The Well-to-Do and
their Workers to the West
The northern part of Welford parish consisted of five ancient manors, Oakhanger (now in East Shefford), Elton, Weston, Welford & Easton. It is Weston that developed into the main village for the estate workers, and, in its time, had both Congregational & Primitive Methodist Chapels. The parish, however, is named after Welford where the chief manor house and the church stood. Welford is named after the ‘Willow Ford’ over the River
Lambourn, presumably the crossing on the east side of the church and park. Elton comes from ‘Aethelflaed's Town’ and Oakhanger from the ‘Oak Overhanging Wood’ (ie. it was on a slope). Easton and Weston, on either side of Welford, are self-explanatory.
Ancient documents suggest that Welford was given to the monks of Abingdon Abbey by King Caedwalla of Wessex in the late 7th century, but these appear to be forgeries, common in the Middle Ages for establishing more ancient land rights. In fact, it appears to have been granted to the Abbey by some servants of King Edred around AD 950. In the Domesday Survey (1086), there were two churches in the manor of Welford:
one at Welford and one at
Wickham. The inhabitants consisted of 33 villagers, 34 smallholders and the families, along with 9 slaves: quite a community. There was land enough for some 24 ploughs, with 40 acres of meadow along the Lambourn and woodland to support 20 pigs, and an impressive five mills.
A weatherboarded 18th century mill survives at Weston.
A manor list, dated 1190, shows that there were then eleven farm tenants, four paying rent and service and seven paying service only. There were also 23 cottages of which two paid rent and the others service. They may not, however, have formed a nucleated village. The Abbot kept a bailiff at the manor house, or grange; but, no doubt, a few monks would be seen when it was time to collect the rents, perhaps still more if the stories of the Abbey’s herbalists growing the famous snowdrops here, for medicinal purposes, are to be believed. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, one of the key commissioners who brought it about,
Sir Thomas Parry, acquired Welford Manor. He was later a great friend of Queen Elizabeth I. In 1617, it was purchased by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Francis Jones, and his
son, Richard, had the present
brick house with attractive decorative pilasters built by John Jackson
in the 1650s. Alterations were made
by his descendants, the Archers and the Houblons in the 1690s and 1830s.
The Houblons were collateral
descendants of Sir John Houblon, the first Governor of the Bank of
England. the family is still represented by the current owner, Mr. James
During the 18th and 19th centuries, old women, who lived on their own in rural Berkshire, were treated with suspicion, and often considered to be witches. Whatever the truth, the locals had some
weird ways of dealing with such troublesome neighbours. One
old woman, who lived on Elton Hill, apparently used to stop the local
carters and ask them to collect coal or wood or groceries for her. If
they refused, she would cast a spell on their horses so they would not
pass a certain place on the hill. Immediately consent was given, the
animals would be on their way! An otherwise fit and healthy young man from Easton, called Callins, was once plagued by lethargy and lack of sleep which he believed was caused by a witch from Great Shefford whom he had displeased in some way. Upon telling his woes to an old carrier, working the area, he was told, “I’ll soon stop that game for you.” The next time he visited Easton, the carrier brought Callins a sheep’s liver. “You just nail that up over the mantel-shelf, and when the old witch plagues you again, stick a pin into the liver; and every pin you stick into it will she feel stick into her body.” The young man did as he was told, the next time he was annoyed by the witch; and she soon felt so sore that he decided to leave him alone.
While some of the elderly had such had reputations thrust upon them, others actively promoted them. One such man was the famous ‘Wizard’ or ‘Cunning Man of Boxford’. John Palmer (1767-1842) was his name and, before settling in
Boxford, he lived in Welford. He is said to have had the power to stop church bells ringing at will; and he thus made so much of a nuisance of himself that the squire was obliged to eject him from his tenancy by the bizarre ritual of removing his breeches.
The parish church of St. Gregory is a fine building. It has an unusual Norman round tower with 13th century spire that was astonishingly taken down and rebuilt stone-by-stone in the mid-1850s, as it was thought to be unstable.
It was built to such a form,
because Berkshire had no natural stone suitable for quoins, although all
but two churches in the county seem to have acquired them from
somewhere. The building has a delightful setting, especially in the
sunshine, but the interior can be rather dark. The rest of the church
was pulled down at the same time that the tower was rebuilt. Almost all of the fine
medieval architecture was replaced with copies in the new building, but an
interesting old monument to the Elizabethan Lady Parry has been
For such a small community, it is surprising to find that Welford once had its own Railway Station, opened on the Lambourn Valley Railway in 1898, just across the road from the park. The station was little used by passengers and mostly handled watercress grown on the River
Lambourn, along with some coal and timber. The opening of RAF Welford in 1943 helped extend its life but passenger services ceased in 1960, the station closed five years later and the line itself finally closed in 1972. RAF Welford was established, primarily as a transport airfield, for both the RAF and the US Army Air Force. It was closed in 1946 but reopened, due to the Cold War, nine years later as a munitions depot for the US Air Force. It remains one of the largest heavy munitions compounds for the US Air Force in Western Europe.