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Shops in early Basingstoke

by Ann Hawker

Basingstoke’s role as a shopping centre is far from new. In this three part article Anne Hawker gives us an idea of what was available to local shoppers from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries (April 1985, July 1985, July 1986).


From the earliest Court Rolls at the end of the 14th century there are records of men who were tradesmen ‘exercising their art’ in Basingstoke. As these records were of men who had been summoned to Court to be fined for overcharging or some other misbehaviour, there would have been other men making and selling goods who were not offenders. The amount that a man could charge for his labour was decided by the King ‘s Court at Westminster. A master carpenter, tiler, joiner, plumber or glazier was to be paid 4d a day during the summer and 3d in the winter months, Michaelmas to Easter. Others could earn 2d-3d a day in the summer.

In 1399 John Gylderne must have been a carpenter, for he should have made doors and windows and walls for John Skynner’s house and did not. At the same time there were recorded John White, a tanner and Henry Clerke, shepherd.

By 1409 there were three bakers, a tanner (still John White) three weavers, three shoemakers, four tailors, and a carpenter all overcharging. In 1422 butchers, mercers, a mason and a chandler (candlemaker) had made their appearance and in 1427 there were also a fletcher or arrow-maker. In 1448 there were three vintners, who never appear again, two thatchers and a tiler as well as a long list of the more usual trades.

Year after year the bakers John How or Hoo and John Prewet were presented as baking bread too light in weight. The first overcharging barber was fined in 1470. Members of the same families carried on the same trades for many years, from 1422 to 1478 there were Gretes who were butchers. The Whites were tanners from 1399—1478, Smiths were smiths, Taylours were tailors, Sadlers were saddlers and Fletchers made arrows. Remembering that these men were only a selection of the entire working population, there would have been quite a full range of trades being carried on. The shepherd looked after the sheep (and very likely sheared them), the fuller, weaver, dyer and cloth seller dealt with the wool. Tanners supplied the leather for saddlers and shoemakers, the smith made and mended farm implements and cooking pots, chains and locks as well. The drapers, mercers and grocers supplied luxuries in the form of ribbons, fine linen and spices. Hosiers and cap makers made these things for people who could afford to buy them ready-made. At the Court of 1464 in Basingstoke we have a very long list of men made who were at fault and also the goods that they supplied, so that we know that a haberdashier, for instance, sold wool fabric, girdles and other merchandise and a chandler made candles of wax and tallow. Some of these traders would not have needed specialised premises, but smiths, tanners and dyers could not carry on their work in the front room of their own houses, but must have furnaces, vats and pits. A butcher had to have a slaughter-house and a baker an oven large enough to bake a whole batch of bread. To make it more confusing, some men had more than one trade so that mercers sometimes sold fish and could be summoned as fishmongers.

Until the beginning of the 16th century we have no idea of the sort of shops there was in Basingstoke nor where they were. Dyers and tanners had to be near water, so dyehouses could be expected at the lower ends of Church Street and Wote (Ote) Street, and also at the place called Flaxpole, roughly, at the end of Flaxfield Road, the present Penrith Road area. There may have been dyers in the place that is now called Church Cottage. There was a tanner at the end of Bunnian Place and others on the site of the Barge. At least one smith had a smithy in the Market Place. A butcher had a shop at the Market Place end of Ote Street.


In the 16th century, when Wills with the inventory attached were necessary before Probate could be granted, the stock of the shop had to be valued, and the contents were occasionally listed. A butcher of that time had a slaughter house and a shop, and his tools were butchery axes, knives and cleavers. There was also a frame to hang meat. A leather worker called Sabaoth Hitchcock had leather ‘in the pits’ but he had four vats and a lime hook, so he treated his leather with lime as well as tan-bark. He sold gloves, points, money-bags and satchels and skin to make doublets. The skins he stocked were horse hides and buck and doe skins. To decorate the goods he had gold skins and latten, a yellow metal. Clothiers sold woollen cloth, linen came from the mercers. George Cox, clothier, in 1551 sold twenty-two pieces of woollen cloth of all colours. Like other clothiers of the period, he had shears and teasels in his shop, and something called burling irons, which were to remove the little knots or lumps that form on wool. Alice Perman, baker, dying in 1583 left trestles and a great chest in the shop, and in the bakehouse two quarters of wheat, twelve bushels of malt and four bushels of pease, a bushel of salt and a bushel of bran. There were tubs and troughs to mix and knead the dough and two moulding boards to shape the loaves. Mercers sold linen cloth of various types, coarse and fine, and ribbon, tape, pins, silk thread, wax, soap, spices and dried fruit (raisins, currents, figs and dates). It is clear that the shops selling woollen cloth did not sell linen, glovemakers did not sell shoes, and smiths, although they sold frying pans and horse combs and coffer locks did not sell knives and daggers which were the province of the cutler.

