THE QUESTION is often asked as to how Basingstoke first became involved in its change from a small market town to the massive development that it is today.

The answer is that this occurred just 91 years ago, when a Mr C Clark gave a talk to Basingstoke Rotary Club on the subject of “The architectural development of Basingstoke” in 1930.

He described the important features of the town, then made suggestions for its future development with wide streets and a new shopping centre.

Mr Clark was recorded as being the first person to publicly express a view that Basingstoke should become an industrial and commercial centre. He had evidently looked at the geographical position of the town, with its junctions of rail and road, and its proximity to the major business centres of London and Southampton.

A year later, Basingstoke Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the local council’s finance committee, suggesting that a local development committee should be formed in the town.

As a result, Basingstoke Development Committee was formed, with the intention of attracting industry and commerce to the town.

It wasn’t as if Basingstoke did not have any industry at all. There were two outstanding engineering firms – Thornycroft and Wallis & Steevens – as well as John Mares and Gerrish, Ames and Simpkins, two clothing factories.

In 1931, the population of the town was 13,865, having increased from 9,793 in 1901.

The area’s natural growth saw an annual rise in population. The local council could see that the children of that period would, in the future, need schools, then homes and also workplaces. As a result, new housing estates were planned.

However, these were put on hold in September 1939, when the Second World War broke out, and no homes were allowed to be built until the war was over.

When Victory in Europe was announced in May 1945, the local council set about re-housing the many people who had been “on hold” for those six years.

Families who had been in lodgings with other local folk were given priority as the new homes were built. Some of the new dwellings were prefabricated bungalows which are still standing today.

It wasn’t only Basingstoke that had a lack of homes for needy people. Many Londoners’ homes had been bombed and their occupants endured cramped conditions.

The government set about helping those people by asking nearby towns to create new homes for the “overspill”, and various Acts of Parliament brought about the Town Development Act of 1952, which was to affect Basingstoke.

Meanwhile, in the late 1940s, the South View housing estate was built for the increased population in Basingstoke. Ten years later, a similar project was constructed at South Ham Farm.

But this was not enough for the constant stream of people enquiring about homes in this area.

It was the signing of an agreement between Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, Hampshire County Council and London County Council, on October 31, 1961, that finally gave the go-ahead for a massive project to almost completely change the whole of Basingstoke for the arrival of the London overspill.

The town was to expand its boundaries by acquiring farmland for new housing estates, and the shopping centre was to be mainly demolished, and a new covered precinct built on its site.

With industrial and commercial estates for those needing work, the town was described in the press as being the largest development in southern England.

By 1976, the Town Development Group, a team of specialists working from a building in Cliddesden Road, announced that their work was complete and Basingstoke could return to its original state without all the noise, dirt and dust which the local folk had to suffer for many years.

Unfortunately, it was not to be, for, since then, Basingstoke has expanded and developed even more.

With private developers taking over parts of the town to build flats, and new estates in out-of-town areas, such as Kempshott Park, development is ongoing. Its future is in the hands of the authorities, who, it is hoped, will realise that Basingstoke may soon be too big to handle.

This column has been updated and was originally published in The Gazette on November 10, 2005. It was written by the late Robert Brown, a former photographer, columnist and historian at The Gazette. He wrote eight books on the town’s history and sadly passed away on March 25, 2019.