The French invasion of Basingstoke

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French Christmas Market

the French are coming to Basingstoke

This is the time that Christmas markets are starting. So far we have had news of about 150, all of which have been loaded into our Events’ listings.

Most Christmas markets adopt a German theme reflecting the success that German markets have had in their own country. The idea was then exported and grew so much so in popularity that most major cites as well as towns and villages have their own versions. The Christmas market in Birmingham is supposed to be the largest outside Germany and people from Frankfurt come over regularly to bring their wares and festivities with them.

Basingstoke is different.

They have decided to introduce a French market to their locals which is open today. Why French you might ask? There has been a market in the town stretching back to Norman times when Norman French would have been spoken amongst the ruling classes. Then it was held on Sundays and was primarily food and agricultural in nature as the majority undoubtedly were. How long a market was held before the Domesday Book recorded it is anyone’s guess.

But that isn’t the reason the town opted for a French market. It is because of the town’s French links. There has been a church on the site of the current St Michael’s Church since at least 1155. That was founded by monks from the monastery of Mont St Michel in Normandy, and so was dedicated to St Michael. During the civil war, the church was used as a arsenal for explosives.

Alencon square

Alençon, the French town with which basingstoke is twinned

The town is also twinned with Alençon, Normandy, France, a place forever linked in my mind to where you had to apply for British civil service job since their address was in Alençon Link, the main road you will cross when walking from the station to the shops!

To resurrect this history, the town is staging a French-themed Christmas market on the 18th November, with cheeses, chocolates, (as befits the birthplace of the founder of Fry’s chocolates,) meats, sweets and gifts.  Then, from the 23rd November right up until Christmas, there will be a traditional Christmas market in The Malls, selling gifts, decorations, crafts, mulled wine and other items.

Basingstoke has not gone completely French. It still has a panto – this year Sleeping Beauty with Sue Holderness as the wicked fairy and the Willis Museum is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

But it will probably be the French market that attracts the visitors this Christmas.

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