The village of White Waltham has been variously known as West Waltham or Waltham Abbots in centuries past. The Church was originally a Saxon minster, tending to the needs of people for many miles around. The site may have been chosen due to its proximity to the old Roman temple on Weycock Hill, in adjoining Waltham St. Lawrence, which may have had a Dark Age Christian successor.
By the time the Saxons arrived, the old Roman temple complex was in ruins, and they saw it as a Wealt-Ham or “Dilapidated Home”: hence Waltham. White Waltham, Shottesbrooke and Waltham St. Lawrence were originally all one estate under this name. The fact that the village was owned by Waltham Abbey (Essex) is pure coincidence. The parish is divided into a number of manors. The principal one is that of Bury, now Bury Court Farm, opposite the church. Very close by, on the south side of the church, stands the 18th century Waltham Place. This is the manor house of Walthamsland otherwise known as Windsors. The manor of Heywood or West Waltham was at Woodlands Park. It had a good moat which survived well into the 1950s. Lastly, the Woolley Fiennes manor house is Feens Farm at Littlewick Green (near Woolley Green). The original Tudor house here was the home of the famous publishing Newbery family from Waltham St. Lawrence. Ralph Newbery first bought the manor house at Beenham’s Heath, but moved to Woolley shortly before his death in 1608.
The famous Berkshire historian, Thomas Hearne, was born in White Waltham in 1678. With the help of Squire Cherry, he gained an excellent education and became assistant keeper of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. He is best known for his editing of Leland's Itinerary, Camden's Annals, Spilman's Life of Alfred the Great and Fordun's Scotichronicon. In one of his works, Hearne tells a most amusing story concerning the Vicar of White Waltham, one John Blower. Queen Elizabeth I had travelled over from Windsor to hear him preach, an event which the poor man most certainly did not relish. The nervous Blower, addressed the lady, first as "My Royal Queen," but, later, this became "My Noble Queen"; at which point the monarch was heard to observe loudly, "What! Am I ten groats worse than I was?" It is said that the vicar never preached a sermon again! Unfortunately the church has suffered much from over-enthusiastic Victorian restoration, but it does still retain the ancient parish stocks and whipping post which stand outside its lychgate. Within is buried Sir Constantine Phipps (died 1723), the Lord Chancellor of Ireland.
Nan’s Oak (alias Didwell’s Oak) stood near Brick Bridge. It was said to be the largest oak tree in the country. It was named after Lady Anne Hyde, the wife of King James II, who dined and later became ill under its branches. She never recovered. The same bridge is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young girl awaiting the return of her Royalist lover from the Civil War. She was discovered there by a group of rabble-rousing parliamentarians and cut down where she stood.
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