HAMPSHIRE: Go back in time and feel happier!

Milestones lr

By Tim Saunders

“I love playing in the street and not having to worry about traffic,” says Henry (7) during his visit to Milestones Museum in Basingstoke, Hampshire. We’re able to go back in time for a day.

In what is little more than an aircraft hangar, streets of Victorian houses and many long gone Hampshire businesses can be found. As we wander round with our helpful audio guides, I ponder whether an architect was employed to design these excellent buildings. There’s a tram, an old bus, even a marvellous teddy bear museum, a pub and sweet shop that are open for business during certain hours.

We learn about engineering and in 1915 William Tasker & Sons built a steam traction engine for a customer in Gosport. It’s a real eye opener that such a business existed in Hampshire and it is sad that this, as with so many, ceased to survive as the world changed.

Visiting an attraction like Milestones is particularly helpful at this time, I feel. It shows us that change has always been with us and that you have to adapt to survive. But it does open your eyes to the fact that so very few companies actually last the duration with many being acquired and ultimately forgotten. Milestones is full of such firms including Gales the brewer, which sold out to Fullers in 2006. Webber’s the Basingstoke vehicle dealership had traded for over a century and was taken over by Harwoods in 2018. Thornycroft, the vehicle manufacturer lasted until 1977.

Here is an attraction where you can while away the best part of a day. There’s time to sit on a bench in the High Street where we enjoy our picnic and savour the surroundings. Our children Harriett (12), Heidi (10) and Henry (7) can roam free without a problem, explore and complete their trail. There’s an alleyway through a terrace property. The windows are open and you can overhear a conversation; a man wants his fresh shirt for the dance tonight. Meanwhile a washerwoman strolls past us, in period attire. We’re hoping that she tells us a yarn about her life but unfortunately she questions why our children do not have mobile phones. We weren’t expecting that. We had hoped to leave all that nonsense behind for the day. While it’s a nice idea that volunteers can dress up and walk around the museum, it would really add to the atmosphere if they actually got into the part.

The sights and sounds enhance our travels back to the 1800s. There’s a distant clip clop of horses. I didn’t know that there were 20,000 horses in Hampshire before WWII. Then as mechanisation took hold, reliance on our four-legged friends plummeted. I enjoy spending time in the garage and listening to the conversation between the vicar and the mechanic.

There’s a gramophone retailer where there’s a single television, which would have been an aspirational purchase rather than a reality for many. Apparently, televisions could only receive a picture up to 25 miles away from the transmitter in London so it was not until after the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 that they became popular outside the capital, as more and more transmitters were erected.

There’s a gas showroom. Gas lighting was not very popular due to the smell, so electricity was very welcome. There are various washing machines from the 1920s to 1960s, too.

I do enjoy walking round the sawmill, seeing the old tools and just imagining what life must have been like at this time. The bicycle shop and all the tools here are fascinating, too.

Henry quickly discovers the penny arcade where there are antique arcade machines so we go an explore only to find out that these require an additional payment, which is off-putting. However, we do have great fun looking at the mirrors, which make us all different sizes.

If only the great things of the past, that splendid craftsmanship and personal service could still find a place in today’s depressing modern world, we would all be far happier.

We leave to head to Old Basing where we find the recreation ground where the children play and Caroline and I relax on a bench.

When we return home, Harriett puts Henry to bed and is inspired to read him the Wild Washerwomen by John Yeoman and Quentin Blake…  

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