first for news and stories of local interest. Newbury, Berkshire UK A community website for Newbury, Berkshire, UK. Newbury is the hub for shopping, business and Leisure in West Berkshire and the villages in Nrth Hampshire
Newbury Town Hall, St Nicolas Church, Clock House and Newbury Lock on the Kennet and Avon Canal.
Welcome to Historic Newbury, granted a Royal Charter in 1596. Cloth Hall and  Donnington Castle.
Newbury Antiques, Vintage & Collectors Market
Artifax the Picture Framers
Babies Clothes
Ball Hill Garage
Balloons for your Party from Pageant
Barnes Coaches - Daytrips from Newbury in Berkshire
Basingstoke Laptops
Bed & Breakfast
at Highclere Farm
Berkshire Builders
Broadband & ADSL
Bright and Beautiful
Bright Eyes and
Car Boot Sales
Canal Teashop
Childrens Clothes
Chinese Restaurant
Chili's Indian Restaurant
Cloud 9 Web Design
Computer & PC
Computer & PC Virus
Newbury Corn Exchange
Dolphin Taxis
Donnington Castle
El Sabio Tapas Bar & Restaurant
Elizabeth Rae
Estate Agents
First Solution
Garden Centres
Gas Servicing
Glyniss Garden, gift shop online. Newbury & Thatcham Berkshire UK.
Handmade Childrens Clothes
Highclere Castle
Highclere Farm
Bed and Breakfast
Hartwood Oak Buildings
Hogan Music
Indian Restaurants
Indigo Bay
Julians Hair Salon
The History Backwater to boomtown Prosperity and plague Rebels, royalty, and recession War on our doorstep
Sackcloth and coaches Riots and sobering reforms Suburbs and shopping Missiles and mobiles  
The history of Newbury – a tale of corn, wool, horses and phones.
British, Celts, Romans and Saxons had all farmed the Kennet Valley before a Norman knight hit on the idea of starting a town at Newbury.
It would doubtless have happened sooner or later. The busy river crossing was a day’s ride from the ancient cities of Oxford, Winchester, Salisbury and Wallingford – a perfect stopover.
Back then, crossing the valley was a treacherous affair for most of the year. The meandering riverbed was thick with reeds, and the woods were almost impenetrable from Thatcham to Marlborough.

Fortunately, the Romans had built a road – now the B4000 – to improve trade with London, and conquer the Welsh. Roadside settlements sprang up, and a military outpost was set up at Speen – though it crossed the Kennet at Thatcham.

No sooner had the Roman empire started to disintegrate than foreign mercenaries were called in by native chiefs. As the economy collapsed, the Saxons were offered land instead of money. Whether massacred, subjugated, or intermarried, the Celts were soon dispossessed, and Berkshire became part of Wessex – and run by Germans.

The Kennet Valley remained a backwater, but still had to see off raiding Danes in the 10th century, before the Norman warriors – their army stuffed with German mercenaries – landed at Hastings, smashed the English army, and took his army marauding through Newbury to Wallingford. Ten weeks after landing, he was made king.

Backwater to boomtown
William the Conqueror rewarded victory by granting land to all his soldiers, and one of his bravest and most powerful knights, Ernulf de Hesdin, was given 48 settlements, including the hamlet of Ulvritone by the nutrient-rich river Kennet.
In the 1070s, Ernulf’s local officials divided up narrow plots on either side of the road crossing the river – now Northbrook Street – and rented them to craftsmen and traders. The ‘new burgh’ was a roaring success. In 20 years, more than 50 plots were taken up and the population reached 250. Two watermills sprang up at West Mills to grind corn and finish cloth, and a church was built.
Ernulf grew richer on the back of Newbury’s success, but carried on living in Gloucester. He gave most of the rents to the monks of St Peter in Caen, and died in 1095.
Over the next 100 years, Ernulf’s descendants were delighted as Newbury doubled in size to become one of the top 20 towns in the country. However, this importance ensured the town became a pawn in the power struggles of the Middle Ages.

