Wallingford Walk 29th August 2014
If what follows whets your appetite be sure to click on the link at the end of this report for a very full description of the walk which, along with the accompanying map, will allow you to follow the route yourself
Wallingford, one of the oldest and was once one of the most important towns in England, vying with Winchester for supremacy. It was founded by King Alfred in the late 9th century as a burh or fortified town, part of a series of defences against the Danes. There has probably been a ford here since prehistoric times, and Neolithic and Bronze Age flints can be found in the surrounding fields. There is evidence for Roman activity in the western suburbs, when the ford may have linked the two Roman roads that run each side of the Thames.
Following its heyday in the 10th to 13th centuries, when Wallingford Castle was reputedly the largest in the land, the town entered a serious decline. The Black Death in 1349 carried off one-third of the population and the opening of Abingdon Bridge in 1415 diverted trade away from the town.
By 1439 there were only 44 houses left. Many had decayed and fallen down, and gravel quarrying (which is not a recent phenomenon) in the town centre in the 16th to 18th centuries removed many of the earlier features. The town picked up again in the 17th century – the Town Hall was built in 1670 – and most of the older buildings you can see are 18th century, but it never recovered its former glory.
Much of Alfred’s Saxon street grid still survives. We’ll follow some of these streets to the south-east corner of the town, where we’ll pick up the line of the ramparts and follow them round to explore the Castle earthworks and return to the town along the river (c.2 miles).