Skip to content
Friends of the Willis Museum Logo

A registered charity that promotes, supports, assists and helps improve the Willis Museum in Basingstoke.

Historic Development of the Fairfields Conservation Area

by Derek Anthony

Settlement origins

The Conservation Area lies on the upper chalk beds capped by superficial clay-with-flints deposits. Prior to the 1786 Enclosure Act nearly all the area formed part of Hackwood Field and Winchester Field, two of the six open fields which lay around the town of Basingstoke. By the early nineteenth century, open land in the Conservation Area had been enclosed within four fields. Fair Field (or Fair Close), Jubilee Field, Castle Field, and Davis’s Close.

At this time most of the Conservation Area was given over to the cultivation of malting barley and the grazing of horses. Brewing was an important local industry, and large numbers of horses were needed by the five Basingstoke inns contracted to provide teams of horses for the various stage coaches running through the town.

The roads at the western, eastern and northern end of the Conservation Area are all of ancient origin. By far the most important was Winchester Road to the west, a turnpike road and part of the main coaching route from London to Winchester and beyond. Hackwood Road to the east, another turnpike road, formerly known as Hackwood Lane, provided access to Basingstoke from the south, as did Cliddesden Road, formerly known as Cliddesden Cartway. Southern Road and Bounty Road, formerly known as Back or Butt Lane, formed a local track to the south of the town, joining Hackwood Road and Winchester Road.

Until 1830, agricultural land stretched south throughout the Conservation Area and beyond. In the early 1830s a large plot of land running west from Cliddesden Road was enclosed and the Shrubbery house built. In the early 1970s Ring Road South was driven through the remnants of the Shrubbery grounds and now forms the southern boundary of the Conservation Area.

Settlement development

Much of the land in the western half of the Conservation Area came into the possession of Basingstoke Corporation. This land has been little built upon. Housing development in the rest of the Conservation Area progressed slowly throughout the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, resulting in an interesting mix of housing types and styles.

As early as 1851 a Bowling Green was in existence on land between Winton House and The Manor House on Winchester Road. The first recorded cricket match at May’s Bounty was in 1655. Originally known as The Folly, the ground was later re-named May’s Bounty as a tribute to Lt Col John May, a member of the Basingstoke based family of brewers who bought The Folly from Thomas Burberry, inventor of gabardine waterproofing and founder of the internationally famous manufacturers and retailers, to preserve it for sporting activities. Between 1906 and 2000 county cricket matches were frequently played at May’s Bounty.

Before the end of the nineteenth century children were playing football on Corporation land to the south of Fairfields School, as they still do, on Castle Field. The small recreation ground immediately to the south of Fairfields School was laid out towards the end of the nineteenth century, and described in Basingstoke; the official publication, 1911-12 as “an ornamental recreation ground, upon which has been erected a handsome bandstand, the gift of Col May, in which promenade concerts are given. There are also tennis courts and bowling greens for the use of which a small charge is made”. The tennis courts and bowling greens are still in use; the bandstand was moved to the War Memorial Park in the early 1920s.

May’s bandstand with Fairfields School in the background, photographed soon after the bandstand was erected.

In 1888 the Fairfields School opened in two buildings as the Basingstoke Board Schools. The high land on which the schools were built was “deemed to be a healthy spot for children.”

As a result of falling school rolls in the 1980s the two schools came together as Fairfields Primary School in the larger of the two buildings, and in 1987 the Fairfields Arts Centre opened in the smaller  building.

Among those educated at the Fairfields Schools were John Arlott, “the voice of cricket”, Lord Wigg, Paymaster General in the 1964 Labour Government, and George Willis, renowned local historian.

All Saints Church, across Southern Road from the Arts Centre, was designed by the architect Temple Moore and built during World War I. It is claimed to be the last gothic church started in England.

Housing development progressed slowly in the Fairfields area. By the 1850s groups of dwellings lined Winchester Road west from the town to Bounty Road. More dwellings lined Hackwood Road and Cliddesden Road for a few hundred yards south from the town. There was also a cluster of buildings around the cattle market and fair ground, (where the Arts Centre stands today), including the row of cottages at the southern end of Victoria Street.

Except for The Shrubbery, the rest of the Conservation Area remained in agricultural and horticultural use, including a large orchard and garden at the junction of Hackwood Road and Southern Road, marked on later maps as the “Hackwood Road Nursery”. Remnants of the nursery survived until the middle of the twentieth century.

By the 1870s a row of cottages had been built on the south side of Southern Road as had Goldfield House, later known as Hilstead House, on the east side of Cliddesden Road. By the mid 1880s the cottages in Jubilee Road were in occupation.

Throughout the 1880s, 1890s and the Edwardian era, small to medium sized houses were built in Beaconsfield Road ( named after statesman, Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield), Fairfields Road and the eastern half of Wallis Road (named after a prominent local businessman and benefactor). Meanwhile, the land, as yet undeveloped, on either side of Cliddesden Road was divided into generous-sized plots and large detached and semi-detached houses built.

Since the end of World War I further development within the area has been very limited. Wallis Road was extended to its present length and lined with detached and semi-detached houses. There has been some infilling on particularly large plots and a few houses have been demolished and replaced with more modern houses or flats. For example in the 1960s the flats in Montague Place were built on the site of St Vincent’s School which had been bombed during World War II; in the 1980s Hilstead Court on Cliddesden Road replaced Hilstead House, and in the 1990s Burberry Court on Fairfields Road replaced the May’s Bounty Hotel.

Finally construction of the Southern Ring Road in the early 1970s so blighted The Shrubbery that the house was demolished in 1992 and a footpath constructed through the grounds.

Share Post: