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Wantage, Berkshire

Historical Description

Wantage, a market and union town, and a parish in Berks. The town stands on the Wilts and Berks Canal, in White Horse Vale, 2¼ miles SSW of Wantage Road station on the G.W.R., 10 SW of Abingdon, and 18 by rail from Oxford. A tramway connects the town of Wantage with Wantage Road station. Wantage is supposed to occupy the site of a Roman station, was the birthplace of King Alfred and a residence of other Saxon kings, belonged then to the Crown, passed through many noble hands, including Baldwin de Bethune, William de Valence, Hugh Bigod, Fulk Fitzwarren, and the Bourchiers Earls of Bath. The manor now belongs to the urban district council of Wantage. A fine statue of King Alfred, executed in Sicilian marble by H.S.H. The Prince of Hohenloe-Langenburg, at a cost of 2000 guineas, stands in the centre of the market-place. The town is the head of a petty sessional division and a county court district, and is the centre of a large agricultural district. It formerly carried on a considerable manufacture of hempen cloth, but this is now only pursued upon a limited scale. There is, however, a large brass and iron foundry, and agricultural implement works. There is a head post office, two banks, a town-hall, and a corn exchange. The market, which was formerly held on Saturday, is now held every Wednesday, and a sale for agricultural stock is held fortnightly on a Wednesday. Fairs are held on the first Saturday in March and the first Saturday in May, and on 18 July for cherries. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Oxford; gross value, £561 with residence, in the gift of the Dean and Chapter of Windsor. The church, dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, is a large and handsome cruciform building of stone in the Norman, Early English, and Perpendicular styles, consisting of chancel, north and two south side chapels, transepts, nave, aisles, N and S porches, and an embattled central tower. There is a fine alabaster monument of Sir W. Fitzwarren, a Knight of the Garter, and his lady of the 14th century, a large brass of Sir Ivo Fitzwarren (1414), and several smaller ones, including an early brass (1320) of a priest. There are Baptist, Particular Baptist, and Wesleyan chapels. The charities of the town are valuable and important, amounting in the aggregate to about £600 a year. They include the income derived from 156 acres of town lands with the rent of several houses and cottages, several. valuable bequests, almshouses for thirty poor persons, and a school endowment. The grammar school, called after King Alfred, formerly stood in the churchyard, but was removed in 1851 to a convenient block of buildings in the Early English style, which were erected on the south side of the town. It has an income of about £200, and there is accommodation for about 100 day boys and boarders. There are a training school for teachers and industrial girls, a large sisterhood with a home for penitent females, and a cottage hospital and dispensary with a valuable endowment. The parish includes the township and ecclesiastical parish of Grove and the hamlet of Charlton, which are noticed separately, and the hamlet of West Lockinge. Area of Wantage, 2468 acres of land and 10 of water; population, 3669: of Charlton, 1884 acres; population, 260; of Grove, 1779 acres of land and 12 of water; of West Lockinge, 837 acres, population, 75. Wantage has an urban district council consisting of fifteen members. Bishop Butler was a native of Wantage. In the neighbourhood there are many places of interest connected with early English history. On many of the hills there are ancient earthworks, and the famous White Horse Hill, Wayland Smith's Cave (a cromlech built up of megaliths called " Sarsden Stones "), and the curious " Blowing Stone" are all within a moderate distance. An excellent description of this neighbourhood is to be found in the opening chapter of " Tom Brown's School Days."

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5

Administration

The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyBerkshire 
Ecclesiastical parishWantage St. Peter and St. Paul 
HundredWantage 
Poor Law unionWantage 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.


Cemeteries

The Cemetery, to the south of the town, opened in 1850, and enlarged in 1897 and again in 1914, is about two acres and a half in extent, and has one mortuary chapel; one section having been reserved for Nonconformist burials.


Church Records

The Phillimore transcript of Marriages at Wantage 1538-1837, Berkshire is available to browse online.

