FORTY years ago, Basingstoke was undergoing alterations to prepare it for a predicted population of 75,000.

The whole operation began back in 1961, when Basingstoke Borough Council, Hampshire County Council and London County Council reached an agreement for Basingstoke to accommodate people and various businesses from the London area.

At that time, there were 26,000 people living in the town, in what was then a small countryside community, with its market and annual carnivals.

Only the year before, in 1960, had the motorcar brought a change to the busy High Street, when the local council made it a one way system.

Over the following years, the town was to suffer the demolition of much of its town centre, and a new road system, which was to circle the outer part of Basingstoke, was built.

When the dust from all the buildings that had been demolished settled, the sound of the piledrivers as they prepared the ground for the first phase of the planned shopping centre could be heard.

This scheme involved some 500,000sqft of shopping space, 30,000sqft of offices, an indoor sports centre, a new library and other facilities.

By November 1968, the upper part of the shopping centre was ready for the public to use, allowing 60 shops to be opened, while the library was opened one year later.

Work also continued on the multi-storey car park to the east of the complex.

As 1968 progressed into the summer, so many of the local shops began to prepare to move from the “Top of the Town” (as it became known) down to the new shopping centre.

In Chelsea House, Westminster House and Mayfair House, shops such as WHSmith, James Walker, Boots the Chemist and Bateman’s had workmen preparing their units for the opening ceremony several months later.

Although the names of the blocks of shops were devoted to London places, The Malls were named after local locations, such as Potters Walk and Queen Anne’s Walk. (Potters Lane use to be a road between Church Street and Wote Street, while Queen Anne House was once a school building, in Church Street and Wote Street, before being converted into a guest house.)

Meanwhile, around the town, housing estates were being built for the many people who were being brought into the area under the Town Development Scheme.

In April 1968, Hampshire County Council began work on the northern section of the ring road, to join up with the western section which was also under construction.

Added to all this were separate projects, such as the Basing View road being laid for the offices that were planned for that area. The first office block was constructed in July of that year.

While various public houses around the town were being pulled down in 1967, to make way for the new town centre, there was one that was being built. In April 1968, the King of Wessex was opened in Winchester Road, close to the junction with Cranbourne Lane.

Two other public houses were built in the shopping centre under the titles of The Goat and Barge (which were the names of two inns that were demolished close by). The first one was later called The Nightjar.

Both public houses were closed down, with The Nightjar being demolished to make way for Festival Place in 1999.

Most town centre developments have their problems and a few did crop up in 1968 in Basingstoke.

The construction of the southern ring road in September, through the War Memorial Park, led to protests on the basis that it was a protected site.

The park was laid out in 1921, after the land was bought by several business people for the public to use. The thought of constant traffic passing by on the ring road annoyed local people.

But the main news item of 1968 concerned the owner of land on the corner of Eastrop Lane and Basing Road. He was offered £7,000 to vacate the property, but he refused, so the local council served a compulsory purchase on the land. The result was that the owner dumped four loads of earth in the town centre’s streets and brought the whole area to a halt. Council workmen were called out and an excavator was brought in.

This happened on May 31, 1968. In September 1969, after various other incidents and legal action, the owner received £36,000 and the land was emptied to be made into Eastrop Park. The year ended with the first phase of the shopping centre being opened by the then Mayor of Basingstoke, Councillor James Balding, who cut a tape with a pair of silver scissors which had been presented to him by the chairman and managing director of Town and City Properties, Mr B D East, whose company was responsible for carrying

out the development.

This event took place on November 12, and saw the beginning of what was to later become Festival Place.

This feature originally appeared in the Gazette on April 3, 2008.