Where we are
Woolhampton lies on the A4 between Newbury and Reading. It is within the administrative district of West Berkshire District Council and the parliamentary constituency of Newbury. The population is approximately 780 at present, with over 660 adults on the electoral register. The parish has about 387 dwellings mostly built of brick, and the village that has developed over several centuries has at least 25 buildings listed as of architectural or historic interest. They have an informal alignment with a wide variety of styles and building methods. There is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) immediately to the east of the village and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) on the eastern and northern boundaries.
To travel by road to Woolhampton:
- From Reading and M4 junction 12: take A4 west (signed Newbury).
- From M4 junction13/A34: take A339 south, then the A4 east (sign posted Thatcham).
- From Oxford: take the A34 south, then the A4 east (sign posted Thatcham).
- From Southampton: take the A33 north, then M3 to junction 6, take A339 (sign posted Newbury), from Newbury follow the A4 west to Woolhampton.
To travel by train to Woolhampton: Woolhampton is served by First Great Western on the Reading to Newbury line. Our station is called Midgham Railway Station. The railway station is located on Station Road, south of the centre of the village. The station is within easy walking distance of the village centre (5 minutes).
To travel by bus to Woolhampton: Woolhampton is served by Reading Buses (Jet Black) who operates a number of bus services to the village.
The River Kennet is one of the oldest highways in the south of England. In less than 50 miles, from its source on the Marlborough Downs to its outflow into the River Thames at Reading, the valley through which it flows shows spectacular evidence of the activities of early man.
The river environment provided rich pickings for the hunter-gatherers of the Middle Stone Age who occupied the area nearly 8,000 years ago. Two millennia later the gravel terraces would have provided tracts of fertile, well-drained soil for the first farmers.
For early travellers the river corridor would have offered access to the west over easier terrain. Later that same corridor was to be used for the routes of the Bath Road, the Kennet and Avon Canal and the Great Western Railway. The Roman road running from Calleva (Silchester), a major provincial capital, to Corinium (Cirencester), which crossed the Kennet at Thatcham, lies half a mile south of Woolhampton.
To the Saxons Woolhampton was ‘Wulflafingatun’ but was recorded in the Doomsday Book, written in Latin by the Normans, as ‘Ollivintone’. By the time of the Armada in 1588 the name had evolved to ‘Woulhampton’.
The Rowbarge Inn, which is one of the 18th century buildings in the village, was used in 1723 as a beer shop to serve the navvies who dug the Kennet and Avon Canal, and the modern swing bridge next to it is on the same site of one built at that time. The railway arrived in Woolhampton with the Reading to Hungerford extension in 1847 but the station was later obliged to change its name to Midgham to avoid confusion with Wolverhampton.
In 1840 the Falmouth family, owners of the Woolhampton Estate, built the village school which was refurbished by the next estate owner James Blyth, who also restored the 13th century church. The Gill Campbell Hall – now privately owned – was given to the village by Miss Blyth to serve as a religious meeting house and working men’s club (although alcohol and dancing were forbidden!). To mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and to improve the water supply, Miss Blyth also gave the Fountain to the village.
Prior to 1904 the Woolhampton Estate held many of the houses and much of the land in the village. The 1901 census recorded 97 houses (38 of which had fewer than 5 rooms), which were home to a population of 472. Monks of the Benedictine Congregation who had been expelled from Douai in northern France arrived at St Mary’s Seminary in Upper Woolhampton in 1903. Douai School was built on a six acre site that had been bequeathed to benefit local Catholics in 1786 by John Crewe, the then estate owner. The Abbey Church was partly built between 1928 and 1933 and completed in 1993.
In 1929 Miss Whidbourne of Kennet Orly built the King George V Memorial Hall for the Conservative Association and the British Legion. In 1945 the hall was purchased by James Blyth-Currie and placed in trust for use as the village hall. This was demomoilsed and replaced by a modern hall in 2006.
In 1931 the appearance of the village altered radically when several buildings, including the original Angel Inn, were demolished to widen the A4. Since the beginning of the 20th century the village has lost many shops and small businesses such as a baker, a draper, a bootmaker and a blacksmith. The village has a watermill built in the 1820’s, which was working until the death of the last miller in 1935, and has a Post Office, which has been on several sites since 1847. At one time the village boasted five public houses; now this is reduced to just two.
More recently, dwellings have been added at Sunhill, Railside, Broom Hill and New Road Hill followed by Hill Crescent, Rolands Copse, Angel Mead, Orchard Close, Station Road and Watermill Court.
The latest large scale development has been on the site of the former Douai School (Abbey Gardens). The listed buildings have been sympathetically converted into apartments, with underground parking.
(Note: History provided by John Trigg)