Splendour across 1,400 Years
The earliest evidence of occupation at Basildon seems to have been down by the railway, surrounding the banks and ditches of an early Neolithic mortuary enclosure (c.4,000 bc) for the exposure of bodies prior to dismemberment and partial burial! Bronze Age burial mounds (c.2,000 bc) were later built up in the same area and it appears to have been at this very early period that the parish first became a consolidated unit, as the 'Grim's Ditch' still runs along part of the boundary today. Though dating from the Bronze Age, the name is Saxon, indicating that these later settlers were so impressed with the size of this monument that they thought it could only have been built by the chief of their gods, Woden, nicknamed Grim.
While constructing the same Railway line, in 1839, Brunel's navies found a relatively modest, though luxuriously fitted out, Roman Villa. The main discovery were two mosaic floors, one in superb condition, which the navies unfortunately smashed up soon afterwards. Luckily the greater of the two was first sketched by the antiquarian, Roach-Smith. The villa has apparently been completely lost beneath the Railway, though stone built outbuildings have recently been excavated nearby; and a large series of of ditched paddocks can be seen from the air. The place was built in a fine position overlooking a crossing of the Thames and was occupied from the 1st to the 4th centuries. In the early Saxon period, the area was known as 'Basilford' and it was here that the parish church and manor first developed. The name 'Basildon' refers to the upland area at what is now called Upper Basildon.
The present Basildon Church is mostly 15th century in date. It is best known as the the place of baptism and burial of the famous eighteenth century agriculturalist, Jethro Tull. He was born in the parish in 1674, the son of a local yeoman farmer from Bradfield, Jethro Tull Senior, and his wife, Dorothy, one of the ubiquitous Basildon family of Buckeridge. Known as Father of the Agricultural Revolution, he invented the seed-drill in 1701 and wrote Horse Husbandry a famous pioneering work on farming methods. Though he died at Shalbourne, near Hungerford, in 1741, he was buried in Basildon churchyard where his modern gravestone shows his revolutionary drill. Nearby is a touching monument to the Deverell brothers, showing two teenage boys who drowned in the Thames in 1886. The Buckeridges dominate the parish registers over three centuries and must fill the churchyard, though there is little sign today. They were a wealthy sheep farming family with a large estate centred on Wood Green Farm. Until Victorian times, those descended from William Buckeridge and Elizabeth Kibblewhite, who married in the church in 1562, could have applied for a founder's kin scholarship to St. John's College, Oxford; the lady's father being, Thomas Kibblewhite of Basildon, a maternal cousin of the founder, Sir Thomas White of Reading, sometime Lord Mayor of London. Their son, John, became president of the college and later rose to be Bishop of Rochester in 1661 and of Ely in 1631.
Upper Basildon has a church dedicated to St. Stephen. It was built in 1964 in the shape of the Christian secret symbol of a fish. This derives from the ancient Greek Jesus Christ, son of God, Saviour whose initial letters spell out the word fish in that language. The area was once frequented by non-conformists. One such was Thomas Nobes, a farmer and wheelwright who lived at Tomb Farm in the 17th century. This modern name for his residence derives from the once well-known Berkshire curiosity, 'Nobes' Tomb' which stood in the grounds. Almost nothing is left of it today. This strange little building, inscribed with the date 1692, was where Mr. Nobes had himself interred since the local burial ground at Lower Basildon was Church of England. He was recorded in the parish registers as having died, but "was not buried". His ghost is said to ride the area on his white horse.
Basildon is, of course, best known for Basildon Park, the county's finest National Trust property. A previous house had been the home of the Viscounts Fane, but the present building was erected by John Carr of York, for Sir Francis Sykes between 1776 and 1783. It is a beautiful example of the Palladian villa. Sir Francis made his money working for the East India Company at the Court of the Nawab of Bengal. Unfortunately, his son died of scarlet fever and his grandson was a spendthrift. The estate was sold to the millionaire, James Morrison MP, in 1838 and became home to his vast collection of paintings, including works by Constable, Da Vinci, Hogarth, Holbein, Poussin, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Rubens, Titian, Turner and VanDyck. Amongst his many and varied famous visitors was JMW Turner. His work, 'Rain, Speed and Steam' - considered by many to be the first Impressionist painting - is said to depict Basildon Railway Bridge. However, it is recorded that Turner was inspired by the Maidenhead Railway Bridge and the picture does seem to show Maidenhead Bridge alongside. Basildon Park best remembered, though unknown to many, through 'Basildon Bond' writing paper which was named in honour of the place after the head of the stationery firm stayed there with James' grandson, Major JA Morrison. Major Morrison was a great benefactor to Basildon and a patron of the architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, who built a number of cottages in the village.
Basildon Grotto is another lovely mansion in the parish, with fine views over the Thames. It was built in the early 18th century by Mary, Viscountess Fane, a previous occupant of the Park. It was a garden folly covered in attractive shellwork, which she used as a riverside retreat. It has been much expanded and altered over the centuries and now has many fine rooms including the beautifully decorated Chinese Office. The ghost of Lady Fane's daughter-in-law is still said to haunt the house. She has been claimed as the famous Mistletoe Bow Bride who died, trapped in a blanket chest, on her wedding day (and more usually associated with houses in Hampshire or Norfolk). However, she died an old lady and the more common story says she fell down a well!
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