AN IMPORTANT part of the heritage of Basingstoke were the methods of travel that existed in the past.

With the reliability of horse-drawn waggons and coaches, the necessity for coaching inns was essential, and Basingstoke was no exception in the provision of these.

No less than seven inns existed along the main through road of Winchester Street and London Street which passed through Basingstoke.

Day and night the sound of metal rimmed wheels rattling on cobbled streets filled the air, occasionally interspersed with the sound of a trumpet announcing the arrival of an incoming coach.

The Wheatsheaf, in Winton Square, received the traffic from Andover, Salisbury and beyond via Sarum Hill, one coach being named The Salisbury Flying Machine which was proudly advertised as ‘riding on steel springs’.

The Crown, in Winchester Street, now the white building that houses the Basingstoke Service Centre and The Secret Garden, was also an important coaching inn.

The yard accessed by Windover Street housed the company of Joice & Son at the rear, the manufacturer of coaches.

This area later became the workshops for Webber’s Garage and is now a car park, but once 100 horses were changed here in the course of a twenty-four hour period.

A changeover of a team of horses could be made in less than three minutes.

It was here on Friday, 26 November 1798 that Jane Austen, aged 23, first arrived in Basingstoke with her father, following a gruelling four day journey from Ashford, Kent, including three night stops at Sittingbourne, Dartford and Staines.

Opposite the Willis Museum, at The Top of The Town, stood two coaching inns next door to each other, either side of Caston’s Walk.

The Angel, now Barclays, and The George, now McDonald’s, were also important. The George received the heavy waggons from Taunton and Exeter, the approach heralded by the sound of bells.

The Angel had a large courtyard and stables at the rear. Inside the arched entrance was a row of seats which allowed tradesmen to sit and wait for the possibility of work, drinking a draught and discussing the events of the day.

It was said that an underground passage existed from The Angel to The Crown to allow late night revellers access to their carriages without getting muddy or accosted in the street.

The Feathers, in Wote Street, still existing today, was the first hotel in Basingstoke, built in 1610 and believed to have medieval foundations. The name was associated with the heraldic badge of three feathers mounted on a gold coronet of the Prince of Wales Henry Frederick, the elder son of James VI and I, who died two years later aged 18.

The final coaching inn on the main street through Basingstoke is The Red Lion, previously a tavern called The Three Mariners, which was razed to the ground in 1601 by a huge fire which destroyed a great number of medieval buildings in Winchester Street and London Street.

The tavern was rebuilt two years later as a coaching inn and renamed The Red Lion, a name and a building that still stands today as a token of the long-gone days of Basingstoke.