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Anne Boleyn's Downfall

Yattendon, Berkshire - © Nash Ford Publishing

The earliest evidence of human occupation at Yattendon is the famous 'Yattendon Hoard' of Bronze Age implements discovered in 1878 when excavating the foundations of Yattendon Court. The 59-piece collection included 28 spearheads, 5 sword parts, including hilts & blades, 6 gouges, 4 knives, 4 axes, 4 pieces of sheet metal, 3 staves & 3 chisels. They may have been a metalworker's hoard, ready for melting. Most of the items were late Bronze Age, but a few were from earlier in the period. There is also a Round Barrow in the south-west corner of the parish.

The so called Eling Roman Villa was always historically in the very north of Yattendon parish, though it is now part of Hermitage. It was discovered in 1863 and details are not as full as one might have hoped. It was apparently of the usual corridor type, but probably somewhat richer than most Berkshire buildings of this period. It contained heated underground hypocaust systems, painted red wall plaster and decorative mosaics (the remains of a blue & white guilloche pattern were found). There were numerous small finds, including a bronze dog. Nearby were other buildings, and an vaulted Roman tomb.

Yattendon has been known by various names: Etingedene (1086), Hetingedon (1177), Gettendon (1195), Yetingeden (1220), Jetingedon (1223), Watingeden (1236) & Chetingdon (1284). From the 1240s, however, it had pretty much settled down to variations of Yattendon with an initial 'Y'. The name either means 'Eata's People's Valley' (Eata being a person's name) or the 'Gate People's Valley'. The latter seams more attractive, but what was the gate to? Everington, now barely a hamlet just west of the village, was given by King Edgar to his servant, Aelfric, in 961. The village of Yattendon, of course, appears in the Domesday Survey of 1086. A Saxon named Baldwin had held the manor in the time of Edward the Confessor, but it had since been given to the Norman knight William FitzAnsculf who was renting out to a certain Godbold. It covered eight 'hides' (perhaps 960 acres) and the village included thirteen serfs & villeins (tenant farmers) and six bordars (cottage dwellers). The land was worked by five plough-teams (each with four oxen) and there was a mill and woodland. There is no mention of a church, but these were sometimes ignored. The manor brought in £8 per annum (that's about £5,000 today). The 'miraculous well' on the Pangbourne Road, which never overflows, may have been one of the main sources of water at this time.

In 1258, the manor lord, Peter de Yattendon, set up a market in the village which was held every Tuesday and obtained permission for an annual three-day Christmas Fair to be held from St. Nicholas' Day (6th December). In 1316, the manor of Yattendon was purchased by the famous De La Beche family who held many important positions at Court. Their main country residence was La Beche Castle in Aldworth, but they spent time at Yattendon Manor, using it as a hunting lodge, originally for hare, rabbits, pheasant and partridge under the right of free warren. Sir John De la Beche added a Summer Fair to Yattendon's calendar, on SS. Peter & Paul's Day (10th July) and the day after. There may also have been an Autumn Fair on the Feast of St. Edward the Confessor (13th October).  In 1336, Sir John's brothers, Philip and Sir Nicholas, emparked the Yattendon estate and established a herd of deer there. The latter was a royal tutor and may have hunted there with his pupil, the Black Prince. The De la Beche family died out in 1381.

