Insurrections & Insults
The Roman road from Silchester to Dorchester-on-Thames once ran through Ufton Nervet and there are several sections of the sub-Roman 'Grim's Ditch' still surviving in the parish. This was built to protect Silchester from the unpredictable Saxons settling in the Thames Valley. One of these men was called Offa. He was not the famous King of Mercia, but he did give his name to the area: 'Offa's Town'.
It would be much better if this parish were called merely Ufton, for the parish church of St. Peter is not the church of Ufton Nervet at all, but that of Ufton Robert, a separate manor. It's unclear where the name came from, presumably an early owner. His manor house stood within the moat just west of the church. The place came into the hands of the Perkins family around 1411, and it was here, a hundred years later, that Sir Humphrey Forster of Aldermaston House broke in with ten armed men, intent on murdering the owner, Richard Perkins. He was saved only by the pitiful pleading of his wife! (See Padworth).
Ufton Nervet, or Ufton Richard as the manor was also known, was at Ufton Green. It had its own church (of St. John the Baptist), the ruined walls of which can still be seen today. The place was named after Richard Neyrnut or 'Black Night', later corrupted to Nervet. He owned the manor in the 13th century and presumably had a somewhat unsavoury reputation. By 1435, the church was in the hands of the Knights Hospitallers from Greenham, who agreed with William Perkins that the two parishes should combine. This was probably due a considerable decline in the local population which had been decimated by the Black Death a hundred years earlier. St. John's became a mere chapel and, by the 18th century, seems to have been converted into two cottages. these were mostly pulled down in 1883.
The beautiful Elizabethan Ufton Court was originally a minor manor, possibly split off from Ufton Robert in the late 14th century, and called Ufton Pole. Some of the present house still dates from the 15th century, including the crossway of the great hall with the original buttery and pantry doors. It was largely rebuilt by the Perkins family who moved over from Ufton Robert in 1567. The Perkins were well known catholics who were persecuted by the local magistrates in the 16th century. They had to pay heavy fines for refusing to attend the parish church, and Ufton Court was raided at least twice by officials looking for priests in hiding. In 1586, a Sulhamstead tailor ran the family in but, although three servants were imprisoned, the expected ecclesiastic was not found. Sir Francis Knollys Junior found some of the priests' hiding places and a small fortune in gold plate in 1599 but, again, the men had gone. The priests' holes and the secret chapel up in the rafters of the court still remains today, as well as traces of an escape tunnel leading into the woods. In the 18th century, long after the persecutions had stopped, Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to have visited the Perkins' on one of his forays back into the country incognito. Many Perkins memorials decorate the church they tried so hard to stay away from. They have been badly damaged, perhaps by the Parliamentary soldiers who are known to have moved through the region around the the of the two Battles of Newbury. The Perkins family are perhaps best known for instigating the Ufton Bread Dole which is distributed every year from a certain window at the Court. Lady Elizabeth Marvyn, widow of Richard Perkins, left the money for the dole in her will (1581) in thanks for finding her way home after getting lost in some woods. A later Lady of the Manor was Arabella Fermor who married Francis Perkins in the early 18th century. She was the original Belinda of Pope's 'Rape of the Lock'. This had been written after Lord Petre had forcibly cut a lock from the lady's hair: an incident which led to much animosity between the two families. The Perkins finally sold up in 1802. It was left in a somewhat run-down state until restored by Miss Mary Sharpe, a tenant in Victorian times who also wrote the house's history. The house is currently owned by the Benyons of Englefield House, but is leased to West Berkshire District Council.
On 2nd February 1787, prompted only by want of money, two idle and degenerate lads from Ufton conspired to waylay and kill an old labourer called William Billimore. They took his silver watch and, too frightened to search properly for the money they had hoped to find, made their escape. They sold the timepiece in Maidenhead, but were later caught upon returning to the scene of the sale. They were tried at the Reading Assizes and condemned to death, being hanged on a piece of land on Mortimer Common, but just within Ufton parish, and now called Gibbet Piece.
Dr. Henry Beke, Rector of Ufton in the late 18th century, was the government financial consultant who invented income tax! A Victorian Rector, Rev. James Fraser, was one of the few clergymen ever to have been elevated directly from a parochial living to a bishopric. He just got a letter in the post from Gladstone offering him the See of Manchester.
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