A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1923.
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The parish of Aldermaston contains 3,742 acres of land, a large proportion, 1,410 acres, being woods or plantations, while 666 acres are arable and 715 acres permanent pasture. (fn. 1) The highest point, over 350 ft. above the ordnance datum, is in the south-west; the land slopes down towards the north, where the River Kennet crosses the parish. The river is spanned by a bridge on the Reading road, called Aldermaston Bridge, while a little to the west is situated the picturesque Aldermaston mill. Further west, the river is joined by the Kennet and Avon Canal; Aldermaston Wharf stands on the canal further east, just outside the parish. Here is a considerable trade in timber, coals and wood hoops. There is a detached piece of the parish lying slightly to the north-west, separated from the larger portion by Woolhampton parish. The Kennet also runs through this portion and is crossed by a bridge called Wickham Knights Bridge. A second detached portion of the parish lies near the wharf where the Kennet and Avon Canal leaves the parish; here there are a few houses and a large brewery, partly in Aldermaston parish. Aldermaston railway station is in Beenham parish and is on the Hungerford and Devizes branch of the Great Western railway. (fn. 2) The soil is London Clay, Bagshot and Bracklesham Beds and, in the Kennet valley, Alluvium. The village of Aldermaston lies on the road from Basingstoke to Oxford. It is a mile and a quarter south of the railway station and consists principally of a wide street sloping up to the gates of Aldermaston Park. Its appearance suggests that the place was once more considerable than it is now, and this is borne out by its history. The houses are mainly of brick or brick and half-timber with tiled roofs. At the bottom of the main street stands the 'Hind's Head,' a large picturesque inn of the 17th century, with later additions on either side. It is a two-story brick building with dormers lighting the attic in the roof, while over the central gable is a small wooden bellturret. The windows have wooden transoms and mullions filled in with casements, while in the gable is a clock face. The church of St. Mary stands to the east of the manor-house in the park, where there are also various fish-ponds. One of these forms a small lake near the village. The manor-house, known as Aldermaston Court, is the seat of Mr. Charles Edward Keyser, and stands on rising ground in the park.
The old mansion stood about 300 ft. to the north-east of the present house, but it was burnt in 1843, and now only the foundations of the cellars remain. Incorporated in the new building, erected in 1849 from designs by Hardwick, is a fine early 17th-century staircase, taken from the old house. It is three stories high, with three flights to each floor, and has a richly carved balustrade with carved newels supporting allegorical and mythological figures. A considerable amount of heraldic glass, now in the library, was saved from the old house, as were the fine stacks of chimneys, which are relics of a still earlier house of 15th-century date. Inside the entrance porch, built into a modern wall, is a small stone panel, which was taken from the old house and gives the date of its erection. It is inscribed as follows:—
A little distance to the north-west of the Court are the old stables. The earliest portion, which now forms the east wing, dates from the last half of the 17th century. It is a gabled brick building with an upper floor, or loft, reached by a small stair with turned balusters supporting the handrail. The entrance doorway is crowned by a broken pediment of moulded brick and still retains its original many panelled door. Some of the old framed and panelled stalling still survives. The northern range of building was added in the 18th century. At the top of the village are the fine wrought-iron entrance gates to the park, flanked by twin two-storied brick lodges with mullioned windows and curved gables. These were originally the wings of a house, the central portion of which was pulled down and the gates put in by Mr. W. Congreve early in the last century. There was no drive here, however, till 1894.
There is a parish hall, built in 1897 by Mr. C. E. Keyser. Almshouses for four widows were built in 1706 by the Rev. Robert Dixon. The endowment was increased in 1849, and two of the houses have recently been rebuilt.
Traces of Grimmer's Bank or the third Grim's Dyke stretch across Aldermaston Park. (fn. 3) In the south-east corner of the parish boundary, which also forms the county boundary on the south, there is a large stone called the Imp stone, said to be a Roman milestone. Several cinerary urns were found in the parish, in Box Meadow. (fn. 4) Lands in the parish of Aldermaston were inclosed under Act of Parliament in the reign of George III, the date of the award being 12 April 1815. (fn. 5)
Aldermaston, lying near both Reading and Newbury, was frequently occupied by both Royalist and Parliamentary troops during the Civil War. In 1643 it was the scene of a skirmish between the two parties after the first battle of Newbury. (fn. 6) The following year, before the second battle of Newbury, the Earl of Manchester stopped at Aldermaston House and the Parliamentary troops were encamped in the park, while a month before the royal forces under Colonel Gage had halted at Aldermaston as they were marching to the relief of Basing House, held for the king by Lord Winchester. (fn. 7)
ALDERMASTON or ALDERMASTON AD PONTEM belonged to King Harold before the Norman Conquest, and like the greater part of his lands was taken by William the Conqueror and held in demesne. (fn. 8) It was assessed at 15 hides in the time of Harold and was worth £20 a year both then and at the time of the Domesday Survey. (fn. 9) Two 'hagae,' worth 5d., were held by King William in the borough of Wallingford in right of his manor of Aldermaston. (fn. 10) The manor thus formed part of the ancient demesne of the Crown, and from the 13th to the 15th century there are occasional traces to be found of a small borough, which, however, never attained enough importance to send representatives to Parliament. No borough charter has been found, but the development of burghal rights was doubtless aided by the growth of a flourishing market and the privileges obtained by the lord of the manor. Henry I had granted the manor of Aldermaston to Robert Achard, with considerable privileges (fn. 11)—toll and theam, soc and sac and infangtheof, while the grantee and his men were quit of shire and hundred courts, murdrum and danegeld and all pleas that appertained to the Crown. In a 13th-century lawsuit these rights were upheld against the encroachments of the Abbot of Reading, who claimed that the manor owed suit at his hundred court and seized fifty-two cattle belonging to Robert the archdeacon, (fn. 12) and the charter of Henry I was produced as warranty of the Aldermaston privileges. Peter Achard had gallows in the manor in 1276 and held the assize of bread and ale for his tenants in Aldermaston. (fn. 13) Amongst the tenants of the manor in the 13th century there were ten tenants described as burgesses of the borough of Aldermaston (fn. 14) and land was held by burgage tenure, while in the 15th century a portmote was held for the borough tenants, distinct from the manorial three weeks court. (fn. 15) In 1432 (fn. 16) the court roll is headed 'the court with the court of the portmote.' In another roll it is called the court of the portmote held within the borough. (fn. 17) The chief official of the borough was the bailiff, who appears to have been elected at the portmote; he came to the view of frankpledge held for the manor and made the presentments for the borough. (fn. 18) No mention, however, is made of the borough in the next century, and it appears to have completely disappeared, the manor only being mentioned in any later documents.
