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Lambourn - © Nash Ford PublishingLambourn
Valley of the Race Horse 

Lambourn Church was a Saxon Minster, and Lambourn Minster is still its official title. It is first mentioned as such in 1032, but is known from documentary evidence dated 1017. It is thought it dates from the reign of King Alfred who mentions the village in his will. The present building is mostly Norman in origin. In fact the street plan around the church is circular and shows the line of the old enclosure around the building. Circular enclosures, called Llans, are associated with early Celtic churches and possibly former Pagan Celtic Shrines. The dedication of the church to St. Michael who overcame the Devil (ie. Pagan Religion) makes this quite likely. It lies on the so called 'St. Michael Line,' a supposed ley-line crossing places associated with the saint, and stretching across the country from St. Michael’s Mount (Cornwall) all the way into East Anglia. The church wall is also built of sarsen stones which are often connected with pagan sites. Lambourn does appear in Domesday as Lanborne. Could it be the Celtic Llan-bryn or 'Enclosed church beneath the hill'. It is attractive to think so, but somehow the simple Saxon “Lamb River” still seems the more likely. 

The place is sometimes known as Chipping Lambourn as it was an important market centre. The right to hold a fair on St. Matthew's Day was granted to Fulk FitzWarin in 1227, but, in the reign of King Henry VI, this was transformed into a double fair on the feasts of SS. Clement and Philip & James. Special highly spiced and flat 'Clementy Cakes' were baked in the village for the former gathering. At the same time (1446), the village's fine medieval market cross was erected. It stands in the market place, just outside the churchyard.

A memorial in this churchyard to one John Carter records how he set fire to two houses in the village in 1832. Caught and hanged, he wished to be buried here as a warning to any would-be-arsonists. The superb  almshouses nearby were originally founded by John D’Estbury of Eastbury & Letcombe Regis in 1501, but the present structure was rebuilt by Henry Hippisley of Lambourn Place in 1852. Estbury's chest monument, complete with memorial brass, stands in the South Estbury (or Holy Trinity) Chapel. The prayer scroll issuing from the deceased’s mouth is quite common, but in this case it is said to show how John died. While asleep in the garden, a snake is supposed to have crept into his mouth and bit him! There are a number of interesting monuments in the church to many lords of the various manors in the parish. Of particular note are the effigies, in the North (St. Katherine's) Chapel, of Sir Thomas Essex (who died in 1558) and his wife, a daughter of Lord Sandys of the Vyne (Hampshire). His father was Sir William Essex, an MP who got caught up in the religious upheaval of the time. The village stocks are kept there too. Also an unusual sculptured plaque showing King Charles I with tyranny being trampled under foot. It apparently came from Lambourn Place, the long demolished manor house of 'Grandisons,' whose wall and gateway, featuring the Hippisley arms, can still be seen adjoining the churchyard. It had previously been the home of the Essex family.

In the time of Sir Thomas Essex's great grandson, another Sir William, Lambourn became the scene of much local revelry, as the lord of the manor's great friend, William Bush, attempt to travel in the same vessel, by air, land and water! Mr. Bush had built a fine ship in Essex's garden at Lambourn Place and festooned it with flags and coats of arms. In July 1607, he brought it forth to the adjoining churchyard, amongst a great crowd of people. By means of some form of winch system, the ship was raised to the top of the church tower! But the crowd got nasty and demanded that Bush repeat this feat of daring whilst personally on board. Next day, the crowd wanted still more entertainment and it was not until several of them were almost killed by the collapse of the tower pinnacles that Bush was able to proceed to the next stage of his task. The ship was then given a series of wheels and William travelled in it across the Downs to Childrey, Aldworth and down to Streatley. There, the vessel entered the River Thames, but Mr. Bush was so harassed by a group of local bargemen, that, in fear for his life, he was forced to flee to his lodgings. The bargemen, meantime, scuppered his ship with staves and hooks and pikes, so that it took him a month to make repairs. Eventually, however, the ship sailed for London, where he was finally welcomed at the Customs Quay and wined and dined by the officers.

Nearly forty years later, the King’s troops stopped off at Lambourn after boldly retrieving their artillery from Donnington Castle, only a week after the Second Battle of Newbury (1644). They marched on to Basing House (Hampshire) to relieve a three year siege there.

In the mid-18th century, Lambourn was the home of a Berkshire Robin Hood figure. Timothy Gibbons was the popular local blacksmith who took to the highway to rob from the rich and, on occasion, give to the poor. He was once caught, with two companions, roped into a barn at nearby Baydon (Wiltshire). Drawing lots to see who would face the constables outside, Tim was, at first, lucky; but then found his too fellows were too cowardly to undertake the agreed course of action. So Tim jumped on his horse, cut the ropes with his cutlass and made clean away. The other two, however, were quickly taken into custody. In later years, Tim became innkeeper of the Magpies on Hounslow Heath, but he couldn’t resist the ways of the highwayman and was eventually hanged at Newgate.

Lower Lambourn is known as Bockhampton. It contained three manors (east, west & Hoppeshortland), but the village itself disappeared in the 16th century when the area was emparked. Just west of Bockhampton Manor Farm is the site of this lost village. It had its own mill at the time of the Domesday Survey (1086) and was held from the King in return for keeping his harriers.

See also Upper Lambourn, Lambourn Woodlands & Eastbury.


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