Whiteknights Park is now the home of Reading University. In essence, however, it is all that remains of the deer park (pre 1276) and manor of Earley Whiteknights, otherwise known as Earley Regis or Earley St. Nicholas. Legend says the White Knight was a Norman soldier who gave up his manor and travelled barefoot to the Holy Land after he had accidentally killed his Saxon loverís brother. He was eventually buried in St. Nicholasí Chapel which stood near the Wokingham Road gate to the Park. (This was a twin to St. Bartholomewís Chapel at Erleigh Court (otherwise Earley St. Bartholomew)). The real man however was one John D'Earley IV called the "Whiteknight" after having seen much action in Edward Iís campaignís in Scotland, possibly in white armour. The D'Earleys lived at the manor from which they took their name throughout the medieval period. They were minor barons, some of whom became highly embroiled in National events. The most famous of the family was John D'Earley II, the foster-son of the Regent of England, William Marshal, who lived at nearby Caversham Castle. He fought with King Richard in France and for the Marshal in Ireland. The family were eventually forced to sell off their Earley lands in order to pay ransom demands from the Spanish King in the mid-14th century. The Spekes of Hartley Court owned the house and then the Catholic Englefields of Englefield took on the place when they lost Englefield House during the religious persecutions of the 16th century. The family had carried on in Wiltshire before once more finding a Berkshire estate. During the Siege of Reading, the Governor, Sir Arthur Aston, used to ride out to Whiteknights to dine with Mr. Anthony Englefield. In early 1643, the Parliamentarians found out and sent 200 horse and 600 foot soldiers from Windsor Castle to kidnap him. However, Aston was warned by his scouts and so stayed safe within the fortifications of Reading. In the 18th century, the manor was bought by the flamboyant Marquis of Blandford (heir to the Duchy of Marlborough) who led a life of great revelry here. He laid out ornamental gardens that were the envy of Kings and collected a most astonishing library of rare books. Eventually the poor man went broke and was forced to retire to Blenheim.
Earley Church was a chapel-of-ease to the parish church of Sonning for most of its life. Up to 1793, when they were moved within the prison walls, the execution of fellons from Reading Gaol took place on Gallows Common on the borders of Earley and Shinfield (between the Elm Lane/Elm Road junction and St. Barnabasí Church). Its name stems from a natural gibbet. A three hundred year old Elm Tree known as Hanging Elm still stood on the Common until it was taken over by Dutch Elm Disease in the 70s. The Road still curves around its site. The last man hanged there is said to have been most surprised at his demise. He had, for many years, made himself useful to the prison governor, as a handyman, and his execution was unofficially postponed. That is until a new governor was appointed and looked back through the records!
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