In 1414, Rose de Montfort, the heiress of the Yattendon family who was then living at Lapworth in Warwickshire, tried to establish her right to the manor. She appears to have been successful, since by 1420, her grandson-in-law, Sir Richard Merbrooke, was living at Yattendon. It was his daughter and heiress, Alice, who brought the estate into the hands of the great Norreys family when she married Sir John Norreys of Ockwells Manor in Bray, who eventually became Master of the Wardrobe to King Henry VI. In 1448, he obtained permission to embattle the manor house at Yattendon, but instead rebuilt it as Yattendon Castle on an adjoining side. He also emparked some 600 acres around it and rebuilt the parish church. The castle appears to have been used as a secondary home where the eldest son of each generation lived before his father's death. It became the main family home in 1517, when Sir John's great grandson and namesake had to give up Ockwells as punishment for having killed a man. Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon visited him at Yattendon during the latter years of their marriage. While there, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, of whom the King was already enamoured, dropped her handkerchief during a dance. It was retrieved by the manor lord's brother, Henry Norreys, thus setting in motion the rumours that led to both he and Anne eventually losing their heads for adultery. Henry's son became Lord Norreys of Rycote and inherited vast estates from his father-in-law, including Wytham Abbey in North Berkshire. His eldest son, the famous Elizabethan soldier, Sir John Norreys, may have lived at Yattendon on his rare stays in the Country. He is buried in the parish church. After his death, however, the family moved out of Yattendon Castle and it was left to fall into a state of disrepair. It was probably during this period that a beacon was erected on top of the hill just east of the village, where Yattendon Court now stands. It was used to call men to arms during times of trouble like the invasion of the Spanish Armada. Several of the old village houses also date from this time. The last of the Norreys family was the Earl of Berkshire who shot himself in prison in 1622.

Little seems to be known of Yattendon during the Civil War, but the area had troops from both sides passing by especially during the Siege of Donnington Castle after the Second Battle of Newbury. In Victorian times, a revel including the old games of 'single-stick' and backswording was held at 'England's Piece' at the time of the old Summer Fair. It was said to commemorate a battle, which was probably a Civil War skirmish, fought at Manstone Farm, north-west of the village, on that date. The old castle was certainly wrecked during this period and an old story is told of a wealthy family who fled the village after having first hidden a vast fortune in gold down a deep well. It has never been found.

The Bertie Earls of Abingdon were heirs to the Norreys family. Yattendon was owned by younger sons and Capt. Peregrine Bertie RN kept a pack hounds there, which he used for the 'Cape' or 'Yattendon Hunt' in the 1770s, though he lived at Frilsham House. In 1784, he sold up to his brother-in-law, the Italian dancer, Sir John Gallini, and the next year he built the present Yattendon Manor, within the old castle moat. Many of the major houses of the parish were built in the 18th century. There was a kiln, south of the Pangbourne Road at this time, and a number of large chalk caves excavated in the same area may have been used for lime production there.

In 1876, the manor was purchased by the famous architect, Alfred Waterhouse, who built the Natural History Museum. The picturesque well in the main village square was sunk by him, the next year, for the benefit of the local people. He built a 'Reading Room' two years later, followed by a new home for himself and his family, east of the village, called Yattendon Court. It was probably Berkshire's finest piece of Waterhouse architecture, sporting a magnificent tower. However, it was pulled down by Lord Iliffe in 1925. Waterhouse also built the village school house in 1885. His son-in-law, the poet laureate, Robert Bridges, also lived in the village after his retirement. He erected the cross in the churchyard in 1898. Like many features of his father-in-law's architecture, it is made of terracotta. The adjoining yew tree, which had been planted in 1666, lost many branches in the 19th century and was eventually removed in 1926. Mrs. Waterhouse made Yattendon famous for its copper industry, until the First World War brought it to an end. She had taught 'brass beating' to the local lads and numerous objects were sold locally as well at at Liberty's in London, whilst several items were commissioned from abroad. There is a Ewer in the church and other items at Challow.

As mentioned, the newspaper proprietor, Lord Iliffe, moved to Yattendon Court in 1925 and built himself a new house there in a rather boring neo-Tudor style. His son restored Basildon Park, not far away. His lordship amalgamated local lands to form the 'Yattendon Estate', a well-known ethical agricultural estate, as well as the largest producer of Christmas Trees in the country. Yattendon bread rolls can now be bought nationwide. The estate HQ is in the village, as well as that of the parent Yattendon Group, covering the family's other business interests: newspapers, marinas and Canadian property.


    © Nash Ford Publishing 2001; Rev. 2011. All Rights Reserved.