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Owen's Story

 In the Beginning

War has affected me throughout my life. I have to go back to 1918, which as you may guess was before I was born. Two young people both aged 16, who worked at Thornycroft’s in Basingstoke, met on Armistice Day, 11 th November 1918, and became an item. They were both Basingstoke born and bred: the girl born inYe Olde Toll House, in Hackwood Road (roughly where the entrance to the Memorial Park is in Hackwood Road), and the boy born in Essex Road. The boy worked in the factory and the girl was a silver service waitress in the board room. They married on Boxing Day in 1924, and their first home was with the young lady’s sister, Emily, in Chapel Street, Basingstoke. They eventually bought a house at 70 George Street Basingstoke. That young couple were my mother and father.


I was born on 22nd June 1930 at 70, George Street. As an only child growing up in George Street, I made friends with three boys roughly the same age as me, who lived close by of whom, sadly, two are no longer with us. George Street became our playground, something that would not be possible today because of the traffic. When we needed a bit more space to run around in, King George V playing field, next to where Morrison’s is, became our playground.

Most of the people who lived in George Street worked at Thornycroft’s, on the railway or for local builders. In George Street itself, the local shops provided everything the inhabitants could want literally from the cradle to the grave: with a chapel, a sweet shop and tobacconist, a general store, a post office, a baker, a barber’s shop and lady’s hairdresser. In neighbouring May Street there was a butcher and in Queens Road there was a dairy, a greengrocers and a paper shop and, to the grave, an undertakers.

Our house had three bedrooms, but there were no electric lights upstairs and no such thing as electric points (sockets). The toilet was outside, although it was still part of the house and we had a small garden which backed on to the River Loddon. Soon after I started school I developed whooping cough. Mum and dad had the electric light installed in my bedroom by a retired builder who lived three doors away. He drilled a hole through into mum and dad’s bedroom so that they could feed a flex through to connect my light to a reading light in their bedroom.

I was an inveterate digger of holes at the bottom of the garden which always filled up with water, as I dug below the water table of the River Loddon. The swimming pool near to the current ring road was emptied into the Loddon when the water was changed, usually on a Saturday, when it rushed down the stream. (I cannot see that happening today). One Easter I had a misadventure with the River Loddon in King George V playing fields when I fell in. Walking along the passage, at the back of our house in George Street, singing “I fell in the river” did not endear me to my mother, who promptly stripped me and scrubbed me down with disinfectant. I still remember to this day, that all this commotion interrupted my dad from painting the larder primrose.

At the age of 5 I started school at Brook Street School in Lower Brook Street, which is now known as Brookvale. I remained there until I was 8. My dad had an allotment close to the railway line. I can well remember the making of the Will Hay classic, Oh Mister Porter in 1937. The railway engine that was in the film had a very tall chimney. When it went out on to the railway line to Cliddesden, where most of the film was made, the inhabitants of George Street used to turn out to wave to the train and its passengers as it went by. The railway line to Cliddesden followed the route along which the ring road between the Milestones roundabout and the Winchester Road roundabout now takes today.

One scene in the film depicts the Fat Boy (Graham Moffat) hitting the heads of the “Baddies” when they looked out of the carriage windows with a big shovel. In the film there was a loud bang as each head was struck, but you cannot make a big bang with a rubber shovel! Graham Moffat himself could not fall off the top of the carriage as he was tied on by his ankles.

One day when I was on the allotments with dad, I said “What is that tall tower over there?” In three words he said, “That’s the Asylum”. I had no idea what an asylum was, but roughly ten years later, I went there to work. Dad could have had no idea that his little boy would work there for 44 years and 69 days in the shadow of that tower. On the day of my retirement I was the longest serving employee of the hospital. I was recalled after retirement and received my final pay cheque in April 2006, after 60 enjoyable years.

 In the Beginning

War has affected me throughout my life. I have to go back to 1918, which as you may guess was before I was born. Two young people both aged 16, who worked atThornycroft’s in Basingstoke, met on Armistice Day, 11 th November 1918, and became an item. They were both Basingstoke born and bred: the girl born inYe Olde Toll House, in Hackwood Road (roughly where the entrance to the Memorial Park is in Hackwood Road), and the boy born in Essex Road. The boy worked in the factory and the girl was a silver service waitress in the board room. They married on Boxing Day in 1924, and their first home was with the young lady’s sister, Emily, in Chapel Street, Basingstoke. They eventually bought a house at 70 George Street Basingstoke. That young couple were my mother and father.

