Thursday, 4 February 2021

Newbury's Almshouses (revised and updated)

                                                                            St Bartholomew's Hospital

I thought it would be interesting to do an up to date blog of Newbury's numerous almshouses. So far as I am aware the town has the largest number of almshouses of any town in the country.  Stamford would probably be the next highest.  West Berkshire Museum published a book on The Almshouses of Newbury but it seems to be out of print. A useful Timeline of Newbury Almshouses derived from the book can be found on the website of a modern Almhouse charity, the Charity of Mrs Mable Luke founded in 1928.

But what are Almshouses? They grew out of religious foundations, often called hospitals, which provided for the poor, the sick and also pilgrims. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, almshouses were established funded by well-to-do benefactors to provide housing for the poor and needy. There were often eligibility criteria: age, health, living in the locality (often for a specified time), former members of trades and industries. And almshouses were not all secular: many would have a chapel.

I started at St Bartholomew's Hospital in Argyle St. It is an almshouse originally founded in the 12th century, but whose current buildings date from 1698. It looks a little worse for wear and older photos show a clock above the stone plaque announcing its name.

Carrying on along Argyle St you come to the Essex Wynter Almshouses. Originally a farm, they became the Phillip Jemmet almshouses in 1670 (and his initials can be seen over the door) and were reconstructed by Dr Essex Winter (having become derelict) in 1926. 

At the end of the road I turned left to pass the Upper Raymond Almshouses of 1826. They consist of a plain brick terrace, but with dramatically large chimneys, gothick windows and a curious shallow stone arch stuck on to the centre of the block. There are a couple of modern (1970) almshouses to the left, out of shot.

I turned right into Newtown Road for a few hundred yards to reach the Newbury Church and Almshouse Charity (described by Pevsner as Child's Almshouses). It is a pleasant U-shaped group dated 1879 and renovated in 1982.


I doubled back along Newtown Road to see the very plain Lower Raymond Almshouses, bearing the date 1796. Another range at right angles to this one was destroyed in by bombing 1943.

I carried on along Bartholomew Street to reach St Nicholas church and then cross the bridge and turning left down a narrow alley to Northcroft Lane where a splendid former almshouse can be found. There is a large white plaque over the doorway, but unfortunately it is almost impossible to read. It is just possible to read the foundation date: 1824.

Retracing your steps and turning right at the bridge brings you to West Mills. This area has several buildings which were once small Almshouses: the Hunt Almshouses at number 11 (1729, rebuilt 1817), Coxedd's Almshouses (1690) at number 15 and Pearce's Almshouses (1694) at number 18.

South of West Mills and off Kennet Road are Kimber's Almshouses (1939) very plain and built of chunky brick. They were originally founded in 1795 in Cheap Street.



I went along Kennet Road then Craven Road where some houses on the left had the classic almshouse appearance, albeit plainer and more modern. I can't find any reference to them in the Timeline of Newbury Almshouses.


The left into Rockingham Road to reach Enborne Road. Tucked away off to the right are the delightful Coxedd and Pearce's Almhouses. They are dated 1884 - although the beautiful sunflower motif might make you think they were a little later - and were built to replaced two of the small almshouses in New Mills referred to earlier. This is a bit out on a limb but you are still only 10 minutes from the station or 15 from the town centre going back along Enborne Road.

A footnote on the Charity of Mrs Mabel Luke: it is still involved in building new almshouses. A devlopment of flats has recently been completed in the centre of Newbury. It may lack the architectural features I so like, but it is wonderful that almshouse charities are still producing what we would now call social housing.

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Donnington Castle


                                                                             Donnington Castle 

We have been trying to get into the habit of doing regular walks around Newbury. Recently we were half way through a circular walk heading downhill along Wendan Road. We were struck by the sudden appearance of Donnington Castle on high ground to the north of the town. It struck us that we could vary our walking by doing a walk from home to Donnington and back - about 5 miles.

We set off from home and headed for the Kennet and Avon Canal, crossing the Monkey Bridge into Northcroft Park. We then followed the left hand edge of Goldwell Park to emerge onto Speen Lane. Now we followed the Old Bath Road for a short way to reach Bath Road. It reminded us of how we nearly bought a house here - and how glad we were that instead we bought the house we now live in!

