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The Oldest Place in Britain

Legend of Thatcham & the Devil -  Nash Ford Publishing


  • People have lived in Thatcham longer than most places in Britain. It is in the Guinness Book of Records!
  • Archaeologists have found old bones which show that prehistoric people lived here. They ate moose, beaver, wolf and pine marten. These animals are now extinct in England.
  • Later, the Romans built a big road called the Ermin(e) Way between Cirencester (Gloucestershire) and Silchester (Hampshire). It crossed the River Kennet at Thatcham. It was a convenient stopping place and grew into a small town. The Romans did lots of metalworking there.
  • In Saxon times, Anglo-Saxon settlers rowed up the Thames and the Kennet and built themselves somewhere to live at Thatcham.
  • This is when the place got it's name. It means 'Thatched Homes'. An old legend tells how the Saxons didn't know what to put on the roofs. The Devil appeared and shouted, "Thatch'em"!
  • The Saxons built the church and may have been visited by St. Birinus. Thatcham became an important place and the centre of local government in the area. 
  • After the Normans conquered the country, King Henry I gave Thatcham to Reading Abbey. The Abbot promoted the town in a big way. He set up a big market and later a fair was held on St. Thomas' Day (like a May Fair, not a Fairground).
  • Thatcham became a big rival to nearby Newbury. In Henry II's reign, customers started going to Thatcham Market instead of Newbury. So the Newbury merchants marched on Thatcham and kicked over all the market stalls!
  • The people of Thatcham worked in lots of small industries like wood turning, coopery (making barrels), milling and cloth making. But, in the late 1340s, a nasty disease called the Black Death reached the town and killed most of the people. There was no-one left to do the work and hard times lay ahead.
  • Thatcham lost its fight with Newbury whose people became rich with the help of their patron 'Jack of Newbury'.
  • Things got better in the 18th century when the Bath Road became an important route from London to the West Country. Lots of coaches stopped at the inns in Thatcham, bringing passengers and new money into the town. The 1st ever mail coach stopped at the King's Head.
  • It was around this time that Francis Baily became a famous astronomer. 'Baily's Beads' are named after him. They appear around a Solar eclipse. His family came from Thatcham and he was buried in the church. 


    Nash Ford Publishing 2004. All Rights Reserved. Suitable for National Curriculum History Key Stage 2.