A History of a Pub through Time: The Rose

In the last of this short series of podcasts I look at The Rose. There have been three inns or pubs of that name in the town since probably the Elizabethan period. And they have been intricately involved in the town’s development, serving as stagecoach depots as well as offering up excellent food and sauces as I discover in this episode!

Victorian Wokingham

Looking at a photograph of the inhabitants of Wokingham celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, there is the appearance of a town that was affluent and confident. 

If we were to go back however to when Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, it would be a very different Wokingham that we would encounter.

In this podcast I will look at the changes that took place during Victoria’s reign that made Wokingham a desirable and attractive place to live.

Wokingham: A Quintessential English Market Town

At first glance, there is little noteworthy about Wokingham. It is a market town in southern England, much like many other towns and villages. And yet its history stretches back over a thousand years. A history that is distinct from and yet interwoven with the history of the nation. A history that is unique and different from the histories of the other market towns up and down the country. And it is these very characteristics that make it so appealing for anyone with an interest in local history.

Wokingham’s origins are Saxon. The town was most likely a hamlet established by the Woccingas tribe who lived nearby. Sometime, probably before the Norman invasion, a chapel of ease was established in a ‘clearing the woods’ on the edge of Windsor Forest. The ‘clearing on the woods’ became the town’s oldest street, Rose Street, le Rothe. It was from this beginning that the medieval town would grow.

In 1219 Richard le Poore was acting as chief justice for Henry III’s itinerant justices in Reading. The case concerned the misappropriation of glebe lands by Rufus Radulfus of Wokingham. Radulfus lost the case. A few years later Richard had become the Bishop of Salisbury and was looking for funding for a new cathedral at Milford by the River Avon. He must have recalled the relative backwater of Wokingham for he decided to invest in a market charter for Wokingham from the Crown in 1219. The burgage strips of the medieval town, sold off to raise cash, remain identifiable today.

The town developed through the medieval period with fairs, a cattle market and the establishment of industry including a bell foundry. But this early prosperity came to an end with English Civil War. Wokingham was caught between the opposing sides of the Royalists and the Parliamentarian, both of whom pillaged the town for horses and food. But it was the Cavaliers who torched the town in October 1643, when thirty houses representing around a third of the town were burnt down.

The fall out of the war and the subsequent poor harvests of the so-called Little Ice Age impoverished the town. There was a real risk of famine. The economic and social struggles of the town continued for the next couple of centuries.

As late as 1809 a visitor the town, Thomas Mann, would write:

Wokingham itself…is the most depressing place you ever saw, where poverty seems to have taken up her abode and from whence the energies of the British character seem to have fled. 

Wokingham did not really recover until the Victorian era when the railway arrived in 1850s. This bought much needed vitality and commerce to the town. 

Victorian Wokingham must have been a noisy and smelly place to live. There were several breweries in the town, there were two tanneries, saw mills and brick works. And of course, the smoke and cinders from the steam trains carrying passengers and goods into and out of the town. It was a hive of earnest activity. 

The town was also becoming gentrified with the last bull baiting taking place in the 1855. A new church, St Paul’s, was commissioned and built, to the highest standards, with money donated by the owner of The Times newspaper, John Walter III.

During the First World War Wokingham saw several thousand troops billeted in the town. The townspeople rose to the task and provided amenities and entertainment for the young soldiers on their way to and from the trenches. And then in the Second World War Wokingham hosted refugees from London and nearby Southampton. Sadly, in both wars Wokingham also lost many of its own sons and daughters to the conflict.

The post war years saw a resurgence of the town’s economy but not without some challenges. Competition from nearby Reading and Bracknell forced the closure of many shops and business. The town’s medieval layout, while a pleasure for historians, was a bane of contention in terms of traffic. The second half of the twentieth century saw many redesigns of the traffic system not all of them to great effect:

The new one-way system has come into operation and the Society has seen its fears come true—traffic snarl-ups, a race-track in Denmark Street and the great hazards for pedestrians trying to cross the road, particularly in Denmark Street—etc. Things are in fact far worse than expected…. While the scheme has many disadvantages, there are no obvious advantages. Unless there is a definite improvement, should not the whole scheme be suspended and thoroughly re-examined?

Wokingham has frequently been voted one the best places to live in England. Much of the old town still remains with numerous listed buildings. The population has grown considerably, and the town center has seen subjected to major development in recent years.

But the essence of the town remains. Its character makes it a worthy contender as a quintessential English market town. Its history and heritage is accessible and, for anyone interested in local history, Wokingham represents a town whose past bears witness to its own trials, tribulations and successes as well as being reflective of the broader picture of the history of England. 