Moving to Kempshott

Unbeknown to me Mum and Dad were considering moving to Kempshott, where they bought a new two bedroom bungalow in Buckskin Lane. It was a big change to the family’s environment. Prior to moving in all three of us made regular trips to the property so that dad could work on the garden. Dad would ride his bicycle and Mum and I would go by bus. Going home in the evening required us to walk to Worting Road, where Mum and I would catch the bus back to Basingstoke. Being a youngster Dad would put me on his bike and push me down to the bus stop. I was scared stiff and screamed all the way.

In 1938 there were only 16 properties in Buckskin Lane between Five Ways and Chiltern Way (as is now), six on the left hand side and 10 on the right hand side (there was only one house). Further down the lane were two farm cottages where the chicane is today, and three bungalows at the junction of Buckskin Lane with Worting Road.

Our bungalow, known as Talbot (named after my Dad’s mother’s maiden name) was stood in a garden that was 100 yards deep. We had a bathroom, which was a novelty, the toilet was indoors, and taps you could turn on to get hot water out of them. In the summer, it was a question of putting the copper on to heat the water, which was then carried into the bathroom in buckets, as you did not always want a fire on in hot weather

When we lived in George Street my mother cooked on a gas stove. Moving to Kempshott there was no gas and a limited electricity supply, so it was some time before my mother could have an electric cooker. So she joined everyone else in the village having to cook on a paraffin or primus stove. The interoven, heated by coal, in the dining room was only used occasionally, and not very often during the summer. In terms of electricity supply we only had one two pin socket and one 15 Amp socket for the copper in total. (Count your sockets in your house today).

Our playground was in our gardens or in Buckskin Lane, the latter of which would not be possible today. The Kempshott of 1938 was somewhat different to that of today. It was a quiet village not connected to Basingstoke, with no footpaths, no main drainage, no playing fields, no school, no Church, except for the Methodist Chapel, and only eight street lights for the whole village. The last time I counted the streetlights between Heather Way and Five Ways they numbered 45 along one side of the road.

School days in Kempshott

Kempshott did not have its own school, so I went to Worting School in Old Kempshott Lane which has recently been knocked down and built on. Life at Worting School was somewhat different to schooling today. Children had garden plots, the loos were outside, and there were no school dinners and no central heating. The only source of heating was a coke stove in the corner of the class room, which we used to use to warm our school milk. Each class consisted of three year groups in one room.

When I went to Worting School I went backwards in my schooling. I was doing things that I had previously done sometime before at Brook Street School. Consequently, my school days at Worting only lasted 8 months. I was lucky enough to be able to move to Fairfields School in Basingstoke. My Aunt Ginny (my mum’s sister) worked for the headmaster and his wife. The headmaster said that he would take me before age eleven, if my father was prepared to pay for my bus fare to Basingstoke and home. I was there for three years and passed through the hands of three different teachers, and in 1941 I gained a scholarship to Queen Mary’s Grammar School, which is now the Vyne School,

 Kempshott House

I remember going to Kempshott House along with other children in I 938, it was derelict, with water coming through the roof. One thing that remains in my memory was that there was a built-in safe which had a large brass plate on the door with the manufacturer’s name on it.

During the war the house was taken over by the Government and became the “Petroleum Warfare Department”. From Kempshott we could see pillars of flames shooting up from the flame throwers and then clouds of thick black smoke.

September 1939

In September I 939 War was declared. Mum, dad and I were sat with our next door neighbours, Mr and Mrs Clatworthy, and listened to Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, declare that we were at War with Germany. Both Mum and Mrs Clatworthy shed tears. Life changed as all the street lights went out and all windows were covered with heavy curtains or blinds so that no light could be seen from enemy aircraft flying overhead. The few cars that were on the road had cowls fitted over their headlights to reduce the glare seen from enemy aircraft flying overhead. The period from the declaration of war to May/June I 940 became known as the Phoney War as there was no active land action.

Air Raid Shelter

            We had a home built air raid shelter at the bottom of our garden which we shared with the Clatworthys at 160, ourselves at 158 and the Sopers at 156. It was roughly 3 metres square, 2 metres deep and accommodated 6 adults (sometimes more) and 3 children. It had battery powered light and oil stove to heat water to make tea, with a pot for the toilet.

Many nights were spent in this shelter when the Blitz of Coventry and the Midlands took place, as there was a danger that enemy aircraft would jettison their bombs, if being chased by our night fighters or damaged by anti-aircraft guns.

One night a parachute was found hanging on the electricity cables in Buckskin Lane. It was dark and could not be easily identified. It was thought to be a parachute mine. The local air raid wardens told everyone to sleep on the floor of their properties in the room furthest from the electricity supply or alternatively sleep in their air raid shelters if they had one. So we all spent the night in our shelter at the bottom of our garden. It was not until daylight that it was realised that the “Parachute mine” was in fact a radiosonde parachute that was used by the weather forecasting service to provide weather reports for the forces.

