Faringdon old Town Hall
|Population||7,121 (2011 Census)|
|OS grid reference|
|• London||78 miles (126 km)|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Website||Faringdon Town Council|
Faringdon // is a historic market town in the Vale of White Horse, Oxfordshire, England, 18 miles (29 km) south-west of Oxford, 10 miles (16 km) north-west of Wantage and 12 miles (19 km) east-north-east of Swindon. The lowest parts extend to the River Thames in the north; the highest ground is on the Ridgeway in the south. Faringdon was Berkshire's westernmost town until the 1974 boundary changes transferred it to Oxfordshire. The civil parish is formally known as Great Faringdon, to distinguish it from Little Faringdon in West Oxfordshire. The 2011 Census gave a population of 7,121 and a 2019 estimate put it at 7,992. On 1 February 2004, Faringdon became the first place in south-east England to be awarded Fairtrade Town status.
The town was granted a weekly market in 1218, and as a result came to be called Chipping Faringdon. The weekly market is still held. King John established an abbey in Faringdon in 1202 (probably on the site of Portwell House), but it soon moved to Beaulieu in Hampshire. In 1417 the aged Archbishop of Dublin, Thomas Cranley, died in Faringdon while journeying to London.
Places of interest
All Saints' Church
The Church of England parish church of All Saints may date from the 12th century, and the clerestorey and possibly the west end of the nave survive from this period. A Norman doorway survives, although not in its original position, in the baptistery. The chancel and north transept are 13th century and the west chapel is 14th century. The north chapel is a late medieval Perpendicular Gothic addition with 15th century windows.
All Saints has a central bell tower, which was reduced in height in 1645 after it was damaged by a cannonball in the English Civil War. Faringdon was fought over because it commands the road to the Radcot Bridge over the River Thames. The tower now has a ring of eight bells. The three oldest bells were cast in 1708. James Wells of Aldbourne, Wiltshire cast the tenor bell in 1779 and another bell in 1803. The three youngest bells, including the treble, were cast in 1874 by Mears and Stainbank.
The churchyard is reportedly haunted by the headless ghost of a naval officer, Hampden Pye. According to local legend, Pye was decapitated in a battlefield explosion while fighting in the War of the Spanish Succession after being convinced to enlist by his mother, who sought to separate him from a local girl she considered an unsuitable match. An alternative local legend states that Pye was an unfaithful husband who was decapitated by his wife with a gun. The ghost was reportedly exorcised shortly after Pye's death.
Old Town Hall
Just east of the town is Folly Hill or Faringdon Hill, a Greensand outcrop (at grid reference ). In common with Badbury Hill to the west of the town, it has an ancient ditched defensive ring (hill fort). This was fortified by supporters of Matilda sometime during the Anarchy (1135–1141) – her campaign to claim the throne from King Stephen – but was soon razed to the ground by Stephen. Oliver Cromwell fortified it in his unsuccessful campaign to defeat the Royalist garrison at Faringdon House.
The Pye family had Scots pines planted around the summit, around the time that Faringdon House was rebuilt in the late 18th century. This is a conspicuous and recognisable landmark that can be seen from afar, including from the Vale of White Horse, White Horse Hill, the Berkshire Downs near Lockinge and the Cotswolds to the north.
The folly on Folly Hill was designed by Lord Gerald Wellesley, later 7th Duke of Wellington, for Lord Berners and built in 1935. It is 140 feet (43 m) high and affords panoramic views of the Vale of White Horse. It once had a sign saying "Members of the public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk." During the Second World War the Home Guard used it as an observation post. In 1982 Robert Heber-Percy restored it and gave it to the town in trust. It has been a Grade II listed building since 1986.
Near the top of London Street near Faringdon Folly is a pub bearing that name.
There is a manor house and estate, close to the edge of Faringdon, called Faringdon House. The original house was damaged during the civil war. Its owner at the time, Sir Robert Pye, who was a Royalist, was put under siege by his own son Robert who was a Parliamentarian colonel. Building of the current, smaller, house began about 1780 and was not completed until after 1785.
The house was bought in 1787 by William Hallett Esq. It was the home of Lord Berners in the mid-20th century. For a time it was owned by the writer Sofka Zinovieff, the granddaughter of Berners' companion, Robert Heber-Percy, who inherited it on Berners' death in 1950.
Faringdon is the site of the Faringdon Sponge Gravel Member, part of the Cretaceous Lower Greensand Group. It is rich in fossil sponges, other invertebrates, a few vertebrate bones and teeth, and good examples of bioerosion.
Faringdon is linked with Swindon and Oxford by a frequent service operated seven days a week by Stagecoach West, and by an hourly service to Wantage, run by Thames Travel and operating on Mondays to Saturdays.
A 3.5 miles (5.6 km) Faringdon branch line was opened in 1864 between Faringdon and the Great Western Railway (GWR) at Uffington, with construction funded by the Faringdon Railway Company (bought outright by the GWR in 1886). Passenger traffic peaked in 1913, but later declined to an extent that the passenger service was withdrawn in 1951. Goods traffic continued until the Beeching closures of 1964. The Faringdon railway station building remains. It currently houses a nursery school.
Faringdon is notable for the dyed pigeons at Faringdon House. The custom of dyeing pigeons was started by the eccentric Lord Berners. Around the town can be seen some stone plaques with comments such as "Please do not throw stones at this notice," reflecting Lord Berners' ongoing influence.
Since 2004, Faringdon has held an annual weekend festival known originally as the "Faringdon Arts Festival", but now as "FollyFest". It is generally held as a non-profit event on the last summer weekend of the school year.
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