Medieval motte and bailey castle with keep, possibly 12th century in date, converted to a fortified house after 1531, and with 17th century defences. After 1531, the site was redeveloped as a fortified house with the construction of the Old House. This was constructed of brick in English Bond with a entrance via a bridge spanning the ditch between the motte and bailey.
Once the country’s largest private house and the palace of the powerful courtier William Paulet, Marquess of Winchester Hampshire County Council bought the site in the early 1970’s to preserve it and to allow it to be enjoyed and studied by all.
Basing House is closed for development until the end of Summer 2010.
Of the ancient castle of Basing, the original seat of the St. Johns, lords of Basing, nothing whatever remains except some foundations, nor are any particulars recorded as to its erection or history, the whole of whatever then existed being in all probability cleared away when Sir William Paulet, created Marquess of Winchester by Edward VI., laid the foundations of his magnificent mansion, which was of such huge proportions that his successor pulled down a part of it. It is round this later structure that is gathered the interest acquired by the place from its long and brave defence and final capture and destruction by the forces under Cromwell in 1645.
The lands were acquired by a Norman, Adam de Port, who obtained after the Conquest forty manors, and having married Mabel, the heiress of another Norman family called d’Aureval, their son William, who succeeded as second lord of Basing, adopted his mother’s name of St. John. His descendant, Hugh St. John, lord of Basing by writ 1299, left a son Edmund, who in 1347 (21 Edward III) died s.p., when his sister Mabel obtained his lands and brought them in marriage to Lucas Poynings, whose son Sir Thomas and grandson Sir Hugh Poynings succeeded; the latter left a daughter Constance who married (temp. Henry VI.) Sir John Paulet, of Nunney Castle, Somerset, whose family thus acquired Basing. The great-grandson of Constance Poynings was Sir William Paulet, who was raised to the peerage by Henry VIII. as Baron St. John of Basing, and made subsequently Knight of the Garter, Earl of Wiltshire, and, in 1551, by Edward VI., Marquess of Winchester. He managed to maintain the high office of Lord Treasurer for thirty years, through four successive reigns, by the policy, as he expressed it, of “being a willow and not an oak”; and being enriched both by the spoils of the church and by his marriage with the daughter of a city magnate, he built the princely and magnificent seat of Basing on and about the site of its ancient castle. He here entertained Queen Elizabeth, during one of her progresses, with such splendour that he quite captivated his royal guest, who declared, “if my Lord Treasurer were but a young man, I could find it in my heart to have him for a husband before any man in England”. This first Marquess died in 1592, aged ninety-seven, having lived to see one hundred and three of his own immediate descendants, and was buried in Basing Church. It was John, the fifth marquess, who so splendidly defended this fortress against the Parliamentary forces for more than three years, during the seventeenth century, by whom the name of Basing House has been immortalised. At an early date the place was strongly garrisoned for the King, who held also Winchester, and was thus enabled to command the traffic passing between London and the S.W. districts of the country, along the main roads to Southampton, Salisbury, and Exeter, whereby great annoyance was caused both to London and the country by the hindrance of trade; accordingly many efforts were made at different times to reduce this dreaded stronghold.
On his side the Marquess of Winchester set to work to strengthen and provision his fortress, which was indeed a fortified camp, with an area of 14½ acres, and on July 31 one hundred musketeers from Oxford under Lieut.- Col. Peake were received into the castle. An attempt was made soon after by Colonels Norton and Harvey to surprise the place, which entirely failed, and the Parliamentary troops were beaten off. Then, on November 6, a formidable body of troops, seven thousand strong, under Sir William Waller, came before it, and for nine days besieged the castle, and then stormed it on three different days, but all without success, and with much loss had to retire to their centre at Farnham. An interval of more than six months’ peace seems after this failure to have been enjoyed by the marquess and his men, but on June 4, 1644, a new and better organised attempt to capture the place was commenced by a large force under Colonel Norton, who took up ground in the park and opened batteries from advantageous points against the defences. On July 11 a summons to surrender was returned with contumely, and the siege went on. A culverin planted by Basing Church on July 30 injured the works, and on August 10 a tower “of the old castle” (probably one of the mural ones along the moat) was shot down; another culverin was got into position on the 17th, and a “demy-cannon” fired shot and grenades (shell) into the place, by which the best iron gun in the castle was broken, and a breach made in one of the square towers; the enemy sending in “crosse-bar shot, logs bound with iron hoops, stones and grenades”. Meanwhile the defenders were very active, and repaired the damages, while sorties were continually made on the enemy’s lines, and much havoc was done; the fences and hedges were lined with Peake’s musketeers who greatly distressed the besiegers. And now scarcity of provisions began to be seriously felt by the garrison, and the intended famine was imminent, for their wheat was spent and bread had to be made with peas and oats. “Then came, on September 2, a fresh summons, sternly refused by Lord Winchester, whereon a violent cannonading “of six score of shot” was started from a battery near the town, which destroyed one of the great brick towers. Relief was, however, at hand, for on September 11 Colonel Gage, with a force of one thousand horse, each trooper carrying a sack of wheat or other stores, by taking advantage of a thick fog, managed to throw in considerable supplies of food and ammunition, and then, falling on the besieging lines, drove the enemy even out of Basingstoke, where fresh stores were captured. Constant fighting and sorties went on through October, and by the beginning of November food began again to be scarce; but on the 14th, the attacking force, wearied .with a twenty-four weeks siege and much sickness, on learning the approach of a relieving column, broke up, raised the siege, and retired to Odiham; next night Colonel Gage again entered the fortress with fresh supplies, to find the brave garrison nigh spent, hungry and almost naked, with a loss, too, of one hundred men in all.
