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      The Wokingham Society

     Working to protect Wokingham town's past, present and future

Registered Charity no. 274988

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Wokingham History

The population of Wokingham in the year 1801 was 2,281 and by the year 1901 the number had risen to 6,002. In 1951 the population had risen to 11,643 and today the figure is approximately 32,000.

During the 14th century the town consisted of Rose Street, Shute End, Peach Street, Denmark Street. The High Street was where Broad Street and The Terrace can be found today.

Rose Street was originally Le Rothe Strete. Shute End and the Terrace was once known as La Schete and is now known as Shute End.. Denmark Street was known as Le Don Strete and later Down Street before it was renamed in honour of the Princess of Denmark (Queen Alexandra) when she married Edward, Prince of Wales. At the Peach Street end of Cross Street stood an iron marker. This defined the boundary of a parcel of land enclosed in Berkshire that was owned by a Wiltshire estate. The old marker can still be seen at the foot of the building, which is opposite All Saint's church.

In 1219 Wokingham received a Market Charter - "Market to be held peaceably every Tuesday". Today, the market thrives throughout every week of the year including the Farmers' Market, which is held once a month in the Market Place.

The Town Hall, in the Market Place, stands on the site of the former Guildhall, dating from 1612. In 1858 the Guildhall became so dilapidated that it was decided to hold a competition for the design of a new building. The old building was pulled down and the present building, designed by Poulton and Woodman, (Reading architects) was opened in 1860 by Richard Neville, the fourth Lord Braybrooke.

The war memorial, situated in the Annexe, in the Town Hall records the deaths of 217 Wokingham men during the 1914/18 war (World War l). 101 names are recorded, of those who fell, by the end of 1939/45 war (World War ll).

Wokingham's last remaining almshouses, built through a bequest of 1665, are said to be the finest buildings in the town, named Lucas Hospital (a Grade I listed building) after their benefactor. The property is now privately owned. The Society has acquired and renovated a 19thC painting of Lucas Hospital Chapel.

The oil painting is by Henry Frederick Lucas Lucas, an artist renowned for his equestrian subjects. His sister Louise married in 1892 the Rev. Joseph Stratton, who was Master of the Hospital (1889-1917). Louise was skilled at intricate wood carving and her work can be seen in the Chapel and the painting.

When the Rev. Stratton died in January 1917 Louise had to leave her home of 25 years. Her brother Henry completed the picture for her in 1919. His hunting scenes and portraits of horses are still very much in demand today.

Louise wrote and illustrated a book about the Lucas family history in 1886-87 and an eBook version of this work can be found in the eBook section of this website. Only later in life did she discover a family connection with Henry Lucas.

There is a Wokingham Society Historic Blue Plaque at the main entrance to the Henry Lucas Hospital building. Further historic details can be found in the Blue Plaque Trail, leaflets available form the Information Office at the Town Hall.

In the 12th century All Saints' Church was a "Chapel of Ease" becoming a church in the 15th century. It was built on land that was the property of a large estate owner at Amesbury in Wiltshire. This piece of land stretched to Ruscombe. The whole came into the control of Berkshire in 1845. It was known to be on the site of a Saxon chapel.

The earliest known school in Wokingham was that attached to the Chantry of All Saints' Church in the first half of the 16th century. The Chantry itself was dissolved in 1548 but the school itself may have continued.

Throughout the 17th century Henry Mountague, father and son, ran a grammar school in Broad Street, almost certainly on the site now occupied by Montague House.

A girl's boarding school was established in the 1770s and run from Montague House.

The Lush Brothers of Wokingham made coaches for King Edward the seventh, Prince Christian of Schleswig Holstein and the Empress of France.

One of the world's great industries in Victorian Wokingham was the production of bricks. The brickyards of Thomas Lawrence were situated off Fishponds Road and a smaller one at the station end of Oxford Road.

Between 1771 and the 1820s there was a flourishing silk industry in the town. Silk stockings were hand-knitted until the arrival of knitting machines in the 18th century. The last silk factory closed in 1831 and was located in the present South Place off Peach Street.

