Waltham St. Lawrence
Olds Pubs & Publishers
The oldest residents of Waltam St. Lawrence seem to have lived on Weycock Hill. The name stems from Weg-Cocc meaning “Wayside Hillock”. But dispite the appendage of the word 'Hill,' there is not much of an incline here. The Way would be the Roman Camlet Way from Verulamium (St. Albans) to Calleva (Silchester) which passed by here. The hillock was probably all that remained to show where a Roman temple had once stood. This was a vast octagonal building, excavated late last century, and can be easily identified by aerial photography. Associated finds have led to the suggestion that it was dedicated to the Roman goddess, Vesta, or her Celtic equivalent. There would have been a substantial settlement here surrounding the temple, full of shops and hotels for visiting pilgrims. This is remembered in the name of the parish, Waltham. Despite alternative interpretations being popular, the name almost certainly stems from Wealt-Ham meaning “Dilapidated Homes”. St. Lawrence is the Church dedication, hence the village’s ancient alternative name of Lawrence Waltham.
The church is one of the few that still remember the traditional name of its north doorway, that of the Devil’s Door. There is a little picture of a devil beside it to remind us that when the vicar enters the church’s south door, the devil exits through the north and into his shadowy side of the churchyard! The beautiful old Bell Inn nearby is unusual for this area. It is a fine example of a medieval Wealden Hall House, usually found in Sussex. It was given to the church by the famous 16th century publisher, Ralph Newbery who lived at Beenham’s Heath.
The parish registers include the following entry:
1656, March 9th:
Mabel Medwin, a witch about 68 years old,
They also show burials of soldiers from both sides during the Civil War. Rumour says that when a house in the village was demolished in the nineteenth century, a Royalist in full armour was even discovered hidden within its walls! The village was certainly deeply divided at this time: Richard Neville, the Lord of the Manor was a Royalist while his own brother were staunch parliamentarian.
The Nevilles were descendants of the Lords of Abergavenny and hence the great Neville family of County Durham. They lived at Billingbear House just within the southern parish boundary. It had been granted to Henry Neville, a gentleman of the Royal bedchamber, by King Edward VI. He became Sheriff of Berkshire and was highly favoured by Queen Elizabeth I. Henry built a magnificent mansion at Billingbear in 1567. It was of the usual E-shape of the time and survived to "transport one's mind to the days of Merry England" until it was ruthlessly demolished after a bad fire in 1924! Surely one of the greatest losses to the Berkshire landscape. Henry's fine figured memorial can still be seen in the parish church. His successors became Lords Braybrooke.
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