As we come to the 17th century, the inventories with the Wills become less in— formative in general, but there are a few that apparently leave nothing out. A Woollen Draper, Arthur Baffe, in 1606 had pieces of woollen cloth with their colours so that we know he had cloth of wormwod, french green, primrose, venice colour, sea green, stone grey, holly colour, red, sad sage, and horse- flesh colour. William White, Apothecary, in 1636 left such a full inventory that he needs a section to himself. Richard Daniell, grocer of London Street (he seems to have been near the Almshouse, that is, Deanes Almshouses at the east end of the street) died in 1645 and his goods included toys (poppets), spices, ribbons, caps, books, rabbit skins and tobacco. Around 1666, sticks of tobacco were burnt with gums in the Church of St Michael, supposedly to sweeten the air.

(Wormwood is a dark grey/ green, Venice is light blue, horseflesh is bronze) Sad means dark or dull.

It is odd that in none of the cloth shops is a yardstick mentioned or any form of cloth measure. Perhaps they just smelled a yard? (Stretch the cloth the length of the arm and up to the nose). If there were any scissors they vanished, but scissors are always in great demand.


William White, Apothecary, died in Basingstoke some time between 12 July 1636, when he made his Will, and 26 September 1636, when the Inventory of his goods were taken.

As he left his daughter ‘one carved or wrought box that was her mothers… and all other her said mother’s linen… woollen & apparrell whatsoever’ it seems that he was a widower. He also left his daughter Elizabeth White one diaper table cloth, a dozen of flaxen napkins, all the Pewter in the chests in the chamber ‘as I lie in’ , two pairs of the best sheets and three silver spoons.

All the rest of his goods were for his son Hugh White (who also became an Apothecary). The first room in the inventory is the kitchen, where he had the usual kitchen equipment with ‘an Iron Jack and a little leaden Cesterne’ in addition. Also in the kitchen were tables, benches and stool, two joined chairs and two other chairs, and as there was no room called the Hall, this may have been the main living room of the house. However, in the middle chamber he had yet another table, with a frame, six joined stools, a pair of virginals, a pair of playing tables, two sheets, one cupboard and three boxes. The walls of this room had both wainscot and painted cloth.

There was a special Still-house where the distilling part of his Apothecary ‘s work went on, where he kept three stills, a brewing tub and a washing tub (a Bucking tub). There was a cellar, but he only stored beer in that.

Two other chambers contained bedsteads and in one little chamber he kept a press with his clothes, and a silk quilt, in the Garret- was another bedstead, a trundle bedstead, in the whole house there were two ordinary bedsteads and three trundle- bedsteads. Also in the Garret was a close stool.

But the best part of the Inventory was the list of the contents of his shop. As the Inventory was on a fairly large sheet of paper, written on both sides of the sheet, it is rather difficult to read, for the ink comes through from the other side, but it was worth the effort. I had not really expected such a gold-mine, as by this date, the full inventories had become rare, and many of them ended tamely with ‘and other old lumber’ when we would have longed to know what they thought was just rubbish, not worth listing. When it came to the shop, even when inventories were very full, it was usually the case that the shop stuff was entered as that alone and valued as one lump.

Anyway, his list began with four mortars, eleven pairs of brass scales and weights, and one pair of great scales and beam. Probably he gathered, or paid someone else to gather, the herbs that could be got from the countryside, paying for them by weight, But it can be seen that his stock was not entirely home produced. Apart from the drugs we should expect from a chemist today, purges like senna, aloes, agaric, rhubarb, he had mixtures which were probably very expensive, called Methridate, Diascordium and London Treacle. He had as well some truly fantastic objects – Unicorn Horn, Bezoar Stone and Lignum Vitae.

Methridate should have had more than sixty ingredients, mostly with entrancing names – Illyrian orris-root, Terra Lemnia (a greasy red earth from Lemnos) Dittany of Crete, Balm of Cilead, and some nasty things, for example lozengers of vipers (flesh and broth) and green vitriol (either copper chloride or ferrous sulphate). It did contain opium and was mixed with old canary wine and honey.

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