Gems in the Urban Landscape
As I walk around Basingstoke, I realise there are buildings, public gardens, and commemorative plaques that I just accept have been there for years. I don’t necessarily ignore them on my daily rounds, but I often pass by without considering their significance in the urban landscape. I’m fortunate that I live in a town that has a rich and cultured history. When you take a closer look and investigate some of these sites of interest, they invariably surprise and impress. It could be an historic building such as a centuries-old church, a glorious garden that is hidden from the roadside view, or a statue with a plaque on a path less taken.
I thought I would bring to your attention a few of these often-overlooked landmarks together in a little round-up. They include some of my favourite places to stop, admire and take a photo or two.
A Church to Cherish
I’ve always had a fascination with churches (which could date back to my youth studying at St Peter’s CofE Junior School in Farnborough!). Whenever I’m out on a trip somewhere and spy a church, I’m drawn to its stone walls and stained-glass windows. There’s a calming quality to being next to or in the vicinity of these buildings, even on the gloomiest of days.
One such church is St Michael’s in the town centre of Basingstoke. It dates back to the 14th-15th century and has the associated Glebe Gardens attached to it. This impressive Anglican house of worship is a hub of the local community and although a little worn at the edges, it does hold its age well. Occasionally in the summer months I’ve noted that bees like to nest in its walls too, adding an extra unexpected dimension. When you walk around the outside of the church you get a sense of the history that it is steeped in. There is a large and ancient yew tree that hugs the corner of the churchyard, sitting perfectly in place. It’s like a sentry guarding St Michael’s and its surrounds – ever watchful and evergreen.
The Gardens Beyond
Nestled between St Michael’s Church and the car park at Churchill Way is the unassuming Glebe Gardens. These gardens once belonged to the church rectory, Chute House. When you walk through Glebe Gardens, you’ll note The River Loddon making its way through the willow trees. The whole effect of the trees, the river (albeit more like a stream these days) and the pathways is one of peace and can’t be underestimated for its invigorating properties. Basingstoke’s walking workforce, cyclists and dog-walkers are no doubt thankful for the gardens, as they're both practical and picturesque. I’d always recommend the spot for a stroll in the sunshine.
A Plaque of Note
Having lived in Basingstoke for nearly seven years, I’ve gradually garnered more knowledge about the town. I can see why sometimes people think that it’s just an overspill of London, with the train station taking numerous commuters into the city (although less now than before the pandemic). It is definitely a town with many built-up areas and roundabouts. But there is so much more to the urban sprawl than high-rise flats like the Skyline Plaza and business hubs like Basing View.
A site of great historical interest is The Blue Coat Boy statue – which stands on Cross Street. This landmark is a two-minute walk from St Michael’s Church so can handily be included in a wander around the town centre. The statue with plaque has such significance due to it being placed on the site of Basingstoke Blue Coat School, which was founded by Richard Aldworth. The school existed between 1659 and 1879, and it was one of many nationwide charity schools which were set up from the 16th century onwards.
On appreciating the landmarks we sometimes take for granted, I have to say even writing about the above sites has made me more conscious of being alert to their charms and to their importance in a constantly changing and fast-paced world.
Feel free to give me any feedback in the comments section below, and until next time happy reading!
Landmarks of Basingstoke