17 fantastic finds in Berkshire’s RG17
PUBLISHED: 10:19 10 January 2017 | UPDATED: 10:19 10 January 2017
This postcode area takes in Hungerford, historic villages and parts of the Wessex Downs, so Claire Pitcher put it under the magnifying glass
Lambourn had it’s own Robin Hood
In the mid-18th century, Lambourn was the home of a Berkshire Robin Hood figure. Timothy Gibbons was a blacksmith who took to the highway to rob from the rich and, on occasion, give to the poor. He was once trapped with two companions in a barn. Drawing lots to see who would face the constables outside, Tim was, at first, lucky; but then found his two fellows were too cowardly to undertake the agreed course of action. So he jumped on his horse and made clean away. The other two were quickly taken into custody. In later years Tim became innkeeper of the Magpies on Hounslow Heath (another hotspot for highwaymen), but couldn’t resist the ways of the criminal class and was eventually hanged at Newgate.
Upper Labourn’s Ashdown House
William Craven, one of the richest men in England during the 1600s, built Ashdown House for the love of his life, the widowed Queen of Bohemia, daughter of James I, but she died before it was completed. The last member of the family left Ashdown in 1926; 30 years later it was given to the National Trust. The house is open all year round, but only for guided tours.
For more information visit nationaltust.org.uk
Brewed in Eastbury
The peaceful village is home to a brewery owned by Phil Wright and Bob McGarva. The names of their brews have been inspired by their location, from Red Kite to Many Clouds (in honour of the Lambourn Valley’s 2015 Grand National winner). Have a pint at The Plough in Eastbury, The Queen’s Arms in East Garston, the Royal British Legion in Lambourn, The Red Lion in Baydon and as guest ales in various bars across RG17.
East Garston Gallopers
East Garston has a wonderful Morris dancing side called Garston Gallopers. Made up of men and women, they wear purple and green, the village colours from the school uniform and the racing colours of a prominent racehorse trainer. New dancers and musicians are always welcome.
Show stopping at Great Shefford
The Lambourn Valley enjoys a grand day out at Great Shefford’s Country Fayre each year. Villager of the year opens the show in the early afternoon then the rest of the day is packed with fun activities from falconry displays to the ‘Gruffs’ dog show.
Only in Hungerford
Hocktide is celebrated in Hungerford and it’s thought that the town is the only place in the UK that still does. It’s an ancient ceremony that lasts two weeks following Easter. The most well known event is Tutti-Day (also known as Hock Tuesday) when the Hocktide Court is held. There’s also an ale tasting and the commoners’ luncheon. On Hock Tuesday it’s an early start of 8am at the Town Hall and events go on until after 9pm at The Three Swans when the Tithing Men return.
Once used by highwaymen, there are tunnels that connect the Blue Ball Inn pub to St Mary’s Church. It’s said that the pub was the headquarters of those responsible for the Kintbury Riots in the early 19th century. The rabble stormed through West Berkshire for several days, protesting about the lack of work. They were eventually rounded up by Col Charles Dundas MP’s men and sentenced to death. All but one, William Winterbourne, were later reprieved and their sentence lessened. William was hanged and his grave was rediscovered in the churchyard in 1984.
Historical discoveries in Froxfield
This is the Rudge Cup, a small enamelled bronze cup found in 1725 at Rudge, near Froxfield. The cup was discovered down a well on the site of a Roman villa. It was a significant find, as it lists five of the forts on the western section of Hadrian’s Wall. This helped scholars identify the forts correctly. If you wish to see the cup then you will have to visit Alnwick Castle, but there is also a replica on display at the British Museum.
Ghostly goings on
Keep an eye out on the stairs at Littlecote House as a ghostly black dog paces back and forth. Try to stroke it, and your hand will pass straight through. And a 16th century owner of the house known as ‘Wild Will’ is said to walk the corridors, as does a phantom mother, and guests regularly hear the cries of a baby.
A rare find at Chilton Foliat
Lurking in an area of watermeadow just outside the village of Chilton Foliat is a weird creature… and one that is endangered. It’s the Desmoulin whorl snail and it’s as strange as it sounds. It’s rather tiny, with a shell that reaches only three millimetres in length. This snail was actually spotted at the site of the planned Newbury bypass, which caused the building of the road to be postponed until it was ‘rehoused’ nearby.
Explaining the unexplained
In 2002 this crop circle was created at Crooked Soley and its image ended up as part of an exhibition at St Peter’s Church in Marlborough last year. It is also the title of a book, looking into the mysterious phenomenon that some say must be created by something more than just people with planks and ropes. The crop circle was a short-lived masterpiece and was finely crafted, depicting an unbroken double helix strand of DNA.
The Isbury (or Estbury) Almshouses in Lambourn date from 1502 when John Estbury was granted a license by Henry VII to found a chantry and almshouses for 10 men. The chantry priest said prayers twice daily and taught poor boys to read and write. When Estbury died in 1508 he left all his lands and money to maintain the almshouses and the chapel of the Holy Trinity (in Lambourn church). However, a few years later Henry VIII dissolved all chantries and appropriated their assets. The fate of the almsmen and their priest remains a mystery.
The Beaker People
Up near to Combe Gibbet, a stone’s throw from Inkpen, the Beaker People, famed for their pottery, walked the hilltops. They are credited with breaking the mould of nomadic existence by ‘settling’ to farming. These were they the first settlers of what has now become Inkpen. The Newbury Museum has a number of bone tools and a bronze knife that date from Beaker People. They also made the first woven garments in Britain and thought to have introduced the first alcoholic drink into Britain, a form of honey-based mead, so RG17’s breweries are continuing an ancient tradition!
A Royal visit
When the Kennet and Avon Canal reopened following restoration in 1990, it was the Her Majesty herself who had the honour. She was able to travel on the Trust’s boat Rose of Hungerford through locks 44 and 43 on the Caen Hill flight, breaking a ceremonial tape between them.
Did you know about the Downs?
The North Wessex Downs AONB covers 1,730 sq km but has a population of only 125,000 people. Hungerford and Marlborough are the two largest settlements. The AONB straddles the boundaries of two counties, three unitary authorities and four district/borough councils. The downs are also home to more than 520 Scheduled Monuments, one of the densest concentrations in the country. In total there are more than 11,000 sites, monuments and finds of archaeological and historic interest and over 4,000 listed buildings.
Walk this way
Pick up the Lambourn Valley Way at any point over its 22 miles and there is always something to see, from woodland and parkland to towns and villages. The Way starts at the Bronze Age fort at Uffington Castle and heads south, following the River Lambourn and continues along the Kennet and Avon Canal on to Newbury.
Long term local
In Hungerford Newtown there has been a pub on the site where the Tally Ho stands since the 1750s. It’s had its ups and downs however, particularly when it burnt down when the thatch caught fire. It wasn’t always called the Tally Ho either, it used to be The Oxford Arms until a name change sometime after the Second World War. It’s always been a popular stop off, previously for those on horseback, now for those in cars on the A338.