SINCE Festival Place shopping centre opened, Basingstoke has become well-known for all its cafes, restaurants and bars.

And soon another eatery will be added in London Street if the old Anchor public house site – now Berkeley House – is opened for providing refreshments to the public.

But Basingstoke did not always have somewhere to have a cup of tea and a bite to eat. Two hundred and fifty years ago, meals were only available at taverns, cookshops and, sometimes, at coffee houses.

Basingstoke Gazette: The Majorca restaurant in New Street in the late 1950s

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In London, places called “ordinaires” were opened for various types of meals, from fish to meat pies, and chop-houses became popular for their emphasis on lamb and pork chops.

The first restaurants were established in Paris in 1765, while the smaller form of food providers, known as cafes, were opened in 1885 in New York.

These latter places were called “exchange buffets” and were usually of a self-service nature.

In London, by the beginning of the 20th century, the growing number of eateries were joined by Joseph Lyons’ catering business, after he and two friends opened a teashop in Piccadilly.

By the 1920s it had become one of the largest catering organisations in Britain, with the waitresses (known as “nippies” as they nipped from one table to another) kept busy serving their customers.

Meanwhile, in Basingstoke, the first refreshment buildings were established about 1880, when Mrs Jane Forder opened her “rooms” in London Street, followed by similar services at the Angel Inn on the corner of Wote Street and Potters Lane.

Then Charles Catchpole established his “Old Angel Café” on the site of the Angel Inn – that had closed down in the Market Place in 1866. This latter place was opened up as the “Opera Restaurant” in 1947 and closed in 1969.

Basingstoke Gazette: The Opera Restaurant in Market Place, Basingstoke, in the late 1950s

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By 1903, the town could boast of four refreshment places, and of five by 1927. By 1931 there were six, with names such as Devon Café, The Dorothy Café, Crown restaurant, Darracott’s and Habberfield’s.

In 1937, the first milk bar was opened in the newly-built Queens Parade in New Street, which advertised it was able to provide no less than 30 varieties of milk drinks.

In 1942, at the height of the Second World War, the British Restaurant was opened at the bottom of Wote Street to provide people with meals at reduced prices to those at local eateries. It closed down in 1947. By 1952, Basingstoke had 17 cafes and restaurants, some of which were only yards from each other.

One example was Mr Weaver’s “kiosk” in the Market Place, and the “Opera” which was run by Mrs Wilson. Mr Weaver also had the Tollhouse tearooms in Hackwood Road, and a bakery in lower Church Street.

Another business with similar premises was Thornton’s Bakery in Flaxfield Road, which owned several cafes in the town and district. Henry Thornton had started his bakery in 1886 and, over the following years, his family helped to spread the business across the town.

The Devon Café was one of these, and although it was tucked away at the back of the London Street baker’s shop (along a passage and down some steps) it was a popular place for those who wanted snacks, tea and a chat. The oldest establishment for serving meals was the British Workman, in Potters Lane, which was run by Mr Howes in those days of the mid-1950s.

Basingstoke Gazette: The Devon Cafe (right) in London Street in pre-war Basingstoke

The oldest establishment for serving meals was the British Workman, in Potters Lane, which was run by Mr Howes in those days of the mid-1950s. The building dated back to when it was a public house in the 19th century. Then, by 1903, it was a coffee tavern.

It was taken over as a Chinese restaurant in the early 1960s, then demolished for town development in 1966. The new shopping centre was to create further cafes and restaurants in the 1960s, such as the Chelsea Coffee House, the Wimpy Bar, and the Market Coffee House, and the opening of Festival Place saw even more.

In the Basingstoke area there are now some 25 such places to dine at, and these include American, Chinese, French, Indian and Italian eateries.

When much of the town centre was pulled down in 1966 and 1967, many people mourned the loss of the large number of public houses and other places of refreshment.

Since then, the town has made up for all those missing places with eateries of another kind.

This article was originally published on February 27, 2004.