EIGHTY years ago, in 1924, a gentleman from Taunton, Somerset, arrived in Basingstoke to find premises for a newsagents shop.

He came upon a stationery business in lower Church Street kept by George Whiteman, who also had a shop in Wote Street. The gentleman from Taunton introduced himself as Mr Samuel Nutt and conversed about the possible purchase of the premises.

Mr Whiteman and Mr Nutt came to an agreement and months later, number 52 Church Street, complete with residence upstairs, became the business and home of Mr and Mrs Nutt and their two sons and daughter.

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Mr Nutt's shop in Church Street, with Bedford House in the background, in 1965Mr Nutt's shop in Church Street, with Bedford House in the background, in 1965 (Image: Contributed)

The building was originally the coach house belonging to the adjoining Bedford House, a larger residence built in 1780 and later occupied by the Russell family, who were related to the Duke of Bedford.

To the left of the shop was an alleyway with houses on both sides, called Bedford Place, which was built in 1844 along an old track known as Little Lane. Just yards away was St Michael’s Church.

Although Mr Nutt was at work every weekday at 4.30am to prepare the newspapers and deliveries, he still took part in various local matters including being a special constable. He was also a founder member of the local Loyal Order of the Moose.

Later on, Mr Nutt extended his business into the smaller section of the building, to the right of his shop, and this gave him the opportunity to sell more goods.

In later years, one of his twin sons, Leslie, took an interest in the business and helped his father in various ways.

With the increase in the population of the town in the late 1930s the shop was a busy place and was especially popular with employees at Eli Lilly’s factory in Kingsclere Road.

The family were used to the unexpected, but one day in September 1938, they were surprised to see smoke coming out of St Michael's Church. The fire service, in Brook Street, was called out and managed to extinguish the fire inside the building, although much of the roof on the south aisle was destroyed. An appeal for funds to repair the damage was made by the vicar, and money poured in from the local people and other sources.

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Mr Nutt’s shop was a coach house and stable for the big house next door (Image: Derek Wren)

But this incident was nothing to what was to come just yards from their shop, for at 4.30pm on August 16, 1940, less than a year after the Second World War had begun and which was to threaten the whole country, about a dozen German bombers dived out of the sky and dropped several bombs into the town. Three hit the Church Square area and another fell on Burgess Road.

To their horror, the Nutt family found themselves being thrown about by the blast and their premises badly damaged. Just outside their shop, a local businessman was blown off his motorcycle as he passed by, and a young lady from a nearby shop was also killed.

Across the road, in Church Square, many more people died, and the destruction of the houses was to cause many injuries as well, as casualties lay trapped inside.

Both St Michael’s Church and the Methodist Church opposite were damaged, as were other nearby buildings.

In the late 1940s, Leslie Nutt became a partner in the business, then later the proprietor, as his father grew older.

Samuel Nutt died on June 21, 1949, at the Cottage Hospital in Hackwood Road.

Customers were greeted in the late 1950s by two charming young ladies, called Sheila and Janice, whom Mr Nutt employed behind the counter.

Then, in 1962, the mail brought a letter informing Mr Nutt that his shop was to be compulsorily purchased for town development. The whole side of that road was to be demolished for a new shopping centre.

The shop closed down on September 17, 1966, to the dismay of everyone, and two months later was demolished.

Mr Nutt and his wife Joan moved elsewhere, with their two daughters, while Leslie became an education welfare officer.

He died in May 1992 aged 76. For 41 years the Nutt family supplied a service to the town, and for all those local people who remember them, they will not be forgotten.

This article was written by Robert Brown and originally published on July 9, 2004