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Roman Roads & River Crossings

Streatley, Berkshire -  Nash Ford Publishing

The name is Saxon for 'Street-Clearing,' the street being the north-south Roman road from Calleva (Silchester) to Dorcic (Dorchester-on-Thames). For many years, misguided Victorian antiquarians actually identified Streatley with the Roman town of Calleva, but the excavations at Silchester in Hampshire in the 1890s produced inscriptions that proved otherwise. There was a Roman settlement in the village, just south-west of the parish church, but it was very small. It was an ideal spot guarding two trading routes, for there was a second ancient track heading east-west that had a ferry crossing the Thames where the bridge now stands. The Romans improved the crossing by added a causeway to form a ford. The road is known as the Icknield Way because it took Iron Age man to the land of the Iceni tribe in Norfolk, although it is considerably older, as shown by Bronze Age and Neolithic finds from the parish. The several sarsen stones scattered around the parish are perfectly natural, but tradition tells us that these were originally thrown into Kiddington Bottom by the Aldworth Giants while holding a stone hurling competition. The print of a giant hand may supposedly still be seen impressed onto one sarsen.

The Saxon settlement is first mentioned in a land charter of AD 687, when King Ine of Wessex granted a parcel of land there to Bradfield Abbey. The ford and ferry became one of the major crossing points between the kingdoms of Wessex (west side) and Mercia (east side). This may have brought much trade to the village, but also potential conflict. In AD 871, the Danes had invaded England and made Reading their base for attacking Wessex. When the two sides set out to clash at the Battle of Ashdown, on the Berkshire Downs (probably Compton/East Ilsley), the Danes would have marched through Streatley to join the Ridgeway. A Saxon warrior burial, complete with weapon stuck in him, was discovered on the village Bowling Greeen in 1932 and may have been a local man who died in the battle.

Before the Norman Conquest, 'Estralei' (as it was then called) belonged to Esgar, the Sheriff of Middlesex, whose main Berkshire manor was in the west of the county at East Garston (originally Esgar's town). He was probably killed at the Battle of Hastings, after which King William's armymarched through Streatley on their way to Wallingford to cross the Thames and take London. Esgar was certainly succeeded by Geoffrey De Mandeville, Earl of Essex, not only in his appointment, but in his lands as well. Geoffrey mostly lived in Norfolk, although he probably visited Hurley in East Berkshire occasionally, as he founded a priory there. At the time of the Domesday Survey (1086), the village was recorded as quite large, consisting of 18 villeins (tenant farmers), 10 cottars (cottage dwellers), 7 serfs and their families. Not surprisingly, there were 22 acres of water meadow, a mill and two fisheries. Some years later, the last two were granted to Goring Priory. The weir that was built to provide the mill with a large head of water caused problems for the river traffic. In the mid-13th century, King Henry III  had to issue a number of decrees preventing the miller from holding up the important watercraft. Eventually a flash lock was constructed which held back some of the river water so it could be released in a 'flash' to carry boats over the weir. 

The manor of Streatley continued to be owned by non-resident great lords, although in the early 15th century it was bought by John Pury of Chamberhouse in Crookham on behalf of William De la Pole, later Duke of Suffolk. The De la Poles lived not far away at Ewelme Manor and Wallingford Castle. The original manor house was Place Manor in the High Street, near the crossroads. It has a 16th century core and a beautifully preserved dovecote of the same date. In the 16th century it was owned by the Earls of Derby, who seem to have leased it to the Berington (or Buriton) family whose numerous brass memorials can be seen in the parish church. They were a Welsh family who had settled in Herefordshire. They probably made their way to Reading to work with their Uncle Walter Barton, a rich merchant who has a memorial brass in St. Laurence's Church there. One might surmise that he had connections with Reading Abbey via Leominster Priory. 

In 1607, an inventor called William Bush made an attempt to travel in the same vessel, by air, land and water through Berkshire! He started at He started by descended from the tower of Lambourn Church in his 'ship'. Giving this a series of wheels, he travelled on across the Downs to Childrey, Aldworth and down to Streatley. There, the vessel entered the River Thames, but Mr. Bush was so harassed by a group of local bargemen, that, in fear for his life, he was forced to flee to his lodgings in the village. The bargemen, meantime, scuppered his ship with staves, hooks and pikes. It took the poor man a month to make repairs, but he did eventually manage to sail his ship to London where he was greeted with great celebrations.

Less strange, but more dangerous, the village would have seen many troops passing by during the Civil War: particularly Royal troops travelling between Wallingford and Reading and upon leaving the latter town after the famous Siege. In the late 17th century, Captain Thomas Harwood RN (d. 1713), who had fought valiantly in the Dutch Wars, retired to Streatley Farm, a handsome brick house dated 1673, where his descendants lived for several generations. His family came from East Hagbourne, but his father had also owned land in Goring. Thomas became Sheriff of Berkshire. He also acquired land in Maryland in the USA, where his son, Richard, has many descendants. Streatley House, near the church, represents the Rectory estate. It was built in 1765 for the Stone family and later passed to the Morells, who dominated village life for many years in the early 20th century, owning almost two-thirds of the village. However, double death duties due in quick succession eventually forced them to sell up. The Royal Veterinary College was evacuated there when they bought the house in 1940. They left in 1958.

The backwater in front of the medieval mill at Streatley is said to have been the setting for Mole and Ratty's picnic in the opening scene of 'Wind in the Willows,' although the inspiration for EH Shepherd's illustrations would be more likely as the author, Kenneth Grahame, was by that time living in Pangbourne. He wrote the book in Cookham Dean. The mill was a famous beauty spot for centuries, but it burnt down in 1926, shortly after being converted to electricity generation. Streatley and the Bull Inn (formerly the Turnpike post house) feature in Jerome K. Jerome's 'Three Men in a Boat' and Richard Adams wrote Watership Down while living in village. Oscar Wilde is said to have stayed at the famous Swan Inn, on the river, and been inspired to name one of his characters Lord Goring. The place dates back to the 15th century and was first turned into a pub in 1698 by Francis Swan - hence the name. He was the grandfather of architect, Sir John Soane (who changed his surname slightly in order to sound posh). In the 1970s, it was owned by entertainer, Danny La Rue, and saw many visitors from the world of show business.


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