Although there were many small breweries that were serving the populace of Basingstoke in the earlier years the one that is remembered most is that of John May. John May, who succeeded in becoming Mayor six times, built up his business to eventually own many public houses in and around the Basingstoke area.

That is well known, but a lot is not known about the history of the properties before they came part of the May group.

Dating back to the early eighteenth century there is mention of a Mr William Downs (or Downes) owning a small brewery in Basingstoke. There is not much known of this William Downs, but it is recorded that his wife was buried in Basingstoke on 17th June 1768. Their son, also William, died just after his 41st birthday two years after his mother, whilst in the office of Mayor for the second time..

William then succeeded in continuing to build his father’s business to be a major brewer in the town. He did not come from Basingstoke, but was born in Shropshire and, at the age of 30, married Ann Tims at Hartley Wespall. In the maps of Basingstoke dated 1762, his brewery is shown as Mr Downs’ Garden in Frog Lane (the former name of Brook Street) now approximately in the area of the Victory Roundabout.

Upon his death, on 7th November 1770, William was supplying nine inns and alehouses and was listed as owning an apple mill, cider press, a horse-mill for grinding malt, stock to the value of £457 10 shillings, 47 pounds of hops and 305 barrels of beer. His wife Ann continued to run the business until 1772 when she married Rev William Paice, who then ran the business until 1783 when he leased the premises to Thomas and William May. The partnership between Thomas and William ended in 1788 and, in 1794, Thomas went on to buy the premises and the brewery renaming it May’s Brewery. The May dynasty had started.

The May brewery was serving nine pubs in the Basingstoke area including The Blue Anchor, The Three Tuns (otherwise known as The Tun Tub), The Ship, and the Goat (which was situated at the junction of Goat Lane and Lower Wote Street).

Upon the retirement of Thomas, his sons, Thomas and Charles, purchased the freehold of the business and all its attributes, including the house and farm in Brook Street. He eventually was elected to the position of mayor eleven times between 1796 and 1836, and his brother, Charles, held the position twice.

Thomas May died on 4th June 1843 followed by Charles eight months later. Charles’ son Charles Junior died three years prior to his father in 1841 at the age of forty. The business was then administered by Charles’s eldest daughter, Jane, until 1857 when the brewery along with premises and sixty-three inns, including thirty free houses, from areas as far reaching as Winchester and Farnborough, were put up for auction valued at £41,625. However, the bids were not sufficient, and the lot was withdrawn.

Charles’s grandson, Thomas (1829 – 1870), was the natural heir and in 1860 he formed a partnership with his youngest brother John and the estate became known as Thomas & John May. Thomas May died ten years later and the same year a fire destroyed the malt house.

Following the death of his brother, John then had to enlist two more partners, his brother-in-law Edmund Robertson and his chief brewer William Henry Blatch, the company then becoming John May & Co the name that became synonymous with the history of Basingstoke.

John May died in 1920 and in 1946 the business was sold to Simonds of Reading. In 1950 the buildings were closed permanently before being demolished in 1966/7 as part of the town centre redevelopment.