A bell, made in Wokingham, was donated sometime before 1383 to Dorchester Abbey. Its quality suggests a well-established foundry. For most of the 15th century a large proportion of southern England's bells came from the Landen family's foundry, situated somewhere behind 7/15 Broad Street named Smyths Place. Roger Landen is mentioned in Eton College's 1448 accounts. The foundry moved to Chertsey sometime in 1620. Thomas Eldridge took over the foundry at Smyths Place in the mid 16th Century. He sold bells to Bray and Winkfield in 1565.
Note: The Landen family owned a farm and land off what is now known as "Bell Foundry Lane". This farm was named "Bell Founders Farm". The area is always described as arable land, there was no source of sand or water vital for a bell foundry. Also consider the difficulty of moving extremely heavy bells on horse drawn carts over very muddy tracks. It is generally accepted that there was no foundry in that area, the name of the lane being a corruption of the farm name over the centuries. The Lush Brothers (see above, under Industry) were also well known bellringers at All Saints Church.

There was a good fast stage-coach service between London and Reading which, until around 1849, stopped at Wokingham. It was at this time that the Reading to Guildford railway opened enabling rail passengers to travel to London via Reading. A more direct service was available when the Staines to Reading line was completed in 1856. Wokingham train station had, in 1980, ten employees. The present station footbridge was apparently uniquely constructed from lengths of railway line and is listed.

The Thames Valley Traction Company begun running a regular bus service through Wokingham in the year 1920.

In 1645, as far as Wokingham was concerned, the fighting was nearly over. The second part of the Civil War did not involve the town. It was left with a ruined economy and took many years to recover.

There were not many tears shed locally for Charles, when he was executed in 1649 at the end of the conflict. In 1655 Colonel Richard Neville, a staunch Royalist and Cavalier, was sworn in as Wokingham's High Steward. The first Duke of St Albans, bastard son of Charles ll and Nell Gwynn, became the High Steward of Wokingham from 1716 until 1726.

Today, Lady Elizabeth Godsal, a descendant of the Neville family, is the High Steward of Wokingham (and the Vice Lord-Lieutenant for the Royal County of Berkshire). In the Civil War 1643 - 1644 Wokingham town was subject to foraging raids by both the Roundheads and the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers raided on Market days to seize horses and food. They set fire to the houses as reprisals for the townspeople not handing over enough food and supplies for the army in Reading. Over thirty houses were burnt down by the Royalists.

The first Duke of St Albans, bastard son of Charles ll and Nell Gwynn, was Wokingham's High Steward from 1716 until 1726.

The 1664 will of Richard Palmer provided for the ringing of the parish church's Great Bell from March until September. One of the purposes of this was to guide lost souls in the countryside to the church and town. It was rung at 4.00am (morning bell - to waken people to prepare for the day`s labours) and 8.00pm (the curfew bell - time to retire to bed in preparation for the next day`s labour).

John Walter lll was an MP for many years. He owned the London Times and he also built and endowed St Paul's Church at his own expense in 1864. He also had built the St. Paul's C of E School in 1866 an the Walters also had built the Clock House and Parish Rooms nearby in 1893. He was responsible for Finchampstead's first school in 1855 and a new road across the Ridges between Crowthorne and Finchampstead. He organised the planting of the two rows of Wellingtonia sequoia trees, either side of the road, as a tribute to the Iron Duke.

In 1787 Wokingham, the prize fighter Tom Johnson "bashed the living daylights" out of Bill Warr for the Championship of England and a purse of £200.00.

Wokingham's first cricket club started in 1825. www.wokinghamcricketclub.co.uk

In 1912 a site in Broad Street was acquired for the 'Electric Theatre' which later became the Savoy cinema.
The Savoy closed in 1950.

Cock fighting was popular in Wokingham. There was once a cock-pit at the end of Cock Walk (known today as Cockpit Path).

On the present day market site, bull baiting took place once a year, just before Christmas.
George Staverton, a butcher who died in 1661, left a will giving, each year, two bulls to be tethered in the marketplace and to be baited by dogs. The bulls were paraded around the town a day or two before the event and then locked in the yard of the "Old Rose". A number of dogs would be maimed or killed during the event and the bull eventually destroyed. The meat and leather retrieved from the slaughter was later given to the poor people of the town. The practice was discontinued in 1821 for humanitarian reasons.