Chapter 8. Basingstoke in the Sixties - A Modernist Utopia

 

From it's humble origins as a small Anglo-Saxon market town, Basingstoke grew to become a medium-sized market town of the late twentieth century, home to branches of several well-known multinational corporations. Building on its historical traditions, Basingstoke was still proud to boast the naffest shops and ugliest modern architecture to be found anywhere. The unique union of a pedestrianized open-air shopping mall and multi-story car park that was the town center was the ultimate glorification in concrete of this ideal.

Basingstoke as was known in the late Nineneteen-Hundreds was concevied during the 1960's when a radical group of town planners held sway over the Hampshire county council. High on a heady mix of free love, post-modern functionalism and LSD, this group of idealists consisted of outcasts and rejects from some of the South's most prestigious architectural design institutes and technical colleges. Their leader used his Rasputin-like powers of influence to coerce the borough of Basingstoke and Deane into giving his gang free reign over the development of a new extension to the town's public lavatory system. There then followed the so-called Holocaust of Basingstoke during which most of the old town center was utterly levelled to make way for one of the wildest fantasies in concrete ever attepted. The result was a symphony in cement, that notorious monolithic totem to man's conquest of nature, known as the Basingstoke Walks. For most, it was merely a convenient, if unsightly, way to shop; for others it was an artistic statement of such conceptual power that it forced them to question their own sanity. Like the million-ton bastard offspring of Henry Moore and Mondrian, it pulsated with the life of thousands of very ordinary men, women and children going about their daily business, mostly oblivious to the enormity of their surroundings.

To those who still doubt the true nature of this ultimate metaphor of our human condition, consider the placement of the town's first nightclub, Martines. What earthly reason could there be for hiding this glittering shrine to cheap, predatory sex behind and beneath the car park, if not to symbolize the architect's own clandestine affair with the then Mayor of Basingstoke's wife and daughters?

 

Henry Moore + Mondrian = Basingstoke

 

By the time Westminster became aware of just how far-out and freaky things had gotten sixty miles from the nation's capital, it was too late to do much about it. Nevertheless, Harold Wilson began assembling a crack team of governmental building inspectors to investigate the matter. As soon as they realized that the feds were onto them, the cadre of renegade urban developers started to panic. Jobs were rushed through, resulting in Basingstoke's most infamous innovation - the roundabout. Previously it was thought that these were the result of one man's obsession with donuts, but recently the original blueprints for the ringroad have come to light, revealing that the roundabouts began life as nothing other than coffee rings left by sloppily placed cups at planning meetings. When Wilson's inspectors finally arrived, most of the culprits of Britain's most significant architectural carbuncle had gone underground. Those that were traced were consigned to designing Governmental Nuclear Shelters, others fled to behind the iron curtain, but a few undoubtedly remained in Basingstoke and their continuing influence on the town's structural development, is and has been unmistakable, as buildings like Churchill Plaza and the Anvil attest. The town council was ordered to resign and was replaced with a conservative staff who worked hard to keep the lid on the truth about Basingstoke and ensure that non-one would ever perceive it to be anything other than a nice place for middle and working-class suburbanites to live. They were extremely successful and by the mid-eighties with an unemployment rate of less than 4% and a large homeless population, Norman Tebitt declared it to be the Tory model town.

Recently efforts have been made to change, hide and bury much of the architectural marvel that was the Basingstoke town center (See Chapter 10), however, if you look hard you can still see the remains of this once inspired vision. If you are intersted in finding out more about the Campaign to Restore Ancient Basingstoke to its Former Artistic Splendor (CRABFARTS) please wrtite to your local MP.

 

Chapter 9. The Fanum House Conspiracy

Index

 

Artwork and text ©2004 Chuck Whelon
Read Chuck's comic strip 'Pewfell' every weekday at: http://www.pewfell.com