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

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A Bathhouse, Benna & Two Battles

Beenham, Berkshire - © Nash Ford Publishing

About twenty-five years ago, a fine 4th century Roman bathhouse was discovered in the south-east of Beenham parish. It was probably associated with a Roman villa, to the west near Beenham Stocks, that remained unnoticed while gravel extraction destroyed it. Imported building materials indicate a complex of some pretensions. The bath suite was certainly a luxury: a large rectangular building with an underground heating system (hypocaust). It was probably divided by a wooden partition into a warm room (tepidarium) and sauna-like hot room (caldarium). A narrow unheated annex was probably the cold room (frigidarium) and may have contained a portable plunge bath. An adjoining building was probably a changing room, and there was a nearby well for obvious reasons.

The Saxon name for the village either means Benna's Home or Bean Home. It is sometimes mistakenly given the suffix of Valence through confusion with Benham Park near Newbury. Many centuries ago, a branch of the Perkins family, from nearby Ufton Court, owned the manor. The present Beenham House replaced their old timber gabled mansion in the late 18th century. It is actually a redbrick house, but has been painted white, leading to the mistaken belief that it was built as a twin to Sulhamstead House, across the valley.

Beenham Church retains only small details of its 13th century original, for it has been rather prone to fires. It was first burnt down in 1794. After the flames had abated, the villagers collected enough bell metal to considerably reduce the bill for casting six new bells. The Six Bells Pub, in the village, commemorates the event. Luckily, the church’s brick tower survived the second disaster in 1859. Adjoining the tower are some of the most intricate and informative of Berkshire’s gravestones: one of them shows Old Father Time. They remember the Iremongers, a large 18th century farming family, after whom the, incorrectly spelt, Ironmongers Copse (just over the border in Bucklebury) is named. Inside, the church is a memorial to Sir Charles Hopson who was responsible for much of the woodwork in St. Paul’s Cathedral. He was knighted by Queen Anne. Another one-time-famous inhabitant of the parish was the 18th century vicar, Thomas Stackhouse, a theologian who wrote 'The History of the Bible from the Beginning of the World until the Coming of Christianity'.

During the Civil War, a band of Cromwell’s soldiers kept their horses tethered in Foddehouse Copse. This was probably around the time of one of the First & Second Battles of Newbury. Opposite the post office is a house that was once an old inn, the Black House. A barmaid there was said to have been murdered by one of these soldiers. Three hundred years later, there were more ugly scenes at Beenham when the Berkshire Machine Rioters marched through the village in 1830. They destroyed the machines and stores of several local farmers.


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