Year: 2020

Thatcham Pub History

We had a talk, online, on the history of the pubs of Thatcham which resulted in a few enquiries and memories. The history of the pubs, as was seen from the talk, a long and sometimes complicated one.

The speaker has more detail on his website and we have, with permission, a copy of some of the highlights below:

The Pubs

It is not clear when the making of alcoholic beverages first started although evidence would suggest that by 4,000BC the art of making beer had been firmly established. The Neolithic and Bronze Age people were known to have brewed a form of beer using water, cereal grain and wild yeast. By the Saxon period we had a number of alcoholic drinks including Ealu, Wyn, Medu and Beor. Note the latter is not beer, not as we know it today.

I currently have about 50 pubs, inns, taverns and breweries identified in Thatcham, Cold Ash, Ashmore Green and Crookham. To make life easier when I refer to Thatcham this will include the above. So just a few I have include:

  • New Inn,
  • Swan Inn,
  • The Chequers,
  • The White Hart,
  • King’s Head,
  • The Plough,
  • The Cricketers,
  • The Black Horse, and
  • The Wheatsheaf.

But there are many more including some forgotten ones such as

  • The King’s Arms,
  • The Queen’s Head,
  • Crown Inn,
  • Halfway House, and
  • Coopers’ Cottage.

I can so far only identify three as Inns (White Hart, King’s Head and Coopers Cottage) for stage coaches. The White Hart appears to date to the early 1600s whilst I have others that appear to go back further. I have names of innholders, William Rabbet from 1632 for example, but no associated establishment name.

What I have done, or am in the process of doing, for each is to research and identify:

  • Building history. When was it put up, any works done, archaeology, etc.,
  • Freeholder, where I can, such as breweries,
  • The landlord and staff,
  • Stories and news, and
  • Photographs.

This includes going through newspapers, archives, interviews and much more. I will post details about some individuals pubs in later posts. Please contact me if you can help (i.e. loan photos, give information, etc.).

Society makes history!

On Monday 28th September 2020 Thatcham Historical Society made history of its own by holding their first online speaker meeting.  With recent additional restrictions the society decided to suspend all face-to-face meetings until 2021 and as such have gone online.  The chair, Dr Nick Young, gave a talk on the history of the Thatcham pubs. 

The talk looked at many of the pubs, both past and present including Cross Keys, Pig and Whistle, The Angel, The Queen’s Head, The Bull, The Bell, The George, The White Hart, The New Inn, The Black Horse, The Plough and many more.  Some of the families such as the Fromonts were discussed along with the coaching trade and a discussion on the meaning and origin of some names. 

Nick noted “we did hope to restart meetings but it wasn’t to be. This first online talk, a first for the society too, is now the way forward and will be for some months.  We had a great turn out for this talk and are already preparing for the next one. We are looking to make more content available via our website and are looking at additional resources via other media too, audio and video for example.

The society is involved with Thatcham Festival and will be presenting “A brief history of Thatcham“.  Additional talks are already planned and will be listed on our events page and more are to be added.

All face-to-face / in-person speaker meetings are postponed until further notice. We have already been adding articles to the website and sending out newsletters.

The Swing Riots: Participants

A guest post from Ray Hopgood.

The intention of this article is not to narrate the causes or events of late 1830 in South West Berkshire which subsequently became known as the “Swing Riots”. These disturbances which had swept across Southern England are more than amply covered by articles on the internet, but especially in the volumes “Captain Swing” by Rude and Hobsbawm, covering the whole movement but especially “Berkshire to Botany Bay” for the events in this area by the local historian, the late Norman Fox.

It is the tables at the end of Norman Fox’s book which are the main sources of this article. It is an extensive analysis of the participants, both alleged and actual, of the disturbances. There are four main area of study; namely age, marital status, literacy and occupation.

When considering the ages of the “rioters” it is noticeable that they are not a gang of hot-headed youths, indeed only one, Jason Greening, was a teenager of nineteen years of age, with oldest being Francis Norris at 41, a serious age for an agricultural labourer at that period. Indeed 8, or 36%, of the men were over 30 with 16, or 73%, married (including 2 widowers) often with families. The remaining 6 or 27% were single. These are hardly archetypal hot-headed disaffected youths which tend, usually, to form the bulk of the participants of riotous assemblies.

It is noticeable that their literacy levels seem to be higher in this group compared to others We do not know the levels of those who were deemed to be literate, whether it was true literacy, a very minimal skill level or perhaps just “barking at print”. However, even with these caveats the overall level of seems high compared to the common perception of “Hodge” the ignorant rural clod. 50% claimed to be able to read and write, 32% could read only that is 82% with some level of literacy and only 18% were either illiterate or were not part of the sample.

