The Broadway, Thatcham
Thatcham shown within Berkshire
|Population||22,824 (Parish, 2001)|
|OS grid reference|
|Unitary authority||West Berkshire|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||RG18 and RG19|
|EU Parliament||South East England|
Thatcham is a town in the ceremonial county of Berkshire, England. It is located 3 miles (5 km) east of Newbury and 15 miles (24 km) west of Reading. Often regarded as Britain's oldest town, Thatcham covers about 8.75 square miles (22.7 km2) and has a population of 23,000 people (2003). This number has grown rapidly over the last few decades from 5,000 in 1951 and 7,500 in 1961.
The area has evidence of occupation dating from prehistoric times and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the strongest claimant to the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Britain. The well-preserved remains of a Mesolithic settlement dating from 7,700 BC have been found in its vicinity. There is also evidence of Bronze and Iron Age settlements and of a Roman town.
The name may have been derived from that of a Saxon chief called Tace (or perhaps Tac or Tec), who established a village in around 500. The settlement was known as Taceham - ham meaning village in Saxon. It is also possible that the name may have come from the Saxon thaec (thatch). Wherever it came from, the name Taceham persisted until after the Norman Conquest in 1066 before going through several minor changes until the current one was adopted in the 16th century.
The town had a period of great prosperity around 1304 when the Chapel of St. Thomas the Martyr on the A4, now called the Old Bluecoat School, was constructed. At this time the population was larger than Newbury's but declined as a result of the Black Death which decimated the area in 1348.
There is a Norman parish church, St Mary's, which was largely reconstructed in 1857. It is believed to be built on the same site as an earlier Saxon church, and was also previously known as St. Luke's.
In 1121 King Henry I founded the great Abbey of Reading and endowed it with many gifts of land, including the Manor of Thatcham. At the same time Thatcham Hundred ceased to exist, the western party being transferred to Farcross Hundred, and the remainder to the Hundred of Reading.
In 1141 Thatcham Church, previously the property of the Diocese of Salisbury, was granted to Reading Abbey by the Empress Mathilda, who at the same time confirmed her father's gift of the manor to the Abbey.
A large area of Thatcham, including the manors of the borough and Colthrop, was bought by Brigadier-General Waring from James, Duke of Chandos in 1722. Waring subsequently built Dunstan House, to the north of Thatcham village, and enclosed a large park around it, planted with trees arranged in the troop positions in the battles in which he had fought. When his descendants put his estates up for auction in 1798, Dunstan House failed to sell and was pulled down. The land is now a housing estate called Dunstan Park.
A mill, dating to the Domesday Survey already existed at Colthrop when in 1472 another one added, the existing one possibly renovated. One mill was for corn and one for fulling. The latter was probably converted after the decline of the cloth trade. These mills were replaced by a paper mill built on their site by 1799. This Colthrop Mill belonged to the Reed Group in the twentieth century, and produced packaging materials.
Since 1900, industry has been attracted to the area. The Colthrop Board Mills (closed down in 2000), where paper had been produced for over 200 years, grew very quickly, particularly after its acquisition by the worldwide Reed Paper Group. The Sterling Cable Works was established nearby and AWE Aldermaston and AERE Harwell, together with the RLC Depot at Station Road, (which closed down in 1999) have all brought employment and increasing prosperity to the area. This growth has in turn brought a further influx of population and has attracted numerous businesses to the town.
The development of industrial sites on the eastern side of the town introduced nationally known names such as Sony, B.O.C. Transhield, Thermalite, Panasonic and The AA Operations Centre to Thatcham. (All with the exception of Thermalite and BOC Transhield, now operating under the name GIST, have now left the area).
Town centre facilities were enhanced in 1997 when a town centre improvement scheme was carried out in the Broadway and the High Street. Shopping facilities include two supermarkets in the town centre and associated smaller retail outlets in arcades which supplement businesses already established in the town.
Thatcham is part of the district administered by the unitary authority of West Berkshire. Thatcham is also a civil parish with a town council, which was established in 1974. The parish also includes Colthrop, Crookham and Thatcham Reed Beds.
Thatcham lies three miles east of Newbury. The Great Bath Road (now the A4), the Great Western Railway line, the river Kennet and the Kennet and Avon Canal all cross the parish from east to west. Thatcham railway station lies to the south of the town. The River Lambourn joins the Kennet in the west of the parish near Ham Mill. The River Enborne forms part of the southern border of the parish.
To the south of Thatcham lies the Thatcham Reed Beds Site of Special Scientific Interest, notified in 1974. It is important nationally for its extensive reedbed, species rich alder woodland and fen habitats. The latter supports Desmoulin's whorl snail (Vertigo moulinsiana), which is of national and European importance. A large assemblage of breeding birds including nationally rare species such as Cetti's Warbler (Cettia cetti) is also associated with the reedbed, fen and open water habitats found at Thatcham Reed Beds.
