History of North Moreton

The medieval manor of North Moreton is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The manor house, where the Stapleton family lived was situated East of the church but can now only be identified by the remains of a moat. North Moreton retains many houses from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, despite the devastating fire in 1807 which destroyed one quarter of the village including one whole side of the main village street.

North Moreton has always been a village existing solely within Berkshire boundaries until 1974 a year which saw comprehensive reorganisation of local government in England and Wales. An indication as to how deeply North Moreton was embedded within Berkshire is indicated by the fact that Abingdon was the county town of Berkshire until 1867. Reading only became the new county town in that year taking over from Abingdon which remained part of the county until 1974. On this date several of the historic counties disappeared, new counties were created and all had significant boundary changes. North Moreton was swallowed up within Oxfordshire and despite losing the title of being within the 'Royal' county of Berkshire it is probably safer for the village to be within Oxfordshire.

"The first record of North Moreton is in the year 944 and it is one of many villages in historic Berkshire whose name ends with ton meaning a ` homestead'. The mor signifies, simply, a fen. With the arrival of the Normans in 1066 there came in due course Norman rule and a Norman church. North Moreton seldom had a resident lord of the manor though influential families such as the Stapletons played an important role over three centuries. The Stapletons largely rebuilt the church in the thirteenth century, endowing Stapleton's Chantry with some unique glass from the period." The subsequent centuries have not been without their high and low points. "At the very end of the sixteenth century there was a cause celebre' in the famous witch-craft case bringing North Moreton to the national stage and leading to the allegedly-bewitched Anne Gunter going before the Court of Star Chamber and before King James I himself. An unusual feature of the Cromwellian period was the high number of marriages performed in All Saints church probably attributable to the lords of the manor being relations of Oliver Cromwell. North Moreton became acceptable for church weddings even when nationally they were forbidden.

Village life for centuries produced its even tenor of the rotati on of crops and the struggle for existence - North Moreton was never a rich village as the lack of any monuments in the church testifies. But change in many directions came in the last one hundred and fifty years. The Enclosure Award (late- in 1849 ) stablilised the economy of the village. The growth of Didcot and the development of railways gave employment and a new vicar, Albert Barff  brought fresh vigor to the community.

The village paid its debt to the nation in two World Wars and the later twentieth century has seen a change in population with many professional people making their way to London daily as commuters. But, in the end, the sounds  of sheep bleating, combine harvesters at harvest time and of tractors down the High Street, remain evocative of a North Moreton whose eternal roots are in the soil."

 

Maps of North Moreton

Click on the corresponding map to see what the village looked like in the:

1840's
1940's
a portion of the old 1:25000 map
An old map of North Moreton and surrounding villages dated 1840
An old map of North Moreton and surrounding villages dated approx. 1940
A portion of the ordanance survey map of North Moreton and surrounding area

 

The Church

Church North Moreton church is 13th Century and has been described as the most perfect medieval church in Berkshire, although after the local government county remoulding the church is now siturated in South Oxfordshire.

The church is notable for the St. Nicholas or Stapleton Chapel whose east window contains a superb series of late 13th century stained glass showing fifteen colourful scenes from the lives of Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. Paul & St. Nicholas. The window is among the earliest in the county and supposedly among the finest. The chapel itself was remodelled in the decorated style in 1295 at the foundation of Stapleton's chantry by Sir Miles Stapleton who acquired his Berkshire lands through marriage. By misfortune Sir Miles was never laid to rest in the church as he was killed (with his two sons) at the Battle of Bannockburn whilst serving King Edward I.

 

Stapleton's Chantry

Click to link to the Stapleton's Chantry website Stapleton's Chantry is now a home but was originally a 15th century detached chantry chapel with a priest's hole and a secret underground passage. A chantry was defined as the endowment of one or more priests to say or sing Mass for the soul of the endower, in this case Sir Miles Stapleton. Unfortunately Edward VI's reign resulted in the loss of the chantry during the abolition of Chantries in 1547.

