From Saxon Fort to Medieval Castle
Wallingford is a small market town on the River Thames. The Bridge has always been a major crossing point and three of its arches date back to the 13th century. St. Peter's Church nearby may have guarded the riverside entrance to the town even way back in the 9th century when King Alfred the Great founded Wallingford as one of his defensive burghs designed to keep out the Danes. The alignment of the church may even suggest that it predates the Saxon burgh. Its pierced spire dates from 1777 and there are Morris windows inside.
The High Street spreads out across the town from here and features many of the town's most historic buildings. No. 18 has a 14th century cellar. The 16th century George Inn looks very picturesque with its double gables. It is well known for its ghosts and Dick Turpin is said to have been a guest. The Lamb Arcade, once the Lamb Hotel (an Early Georgian building), is now a highly popular antiques centre with over 40 shops and cabinets belonging to individual dealers.
The historic Royal Castle which once dominated the town has now almost disappeared, but its grounds are set out as a beautiful park down Castle Street. You can still climb to the top of the old motte and get a fine view of Wallingford as well as seeing the few ruined walls remaining in distant fields. The 14th century ruins of St. Nicholas Chapel which stood within these walls do survive and give some impression of the lost grandeur.
Further up the High Street, Wallingford Museum tells something of the history of the castle and the town. There is a fascinating model of the former and an excellent taped commentary. Also a complete Victorian shop and pub. Opposite, is the Kinecroft Park where the great earthworks of King Alfred's burgh can still be clearly seen.
The main shopping area radiates out from the old market place at the centre of Wallingford (market day on Friday): mainly local and specialist shops like Colchis Tea and Coffee Specialists and two excellent second-hand booksellers. Here sits the finest arcaded Town Hall in Berkshire, now also home to the local Tourist Information Centre. It was erected alongside St. Mary's Church in 1670, though the latter was mostly rebuilt in 1854. Nearby is the old Corn Exchange which has been converted into a theatre and cinema.
The alignment of St. Leonard's Church suggests it predates the Saxon burgh. It certainly has ancient herringbone work in its structure. Not far away stands Augier's delightful set of almshouses in the Reading Road. They date from 1681.
The town is also the home of the Cholsey and Wallingford Railway, an old Great Western Branch Line which runs for two-and-a-half miles through the North Berkshire countryside from St John's Road to Cholsey Mainline Station. The locomotives are steam powered when available and there is a Railway Museum at the Wallingford terminus.
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