White Hart Crest of the Royal County of Berkshire David Nash Ford's Royal Berkshire History

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Three Mile Cross
alias 'Our Village'

Three Mile Cross -  Nash Ford Publishing

For most of her life, Berkshire's greatest author and playwright, Mary Russell Mitford lived in Three Mile Cross, the crossroads in Shinfield parish, three miles south of Reading. She had been reduced to living in a cramped labourer's cottage with her two parents, after her father had gambled away all their money. Her most famous work, Our Village, was based on rural life here and her little cottage, still to be seen today, was where most of her books were written:
Julian (1823)
The Foscari (1826)
Rienzi (1828)
Charles I (1834)
Our Village (1832)
Belford Regis (1835).

Mary became firm friends with Elizabeth Barrett Browning who helped gain her a civil pension of 100 a year; but financial worries continued even after the death of her father. His debts had to be paid by public subscription.

Just north-west of Three Mile Cross is the area of Shinfield known as Hartley, meaning 'Hart's Clearing'. It spreads across the M4 motorway and half of the old Berkshire Brewery site stands in Hartley. The area was anciently split into five small manors: Hartley Court, Hartley Dummer, Hartley Battle, Hartley Amys, Hartley Pellitot and Moor Place. The last four were, for many years, owned by the Woodcock family who lived at the last. The road in Three Mile Cross called 'Woodcock Court' remembers them. They were relatives of Dr. Robert Huick, Queen Elizabeth I's Chief Physician, who also had an estate in Shinfield. Its exact site is unknown, but it was probably somewhere in Hartley. Hartley Court is the only manor house to survive. It is an early 16th century house with an 18th century facade. It was probably built for Thomas Beke, the grandson and namesake of a Mayor and MP for Reading. There was once a fine wooden mantelpiece in the house featuring a colourful Beke coat of arms dated 1509. The family had other properties at Whiteknights and at Haddenham in Buckinghamshire. Thomas' son, Hugh, has a superb monument in Shinfield Church. Edward VII apparently rented Hartley Court from the Benyons around 1900, and it was to here that his mistress, Lillie Langtry, retired in her later years.


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