By 1152, the war of succession between King Stephen and his half-sister Matilda saw Stephen embark on a five month siege of Newbury Castle, held by John Marshall. Victorian rumours placed this castle on the Wharf, but it is now thought to have been a timber keep at Hamstead Marshall.

Newbury remained attractive, and Augustinian monks set up on the old road to Winchester at Sandleford Priory. After returning from the crusades, warrior monks were given land and property where the police station now stands. Finally, a hospital for the sick and elderly of the town was set up by the ailing King John, on the corner of Newtown Road and Pound Street.
Prosperity and plague

The most powerful man of the day was William Marshall, who saw off a French invasion of England, and kept everything running while Henry III grew up. He also owned prosperous Newbury, which held markets twice a week, seasonal fairs, and sat on a busy toll road.

Through the 13th century, improvements were made to the river flow, trade was organised by merchants’ guilds, and a new road was built through Speen, connecting London and Bristol. Cloth and wool sales had made Newbury the richest town in Berkshire, which was the fifth richest county in England.
But in 1349 the plague struck in Berkshire, and the town’s standing crashed. Almost 30% of the town’s wealth vanished, as periodic outbreaks of Black Death crippled the economy.
Recovery was slow, although there is evidence of a landgrab by astute nobles. Donnington Castle was built in 1389 for a medieval squire, but Newbury’s main advantage lay in its role as a stopover. The road through Donnington, Newbury and Greenham was packed with sheep farmers, pilgrims, travelling artisans, and carts laden with imported wine going to Oxford. Taverns and inns grew popular.
Rebels, royalty, and recession
Over the next three centuries, Newbury became a hotbed for anti-establishment views, starting in 1460 when the town leaders declared for the Yorkist rebels in the War of the Roses. The Lancastrian force soon arrived, looted the shops and hanged the ringleaders.
In 1483, local barons gathered in Newbury to stage a coup – led by the Duke of Buckingham – to overthrow Richard III, but were swiftly dealt with. As Buckingham’s men deserted, he fled to Salisbury, where he was beheaded. In 1490, Newbury clothworker Thomas Tyler was arrested for challenging church beliefs.
When Henry VII took the crown in 1485, the country was in bad shape from decades of petty wars. However, one of the few healthy markets was textiles – and Berkshire wool was noted for its quality. Newbury was poised to weave its way back into the record books.
Newbury remained cushioned from recession, and large numbers of men arrived from across the south to seek work. One of these was John Smallwood – later Jack of Newbury – a boy from the Gloucestershire village of Winchcombe. After securing work on the looms, his boss died, so he married his widow, and turned the cottage industry into a huge export market – building the world’s first factory in Northbrook Street.

As one of the richest men in England, ‘Jack of Newbury’ grew friendly with Henry VIII, and paid for a new stone church for the 3,000 Tudor townsfolk. Trade embargoes were lifted, opening up other European markets, and still more labourers arrived in Newbury to train as weavers.

Radicals emerged again in 1556, when three protestant martyrs were burned at the stake by Catholic officials of Queen Mary. Newbury was used to royal visits, and in 1568 Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, was greeted by ringing bells, though rumour says she had come to secretly give birth to an illegitimate son at Hamstead Marshall.
On a return visit in 1596, a charter with new rules for governing the town was approved, creating officials who would supervise the town from the Guildhall in the Market Place. This degree of autonomy would help the town make quick decisions.
By 1625, Newbury’s boom years were over, and almshouses and charities were set up to cater for the growing band of impoverished weavers. Unsurprisingly then, Charles I’s demands for war taxes did not go down well, and Newbury’s merchants joined the growing band calling for Parliament to intervene.
War on our doorstep
When the civil war broke out, Charles had the upper hand initially. Returning from a mauling in the west country in autumn 1643, the main roundhead army was tired and hungry as it approached the friendly town of Newbury – where food, horses and hospitality awaited. But Charles’ cavalry arrived first, happily seized the supplies, and formed a line from Wash Common to Speen.

