Most of the towns and villages of the Thames and Kennet Valleys have histories, which are full of interest, but few can boast a story either as long or as fascinating as the history of Thatcham.
Long before people appeared, animals – many now extinct – roamed the landscape and their remains sometimes emerge from the gravel. Mammoth tusks have been dug up here, including a section two feet long (recovered during excavations at the Sewage Works in April, 1959), and another four feet long (recovered from a gravel pit off Lower Way in November, 1979). Other relics found locally include the remains of hippopotami which swam in the ancient river and reindeer which roamed the higher ground.
The first humans in this area lived alongside such animals and through the Ice Ages in the Palaeolithic (Old Stone) Age, from about 50,000-10,000 BC. In Thatcham, the only evidence of these people consists of two hand axes found in Lower Way gravel workings by R. A. Sheridan in 1962. One is described as “rolled” – it had been moved around a lot, perhaps in shifting Ice Age glacial deposits, and so may not have been found in a primary context. The artefacts from the Crown Acres site (see below) possibly dates from the very end of the Upper Palaeolithic, just as the last ice sheets were retreating from southern England.
Evidence of Mesolithic occupation locally first became apparent in 1920 when workmen who were carrying out levelling operations at the Lower Way sewage works found flint implements. These were reported to Newbury Museum in April 1921 and that summer an excavation by Peake and Crawford located the horizon in which the flint industry occurred. They cut a trench in front of the swampy reed bed of the Moor Brook and found flakes and implements along with a few scraps of bone. Further traces of occupation were discovered in 1957 by Local amateur archaeologists, Messrs. Barber, Collins and Sheridan, and an excavation, directed by Mr. John Wymer and completed in 1962, revealed that Thatcham was one of the finest examples of Mesolithic prehistoric settlement in Britain.
This representing the first known human settlement in the area which occurred about ten thousand years ago during the Mesolithic Period (Middle Stone Age). A village of light temporary shelters was erected on a pine covered gravel bluff near the modern sewage works on Lower Way Lane. The bluff was bordered on one aide by a lake – which covered a large part of the Kennet Valley, possibly extending from Newbury to Woolhampton – and the other side by treacherous marshes.
The villagers, who were semi nomadic hunters and fishers, occupied the site periodically for at least three centuries, but about 7500 BC the area was flooded and covered with layers of peat and marl, perfectly preserving many of the relics buried beneath.
Numerous flint tools were unearthed, as well as hearths and flint knapping floors, on which the tools were shaped. Excavated food and bones included those of the red deer, roe deer, wild pig, elk, horse, ox beaver, pine marten, fox, dog, wolf and some wild fowl. Very rare bone and antler tools were also discovered.
Perhaps the most curious find of all were some pine cones which, having been buried for almost ten thousand years, popped open when exposed to bright sunlight as if they were freshly grown.
- Allen, P., Broughton, S., Higgott, T., and Young, N., Thatcham: an Historic Town in a Changing World, Thatcham Vision & Thatcham Historical Society: Thatcham, 2009
- Proser, A. W., Thatcham through the ages, Occasional Paper Number 2, Thatcham Historical Society: Thatcham, 1979