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What's in a Name?
Folklore of Fact?

An alternative to the devilish story tells how the people of Thatcham once thatched over the River Kennet in order to keep the ducks dry. However, the name of the town does indeed seem to be derived from the thatched dwellings of the first Saxons to settle in the parish, in or near a Romano-British settlement of unknown name. It was one of the many hams or homesteads which sprang up around Berkshire, probably in the sixth century. The Saxons of this period would have been pagans, so would not have recognised the Devil; but perhaps this would explain why they obeyed his orders. Christians would not have done so. In fact, the story was probably christianised, in later times, to show one of the many pagan Saxon gods as the evil one. This would, no doubt, have been Woden, the chief of the Saxon gods, who was often called Grim, a name now synonymous with Satan. He regularly rode across the sky on stormy nights (see Beware the Ghostly Hunt). Christian tinkering is certainly shown by an alternative version of the tale, whereby it is the Lord and not his adversary who gives out the commands. Thatcham becomes divinely named: much more acceptable.

The original hamlet probably consisted of a series of plank, wattle of log built thatched structures, haphazardly scattered over a small area: Some very small, others like tithe barns, possibly with fenced paddocks attached. If Thatcham were an important site, the idea of the inhabitants wanting to tile their buildings need not be totally dismissed at such an early date, though it is unlikely. Reading was famous for its tile industry which is thought to pre-date documentary evidence. Hence the name of nearby Tilehurst, the wood where tiles were made; or (less helpfully) the wood where (probably Roman) tiles were found. A more likely alternative to thatch would have been wooden shingles: Shingleham or Thatcham? The thatched dwellings, decided on, would have been very different from the seventeenth century thatched cottages pointed out in the town today as the original “thatched homes”.

Next: Places associated with the Legend
Back to: The Legend of Thatcham


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