 December 1939

In December 1939 there was a big sea battle between three British cruisers, Ajax, Achilles and Exeter, and the German heavy cruiser, Admiral Graf Spee, which because known as the “Battle of the River Plate”. The Admiral Graf Spee took shelter in Montevideo Harbour, Uruguay, and was only allowed a limited time of stay to put ashore its dead and wounded. My Aunt Milly (Mum’s sister) and Uncle David were staying with us for the weekend. Uncle David was a bit of an expert picking up shortwave broadcasts on our wireless and he tuned in to an American radio commentator, Mike Fowler, describing the scene on 17th December, as the Admiral Graf Spee put out to sea but was scuttled in Montevideo Harbour rather than facing the British cruisers. Her commanding officer, Hans Langsdorff, was convinced by false reports circulated by British Intelligence that he would be facing superior British forces, and consequently decided to scuttle his ship. Three days later he shot himself.


The Phoney War ended when Germany invaded the three neutral countries Belgium Holland and Luxembourg and smashed through into France ending up with the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force in May/June from Dunkirk and Calais.

My Aunt Edie belonged to a Mother’s Group in one of the Basingstoke Churches and she and her colleagues along with my mother helped feed the soldiers at Basingstoke Railway Station, who were being evacuated from France. She came home very distressed at the state they were in, as the soldiers were wounded, wet through, some with no uniforms, just wrapped in blankets.

Battle of Britain over Basingstoke

 Only two bombs were dropped on Kempshott which fell on the field between Pack Lane and the Railway line. No damage done. Today it is still possible to see the remains of the craters in the Battledown fields when they have been freshly ploughed. On 16th August, 1940, from my front garden in Buckskin Lane we watched the bombing of Church Square in Basingstoke.

While at school, on the 24th October 1940, bombs were dropped in Cliddesden Road, roughly 500 yards from Fairfields School, making a near direct hit on St.Vincent’s private school. When we heard the explosion we all dived under our desks, as there had not been any air raid warning. Sadly two people were killed and several were injured, but the pupils were in the Memorial Park playing so they escaped injury.

One Sunday afternoon my mother, father and I were walking down Victoria Street on the way home from my Grandmothers’. When I looked up and said to my father “That’s a Junker 88 up there”, to which he replied “Don’t be so damned silly”. I then replied “Dad look, he’s just dropped his bombs”. I was well on the way to a thick ear from my father, but the bombs exploded before he could react. They fell either side of the railway at Basing, near the site of the Hampshire Clinic today.

As the Grammar school did not have classes on a Wednesday afternoon (instead we had to go on Saturday morning), my mother and I went to the cinema in Basingstoke. An air raid warning came up on the cinema screen saying “Leave if you wish to”. I insisted we stayed until the end of the programme, which we did. Just as we came out of the cinema we heard the sound of machine guns being fired. When we got home to Buckskin Lane there were numerous policemen and ARP wardens there as Buckskin Lane had been machine gunned. One of the semi-detached bungalows had a hole in the apex of its roof and a fir tree at Bellavista in Pack Lane had been lacerated. Luckily there were no personal injuries.

 Out to Work

 The war ended in 1945 and everything went back to peace time, 1946 came along and I was due to leave The Grammar School and start working for a living.

I always wanted to go farming when I left school, but it wasn’t to be. I came home for lunch from the farm one Friday when my Dad said that there was a job advertised in The Hants and Berks (now The Gazette) that would suit me; it did state that applicants had to hold a School Certificate. I said “I do not have a Certificate” .His reply was, “Turn over the page.” There I found the publication of the School Certificate results for Queen Mary’s School. That same evening I wrote and applied for the job, had an interview the following Friday and started work on the Monday morning as a Junior Clerk. My salary was a massive £70 per annum plus £39 cost of living allowance. This was the start of my career at Park Prewett Hospital and Basingstoke North Hampshire Hospital of 44 years plus, the latter 22 years of which I was a Department Manager.

 National Service

Left over from the war was compulsory National Service in the armed forces. This caught up with me when I returned home from a week’s holiday to find a manila envelope with orders to report to RAF Padgate, from there to Bridgnorth, and then to RAF Bawdsey perched on the top of cliffs looking out over the North Sea, (Bawdsey was the cradle of RADAR). From there I was posted to RAF Ibsley,on the outskirts of the New Forest. The accommodation was pretty grim and every day we had to travel to RAF Sopley in lorries with wooden seats, and a canvas cover to keep out the wind and weather. I stuck out the winter of I 948 there.

