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Aldermaston

Aldermaston is an award-winning rural village and civil parish in Berkshire, South East England, with a population of 927. Situated near the border with Hampshire, Aldermaston is located on the southern edge of the River Kennet flood plain. The village is located almost equidistantly from Reading (9.2 miles), Newbury (7.5 miles) and Basingstoke (8.8 miles). Aldermaston is home to the controversial Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) - the home of the United Kingdom nuclear deterrent program. However, the development of the complex has barely affected the village, and apart from increased volumes of traffic, has remained a small country village.

History

The village of Aldermaston derives its name from Aeldremanestone, the Old English for "Ealdorman's Homestead". The Ealdorman — or Alderman — was a person of extreme importance, equating to the modern-day Lord-Lieutenant of the County. Although his country estate was in Aldermaston, he would have spent much time at his town-house in the county town of Wallingford. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that the first known Ealdorman of Berkshire, Aethelwulf, fought the Danes with Ethelred of Wessex at nearby Englefield in 871.

Prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066, the land and properties of Aldermaston had formed part of the estates of England's foremost magnate, Harold Godwinson, the Earl of Wessex — who would later become King Harold II of England.

In the Domesday Survey of 1086, the Aldermaston estate included a mill, worth twenty shillings, and two fisheries, worth five shillings, and was held by William the Conqueror. William and his army are believed to have camped on the estate on their way north from their victory at Hastings to cross the Thames at Wallingford before advancing on London. During the remainder of the reign of William, and later his son William Rufus, Aldermaston was owned by the Crown. There is no evidence of there being a large house at that time.

Lords of the Manor

The Achard Family

In 1100, Henry I granted the estate to Sir Robert Achard, a distinguished Norman soldier whose son built the north transept in the parish church. According to the Pipe Rolls of 1167, the name had become Aldermannestun. The medieval Achard family, who entertained Henry III at the manor in 1227, gave the parish church away to Monk Sherborne Priory in Hampshire and consequently are all buried at their secondary manor of Sparsholt. The estate remained in the family for over 250 years until Peter Achard died in 1361 without a male heir, when the estate was inherited by Thomas de la Mare.

The Forster Family

In 1490, Sir Thomas died. John, his son, had died before his father, so his daughter Elizabeth inherited the estate. She married Sir George Forster, son of Sir Humphrey Forster. St Mary's Church contains their alabaster effigial monument (1530). The Hind's Head Inn gets its name from Forster family crest which may also be seen in the parish church. The pub has its own gaol-house located to the rear. Last used in the 1860s, its unfortunate inhabitant burnt to death.

Elizabeth I visited Aldermaston twice, in 1566 and 1592. The fifth Forster — also called Sir Humphrey — and his wife Anne built the mansion, known as Aldermaston House, in 1636. Aldermaston saw a lot of activity during the English Civil War. In 1644, Parliamentary troops camped in the park. After the war all the estates were sequestered because of suspected Royalist sympathies and were not returned until 1660.

The Congreve Family

In 1752 the Forster male line died out and the estate passed by marriage to the Congreve family. Many changes to their estate occurred during the family's ownership. The lake by the house was created by damming the stream. The wrought-iron Eagle Gates, at the north-east of the estate, were won at a game of cards and moved to their present location from Midgham. In order to install them, the estate's north-east lodge was dissected (removing the 60m² centre section). The Kennet and Avon Canal was built along the northern edge of the estate. In 1830, the Swing rioters of Western Berkshire marched across Aldermaston, wrecking some twenty-three agricultural machines. Farmers were so frightened, it is said they placed their machinery out in the open to prevent any additional damage. On 13 January 1843, a serious fire destroyed more than a third of the house. William Congreve never recovered from the fire and died within three months.

