This was a circular walk of about 4miles taken from ‘Rambling for Pleasure around Reading’ published by East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association. It was the example used by Mark Stevens when some of us visited Berkshire Record Office. The pathways of this walk existed at least 200 years ago; paved roads, additional road traffic and a few extra buildings are the main changes. The area that we now know as Hurst used to be called Whistley, which means ‘marshy ground’; it was part of the Charlton Hundred in an enclave of Wiltshire and was one of the possessions of Abingdon abbey at the time of the Domesday Survey. The name Hurst was used after 1220 after a visit to Sonning by the Dean of Salisbury. The scribe used the name ‘Herst’ meaning a wood. In 1538 Henry VIII gave it to Richard Ward of Waltham St Lawrence and Colubra his wife. One of the local industries was osier growing and basket making. The church is separated from the village. This may be because Hurst was affected by the Black Death in 1348.
On a fine sunny morning we met in the bowling club car park and were able to look at the church and almshouses before the walk. The bowling green is said to have been laid out for Charles I in 1628. He may have stayed at what is now the Castle Inn when hunting in Windsor Forest. WG Grace also played bowls there. The almshouses were built by William Barker in 1682 as ‘a hospital for the maintenance of 8 poor persons each at 6 pence per diem for ever’. At one time the top floors were closed off but they are now being modernised and opened up again to make the properties larger.
Parts of the Castle Inn date back to the 10th Century whereas most is 16th century. It belongs to the church and was formerly called Church House. In the 18th century it was renamed the Bunch of Grapes and later became the Castle. The emblem of the bowling club is still a bunch of grapes.
There are records of a church in Hurst as far back as 1084 when the villagers found it too difficult to travel to church in Sonning, particularly when areas near the Loddon were flooded. One of the church wardens kindly opened the church for us and we were able to see the Jacobean pulpit from which Archbishop Laud preached in 1625 and the holder for the 1636 hourglass used to time sermons. The rood screen dates from Henry VIII’s reign. There are also monuments to Richard Ward and his descendants, the Harrisons and Lady Margaret Savile. There is also the tomb of Richard Biggs who set up a charity to distribute bread to the poor of the parish and William Barker who built the almshouses.
Our route took us past church cottages and the old school house into Orchard Road, across the fields. The marquees for Hurst Show were being erected ready for the following day.
We paused at Townsend Pond and were fortunate to see the resident heron and numerous fish. The pond is fed by a spring. The position of a road which used to lead into it could be seen; this enabled horses to be watered and carts to be washed. Opposite is Pond Cottage, now called Peacocks; this was a school for ten village children in the 19th century.
We continued along Hinton Road to the Green Man. This pub was awarded its first licence in the 1600s. Parts of the building survived from before the pub opened. It is built from timbers recycled from decommissioned ships built from trees from Windsor Forest. It is said that when the kings hunted deer in the forest, the keepers lunched at the Green Man and the noted people at Bill Hill House. At one time the western boundary of Windsor Forest was the River Loddon.
We headed across the fields passing St Swithin’s Cottage, some parts of which are 500 years old, along Hogmoor Lane, across the A321, coming eventually to Whistley Bridge. Whistley Mill used to be near here. It is mentioned in the Domesday Survey as being worth 5s and 250 eels. There was also a fishery worth 300 eels.
We posed for a group photograph here
We continued along the banks of the Loddon towards Sandford Mill. There were many damsel flies and a few banded demoiselles. On the left is the site of Whistley Manor. There had been houses here since mediaeval times. The last one was set in a large park with an avenue of limes and chestnuts leading to the house. There were also fish ponds and stables. From the Loddon there was a cut to a thatched boat house belonging to the house. It is said that some of the brick foundations of this inlet still exist, but only a short ditch remains, bridged over. The house was demolished in the mid-1800s and the land later used for gravel extraction. Further on, we crossed the bridge over the Emm Brook, which joins the Loddon near Sandford Mill.
Sandford Manor and Sandford Mill are now private houses. They and the road bridge date from the 1700s. There may have been a mill on this site from as far back as the Domesday Survey. During the civil war in the 1640s the mill was sacked and burned for supplying corn to the Royalists. At one time there was a toll on the road by the mill as this road was used by travellers trying to avoid the turnpike at Loddon Bridge. The mill remained in working order until the 1950s and was used for milling animal feed.
We continued along the footpath between Sandford Lane and Lavells Lake, where a chiffchaff was visible on a high branch, then past Hurst Grove, an 18th century house, now offices. One of its previous owners was Reginald Palmer, a director of Associated Biscuits in Reading.
We crossed the fields past Hatchgate Farm. The 16th century farmhouse cottage was the former farmhouse. A poster in the Green Man advertises the 1928 Hurst Agricultural Show held at Hatchgate Farm when thousands of visitors came to see the wrestling tournaments and the Royal Scots Greys. We continued towards the almshouses and back to the bowling green. Some of us went on to the Green Man for lunch.
A further selection of photos, taken by Chris Jones, can be found at: http://www.u3atvnetwork.org.uk/ChrisJonesHurstWalk/index.html
and another collection, courtesy of Chris French, is available at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/eg3kxo9tq3ecpte/AAB5yWzGLpxgOaCjtg_OtYwra
This is a circular walk and can be started at any point. Copies of the maps are on the Historic Pathways Diary Page. Finding parking for individual cars is fairly easy. There are several spaces along Sandford Lane. The car park in Sandford Lane opposite the entrance to Dinton Pastures watersports is now pay and display. The paths across the fields and along the Loddon can be very muddy after heavy rain.