Archbishop Thomas Godwyn Born in poverty in Wokingham in 1517

Wokingham in the early part of the sixteenth century was a busy medieval town. All Saints Church had been recently refurbished and remodelled, having been enlarged from the earlier Norman chapel. The tower and clerestory were built, and the white chalk pillars were put in place. The chantry of St Mary had been erected in 1443 on the north side chancel aisle under the supervision of Adam Moyens, Dean of Salisbury. 

It would have looked very much like the church we know today.

The tracks that are now etched into the Wiltshire and London Roads led to Warfield in one direction and in the other to the hunting lodge at Easthampstead Park. And in front of the church was Rose Street. This was the location of the weekly market held each Tuesday. Today there are twenty houses in Rose Street that date from or before this period. And in one of these lived Thomas Godwyn.

Thomas had been born of poor parents in 1517 most likely in one of the cottages in Rose Street. Unlike many of his background in that period Thomas received an education.

John Norreys, who owned the estate to the north-west of the church, and John Westende another wealthy inhabitant of Wokingham had provided the endowment to the chantry. They had also provided for a school ‘within the said chantry’ where twenty-eight-year-old Robert Ayres was both priest and teacher.

The young Thomas must have been an outstanding pupil for he came to the attention of a certain Dr Richard Layton. Layton was Archdeacon of Buckingham and saw that Thomas was bright and capable. The Archdeacon effectively adopted the young man and sponsored his education and progression to the extent that in 1538 Thomas entered Magdalen College, Oxford. Thomas was twenty-one years old. 

Thomas Godwyn, the pauper child from Wokingham, was a student at Magdalen College in 1538, having been adopted by Richard Layton subsequently Dean of York. Thomas graduated in 1543, became a Fellow and then earned his Masters in 1547. His reformist leanings caused a breach with his colleagues, and he resigned his Fellowship and took up a post as a teacher at Brackley School in Northampton. While at Brackley he married Isabella Purefoy and with her subsequently had nine children. 

The reason he left Brackley is open to speculation. Some commentators suggest that with the arrival of Queen Mary on the English throne in 1553, Thomas decided that he should find a more secure haven. ‘Bloody Mary’ wanted to reverse the Reformation that her father Henry VII had started. Alternatively, it could have been that Thomas fell out of favour with the college and left before Mary ascended the throne; in the negotiations for his successor’s appointment the post is described as “being now voide through ye neglygens of him that lately occupied it”. But what this negligence could have been we do not know.

Either which way he returned to Oxford and qualified to practice medicine in 1555. The Counter-Reformation ended in 1558 with the death of Mary and ascension of Elizabeth. Thomas decided that now was the time to follow his true vocation and returned to divinity.

Thomas was a remarkable preacher and soon came to the attention of Queen Elizabeth. The Queen pleased with his “good parts” and “goodly person”, made him one of her Lent preachers in 1565. He held this post for eighteen years. Thomas’ career progressed swiftly. In June 1565 he was appointed Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and in 1567 to Dean of Canterbury.

He stayed at Canterbury until 1584 when the Queen appointed him Bishop of Bath and Wells. His episcopate in Bath and Wells (1584-1590) was short and troubled. Sir Walter Raleigh the sailor and for a time royal favourite wanted to extort from him the lease for a hundred years of the manor of Barnwell, some church lands. Thomas refused. The two men quarrelled. Raleigh bided his time. When Godwin remarried, Raleigh told the Queen that his new wife was a twenty-year-old girl, whom Thomas had married for her money. She is believed in fact to have been a widow. Despite the Earl of Bedford coming to the defence of Godwin, saying that the widow had a son aged about forty, Elizabeth took Raleigh’s part and Godwin fell from favour.

It had been a long journey from the small charity school in Wokingham. He was suffering with gout and recurrent bouts of malaria. Thomas returned to the town of his birth in 1590 and succumbed to his illness.

In the choir vestry, there is a plaque erected by his son. In translation it reads:

In sacred memory of a very dear parent, and truly reverend father, Thomas Godwyn, Doctor of Divinity of Christ Church Oxford first, and then Dean of Canterbury; afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells; who was born in this town, and here also (whither he returned on the advice of his doctors to regain his health) was consumed by the quartan fever and died on the 19th day of November 1590, in the 7th year of his consecration; and lies here awaiting the coming of the great God. Erected by his son Francis Godwyn, Sub Dean of Exeter.