In Jill Chamber’s study of the disturbances in Berkshire in particular  (The Machine Breakers of Berkshire) she states that of the 138 arraigned at the Reading Special Commission 37:27% could read only, 25:18% could read and write and the remaining 76:55% were illiterate.

The idea of higher than expected levels of social standing is also reflected in the occupations of the partakers. When studied closely only 9 or 41% of the men could be called agricultural labourers. Shepherds included in this category, as although skilled workers in their own right they did undertake other farming jobs. The rest 13 or 59% can fairly be deemed tradesmen ranging from a tailor to Master bricklayer. Although some of the trades, for example blacksmithing and wheelwrighting no doubt gained most of the employment from the agricultural scene they were skilled technicians again in the own right.

The differential of status is acknowledged in the severity of the sentencing for the same offences. The judges believing that the educated tradesmen were not simple souls who had been misled but men who has a clear understanding of their actions and were, therefore, more culpable.

Mr Justice Parker was particularly scathing to Oakley and Darling when passing their death sentences and that as a carpenter and blacksmith “… had no business or pretence to mix yourself up in these transactions”.

This casts doubt on naming of these disturbance, notably by the Hammonds in their work as “the Last Labourers Revolt” and that the participants were of a very different and varied type than has been considered in the past.

The Bluecoat School: Other users of the building

A guest post from Mark Thomas.

The Bluecoat School building is often thought of as only a school but newspaper articles show other users of the building, particularly during the latter half of the 19th Century.  Thanks to the power of online search I have discovered the following:-

Thatcham Agricultural Society

The Thatcham Agricultural Society was formed in 1839 and held the Thatcham annual ploughing match. From 1840 to 1848 the Society held their Annual Dinner after the competition in the Bluecoat School or, as they called it, “the large schoolroom of Lady Frances Winchcombe’s Charity”. The schoolroom was decorated with evergreens and flowers of every description (but mostly dahlias).

From the 1843 report:- “The Schoolroom was most superbly decorated with flowers and the multiplicity of designs formed of the choicest dahlias, representing stars, crowns and appropriate sentiments, and even the horses and plough as at work in the field, interspersed with laurels and banners.” 60 sat down to dine in 1843, and 80 in 1846 which must have been a tight squeeze.  

The meal was a “cold collation”.  The speeches were numerous, as were the number of toasts.  Between 16 and 24 toasts were drunk each year and the proceedings clearly became quite lively.

The expression that the toasts were drunk with “three times three” was puzzling, but it seems to be an old expression for “three cheers”.

The Agricultural Society folded in 1849, but was resurrected in 1884.  Between 1887 and 1889 the Society again held their annual dinner at the Bluecoat School. The 1889 dinner attendance was 75.  As previously the schoolroom was “gaily decorated with flags and mottos” by the ladies. There were speeches and singing, but the number of toasts had been reduced to half a dozen. In 1890 the enlarged Society moved their annual dinner to the Infants School. 

Other users

Apart from the Agricultural Society, other users of the Bluecoat School were:

  • 1810.  A surgeon, Dr Beam, gave a lecture in favour of vaccination, advocating “the preventative power of cow-pox against the contagion of the inoculated smallpox”. 
  • 1863. The members of the Association of Church Schoolmasters held their quarterly meetings in August and October. 
  • 1864.  Thatcham Literary Society.  Mr Buckmaster of the South Kensington Museum gave a lecture to a large audience on “What the public should know, or the importance of an acquaintance with Elementary Science”.
  • 1866.  Rev Bradshaw, curate of Bucklebury, gave a lecture on “Getting About”. 
  • 1866. Thatcham Literary Society. J. Hinton gave a lecture to a large audience. “Reading from various Authors”
  • 1871. After the Dedication of St Luke’s the 26 members of the choir retired to the Bluecoat schoolroom for a substantial dinner. 
  • 1875.  A group of Ratepayers met at the Bluecoat School to organize opposition to the plan for the new Thatcham drainage [sewerage] scheme to be “foisted” on the town by the Rural Sanitary Authority at Thatcham’s expense.  The ratepayers believed a sewerage system was not needed in a small village like Thatcham.
  • 1876.  Lecture by Rev James Ormiston from Dudley for the Thatcham and Cold Ash Branch of the Church Association:- “The Confessional”.  Attendance was large and many were unable to gain admission. 
  • 1894.  The tenants of Henley’s Allotments met the owner, Mr Staniford, to hear that the rent would be reduced because of the crop failure caused by drought.