Nothing, however, seems to have discouraged Winchester, and new efforts were made to strengthen the defences and prepare the garrison for further endurance, while the character of being impregnable, which the fortress had acquired, attracted to it a motley gathering of people, who, opposed to the Parliament, knew not in these distracted times whither to go for shelter and safety. Thus, there were next year gathered within the walls, priests, artists, actors, men of science and idlers, with their womenkind, and ladies of fashion, who appear to have accepted the unbounded hospitality of Lord Winchester, together with the great risk which their refuge eventually entailed. For early in October 1645, “the face of God now shining again upon Bristol,” as Joshua Sprigg, M.A., writes, or in other words, Bristol having fallen to Fairfax and Cromwell (September 10) after the slaughter of about 1400 men, the latter, as lieutenant-general, was at once dispatched to reduce the other garrisons of the King in the West, which were hindering the traffic and trade to London; and having taken Devizes Castle which commanded the county of Wilts (September 23), he proceeded to storm the town and castle of Winchester, which surrendered to him on October 5. Cromwell then, without delaying a day, pressed on, with the same brigade of three regiments of horse and three of foot, to the reduction of Basing House, which for over three years had defied all the many attempts made to take it, so that from the constant defeats sustained by Parliamentary officers, the Royalists had called it “Basting” House. It had also acquired the cheering name of “Loyalty,” for its staunch owner had written with a diamond, as it was said, on every window the words “Aimez Loyaute”.
Whilst the King held Donnington and Andover in its neighbourhood, with Abingdon, Wallingford and Oxford On the W., Basing House also was held by the “malignants” as a safe centre from which to communicate with the surrounding counties, and enforce the King’s levy of £180 weekly from each of the neighbouring hundreds. The fortress was garrisoned for five hundred men, who with their wives, children and goods had taken refuge within its walls. And, as the marquess was a Roman Catholic convert, a strong church party likewise mustered around him.
Basing was an immensely strong place, the keep standing on rising ground, surrounded by a wall of circular trace, made of brick reveted with earth, and with a very deep dry ditch in front. The enceinte was of irregular shape, defended by a high brick rampart backed with earth, having several mural towers. In front of this was an outer moat whose mean depth was 36 feet, and a lofty gatehouse with four flanking towers gave entrance to the castle on its N. side; outside this, on the right, stood a large double-courted building, and opposite, across the road was, and still remains, the Grange. The earthwork revetment of the walls made them very difficult to breach, and for an enemy the ground afforded little cover, except in a few young plantations in the park.
Having arrived from Winchester, Cromwell, with Colonel Dalbier, reconnoitred the place and at once proceeded to get guns into position; on Friday, October 10, he poured in shot from the S.E., while Dalbier’s battery on the S. of the church of Basing played on the new buildings, and keeping up the fire, on Monday night practicable breaches were reported on both sides, and the storming was fixed for the next morning. At six A.M. October 14, on the signal of four guns, the storming parties attacked; Colonel Dalbier on the N., by the Grange, well supported, stormed the new buildings, and gained the great court between the new house and the old. Here, as soon as they had entered, the garrison, who had fled into the old castle, exploded a mine of some three barrels of powder in the court, but without much effect. “This over”, says the account, “our men slid in at the windows and compassed the old house round, whither their men had fled, throwing hand grenades among us; but we soon made our passage into the house among them, and quieted them. The whole storm from beginning to end was not above three-quarters of an hour”. Thus, by a well directed and irresistible assault, delivered perhaps unexpectedly just before sunrise, did Basing fall. The victors state that they killed some hundred of the inmates (seventy-four bodies were “within sight”) with only trifling loss to themselves. They acted, too, with savage barbarity: Lieutenant-Colonel Wilton) and Sergeant-Major Cufande, with the actor “Major” Robinson, a Drury Lane comedian, were killed in cold blood, the latter being shot in the head by Major-General Harrison, the fanatic, who refused him quarter, with the words “Cursed be he who doeth the Lord’s work negligently”. The poor daughter of Dr. Griffith was slain, too, by the soldiers, who were annoyed by her defence of her father! Another woman had been killed by a shell early in the siege, the “gentlewoman” or waiting-maid of the Marchioness of Winchester, who herself escaped from Basing only six days before the storming. The life of the marquess was saved by Colonel Hammond, a prisoner (one story is that he was taken in a small oven), and Sir R. Peake was also unhurt; six Catholic priests are said to have been killed, and Dr. Thomas Johnson, the celebrated botanist, received wounds of which he afterwards died.
