In the county of Hampshire on the south coast of the country lies Basingstoke, an affluent, low-unemployment and well-to-do town. The town proper has a population of just over 80,000, but this belies its true size as the town blends seemlessly into its suburbs. The larger Borough of Basingstoke and Deane area which includes suburbs has around 150,000 inhabitants.
The local region's financial hub, Basingstoke is also the home of Britain's oldest and most respected motoring organisation, the AA, who have their central office in the town. At the present time the town economy is mainly based around the industries of electronics, pharmaceuticals and insurance, although it also boasts a vibrant retail sector especially since the completion in 2002 of the Festival Place shopping centre, home to all the big high-street names. The town centre also has arts and entertainment venues like the Haymarket Theatre, the Milestones Museum of local history and the Vue cinema to pull in the crowds.
Basingstoke is situated near Reading and the county town of Winchester and has efficient transport links to surrounding urban centres as well as the capital, and so it has proved an extremely popular place for commuters to live: the town has ideal placement for access to both M3 and M4 motorways as well as only being 45 minutes from Waterloo on the train.
In its formative years Basingstoke started out as a small market town at the time of the Anglo-Saxons and was later referenced in the Doomsday Book as being a royal manor. The area's Tudor past can be seen to this day in the ruins of Basing House which stand in the village of Old Basing just outside the main urban sprawl of Basingstoke. In more recent years the town's population mushroomed as London's commuter belt moved outwards with the growth of the capital, and in the sixties the town centre was totally rebuilt converting a once historic town to a much-mocked maze of concrete which, it was joked, was only fit for accountants to live in.
This comedic connection goes back literally centuries to the time of Shakespeare who referred to Basingstoke in a less-than-complementary way in Henry IV Part Two, and musical writers extraordinaire Gilbert and Sullivan also mention it in one of their operettas, the town even pops up in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy during one of Arthur Dent's rants.
Basingstoke has been the place of residence for more than one famous name over time, from artists to writers to musicians: classic novelist Jane Austen was born and raised nearby; Liz Hurley, model and actress, was born in the town; one-time poet-laureate Thomas Warton grew up locally; more sinisterly Basingstoke was also home to the last woman to be hanged in this country, Ruth Ellis.