 

North Moreton House

Click to link to the North Moreton House website North Moreton House is a 17th century building with a cross wing dating from the 14-15th centuries. For many years known as the old Rectory, It was only used by the rector until 1562 when the Archdeacon of Berkshire leased it out to tenants, one of whom was a local resident known as Brian Gunter.

 

The Bear at Home

Bear at HomeLocals have been having fun in the pubs in North Moreton, since the 15th century. There are stories of locals running around the North Moreton graveyard since 1892 after imbibing too much alcohol. There are tales of Great Western Railway  navvies coming to North Moreton to wile away their evenings and their newly-earned wages, drinking too much and fighting the locals. North Moreton had four pubs in those days, The Queen Victoria, The Star, The Victoria and of course the Bear at Home Inn. The Bear at Home Inn was the 'posh' pub, being the only pub in the village with a licence to sell spirits. The village now has only the Bear at Home Inn , as all the others have closed their doors, the Queen Victoria finally closing in 1999 after Morrells Brewery shut down its business.

It is thought that the Bear at Home Inn may have originally been in existence from the 15th century as a local public house serving the village. In the 17th Century the 'Bear Inn' may have been an occasional coaching inn, with coaches travelling from Wallingford to Wantage choosing the turnpike roads that were springing up at that time, rather than the poor quality tracks that they were replacing. With its situation on the Wallingford Road it is more likely that the Star Inn would have benefitted from the passing trade, though coaches travelling specifically through North Moreton would have probably stopped here for refreshment.

 

Norman and Gladys Mawrey Norman & Gladys Mawrey ran the Bear Inn  from 1952 until 1977, so far the longest tenure on record. Norman was an ex-Salford rugby league player. In 2007 Gladys was still with us  having just celebrated her 99th birthday. The Mawreys also ran the village shop in the adjacent building,  the awning has now been removed and the shop is now a private house.

During this period the pub was a tied house owned by Watney Mann & Co. The pub served beers made by Ushers brewery of Trowbridge, then part of the Watneys group but now sadly long gone. These pictures show Norman and Gladys during their tenure. In 1971 the Bear became a free house, Norman Mawrey having negotiated the purchase of the freehold of the business for the princely sum of £7,450. Click on the image below to view the letter from Watney Mann in full.

Parrot at the bearSome long standing residents of the Bear were the Mawrey's pets. Pictured below is the pet Columbian parrot who seems to have been a regular drinker of Squires London Dry Gin, another defunct alcoholic drink. If the parrot's liver managed to survive it is possible that he or she is still with us, parrots being long-lived. At the moment the parrot's name is unknown though some have suggested it might be Ed. If you know the real name please drop us a line by clicking here.

 

Norman and Gladys Mawrey were very much at the centre of village life being involved not only with the running of the pub and shop but also being involved with the sporting life of the village. In those days the Bear was host to both a good darts and bar billiards team. These days we just have a darts team. Click on each image for a larger size photograph.

Bar billiards championship. Norman Mawrey (second left)
Bar billiards championship.
Norman Mawrey (second left)
Darts championship photo.
Don Buckle (left)
Brian Vass of the Queen Victoria (middle)

 

Village characters

Some remarkable characters have lived in the village over the years. This section is reserved for photographs of Moreton residents some of those whom are now sadly long lost.

Children of South Moreton School Childern of South Moreton School 1963
Mrs. Oglethorpe and her dalmatians
Bud Finch's sister and her cat in the back garden of her home Filberts in the High Street.
The great North Moreton Post Office robbery foiled by a dog.
An article about North Moreton and referring to the residents of the village in 1963. Click on the press cutting for the full text.

