Old Upton

A history of old Upton


The earliest evidence we have of habitation in Upton is some time during the iron Age (very roughly, after 600 BC) when the settlement lay within the territory of the British tribe, the Atrebates. The tribal capital was Calleva (Silchester) which, in the 1st century AD, came to be the important Roman town, Calleva Atrebatum. The territory administered from here lay south of the Thames in Berkshire and the adjacent parts of Wiltshire, Hampshire and Surrey. The name Airebates means settlers or inhabitants.

Of course we have no definite dates for any of this early period, nor do we know of any earlier, Bronze Age, settlement here. There are traces of old field systems in the fields north of Common Lane (where the Red Barn stands), and I am told that pieces of pottery, metal and ornaments from the Romano-British period have been found in the fields beyond Frog Alley Farm. There is also a tantalising glimpse of the archaeology of the village: the Rev Richard Hooper, first rector of Upton, kept a parish diary from the spring of 1862. The following entry appears on 29 June 1863: “In the afternoon Mr Philip Humfrey, accompanied by the Rev J C Clutterbuck (of Long Wittenham) and myself examined a curious cave or grave on his Downs at Upton and found numerous bones of animals and some Romano-British antiquities”. This spot was marked on Ordnance Survey maps of the area (“Stone Rings etc found”) until quite recently, but the new maps no longer show it, and the “grave” has long since been ploughed out. What happened to the antiquities and whether Mr Hooper was correct in dating his finds to the Romano-Bntish period we do not know.

The earliest known archaeological sites in the village probably date back to the Anglo-Saxon period. Two chalk-cut graves (c 1000 AD) were found in 1958 below Athelstone and Ryecroft in the High Street. In the first burial was found an iron knife (now at the Ashmolean Museum) and an iron boss of a shield. Later in the 1980s, another grave, probably of similar date, was found in Prospect Road.

While on the subject of archaeology, I am sure Maitland Underhill, the local historian I have mentioned before, who lived in Upton, would not have objected if I draw from his “Notes on Upton” at this point:

“From 1969-71, fragments of Norman pottery have been turning up in the garden of my bungalow, Turstins (now Sunnybank) … These fragments comprise at present at least eight different pots. There are also pieces of 16th – 19th century and later wares, stems of clay pipes, etc … Some of the pottery uses a distinctive pinkish-brown paste, probably wheel-made with a roulette stamp. Another large portion is of blackish-grey hard paste, with the top of the rim having a characteristic finger-indented “pie-crust” surface.

“On 1st November 1970, I recovered two pieces of similar blackish-grey ware and a later piece of red-ware from the upturned foundations of the new house now completed in Fieldside Road. (I am not sure which house this was, but it was the church end of Fieldside JG) There should of course be Saxon pottery as well to be found, assuming that there was late Saxon occupation.

“Before 1970, a 14th century “jetton” or casting counter was dug up in a garden in Fieldside Road, together with some 17th – 19th century pottery from the same garden. In 1960, a hoard of seven silver coins of Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I were unearthed beneath the foundations of three old cottages demolished close to the old Methodist chapel on the east side of High Street. The coins are now in Reading Museum.”

There were other, probably late Anglo-Saxon, burials found at the White House, at the very eastern end of the village, but as this lies just within the parish of Blewbury, they cannot be counted as Upton finds. However, together with the High Street burials, they do point to the possibility of a cemetery yet to be discovered on the north side of the old Icknield Way (A417).

Documented History

Now, to the first written references to Upton. From The Early Charters of the Thames Valley by Margaret Gelling, I quote:

“Record by Alfred King of the Saxons, of the transaction by which he acquired 100 “manentes” in Ceolesige (Cholsey) and its appurtenant vills Haccaburna (Hagbourne) and Bæstlæsford (Basildon) from Bishop Denewulf and the church of Winchester.”

The bounds of Haccabernan describe East and West Hagbourne with Didcot, Upton and probably Chilton. The date of this charter would have been somewhere round about the year 895, during the reign of King Alfred. Though Upton is not mentioned by name, the inclusion of Haccabernan would most likely indicate that there was a settlement at Upton at this time.

The first definite written record of Upton appears in the Domesday Book. This great work was compiled for King William, dating from 1086, as a record of “what or how much each landholder held … in land and livestock” for the entire kingdom. The entry for Upton reads as follows:

Thurstan son of Rolf
In Blewbury Hundred
Thurston also holds UPTON. Britric a free man, held it.
Then for 10 hides, now for 5 hides
Land for 9 ploughs,
In lordship 2;
16 villagers and 7 cottagers with 6 ploughs,
7 slaves; meadow, 30 acres
The value is and was £13.

