White Hart Crest of the Royal County of Berkshire David Nash Ford's Royal Berkshire History

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Old Windsor
Home of Saxon Kings

The Tapestries, Old Windsor, Berkshire -  Nash Ford PublishingThere was a Saxon Royal Palace in Old Windsor, the predecessor of Windsor Castle. It is mentioned in several charters of Edward the Confessor's reign. In 1061, the new Abbot of St. Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury was appointed here and consecrated in the parish church. Legends also tell of several other events. The saintly King cured the blind here. Earl Godwin of Wessex apparently choked to death while dining with the King at Old Windsor (or Winchester). He proclaimed that he should be struck down if he was lying when he claimed not to have murdered the King's brother. He promptly dropped dead. Harold (later King) and his brother Tostig are said to have faught here in the King's presence and pulled each other's hair. They were probably children at the time.

The Palace stood near the church in the field known as Kingsbury, ie. 'Kings Borough'. Part of this area was excavated in the 50s. The area appears to have started out as a very small settlement around AD 600. It expanded slowly during the 7th & 8th centuries, until a vast transformation took place around the year 800. It may have become the home of King Egbert of Wessex who annexed most of Southern England around this time. For this was when the Royals moved in, building their elaborate residence, similar to, if not more splendid than, that fully excavated at Cheddar in Somerset. There was a triple-wheeled watermill on an artificial millstream nearly a mile long. Nearby was a stone building with glazed windows (enormously expensive at this time). The complex may have been fired by the Danes during raids around 900, but it was soon rebuilt with heavy timber-framed buildings. Finds ranged from domestic cooking pots to a gilt-bronze sword-guard.

Just west of the village are three highly interesting moated sites. The origins of that on St. Peter's Hill are, as yet, unidentified and little of it remains. The others are, however, well documented and still have good square waterways. Tileplace Farm is the old Manor of Tile. The family who lived there, from at least 1170, took their name from the place. Ralph De Tile and his wife Joan had a very early effigial brass (c.1350) by the pulpit in Old Windsor Church, but only the stone now remains. Their son, Thomas Tile, was Chief Butler to Richard II and Constable of Windsor Castle, where he died in 1390. His brass has also gone from the church, but his initials can still be seen in the window opposite his tomb. The family finally sold up in 1580. The third moat is at Bear's Rails: a place said to derive its name from the fact that bears were kept there, presumably for Royal bear-baiting events. It lies within the Pale of the Great Park and is believed to represent the Manor of Wychemere. This was one of the places given to Oliver De Bordeaux by his patron and friend, King Edward II, but later exchanged for other lands, so the King could enlarge the Royal Park. The area within the moat was excavated in 1920. This revealed a very extensive complex of buildings around two vast halls. Oliver's Hall (believed by the excavators to be Saxon) was extended by William of Wykeham in the 1360s and he erected a chapel with two altars nearby. The house appears to have been pulled down by Richard II in order to make repairs to Old Windsor Manor alias Manor Lodge.

In the early eighteenth century, an unfortunate incident at Old Windsor finally led to the summoning of the Bow Street Runners to clear up the problem of the infamous Wokingham Blacks. A local member of this band of robbers, named Hughes, had been fined a tenner and had his guns confiscated by a Keeper Miles of Old Windsor. The Blacks arrived in the night and threatened to fire the keeper's house. When his son tried to mediate, he had his head blown off! The keeper only escaped when the next lot of powder flashed in the pan. The gang then fled, but later descended on the churchwarden's house where, rather than have his home burnt to the ground, he was obliged to return the ten pound fine. 

Later in the same century, Old Windsor became the home of one of the first Strawberry Hill Gothic buildings in the country. The connoisseur and collector, Richard Bateman, brother of Viscount Bateman and friend of Horace Walpole, took a liking to a local inn in 1730. First, he orientalized the building, but in the 1750s turned it into a mock monastery called 'The Priory', complete with cloisters and the tomb of a 13th century Welsh bishop brought from Herefordshire. It was later the home of George III's daughter, Princess Elizabeth.

In the 1870s and 80s, Old Windsor became well-known for its tapestry industry and the French weavers almost took over the village. They made up about 100 families in a population of only just over 1000. The 'Old Windsor Tapestry Manufactory' had been founded in 1876, by Prince Leopold, as part of the 'Arts and Crafts' Movement then sweeping the Country. The weavers were brought in from Aubusson in France and worked on 'low-warp' looms on which tapestries were woven on the reverse. They could only see the frontal design using mirrors. They produced superb tapestries, including sets of the 'Merry Wives of Windsor' and the 'Tales of King Arthur'. They won prizes over and above the French at the Paris Exhibition of 1878 and patrons, of course, included the Royal family. However, fears of a large industrial development being established so close to Windsor Castle led to the manufactory's closure in 1890. The beautiful weavers' hall which was retained as a village hall for many years is now a series of flats called 'The Tapestries'.

  

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