Basingstoke is known as the home of Thornycroft, the illustrious manufacturer of lorries, cars and buses. Despite its long association with the town, Thornycroft did not actually start its life in Basingstoke. It was in Chiswick in 1862 where John Thornycroft first designed a steam car before moving on to shipbuilding, setting up Thornycroft and Co in 1872.

Even though he had great success with ships, Thornycroft was still interested in producing cars. After building his first steam vehicle in 1895, the company became a noted producer of steam lorries and vans. As demand for these vehicles grew, it became clear that a new, bigger factory was needed to accommodate the company’s expansion. Several locations were examined and Basingstoke, with its good road and rail links, was the company’s town of choice. In 1898, the new factory on Worting Road was opened.

During Thornycroft’s many years in Basingstoke, a wide range of products were manufactured, including buses, lorries, military vehicles and high-end cars. London’s first powered bus was a Thornycroft steam-driven double decker that ran between Oxford Circus and Shepherd’s Bush; between 1903 and 1912, the company produced more than 250 luxury cars.

Thornycroft’s biggest success was in its production of commercial vehicles, where they became a world leader. They pitched for and won many War Office contracts, eventually supplying over 5,000 J-Type lorries for use in France, Italy and Egypt during World War I. They were particularly inventive with the names of their vehicles, with many being designed to convey brute strength, such as Hardy, Sturdy, Bulldog and Stag.

Thornycroft was a major employer in Basingstoke and a big contributor both to the community and social life of the town. By 1900, it had started the Thornycroft Athletic Club which included cricket and football teams that played in local leagues. When World War I ended, the company organised Basingstoke’s celebrations, with a mile-long procession of floats parading through the town on 16 November 1918, followed by a bonfire and fireworks display.

In 1961, Thornycroft was taken over by Associated Commercial Vehicles Limited and the final lorry came off the production line in 1972. The following year, the factory was sold. Hampshire Cultural Trust now cares for a number of important Thornycroft vehicles which are so associated with the town’s history, some of which are on display at Milestones Museum, the site of the former factory.