Notes on Upton

A talk by Mr F. M. Underhill, 12th September 1971.


Roads and Trackways

The Ridgeway (possibly the most ancient road in England) passes a few hundred yards south of the Parish boundary. The Icknield Way runs through the upper part of the village, but its course has been diverted, its ancient line may be seen by the angle of the frontage of the George & Dragon to the modem road.

It followed the northern boundary of the Rectory land, passing up the hill in front of the Rectory gates where there was a junction with the Portway running up from the “Horse & Harrow”. The Icknield Way traversed Hagbourne Hill, north of Hagbourne Hill Farm and so to West Hendred Down.

The Lynch Way and Alden Farm Road are two very ancient tracks leading from the village up to the Downs. Both are cut in the hillside quite deeply, forming Hollow Ways in part of their course. Hollow Ways were supposed by some to have been purposely constructed so that movement of men to higher ground could not be observed from a distance. It is more likely that the Upton examples were man-made for easy access to wheeled and other traffic, the tracks have been continuously deepened by the daily passing of men and animals in former days.

No very ancient remains have yet been found in the parish beyond the note of “stone rings” discovered in a pit to the East of the Lynch Way and so marked on the 6 inch OS. map.


In 1958 a burial was found when digging a trench in the orchard adjacent to “Aethelstan” on the High Street. Mrs Chitty reported the grave to be dug in the chalk under 4 ft of made-up ground. It contained an extended skeleton with head to the West and feet to the East. There was an iron shield boss and a fragmentary iron knife. The knife remains in the Ashmolean Museum but the other material cannot at present be found in the museum. Mrs Chitty reported that a break nearby in the section of the trench suggested the existence of another grave, destroyed before records could be made. (Nat. Grid Ref 41/514886. Oxoniensia XXIII (1958) p.138.

In 1960 a further (?Anglo Saxon) grave was found some 20 ft north-east of the 1958 find spot. This was an extended inhumation, the head to the West, I have a photograph but apparently nothing was found with the body. (Oxoniensia XXV, 136, Nat. Grid Reference 41/5 14866).

From 1969-71 fragments of Norman pottery have been turning up in the garden of my bungalow “Turstins”, High Street. (Nat. Grid Reference 41/514867.SU58 N.W.) These fragments comprise at present of at least 8 different pots, there are also pieces of C16th – C19th later wares, stems of clay pipes etc. The earlier fragments closely resemble pieces of similar pottery found at Blewbury in 1937 by the late Cmdr. J.G. Bower at “Chapmans”.

There is a distinctive pinkish-brown paste, probably wheel-made with a roulette stamp. It is comparable to Rhineland influenced rouletted ware. The other large portion of rim is blackish-grey paste, with some minute flint added along with larger pieces, the top of the rim has a characteristic fmger indented “pie-crust” surface. It is almost certainly wheel-turned.  (See Berks. Arch. Journal XLIII (1939) Pt. 1, p.22)

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. This second find indicates further occupation of the period in the village and I would like to hear of more finds of this type of pottery. There should of course be Saxon pottery as well to be found, assuming that there was late Saxon occupation (see below).

About 1891 but before 1894, the Rev. R Hooper notes a “fermail” (or shoe buckle) found in Upton Churchyard “in possession of Mr Hughes” (see his notes in MS attached to his set of  1″ O.S. maps sheet 253 Abingdon).

Before 1970 a C14th Jetton or casting counter was dug up in the garden in Fieldside Road. This is now in my possession thanks to Mrs Pusey who kindly brought it to my notice along with some C17-C19th pottery from the same garden.

In 1960 a hoard of 7 silver coins of Eliz. 1, Jas. 1 & Chas 1 were unearthed beneath the foundations of three old cottages demolished close to the old Methodist Chapel on the East side of the High street. This was probably the homestead of Pitts Close, a small holding which extended on the whole length of High Street from the Icknield Way down to the Manor House, it is so marked on the Inclosure Map. The coins, excepting one 6d piece of Eliz. 1, which the finder retained, are now in Reading Museum. There was some confusion at the time of the find about the actual spot from whence the coins came out, an incorrect reference placed them in the roadside bank at the junction of High Street and the main road, this has now been corrected following conversations with Mrs Knight and Mrs Chitty.


The Open Field System was generally prevalent throughout Berkshire in medieval times, it was largely based on a two-field practice. At Upton it is noticed in 1337-8, in the time of Edward III.

