IN BASINGSTOKE, a modern housing development stands on the historic grounds that once housed an asylum hospital that played a pivotal role during the Second World War.

Limes Park, a residential community, now occupies the former grounds of the Park Prewett Hospital, which ceased operations in 1997.

Memories of the Park Prewett water tower, the main clock tower and the ballroom hall go back many years.

The hospital complex have been the symbols of a local institution that was built some 11 decades ago, and the buildings still have that look of freshness about them despite being turned into a modern housing estate.

READ MORE: Park Prewett between two eras

The construction of the main building, consisting of 15 wards to take 800 patients, began in 1914, and soon afterwards, the water tower was erected.

It can be seen for miles around and became the main symbol of the hospital.

It was designed with a brickwork pattern which would take away the ugliness which tended to be a feature of so many water towers and similar structures.

Basingstoke Gazette: The main entranceThe main entrance

The rest of the hospital complex was completed with its other wards, and the offices needed to carry out the administration of such an institution.

The showplace of the complex was the main hall – the very centre of the hospital.

Its size made it one of the largest halls in southern England, with its high vaulted roof.

It had a stage with an orchestra pit and a sprung floor which allowed people to dance all evening in comfort.

Basingstoke Gazette: The Park Prewett hospital cricket pavilionThe Park Prewett hospital cricket pavilion

The hospital was finally opened in August 1921, and the hall immediately came into use as a reception room for the many mental patients, nurses and other staff, who were transferred there from other parts of the country.

The hall was in use most evenings for social and recreational activities, and provided the venue for the annual pantomimes and the Basingstoke Carnival Ball in later years.

It was at the latter that the carnival queen was selected.

Meanwhile, the patient population of the hospital was increasing, and in 1936 it reached 1,300.

Basingstoke Gazette: The water tower in 1990The water tower in 1990

New wards were built and the use of the main hall became a daily routine for other matters besides entertainment.

The water tower and clock tower were checked on a regular basis for any repairs, especially after exceptionally hard winters, such as 1941 and 1947.

Blizzards drove snow into the cracks and crevices causing dampness to creep into the buildings, but this was attended to.

The water tower became a beacon for the aeroplanes that flew overhead in the years before the Second World War, but it caused a certain amount of worry when the Germans used it as a guiding point during the war.

Basingstoke Gazette: The remains of the ballroom hall after the 1981 fireThe remains of the ballroom hall after the 1981 fire (Image: Newsquest)

As they flew across the English Channel into southern England, the pilots headed for the tower, which stood out quite clearly, and then turned left towards London, taking the Ack Ack guns by surprise. They were expecting the enemy to fly straight in from the east.

Although no bomb damage was done at Park Prewett, the hospital had a scare back in February 1918 when a British aeroplane from a flying squadron, based near Stonehenge in Wiltshire, zoomed low over the buildings and crashed into the nearby fields, killing the pilot and observer.

It was a peaceful period when disaster actually struck the hospital in 1959.

The roof beams above the main building were seen to be smouldering, and by the time the fire brigade arrived, the whole roof was on fire.

Basingstoke Gazette: The Park Prewett Hospital chapelThe Park Prewett Hospital chapel

The patients in the wards below were evacuated to Rooksdown House, which was empty at the time due to the plastic unit having been removed to Roehampton.

The Gazette photographer Ron Boshier rushed up in his car and took one of the “scoops” of his life.

But it was the ballroom fire of 1981 that people will always remember.

On the afternoon of April 3 that year, smoke, then flames, were noticed coming from the hall.

The fire spread quickly across the expanse of the hall and destroyed everything in its path.

When the roof collapsed it was said that even grown men had tears in their eyes.

Basingstoke Gazette: The tunnel at the Park Prewett HospitalThe tunnel at the Park Prewett Hospital

It took two years and an allocation of £450,000 from the Wessex Regional Health Authority to rebuild the hall to its original specifications.

On November 16, 1983, Lord Denning of Whitchurch reopened the hall and the hospital was able to return to its routine of entertainment and leisure.

In 1997, the hospital finally closed its doors after 80 years of treatment.

Following this, a preliminary approval was granted for the development of approximately 1,250 residences and a village centre.

However, it wasn't until April 2005 that the area was finally acquired.

English Partnerships successfully obtained permission to construct 1,021 homes, and the development was named Limes Park.

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Fast-forward almost two decades, Limes Park has transformed into a contemporary residential enclave. The heart of the estate includes the former hospital's location, where several buildings have been thoughtfully repurposed into homes.

The clock tower, water tower, and four garden pavilions have all been preserved, including the main hall, which was reconstructed during the 1980s and now serves as housing.

Despite the eco-friendly design of the modern residences, the historical structures seamlessly integrate into the estate, serving as a constant reminder to Basingstoke residents of its illustrious past.