Welford & Wickham | West Berkshire Villages
| The parish of Welford includes the village of Wickham.
Welford extends to over 5000 acres and includes the larger villages of Welford and Wickham and the smaller villages of Weston, Easton, Hoe Benham and Halfway. The nature of the geography has always tended to fragment the parish. It extends for five and a half miles from north to south between Leckhampstead and the Great Western railway line in the south and for an average of two miles between Shefford Woodlands in the west to Boxford in the east.
WELFORD & WICKHAM | West BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: AMENITIES & FACILITIES
Wickham Village Hall provides a venue for many local activities. It is run by a Hall Committee. Events include whist drives, weekly bingo, Parish Council meetings, exhibitions and a lively Women’s Institute programme every month. The hall is hired out to people outside the parish. The Wickham Handbell Ringers are an active group which benefited from a grant from the National Lottery ‘Awards for All’ scheme enabling them to buy a set of new handbells.
WELFORD & WICKHAM | West BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: FOOD & DRINK
There are two public houses in the parish; the Five Bells in Wickham and the Halfway Inn at Halfway. Whereas, in the past the pubs catered for mostly local trade, increasingly they have catered for people outside the area, attracted by good food and the rural settings. Like most rural pubs they are no longer the centres for local community activities that they used to be.
WELFORD & WICKHAM | WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: COMMUNICATION
There is a parish council website
The first Parish Magazine with articles and adverts has recently been published.
Wickham is by far the largest of the villages in the parish having the school, a pub and church. However, economic considerations have led to the closing of the local shop and post-office. The postal service in the parish has declined over recent years, again due to economic realities, with only one collection and one late morning delivery each day.
There is a partial Neighbourhood Watch Scheme in operation in the parish
WELFORD & WICKHAM | WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: CHURCH
The two churches in the parish, St Swithun’s in Wickham and St Gregory’s in Welford continue to be available for worship. Diminishing congregations, mirrored in the country as a whole, have made it difficult to maintain the fabric of the churches and necessitated the rector having to cover 6 different churches.
WELFORD & WICKHAM | WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES:ENVIRONMENT
There are plans to increase the recycling facilities available to villagers.
WELFORD & WICKHAM | WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: HEALTH
The nearest Gp Surgeries are in Hungerford.
WELFORD & WICKHAM | WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES:TRANSPORT
There is an irregular bus service along the Newbury Road through Welford and along the A4 stopping at Halfway. However, there is no bus service through Wickham where roughly half the parish lives.
WELFORD & WICKHAM | WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: SCHOOL
Welford and Wickham C.E. Primary School is a flourishing school with a high reputation based on teaching excellence. It attracts many pupils from outside the catchment area. The current pupil population is 60. Two major extensions have been made to the school; an infant classroom and more recently an upper-floor classroom with a computer suite attached. This has greatly improved the school’s capabilities and made life very pleasant for all in the school. The Friends of Welford and Wickham School are active in raising money to support the school.
WELFORD & WICKHAM | WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGES: PARISH COUNCIL
Welford Parish Council
WELFORD & WICKHAM | WEST BERKSHIRE VILLAGERS: HISTORY
The parish of Welford extends to over 5000 acres and includes the larger villages of Welford and Wickham and the smaller villages of Weston, Easton, Hoe Benham and Halfway. The nature of the geography has always tended to fragment the parish. It extends for five and a half miles from north to south between Leckhampstead and the Great Western railway line in the south and for an average of two miles between Shefford Woodlands in the west to Boxford in the east.
The parish is further dissected by the River Lambourn which runs through Weston, Welford and Easton on its way to join the Kennet at Newbury and also by the River Kennet and the canal below Halfway. Thus it has no overall focal point.
Three major roads pass through the area. The B4000 roughly follows Ermin Street, to Baydon. Ermin Street was built by the Romans in the 1st century as the road between Silchester and Cirencester. Wickham was a day’s march from Silchester and thus, an important junction. Minor roads led to the Bath Road and Littlecote. Secondly, the A4 London to Bath road – always known as the Bath Road – had an important stopping point at Halfway for coaches in the 17th and 18th centuries. The tollgate, just west of the Halfway Inn was sadly demolished in the 1960s. Lastly, in 1971 the M4 cut its way through the widest part of the parish via Easton, Welford and Wickham, on its east/west route. Trees hide the scar of the cuttings but a large part of the parish remains blighted by traffic noise and pollution.