In prehistoric times little was known of the fertility of the ground, the primitive agriculturalist cleared and ploughed a given area for a period until its yield fell off, he then allowed it to return to nature while he broke fresh ground. In medieval days it was known that the soil must be rested periodically. Thus the village community would always clear and cultivate more land than was needed for next years food. The land was farmed in regular rotation, part of it being under crop, the rest remained fallow, in alternate years. This was known as the “two field” system.

Our knowledge of primitive agriculture comes from the so-called “Celtic Fields” – small earth banked enclosures on the Downs; they show up well on air photos (Streatley Warren) and can be observed from the ground. They are now rapidly disappearing for ever under modern methods of heavy earth moving in cultivation. The Downiand parishes along the line of the Icknield Way all show high lands to the South and a lower and flatter area where the village usually stands, to the North. This situation prevails for all the parishes from Ashbury to the Astons, Upton included. In prehistoric times the wooden ploughs were not strong enough to turn the heavier soils in the Vale, thus the first settlements were all on the higher Downland, this from Neolithic times. It was not until the Saxons settled permanently after the Roman era that the system changed. Pasture now became all important for the Downs, the cornlands were on the drier and flatter parts of the Vale. Today the situation is reversing again, for the Downs can be cultivated with success due to modern fertilizers. The names Starveall, Coldharbour and Skeleton Farm, formerly very descriptive, no longer apply.

Leading up to this state of affairs were the Inclosure Acts from the 18th century onwards. These brought about change in the agricultural system, large areas of wasteland were brought into use. Previously a farmer would find himself cultivating a number of small unconnected strips of land covering a wide area. The Inclosure Awards settled the land attached to each central holding, bringing into being large farms with enclosed fields, now being expanded to even greater size.


It is worth considering some of the names connected with the parish, they are part of its history and in remembering them we can find the origins of many properties and place names still extant.

The first landowner at Upton, known by name, was Brictric, he was here at the time of Edward the Confessor. He appears as a considerable landowner in the County of Berks (assuming it was the same man all the time), he held, besides Upton, lands at Brimpton, Hungerford (North Standen), East Shefford, Childrey (Freethornes) Sparsholt and Coleshill. At the Norman conquest we find “Turstin”, son of Rou (or Rolf) in possession of most of Brictric’s holdings. At the time of Domesday (1086) Turstin held Upton, Childrey (Freethornes), Sparsholt (Westcott), and Coleshill. He had also many manors in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Hampshire and Herefordshire.

We know nothing of his origins, his name suggests a Scandinavian parentage – the Normans were of course originally Norsemen. He could have joined William the Conqueror for the invasion of Britain, rendering the King valuable services for which he was awarded many English manors, including those of Britric, a thegn who with very many others from Berkshire and elsewhere, stood fast and perished at the Battle of Hastings.

The main Upton Manor passed, soon after 1086, from Winebald of Baalun, who almost immediately granted part of his new holding to the Priory of Bermondsey. This Priory kept the Upton estate until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th Century when the Crown annexed it. Queen Elizabeth granted it to Michael and Edward Stanhope. It passed to Robert Boswell who in turn sold it to Sir Thomas Vachell of Coley Park, Reading in 1636/7. The Vachells held it until 1693 when Tanfield Vachell sold it to Charles Ambrose of Wantage. In 1755 it belonged to Henry Tompkins and it was sold by him to John Phillips in 1769.

Another part of the Manor, separated and called Upton Russell remained in the possession of the Russell family until the close of the 14th Century, when in 1388 Sir Maurice Russel sold his portion to John Latton. He, in 1401 granted it to Thomas Chelsey and his wife Elizabeth. Thomas died in 1407 and his widow Elizabeth married Sir Thomas de la Pole but she died shortly after this. The property was held in trust for a daughter Sybil who married Thomas Beckingham, there are Beckingham entries in the parish register. The Manor passed by inheritance to the Windsor family whose monuments you may see in East Hagbourne church. It came into the possession of James White of Putney and by 1758, Upton Russells was owned by William Keat – their names are also in the Upton Register. Keat sold it to John Phillips who thus acquired both the main Manor as we have seen and the part called Upton Russells. John Shawe Phillips sold it to Nathaniel Humfrey in 1866, it is probable that the Humfrey family were already tenants of the Manor house before they purchased the property outright.

