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Aldworth
Home of Giants

Four Points Inn & Aldworth Church, Aldworth, Berkshire -  Nash Ford Publishing

Aldworth is said, in ancient times, to have been the home of giants! They apparently used to fight with one another and threw around many of the larger rocks to be found in the Thames Valley and up on the Berkshire Downs. The Bronze Age 'Grim's Ditch' which crosses the Downs ends in Aldworth and Streatley. It was probably some sort of boundary ditch and bank. Surprsingly, it was not named after the local giants, but after the Saxon god, Woden, whose nickname was 'Grim'. The village was actually settled in Saxon times and name means 'Old Farm'. King Alfred's great victory over the Vikings of Reading at the Battle of Ashdown in 871 has been placed, by some, on the prehistoric Ridgeway below Dean's (or Dane's) Bottom and Lowbury Hill, in the north of the parish.

At the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086, Aldworth was owned by Theodoric the Goldsmith. This man was a German who had become famous in the reign of Edward the Confessor as the finest gold and silver craftsman in London, if not the country. His main country residence was at Kennington in Surrey but, after the Conquest, William the Conqueror was so keen to retain his services that he gave him a number of estates, five of which were in Berkshire where there was good woodland for smelting the metal. He  may have been the builder of Hampstead Norreys Castle. Aldworth manor covered two 'hides' (perhaps 250 acres - though it had previously been five hides) and was worked by five plough-teams (each with four oxen). The village included ten serfs & villeins (tenant farmers) and four bordars (cottage dwellers) and their families. There was woodland enough for ten pigs to feed there and the whole was valued at 5 - that's about 2,500 today.

Today's village is small and rather charming with its late Victorian well-house over the, now sealed, 370ft deep well, at the centre. Adjoining it, is the busy Bell Inn, apparently named from a badge of the De Ferrers family. The present building is 15th century, of probable cruck construction. the original structure was built to serve travellers on the Ridgeway and popular with sheep drovers attending the famous East Ilsley Sheep Fair. However, today the parking around it can be quite claustrophobic. The beautiful rose-covered thatch of the Four Points Inn, just south of the village is much easier to access. Aldworth has had several residents and visitors from literary society: the novelist, Richard Graves was vicar in the 18th century; the poet, Laurence Binyon, and the in-laws of Alfred, Lord Tennyson are both buried in the churchyard. Officially, Tennyson was 'Baron Tennyson of Aldworth'.

The main Aldworth manor stood next to the church and was owned by many absentee landlords, such as the famous De Ferrers family, already mentioned. However, the chief interest in the history of Aldworth lies in the De la Beches, lords of the more minor manor of La Beche Castle and residents in the village in the 14th century, as well as being big-I-ams at the Royal Court. They were said to be descended from the ancient giants for several of them certainly towered above their medieval contemporaries. Sir Philip De la Beche got in trouble for supporting the Earl of Lancaster in his rebellion against King Edward II. His son, Edmund, later rescued other adherents locked up in Wallingford Castle, despite being a man of the Church. His brother , Sir Nicholas, was much in favour with King Edward III and was tutor to the Black Prince. Perhaps he visited Aldworth as a boy. Nicholas, however, was mostly a soldier serving in campaigns during the Hundred Years War in France and Brittany. The family are all buried in the parish church. Their memorials, known as the Aldworth Giants, form the largest collection of medieval effigial monuments to one family in an English parish church. The De la Beche estates eventually passed to the Langfords who moved their chief seat to Bradfield Place. La Beche Castle is now just a farmhouse, but the moat survives.

In July 1607, the eccentric inventor, William Bush, passed through Aldworth on his way from Lambourn to Streatley. He was travelling across the Berkshire Downs in a wheeled ship as part of his attempt to travel by air, land and water in the same vessel. The air part had already been completed from the tower of Lambourn Church. Aldworth was part of the land section and he later planned to sail on the Thames. It must have been an extraordinary site!

 
 

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