A brief history of Thatcham
Thatcham is an ancient settlement with archaeological finds covering every period from the Palaeolithic over 12,000 years ago, right up to today. It is unknown if Palaeolithic people settled in the area, however, it is known that Mesolithic (circa 8,500BC – 4,000BC) people did settle here. The people at this time would have been semi-nomadic and occupied the site periodically for several centuries or more. There are Bronze (2,500BC – 750BC) and Iron (750BC – 43AD) Age sites and there is evidence that people were in the area during the Roman period.
Local culture has it that in the 7th century a Saxon chief created a settlement here. The chief was called Tace and this was his settlement or ham. Hence Tace’s Ham which evolved over the years to become Thatcham. However, an alternative is formed from ‘thaec’ referring to the reed beds (thatching material) and a nearby river meadow, giving us the ‘hamm’. It is also believed that a Saxon Church was built in around 675AD.
By the time of Domesday (1086), Thatcham was the largest settlement in the area and formed the centre of Thatcham Hundred, an administrative area that included Newbury, Midgham, Greenham, Crookham, Cold Ash and other surrounding settlements. Thatcham was then a town and became, around 1300, a Borough. Thatcham prospered, that is until the middle of the 16th century. It was around this time that the market seems to have stopped and the chapel fell out of use.
Chapel Street Map
The map below shows a selection of historic properties, some now long gone, along Chapel Street. Each marker on the map links to a more detailed description.
Pump & milestone
Milestones were placed on turnpiked roads, this stretch being turnpiked sometime in the late 18th century. This milestone reads 3 miles to Newbury, 14 to Reading and 53 to London.
Going back 100 years few buildings had their own supply of water. This was the village pump. It is not known how old this pump is but bears the mark of Edwards and Godding Ltd, Newbury which was established c.1790.
Barn & Farm
The Barn is believed to be a 17th century structure. The farmhouse next door, 2 Chapel Street, is an 18th century building. There is the thought that this might have been the site of the “George Inn.”
4 – 16 Chapel Street
These were all built in the late 18th or early 19th century. Numbers 4 to 10 were originally four cottages.
The Wesleyan Methodist met in the High Street, at the house of William Newman. In 1832 a plan was made to convert an old brush turnery in Chapel Street into a chapel. The building was converted and in use by summer 1834. However you could not see this from the road as there were cottages in front of it and access was through a small passage. The cottages were purchased and demolished, replaced with a lawn and trees.
In 1905, after the demolition of one building, a new Police station was built. The station closed in 1969 and the building was, from 1976, the home of Thatcham Town Council. They moved out in 1984 and the police moved back in although only open to the public part of the time, eventually closing in 2002 to the public altogether and closing as a police station in 2011, becoming residential shortly after.
The Dinky Stores
One store, demolished in the 1960s, was the “Dinky Stores.” The shop was ran by Fred Joyce who many may recall made local deliveries on his bike. The structure possibly dated to the 16th century. This was where Park Avenue and A-Plan are now located.
The cottages are generally believed to be 17th century although there is evidence they might go back to the 15th or 16th century. Originally built of wattle and daub although much has now been replaced by brick. They appear to have all been built at different times and for a period provided an income for the Loundyes charity. In the 1960s there was a plan to possibly demolish and redevelop the site. This might have gone ahead if it was not for Mary Steer who remained living in one of the cottages until she passed away. At this point the five cottages were renovated into four cottages which we see today.
82 & 84 Chapel Street
On the face of it these appear to be 19th century but there are timbers showing to support the theory of a local historian who believes there might be an earlier structure dating to 1610.
About 1870 Bluecoat House was built next to the school for the headmaster of the Bluecoat School.
Old Bluecoat School
A chapel was built at the eastern edge of the village, just inside the borough boundary and was open for services in 1304. At this time it was referred to as the “Chapel of the Borough” and it is believed it may have been called “St Thomas’s Chapel.”
The chapel was used until the mid 16th century. It is not clear why it fell out of use, perhaps as St Mary’s Church by this time had been significantly enlarged and was able to cope with the growing population, or perhaps it could have been due to the dissolution of the monasteries.
Lady Frances Winchcombe acquired the chapel at the start of the 18th century and in a trust deed dated 30 June 1707 gave instruction for conversion to a school for 30 poor boys. Lady Winchcombe died days after this deed is dated. The school was known as “Winchcombe’s Charity School.” In the early years the school was mismanaged and it was barely open until after 1713 and then only for a short period after which it closed. Despite efforts being made in 1752, the school did not reopen until 1794 in no small part due to the efforts of Rev. Seth Thompson. The coats worn by the children were a shade of blue and thus the name “Blue Coat School.”
In 1914 the school master, Samuel Vallis, went to serve in the First World War. The school closed and never reopened as an independent school. It was used by other local schools as an extra classroom with cookery, craft and other lessons taking place there.
However by the 1960’s the school was no longer being used as an extra classroom and it was subsequently sold to Newbury District Council. Repairs were undertaken and by 1974 it was being leased for retail, the last being an antique dealer. The school was put back in the hands of a charitable trust who today lease the building out and are working to raise funds to further restore it.
One of the first petrol stations in Thatcham was the Rose Garage, which in 1934 was operated by the Robinson brothers. Besides refuelling there was a garage on site to offer repairs and other services.
This is the driveway to what was Dunston House. In 1722 the Manor of Thatcham was sold to General Richard Waring. Shortly after he had Dunston House built. This was situated near Frank Hutchings Community Hall. The house was at the time described as one of the most magnificent in the country. To the rear was stabling, a coach house, a brew house, bakery and fish ponds. A park was formed in the grounds and trees were planted and laid out according to the formation of the troops in one of the battles in which Waring had fought. Waring died in 1737, the estate passed to various members of the family eventually ending up in the hands of Sir Archer Croft. The house was put up for sale in the 1790s but with no offers the structure was demolished. Some of the materials were used in buildings around Thatcham including the United Reformed Church.