The hide – originally signified the amount of land which could be ploughed by a team of eight-oxen. …This varied according to the quality of the land but was usually between 160 and 180 acres.** It seems then that the land acreage here, at its smallest, was about 800 acres compared with the present parish of about 1380 acres. The population though was tiny. What we have here is the original Manor of Upton. Over the years, with the division of the manor into four parts and the consequent gradual acquisition of more land, the village eventually grew to the size and shape of the present parish. The parishes, to quote from the same source as above, dated “from the ninth and tenth centuries, when parish churches superseded the Minster system. Most early parish churches were provided by Saxon lords, the boundaries of whose estates almost certainly corresponded with those of the parishes.”

Margaret Gelling, in her book The Place Names of Berkshire, lists about forty old names from Upton, mostly field names and farm names. I clearly cannot mention them all, and of course many or most fields and farms were simply named after their owner, or past owner, or tenant. For instance: Old Tommy’s Farm, Gammons Downs, Rixes Meadow (this name, variously spelt, is the same as the name Rich, still found locally as in “Rich’s Sidings”), Aliens Barn Piece, Butlers Meadow, etc. There are also names whose origins are now lost: Adnams Grave (which could be a corruption of Grove. It lay across the road from the old Rectory), Lady Half and The Coobies (by the road to The Horse and Harrow), Scotland Piece (also in that area), Milhains and The Forty (off Common Lane), Picked Piece, Romans, Grumbles Mere, Saffron Close (did they grow saffron here?), and others like Withy Hedge Piece and Granary Orchard which need no explanation. Some of these names are still used, but most have been lost from the village memory.

The parish registers come next, an absolutely invaluable source for the local historian. They start in 1588, and the original manuscript can be seen on microfilm at the Berkshire Record Office. These early entries are very difficult to decipher and it would take a dedicated historian to work through them. Happily for Upton, in 1897, Joseph Fry, who had retired to live at the present Manor House in Upton, undertook to transcribe the Upton register of baptisms, burials and marriages which he had printed, by the Parish Register Society, in a volume covering the years 1588 to 1741. To start, I shall quote the following from the Preface:

The Parishes of Upton and those of Blewbury and Thorpe, have been so intermingled in times gone by, that it is difficult now to separate the einries that belong to one from the other. In former times Upton was a dependency or chapeiry of Blewbury, but since 1861, Upton and Aston Upthorpe (or Thorpe, or Throp for short) have been constituted a separate ecclesiastical parish.

Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the Registers of Upton are not very continuous, and that frequent gaps are to be found. It is probable that the Registers of Blewbury contain many entries relating to Upton people, so that it would be desirable, at some future time, to print those of Blewbury in order to supplement the present volume. (This he did, in a combined volume, for the years 1736 to 1860).

The Register of Upton consists of one volume … and contains thirty-one parchment leaves and is bound also in parchment, and is in pretty fair condition. Down to 1621 the handwriting is uniform, it having been copied about that period, no doubt in accordance with the 70th Canon, which directed that all the old paper books in use since 1536 should be transcribed into parchment volumes…

I should like to reproduce some pages of this lovely document, but I think I shall have to limit myself to picking out a few entries. It is as well to remember, when looking through the register, that until 1752, when England adopted January 1st as the start of the new year, the year had started on March 25th. Entries therefore, before 1752, between 1st Jan and 25th Mar, will be dated as though in the previous year. The spelling of names in the early days had not been standardised, nor could many people spell their own names, so there are some imaginative variations. The first entry reads:

Michaell the sonne of Richard Wiett baptized the xxixth of October 1588

Then, at random:

ffrancis the sonne of Andrew Plotte baptiz the xxiilh of March 1590
Willm the imputed sonne of Richard Smith baptiz the xviiith of November 1592
Thomas the sonne of Robert Winter baptiz the ixth of Septemb 1596 *

From 1700 to 1720, when Joseph Acres was the vicar, spelling goes wild:

elabath ye dafter of Joseph acures vicur and elabath his wife was baptised June ye 4th 1702
william ye son of gabel casle & saraha his wif baptised ye 4th of July 1707. Upton.

Later on, in the 18th and 19th centuries in particular, children are frequently given biblical first names: Keziah, Leah, Joshua, Ezra, Nathaniel, Ahaziah, Miriam, Malachi, and my favourite, Vashti, among many others appear in the registers.

The first entry under Funera, (1588 – 1670) burialls reads,

Christofer the sonne of xpofer Plotte buried the xvith of October 1588

The Plotts (or Platts) dominate the register at this time, with Smallbones, Blissets, Hadnams (see Adnam’s Grave, above), AlIens, Stantons, Keats and many other names which crop up again at the time of the Enclosures of 1759. Many of these names can still be found locally.

Oddly, there are very few burials recorded – one in 1589, three in 1590, one in 1591, and so on. Was the village very sparsely populated then, or were the records not kept properly?

The last section of the register is for marriages (Nuptia) 1588 – 1735. Here are three,

Robert Chitte & Dam (Dame?) Pope were married the viiith of Januarie 1588
Sidrach Burditt & Margaret ffreman maned the xxvith of Januarie 1600
Thomas Cordreye and Marie Plotte were marned the second daie of Maie 1613.

