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Village History

The parish has a long history.  After the retreat of the last ice sheets Stone Age hunter gathers may well have used the flints on the chalk downs for hunting.  Later, in the Bronze Age, occupation of the seven barrows to the south of Beacon Hill have since revealed signs of cremation and some pottery.  During the Iron Age, the two principal hill forts, one at Beacon Hill and the other on Ladle Hill were constructed.  Little evidence remains of Roman occupation, aside from some foundations, including a forge near Earlstone Manor, tiles, coins and pottery in scattered areas.

Increasing development came in the post-Norman period.  There is mention of a church at Old Burghclere in the Domesday survey and evidence of brick and pottery suggesting settlements around the line of the present A34.  This was a well trodden route for goods in medieval times, particularly salt - an important commodity - as trade wound its way inland from coastal ports.  Nevertheless following the Black Death in the 14th century many of these settlements disappeared and are only visible today as irregularities in the ground.

Slowly development moved northwards.  This was prompted by better tools and farming methods that allowed cultivation of previously wooded and wet areas, supported by the abundant water supply from the numerous wells and springs around the parish.  By the 18th century, the parish area was pockmarked with a number of farmhouses and cottages, together with the hamlet of Whitway, situated North of Old Burghclere.  It was not until after the sale of Carnarvon land in 1926 that the population rose significantly due to improved transport links and the ability to commute greater distances to work by rail, making the area more popular.

Coronation Close was built in the 1930s with Breachfield being constructed piecemeal after WW2 and into the 1950s.  Small plots were used to build houses along Harts Lane, Limes Avenue, Adbury Holt and Heatherwold.

From 1160 to 1838 the principal church in the parish was All Saints in Old Burghclere, curiously still designated as such until 1968.  From 1216 Newtown had its own church, which also served the northern end of Burghclere.  As the centre of population shifted towards Newbury, a chapel-of-ease was consecrated in Harts Lane in 1838 before being enlarged and reopened on Ascension Day 1875, and dedicated as the Church of the Ascension.

History does not tell us when Old Burghclere gained its prefix and what is now the village of Burghclere came to be known as such.  It is likely to have occurred over time and through common usage.  The potential for confusion remained however as the railway station in Burghclere was called “Highclere” and the one in Old Burghclere was “Burghclere” until the Beeching cuts of the 1960s closed the Didcot-Southampton railway line.

The Portal Hall was conceived as a memorial to Canon Portal, who died in 1889.  It, together with the recreation ground, Millennium garden, allotments and play area, come under the management of Pinder Recreational Trust (PRT), named after Brigadier Pinder who bequeathed monies from the sale of land, including part of Elkington Close.  Today, the Parish Council is trustee for PRT as a registered charity and meetings are held separately from those of the Council.

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