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Home of Kings & Ruffians

Easthampstead, Berkshire -  Nash Ford Publishing

Caesar's Camp is a large Iron-Age Hillfort lying just south of the Nine Mile Ride, near Bracknell's Science Centre, The Look-Out. Coins found there indicate it may date from the first century bc, though it can have little to do with Julius Caesar, who tradition says camped here. Could it have been one of the oppida overrun by Vespasian and his Second Legion in AD 47? Most of these are thought to have been in Dorset. The name Caesar's Camp dates from around 1700 anyway. The place was originally Windmill Fort after the mill that stood there.

Wickham Bushes, just south of Caesar's Camp, is an area with a Roman-cum-Saxon name meaning Vicus-Home. The prefix is the Latin word for a small Roman town, some of which was excavated, first in the late nineteenth century and again in recent years. This indicated it to be a small settlement with numerous wooden and stone houses. As the first stop on the Roman Road from London to Silchester, Wickham may be identified with the Astolat of Arthurian Legend. Malory said it was Guildford, but his reasoning is incorrect. Astolat was the home of Sir Bernard, whose daughter, Elaine, became enamoured of Sir Lancelot when he visited them there. Rejected by the knight, who could not forget Queen Guinevere, she pined to death. Her body was floated down the Thames to Westminster where she was buried. In later centuries, military camps were pitched in the area and George III was a frequent visitor to review the troops.

There is no Westhampstead. The Domesday (1086) name for the village was Lachamstead meaning "Slow Stream Homestead", but this appears to have been a scriptual error. Throughout the following centuries it was always called Yethamstead, 'Gate (into Windsor Forest) Homestead'. Legend makes Easthampstead Park one of the homes of King Cynegils of Wessex in the 7th century. It was supposedly here that he met with King Oswald of Northumbria who there persuaded him to become a Christian (See Wildridings). The place was, in fact, a Royal Hunting Lodge built in Windsor Forest for Edward III in 1350. It became the centre of the subdivision of Easthampstead Walke and was widely used by him and his descendants: Richard II, Henry VI and Richard III all issued decrees from the park. Henry VII and his son Prince Arthur arranged the latter's marriage to Catherine of Aragon at the lodge and later rode out from here for their first meeting on Finchampstead Ridges. The lady's second husband, Henry VIII also hunted here. When their marriage turned sour, Catherine retired (or was banished) to Easthampstead and it was here that she received the news that the King had finalised their divorce. This old house stood near the centre of the park, approximately where the path between Home Farm and Wooden Hill meets the modern Golf Course. There are slight remains of a moat. The place was later granted to William Trumbull on the condition that he keep up the deer park. His grandson was envoy to France and Ambassador to Turkey. In his retirement, he loved to gather literary society about him, at Easthampstead. The present imposing Jacobean style mansion was put up on the park's northern edge for the Marquis of Downshire in 1860.

Easthampstead old parish has gone. It survived for a while, though with its place of worship lying well within the modern parish of Bracknell, but now it has been entirely swallowed up. The parish church was almost entirely rebuilt in the 19th century by the Marchioness of Downshire, but it still retains some interesting fittings, particularly the screen made from panels of a former rood, and delightful Pre-Raphaelite windows by Burne-Jones & Morris. Memorials include one to Elijah Fenton, tutor of Trumbull's son, who translated the Odyssey with Alexander Pope (from Binfield). The latter wrote his epitaph.

The Nine Mile Ride is probably the most well known of the rides created throughout this area of Windsor Forest for Queen Anne (and later George III). In old age, she was unable to ride with the hunt, so liked to follow in her carriage instead. Hence the rides were required.

William Shorter, the leader of a group of vicious eighteenth century bandits known as the Wokingham Blacks (see Wokingham), was finally captured at a criminal meeting in the Forest Lodge at Caesar's Camp. The deputy-custodian of Bigshot Rayle had been threatened and his house attacked. So, knowing that most of the gang had already been rounded up, he had informed the authorities of a secret rendezvous he was to have with the culprits at the lodge. The Sheriff and his men just had to lie in wait, and Shorter and his gang were sprung like rats in a trap. He was hanged on the county boundary at Wishmoor Cross.

The Blacks were not the only ruffians in the area. One William Davies, a well-to-do Gloucestershire farmer made regular trips to Berkshire, but he didn't reap corn here. He held up the local coaches and took gold from their passengers, always leaving behind their jewels an other valuables. His neighbours always wondered why his bills were paid in gold. Little did they know he was the infamous Golden Farmer: a man with something of a Robin-Hood reputation. For many a local poor man became accustomed to finding a golden guinea thrust beneath his door on nights when the highwayman had been abroad. The pub in South Hill Road is called the Golden Farmer after him. It is said to stand on the site of an earlier building that William frequented on, what was then, the middle of Ascot Heath. He was eventually caught and hanged in London. His body being hung in chains next to the old pub.

See also Easthampstead Hamlets


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