Basingstoke received a charter of incorporation from James I., which was confirmed by Charles I. The government of the town is now vested, under the Reform Act, in a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors. A large and handsome townhall was built in 1833, which includes a corn-market and a large hall for public meetings. By an Act passed in 1829, the market was constituted a pitched market. The revenue of the borough is about £1,800, and its population, according to the census of 1861, 4,664, against 4,263 in 1851, showing an increase of 401 in the decennial period, while the inhabited houses have risen from 892 to 938. The town returned representatives to parliament in the reigns of Edward I., Edward II., and Edward 111., when, at the solicitation of the inhabitants, it is supposed, the privilege ceased.
It is a polling-place for the north division of the county, the seat of a Poor-law Union, and of a County Court district. Petty sessions for the borough are held weekly, and for the county once a fortnight. The living is a vicarage* in the diocese of Winchester, of the value with those of Basing and Up-Nateley, which are annexed to it, of £572, in the patronage of the President and Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford. The church, a handsome edifice, in the perpendicular style of architecture, with a low tower at the west end, is dedicated to St. Michael. The chancel and Lady-chapel are of earlier origin than the remainder of the church, which was mostly built in the reign of Henry VIII. It is noticed as a singular circumstance, that while the south wall is entirely of stone, the north is built in alternate squares of flint and stone. The roof is of panelled oak, and the spandrils are adorned with armorial shields. The interior has been recently repaired and re-pewed, and galleries erected round three sides of the church.
There are chapels belonging to the Society of Friends, the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, the Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists. The charitable endowments of the parish are of considerable amount. The free grammar school was founded in the reign of Henry VIII. by Sir William Sandys, in connection with a chapel for the Guild of the Holy Ghost. The guild was dissolved in the following reign, restored by Queen Mary, and again suppressed by Cromwell. Finally, at the instance of Bishop Morley, in 1670, the estate, which had been seized by the parliament, was restored and appropriated to its present uses. The revenue of the school is about £160. The master is appointed by the lord chancellor. The mastership was once held by Thomas Warton, vicar of the parish, and father of Dr. Joseph Warton, poet and critic, and Thomas Warton, poet-laureate, both natives of Basingstoke, and pupils in this school. There is a blue-coat school for 10 boys, established and endowed by Richard Aldworth in 1646; the revenue of which is 1170. Another school for 12 boys is supported by the Skinners' Company; and there are National schools for boys and girls, supported partly by endowment.
Three endowed almshouses were founded in 1808 by Joseph Page, and there are several other charities, the principal of which is an endowment by Sir J. Lancaster, the Arctic navigator, for the benefit of the poor, the annual value of which is £252. There is a mechanics' institution, with a library and reading-room. Below the bridge are traces of the old hospital for poor priests, founded in the reign of Henry III., at the request of Walter de Merton, Bishop of Rochester, and founder of Merton College, Oxford. On a hill, near the railway station, are the ruins of the Holy Ghost chapel. Aubrey Camp, or Winklebury, is an ancient embankment of an irregular oval form and about 1,100 yards in circuit; it is on the west side of the town.
Basingstoke was the birthplace of John de Basingstoke, a Greek scholar of the 13th century, Sir James Lancaster, and of the Wartons. The canal, which is 37 miles in length, was completed in the year 1796; it connects the town with the river Wey and the Thames, and was made at a cost of 1180,000. Near Odiham it is carried through a tunnel three-quarters of a mile long. It passes 29 locks, and has a total fall of 195 feet. The corn market is held on Wednesday. There is a market for provisions on Saturday. Fairs are held on Easter Tuesday, the Wednesday in Whitsun week, the 23rd September, and the 11th October. Annual races take place in September. "HACKWOOD HALL, a seat in the parish and hundred of Basingstoke, county Hants, 1 mile S.E. of Basingstoke. It was built by Lord Bolton in 1688, in a finely-wooded park, and contains the music chamber, decorated by Vanbrugh, where Polly Peachum, third Duchess of Bolton, used to sing."
[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) - Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]