We turned right into Brummell Road and right at the end into Grove Road. This brought us to the entrance to Donnington Grove, where we uncharacteristically ignore a no right of way sign to follow the tarmaced road through the golf course to reach a bridge over a large lake which is part of the River Enborne.

Over to the right was an attractive small folly.


We crossed the bridge and had a distant view of the hotel. We climbed uphill - a somewhat muddy climb - and passed the Donnington Almshouses to climb towards the ruins of the Castle. This was our first, sideways on, view of the Gatehouse, which is really all that remains.

The Castle was built by Sir Richard Abberbury in 1386, but was sold 12 years later to Thomas Chaucer (son of Geoffrey Chaucer). Chaucer's daughter Alice married the Duke of Suffolk. Suffolk fell out with Henry VII and the castle became a royal property. It fell into decay soon after. In 1643, when the Civil War broke out it was captured by the Royalists and its defences were improved. After an 18 months' siege by the Parliamentarians which began in 1644, the garrison surrendered. In 1646 Parliament voted to demolish the castle and only the gatehouse was left standing, although the outline of the defensive walls can still be made out.

The front-on view is more imposing (see the photo at the top of this post).

And this is the view of the Gatehouse from behind, which gives some sense of the Castle's original scale.

Conditions: wonderful sunshine.

Distance: about 5 miles.

Thursday, 3 December 2020


                                                             St Bartholomew's Hospital

It is almost three years since we moved to Newbury and I thought it would be a nice idea to post a blog about the town. I started my route at St Bartholomew's Hospital, founded in the early 13th century possibly by King John. A number of other almshouses can be found in Argyle Street and elsewhere in the town.

From the top end of Argyle St I went up Newtown Road to admire these grand Italianate mansions of circa 1869-70. Pevsner suggests that this was a stalled villa development.


Now along Portchester Road to head towards Newbury Racecourse where you are greeted by this unusual and mysterious sculpture.

Horse racing first took place here in 1905, although other locations in the area had been used for a hundred years before.

I retraced my steps to cross the railway and head towards the town centre along Cheap Street. On the right was the former Public Library, latterly a Prezzo restaurant and now empty like the Post Office further along the road. The building has the distinction of having been funded by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Just before reaching the Market Place I felt I had to photograph Newbury's tallest and most ugly building, the BT tower, or the Stasi building as I prefer to think of it. It dominates many a view of the town.

On the right in the Market Place are the delightful Elephant pub and the former Corn Exchange of 1862, now an arts centre.

If you turn right at the far end of the Market Place into Wharf Street you find the recently restored Granary building, now part of Newbury museum. It dates from about 1723 according to Pevsner.

Retracing your steps you are confronted by the Town Hall on the opposite corner. It was built by a local architect, James H Money, in 1876-81 rather in the style of Alfred Waterhouse. An extension was added in 1909-10, also by Money. What did he do in between?

Just beyond the extension, in Bartholomew Street is St Nicholas church, rebuilt c 1509-32. Pevsner judges it to be more like a Cotswold wool church than a typical Berkshire one. Access to the church is via either of two fine Gothic style archways which date from 1770.

I continued along Bartholomew Street to cross Newbury Bridge (1769-72) over the Kennet and Avon canal ...

... and then turn sharp right to descend to the canal bank. The remains of a wharf can be seen on the far side of the canal.

Now into Victoria Park, past the tennis courts to reach the Queen Victoria memorial. The statue and attendant lions was funded by George Sanger (1825-1911), a Newbury born circus owner (is that a clue to the presence of the lions?), and designed by Arthur E. Pearce. It was originally located in the Market Place but removed in 1933 and put into storage. It was installed in its present site in 1966.

Heading west now I passed this very attractive terrace and emerged into Parkway,


Then into London Road, once the main road from London to Bath. There are a few imposing Georgian houses along here.

Then left into Northbrook Street at the Clock Tower of 1929 ("Tower" seems an overstatement) and along the wide, mostly pedestrianised street with many 18th and 19th century buildings, now all shops, many of which are vacant.