The Wokingham Whale

In this podcast, I tell the strange story of a flying machine built in Wokingham in 1909 by local inventor Jesse Farbrother. The machine was made of wood and canvas and was designed to take off vertically! Its sudden disappearance and the disappearance of Jesse have been shrouded in mystery. Was there an explosion or was it taken by the War Office? And what happened to Jesse?

This photograph is a copy from J & R Lea’s Wokingham, A Pictorial Guide. If anyone has an actual photograph I would be delighted to see it!

In Living Memory

What are the local events that have made the biggest impression or impact on you? How has the town changed in the last 50 or so years? In this episode, I explore the history of Wokingham in the recent past, from 1969 onwards. Traffic jams, the Royal Princes, and the demise of the Ritz cinema are a few of the highlights I look at in this short podcast. This photograph of Market Place in the 1960s is from the extensive and excellent NetXposure.net collection.

The Founding of Wokingham

Have you ever wondered when Wokingham was founded, or indeed why it was established where it is? Wokingham’s early history starts in the Anglo Saxon period. The town developed during the medieval period with a market and annual fairs. In this episode of Wokingham A Potted History I explore the foundation of the town, try and explain why it was located here in the first place, and describe how a priest called Alerud should be considered one of Wokingham’s founding fathers.

Wokingham at Play

Wokingham’s past, in terms of leisure activities, is not completely wholesome. The local historian Arthur Heelas writing in 1928 said:

‘The sporting instincts of the inhabitants of the district have always been well developed, although not necessarily applied in the right direction.’

The wrong direction included bull baiting and bare-knuckle fighting.It wasn’t until the Victorian and Edwardian period that Wokingham’s pastimes became more politically correct with numerous football and cricket clubs. And then in the 20th century, we saw Martin’s Pool and the opening of the Electric Theatre and Ritz Cinema in the 1930s.

The painting, probably dating from the late 18thcentury, shows bull baiting taking place in Market Place. The Old Guildhall is on the right and the artist is probably standing in front of The Red Lion looking across the square to The Roebuck. The scene is chaotic; the bull, the dogs and the people all in frantic flight. The actual painting is in the Town Hall and this image is taken from the Wokingham Virtual Museum and is available online at https://www.wokingham-tc.gov.uk/museum/document/WTH0233  and was accessed on 28th January 2019.

Wokingham’s Pubs and Breweries

The Queen’s Head taken about 1906 and sourced from the Francis Frith Collection.

At one point in time, Wokingham could boast 45 public houses, as well as three major breweries and a couple of inns. Our oldest pubs, such as the Queen’s Head, The Duke’s Head as well as The Roebuck and the Red Lion, can take us back to the 18th century. Others came with the railway in the Victorian era.

In this short podcast, I look at the history of the pubs and breweries in Wokingham and the town’s ongoing enthusiasm for beer and wine.

Wokingham at War

Wokingham was the epitome of the Home Front in WW1 and WW2. A small market town trying to maintain life as normal while everything was in turmoil. As the young men and women went off to war, the town was inundated with new arrivals: Belgium refugees, Canadian soldiers and the build-up of troops for D Day. And all the time the townsfolk did their bit to support the war effort in their inimitable way including ‘fag days’, caring for the wounded and looking after evacuees.

In this podcast, I look at the events in Wokingham during the two major wars of the 20th century.

The photograph, taken from the excellent WokinghamRemembers web site, shows crowds celebrating the end of WW1 in Broad Street. It is available online at http://www.wokinghamremembers.com/1919-victory-wokingham-celebrates/ and was accessed on January 21, 2019.

Wokingham: A Potted History

Wokingham is a market town on the edge of Windsor Forest in England. It is where I have lived most of my life; it is where my family has grown up.

And until recently, it is a place that I knew very little about. Like many, perhaps, I worked five days a week; weekends were busy with children, family and routine commitments. There was little time to wander around Wokingham.

This series of podcasts tries to correct my own lack of appreciation for the town as I explore various aspects of the town’s history.

But first, I am going to take a short walk around the town to see what I can see.

The picture of All Saints church is available from Wokingham’s Virtual Museum. It was painted in 1832 by W.A. Delamott who worked at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. (“All Saints Parish Church, Wokingham,” Wokingham’s Virtual Museum, accessed January 9, 2019, https://www.wokingham-tc.gov.uk/museum/document/481.)

It is easy to recognise the church from Delamott’s drawing, but I find the characters most interesting as they do not come across as Wokingham’s finest. One has climbed over the wall into the graveyard, the others seem to be lounging against the church wall. I like to think that the passenger in the cart is looking at the boys disapprovingly and muttering to the driver something to the effect that things were never like this when they were young!