IT HAS been the source of much humour in Basingstoke for more than 25 years, and prompted a famous classical singer to say as soon as she saw it “I wanted to touch it”.

But do you know the history of the so-called Wote Street Willy, and how it came to be in Basingstoke?

Believe it or not, the nine-foot hight granite stone sculpture actually depicts a mother crouching protectively over her child, praying.

It was erected in 1994, standing on the site of an ancient Basingstoke church, which is why it was given the official name the Church Stone.

Basingstoke Gazette:

Basingstoke Gazette:

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However, it was the source of much controversy after being installed because of its resemblance to something rather more phallic.

Sculptor Michael Peglar spent more than 2,000 hours carving the piece of art, and it was intended to represent a place of calm in the middle of the town centre.

He was commissioned by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council to design the £25,000 sculpture to bring peace and tranquillity to the hustle and bustle of the town, while reflecting the history of the area.

It also includes a Roman amphora water jar, reflecting the town’s proximity to Silchester, while the post and lintel format relates to the standing stones and monoliths of Stonehenge.

Mr Peglar was previously quoted as saying: “It is a monumental piece of granite and it forces people to think about their own mortality and spirituality. It is a calming, tranquil, static image.”

Basingstoke Gazette:

He was asked by the Gazette after its unveiling about the nickname given to it, and said: “I can’t see it as a phallic symbol – but I don’t want to denigrate how people interpret it themselves. If some people find it offensive, I don’t see that myself. I don’t have any problem with the name Wote Street Willy – I think it’s nice. It shows the people of the town have adopted the sculpture as their own.”

When it was unveiled in November 1994, singer Sarah Brightman, who was appearing at the Haymarket Theatre at the time, said: “It’s beautiful. As soon as I saw it, I wanted to touch it.”

However, in 2002 the sculpture was under threat of being moved, when deputy leader of the council at the time, Rob Donnelly, suggested it didn’t fit with the image of the new Festival Place, labelling it “incongruous”.

He wanted it relocated to Milestones Museum’s outdoor sculpture park, saying “Nobody likes it. People are fed up with it.”

Thankfully, Cllr Donnelly’s relocation request was never fulfilled and the sculpture still stands proudly in Wote Street, there for anyone to touch whenever they desire.