 On the right is the slim and elegant Methodist church of 1837-8.

Retracing my steps over the Bridge and along Bartholomew St I turned right into Craven Road to pass the one time Oddfellows Hall of 1886, now apartments. I have found it quite difficult to pin down just what the Oddfellows now do - their website is curiously opaque. There is certainly a Friendly Society ...

I ended my walk there and headed home.

Conditions: grey at first becoming brighter.

Distance:  Perhaps four miles in all.

Monday, 30 November 2020

Blenheim Palace and Woodstock


The Great Court of the Palace

A birthday outing to Blenheim on rather a grey and misty day. The first thing to know about Blenheim is that it was built as a national monument rather than just a home. Queen Anne provide the land and money to build the palace to commemorate the defeat of Louis IV's army at Blenheim on the Danube in 1704. It was seen as a great victory and the first real check on Louis's attempt to dominate Europe. The architect was Sir John Vanbrugh.

We parked up and headed towards the Palace, soon arriving at the Kitchen Court, which sits on the west side of the Great Court. The gateway is certainly impressive and Pevsner describes it as having a rugged military character. Although the gate was half open it wasn't possible to explore the courtyards or the interior.

We turned right passing the large lake, the work of Capability Brown in 1764-74, who swept away Vanbrugh and Henry Wise's design for the grounds.


Having reach the Great Court we headed away from it ...

... crossing Vanbrugh's magnificent Palladian style bridge, which separate the two parts of the lake.

 Having crossed the bridge there is a view of the Column of Victory (1727-30).

Returning across the bridge, we found an interesting poster which showed Vanbrugh's beautiful original design for the bridge.

Heading towards the Palace we turned right to skirt the Stable Court and visit the formal gardens - which were a little disappointing.

We retraced our steps towards the car park and then turned left towards the gate which leads to Woodstock. This brought us a much more dramatic view of the bridge.


We went through the Italianate gateway into the main street of Woodstock ...

 ... and followed the road round to the right to pass the church of St Mary Magdalene, a medieval church almost completely rebuilt by A W Blomfield in 1878.

 A little further on is the the Bear Hotel ...

 ... and the Town Hall. The lower storey probably served as a market hall until it was enclosed in 1898.

We then did a loop around the main streets of the town and then returned via the Gate to the car park. Woodstock is a consistently Georgian town. It is a pleasant town,  although with no individual building being especially remarkable.

 Conditions: cold and grey.

Rating: five stars

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Wasing, Brimpton and Ashford Hill

                                                         Wasing Place

Another walk with my friend Merv under the dispensation for meeting a friend for the purpose of walking. We met up at Brimpton Common opposite the former Pineapple Pub, now an Italian restaurant, and headed northwards across a wet and muddy track. We then followed a track skirting Wasing Wood to reach Wasing Place. The house was largely rebuilt after the Second World War, re-creating the original Adam style building of 1773.

To the left of the house is St Nicholas's Church dating from the 13th century, but largely rebuilt in 1771.

 Further off to the left is an interesting miscellany of buildings, which may be part of the holiday lets offered by the Estate.


We had a very pleasant walk through the estate and left it to cross Shalford Bridge over the mighty Enborne, here fairly straight and calm.

Now we followed field paths to reach Brimpton and the gateway to St Peter's Almshouses (which date from 1854 but presumably are no longer in use as such).

We headed round the corner to reach St Peter's church of 1870. For the first time the sun came out.

We crossed a large field to reach Hyde End and pass Hyde End House and and then Hyde End Farmhouse. We passed an interesting house which was apparently once a trout farm ...

... and then walked along beside the River Enborne again for a short way before climbing through woodland, now briefly in Hampshire, to cross some very wet and muddy terrain and eventually emerge at the Ship Inn in Ashford Hill.

We now headed through the delightful - but also wet - Ashford Hill meadows, then climbed steadily through woodland and then across a large open area to return to Brimpton Common.

Conditions: Cool, often wet under foot.

From: Walks in the Kennet Valley and beyond (West Berkshire Ramblers).

Distance: 6.5 miles.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham & Pangbourne).

Rating: four stars.