Manors and Monuments
The parish is officially St.
Nicholas Hurst, but the area was originally known as Whistley. When the
local church was built about
1080, the land surrounding it was described as Hurst: a wooded
This church was a chapel-of-ease to the mother-church at Sonning,
out of which the parish was carved. It was dedicated to St. Nicholas by St.
In 1222 the Dean of Salisbury made one of his regular visitations to
Sonning and insisted on interviewing the curates from the surrounding
chapels-of-ease. The credentials of Richard of Hurst were found to be
highly suspect when he refused to answer questions about his Scriptural
knowledge. He, furthermore, persuaded the other curates to do the same!
The church has many treasures, among them the 1636 hour-glass with oak
foliated stand and the late 15th century rood screen (the rood being
replaced with Royal motifs).
The manor was, for many centuries, owned by Abingdon Abbey but, after
the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the King
gave it to his Sub-Treasurer, Richard Ward (son of the Keeper of
Cranbourne Chase). Ward's Cross remembers him. The Abbot's steward only
had a small house in Whistley, but Richard built himself Hurst House, a
huge Tudor mansion with large chimneys. Unfortunately, it was totally
rebuilt in the nineteenth century. Richard managed to retain office
throughout the political changes of the Tudor reigns and his fine family
brass (1577) can be seen in the church. Alongside are monuments to many
other local dignitaries: his daughter, Alice Harrison, a brass (c.1622)
depicting her in child-bed where she died (1558); Lady Savile, the
mother-in-law of the former's grandson, Richard Harrison, a huge draped
monument with kneeling figures of various family members (1631); a wall
monument (1683) to Richard's son (and namesake) and his wife; &
Henry Barker of Hurst Lodge,
a recumbent effigy with a finely carved figure of skeletal death
kneeling at his feet (1651). The Barkers were patrons of the almshouses
opposite the church. There are no monuments to the Aldworths at Stanlake
Park, as their estate crossed the border into Ruscombe
and they favored that church
Alongside the almshouses is the Castle Inn, once called the Bunch
of Grapes. The Coffin Room within was where bodies would be
laid out while awaiting burial (and possibly autopsies carried out too).
This shows the inn's original use as a church-house where the clergy
sold ale to raise ecclesiastical funds. It also had the only bread ovens
in the village, still to be seen in the lounge bar. The Bowling Green,
adjoining it, is the oldest in the county. King Charles I is said to
have played upon it. He may have been visiting his Secretary of State, Sir
Francis Windebank at Haines
Hill. His high position at Court had
been obtained for him through the influence of the King's right-hand
man, Reading-born Archbishop
Laud, who was his greatest friend. His Grace often visited
Haines Hill and sometimes preached in Hurst Church. Francis escaped to
France during the Civil War. His sons were not so lucky: one was a
Royalist soldier executed in Oxford, whilst another had all the Hurst
property confiscated from him and given to a leading Parliamentarian.
The Harrisons were also Royalists, and spent most of their fortune
raising three troops of horse for the King. However, as they were away
fighting most of the time, a small party of parliamentarians was
stationed in the village. In 1643, there was an armed skirmish here when
some of the Royalist garrison at Reading rode out to attack them. The
Roundheads were eventually triumphant.