“Dads Army” and Others Came to West Berkshire

A guest post from Ray Hopgood.

On the evening May 14th 1940, a little over 80 years ago immediately after the nine-o clock radio news, Anthony Eden, the Secretary of State for War, made a broadcast directed at the countless ordinary citizens, especially those not eligible to enrol in armed forces, who wished an opportunity to serve the defence of the nation.

The nation he stated required “large numbers of men who were British citizens, between the ages of 17 and 65 to come forward now and offer their services”.

The appeal was chiefly aimed at those who lived in the countryside, small towns and less densely populated suburban area. The name of the new force was to be the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV). To volunteer it was only necessary to register their name and address at the local police station.

The response was overwhelming and the police stations were inundated with prospective recruits, often to the bemusement of the desk sergeants who had not heard the broadcast or been officially informed. Within twenty-four hours of the appeal a quarter of a million men had put down their names and by the end of June there were nearly one and a half million volunteers. Often these volunteers had military experience having served in South Africa and of course the First World War. Indeed, most LDV units comprised of 50 to 75% old soldiers. The LDV designation did not meet with Churchill’s approval and was changed to the more popular name of “the Home Guard”.

The Newbury area was no exception to this was wave of enthusiasm. By the third week of May no fewer than 885 volunteers had registered in the Newbury Divisional Police area, which included Hungerford, and no less than 531 came from within the Newbury borough. Throughout the whole of Berkshire (that is the proper Berkshire of old) over 6000 signed up. (Although a military organisation, under military command, the Home Guard recruited and was organised by police divisions.

The County Commander, Lieutenant Colonel G Walton OBE was appointed together with Brigadier A. H. D. West DSO of Chieveley as the Divisional Commander for the Newbury police area. There being eight other divisions within the county.

Some disquiet, however, was voiced as to the actual effectiveness of this untrained, lightly armed, or even unarmed force, against German paratroopers or the arrival of troop- carrying aircraft.

The one advantage the men had was that Berkshire was a rural county and most of the volunteers were countrymen, farm labourers and the like, who had an intimate knowledge of the locality and could monitor the enemy forces and thereby aid the regular forces who would then deal with the enemy…. “their strength was not so much the ability to fight the enemy but their intimate knowledge of fields, footpaths, lanes and roads around their own home”.[1]

In the same week the other volunteer force, the ARP, was practising its skills in Cold Ash and Ashmore Green. They dealt with results of a “high explosive bomb” being dropped at Barlow’s timber yard, a “gas bomb” (using mustard and garlic to represent the smell of mustard gas) outside the Vicarage with a decontamination squad being sent to deal with it. This was followed by an “incendiary bomb” setting fire to the grounds of Downe House School which was extinguished by the staff using the water from School’s swimming pool. The Thatcham A.F.S. (Auxiliary Fire Service, another volunteer force) also attended and “gave a really good show” [2]. All the incidents were dealt with successfully.

These events demonstrate how the civilian inhabitants of Newbury, Thatcham and Berkshire did not hesitate to come forward “to do their bit” in the nation’s hour of need.

  • [1] NWN, May 23rd 1940
  • [2] NWN, May 23rd 1940

The English Civil War Soldier

On 29th June Alan Turton was due to give his Social History of the English Civil War Soldier to the Thatcham Historical Society.  Sadly this talk is now cancelled, but we hope Alan will be able to visit the Society at a more favourable time.

Until then, here is a brief piece which we hope will whet your appetites for talks to come.

The English Civil War soldier.
The English Civil War soldier.

Alan is a military historian, who specialises in the English Civil War and the period up to the mid-18th century.  From 1987-2011 he was the curator of the English Civil War site of Basing House (once the largest private house in Tudor England), which underwent the longest siege of the English Civil War.

Drawing on many decades of both re-enactment, living history and original research, Alan’s talk will give the background to the life of the ordinary English Civil War Soldier, both Royalist and Parliamentarian, using real and reproduction artifacts and clothing. 

Alan will show the audience how the soldier was dressed, from the inside out, how he was armed, fed and paid.

Anyone with British ancestry will have in their family tree at least one person who served for one side or the other, or sometimes both.  This tragic period is sometimes called the war without an enemy yet resulted in the proportional loss of more souls than in the First World War.

Meetings suspended

The committee have decided, as a precaution to the outbreak of Covid-19 (Coronavirus), to keep members and the public safe that we suspend our series of speaker meetings. Our apologies for any inconvenience this may cause. We will post any news here, or feel free to give us an email.  Once it is safe to do so we will resume and rearrange talks.

We will be posting regular updates here, history snippets and activities that you can get involved with, safely.