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Stratfield Mortimer
Saxon Lords & Hunting Lords

Stratfield Mortimer - © Nash Ford Publishing

This place was named, in Saxon times, after the Strad-Feld or “Street-Field”, the open land around the Devil’s Highway, the Roman road from London to Silchester. There is an extremely rare Saxon tombstone in the parish church. It reads:
On 8th before Kalends of October,
Aegalward son Kypping was laid in this place.
Blessed be he who prays for his Soul.
Toki wrote this.
Aegalward is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in AD 994. He was a historian, a translator of the chronicle and a man of influence. Kypping, his father, was Lord of the Manor of Stratfield Mortimer. Toki was a wealthy courtier in Canute’s Reign. No doubt, he took advantage of the lull in hostilities between Dane & Saxon to erect this monument to a learned man of the previous century. 

The Mortimer part of the place-name stems from the Lords of the Manor, the Mortimer family, the Earls of March from Wigmore in Herefordshire. They were given the manor shortly after the Norman Conquest and held it throughout the middle ages. Hugh Mortimer probably spent some time there, as he was a great patron of Reading Abbey and his heart was buried there after his death in 1227. His brother, Ralph, established a rabbit warren at the manor in 1230 and created a large park around it at about the same time. The King gave him some deer from Savernake Forest with which to stock it, so Mortimer may have held sporting parties here when at Court in Windsor. In 1250, his widow, Princess Gwladys of Gwynedd, was certainly given permission to keep her hunting dogs at Stratfield. However, the rest of the family appear not to have made much use of the manor and it was eventually leased out to the Bishop of Winchester for a 'rose rent'. Even so, it’s just possible that Edmund Mortimer, the 3rd Earl of March, may have stayed here prior to his wedding. He was married, at Reading Abbey in 1359, to Princess Philippa, only daughter and sole heiress of Prince Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, Earl of Ulster and third son of King Edward III. It was through this lady that their descendant, King Edward IV successfully claimed the English Throne during the War of the Roses.

For a short period in the early 14th century, the manor was confiscated from the great rebel, Roger Mortimer, the 1st Earl of March, by King Edward II. It was during this period that a Royal stud farm was established at the Manor Farm, adjoining the manor house. In 1330, there were four foals there and three big cart horses: 'Ellen' was black with a white star on her forehead, 'Cesse' was dun with a similar star, 'Cappe' was chestnut coloured. By 1336, there were six colts, twelve carthorses and nineteen warhorses, one given by Sir John Brocas of Clewer, the man in charge of all the Royal studs. These beasts would have fought in the Hundred Years War during the King's attempt to claim the French Throne. It was probably wound up at the beginning of the next century.

By 1430, the manor house was in an extreme state of decay, but, twenty years later, there large sums of money spent on its restoration. The keeper, John Flegge, appears to have expected a visit from the then owner, Richard, Duke of York, the heir of the Mortimers. It is not known whether he turned up or not; but, by 1460, he was dead - killed in battle while trying to wrench the throne from King Henry VI during the War of the Roses.

During the Tudor period, the manor was one of the minor lands granted to each of the wives of Henry VIII in turn (save for Anne of Cleves). In 1535, the keeper, Lord Sandys, had cause to complain of illegal hunting in the park at Stratfield by Thomas Trapnell, the brother-in-law of Sir Thomas Englefield of Englefield House.  When he sent his brother to investigate, he was attacked and injured by Trapnell and his six servants. So Sandys wrote to the King for redress.

Stratfield Mortimer probably saw troops from both sides passing through the village during the Civil War with major activity centred on the besieged town of Reading and the two battles fought on the important highways through Newbury. As Royalist troops used the area as their route to from Oxford to the besieged Basing House, the Parliamentarian Army considered stationing a unit in the village in 1644, but eventually decided on Aldermaston instead.

On 2nd February 1787, an old labouring man from Stratfield Mortimer, called William Billimore, was brutally murdered on the local Common by  two idle and degenerate lads from Ufton Nervet who wanted some money to spend at the Reading Fair! They bludgeoned the poor man with a lead weighted club and took his pocket watch, but were too flustered to search properly for his money. They escaped to Harehatch and then Maidenhead, where they sold the watch, but were captured when they decided to return home. They were tried at the Reading Assizes and condemned to death, being hanged on a piece of land on Mortimer Common, but just within Ufton parish, and now called Gibbet Piece.

Mortimer Common, where the villagers once freely grazed their livestock, was enclosed for cultivation in 1802, mostly with the consent of the parish residents, although the vicar protested. The settlement of 'Mortimer' or 'Mortimer Common' began to slowly grow up soon afterwards, although there wasn't any massive building programme until the 1870s. In the 1850s, a 'wise women' lived there. She was thought to have bewitched several people in the village. One of her victims bore a scar that he covered with black silk to prevent further misfortune. 

 

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