The Burr and Keyser Families

The property passed into Chancery, eventually being purchased in 1849 by Daniel Higford Davall Burr. Architect, Philip Hardwick, was commissioned to build a new manor house, Aldermaston Court, using as much of the old material as possible that had been saved from the fire. Daniel Higford Davall Burr died in 1885 and the estate passed to his son who only lived there for a few years before putting it up for sale. It was bought, for £16,000 in 1893, by Charles Edward Keyser, a stockbroker. Keyser was obsessed with the idea of keeping the village unchanged, which in his definition meant 'unspoilt'. He forbade advertisements, opposed all modernisation and refused to allow any expansion by the building of houses.

On his death in 1929, estate duties were high and the estate was put on a 'care and maintenance' basis. After the death of Mrs Charles Keyser in 1938, the whole estate was sold by her son, Norman, to a syndicate, Messers Cribble, Booth and Shepherd, who auctioned it off in separate lots at Reading Town Hall, beginning on 20 September 1939. Many of the lots were bought by their occupants. The house and its immediate grounds were bought by Associated Electrical Industries Ltd but subsequently requisitioned by the government. The extensive parkland was also sold, but very soon afterwards was chosen by the government as a site for an airfield, RAF Aldermaston. After the war Aldermaston Court was returned to AEI and became their nuclear research laboratory. The airfield had several occupants before being taken over by AWRE, which has since been renamed the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE).

Recent activity

Towards the end of the 1960s (exact dates vary), Collier MacMillan Schools took over the manor house. With expenses proving too high, the company reluctantly sold the estate. The 137-acre estate was bought in 1983 by Blue Circle, who restored the Manor House and gardens by the end of the 1980s. Since 1997, the estate has been owned by the Compass Group, who operate the Manor House as a conference and wedding venue.

Administration

Aldermaston is a civil parish with an elected parish council. It falls within the area of the unitary authority of West Berkshire. Both the parish council and the unitary authority are responsible for different aspects of local government.

Geography

Aldermaston is located at in West Berkshire, approximately from the Hampshire border. The village is located south of the A4, linking the parish to Newbury (to the west) and Reading (to the east). The main street of Aldermaston, The Street, is formed by the A340 that links the village to Pangbourne (north-east) and Basingstoke (south).

The parish of Aldermaston forms a trinity with the local parishes of Wasing and Brimpton. The three parishes are covered by the monthly Parish Magazine, featuring stories from churches, organisations, schools, businesses and various miscellany. Other nearby settlements include Tadley, Mortimer and Silchester.

The landscape of Aldermaston is influenced by Paices Hill and Rag Hill - extremities of the chalk formation the North Wessex Downs. The gradient of the land rises gently to the south of the village (to a height of roughly 100 metres), and the northern end of The Street effectively marks the foot of the hill (at 58 meters AMSL).

At the southern end of The Street is a small triangular green known as The Loosey. The Loosey is the location of a Roman well, discovered in 1940 by a cow that almost fell down it. The Loosey was previously home to the village maypole (which was routinely climbed by Daniel Burr's monkey) and a drinking fountain erected by Charles Keyser to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Although no longer in use, the drinking fountain remains intact on the Loosey.

Flooding

The geology and location of Aldermaston has proved consequencial on two occasions.

July 1989 Floods

In July 1989, thunderstorms and torrential rain deposited six inches of rain on the village in two hours. The balancing ponds at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (atop the water table) was unable to cope and a five-foot wall of water broke through a brick wall, flooding the village. As a result of the capabilities of the AWE surface water system, the destroyed wall was rebuilt with 17 grilles to avoid another build-up of water

July 2007 Floods

In July 2007, torrential rain flooded the village and local primary school, with the event making national news. The storm coincided with the annual Glade music festival, and jeopardised the whole event. The festival's car park was incapacitated, with thousands of revellers stranded in the village and surrounding lanes. The floods also hit the Church of England primary school (see education below) with the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service evacuating pupils and staff from within the school in life rafts. Appliances attended the scene from as far afield as Fareham.

Economy

Traditionally, Aldermaston has been associated with agriculture. In the late 1760s, the schoolmaster cultivated the Williams pear. Various sources cite the schoolmaster as a Mr. Stair or Mr. Wheeler, but the pear (a cultivar of the European Pear) was named after Richard Williams who grew several grafts of the original tree. A commemorative plaque is visible on the wall of the Cedars school.

