Boxford | West Berkshire Villagers
The Parish of Boxford is attractively situated in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a few miles north-west of the market town of Newbury in Berkshire. The Parish is characterised by open chalk and flint downland fields running down to the rich soils of the wooded river valley of the Lambourn. To the south-west of the Parish there are large woodland plantations, through which the old Roman Road of Ermin Street passes.
The village of Boxford itself sits naturally protected by the surrounding woods and hills such as Shepherd’s Hill, testament to a long association with sheep, and Hoar Hill which was once covered with Box from which the village takes its name. The River Lambourn, a fine trout stream, meanders through the village and thence south-east to Newbury, where it joins the River Kennet. Nearly all the water meadows at the heart of the village are classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The village of Boxford comprises the centre around the Mill House and St Andrew’s Church, School Lane, Shepherd’s Hill, Southfields, Westbrook, Winterbourne Road and properties along the Valley Road. The hamlets of Hunts Green, Ownham and Wickham Heath are to be found in the Parish and dotted throughout are working farms, cottages and converted farm buildings. The Parish is bordered to the south-west by the B4000, Ermin Street, to the north-east briefly by the B4494, Newbury to Wantage Road, and dissected east to west by the M4 to the north of Westbrook.
Boxford retains a substantial number of historic buildings, including many thatched cottages – some dating from the 16th century when they were owned by the Abbey of Abingdon. The largely 13th century Parish Church, dedicated to St. Andrew, stands on the site of an earlier 11th century church on the banks of the River Lambourn. The war memorial in front of the church was refurbished as part of a Millennium Project and illustrates the heavy toll paid by the parishioners in the First and Second World Wars. The Mill House on the River Lambourn in the centre of the village combines the architectural style of three centuries, while nearby Boxford
House is an example of gothic revival architecture. Westbrook House was home to the author Charlotte Peake, who wrote the Boxford Masques in the early years of the 20th century. These plays have recently been rediscovered by villagers and, following adaptation by award-winning author Geraldine McCaughrean, revived and performed again on Hoar Hill by the local community under the direction of Ade Morris of the Watermill Theatre. The Bell Inn was rebuilt, after a fire in 1888, on the site of the old coaching inn.
Boxford | West Berkshire Villagers: Amenities & Facilities
The village has a large recreation ground and a village hall, home to the mother and toddler group and a pre- school. Boxford no longer has a school, but children are able to travel by bus to Stockcross Primary School. Whereas Boxford was a pastoral community before the First World War, only about 16% of residents now work in the Parish. the village hall is available for hire, it was built in 2014 and has two halls, a pre-school hall and a community hall. There is a wall between the two, which can be opened. It has a fitted kitchen, disabled facilities, wheelchair accessible, a car park, an area for BBQ’s, a recreation ground with a dedicated children’s play area.
Boxford | West Berkshire Villagers: Food & Drink
The Bell at Boxford is a traditional inn with 11 ensuite bedrooms, real ales and award winning food.
Boxford | West Berkshire Villagers: Sports
There is tennis club.
Boxford | West Berkshire Villagers: School
The school is at nearby Stockcross.
Boxford | West Berkshire Villagers: Church
There is evidence of a church in Boxford from as early as the 11th century. Like most country churches of its time, the original St. Andrew’s was considerably smaller and simpler than it is today, comprising only a nave and chancel. The present building dates from around 1225 and was mainly built from local flint, although there are indications that the east chancel wall may be of earlier Saxon origin.
In the 15th century, rebuilding work was carried out to the nave and chancel, and above the arch to the chancelafrescowaspainteddepictingaTudorcoatofarms,partofwhichisvisibletoday. The first reference to a tower also dates from this time but it collapsed in 1667 and was rebuilt in 1692. The porch was added in the middle of the 18th century.
The church was significantly extended and remodelled in 1841, when the north aisle and vestry were added. However, by 1900 it had fallen into a bad state of repair and underwent a major restoration in 1907/8.
In 1967 the church was listed as a Grade II* building and as such is considered to be of national importance, being one of only 4% of all similarly listed buildings in England.
It is part of the East Downland Benefice.
Boxford | West Berkshire Villagers: Transport
The No 4 bus stops at The Bell Inn. There is also the handy bus – a volunteer service.
Boxford | West Berkshire Villagers: Parish Council
The parish council is Boxford Parish Council.
Boxford | West Berkshire Villagers: Local History
Before the advent of man, the area was covered by a warm sea, evidenced by rare microscopic sea creatures found in one of Boxford’s chalk pits, and now protected by Natural England as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Early man was drawn to settle here because of the clear water supply and river ford. Neolithic flints have been found across the Parish from Westbrook to Ownham. Earthworks at Borough Hill near Wyfield Farm are evidence of an Iron Age settlement and Romans who lived alongside the locals left many relics across the whole Parish as well as a network of roads, of which Ermin Street is the most notable. Much of the land in the Parish was subsequently owned by Abingdon Abbey, later confiscated by Henry VIII and leased, sold or gifted during his reign and that of Elizabeth I.
Up to World War I, Boxford was a largely self sufficient settlement with farmers, bakers, brewers, millers, wheelwrights, cartwrights, ropemakers etc. and many people in domestic service. Church registers and census data record the beginning of the end of the old social order following the war, with far fewer people in domestic service and many trades disappearing.
After the First World War, villagers tried unsuccessfully to raise enough funds for a lych- gate as a memorial for those villagers who had given their lives and built a modest war memorial instead. A Millennium Project refurbished this war memorial, and built the intended lych-gate together with a brick and flint wall which re-established the boundary between the churchyard and village green. Additionally, in collaboration with local school children, research was undertaken into the lives of the men named on the memorial. This was subsequently published in leaflet form and distributed to every household. Parishioners also contributed to a substantial time capsule which was buried under the large threshold stone in the centre of the lych-gate.
Boxford Barleycorn, a history of Boxford written by Elsie Huntley in the late sixties and published in 1970 by the Abbey Press, has long been out of print.
Boxford Barleycorn, a history of Boxford written by Elsie Huntley in the late sixties and published in 1970 by the Abbey Press, has long been out of print. It is a gold mine of information for those lucky few who have copies. It is therefore not surprising that 77% of respondents to Question 20 supported printing a simple history of the Parish, including a list of its historic features.
The Parish is very fortunate in that many documents of historical interest are held locally; however, few people see them.
Recently, there has been an extensive archaeological dig , discovering an amazing mosaic.