The register dates from the year 1538.


Churches

Church of England

Mission Chapel of the Good Shepherd, Grove Street

The Mission chapel of the Good Shepherd, situated in Grove street, attached to the parish church, was erected in 1888, at a cost of £640.

SS. Peter and Paul (parish church)

The church of SS. Peter and Paul, built either wholly or in part by the benefactions of the Fitz-Warine family, is a spacious cruciform building of stone with Bath stone dressings, in the Norman Early English and Perpendicular styles, consisting of chancel, with clerestory, north and two south side chapels, transepts, clerestoried nave of 10 bays, aisles, north and south porches with parvise, and an embattled central tower, containing eight bells and a clock: it was originally designed to have a nave without aisles; these seem to have been added in the reign of Edward I. about which time the chantry chapels, which vary considerably in style and date, were also built: the chancel appears to belong to the 15th and 16th centuries: the east window, inserted in 1857, was one of the earliest works of the late G. E. Street esq. R.A. then a resident in Wantage: the church is remarkable as being complete in its general plan from the beginning, the subsequent series of additions not having yet destroyed the original design: among other details worthy of mention are the very perfect and interesting remains of Pointed woodwork, consisting of a screen in the south chapel, parcloses shutting off the chancel and eighteen stalls, with carved miserere seats and beautiful poppy heads: in the chancel is the canopied marble tomb of Sir William Fitz-Warine K.G. 1st Baron Fitz-Warine, a distinguished soldier in the French and Scottish wars of the reign of Edward III. with recumbent figures of himself and wife Amicia (Haddon); he died in 1361, and was succeeded by his son Iva or John Fitz-Warine, 2nd Baron, who accompanied Thomas (Plantagenet) of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester and Earl of Buckingham, in his expedition to France, and was with him at the siege of Nantes; he died in 1414; in the church is a fine brass effigy of this knight, in armour, and another of a priest, said to be of the same family; there are other memorials to the Wilmotts of Charlton and Lamborne and to the family of Grove; there is also a memorial window to the Rev. the Hon. Edward Foyle Nelson M.A. formerly curate of Wantage, who died 8th September, 1859; the ancient altar-stone still exists and is in perfect condition: in Leland's time a Norman church also stood in the churchyard; the remains of which as long as they existed indicated that it had been restored or rebuilt in the 12th century; the Norman doorway of this building has been removed to the Grammar school, with which it is still incorporated: the church was enlarged in 1881, at a cost of £1,473, and in 1896 the south-east chapel was restored and fitted up for services at a cost of about £1,000, in memory of the Very Rev. William John Butler D.D. late dean of Lincoln and vicar of Wantage 1846-80: there are 1,023 sittings.

By an Order in Council, October 28, 1881, the church was wholly closed against interments and the graveyard also, with certain modifications.

Baptist

Baptist Chapel, Mill Street

The Baptist chapel in Mill street was first founded in 1640; the present edifice was built in 1860 at a cost of £1,650, and repaired in 1914 at a cost of £530, and seats 350 persons.

Particular Baptist Chapel, Mill Street

The Particular Baptists have a small chapel in Mill street, erected in 1843, with 200 sittings.

Methodist

Wesleyan Chapel, Newbury Street

The Wesleyan chapel in Newbury street is a building of ragstone with Bath stone dressings in the Decorated style, erected in 1844, at a cost of £1,200; it will hold 300 persons, and has attached day and Sunday schools, and a minister's house.


Civil Registration

Wantage was in Wantage Registration District from 1837 to 1974


Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Wantage from the following:


Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Berkshire is available to browse.


Maps

Online maps of Wantage are available from a number of sites:


Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Berkshire papers online:


Visitations Heraldic

The Visitations of Berkshire 1532, 1566, and 1665-6 is available online.

DistrictVale of White Horse
CountyOxfordshire
RegionSouth East
CountryEngland
Postal districtOX12
Post TownWantage