Thatcham Cemetery & Chapel
In 1885 Rev. Hezekiah Martin grew concerned that the churchyard was getting close to capacity. After a meeting in April 1885 new ground was sought for use as a cemetery. There was a choice of four possible locations but the chosen one was a meadow on the north side of Bath Road belonging to Mr Mount. Land was purchased in 1886 at a cost of £200.
It was then agreed that a chapel should be built and that the churchyard would be closed at the end of 1886 although it appears to have actually been slightly later. In November 1886 issues began to appear with some religious communities requiring consecrated ground for burials and the chapel. After a delay the cemetery was opened in September 1887 but with the churchyard having already closed no burials had taken place in Thatcham for several months with internments taking place in neighbouring parishes.
James Money (1834 – 1918) was a Newbury architect who designed a wide range of buildings, mainly across the Newbury area. He was active professionally for over 50 years, and his local buildings ranged from the town halls in Newbury and Hungerford, to schools, pubs, vicarages and hospitals.
James Money designed this chapel, constructed from local brick and built by Speenhamland builder Henry Botsford in 1887. The £321 contract was awarded by the Thatcham Burial Board on 7th December 1886, and the building was first used in September 1887 with one of the first burials on the site being that of John Denness in September 1887. Others such as a child, called Dewe, and a Mr George Pearce were buried in November 1887.
James Money was also responsible for the Cold Ash Children’s Hospital (1891 – 1892), the Falkland Memorial (1878) at Wash Common, and a number of church restorations.
Roadside Water Pump
Road conditions were improving during the 18th century, routes were turnpiked, and traffic increased. As such dust was often a problem and so pumps were installed along such routes. These were used to help dampen the roads and reduce dust.
The Council School
In 1910 the British School in Church Lane had become successful but it no longer met the requirements of the Department of Education and there was little room to make required improvements. Thus a new school was built. The British School closed at the start of Easter weekend 1913 and the Council School opened the following week with Horatio Skillman as the headmaster assisted by Miss Hettie Peters, Miss Eleanor Pinnock, Miss Rhoda Pearce, Miss Kate Ashman and Miss Mayors. One local resident commented that they were able to sit in a classroom and look across the fields all the way to the canal. There were originally five classrooms holding up to 200 children. The school continued to grow, by 1940 there were 500 children enrolled. In 1964, under the new headmaster Edward Helmsley, the school changed its name to Francis Baily School in honour of the astronomer Francis Baily. Baily is buried in St Mary’s Church where for a period on his birthday the school children would lay flowers on his grave.
Sometime before 1911 these houses were erected for workers from Colthrop Mill. Indeed there are a number of “Colthrop Cottages” around the area.
The building dates to the 17th century with 19th century additions. It is unknown when this became a drinking establishment but was certainly in the trade by 1795 when Edward Farrow was landlord. In 1888 during building work the body of an infant was discovered in the roof, wrapped in an old dress. In 1894 Thatcham Football Club used the pub as a base having played their first match on The Marsh. The pub was closed and sold in 2017.
55 Chapel Street
An 1840s build with a symmetrical style. The paint hides brick work which shows a more expensive than normal technique indicating it was built for one of the more wealthy inhabitants.
Loundyes Charity, named after Thomas Loundyes, was founded in 1446. The building on this site was used, in part at least, for travellers. It was demolished and rebuilt c.1849 although several parts of that building have been demolished.
The New Inn
The central section, with its timber frame structure, is the oldest dating to the 16th century. Additions were made in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thatcham and Midgham Friendly Society were based at the Inn and in 1872 almost 2,000 agricultural workers gathered to hear Joseph Arch (founder of the National Agricultural Labourers Union) speak. The pub was renamed the Prancing Horse in 1968 and closed in 1997.
Rooftops, or rather 17 Chapel Street, is a timber framed building dating to the 16th century. There was a large fireplace complete with bread oven and a staircase behind.
The Parish Hall
In 1903 Miss Annette Louise Henry, daughter of Mr John Henry of Colthrop Mill, was instrumental in instigating plans to erect a “Parish Hall.” The idea was for a venue that would accommodate 200 people for various entertainment events including concerts. The money required was raised by public donations, and within a few years £350 had been raised. The building was constructed by local builder Mr W Child. The building was officially opened on 10th April 1907 by Mrs Benyon, who was wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire. The building became the base for Thatcham Parish Council.
Miss Henry was, in 1912, co-opted onto Thatcham Parish Council, and was the first woman to be on the Council. She was heavily involved in the local community and received an MBE for her work.
The building has been used for a range of events. It has been home to play groups and for a period along with other venues it was used as a classroom as the Council School (Francis Baily) grew short of space. The hall was home to “Cinema Entertainment” as one 1939 newspaper put it, a series of talking films were shown. Thatcham Women’s Institute, set up in 1938, held their meetings within the hall, they also ran a soldiers’ canteen at the hall. Also during the Second World War the hall was used for ARP and first aid lectures. Dances, organised by Mr Mayow, were held regularly and Miss Millicent Turner ran clubs for the youths at the hall in the 1930s.
Not only has the building been used for events but for a period, starting in 1924, it also housed a library. This later moved to the Memorial Hall and then to a purpose built venue.
The “Wheat Sheaf” as it was originally known has been a pub since 1814, if not before, when it was in the hands of the Tuggy family, Lucy and then Richard. The original building was level with others in the street until it was demolished and rebuilt in 1927 when it was set back from the road. It is only in the last decade or so that it has had different names.