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Newbury, Berkshire

Newbury is a civil parish and the principal town in the west of the county of Berkshire in England. It is situated on the River Kennet and the Kennet and Avon Canal, and has a town centre containing many 17th century buildings. Newbury is best known for its racecourse and the adjoining former airbase at Greenham Common.

Geography

The civil parish of Newbury consists of the town, and the suburbs of Wash Common, the City, West Fields, East Fields and Speenhamland. The modern conurbation of Newbury, however, also takes in the surrounding villages of Speen, Donnington, Shaw & Greenham.

Today, Newbury town has a population of about 32,000 (2004) and, with adjacent towns such as Thatcham, is the centre of a continuously built up area with an overall population of around 60,000. Newbury serves as the major commercial and retail centre of West Berkshire.

The River Kennet and the Kennet and Avon Canal flow through the centre of the town, while the River Lambourn partly forms its northern boundary and the River Enborne forms its southern boundary (and also the county boundary with Hampshire). Adjoining the town's south-eastern border is Greenham Common and the famous racecourse. Newbury is surrounded on three sides (north, west and south) by the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The downland to the south rises steeply out of the river valley providing scenic views, including Watership Down (made famous by the novel of the same name), Beacon Hill and Combe Gibbet.

Location and transport

Newbury is situated on the River Kennet, the valley of which has always formed an important east–west transport route, served by the Kennet and Avon Canal, and the Great Western Railway line from London to the West Country. Today, Newbury is served by two railway stations, Newbury and Newbury Racecourse, which both lie on the Reading to Plymouth Line.

Following a similar east–west route is the A4 road from London to Bristol, historically the main route west from London. This road has been superseded as a long distance route by the M4 motorway which here runs parallel three miles to the north. The Newbury junction, at Chieveley, is Junction 13.

At Newbury this east–west route is crossed by an equally important north–south route, from the major south coast port of Southampton to the industrial centres of the Midlands. Although this route was once served by a railway line, today it is only served by the A34 road, which now bypasses Newbury to the west on an alignment partially using the old rail route (see also 'Newbury Bypass' below).

Until the completion of the bypass, the A34 and A4 met in the town centre at the infamous Robin Hood Roundabout. This is a complicated gyratory system encompassing 6 approaching roads, a fire station, ambulance station, and an exit on the internal (right-hand) side of the roundabout which has to fly-over the roundabout as it heads away to the north. In 2007, the sculpture Couple in Conversation was unveiled on the roundabout, providing a new landmark for one of the major gateways into the town.

Other significant roads radiating from Newbury include the A339 which now includes the renumbered part of the old A34 through the town centre and then heads towards Basingstoke and the M3 motorway, the A343 to Andover, the B4000 to Lambourn, the B4494 to Wantage and the B4009 to Streatley.

Most local bus services are provided by Newbury Buses, a division of Reading Transport Ltd.

Newbury bypass

The town's location at the intersection of the routes from London to Bristol and from Southampton to Birmingham made it, for many years, a transport bottleneck. A bypass, opened in 1963, removed the traffic from the centre of town and the opening of the M4 in 1971 moved the intersection of these major trunk routes 5km north of the town, to Chieveley. The ring road around the town still suffered serious congestion and the Newbury bypass was proposed in 1981. The plans were approved in 1990. However they were extremely controversial and this led to a major environmentalist campaign (sometimes dubbed the Third battle of Newbury) opposing the development. In spite of this, the road was built and finally opened in 1998.

In August 2004, the improved A34-M4 junction was opened which allowed north–south traffic on the A34 to completely bypass the roundabout at the M4.

Local government

Newbury is part of, and the administrative centre of, the district administered by the unitary authority of West Berkshire.

Newbury is also a civil parish, with parish council responsibilities undertaken by Newbury Town Council since 1997. Newbury Town Council currently has 23 councillors, representing 7 wards of the town. These are Brummel Grove, Clay Hill, Falkland, Northcroft, Pyle Hill, Victoria and St Johns. As of 2007, 12 of the councillors represent the Liberal Democrats and 11 represent the Conservative Party.

In Parliament, the town is in the Newbury constituency. Since the election of May 2005 this constituency has been represented by Richard Benyon, a Conservative.

Newbury is twinned with:

History

There was a Mesolithic settlement at Newbury. Artefacts were recovered from the Greenham Dairy Farm in 1963, and the Faraday Road site in 2002.Addition material was found in excavations along the route of the Newbury Bypass.

Newbury was founded late in the eleventh century following the Norman invasion as a new borough, hence its name. Although there are references to the borough that predate the Domesday Survey it is not mentioned by name in the survey. However, its existence within the manor of Ulvritone is evident from the massive rise in value of that manor at a time when most manors were worth less than in Saxon times.

Doubt has been cast over the existence of 'Newbury Castle', but the town did have Royal connections and was visited a number of times by King John and Henry III while hunting in the area.

Historically, the town's economic foundation was the cloth trade. This is reflected in the person of the 16th century cloth magnate, Jack of Newbury, the proprietor of what may well have been the first factory in England, and the later tale of the Newbury Coat. The latter was the outcome of a bet as to whether a gentleman's suit could be produced by the end of the day from wool taken from a sheep's back at the beginning.

Newbury was the site of two Civil War battles, the First Battle of Newbury (at Wash Common) in 1643 and the Second Battle of Newbury (at Speen) in 1644. The nearby Donnington Castle was reduced to a ruin in the aftermath of the second battle.