The stakes were huge. If Parliament was defeated, the King could capture London and win the war. Both armies numbered 14,000, and slugged it out for 12 hours, until both sides were exhausted, and barely had half their forces intact. Parliament had used every available man and was almost beaten. But the king was alarmed at his own losses and withdrew to Oxford in the night, leaving the roundheads to escape.

A year later, the tables were turned. Charles had garrisoned friendly towns and besieged hostile cities, leaving him with few troops to defend his base at Oxford. Conversely, Parliament had trained up new soldiers in London. As Charles returned from victories in the west country, he stopped at Newbury to relieve the garrison at Donnington Castle. Parliament assumed Charles intended to capture London, and positioned 19,000 men at Thatcham, against the King’s 9,000.

Charles was in a good position, with the town on his right and castle on his left, but a traitor gave away his weak numbers, and the young general Oliver Cromwell was ordered to flank the royalists via Stockcross. But Parliament, with no overall commander, struggled to co-ordinate a battle they should have won, while the King’s men fought well on two fronts. Once again in the night – the king left his guns and supplies at Donnington Castle – which had been half-demolished by Parliamentary guns, and fled to Oxford. The two sides briefly squared up a month later at Speenhamland, before retiring to Oxford and London for the winter.

After 20 years of war, Britain and Newbury greeted the restoration of the monarchy with enthusiasm. In 1663, Charles II visited the two battlefields, and Newbury’s clothing guilds put on a parade. Two years later, plague gripped the town – at night a horn was sounded as the wagons of bodies were taken to the open graves on the downs.
Sackcloth and coaches
The 18th century brought happier times, helped by Bath’s emergence as Britain’s first tourist resort. In 1720, the A4 was turned into a toll road to keep it in good shape, cutting the journey time to two days.
The number of inns trebled to 27, and cock-fighting, wrestling and horseracing all provided the bewigged gentry with gambling opportunities. The rising industrialists from London began building country retreats in the surrounding countryside, and in 1740, work began to make the river Kennet navigable for barges.
This made sure Newbury was not just a stopover for partying aristocrats. Theatre impresario Henry Thornton changed all that in 1788, when he set up the town’s first permanent theatre Northcroft Lane – a squalid area of rat-infested warehouses, rough pubs and itinerant labourers.
Theatres were illegal until 1788, so the venue – on the site of Temperance Hall – was makeshift, but in 1802 he moved to the new Gilders theatre, where the Job Centre now stands.
Meanwhile, cargo from London had had to transfer from boats to wagons at Reading, but after 1760 Newbury was made the last stop, bringing in food and drink for London’s growing population, and spices, tea and coffee for Newbury and the west country. Elsewhere, the first town hall was built in 1742, and in 1772, the wooden bridge in Northbrook Street was replaced by the stone one still in use today.

By now, the cloth industry had moved to Yorkshire and Lancashire, and Newbury was only making sackcloth and ship sails, and periodic riots over food prices confirm that life was still hard for many, despite the tourism boost. In 1795, reforms agreed at a pub in Speenhamland – linking the price of bread to wages – failed to resolve the problem.

Riots and sobering reforms

Local horsemen raised to see off an expected French invasion spent most of their time quelling riots in Newbury, Thatcham and Highclere. The Kennet was turned into a canal in 1810, and granary barns sprang up at the Wharf and West Mills.

Still, the unrest brought Grenadier Guards to Newbury in 1830 to round up farm labourers from Kintbury, rioting against the introduction of new machinery. National reforms in 1834 saw a workhouse built to house the poor at Sandleford.
The railway arrived in 1847, providing fast transport to London, heralding a period of prolific housebuilding in East Fields, as the jobless farm workers arrived in droves, looking for work in the shops, the new Plenty lifeboat factory, or in domestic service. A thriving brush-making industry grew up.
Social reformers and benefactors built schools, a hospital, and ordered the clearance of slums in the ‘City’ – now the St Johns roundabout area – amid concern that Newbury was sinking into drunken decay.
By the late 19th century, the town had 75 pubs – one for every 90 people – so the teetotal Temperance movement set up a series of coffee shops, and lobbied magistrates to shut down as many pubs as possible. Today there are 26.

