THE name of Lt Col John May was well-known in the past as a major benefactor to the people of Basingstoke.

Born in Church Street on June 3, 1837, he would grow up to become mayor for six terms, the first at the age of 46.

He also inherited the brewing company John May & Co founded in 1751. At that time Hampshire was the principal hop growing county in the country so there was a plentiful supply. This was reflected by the fact that there were nearly 40 pubs in the town.

The brewery, situated in Brook Street which ran approximately the route of Churchill Way West, was a large sprawling building and the rear stretched to the railway line, where the company owned several houses occupied by the workers.

The business was not John May’s only claim to fame as he was a very generous benefactor to the town that gave him his wealth.

A keen cricketer, he arranged for the All England team to play on an area he owned called The Folly, off Back Lane (now Bounty Road), later to be called May’s Bounty in his honour.

May’s Bounty became Hampshire’s home cricket ground until 2000 when the club moved to The Ageas Bowl in West End near Southampton.

May Street, which with nearly 200 houses was the longest street in Basingstoke before major redevelopments, was also named for him, as was May Place, off London Road.

He lived at Hawkfield, now Bounty Rise, off Bounty Road.

John followed the family tradition as members were elected to the office of mayor of Basingstoke no less than 15 times between the dates of 1711 and 1839. Whilst mayor in 1887 he donated the clock tower to the Town Hall which is now the Willis Museum.

The clock town stood above the town for 80 years until it was removed because it was deemed unsafe.

Educated at Queen Mary’s School, in the grounds of the South View Cemetery in Chapel Hill, and later in Bracknell, Tunbridge Wells and Southampton, he eventually became interested in the troops leaving for the Crimean War. Persuaded not to follow by his mother, he moved a resolution at the Town Hall to form the Basingstoke Corps of Hampshire Volunteers which he later joined.

In 1864 he joined the Hampshire Militia where he quickly rose through the ranks to become an honorary lieutenant colonel.

The legacies left by John May were numerous.

He built a drill hall at the top of Sarum Hill which later became the Plaza cinema, the space now occupied by the Sovereign building, and as mayor he laid one of the foundation stones of Fairfields School as well as another at the Lesser Market at the top of Wote Street.

He also held banquets at the Town Hall, was generous to the poor of the town and entertained school children, on one occasion numbering some 1,650.

In his later years, he donated nine bells to All Saint’s Church in Southern Road, and on the tenor bell were inscribed the words ‘To the Glory of God, John May gave me and my companions as a gift to this Church during the Great War of 1916’.

John died in 1920 at the age of 83 in Portsmouth.

His body was returned to Basingstoke for burial in the Chapel Hill cemetery.