Stratfield Mortimer is a villag just south of Reading, West Berkshire . The north-east of the parish is the most populated: and is not so semi-rural or rural in density; it is the part more often colloquially called Mortimer.
Stratfield Mortimer is an extensive parish pleasantly situated east-west on the southern boundary of Berkshire with beautiful views over the Hampshire border. Despite residential expansion and urban influences which have continued since Victorian times, the village still retains a rural identity and has the benefits of a close-knit community life.
Still identifiable today is the single street village on the eastern side of the parish with its 19th century church and churchyard on its ancient site. Long gone, are the manor house and the water mill once powered by the Foudry Brook. The Manor Farm, however, rebuilt in the 19th century, survived until 1987.
The arrival of the railway in 1848 led to increased accessibility to the towns of Reading and Basingstoke. At the time the parish had a small population of just over eight hundred inhabitants, many scattered in small farms and hamlets, some in squatter cottages on former common land. Also around the middle of the nineteenth century, there began a period of rapid expansion and social change, with an influx of new villagers establishing the modern community with its network of roads, schools and shops.
Unable to expand to the east of the village due to the girdle of farms, growth occurred westward, up hill on to former common lands where the poor soil was unsuitable for farming. The local scarcity of picturesque old cottages is perhaps explained by the policy of the principal landowners here, the Benyon family of Englefield, of re-housing people in the best available dwellings.
What are usually called cottages are often small farmhouses made redundant by the ‘great rebuilding’ of the 1850s, when groups of small farms were combined to form larger ones. The true cottages in this area, once the homes of the rural poor, were often, with no building stone available except flint, hovels of timber, wattle and daub, which were pulled down as they fell empty.
The increase in population meant that there were not enough old houses of sufficient quality to go round. This problem was overcome locally by building groups of semi- detached cottages with modern facilities. These are still much in evidence today and form the basis of the village housing stock.
WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGERS | AMENITIES AND FACILITIES
The village enjoys a wide range of Amenities and Services in a compact area central to the village, with The Fairground and Grazing area being the focal point. These amenities cover a wide range of every day necessities and are within walking distance for the majority of residents. This accessibility has, so far, limited the need for extensive parking facilities for parishioners compared to many villages with a similar size population.
The fairground has a cricket and tennis club, with the hope of a new pavilion. There is a children’s play area sited on the fairground with swings, a slide and a climbing frame.In addition, the fairground provides for horse events.
Everyday shopping is covered with small supermarket, hairdressers, Gift-shop, Convenience Store, Hardware/Do-it-Yourself, travel agent and newspaper shop. In addition, a bank and Post Office provide services that are very important to keep a village alive. Also a flourishing football club within the village has regular fixtures.. There are vibrant Scout, Cub Scout and Girl Guide troupes. The Mortimer Dramatic Society has continuously presented three plays a year for over 55 years. The Flower Circle holds regular meetings and gives demonstrations. The Model Railway Society meets twice a month in St. John’s Hall
WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: FOOD & DRINK
There is The Victoria Arms at Mortimer Common. The Horse and Groom, the Loon Tin Take Away, Thai Delight and the Cinnamon Tree.
WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES:SCHOOLS
Schools St, John’s and St. Mary’s schools provide education up to the age of eleven.
WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: SPORTS
There is a cricket and tennis pavilion.
WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: CHURCH
C of E Churches are in both the upper and lower part of the parish together with two church halls. There is a Methodist Church on West End Road
WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: HEALTH
Mortimer Surgery is a practise with a range of facilities in a modern building located on Victoria Road. A Dental Surgery (which has recently had to move to larger premises). Physiotherapy Practice. Chiropody, Acupuncture, and Chiropractic Clinics and a Chemist.
WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: TRANSPORT
A station is a considerable benefit and has increased demand for residing in Mortimer but with the Station, a mile away from the principal part of the village; parking at the station has become inadequate for the existing population.
WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: LOCAL HISTORY
Within the parish man has roamed and hunted since pre-historic times, the earliest artefact so far found is a Lower Palaeolithic flint hand axe from about 200,000 years ago discovered at Holden’s Firs, where there are also a group of Bronze Age barrows, which are listed in Romansfrom Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) also passed thisway. The Roman Road known as the Devil’s Highway marks most of the southern boundary of the parish and of open land crossed by a Roman road.Saxons, Normans and Tudors. We know that the Saxons lived here as there is an 11th Century tombstone to Aegalward son of Kypping to be found in St. Mary’s Church. However, it is from the Norman Conquest that Mortimer gained the second part of it’s name, from this the word Stratfield comes, meaning an area Silchester, from the Roman Star onThe Roman Road going towards Swinley Forest. St Mary’s Church its name. Roger Mortimer, a supporter of William The Conqueror, gave himself a surname derived from the Norman village of Mortemer-en-Brai where he had a castle. His nephew Ralph Mortimer held the Manor of Stratfield Mortimer as recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086. In the Middle Ages Hugh Mortimer gave 160 acres to the newly founded Reading Abbey which land reverted to the Crown at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Henry VIII was thus able to include Great Park and Little Park as part of the marriage portion given to 5 of his 6 wives – Anne of Cleves excepted. Although the Civil War came very close, visiting Aldermaston, Padworth, and Swallowfield; it did not directly involve Mortimer.
Until the enclosure of Mortimer Common in 1801-06 the village was centred, around the Foudry Brook where there was good agricultural land and flood meadows. However, with the doubling of the national population in the 18th Century anxieties were raised about food production. Attempts were made to cultivate areas, such as Mortimer Common, which had previously been regarded as wasteland. Unfortunately poor soil conditions made this uneconomic.
House building started slowly on the land enclosed by the Act; witnessed by the fact that the Parish population in 1801 was 600 and in 1871 had only increased to 800. It surged to 1423 by 1911 however. It was the period 1870-1910 which saw the greatest time of house building on the common, with little further expansion until the 1950- 60’s when Stephens Firs, Stephens Close and College Piece were built, along with Croft Road and Leigh Field.
Brunel’s railway came to Mortimer as Broad-gauge in 1848, mixed gauge in1856 and Standard gauge in 1892. Mortimer Water Works pumping station at the Tun Bridge was built in 1912 and household mains water was available from 1918.
The Water Tower opposite the Fair Ground was demolished in 1965 Both Electricity and the Telephone Exchange arrived in 1936. The 1980’s gave the Parish Groves Lea and 2OO5-O6 the Mortimer Hill Farm development.