More recently, wood from willow trees in the parish have been used to supply major cricket bat manufacturers. In 1955, the world-famous Aldermaston Pottery was established on the main street by studio potter Alan Caiger-Smith. The pottery was renowned for tin-glazed and porcelain wares, and ceased production in 2006.

The local pub is named The Hind's Head in honour of the Forster family crest - however, the establishment was briefly named The Congreve Arms. In the mid-1990s the pub was taken over by Gales Brewery (having previously been a free house) upon which it was assumed by Fuller's Brewery on their acquisition of Gales in 2006.

A number of businesses with links to the village are based in the nearby Calleva Business Park (located at the junction of the A340 and B3051 roads). Smaller businesses based in the village include a hairdressing salon, an antiques shop, a software development company and the village shop.

In 2007, Aldermaston won the Business Category Award in the regional final of the Calor Village of the Year'' competition:

Aldermaston also has a very successful business community with 150+ small businesses within the parish... local businesses are well supported by villagers and in return these businesses support village activities.|40px|40px|Judges of "Village of the Year" competition|http://www.aldermaston.co.uk/images/stories/judges_verdict.pdf

In addition to the business award, the village was announced as the Overall Winner of the Calor Berkshire Village of the Year competition in 2006, as well as category winners in the Building Community Life, Business, Young People and ICT categories.

Atomic Weapons Establishment

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) is located less than south of the village. Since April 1958, the complex (and village) have been the site of numerous disarmament protests and campaigns. The Easter March of 1958 saw around 3,000 protesters march from London to Aldermaston over four days, with a total attendance of 12,000 at the establishment's gates. Although a number of recreations had taken place over the 20th century, the 50th anniversary of the event was marked on 24 March 2008.

Lafarge

Aldermaston parish is home to various sites owned by Lafarge Aggregates, prompting a number of protests. In 1974, the village won an appeal against Pioneer Concrete's application for gravel extraction near the village. Similar events took place in March 2003 whereby a march of hundreds of local residents protested against an application of gravel extraction by Lafarge. Larfarge's initial appeal (April 2003) was turned down by West Berkshire Council

Transport

Aldermaston railway station is located in Aldermaston Wharf, from the village itself. The station serves First Great Western services between Reading, Newbury and Bedwyn. The nearest stations to Aldermaston station are Midgham to the west and Theale to the east. Journey times approximate 17 minutes to either Reading or Newbury.

Aldermaston is served by Newbury Buses routes 104 and 105, terminating at Newbury bus station and the Sainsbury's hypermarket in Calcot. The village is served six times a day Calcot (Reading)-bound and five times Newbury-bound.

Education

Aldermaston is the site of two primary schools. Aldermaston Church of England Primary School is a state school located in Wasing Lane and (as of January 30 2008) has 136 pupils enrolled. The school was originally located in Church Road, moving to the present location in 1988. The Cedars is a private school located in the buildings occupied by the Church of England school. The school has 28 pupils enrolled.

Culture

Aldermaston periodically holds a candle auction. It takes place in the Parish Hall, and the lot is a three-year lease of Church Acre field.

Since 1957 there has been an annual performance of the York Nativity Play from the 15th century 15th-century York Mystery Cycle. The performances are at the Church of St Mary the Virgin in early December. The performers are local people and many have appeared in the play for many years.

Aldermaston (with Wasing) is the location of the annual electronic music festival, The Glade. The 2007 event was jeopardised by torrential rains and flooding but cautiously went ahead.

The village has its own amateur dramatics society, The Aldermaston Players, who since 1966 have staged annual fundraising events in the Village Hall.

Sport

Aldermaston is home to a number of sports teams. The village cricket team, Aldermaston Village CC, play at nearby Wasing Park. The rugby (Aldermaston RFC) and soccer (A.F.C. Aldermaston) both play their home games at the Recreational Society at AWE. Tadley RFC is located within the parish, approximately from the village.

Further reading

References

External links

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