The disruption of trade during the Civil War followed a major collapse of the local cloth trade in the late 16th century leaving Newbury impoverished. The local economy was boosted in the 18th century by the rise of Bath as a popular destination for the wealthy excaping London's summer heat and associated stench. Newbury was roughly half way between London and Bath and an obvious stopping point in the two day journey. Soon Newbury, in particular Speenhamland, was filled with coaching inns of ever increasing grandure and size. One inn, the George & Pelican, was reputed to have stabling for 300 horses, and this was not the largest of the inns. A theatre was built to provide the travellers with entertainment featuring the major stars of the age.

In 1795, local magistrates, meeting at the Pelican Inn in Speenhamland, introduced the Speenhamland System which tied parish welfare payments to the cost of bread.

The opening of the Great Western Railway killed the coaching trade and Newbury became something of a backwater, a market town with an economy based on agriculture until the arrival of the high tech industries that provide so much employment in the town today. When, in the 1980s, Racal decided to locate their newly formed Racal Vodafone division in the town it was a decision that ensured a new economic boom.

Greenham Common

A large Royal Air Force base was established during the Second World War at Greenham Common on the edge of the town. In the 1950s, it became home to US Air Force bomber and tankers, for which it was equipped with the longest military runway in the United Kingdom. In the 1980s, it became one of only two bases in the UK equipped with ground-launched nuclear-armed cruise missiles, causing it to become the site of protests by up to 40,000 protesters and the establishment of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp. With the end of the Cold War, the base was closed, the runway was broken up for use as fill material in building the Newbury bypass, and much of the area restored to heathland.

Economy

Newbury is home to the world headquarters of the mobile network operator Vodafone, which is the town's largest employer with over 6,000 people. Before moving to their £129 million headquarters in the outskirts of the town in 2002, Vodafone used 64 buildings spread across the town centre.

As well as Vodafone, Newbury is also home to the UK headquarters of the pharmaceutical company Bayer AG,Stryker UK, Newbury Racecourse (a major course on the British horse-racing calendar), National Instruments, Mediasurface, Quantel, Stearn Electric, The Bindloss Gibb Foundation, Micro Focus, Cabletime Limited and Genesys Video Conferencing. It also is home to Newbury Building Society which operates in the local region.

Sports and leisure

Newbury is home to one of England's major racecourses Newbury Racecourse, which celebrated its centenary in 2005. The most prestigious race in the calendar is the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup which normally takes place in late November.

Newbury is fortunate enough to still have one of the last remaining lidos in the UK. It was built in the 1890s originally although the structure we see today was erected in the 1930s. The pool is still in use today and is capable of receiving more than 1000 visitors a day during peak times. The pool made national news in July 2006 when then manager Andy Reeves ran a feature on the problems of outdoor pools and how to manage existing lidos and securing their future. Uniquely the pool is owned and subsidised by West Berkshire Council but managed by an external contractor Parkwood Leisure. The article proved to be prophetic as it was closed for most of the summer 2007 due to maintenance problems.

Newbury was home to A.F.C. Newbury, which was for a period one of only two football clubs to be sponsored by Vodafone (the other being Manchester United). In May 2006 Vodafone ended its sponsorship of the club, following which the club collapsed. A local pub team from the Old London Apprentice took over the ground temporarily and now compete in the Reading League as Newbury F.C. Their future at the ground is uncertain as the owners (West Berkshire Council) plan to turn it into a car park.

Newbury's rugby union club, Newbury R.F.C. (also sponsored by Vodafone), is based in the town. In the 2004/05 season, the club finished second in the National Two division earning promotion to National One and is now in the top 26 clubs nationally. Newbury had previously won National Four South (now renamed as National Three South) in 1996/97 with a 100% win record. The club was founded in 1928 and in 1996 moved to a new purpose-built ground at Monks Lane, which has since hosted England U21 fixtures.

Major cricket clubs in the town include Falkland C.C. and Newbury C.C.. Newbury also has two strong athletics clubs with Team Kennet and Newbury Athletics Club and there are Newbury District Leagues in many other sports such as badminton, table tennis, squash and darts.

Victoria Park is home of the Newbury Waterways Festival.

As well as lending out books, Newbury Library, which moved to a new building in July 2000, provides internet access and a wide range of other services to its users and members.

There is a wide range of arts provision in the Newbury area - The Corn Exchange providing a main focus for both professional and amateur live performances. The Watermill Theatre is prolific and internationally renowned, and New Greenham Arts is building a reputation for supporting new and emerging artists.

Annually the Newbury Spring Festival of classical music brings internationally renowned soloists and ensembles to a variety of venues in and around the town. The Newbury Comedy Festival (started in 2004) has rapidly become a key feature in the town's cultural calendar.

Newbury is also the location for the locally renowned 'Keep Off The Grass' (KOTG) events. Taking place every summer in the towns Victoria Park, the event is unique in the area, with Live DJ's playing from the bandstand.

Places of interest

Education

Newbury has three main secondary schools:

There is also Newbury College, a further and higher education college funded by private finance initiative.

Independent schools nearby include:

Media

There are three main local radio stations broadcasting in the Newbury area - a publicly-funded radio service from the BBC, BBC Radio Berkshire - and two independent local radio stations - Kick FM which broadcasts from Newbury, and 2-Ten FM which broadcasts into the area from nearby Reading.

The following local newspapers are distributed in Newbury (circulation in brackets):

Famous people

A number of famous people have originated from, worked, lived or died in Newbury:

Further reading

  • Higgott Tony (2001). The Story of Newbury. Countryside Books.
  • Money, Walter (1887). History of Newbury. Oxford.

References

External links

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