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Basingstoke (St. Michael)

BASINGSTOKE (St. Michael), a municipal borough, a market-town, and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Basingstoke, Basingstoke and N. divisions of the county of Southampton, 18 miles (N. E.) from Winchester, and 45 (W. S. W.) from London, on the great western road; containing 4066 inhabitants. In the early part of the Saxon dynasty, Basingstoke was inferior to Old Basing; but at the time of the Conquest it had obtained the superiority, since, in the record of Domesday, it is described as a royal demesne, and as having a market. In 1261, Henry III., at the request of Walter de Merton, founded an hospital here for six poor priests, with preference to those from Merton College, Oxford. In the reign of Henry VIII., Sir William (afterwards Lord) Sandys, in conjunction with Fox, Bishop of Winchester, instituted a guild and erected a beautiful chapel, which he dedicated to the Holy Ghost. This fraternity was dissolved in the time of Edward VI., and the revenue was vested in the crown; but in the reign of Mary it was re-established, and the income appropriated to the maintenance of a priest, for the celebration of divine service, and the instruction of young men and boys belonging to the town. During the civil war, it was suppressed by Cromwell, and the estates were seized by the parliament; but through the intercession of Dr. Morley, Bishop of Winchester, they were restored in 1670, and appropriated to their former use. Of the chapel, and the buildings connected with it, there are some remains on an eminence at the south-western side of the town, consisting of the south and east walls, and an hexagonal tower at the north-west angle.

The town is pleasantly situated in a fertile and well-cultivated district, near the source of the small river Loddon, and consists of several streets, containing neat and well-built houses; it is paved under an act of parliament granted in 1815, is amply supplied with water, and lighted with gas. Races formerly took place in Sept., but they have been discontinued; a spacious readingroom has lately been erected. The trade is principally in corn and malt; it is extensive, and is greatly facilitated by the situation of the town at the junction of five principal roads, and by the Basingstoke canal, which communicates with the river Wey near its confluence with the Thames. The London and Southampton railway, also, has a station here. The Great Western railway company have a line to Reading, 15 miles long, under an act passed in 1845; and an act was passed in 1846 for a railway from near Basingstoke to Andover and Salisbury, 32 miles long. The chief market is on Wednesday, and has lately been made a pitched market for corn; there is a minor market on Saturday. Fairs take place on Easter-Tuesday, the Wednesday next after Whitsuntide, and Oct. 11th, which last is also a statutefair: the one formerly held on Basingstoke downs, for cheese and cattle, is now held near the cattle-market, and is entirely a cattle-fair.

The government, by charter of incorporation granted by James I. and confirmed by Charles II., was vested in a mayor, seven aldermen, and seven burgesses, assisted by the usual officers; who were superseded in 1836 by a mayor, four aldermen, and 12 councillors, appointed under the Municipal Corporations act. Four justices, besides the mayor, act for the town, the county magistrates having concurrent jurisdiction. The latter hold a petty-session here for the division, on the first and third Wednesdays in every month; and a court leet is held under the lord of the manor, the jurisdiction of which comprises nineteen tythings. The powers of the county debt-court of Basingstoke, established in 1847, extend over the registration-districts of Basingstoke and Hartley-Wintney. The town sent members to parliament from the 23rd of Edward I. to the 4th of Edward II., when, it is supposed, the privilege ceased at the solicitation of the inhabitants. The old town-hall has been taken down, and a new and very handsome edifice erected in its stead, containing, besides a good basement, a spacious market for corn, a justice-room of ample dimensions, and a waiting-room on the ground floor. The ball-room is of an elegant and chaste character and of good proportions, being 60 feet long and 30 wide, with a convenient orchestra, council-room, ante-room, &c. The expense of this structure, which was erected from a design by Mr. Lewis Wyatt, was defrayed partly from the funds of the corporation, and partly by subscription. Behind it is a market-place for meat, fish, and vegetables.

The parish of Basingstoke is co-extensive with the borough, and contains 4036 acres, of which 107 are common or waste; the surface consists of hill and dale, and the soil is good light earth, suited to the production of barley. The living is a discharged vicarage, with the livings of Basing and Upper Nately annexed, valued in the king's books at £30. 16. 5½.; patrons and appropriators, the President and Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford. The great tithes of Basingstoke have been commuted for £783. 7., and the vicarial for £494. 13.; there are 17 acres of glebe belonging to the college, and 1¾ acre of vicarial glebe. The church is a spacious and handsome structure in the later English style, with a low embattled tower, and contains a small parochial library, the gift of Sir George Wheler. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, the Connexion of the Countess of Huntingdon, and Independents. The free grammar school, called "the Holy Ghost Chapel School," and originally founded in the reign of Henry VIII. in connexion with the guild of the Holy Ghost, was re-established, after the dissolution of the fraternity in the time of Edward VI., by Queen Mary, and has now a revenue exceeding £200, arising from 105 acres of land. Dr. Joseph Warton, a poet and refined critic, and his brother Thomas, the poet-laureate, received the early part of their education here, under their father, Thomas Warton, B.D., some time professor of poetry in the University of Oxford, and subsequently master of the school. The Blue-coat school, in which ten boys are clothed, maintained, and educated, was founded and endowed in 1646, by Richard Aldworth. Almshouses for eight aged men or women, each of whom receives £6. 18. per annum, were founded and endowed by Sir James Deane, Knt., in 1607. The poor law union of Basingstoke comprises 37 parishes and places, of which 36 are in the county of Southampton, and one in the county of Berks; and contains a population of 16,636. On an eminence in the vicinity is an ancient encampment of an elliptical form, 1100 yards in circumference, called Aubrey Camp. John de Basingstoke, a learned Greek scholar, and the intimate friend of Matthew Paris; Sir James Lancaster, an eminent navigator, who, in the reign of Elizabeth, explored the Arctic Sea, and who was a great benefactor of the town; and Thomas Warton, above-mentioned, were natives of the place.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.