 

The Witchcraft trail

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In the 17th Century there was a famous witchcraft case in North Moreton. In the summer of 1604 a woman named Anne Gunter,  a member of the old Kintbury family and the daughter of Brian Gunter appeared to fall ill. Her symptoms consisted of having fits, falling into a trance, rolling her eyes, walking on her ankles, vomitting, producing pins from her nose whilst her clothes would fall off spontaneously when people visited her. She also claimed that she saw familiars. At that time it was believed that familars were demons which would propagate the will and message of their master Satan to spread lies and deceit in order to thwart the Kingdom of God. The above manifestations encouraged a large number of people, from peasants to learned men of both University and Church, to make the journey to see for Anne for themselves. During the manifestations Anne babbled about Elizabeth Gregory the sister-in-law of the two dead Gregory boys and also about Agnes Pepwell and her daughter Mary, also members of the Gregory family. image sample

Agnes Pepwell had long been reputed to be a witch and so the story quickly arose that poor Anne Gunter had been bewitched by the three vengeful Gregory women in retaliation for the death of the two boys. The three women were then officially charged with bewitching her, although the case at the Abingdon Assize Courts failed to obtain a conviction. A suit was later filed at the Court of the Star Chamber in London where both the reigning King and the Bishop of Salisbury took a great interest in the case.

 

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The case resulted in Brian Gunter being locked up for a short while in Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury when Anne finally admitted that Brian had bullied her into feigning all her illnesses, manifestations and attacks having given her potions to make her ill. The conclusion to the case is now unknown but  it seems to have dragged on for a long time until the case was finally dropped.

Witchery in the Moretons

The following article appeared in the Reading Mercury in 1963. Click on the newspaper image to view the full text of the article.

 

The Railway

In 1832 Isambard Kingdom Brunel at the age of 26 was appointed Engineer to the newly-formed Great Western Railway. His great civil engineering works on the line between London and Bristol are used by today's high-speed trains and bear witness to his genius. He engineered over 1,200 miles of railway, including lines in Ireland, Italy and Bengal. Under his supervision two brick-built bridges were created in North Moreton, one spans all the main lines in two spans whilst the other acts a bridge for foot traffic under the railway. Each bridge has been lengthened and strengthened over the years to cater for more lines and increased traffic. The bridge top has recently been strengthened to prevent cars crashing through the parapet onto the tracks below.

The Road bridge patched up over the years
IKB's small rail bridge, dark and gloomy
The same from the South
uses different brick

 

The Bridges during the war

During the Second World War a static defensive line known as the GHQ line was created extending from Somerset to Yorkshire running under the Southward belly of London. This GHQ line ran along natural obstacles such as the Kennet and Avon canal and the River Thames being reinforced at crossing points by pillboxes and other fortifications. The villages of Goring and Streatley were considered a strategic crossing point and fortifications can still be seen in and around the area to this day. A 2pdr pill box is still extant on the approach road to Dorchester. As part to the overall defence of the area North Moreton had several bridges which had to be manned and defended by local home guard units. All over the country many cold and lonely nights were spent by the local soldiery defending these less than vital parts of our communication infrastructure. With hindsight the fact that the Germans never invaded makes their personal sacrifice seem a little pointless. We should not forget that at that time the threat of invasion was real and was expected even up to 1943. The secondary threat of a fifth column was a genuine threat in the minds of our leaders and the people even though the numbers of spies and saboteurs was actually negligible.

The chaps who defended our bridges were home guard personnel and having lots of time on their hands they spent it carving shapes and patterns on the stone cappings of the old IKB Sands Road-railway bridge using the sharp end of their bayonets. They carved sailing ships, white horses, an anchor, a rifle and hearts(?) as well as their initials. These cappings were taken off the bridge when the new parapet was installed. They were saved by the timely interference of the headmaster of South Moreton school and they now abide within the grounds of the school until a suitable home can be found for them, hopefully as a parapet on a new wall somewhere within the boundaries of North and South Moreton.

