Early history

Screenshot - p04 A-DAfter the Romans left Britain, the Saxon settlers of the Wessex area founded their communities along the river valleys of southern England. The River Test (Map: 1) was the centre of the economic life of the community, providing water for wool processing and power for weaving and grinding (A). Now the river gives enjoyment to walkers and fishermen and remains at the heart of the community.

By the end of the first millennium the Saxon town of Hwitancyrice, White Church, marked the junction of the trading routes (Map: yellow circles) used by travellers on foot and horse making their way from London to the west and from the midlands to the south coast.

The conquering Normans encouraged trade and commerce,and the town of Witcerce, recorded in the 1086 Great Book of England, had mills practically every half mile along the banks of the river Test. In the 13th century Whitchurch was given a charter and became a borough, its centre moved from around the parish church to the present Market Square and burgage tenements were defined. From 1586 to 1832 Whitchurch sent two members to Parliament, and since the right to vote in parliamentary elections was held by these tenements, few of their boundaries were altered and can thus be traced today.

The original overland trading routes were reinforced by Charles I in 1635 with the introduction of the Royal Mail, followed soon after with the growth in stagecoach travel. Later, in 1644, Charles I stayed at the manor, now King’s Lodge (B), prior to the second battle of Newbury.

The natural pattern of growth along the coaching routes (Map: 2) continued until 1854, when the Victorians opened up the east-west route of the London and South West Railway (Map: 3). The long deep cutting through the chalk downs to the north of Whitchurch created the first artificial boundary to the town. The historical trade route, crossing the railway, was reinforced with the construction of a brick bridge (C) at the crossover point.

WDS 2 p5 Map Illustration Historical influences

Map – Historical influences

The artificial boundaries doubled in 1885 with the construction of the north-south steep embankment carrying the Great Western Railway from Didcot through to Southampton (Map: 4). The route lies just to the west of the town centre and runs transverse to the natural lie of the chalk downland. Brick bridges carried the railway over the earlier roads along the valley. The closure of this rail link in 1964 left behind a man-made backbone that over time became a tree-lined boundary of the western edge of the town.

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