Being fed up with the atrocious conditions, three of us volunteered (dangerous ground) to go to Germany. Instead of going to Germany all three of us found ourselves climbing up the gangway on to The Empire Trooper bound for the Middle East. One of our trio of volunteers left the boat in Malta, but he did not stay there long, the next step for him was Hong Kong. The two of us left were told when we reached Port Said that we were to go to RAF El Hamra for onward transmission to Iraq, that was me, I said “Where the heck is that?”, (the whole world knows now). My other colleague was to go to Khartoum. I think I was lucky in my posting because RAF Habbaniya was the showpiece of the RAF I spent the whole of my posting in the sharp end there in Flying Control. I was lucky that I was paired up with a South African Flight Lieutenant, who taught me how to do his job just in case there was an accident that he could not cope with in its entirety. He would often say to me when he was on the telephone “It’s all yours Don”.

I left Habbaniya in June 1950, and the last time I wore my RAF uniform was 22nd June, (my birthday), and my service finally ended in July 1950.


Back home to Basingstoke, and back to the day job at Park Prewett, and the wages office.

In October 1950 I was asked if I was going to the dance at the Hospital by one of the secretaries, I said “No, I have not got a partner”, she said that she was going with her boy-friend and her best friend, would I like to make it up to a foursome?

I agreed to it, subsequently, the young lady became my wife on 29th October 1955.

I heard that a man in Kempshott Lane who had a large garden, wanted to sell part of it, so I bought the plot of ground, and we had a bungalow built. We moved in on the day we got married, as I write this we have just celebrated our Diamond Wedding on the 29th October. The name of our house is “Habbaniya” in memory of my happy time that I spent in Iraq.

Despite Habbaniya being some three thousand miles away, we had several people who knocked on the door asking how we got the name. One especially, was the then Mayor of Basingstoke, Harold Allerston, who was stationed at RAF Habbaniya are the same time as I was. I probably walked past the building where he worked at least twice a day, and yet we did not meet.

The early days of the NHS

The following memories were awakened by a talk on the subject of the Basingstoke Workhouse given by  Barbara Large. *

In 1948, as the  NHW was created, the old workhouse building and, more importantly, the Infirmary built alongside in 1900 became part of the health service in Basingstoke. During the war two further single storey wards had been added to the old building – sandwiched  between the railway embankment and the rear of the infirmary.

While the  work house ceased to operate as such after 1948, old opinions and attitudes die hard and the facilities on the site were still referred to by the older  people of Basingstoke with fear and dread as the Workhouse or ‘The Grubber’ ( from  tramp’s  slang for the place where grub could be had), despite the official name being changed to Cowdery Down Hospital.

Owen also recalls that male tramps who had arrived to get a roof over their heads would sometimes make a hole in the grassy bank outside the grounds of the hospital and bury any money that they had – not realising that they had been seen by the local lads who would move their cash to a new spot, or, sadly, help themselves to the cash.

The Wages Department at Park Prewett, where Owen had started his working life, and to which he returned after National Service in 1950 , operated the payroll for all the NHS units in the district. Wages for many staff were paid weekly in cash, mainly on a Thursday.

Later in the 1960s, as  Payroll Manager,  Owen often had occasion to visit Cowdery Down on payroll matters, where the Matron of the Infirmary  was Mrs Thornton and a cup of tea and possibly a slice of Bread Pudding was always welcoming.

Eventually  Cowdery Down took on the roles of Geriatric unit, a Convalescence Unit and  the location of the District Physiotherapy unit.  The  titles changed and the quality of the  care changed – but the  clientele sounds  very similar.

From time to time the ladies of the Payroll Department were asked by the Head of Finance to  do extra tasks -   for no extra pay  but time off in lieu. The  one occasion which stands out in Owen’s memory was an occasion  sometime between 1968 and 1974 when they were asked to go to Cowdery Down  one Sunday afternoon to assist patients to fill in forms. What none of the wages department staff realise was that there were still patients ‘left over’ from the workhouse days and it was these people  who the wages ladies were asked to  complete  the forms for; which meant that they had to have a face to face meeting with each person to  obtain the details required. At the end of the afternoon it was ‘job done’ but there were a lot of tears shed as they had met patients who had been incarcerated in the workhouse for many years. Some had been sent there originally  for having a baby out of wedlock or for stealing eggs when they were starving.

*Basingstoke Workhouse and Poor Law Union, Barbara A Large, 2016


Solving a Family Mystery

My wife’s mother’s marriage certificate gave her address as Kempshott House and occupation as “Domestic”; we could not work out why she lived in Kempshott House. During a conversation with a school friend of mine early this year, he was telling me about the Kempshott Estate being up for auction in 1926. His father had kept the catalogue when he went to the sale and he still had it. Looking through it as a matter of interest, we found the house had been split up into flats; one of the occupants was Mrs Angliss, my wife’s grandmother. Problem solved.

Owen Blissett