A unique feature of the parish is the two churches, or more correctly a parish church and a chapel of ease. St Gregory’s church at Welford (Norman) is believed to have been built on the foundations of an earlier Saxon church. It nestles in the valley close to Welford House. Its octagonal circular spire and tower is one of only two round towers in Berkshire. St Swithun’s chapel at the top of Wickham hill is 12th century but built onto a much older Saxon watch tower. The tower is one of the best examples of Saxon workmanship in the country and is referred to in many reference books. An early example of recycling is evident by the use of Roman dressed stones and a column in the north side of the tower.
Between 1845 and 1858 both churches were demolished and rebuilt by the rector, Rev William Nicholson. The spire at Welford was carefully taken down, all the stones numbered and then rebuilt exactly as it was. In the rebuilding both churches were enlarged. The Saxon tower at Wickham escaped demolition but the Rev Nicholson could not resist adding 30 feet of Victorian flint work to the top of it. Wickham chapel is most famous for its papier mâché elephants in the roof of the north aisle. These were purchased by the rector at the Paris exhibition in 1862. There were originally three which he meant to display in the rectory (now Wickham House) but unable to find anywhere suitable to put them, he had more made and placed them in the church giving them names such as Fortitude, Docility and Strength – all good Victorian virtues! They were originally gilded and must have looked very impressive. Over time they have become somewhat tarnished – many people travel from afar to see these elephants.
Until the end of the 2nd world war the majority of people were employed on the land. From the census they are described as ‘agricultural labourers’. Also from the census it is obvious that each village was virtually self- sufficient. Almost all had many craftsmen such as bakers, tailors, leatherworkers, wheelwrights, bricklayers, blacksmiths and carpenters.
Most of the farms within the Welford estate were tenanted. The glebe (church) land of over 270 acres in Wickham south of the B4000 was incorporated in Rectory Farm and was farmed on behalf of the rector by an appointed agent. The Old Rectory was sold in the 1930s and the land in the 1950s. Only a small field remains behind the current rectory.
In 1821 the population was 1058, in 1911 it was 722, in 1931 it had gone down to 631 and in 2008 it is 450. This is reflected in the results of the survey conducted for the Parish Plan where 28% of homes are currently occupied by one person. With the changes in agricultural practice since the Second World War and their acceleration in the second half of the 20th century, the number of people working on the land has been drastically reduced. During this time a number of the farm workers’ cottages became redundant. Some were demolished and some sold and modernised. Most were thatched and expensive to maintain.
The village school was built in 1857 on land granted by Charles Eyre Esq of Welford House, and paid for by him and Rev William Nicholson. It was built for 190 pupils and in the late 19th century the average attendance was 120 children. The school is still flourishing having been considerably extended and altered since those days, and is at present attended by 60 children, nearly 50% of whom live in the parish.
Welford House (now Welford Park) was built on the site of a minor monastery, one of the many that came under the control of the abbot and monks of Abingdon Abbey. It was a favourite place for the abbots to stay with a plentiful supply of fish from the large hand-dug fishponds, and game from the forests. On the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 Henry VIII kept Welford as a personal hunting lodge and estate.
In 1546 it was
leased to Sir Thomas Parry. His son, another Sir Thomas sold the property to Sir Francis Jones, Lord Mayor of London. In 1680 Mary Jones, the great granddaughter of Sir Francis and sole heiress, married John Archer. The present house was built in 1702 and the estate of about 3000 acres has passed down through the family to the present owners, Mr and Mrs James Puxley, through male and female lines and with a few name changes. For 50 years the grounds have been opened for snowdrop days. Takings from the four Sundays in February are generously donated to local charities.
During the 2nd world war, 600 acres was commandeered to form Welford airbase and occupied by the American 101st Airborne Division. The base was visited by Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower to witness a practice parachute drop prior to the Normandy invasion. On the night of March 31st 1944 the 8 man crew of Lancaster Bomber DV290 were on their way back from a raid on the German town of Nuremberg. At some point the crew saw the lights of Welford and, probably not having a operational radio, decided to land unannounced. As the aircraft lined up on the runway the lights were extinguished believing the un-announced aircraft to be German. The result was that the aircraft struck the runway and the fuel tanks exploded destroying theaircraftandkillingallthecrew. In2000permission was given to raise a memorial in the station memorial garden to the crew. This was dedicated and many of the families of the crew were present.
The base is now used jointly by British and US forces. Underground silos on the base have been used for the storage of conventional arms.