There is a curious little entry on p 47, round about the 1740s (though it could have been penned at any time):

Wahun a Conquarour,
Warren all victorious William Smith
William defence to maney
Waiston comely decent
quench soon the flames of lust and have a care of wanton women they will prove a snare.

I shall not even try to comment on this.

The next volume transcribed by Joseph Fry (1721 to 1813) is much more difficult to work through as it is essentially for Blewbury with Upton and Thorpe entries mixed in, often unattributed. The entries though are more infonnalive with some sort of description, for instance, pauper, infant or even cause of death (smallpox being one).

Jane ye daugtr of Henery & Elizth Grinif Upton, October ye 5th 1735
Castle, Ann, of Sarah (base born), baptized June 2, 1776. William Woodley reputed Father. Upton.

John, ye son of Robt & Martha Butler, of Upton, buried July 6, 1736
Thomas & Margaret Dearlough, of Upton, March 15, 1747
John Westell. Upton, Pauper, Feby 16, 1784.
Pope, Elizabeth, buried October 15th 1773, miserably whipt by T. H-f-y, Junr, Upton, & died.

I know nothing more of this incident, nor who wrote it in the register. The vicar at that time was Humphry Smythies. Thomas Huinfrey (who I assume is referred to) was the son of the first of the Humfrey family to settle in the parish, at Skeleton Farm on the downs. There is a later entry under Christenings:

Turton, James (base-born), of Cuzziah, baptizd 7br 2d 81. Thos Humfrey of Upton, reputed Father.

Thomas Humfrey went on to live to a good age and died a wealthy landowner in 1836. There is a wall memorial to him in Blewbury church.

William Keat, of Harwell, & Ann Carter, of Upton, maried in the Chapel of Upton, by licence, 27 September 1757. Wits: James Beckingham, John Webb.
Thomas Butler, singleman, & Hannah Smith, spinster, both of Upton, by banns, 8th April 1779. William Smith, Wm Fruin, H.S. Vicar

The registers are endlessly informative and rewarding. Tracing various families as they flourish and then disappear provides our best view of the village over these years. It would though have helped if the parsons or their clerks had been more reliable in filling in the details.

Finally, to the Protestation Return of 1641.*** In that year, following the struggle between King and Parliament, the Commons felt the need to build a united front for fear that the Catholic faith would once more gain strength and overturn the Protestant religion.

Consequently, on the 3rd1 of May 1641, a committee of ten members of parliament was chosen to draw up a form of Protestation, and on 6th May a bill was introduced by the Commons which effectively obliged every Englishman of eighteen years and over to sign it. The Oath of Protestation was printed eight months later and sent to every county in the land. Lists of signatories, called Protestation Returns, were drawn up and sent to Westminster.

The Return for Upton appears as follows:

Upton in Blewbury

The Protestation according to the Order was generally taken by the inhabitants of Upton in the Parish of Blewbury the 6th day of this p’sent March. In the presence of

John Sampson, Vicar
The marke of Thomas Buckle, Philip Aim, Church-wardens
Thomas Buckle, Constable
Thomas Harword and Thomas Higgs, Overseers of the poore.

Then follows a list of forty-one names which should include all the men in the village over the age of eighteen. It is unlikely that many, if any, would have been able to sign their names, other than with a “marke”. After the names is the statement:

“Non with us have refused to the order of the p’testacion.

It seems then that there were no recusants in the village, but whether this was really so, or whether no one could bring himself to refuse to sign, we cannot tell.

I hope more evidence of life in Upton in the distant past will be discovered. Perhaps other documents will come to light, or people will dig up remains and artefacts in their gardens. The best I can offer is the oyster shells we found in the stream. Could this be evidence of some ancient Roman occupation here?

References and Sources:

National Monuments Records Centre, Swindon.
Oxfordshire County Council Archaeological Unit, Oxford.
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Parish Diaries Rev Richard Hooper – Berkshire Records Office.
Notes on Upton, F M Underhill
The Early Charters of the Thames Valley, Margaret Gelling.
Domesday Book, Berkshire, Ed. I. Morris.
The Local History Companion, Stephen Friar.
The Place Names of Berkshire, Margaret Gelling.
The Register of Upton, transcribed by J F Fry, The Parish Register Society.
Windsor Hakebourne – the Story of West Hagbourne.
Oxfordshire and North Berkshire Protestation Returns and TaxAssessments 1641-42, The Oxfordshire Record Society, ed Jeremy Gibson.
This Venerable Village, Blewbury, Peter Northeast.
Didcot Public Library.
Maps by John Rocque, 1761;.
Apportionment of Tithes, 1838.
Ordnance Survey, particularly of 1876 and later.
Sale of the Manors of Upton and Upton Russells in 1872, sale of the Upton Estate in 1925 and again in 1931.

Juliet Gardiner
Upton, 2004

* There were Winters in the village up to 1942
** From The Local History Companion by Stephen Friar
*** I owe this discovery, once again, entirely to Windsor Hakebourne: the Story of West Hagbourne.