Ship and houses
Ship
Horse, Anchor and Gun
Sailing ship
Rifle
Cracked slab
White Horse
Initials
 

The initials of the soldiers can be seen here on the capping above, all the images have been digitally enhanced to bring out the detail as they are quite worn away from 60 years in the open air suffering from the acid from the train exhausts. The 'ship' stone above has a large crack running across it that has been digitally repaired see if you can spot where.

The initials are: EW, EN, EKW, TF, AS, FW, TD, AA, POP, WHS, EL On other cappings can be seen JS, LA, JM, HP, DW, MAT, AW, HHB, VD(?)

 

Fundamental Bench marks

Ordnance Datum Newlyn (ODN) is the national height system for mainland Great Britain and forms the reference frame for heights above mean sea level. ODN is realised on the ground by a network of approximately 190 Fundamental Bench marks (FBMs). From these FBMs around 500,000 lower order Bench marks (BMs) were emplaced. The network has had little maintenance for 30 years and the Global Positioning System (GPS) is now the preferred method of heighting used by the Ordnance Survey (OS).

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Old County: Berkshire
Current local authority: Oxfordshire
Parish: North Moreton
Grid Ref: SU 5540 9049
Road: A417
Side: N
height above ground: 82 cm
Listed: Grade II

If the exact height of one bench mark is known then the exact height of the next can be found by measuring the difference in heights, through a process of spirit levelling. Most commonly, bench marks are found on buildings and other semi-permanent features. Although the main network is no longer being updated, the record is still in existence and the marks will remain until they are eventually destroyed by redevelopment or erosion. The number of benchmarks is reducing due to property development, road widening, etc. What's all this got to do with North Moreton? Well, as part of the known universe the Ordnance Survey carved several benchmarks in the village. The list below gives the Grid Reference of cut mark bench marks that I know about (some, like the one on Cherry Court I've not seen – if anyone knows what happened to it please let me know). If  you want to see an example, there's a nice one on our church on the buttress of the NW angle of the tower. Its mark is bigger than most.

Summerlees, Hadden Hill

SU

5540

9048

CUT MARK

Milestone Wallingford  4 miles NW side of A4130 NE face

SU

5566

9079

CUT MARK

Hill View W Face porch S side house

SU

5572

9059

CUT MARK

Egg Packing Station SW angle S face

SU

5637

9012

CUT MARK

Gatepost N side entrance Cherry Court E side Wallingford Rd

SU

5618

8957

CUT MARK

All Saints Church NW face buttress NW angle of tower

SU

5629

8982

CUT MARK

The Corner House.  SW angle W face. Wallingford Road.

Over the border there are cut marks on 12 Dunsomer Hill, and the SM Church. There is supposed to be one on Gothic Cottage, but I cannot find a post-1952 reference for it. Maybe some rebuilding of the roadside face has destroyed it?

OS also employed other marks: these included brassheaded pins (known as rivets) set into outcropping rock or into concrete at ground level. There are two alleged to exit (or to have existed) in NM:

SU

5500

9031

RIVET

Kerbstone N side A4130 62.8M SW angle of fence

SU

5655

9064

RIVET

Culvert E side Wallingford Road/A4130 junction S end of drain

Returning to FBMs: these are OS's high-accuracy bench marks. They are still maintained and form the primary height network linking to the Ordnance Datum at Newlyn. They are also the height link into the Ordnance Survey GPS Network. The nearest one to NM is in Wallingford. The most familiar OS triangulation stations are the ‘trig points' – concrete pillars which carry the benchmark on a small brass plate embedded in one side and normally seen on hills, often painted white. These plates are known as flush brackets and each has a unique number. The nearest to NM are on Down Hill, Brightwell Barrow, and Blewburton Hill.  Some flush brackets were put on buildings, the nearest one to NM being on The Anchor in SM.

So you see there are lots of things to do in anoraks besides hanging over Sands Road bridge waiting for a steam train. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who finds a benchmark or can provide information about missing ones.


Article courtesy of : Roger Templeman - CD2ROM@aol.com