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

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Heraldic Court to Famous College

A Roman pottery kiln has been excavated north of the village. It was used to make large grey storage jars. Later, the site of Bradfield Church became a Saxon Monastery whose early history may be preserved in documents later mistakenly or deliberately transferred to Abingdon Abbey. The last of the Bradfield monks sallied forth to oppose a detachment of William the Conqueror’s army after the Battle of Hastings. They were apparently unsuccessful. The monastery was dissolved and the wounded had to retire to Abingdon. During the Commonwealth, the rector was one John Pordage, an astrologer and mysticist, who underwent the most extraordinary visions of both angels and demons. He claimed to have fought a dragon in his driveway for several hours! The authorities eventually removed him from office.

In the Middle ages, Bradfield was owned by the De La Beche family who lived at La Beche Castle in Aldworth. When the Langford family inherited their estates, they made Bradfield Manor their principal seat. In Tudor times, it passed to Thomas Stafford, a cousin of William Stafford who married Queen Anne Boleyn's sister, Mary. During his grandson (Sir) Edward's time as the local lord, his uncle, Sir Henry Docwra (later Baron Docwra of Culmore) also lived at the manor. He had retired from a military career in Ireland where he had (re) founded the city of Derry. Mary, the wife of Sir Edward Stafford, became sole Lady of the Manor on her husband’s death in 1623. As her fourth husband, she married Elias Ashmole, Windsor Herald from the College of Arms. He was an antiquarian, best known for leaving his collection of curiosities to Oxford University - hence the Ashmolean Museum. Ashmole was a favourite at the Court of Charles II, but was, nevertheless, hated by Mary’s brother, Sir Humphrey Forster of Aldermaston Court, and her second son, Humphrey Stafford. The latter even tried to murder the poor man. Forster was caught up in a prolonged lawsuit with Ashmole which he eventually lost. He later tried to disrupt one of Elias’ Manorial Courts held at Bradfield, but was promptly arrested. The unhappy couple were eventually hounded out of the village, and forced to move to London. During the Civil War, the Earl of Essex and his army spent the night of 24th October 1644 at Bradfield, on their way to the 2nd Battle of Newbury

A younger branch of the Stevens family from Culham Court in Remenham bought the manor in 1755, but a hundred years later the Rev. Thomas Stevens turned the manor house over to found Bradfield College. He also rebuilt the parish church. He, not surprisingly, went bankrupt in 1881! Bradfield College is famous for its 1,600-seater Greek theatre. It was based on that at Epidauros and built in a disused chalk pit by the first headmaster in 1890.

The father of the Agricultural Revolution, Jethro Tull, grew up in Bradfield. A hundred and fifty years later, during West Berkshire’s Machine Riots of 1830, an angry mob descended on the village to burnt hay-ricks and smash the machines which he had inspired.


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