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

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Water Oakley
Home of Hammer Horror

Oakley Court at Water Oakley, Berkshire - © Nash Ford Publishing

The crossroads where the Windsor Road meets the Fifield Road and Monkey Island Lane is sometimes known as Builders Cross. According to an old story, here stood the Saxon church of Bray parish. Being outside the village, the locals found it difficult to keep the building in good nick and, by Edward I’s reign, it was almost falling down. So they agreed to build a new church. However, every time work began, evil spirits pulled the builders’ progress down. Eventually, the Queen, who owned the manor (hence nearby Queen’s Eyot), was called in to help. She delegated the situation to her beadle, who suggested the church site be moved to Bray. The new church supposedly had two pieces of sculpture from the old transferred to it. One was the lewd Sheela-Na-Gig baring all up in the rafters. The other, a dog (?), can be seen on the outer wall of the chantry chapel in the churchyard. It has been suggested that the latter came from a Roman Temple, at Builders Cross, dedicated to Hecate. It would have been converted for Christian use by the early Saxons. This goddess was the patroness of cemeteries and a Romano-British burial ground was discovered near Builderswell, the spring that feeds the gravel pits behind the cross. These pits were previously a mill pond, and originally a natural lake. Many broken bronze swords and spears have been recovered from it, indicating a connection with the cemetery. At death, the Celts appear, like King Arthur, to have been in the habit of throwing their most prized possessions into the swirling depths of lakes or rivers. There is further evidence that, in Iron Age times, the bodies went in too! There may have been a settlement of some kind at Arbour Bridge Pasture between Down Place Farm & Builderswell. Places called Cold Harbour are associated with Roman Roads and may have been stop-over points along the way.

The medieval area of settlement was around Queen’s Wharf. Windsor Forest timber, for the rebuilding of the choir roof at Westminster Abbey, was transported down river from here in 1352. The area is now the site of Oakley Court, a castellated and turreted gothic mansion, built in 1857 for Richard Hall-Saye. During the Second World War, it was the home of Frenchman, Ernest Olivier, the Turkish Consul in Monte Carlo. He entertained many diplomats there. General De Gaulle was a frequent visitor, hence the Court is often said to have been the headquarters of the French Resistance. The house is now an eminent hotel, but it is perhaps best known for its film roles as St. Trinian’s School, Tommy Steele’s home-to-be in Half a Sixpence and Dracula’s Castle. This is perhaps not surprising for the estate was carved out of the adjoining, Down Place, now Bray Studios. This was bought by Hammer Films in 1957 and was where most of their Horror movies were made. It has thus seen many film stars pass through, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee must have found it a home from home. The house dates from about 1750 and was the popular meeting place of the Kit-Kat Club during the ownership of Jacob Tonson. These people had nothing to do with chocolate bars, but met around the time of William III’s death to ensure the defence of the House of Hanover and the protestant succession.

See also Bray and Oakley Green.
 

 

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