Unique multi-disciplinary study of a key part of the Oxfordshire Chilterns over a thousand years, based on intensive new research and exploring landscape, settlement, farming, and social and religious life.
Drawing on intensive new research, this volume covers a dozen ancient parishes straddling the south-west end of the Chiltern hills, set within a large southwards loop of the Thames close to Reading, Wallingford, and Henley-on-Thames. London, connected by river, road, and (later) rail, lies some 40 miles east. The uplands feature the dispersed settlement and wood-pasture typical of the Chilterns, contrasted with nucleated riverside villages such as Whitchurch and Goring. Caversham, formerly 'a little hamlet at the bridge', developed from the 19th century into a densely settled suburb of Reading (across the river), while other recent changes have largely obliterated the ancient pattern of 'strip' parishes stretching from the river into the hills, which bound vale and upland together and had its origins in 10th-century estate structures.
The economy was predominantly agricultural until the 20th century, with woodland playing a significant role alongside rural crafts and industry. Crowmarsh Gifford (near Wallingford) had an early market and fair. Gentrification and tourism gained momentum from the mid 19th century, accelerated by the arrival of the railway from 1840 and especially affecting riverside villages such as Goring and Shiplake, which saw extensive new building by wealthy incomers. Goring was earlier the site of an Augustinian nunnery and (probably) of a small pre-Conquest minster, while Mapledurham and several other places became foci for post-Reformation Roman Catholic recusancy, with Protestant Nonconformity expanding from the 19th century. Major buildings include mansion houses at Hardwick (in Whitchurch) and Mapledurham, alongside timber or brick vernacular structures and some striking modernist additions.