ONE hundred and twenty years ago, Basingstoke was on the verge of a commercial development which was to see the town centre expand towards the west with new shops along Winchester Street and into the top of Sarum Hill.

The junction of Winchester Road with Winton Grove, later to be called Winton Square, was to be earmarked for rows of shops, but first, the plots of land on the Stew Lane (now New Street) corner of Winchester Street needed to be tidied up.

So, in 1884, the land was sold to Mr Walter Wadmore, a businessman, who proceeded to have the three small cottages on that land demolished and shops built with accommodation above.

Basingstoke Gazette: Mr Wadmore's shop on the corner of New Street and Winchester Street

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This was to be called Ayliffe Buildings, and Mr Wadmore established the corner shop as a wholesale grocers. By 1895 he was advertising himself as having one of the largest and best assorted stocks of groceries and provisions in North Hampshire.

When Winton Square shops were built, from 1903 onward, Mr Wadmore moved into one of them with a fruiterers business and, three years later, handed his corner shop in Winchester Street over to Henry Ody, who had been with him for 19 years. The shop then began to sell wines and spirits as well as groceries.

In 1911 Albert Wadmore, Walter’s son, was running the Winton Square fruiterers shop, having expanded it with stocks of flowers, seeds and other goods. Meanwhile, Walter had become a local councillor and was taking a keen interest in horticulture.

He became the treasurer of the local horticultural society, and when the local council reserved the Fairfields land as a recreation ground, he presented a stock of shrubs to be planted across the area. Mr Wadmore also became president of the Basingstoke Volunteer Fire Brigade and a trustee of the Municipal Charities, among other positions.

In 1890/91 and 1902/3 he was made mayor of Basingstoke. During 1919 he fell ill and was confined at his home at Woodside in Cliddesden Road for a year until he died on January 2, 1920, aged 76. Meanwhile, Mr Ody, at the Winchester Street shop, was considering a move to another position nearer the town centre – which, in those days, was the Market Place. He acquired the premises of the old Maidenhead Inn at 17 Winchester Street, and moved in during the mid-1920s.

The corner shop was later acquired by Miss E Turnbull, who turned it into the Golden Gate Café. During the Second World War it was taken over by the American military forces as a “canteen”. The local children used to wait outside and ask the “Yanks” if they had “got any gum, chum”, and most times they would be given a packet of chewing gum or some other type of sweets. The Americans vacated the shop unit at the end of the war, in 1945.

Next door to the corner shop, at 22 and 24 Winchester Street, Mr Herbert Gifford had moved into the building in 1932 with a cycle shop, having been at the White Garage site in Winchester Road since 1927.

 Upon the corner shop being made empty, he decided to use it as an electrical/ironmongery business and, by the 1950s, his two sons, Peter and David, had joined their father in running the establishment.

They were to see the development of such items as radios, televisions and other domestic equipment over the following years. They extended their business into another shop in New Street, next to Ayliffe Buildings, and in later years this was used for selling motorcycles. In the meantime, Herbert Gifford had become a local councillor, and in 1950/51 he was made mayor of Basingstoke. He died in September 1968.

Life at the corner shop was often a hazardous one in those days, with motorists trying to cross Winchester Street from Victoria Street or New Street. There was numerous accidents on the crossroads. At one time, a double-decker bus with no driver came down Victoria Street, possibly heading for Gifford’s shop, but it veered into the last building in that road and stopped.

The passengers were taken off the bus in a shocked state. The driver had left the bus for a moment, without putting the brakes on. The slope of the road did the rest.

Traffic lights were fitted in April 1976, and this allowed the police officer on traffic control to be released for other duties. In 1987, Peter Gifford retired from the business after the motorcycle section had been closed down in 1984. This shop was taken over by Redwoods estate agents in 1985.

Meanwhile the corner shop had been closed and acquired by Kall-Kwik printers in 1982. This left the cycle shop at 22/24 Winchester Street under the management of David Gifford, who retired in April 1992.

The shop then became the Raleigh Shop and continues to sell bicycles and cycle equipment for adults and youngsters alike. One hundred and twenty years have passed, and the building has become well-known to the local folk, but not by the title of Ayliffe House, but by the name “Gifford’s Corner”!

This feature was first published on February 20, 2004.