Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Wargrave Local History Society

MEMBERS were given a talk about churches in Berkshire at the February meeting.

Catherine Sampson said churches are often the oldest surviving buildings in a community, being at the hub of villages and towns.

The most interesting ones tend to be the smaller, “out of the way” churches.

St Oswald’s in Widford, West Berkshire, now stood “in the middle of nowhere” and is owned by the Church Conservation Trust as there is no community for it to serve.

It is likely the village it served moved following the Black Death, with the inhabaitants choosing to move to towns, or because the lord of the manor wanted to rear livestock on the land.

St Thomas’s in East Shefford in the Lambourn valley is also owned by the trust.

The church has no electricity and contains memorials to the Fettiplaces, a rich family who were believed to have to spend longer in purgatory after their deaths so they would pay a minister to pray for them in order to reduce that time.  St Margaret’s in Catmore is always open to visitors as its key was lost in Tudor times. 

Mrs Sampson said that Nuneham Courtenay church was rebuilt in 1760 after the Harcourt family, who owned the village manor house, decided to upgrade and build an entirely new village and relocate residents.

The church was demolished and replaced by a new temple, which was convenient for the Harcourt family but not villagers.

A new village church for the residents was eventually built in the Victorian era with the temple becoming a private chapel for the Harcourt family. Mrs Sampson also talked about St George’s, near Faringdon. The Seymours and Dudleys, two powerful rival families in Tudor England, arranged a marriage between 11-year-old Anne Seymour, niece of Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, and John Dudley to enable a truce.

When Queen Mary came to the throne, Dudley and much of his family were imprisoned.

John died soon afterawards, leaving 17-year-old Anne a widow.

Another of John’s family, Cumnor Robert Dudley, married Amy Robsart but became a close friend and special confidante of Elizabeth I. It was rumoured that he planned to get rid of his wife and marry the Queen.

Amy lived at Cumnor Palace and was discovered by servants one day at the foot of the stairs with a broken neck.

There were rumours that Dudley was responsible but he was not in the area at the time and a coroner recorded an open verdict. However, the scandal meant that Dudley could no longer be close to Elizabeth.

Mrs Sampson said it was rumoured that Amy’s ghost haunted both the church and the house.

The palace was later demolished and six ministers arrived from Oxford to exorcise the ghost and drive it into the hills.

At St John the Baptist in Burford a group of 340 Civil War republicans were locked in the church by soldiers loyal to Oliver Cromwell, only to escape when they realised only one of the doors had been barred.

The next meeting of the society will be held on Tuesday, March 13. This will be the annual meeting when the schedule for next year will be revealed.

Meetings take place at the Old Pavilion in the recreation ground, off Recreation Road, Wargrave starting at 8pm. For more information, call secretary Peter Delaney on  0118 940 3121 or visit

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