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

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Home of One Family for a Thousand Years

Englefield - © Nash Ford Publishing

The parish apparently derives its name from the battle fought there between the Saxons & Danes in AD 870. It either means 'Englishmen’s (Battle)Field' or  'Warning Beacon Field'. The invading Danes had set up camp in Reading, from where a raiding party set out to attack Aldermaston. Aethelwulf, the Ealdorman of Berkshire, engaged them in Englefield and the Danes were thoroughly defeated. They were, however, not finally expelled from the county until after King Alfred's victory at Edington in Wiltshire, some eight years later.

The Englefields supposedly owned the manor from the time of King Edgar the Peacemaker until it was confiscated from Sir Francis, the infamous 16th century Catholic who would not bow to the power of the English Church. He tried all sorts of ploys to stop the crown getting its hands on his lands, including settling it on his nephew. But eventually he lost out and had to flee overseas. The Englefields later bought Whiteknights Park in Earley and continued to be buried in the Englefield Chapel in Englefield Church until 1822. Though they still have impressive monuments there, some seven fine brasses have disappeared, not least that from the elaborate 1514 tomb-chest memorial to Sir Thomas Englefield, Speaker of the House of Commons. Arches under the south wall shelter a stone knight (shield missing) and a wooden lady, probably Sir Roger Englefield (d.1317) and his wife Joan (d.1340). Nearby is a Norman pillar piscina.

Sir Edward Norreys, Governor of Ostend, also lived in the parish and entertained Queen Elizabeth I at his house on the site of the old rectory. He was buried in the Englefield Chapel, but was later removed to Rycote (Oxon). Englefield House is basically an Elizabethan E-plan building, though it has been much altered. It was the retreat of the 5th Marquis of Winchester after he returned from exile after the Civil War. He had held his home, the Castle of Basing House (Hants), against a three year siege by Cromwell’s troops, until the man himself arrived to finish him off. Basing was raised to the ground. He supposedly inherited Englefield through his third wife, the grandaughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, although it was almost certainly purchased, perhaps because of a family connection. Both are buried in the south aisle of the church under austere black slabs with long Latin inscriptions. They were only uncovered last century. The house  is now the home of the Benyons who had it painted by Constable in 1832. 

Richard Fellowes Benyon restored and embellished the house at the end of the 19th century and he did the same to the village whose community thrived under his influence. He created a model estate village, modernizing cottages and farm buildings and providing a bathing pool for boys and a penny soup kitchen, not to mention a new school and the modernization of the church, using Gilbert Scott as his architect. In the context of this obvious prosperity, it is not surprising to learn that there was a fine fire-brigade in the village and that a shoemaker, a policeman and a nurse all lived in The Street or that the Rector had a curate to help him with his parish work. Benyon even moved the Bradfield Road from where it ran through the archway at the back of the house to its present route. 


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