 20 at Church Cottage and is part of a major national project by the Victoria History of the Counties of England, based at the University of London, which has now begun the rewriting of the histories first completed over a century ago.

This is the third volume produced by the Victoria History of Hampshire, following on from studies of Mapledurwell and Steventon.

The event was attended by an audience of around 100 people including the mayor of Basingstoke and Deane, Councillor Paul Frankum; and Nigel McNair Scott, deputy lord lieutenant of the county.

Here, Dr John Hare writes about the background to the book, the project and the history of Basingstoke itself:

Basingstoke is most commonly seen as a thoroughly modern town dominated by modern shops, housing estates and office blocks. In reality it has had a long, distinguished and often forgotten history as an important trading and industrial centre.

Basingstoke was already in existence by the time of Domesday Book in 1086.

By the thirteenth century it was already a well-established regional centre within the county. It already catered both for the local market of the area around and as a starting point for more distant trade, above all in wool. It was active in trade with London and abroad. Subsequently it flourished and expanded further as it became a major industrial centre, part of the dramatic expansion of the cloth industry in the later fifteenth and early sixteenth century.

Basingstoke was then by far and away the leading town in Hampshire after Southampton and Winchester, and was among the top 60 towns of England. Its excellent documentation enables us to trace the expansion of the industry and to see something of the men whose dynamism helped to transform. the town.

Even today, despite the destruction of the ages and the sweeping away of the central portion of the town under the shopping centre, much can still be seen: parts of the medieval street and market place, a few houses, the magnificent parish church, the remains of the medieval chapel by the station, and the glorious window glass from the latter, now safely displayed at the Vyne.

It is to be hoped that this book, and the continuing work of the project, will help enhance an awareness of the remarkable historic heritage of the town.

The launch evening included talks by Dr Jean Morrin, on the continuing work of the Victoria County History of Hampshire project, which is rewriting the history of the parishes of Hampshire, focusing initially on the Basingstoke area.

Hampshire was completed in 1914 but over a century later much has changed and what we expect of a parish history has also dramatically changed.

For those interested in obtaining copies of Basingstoke: a medieval town, contact Dr Jean Morrin, 23 West Road, Emsworth, PO10 7JT. Price £12 plus £2 postage and packaging. Cheques for £14 should be made out to Hampshire Archives Trust (VCH Project). Copies are also available for collection from the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester, and from the Willis Museum, and the Discovery Centre in Basingstoke.