Blewbury shown within Oxfordshire
|Population||1,528 (2001 census)|
|OS grid reference|
|District||Vale of White Horse|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South East England|
A number of springs arise at the foot of the chalk downs. A main road, the A417, runs along the foot of the downs above the springs. It is thus close to the south edge of the Village. It is lined with houses on both sides and rather narrow in places. Turnpike House in the village recalls the time when this road was the Wantage to Streatley Turnpike.Some springs feed a small lake known as the Watercress Beds, for the unsurprising reason that watercress used to be cultivated there. From here and elsewhere tributaries feed the Mill Brook which carries the water to the Thames at Wallingford. Blewbury Mill on this Mill Brook is said to be where blotting paper was discovered. It was part of Berkshire until the 1974 boundary changes transferred it to Oxfordshire.
The southern part of the parish is chalk downland and includes a number of prehistoric sites. Half of the 360 feet (110 m) high Blewburton Hill is in the parish. It is topped by an Iron Age hill fort that may have been occupied from the 4th century BC to the 1st century BC. The parish's highest point is the 520 feet (160 m) Churn Hill, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) southwest of the village. On its northwestern side are two round barrows, the larger of which is Churn Knob. There are other round barrows further south, towards the boundaries with Compton and East Ilsley parishes.
The Church of England parish church of Saint Michael the Archangel was originally an early Norman building of the 11th century and is a Grade I listed building. St. Michael's is now a member of the Churn Benefice.
William Malthus was a London merchant who left land at Noke, Oxfordshire to fund a school at Blewbury. Its five-bay Queen Anne style school building close to St. Michael's church was built in 1709.
Also close to the church are two almshouses. Nikolaus Pevsner states that he first was built in 1738 for the oldest man in the village and the second was added on its centenary in 1838. However, Page and Ditchfield state that there are two cottages that one James Bacon founded in 1747.
Theatre and Opera Every two years or so the village puts on a festival, with a variety of shows and dances, a chance to see exhibitions in many of the old houses, and a walk along the path of the Millbrook as it threads its way through many private gardens.
The village has a remarkable theatrical tradition. There is an open air theater holding 250 in the grounds of Orchard Dene house, where very high quality productions are put on each summer. These involve amateur actors and back stage workers under professional direction. Similar quality is in evidence in other theatrical events put on in the Village Hall. The spoof "Blewbury Operas" is just one example.
Theatre & Opera
About every five years for the past thirty years the village has commissioned a new opera for amateur performance. This has been presented in the Church. The earlier operas attracted media attention, including a 1 hour television film about "The Snow Queen" in 1982. The recent operas have had less attention even though the last - "Joseph Justus" was of exceptional quality. The productions were not widely seen, since once the Church has been adapted for the large cast and orchestra, there is only room for about 120 in the audience each night. In April 2009 there was a new production of Benjamin Britten's "Noyes Fludde". In 2012 or so it is planned to revive the first of our commissioned operas "Sir Garwain and the Green Night" by the distinguished composer Richard Blackford, who now lives in the village.
The area of the downs has been occupied for thousands of years. Remains from those times include the Ridgeway - a long distance track - and a number of round barrow burial mounds in the Parish. Blewburton Hill east of the village was an Iron Age hill fort, with three sets of walls and ditches revetted with wood, a massive wooden gate, and a cobbled entrance. It was overrun and abandoned around the start of the Roman period.
During the Roman period a villa or temple was constructed near the Ridgeway on Lowbury Hill.
In 634 AD St Birinus was sent from Rome to convert the Midlands. By tradition he preached to the local tribe from a round barrow in Blewbury, known as Churn Knob. He was successful in converting the tribe and was permitted to set up an abbey in Dorchester-on-Thames. An annual pilgrimage now walks from Churn Knob to Dorchester in celebration.
Blewbury was called "this venerable village" in its Saxon charter. There is much more information in the Domesday Book of 1086. At that time the population was probably about 400, and there were four water mills; two of the mills remain.
It was probably a fairly typical agricultural village for much of the second millennium. The East Field will have been open farmed, and the tracks up to the downs have been deeply cut into the chalk by the frequent passage of animals. One of these is still called Cow Lane. The Chalk Pit above the village was used to mine chalk stone, which can be seen in houses and walls to this day.
The village was divided into three manors. The Great Manor was owned by the King until the seventeenth century. The Prebendal Manor was assigned to the Church. The third - Nottingham Fee - was bought by the long established local family the Humfreys in about 1652. They retained some of it including the manor house Hall Barn until recent times.
During the English civil war Blewbury was in no man's land between the King in Oxford and the Roundheads. On one day a troop of Cavaliers arrived at Hall Barn and demanded lunch. They had just been satisfied and departed when a troop of Roundheads arrived with the same request, and were served at the same tables.
Since then, with the increase in literacy and record keeping, we have very much more information on the village. The Local History Society has a file of all registered births and deaths in the Parish. The governance of the village fell to a number of major farming families who intermarried. They included the Humfreys, the Robinsons and the Corderoys. There were also the variety of local tradesmen.
The enclosure act of 1805 sets the scene of the village at that time. It divided up the farming land into individual holdings, and further strengthened the farmers at the expense of the labourers.
Around the end of the 19th Century, the open areas of the downs were used for military manoeuvres each summer, the camp being victualled by the local farmers. A firing range was also introduced, and was used intermittently until the 1970s.
A railway line was built past the village at the end of the expansion of railways in the 1880s. The local station called Blewbury and Upton was in fact in Upton, two miles away. The line was widened to 2 tracks in the 1940s to support the D day landings, but was closed in 1964.
For the first half of the twentieth century the village attracted a number of notable artists and writers. For example the artist John Revel, the illustrator Trissy Webster and the writers Kenneth Grahame, G B Stern and Marguerite Steen. The artistic tradition continues, and keen amateur artists receive direction from the professional artists Ron Freeborn and Roy East. This site includes an Art Gallery devoted to the work of local artists.
Until about 1970 there were several racing stables in the village; one is still in business a mile to the south, and there are several actively used racehorse gallops on the Downs to the south of Blewbury.
Since the 1950s Blewbury has become an attractive place for people commuting to work in the area, or even in London. The old cottages have been improved and extended, and a number of estates have been built.
- "Area: Blewbury CP (Parish): Parish Headcounts". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
- Pevsner 1966, p. 74.
- Pevsner 1966, p. 92.
- English Heritage. "Church of St Michael, Blewbury (Grade I) (1368625)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
- "St. Michael's Church, Blewbury". Churn Churches.
- Pevsner 1966, p. 91.
- Page & Ditchfield 1923, pp. 280–291.
- Page & Ditchfield 1923, pp. 378–384.
- Marshalls. "Blewbury". Retrieved 2008-01-10.[dead link]
- ODNB entry by Elizabeth J. Morse: Retrieved 18 June 2012. Pay-walled.
- This Venerable Village,2009
- Page, W.H.; Ditchfield, P.H., eds. (1923). A History of the County of Berkshire, Volume 3. Victoria County History. pp. 280–291.
- Pevsner, Nikolaus (1966). Berkshire. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 91–92.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Blewbury.|
- Blewbury Village Society
- Blewbury Brass Band
- Royal Berkshire History: Blewbury
- Blewbury and Upton Cricket Club website
- Blewbury Players
- Blue Plaque to Kenneth Grahame at Blewbury (Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board)