Suburbs and shopping

As the 20th century dawned, the new middle class built elegant town houses further away from the squalid town centre, and the suburb was born. More infrastructure was put in place – a library, a racecourse, a new town hall, new sewers – while clubs and societies were established. Newbury Show began in 1909.
Race day brought hundreds of visitors roaring through the town in their motor cars, forcing the Queen Victoria statue to be moved from the Market Place. Wealthy landowners would have decorated their house at Alfred Camps shop, perhaps buying a piano from Alfonso Cary’s, or snapping up miracle tonics from self-styled chemists.
As with all other English towns, the two world wars took their toll, but Newbury had a special place thanks to the requisitioning of airfields at Greenham, Welford and Aldermaston in 1940. The American decision to join the war against Hitler brought thousands of soldiers and airmen into the town. Elliott’s furniture factory began making thousands of glider planes as the allies planned the massive D-Day assault on occupied France.
Missiles and mobiles
The town’s battles carried on after VE day, when plans to flood Enborne to create a reservoir for London were defeated. As air travel became popular, the government nearly chose RAF Greenham instead of Gatwick for a major airport. Newbury also turned down a chance to become a ‘new town’ to take London’s overspill population – a request which Swindon and Basingstoke both accepted.
In 1972, the motorway opened belatedly, and it suddenly became a lot easier to reach many places in an hour’s drive from Newbury. Commuting to London became easier, bringing wealth and business skills to the town, and laying the foundations for a boom in technical excellence.
Just as this was taking off, the government announced it would store an arsenal of 96 nuclear missiles at RAF Greenham. The Americans arrived to garrison the high-security airbase, accompanied by thousands of peace activists, in an issue which divided the town. Forty thousand peace women ringed the camp, putting Greenham at the heart of the Cold War in the 1980s.
When the Cold War ended in 1993, the town split once more over the issue of how to address Newbury’s worsening traffic problems. A proposed bypass to alleviate the constant jams would have to pass through the two civil war battlefields, and some of Britain’s most heavily protected countryside.
Hundreds of environmental campaigners arrived, setting up blockade camps along the eight mile route, and adding £25 million to the bill for the road, which opened in 1998.
Ironically, one of the technologies used by the protesters was the mobile phone, which was pioneered in Newbury. Vodafone set up in Newbury in the early 1980s, and the first mobile phone call in the UK was made in 1985 between Newbury and London. Today, it is the biggest employer with 4,000 employees in the town – at a new £120 million headquarters on the edge of town.
Massive growth and migration into Newbury on the back of the technological revolution is seeing the town evolve from a rural market town into a more sophisticated centre for business and culture, which Ernulf de Hesdin would hardly recognise.
KATS - Kennet Amateur Theatrical Society
Kennet Shopping
Broken Laptop Screen
Cracked Laptop Screen Replacement
Lardy Cakes
Life Coaching
Marsh Fuels
MacInnes Tailoring
Mayors Mosaic
Michaelmas Fair
The Nature Discovery Centre, Thatcham.
Newbury Laptops
Newbury Roofing
Newbury Kitchen Studio
Panorama from the South
Newbury Town Design Statement
Painters & Decorators
Parkway Shopping Centre, Newbury, Berkshire UK
Period Property
Personal Chef
The Racecourse Newbury
Rios Burger Bar Menu
Richard Benyon
Southern Sinfonia - The Chamber Orchestra of Southern England
Specsavers Newbury Branch
Susan Shelton
Counselling Services
Taxi Service
Teashop by the
Thatcham Fireworks
Toby Carvery
Valentines Flowers
Virus Removal
Visiting Tailor
The White Hart Hamstead Marshall
Window Cleaners
Xmas Trees