Lancaster Road to the north of Basingstoke is in rather an innocuous area off Merton Road, but the road was not named after an innocuous or unimportant person, in fact the opposite.

It is named after Sir James Lancaster, who became a very eminent seafarer and was key in the formation of the East India Company, a trading link between Britain and the East Indies.

James was born in Basingstoke around 1555 and, initially becoming a soldier, progressed to being a trader in Portugal.

By 1588 he had become a respected sailor and he served as a commander of the Edward Bonaventure under Sir Francis Drake against the Spanish Armada.

It was the Edward Bonaventure that he commanded when he set sail with a flotilla on 10th April 1591 from Plymouth on the first journey to the East Indies reaching Penang in June 1592.

Pepper, spices, cotton and silk were the main trades of the company on one occasion returning to Britain with 500 tons of pepper on board.

Admiral James was not known for being merciful when opportunities arose to increase the wealth of his country and those of Queen Elizabeth I. So when brought into contact with other trading ships, especially Spanish and Portuguese, wherever they may be, he thought it his duty to relieve them of their cargo, which he did on numerous occasions and filling his fleet ‘to the gunnels’ with bounty.

His journeys were not without their problems however, and if it were not for the quick thinking and skill of James on one occasion, his ship and its crew would have been lost to the sea. On a return journey to Britain in 1603 on board the Red Dragon a violent storm arose, and the strength of the sea tore off the rudder of his ship, which meant that it was in imminent danger of sinking. Thinking quickly James ordered that the carpenters on board fashion another rudder out of the mizzen mast which they duly did. This worked for a while, but the continuing relentless storm once again tore off the new rudder. Without hesitation James ordered another to be made. The most proficient divers were summoned to fix the article in place. This time the rudder held fast which saved the ship and its crew.

The name of Admiral James Lancaster is also connected to the fight against scurvy amongst the seamen which is still heeded today. Due to his observations he noticed that the taking of lemon juice, and other citrus juices, on a regular basis seemed to ward off the disease of scurvy. The disease was caused by a lack of vitamin C, causes listlessness, tiredness, sore limbs, gum disease and death, and was rife on the ships of that period to the degree that the ships could not maintain their daily routines and large numbers of sailors were lost.

James regularly fed his crew with three spoonfuls of lemon juice each day with the result that his men were free of the debilitating disease and could therefore carry out their daily tasks. This was duly reported to the Admiralty, but it was a full 200 years in 1795, before they adopted the supply as standard practice, resulting in many deaths in the intervening years.

Admiral Lancaster was a key figure in the establishment of the East India Company which, initially, was purely a trading organization. But this soon developed into a political body which ended up seizing and controlling much of the Indian Subcontinent, parts of South East Asia and Hong Kong.

He remained as a director of the company for many years and was knighted in 1603. He died in London in June 1618.