More horrors followed, for, from neglect of extinguishing a fireball, the building took fire and a great portion of it was consumed, so that in less than twenty hours nothing was left of this part of the lordly pile but bare walls, and a number of people perished miserably in the vaults where they had taken refuge; their cries for release and quarter are said to have been unheeded. So Cromwell, writing his despatch the same day to the Speaker Lenthal, was able to say, unctuously, “I thank God I can give you a good account of Basing”. He describes the assault thus: “Our men fell on with great resolution and cheerfulness; we took the two houses without any considerable loss to ourselves. Colonel Pickering stormed the new house, passed through, and got the gate of the old house, whereupon they summoned a parley, which our men would not hear. In the meantime, Colonel Montague’s and Sir Hardress Waller’s regiments assaulted the strongest works, where the enemy kept his court of guard, which with great resolution they recovered, beating the enemy from a whole culverin, and from that work; which having done, they drew their ladders after them, and got over another work, and the house wall, before they could enter. … We have had little loss; many of the enemy our men put to the sword, and some officers of quality”. He then asks that the place may be “slighted”, as it will take eight hundred men to hold it, and since it is “exceedingly ruined” already.
Among the people shut up here during part of the siege was Hollar, the celebrated engraver, who, however, escaped before the storming, and Inigo Jones, the architect, and Dr. Fuller, the author of the Church History, who wrote here part of his book on the “Worthies of England”, somewhat disturbed by the cannonading.
From first to last, it was calculated that quite 2000 of the Roundhead troops fell before the walls of Basing House during those three and a half years.
The plunder was immense, amounting, it was said, to £200,000. Sprigg gives Hugh Peter’s relation of the siege to the House of Commons. He calls the “old house” “a nest of idolatry, the new house surpassing that in beauty and statliness, and either of them fit to make an emperor’s court … A bed in one room cost £1300, popish books many, with copes, and such utensils … The plunder of the soldiers continued till Tuesday night. One soldier had 120 pieces in gold for his share, others plate, others jewels; amongst the rest, one got 3 bags of silver”.
This Mr. Hugh Peters was hanged after the Restoration, on the charge that by his sermons he had contributed to the murder of his Sovereign.
Among the spoils were “20 barrels of powder and matches, 9 colours, 2000 stand of arms, 200 horses; victuals for several years, including 400 quarters of wheat, 300 flitches of bacon, 200 barrels of beef, 40,000 pounds of cheese, divers cellars full of beer, and that very good; silver plate valued at above £5000, and some cabinets of jewels and treasure”.
The N. gateway has been preserved, and shows in front the device of the Paulets of three swords; there are a few remains of ivy-covered walls, amt on the old mound the keep, surrounded by its ditch, still shows where the last fight took place. After the original house (of which there is a small but careful drawing in Pamphlet 90 in the British Museum, published 1824) had been destroyed, a mansion was built on the N. side of the road opposite the ruins; then the finely jointed brickwork of the entrance was pulled down about 1765 by the Duke of Bolton, and the materials were carried to Cannons, near Kingsclere.
Although the formation of the Basingstoke Canal has somewhat altered the position of the streams, rivulets, and water-meadows lying between Basing House and Cowdery Down, the site of Basing town on the E., with a little wood between, is easily identified.
The Marquess of Winchester received nothing from Charles II., and died at another house which he built at Englefield, Berks, in 1674, aged seventy-six. His eldest son Charles took the side of William of Orange, and was made Duke of Bolton by him, when William III. The family became extinct in 1774, by failure of heirs male, when the estates passed by the daughter of the fifth duke to Orde Paulet, created Baron Bolton.
The “Grange”, which figures so prominently in the siege, still remains, and is now made use of as a barn; its masonry and fine roof are as good as ever. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)