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

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Hurley - © Nash Ford PublishingHurley
Cradle of the Revolution

St. Birinus is said to have inspired the building of the parish church here, around 700. The Danes forded the Thames at Hurley in 894 when marching from Essex to Gloucester and may have destroyed this early building. It was rebuilt as Hurley Priory in the mid-11th century as a memorial to Athelaise, the first wife of the great Geoffrey De Mandeville who was Lord of the Manor. It was dedicated by St. Osmund. Geoffrey’s second wife, Lasceline, had persuaded him to establish the monastery, and she was later buried there. Princess Edith, sister of Edward the Confessor was supposed to have joined her. Her ghost still haunts the grounds. The aisleless parish church was once the priory church where these two were laid to rest. It is mostly Norman, but excavation has revealed the Saxon predecessor. The 13th and 14th century refectory and other monastic buildings around the lost cloister are now private homes. To the west are a dovecote and tithe-barn. The Old Bell Inn is thought to have been the Priory’s guesthouse, established in 1135. The sanctus bell hung above its door, and was rung to announce the arrival of new guests. One such was Henry IV who arrived here just after murdering his predecessor, Richard II. He came to pray for the soul of his late wife, but ended up discussing the monastery’s privileges.

The Priory’s Infirmary, to the south, was built upon by Ladye Place, the home of the Lovelaces from 1545. It was named after the Virgin Mary to whom the priory had been dedicated. Richard Lovelace sailed with Sir Francis Drake and greatly improved his house with his share of the Spanish booty. His son was created Lord Lovelace of Hurley in 1627, and his monument can be seen in the church. The family had many connections with national events. In October 1666, the 2nd Baron is recorded to have heard a case in the Hurley Manor Court at which a certain Edward Taylor, a boy of ten, claimed that his father and uncle had started the Great Fire of London, throwing fireballs into shops and businesses. This would seem to boost the contemporary theory that it was set by Catholic conspirators. However, it is generally believed that the fire began in a baker's oven that had been accidentally left alight over night. So, if Taylor's story was true, presumably his relatives only helped in the spread of the flames. It's not clear why the case was heard in Hurley, presumably Taylor had fled there. Other fire victims certainly ended up in nearby Windsor. Later in the same century, the crypt of Ladye Place (and the old infirmary) was the scene of plotting by John, 3rd Lord Lovelace and his friends who helped bring about the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (when William III came to the Throne). The King later paid John a visit to express his thanks. The old Tudor mansion was demolished in 1837.

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