hendred museum

East Hendred History

(By Mahala Addenbrooke)

The Parish of East Hendred is long and narrow, stretching from beyond the Ridgeway to the boundary of Steventon, on the lower ground North of the Portway. It may well have been one of the earliest communities in the country, dating from far back to prehistoric times. There are traces of early British settlement up on the Downs and of pre-Roman farming on the slopes above the Atomic Energy Research Establishment. There is evidence that the Romans passed this way, in a coin found early in the Century during reconstruction work in Cat Street and now worn, mounted in a ring, by a villager. After the de­parture of the Romans from England during the 5th Century and the subsequent invasions by Saxons and Danes during the Dark Ages, more settled ways of life were established. The Anglo­Saxon charters of 956 and 962 record the name Hennerithe, said to derive from the Hendred Brook, which flows through the village, and which is still a hens' rill, or rill of the waterhens.

By the time of Domesday the King was the chief landowner, and in East Hendred there were "eight villeins, 43 cottars and 3 serfs". Ploughs, oxen and two mills are also mentioned. During the next 500 years up to the time of the Reformation, the Church replaced the King as chief landlord.

There were five Manors in East Hendred, today commem­orated only by name. Three belonged to the Church: Abbey Manor was given to Reading Abbey by Matilda, and Framptons to St. Stephen's, Caen. The latter later passed to Poughley Priory in Dorset. Perhaps the most interesting of all is King's Manor, which was given by the Conqueror to the Abbey of Noyon and then passed to the Carthusian monks of Sheen. At the Reformation it reverted to the King and is said to have been given by Queen Elizabeth to her favourite, the Earl of Leicester. It was sold by the Crown in 1823. The Manor of Arches passed from Amicia, daughter of Sir Richard de Turber­ville, to her son William de Arches in 1323, and thence to the Eyston family. The remaining manor belonged to New College.

During the middle ages there also developed the wool and cloth trade, which by the time of Henry VIII accounted for immense wealth and 95% of English export trade. There is ample evidence that East Hendred had its share in this industry. At first wool, but later mainly cloth was exported: there are docu­ments in the Public Records Office which suggest that large quantities of merchandise were sold and tax paid by village merchants. During the 13th Century something of an Industrial Revolution occurred, with the introduction of the mechanical fulling of cloth by water power, and the Eystons owned a fulling mill in East Hendred. The ruins were still visible in the early 18th Century, and it is traditionally believed that the grassy terraces of Snells - which rise towards Cat Street, North of the old School - were used to spread out and dry the fulled and dyed cloth. In St. Augustine's Church in the North Transept, two Eldysley brothers, Henry and Roger, are commemorated by a brass inscribed:­

Hic jacent Henricus Eldysley et Rogerus Eldysley frater eius quondam mercatores istius villae qui quidem Rogerus obiit XXViio die mensis Augusti Anno Domini MCCCCXXXIX quorum animabus propicietur Deus Amen.
(Here lie Henry Eldysley and Roger Eldysley his brother, formerly merchants of this town. And this Roger died on the 27th day of the month of August in the year of the Lord 1439. To their souls may God be propitious. Amen.)

They were merchants, members of one of the oldest and most distinguished families in Berkshire, whose name first occurs in connection with East Hendred in 1347, and last in 1709, when Mary Eyston - nee. Hildesley - was buried in the Eyston Chapel in the Parish Church. On the commemorating brass only one figure now remains but the brothers' trade symbols are still intact.

By reason of this trade East Hendred was a place of consider­able importance during the later Middle Ages. Henry V granted to the Prior of Sheen the right to keep a tumbril, and even a gallows, for the punishment of malefactors. By the same Charter, the village was granted a weekly market and two fairs lasting several days, on the feasts of St. Catherine and St. Augustine and the days following each. A 17th Century writer, Ashmole, refers to a weekly market on Tuesdays and also to the two Fairs.

The one is commemorated in the abbreviated Cat Street, where there was once a Chapel dedicated to St. Catherine, pulled down during the 18th Century, and the other in the name Dancing Hill, for long after the commercial value of these Fairs had faded, the annual Feasts on St. Augustine's Day and St. Catherine's Day were celebrated. Indeed, there still live in the village many people who will tell of the Fairs which came each year to the Plough Inn and Eyston Arms until after the 1939-1945 war. Up to the time of James I a cloth fair was held along the trackway traditionally known as the Golden Mile, the old Hungerford Way which runs southwards into the Downs East of the Acorn Garage at Rowstock. This name, Golden Mile, is used by Charles (the Antiquary) Eyston in 1718/19, and some believe that it arises from the wealth which changed hands in earlier times. Certainly this Fair is likely to have been an important occasion when large amounts of good quality Kersey cloth, made locally, was bought by merchants from London and Bristol for possible export abroad. However, in 1620 the Fair was abolished by James I in order to encourage a market at East Ilsley.

