[won-tij, wawn-]

Wantage is a town and civil parish in the Vale of the White Horse, near the Thames Valley, in the English county of Oxfordshire (historically in Berkshire), and approximately south-southwest of Oxford. It is famous for being the birthplace of King Alfred the Great.

Geography and character

It is located at the foot of the Berkshire Downs in the Vale of the White Horse, amidst prime horse racing country. There are gallops at Black Bushes and nearby villages with racing stables include Letcombe Bassett, East Hendred, Lockinge and Uffington. Wantage includes the suburbs of Belmont to the west and Charlton to the east. Grove to the north is still just about detached and is a separate parish. Wantage parish stretches from the northern edge of its housing up onto the Downs in the south, covering Chain Hill, Edge Hill, Wantage Down, Furzewick Down and Lattin Down. The Edgehill Springs rise between Manor road and Spike Lodge Farms and the Letcombe Brook flows through the town. Because it is right in the middle of the Vale and just off the Downs, Wantage tends to be the main touring centre for the area and is home to the Vale and Downland Museum. There is a large market square containing the famous statue of King Alfred, surrounded by many shops with 18th century facades. Quieter streets radiate out from there, including towards the large parish church (see below).

Wantage is the original 'Alfredston' of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure.


As of 2007, Wantage is developing and changing. In recent years 4 or more significant housing developments have been constructed bringing large increases in population to the town. At least one development (including the new health centre) has been on a greenfield site adjacent to the A338 road towards Oxford. The other three, however, have been on brownfield sites, converting a scrapyard next to the Letcombe Brook. While making the town tidier, the impact on the wildlife, particularly around the Letcombe Brook, may not be positive.

Since 2006, a large commercial development has been under construction with a Sainsbury's supermarket as a central focus. This supermarket is double the size of the previous one and will have a significant impact on the town by drawing more visitors from outlying villages. The impact could be positive, preventing the town becoming a commuter town and retaining some commercial activity. Alternatively, it could be negative, driving the few remaining independent retailers out of business. The supermarket chain has a similarly large store in nearby Didcot (15 minutes drive away).

Local government

Wantage has a town council consisting of sixteen councillors, twelve of whom (as of 2007) are Liberal Democrat. It is also part of the district of the Vale of White Horse. The town was twinned with Seesen (Germany) in 1979 and Mably (France) in 1990.


Wantage sits at the crossing of the B4507 valley road, the A417 Reading to Cirencester road and the A338 Hungerford (and junction 14 of the M4 motorway) to Oxford road.

Wantage was once served by a tramway linking it to the Great Western Railway but little trace of this now remains apart from the former station building in Mill Street. One of the locomotives (Shannon, alias Jane) is preserved at Didcot Railway Centre.

Wantage is connected to Oxford, Didcot, Abingdon and Faringdon by regular bus services. These services also tend the intervening villages such as East Hanney and Grove. The fastest public bus journey from Wantage to Oxford takes approximately 45 minutes, the slowest can take over 1 hour 15 minutes.

The former Wantage Road railway station was about three miles from the town, in nearby Grove to the north on the A338. A very small portion of the Wilts & Berks Canal is still within the parish.


Wantage was a small Roman settlement, but the origins of the name are somewhat controversial. It is generally thought to be a Saxon phrase meaning 'Decreasing River'. King Alfred the Great was born at the Royal palace there, in the 9th century. Wantage appears in the Domesday Book of 1086. Its value was £61 and it was in the King's ownership until Richard I passed it to the Earl of Albemarle in 1190. Weekly trading rights were first granted to the town by Henry III in 1216. Markets are now held twice weekly, on Wednesday and Saturday.

Royalist troops were stationed in Wantage during the English Civil War, and in the 18th century it gained an unfortunate reputation as 'Black Wantage', the haunt of criminals and vagabonds. The following century, Lord Wantage became a notable local and national benefactor. He was very involved in founding the English Red Cross Society. In Wantage, he paid for a marble statue of King Alfred by Count Gleichen to be erected in the market-place, where still stands today. He also donated the Victoria Cross Gallery to the town. This contained paintings of deeds which led to the award of a number of Victoria Cross medals, including his own gained during the Crimean War.

Since 1848, Wantage has been home to the Community of Saint Mary the Virgin, one of the largest communities of Anglican nuns in the world. Wantage had two Breweries which were taken over by < Morland > & co United Breweries< Abingdon >.

Historic buildings

  • Wantage has been the site of a church since at least the 10th century, and the present building of the Church of St Peter and Saint Paul dates from the 13th century, with many additions since.
  • King Alfred's School has a highly carved Norman doorway from the old demolished chantry chapel which once stood in the churchyard.
  • A water-powered mill with an undershot water wheel still stands from the time that Wantage was a major centre of the wool trade following the building of the Wilts & Berks Canal in the late 18th century.

Famous people

External links

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