Romans and Royalists
Somewhere in the parish of Speen is the site of the Roman town of Spinis, meaning 'Thorny Place,' from which the later name is obviously derived. It is the only Roman town in Berkshire whose Latin name is known. Tradition says it was positioned somewhere near Woodspeen Farm, though Foley Farm may remember Roman ruins used as a kind of folly. It was only a small settlement, but it certainly held an Imperial Posting Station or inn, where Imperial messengers on government business were able to refresh themselves overnight. It stood on Ermin(e) Street, the Roman Road that passed through west Berkshire between Calleva (Silchester) to Corinium (Cirencester).
The parish of Speen includes a number of villages including Speenhamland, Stockcross, Marsh Benham, Woodspeen and Bagnor. Bagnor Manor came into the hands of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster in return for lands in St James' Park. The house is 17th century, including a sturdy staircase, but was refronted by Thomas Harrison in the early 18th century when he rented it from them. It has since lost its upper storey. Bagnor and its mill are mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086). The mill is still there, dating from the late 18th century, but it does not produce flour, fulled cloth or paper any more. It was turned into a theatre in 1965.
Speen village itself is a Saxon hilltop settlement that developed alongside the road between Thatcham and Hungerford, long before Newbury was ever thought of. The parish church was built in the valley below. By the side of a little path between the two stands the Lady Well (see photograph above), the best of Berkshire's remaining medieval holy wells. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, perhaps replacing an original Iron Age association with a Celtic mother goddess. It has a charming stone cover and the water can apparently cure eye complaints, measles and even rickets! As well as local devotees, it may possibly have attracted pilgrims travelling between St. Swithun's Shrine at Winchester and St. Frideswide's at Oxford.
The medieval nave
and chancel of the parish church remain, well hidden, in the north aisle
beneath an almost total rebuilding of 1860 when the south aisle became
the new nave. Shocking old photographs exist of the wanton destruction
in the name of modernisation. However, the new building is
attractive and the setting idyllic, especially when the sheep are
grazing in the churchyard. Luckily, many interesting old monuments were
reset inside: notably Jean Baptiste Castillion (1597), a Gentlemen of
the Privy Chamber from Piedmont; his daughter-inlaw, Lady Elizabeth
Castillion (1603); and the Margrave of Anspach (1806), all of whom lived
at Benham Park.
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