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

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Common & Castle

Crookham Common, Berkshire -  Nash Ford Publishing

Crookham is the southern portion of Thatcham parish. It is a very dispersed hamlet, spread out across Crookham Common which rises to 387ft above the River Kennet. It consists of two important manors: Crookham and Chamberhouse.

Like Thatcham, Crookham itself was owned by Reading Abbey, but they sub-let the manor, mostly to the FitzHerbert family. It stood at 'Manor Ash Moats', about half a mile east of the present Crookham House, and had its own chapel of St. Mary from at least 1299. In 1229, King Henry III visited Peter FitzHerbert (died 1235 - buried in Reading Abbey) there, probably to enjoy the hunting in the associated Great and Little Parks. Shortly after being made Baron FitzReynold, the latter's grandson, John, granted Crookham to King Edward II in order to overcome disputes with Reading Abbey. It was regranted to him for life, but, upon his death, became one of the many manors which the King gave to his favourite, Piers Gaveston. After the latter's execution, it passed to John de Knokyn. King Edward visited Crookham Manor in 1308, 1317, 1321 and 1326, at a time when Newbury was declining as a favoured Royal stopping place whilst out hunting. The 2nd Baron FitzReynold tried to reclaim Crookham by force in 1320. With a band of armed men, he took possession of the manor house, including goods worth 500 (about 150,000 today) belonging to the King, but his residence did not last long. Crookham was eventually given to the Earl of Salisbury in thanks for arresting Roger Mortimer, King Edward II's murderer. He lived at the other end of the county - at Bisham Abbey - and probably rarely visited. Although, after his death, the Countess had the tower of Thatcham Church built to his memory. The money did not come from Crookham though, for almost all the manor tenants are recorded to have died during the ravages of the Black Death. 

The manor of Chamberhouse seems to have been named after Roger de la Chambre who lived in the mid-13th century. It was a sub-manor of Crookham, held by the service of a single pair of gilt spurs. Chamberhouse Farm is now the site of the original Chamberhouse Castle (or fortified manor house), built by John Pury in 1446. This lord of the manor was an esquire to King Henry VI and had obtained permission from him to crenellate his home and empark 300 acres surrounding it. His daughter, Anne, and her husband, William Danvers - a famous judge - later enjoyed the comfort of such splendour and are buried together in a special chantry chapel in Thatcham Church. Their daughter, Isabel, and her husband, Martin Docwra, inherited, but their possession seems to have been disputed by the Abbot of Reading who with "sixteen others entered it in arms and did much damage". The last of the family, Edmund Docwra, was forced to attempt to sell up in 1572. Unfortunately, he entered into an agreement with John Astley, Master of the Queen's Jewels, which had a condition in it by which Astley could change his mind, if he announced this in a document nailed to the south door of Thatcham church. This he did with only three days to go before the deal was finalized. Edmund eventually did manage to sell up thirteen years later. So his son, Henry Lord Docwra of Culmore, the famous founder of Derry in Ireland, never inherited the manor. The deer and their park only lasted about a hundred years, and the same may be true of the castle, though it is said to have been finally demolished in 1713.

In Victorian times, Crookham was often the venue for organized prize fighting. These bare knuckle-fist fights, though bloody and dangerous, were extremely popular and crowds of up to 10,000 people could gather on the Common. A particularly famous fight occurred there, in 1841, between two well-known sportsmen of the day, Ben Caunt and Nick Ward. It had originally been arranged to take place in Andover, but the Hampshire Police had put a stop to proceedings there and the organizers moved things across the county boundary to Crookham Common. The vast audience, including the Earl of Portsmouth, quickly followed and the fight began. It was fierce and long but, eventually, Ward claimed a foul by Caunt. Ward's friends told the referee that they would lynch him, if Ward wasn't awarded the prize and the referee gave in! The Common later became the home of a more sedate sport, the oldest Golf Club in the county with one of the oldest inland courses in the country, first laid out in 1873. This has since moved westward to Greenham.


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