There is little evidence to show what impact the Reformation made on the Church life of the village, but it is well known that the Eyston family remained loyal to the old Faith. In 1256 the de Turbervilles had been granted by the Pope the right to have their own Chapel at Hendred House and to appoint its Chaplain. The Papal document is now in the Sarum archives. At the Re­formation the Chapel lost its revenues and was of necessity disused. But Mass continued to be said in the house in secret, and there are the remains of a hideout for a priest still in the rafters of the roof. The Eystons have other relics of the sad events of those times - the drinking cup of their kinsman, Sir Thomas More, and the staff of Bishop John Fisher, on which he leaned on his way to the scaffold. The Chapel was repaired and its altar stone reblessed in 1687, but, was soon desecrated by sol­diers from the invading army of William of Orange, who came marching down the Golden Mile on their way from Hungerford to Oxford. It was, however, later used more or less openly and continuously for all Roman Catholic services in East Hendred, until the new St. Mary's Church was built in 1865.

Although the Records of the Overseers of the Poor have entries of spinning wheels being issued to Villagers between 1790 and 1830, the 19th Century found East Hendred almost entirely dependent on agriculture. This is borne out by the Parish Registers, which, in contrast to those of the 18th Century, were clearly written by the Rev. Charles Wapshare, Rector from 1806-1858. During the years 1837-46 are recorded 116 bap­tisms, 89 of children of labourers or farmers, three of profess­ional men and the remaining 24 of fathers working in trade or crafts ancillary to work on the land. The Register does not, of course, cover the whole village, for there was always a Roman Catholic community, but it is a clear indication of the main source of employment.

This period, probably up to the mid-19th Century, finds East Hendred in rural isolation, little if at all involved in national or international events. More evidence of how people in the village lived in the early decades of the 19th Century is found in the records of the Overseers of the Poor and the Society for the Prosecution of Felons - a kind of primitive insurance scheme organised among themselves by the more prosperous farmers. They indicate that there was grinding poverty, and, in times of bad harvest or low prices for corn and agricultural products, even destitution. Against these evils there was no relief other than the help of more prosperous neighbours and the meagre handouts of the Overseers of the Poor. It is little wonder that the Society for the Prosecution of Felons records a number of sheep stolen, as well as trees cut down, desperate efforts by desperate men, one may surmise, to meet the basic human needs of food and warmth.

During the second half of the 19th Century the successors of the Rev. Charles Wapshare kept Parish notes which give a picture of a more varied and altogether more prosperous village life. The Church of England day School opened on January 6th 1860 with 100 children on the roll, one master and two pupil teachers. With additional buildings, it was to serve the village for more than 100 years. St. Mary's R.C. School was opened in the same year. There were evening classes for adults on three evenings a week, which 60 students attended. In the same year it is noted that May 20th was Feast Sunday and that "the Festivities con­tinued on the Monday and Tuesday with very little riot and less drunkenness than usual." In July of the same year St. Augustine's Church was closed for restoration and services were held in "Mr. Bradfield's Barn" - i.e. the barn by the Plough Inn. The Church vestry had previously proposed borrowing £500 to pay for the work on the security of a rate, and this had been carried in spite of opposition from the Squire. There are ref­erences to bad drains and the ravages of small pox, typhoid and whooping cough, but also to concerts, outings and sports on the Downs, dinners for singers, ringers and tithepayers, and to a flourishing Cricket Club. In 1871 £14.6.4 was sent to a Relief Fund "in aid of Paris and suffering districts throughout France." Perhaps this was in some way due to the fact that the wife of the Reverend Peter Atkinson, Rector from 1868-75, was the daughter of General de Gaja, one of Napoleon's officers, and his English wife; he had been a prisoner-of-war at Wantage and died at the Rectory in 1875.

