Friday, 22 February 2019

Wargrave Local History Society

HISTORIAN and author Audrey Curtis talked about the history of Twyford and Ruscombe as a crossroads at this month’s meeting of the society.

Evidence such as flint tools shows that the Twyford area has been settled from 6,000BC, while the Romans also inhabited the area.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that in 1871 the Vikings battled against the forces of Alfred, King of Wessex.

The Saxons used their knowledge of the area to get to safety by making use of the ford across the Loddon at Twyford — it is thought that this was the first document to mention Twyford.

In Anglo-Saxon times, the more important settlements were considered to be those with a church.

Both Ruscombe and Hurst had one but Twyford did not as it was within the parish of Hurst at the time.

Twyford had to wait until 1847 for St Mary’s Church to be built and later extended, while it did not become a separate ecclesiastical parish until 1876.

Twyford eventually outgrew both Ruscombe and Hurst as it was where the Anglo-Saxon tracks south from Wargrave and west from Windsor crossed.

It was also where the River Broadwater joined the River Loddon, so a mill was established by at least 1163.

Twyford was not mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Survey, being part of the Manor of Hinton at the time.

The rites of the manor were held by the Earl of Salisbury and as it was inconvenient for people to have to go to Amesbury for court hearings, the Earl asked the King to make the area part of Wiltshire. It remained like this for 700 years until, in 1844, it was integrated with the surrounding Berkshire.

The crossroads of trade route tracks also gained importance. A postal service had begun in 1579 with letters carried by post boys on horseback. The first service was from London to Reading via Maidenhead and Twyford.

Newbury had also become a very important centre for the wool trade and much was exported by being carried through Twyford to London — in the early days by pack horse along muddy tracks.

Inns and taverns were set up to provide refreshment for the travellers, while farriers, and later wheelwrights and cartwrights, would help to maintain their means of transport.

Being at a crossroads on this route, Twyford became a place where many people stopped for refreshment.

By the mid-18th century there were 23 inns or alehouses in Twyford, helping to make the people relatively rich compared with other hamlets.

The Wagon and Horses dates from at least the 17th century and still trades as a pub, while the Rose and Crown, which was a pub until 1824 but is now Chiswick House, is thought to be the oldest surviving building in Twyford.

It is said that Edward Polehampton was given shelter there as a “poor waif”  in the 17th century.

He was later apprenticed as a coach painter and when he died he left his fortune to the village of Twyford.

The charity still exists and his name is recalled in the name of village schools.

By the end of the 16th century there had been a growth in industry and the population, so to provide additional housing a brickworks was established at Ruscombe. There were relatively few large houses as the majority of the population were agricultural workers and craftsmen. 

Twyford was also a “crossroads” in the Civil War. The Parliamentary troops, or roundheads, had a base at Windsor and the Royalists, or cavaliers, at Reading.

The people of East Berkshire were caught between the two. As either army passed one way or the other they would pillage and steal whatever they wanted from the local inhabitants, while for a while 700 roundheads were encamped at Twyford and Ruscombe.

The cavaliers raided the village in March 1643 and roundheads came from Henley to defend the village

By October that year, the Royalists had set up camp close by as a way to help defend Reading. The venture failed but in their retreat they burned both the mill and the bridge and a large proportion of the houses.

Fortunately, trade on the Bath road was soon to return after the execution of Charles I in 1649 and so the village was able to recover fairly quickly.

There was another conflict in the time of James II, when the troops of William of Orange invaded while marching towards London.

The King sent his troops to block their advance and the Dutch were pursued back to Twyford.

History repeated itself as many of the Dutch, lacking local knowledge, suffered as they fell into the ford.

As traffic through the village increased, the Highways Act of 1555 required all men to give up four days, then later six, each year to improve the roads, putting stones into the surface.

Each section of a road was put in the hands of a turnpike trust. The tolls charged paid for the upkeep of the road.

Alternatives to the roads were sought as a means of transport and in 1770 plans were made for a canal to make a short cut from the River Thames from Reading and Sonning to near Dorney and Windsor, passing through Twyford.

A proposal from Bristol men for a railway to London in 1824 also brought a line through Twyford. That was built, despite objections by the Palmer family of Sonning and the Provost of Eton College, and opened as far as Twyford in 1839. It could not progress further west until the Sonning cutting had been dug.

The opening of the railway had a big impact on Twyford. A station hotel was opened, houses were built and industry increased, including a gas works and an iron foundry.

It also meant that local farmers could improve their business by transporting milk quickly into London. After the First World War, the Government realised there was a great need for housing, so an estate was created at Northfields, built using bricks from the works at Ruscombe.

An even bigger expansion of the population came after the Second World War, growing from 1,687 in 1951 to 6,216 in 2001. The railway enabled many of the new residents to commute to London.

Mrs Curtis has also written a book called Twyford and Ruscombe Through the Ages, published by the Twyford and Ruscombe Local History Society.

The society’s next meeting will be on Tuesday, February 12, when Graham Horn will talk about the history and restoration of the Kennet and Avon canal, and on Tuesday, March 12, it will be the annual meeting, where the programme for the coming year will be revealed.

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

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