White Hart Crest of the Royal County of Berkshire David Nash Ford's Royal Berkshire History

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Romans & Saxons at the Crossroads

The villages’ name is a very interesting one for it has been demonstrated that place called Wickham (or Wycomb) usually developed from a Romano-British settlement. The prefix is believed to be a corruption of the Latin term for a village, ‘Vicus’. The suffix is the Anglo-Saxon equivalent, ‘home/farm/village’. Roman coins & pottery have certainly been found in the village and the village church incorporates old Roman tiles and little Roman columns in the tower windows. The Roman village may have stood somewhere around the Easton Hill junction on the Newbury Road, for this is where the Roman road to Mildenhall split from the Ermin(e) Way heading for Cirencester.

St. Swithun’s Church in Wickham is the finest Anglo-Saxon Church in the county, or the tower at least is. It was built in a prominent hilltop location above the main Newbury Road, probably as a military lookout tower, an outpost of a local thane’s hall. Either it doubled as a church or was later converted into one – a chapel of ease to the parish church at Welford. The proximity of the two might favour the conversion theory. There is also a door half-way up the south side which could only have been accessed by a ladder that could then be pulled up by the soldiers inside. It could, however, also have been used for displaying relics to crowds of pilgrims; the main entrance being where the main body of the church now stands. The building is, of course, mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086.

Just south of Wickham stands Wormstall House. It was built in the Italianate style for Charles Vickers in 1868. However, the chief great house in the area is Wickham House, previously the Rectory, which stands right next to the church. The building dates back to the late 18th century, but was remodelled between 1855 & 58 to become a tour de force of ornamental Gothic architecture. Sadly, it has since lost its spire and cloister, but it is still the best building of its kind in the county.

Being located at the junction of two major routeways, Wickham developed into more of a local centre than Welford, the hamlet after which the parish is named. From at least 1275, the Rector of Wickham was even allowed to hold an annual fair on St. Swithun's Day and receive all the revenue. Not surprisingly, this is where the main parish inn was established at the crossroads. Apparently first called the White Hart, the Five Bells is an attractive brick thatched building. It has long been an important gathering point: the scene of meets for the Craven Hunt and local coroner’s inquests. The famous Wizard of Boxford, John Palmer (1767-1842), spent the night at the Five Bells after he had been expelled from Welford. There he is said to have met some drovers. Either because they had upset him or because he just wanted to show off, he cast a spell on them so that they could not rise the next morning until he wanted them to. The Squire of Welford was so disgusted that he confiscated the Wizard’s spell books.


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