In Clarke's Parochial Topography of the Hundred of Wanting, published in 1824, the author states that in the 17th Century there were 200 houses in East Hendred. Ashmole, in The An­tiquities of Berkshire, 1719, estimates six or seven score houses. From 1821-71, according to the Census papers, the population fluctuated between 850 and 950. By the end, or perhaps even the middle, of the century the coming of the railway to Steventon and Wantage Road had widened the horizons of rural life. Village girls found jobs in service as far afield as London. In 1963 the present writer talked to an old lady of 96, who had been in service in London at the time of Jack the Ripper. The Church registers record a far greater variety of employment, and about the turn of the century the first Racing Stables was established in the village, introducing a new element and source of employment.

There are many village residents whose memories go back as far as the early years of the 20th Century, to the 1914-18 war. The young woman who enacted Peace in the procession which celebrated the close of hostilities still lives here, her memory fresh and clear. She remembers the Squire mounting on a farm wagon during the Annual Flower Show in the Park, to announce the outbreak of war in 1914 and to urge the young men of the village to rally to arms to defend their country. Of those who did so, 29 did not return. In spite of the sadness of this period, the older residents remember these first decades as a time of great happiness. Wages were still low and housing far below present day standards, but country folk are resourceful, and there were village efforts for amusement and mutual benefit - billiards and snooker in the Village Hall - a wooden structure erected in 1908, with help from Lady Wantage and Mr. A.K. Loyd - a Slate Club, the convenience of a resident Nurse, a twice weekly doctors' Surgery in Newbury Road, and a village policeman.

The Age of Technology and easy transport was creeping up on the village. In 1913 Mr. J.J. Eyston acquired a car, and with it a chauffeur, whose son claims to be one of the first Hendred residents to work in the motor works at Cowley. He bicycled 16 miles there and back, until seven years later a colleague offered him transport in his car. At this period the main outside employment was at the R.A.F. `Depot' in Milton. Daily commuting to the motor works at Oxford and Abingdon was not yet common, and it seemed that country folk, especially, no doubt, the young, were being attracted to the towns.

It is however the technological advances consequent on the Second World War which. have really determined the future of East Hendred, and caused it to develop, beneath its facade of ancient peace, into a growing, varied and lively community. During this war, the casualties were markedly fewer, but the Squire was among those who did not return. He was lost at Dunkirk, and his body rests, by a sad irony, in St. Amand's Cemetery at Routiers in Belgium.

In 1946 the Atomic Energy Research Establishment was set up at Harwell, slightly overlapping the far boundary of the parish near the A.34 road. Its original purpose was nuclear research and the establishment of nuclear technology. Once more East Hendred found itself in close contact with world events, for the work carried on there proved to be of momentous importance to the human race. Scientists of world renown now lived in the village, and the spy Fuchs passed along the lanes to visit friends and colleagues. A.E.R.E. today provides employment and advancement for those who live in the area, and some of its young scientists make their homes here.

In 1951 the population had increased to 1062 and it is still growing. It is an interesting community. There are many old village families, whose names occur through the centuries — Castle, Goddard, Day, Ellaway, Roberts, Besley, to name but a few — who live side by side with newcomers in the modern houses in the White Road area, as well as in the picturesque but less convenient old cottages. The large Roman Catholic community, of proportions unusual in an English village, lives amicably together with the non-Romans. There are young professional families — mainly of scientists — who settle here, if only for a time, and contribute to the life of the community. There is too, a new element, the seekers after rural peace and a weekend refuge from city life, who acquire a second home here. The community is no longer closeknit, but there is friendliness and good neighbourliness and the various elements work together for the common good.

For those who have their own transport it is easy to find leisure pursuits in neighbouring towns and as far afield as Oxford or even London. There is provision in the village too — the Women's Institute, this year celebrating its Golden Jubilee, Guides, Scouts and Cubs, Youth and Sports Clubs, the Golden Age Club for the elderly, evening classes and a Nursery Playgroup. The recently formed Hendreds' Society exists to conserve what is of value in the past, as well as to foster and contribute to the amenities of the present. The professional standards of radio and television seem to have quenched the earlier enthusiasm for home-produced music and drama, though a Madrigal Group exists.

East Hendred is now designated a Conservation area, and outward change and development are in future likely to be strictly controlled. It is one of the first villages in the County to be given a Village Plan. Circumstance and modernity itself seem to have determined that it shall continue as an entity, and neither be absorbed in a sprawling conurbation nor die away for lack of employment and amenities for its people.

Champs Chapel Museum is accredited by the Arts Council England
©2009 East Hendred Heritage Trust and Champs Chapel Museum, East Hendred, Oxfordshire
To make a donation to East Hendred Heritage Trust click here