The Roman road from Silchester to Dorchester-on-Thames runs through Pangbourne parish somewhere. Signs of Roman occupation have been uncovered on Shooters' Hill, including many gold and silver coins and a number of skeletons. Pangbourne means Paega's People's Stream, showing that it was the home of an early Anglo-Saxon chieftain of that name and his retinue. The place is first recorded in a grant of land there from the Bishop of Leicester to Bertwulf, the King of Mercia (the Midlands) in AD 844. The monarch is prominently depicted on the village sign near the village hall.
Pangbourne manor was given to Reading Abbey by King Henry I and the abbots often used the manor house of Bere Court, below Bowden Green, as a summer get-away. The last of their line, Hugh Cook Faringdon, was hiding in the mass of underground tunnels there when he was captured and sent to Reading for execution in 1539. Bere Court later came into the hands of Sir John Davis, who had made his fortune capturing Cadiz with the Earl of Essex in 1596. His large effigial monument can be seen in the parish church. This also houses the largest array of hatchments (heraldic funerary boards) in the county, all to the Breedon family who were subsequent lords of the manor. The first of this old Bedfordshire family to live in Pangbourne was John Breedon, a London alderman who bought the manor in 1671. He was later Sheriff of Berkshire, while his brother was the Governor of Nova Scotia. In the churchyard is buried a more lowly but perhaps more notable individual: Lord Nelson's favourite bo'sun, Tom Carter.
Not far from Bere Court is Pangbourne College, founded in 1917 by Sir Thomas Lane Devitt and his son, Philip, on the site of an old towered folly connected with Bere Court. The two Devitts wished to train boys for the Royal and Merchant Navies but always made sure they received a rounded education in case any lad decided a life at Sea was not for him.
Pangbourne has always prospered as a centre of communications, with major roads, the river, a ferry and, from 1893, a bridge named after the village of Whitchurch on the Oxfordshire bank of the Thames. The present iron structure was put up in 1901. The Swan Inn, by the weir, was the only part of Whitchurch parish south of the Thames. It is immortalized in Jerome K Jerome's 'Three Men in a Boat' and Kenneth Grahame, the author of 'The Wind in the Willows', is also said to have been a regular visitor.
Grahame retired to Church Cottage (originally the old smithy) in 1924 and died there eight years later. His funeral was conducted in the adjoining church, though he is buried in Oxford. The old village lock-up can be easily seen from the road in Grahame's garden. He wrote 'Wind in the Willows' in Cookham Dean, but the rolling River Thames at Pangbourne is said to have been the inspiration for many of EH Shepard's beautiful illustrations.
Further upriver from the Swan, the steep sides of Shooters' Hill rise up from the road named after it. The hill is supposed to have been named in the 17th century. One story tells of locals who were pursuing a dangerous highwayman but, unable to follow their prey over the border into Oxfordshire, shot at him from the top of the hill instead. Alternatively, an artillery station may have been positioned there during the Civil War to guard the Thames crossing. Cannon balls were dug up nearby when the Great Western Railway was laid.
Read more history of Pangbourne and other nearby settlements, like Upper Basildon, in David Nash Ford's book, 'Mid-Berkshire Town and Village Histories'. Click to Order direct from the Author.
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