A local attraction is The Nature Discovery Centre situated at Thatcham Lake, a flooded gravel quarry near to the Thatcham Reed Beds. The Nature Discovery Centre opened in 1995 and currently attracts over 75,000 visitors each year. A further estimated 75,000 visitors use the surrounding site for recreational activities throughout the year. There are a number of paths, a wooden sculpture trail and bird hide. The Visitor Centre has a café and offers an extensive programme of events.
On 20 July 2007, parts of Thatcham were flooded during a period of sustained heavy rain, during which 3 times the average July monthly rainfall hit the town in just 24 hours. While the rivers did not burst, the quantity of water flowing down the hills from Cold Ash and Bucklebury made many roads impassable and stranded hundreds of pupils at Kennet School who tried to wade with rope across Stoney Lane. Approximately 1100 properties were affected in this period, with many residents being forced to move out into mobile homes.
To many people in the UK, the name "Thatcham" is most strongly associated with the automotive Research Centre situated near the town. Thatcham Research is a not-for-profit organization carrying out research, training and accreditation on behalf of UK insurers. Activities include vehicle safety testing, production of data to determine a car's insurance rating, research into best vehicle design in terms of safety and security and verification of crash repair methods for vehicle body repair. The Centre is now globally recognised for testing, accreditation and Quality Assurance programmes and has increasingly taken on an influential role in developing new testing protocols for the very latest vehicle safety technologies such as Autonomous Emergency Braking which prevent or mitigate accidents. Thatcham Automotive Academy, located adjacent to the Centre, offers skilled training and accreditation for established technicians and young apprentices who benefit from direct access to the Centre’s work.For further information, visit www.thatcham.org.
Thatcham railway station is served by local services by First Great Western from Reading to Newbury and from London Paddington to Bedwyn. A limited number of services starting from Reading continue to Bedwyn. It is also served by a semi-fast HST service from Paddington to the West Country. Thatcham station was opened on 21 December 1847 as part of the Berks and Hants Line to Hungerford. Traffic through the station increased when the line was extended to Taunton in 1906. The station remained as part of the Great Western Railway (GWR) until the nationalisation of the railways in 1948. After the sectorisation of British Rail in 1982 the station became part of Network South East until the point of privatisation. From 1996 services were provided by Thames Trains until the franchise merged with First Great Western.
On the A4 is a small church school, formerly a St Thomas' Chapel founded in 1304. The building and land was purchased by Lady Frances Winchcomb in 1707, who in her will left provision for it to be converted into a Bluecoat school, providing free education for 30 poor boys of the parishes of Thatcham, Bucklebury, and Little Shefford, and apprenticing some of them. It discontinued following the attainder of Lord Bolingbroke, who was the landowner and the only surviving trustee. The school re-opened for 40 boys in June 1794, and continued in existence until 1914.
A National school was built in 1826 on Clapper's Green, land donated by Sir William Mount.
There was also a British school attached to the Congregational chapel. Berkshire Record Office holds the minutes for 1900-19, 1952-60.
Thatcham’s secondary school is Kennet School. It became an Academy during the first half of 2011. In 2006 it was the highest achieving comprehensive school in West Berkshire using contextual value added results. In the same year it was also rated as one of the highest achieving schools in England, ranking as the 101st best comprehensive in the Guardian's league table, based on A-level results and 303rd based on GCSE results. Kennet is also one of very few schools in England to have three specialisms, Technology College, Arts College, and most recently Language College.
A primary school is named after Francis Baily, the renowned astronomer who was from an old Thatcham family, and who was eventually buried in the family vault under the parish church.
There is a cricket club in Thatcham called Thatcham Town Cricket Club who play in the Thames Valley League, the Berkshire League and the Borders Sunday League. The Club has four senior sides and a number of colt sides. The first recorded match was Gentlemen of Thatcham and The Gentlemen of Aldermaston being played at Thatcham Marsh on 19 July 1786.
Henwick Worthy Sports Ground sports ground is on the A4 in West Thatcham. There are outdoor facilities including 11 grass pitches for football and rugby, 2 cricket pitches, an artificial pitch, 3 tennis courts and 2 netball, a basketball court and children's play area. 14 changing rooms are available. Newbury and Thatcham Hockey Clubhouse is based at the sports ground and its clubhouse is situated there.
Thatcham is twinned with:
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- Basingstoke Railway History in Maps. Accessed 12 January 2012
- BBC News - Education league tables
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- Guardian GCSE results
- DCSF specialism listing - Technology College (Excel file)
- DCSF specialism listing - Arts College (Excel file)
- DCSF specialism listing - Language College (Excel file)
- "A Potted Historye". Thatcham Town Cricket Club. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- "Henwick Worthy Sports Ground". Thatcham Town Council. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
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