From the 18th Century, brewing flourished in Basingstoke. With Hampshire as the principal hop growing county in the country, there was a plentiful supply.

The most prominent brewery was May’s in Brook Street. It first opened in the 1750s as The Basingstoke Brewery and was founded by millers William and Thomas May.

By 1860, it was brewing around 10,600 barrels a year and by 1912, it owned or leased over 50 percent of the pubs in Basingstoke. May’s brewery was acquired by H & G Simonds Ltd. of Reading in 1947 but John May & Co Ltd was liquidated after 195 years in 1950. The building was demolished in 1967.

Accounts vary as to the exact year the brewery was founded but 1755 seems most likely as Thomas, the youngest, was then eighteen. William returned to milling and the brewery passed through Thomas’ family to his sons, Thomas & Charles May. Charles, born 1768, expanded the business and bequeathed it to his son Charles and then to his grandsons. Thomas was thrown into the business at an early age but in 1860 at the age of 23, John joined his brother in running the firm, then continued to run the brewery alone ten years later upon his brother’s death.

John May was born in Church Street Basingstoke on 3 June, 1837 and became the one of the towns greatest benefactors. John used some of the firm’s profit to contribute to Basingstoke and its people. One of the first donations went to creating a cycle track ground for the local Athletics’ club and later new bells in All Saints’ Church and a new wing for the Hackwood Road Hospital and a large drill hall, constructed on Sarum Hill at his own expense. In 1887, May paid for a clock tower for the Town Hall, in the Market Place. However, this later became unsafe and was taken down.

Cricket was a favourite sport of May's and he again used his own money to purchase a large field, and later a pavilion, for Basingstoke. The land was known as The Folly but was renamed May’s Bounty in his honour. It was home to the Hampshire Cricket team until 2000.

The May family served Basingstoke as mayors fifteen times from the early 1700s until 1839 with John May becoming Mayor of Basingstoke in 1883 and serving for six periods. In 1859 May had set up a local group of the Hampshire Army Volunteers and over the coming years his rank rose until in 1898 he became Lieutenant-Colonel.

John May died in 1920 at the age of 83 in Portsmouth. His body was returned to Basingstoke for burial in the Chapel Hill cemetery. His name still lives on in Basingstoke in the history of brewing and beer and his contributions to the town.