A third part of Upton Manor called Upton Moels was held by a family of that name who owned other Berkshire properties. Nothing is known of this part of the Manorial estate after 1484 when it became part of the Manor of Nottingham Fee in Blewbury. If you look at the map of Upton parish you will fmd 112 acres of land in the extreme north-eastern are abutting on to Blewbury, this could probably have been the land comprising the Manor of the Upton Moels. You must remember that a Manor was an estate of land in one ownership, it did not necessarily have to include a Manor house. All that was needed was some central place where the rents from the tenants could be collected and a “Manorial Court” held where the law and custom of the Manor could be enforced at a meeting held regularly of the tenants. The meeting place for Upton Moels could easily have been held in Blewbury.

A Fourth Manor in Upton belonged in 1227 to James Newmarch, it was held by the heirs of John of Upton, being the inheritance of John’s wife. This has been identified with the estate of Walter Latton who was living about 1300. John Latton was living in Upton in 1228, holding a tenament of Bermondsey Priory, that family took their name from the place of Latton in Wiltshire. A Thos. Latton owned Upton Manor at his death in 1503. His son John lived at Chilton but was buried at Blewbury, you may see his brass memorial with two wives and 15 children in the south chapel of the church there, dated 1548. His will is preserved at Somerset House, the family claimed connections with the Percys, Isberys and Stuteville families as shown by the arms on the brass. The last Latton connection with Upton was in 1584 when Ann Latton bequeathed 40/- for the repair of the church. The estate passed to the Fullers and Humfrey and came by marriage to the Caudwells of Blewbury.

We now come to the 19th Century when most of the property and land in Upton (and some in Blewbury) belonged to the Humfrey family, in particular to Nathaniel Humfrey who was a very successful farmer. In 1862 the Chapelry of Upton with Aston Upthorpe was separated from the parish of Blewbury by Order in Council dated 7th June. The Rev. Richard Hooper was appointed Perpetual Curate of Upton and Vicar of Aston Upthorpe where he remained until his death in 1894. The population of Upton was then about 300 having increased from 217 in 1801. It reached its peak in 1881 when the railway was constructed. Many of the navvies on the work lived here temporarily, they brought the total up to 475. By 1900 it had fallen again to 213.

The story of Mr Hooper’s ministry at Upton would occupy a separate talk, there is ample material extant. Suffice now to say that he at once set about walling the churchyard – previously it had been open unfenced land, all the Upton people being buried at Blewbury.

Mr Hooper raised money for building the school on land given by Mr Shawe Phillips who, you will remember, was at that time engaged in selling Upton Manor to Nathaniel Humfrey. Mr Thomas Humfrey gave land on which Upton Rectory was built, money was raised on mortgage to purchase the “Rectory field” opposite on which the stables were built, now recently sold for the new bungalow. This particular piece of land was as you may know called “Adnams Grave” on the old Tithe map, perhaps the burial place of a former owner or even a suicide!

Mr Hooper was instrumental in having our church restored in 1885. This was particularly fortunate for in his associations with the learned and cultured world he knew Mr Slingsby Stallwood, Architect and Antiquary of Reading who was responsible for carrying out the renovations. Although the east end was entirely removed and reconstructed, all the other ancient features were carefully repaired and retained, even the font which was almost broken up, was taken to Wantage and cemented together, a new base being made for it from Mr Stallwood’s designs.

Today we still have the Manor house and one or two old cottages but the focus of the village has been changed by building houses in Fieldside Road and the moving of the shop and Post Office there. Formerly the High Street could show the commercial centre with, in addition to the shop, the bakery and the smithy. The closing of the school will be another break with the past, but we are still a largely self-contained community and I hope this state of affairs may long continue.

F.M. Underhill, Upton, 12th September 1971.


  • The parish was formerly part of Blewbury, formed into a separate parish in 1862. It comprises some 1413 acre. (VCH Bks. III. 280 et.seq.) [Victoria County History, A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 3]
  • The village is built about a labyrinth of by-roads and lanes which are mostly hedged on either side, forming the boundaries of the orchards. (VCH).
  • The cottages are built of half-timber and brickwork, but wattle and daub are used as infilling between timber-framing. The exterior of the Jacobean Manor House is described, including the fine staircase.
  • “Skeleton Farm” was formerly the residence of the Gammon family. William Gammon was once tenant of the manor house which he sold to John Phillips in 1769.
  • “The line of the Portway runs through the village” is incorrect, it is the Icknield Way but the Portway joins it.
  • Field names in Upton: Milham (C11th), Ham Acre, The Wells, Grumbles Mere, Braid Ditch Furlong and Rixes.
  • The Upton Inclosure Award dated 1759.