It seems probable that there was a market here from early times. The right to hold a market was granted by Edward I to Robert Achard, the lord of the manor, in 1292, (fn. 19) but this may have been the confirmation of an existing practice. A fresh charter was obtained from Henry IV, (fn. 20) and the market was held until the 19th century. It is mentioned in Owen's New Book of Fairs in 1792 (fn. 21) and again in 1799, (fn. 22) but two years later it is omitted by Lysons (fn. 23) and presumably died out about that time.
With the grant of the market Robert Achard also obtained the right to hold a yearly fair on the vigil, the feast and the morrow of the Translation of St. Thomas the Martyr (7 July). (fn. 24) This fair was held until the 19th century, (fn. 25) but it was abolished in 1874. (fn. 26) Two other fairs were held in the 18th and 19th centuries on 6 May and 13 October. (fn. 27) They were not held under a charter and died out before 1888. (fn. 28)
Robert Achard, to whom the manor of ALDERMASTON was granted by Henry I, (fn. 29) held it and four other manors by the service due from one knight's fee. It passed to his son and grandson, both named William, in turn. (fn. 30) The former answered in 1160–1 for five knights' fees, (fn. 31) and of these his father had granted three to sub-tenants. (fn. 32) In 1171–2 William claimed to hold all his lands as the fee of one knight, (fn. 33) and from that time his service was reduced in accordance with the original grant. (fn. 34) Aldermaston was held in demesne by William and his descendants until the latter half of the 18th century. The second William died before 1229, (fn. 35) when his son and heir Robert obtained a confirmation of the grant of Henry I of the manor. Robert Achard died about 1241, (fn. 36) and the custody of his lands, excepting the dower of his widow Hawise, was granted to William Englefield until Peter Achard, his son and heir, should be of age. (fn. 37) Peter was succeeded by his son Robert, (fn. 38) who in about 1294 granted the manor to Master Richard de Coleshill, as trustee for a settlement on his nephew Robert, the son of Coleshill's brother Ellis. (fn. 39) Richard de Coleshill died seised in 1296, (fn. 40) and his brother and heir Ellis shortly afterwards released the manor to Robert Achard for life. (fn. 41) On the death of Achard in 1298 (fn. 42) it passed by the settlement to his nephew Robert, son of Ellis de Coleshill, and not to his brother and heir William Achard. (fn. 43) This Robert did homage for the manor in 1299 (fn. 44) and obtained seisin, with the exception of the dower granted by the king to Joan, Robert Achard's widow. (fn. 45) He assumed the name of Achard on succeeding his uncle, since it seems clear that he must be identified with the Robert Achard who obtained a grant of free warren in 1304 (fn. 46) and held the manor in 1316. (fn. 47) In 1338 he made a settlement of the manor on himself and his second wife Agnes. (fn. 48) A final settlement was made in 1342, (fn. 49) by which the manor was to be held jointly by Robert Achard and Agnes for their lives, with remainder to Peter Achard (Robert's son by his first wife Joan) and his wife Elizabeth in tail, and contingently to Peter Delamare, kt., and his wife Joan for their lives, and afterwards to their son Thomas in tail and to his brother Richard successively. Robert died in 1353, (fn. 50) and Agnes held the whole manor till her death in 1358, (fn. 51) when it passed to Peter Achard. Peter died in 1361, (fn. 52) his wife Elizabeth having predeceased him. He had no children, (fn. 53) and the manor of Aldermaston passed to the Delamares. Presumably, Joan the wife of Sir Peter Delamare had been a sister or daughter of Robert Achard, and her son Thomas succeeded under the settlement of 1343. (fn. 54) In previous histories of the manor Elizabeth, the daughter and heir of Robert Achard and wife of Sir Thomas Delamare, is mentioned, but no contemporary reference to her has been found. (fn. 55) There is no mention of her in any of the settlements of the manor, while Thomas Delamare is not the first of his family mentioned in the remainders, and the name of his wife is given in other documents as Margaret. (fn. 56) Sir Thomas, who was the tenant in 1401–2, (fn. 57) died in 1404, (fn. 58) and was succeeded by his son Robert, the tenant in 1428. (fn. 59) Robert died in 1431, (fn. 60) his heir being his grandson Thomas, who was a minor when the manor descended to him. (fn. 61) This Thomas was knighted, and was in turn succeeded by his grandson Thomas, (fn. 62) also a minor when his grandfather died. The boy, however, died in 1493 (fn. 63) before attaining his majority, and his heirs were his two sisters, Elizabeth and Frideswide. (fn. 64) In the partition of their inheritance the manor of Aldermaston was assigned to Frideswide, who became the wife of John Moreton. (fn. 65) She died in 1497, and her sister Elizabeth eventually became the sole heir of her grandfather's estates. (fn. 66) She married George Forster, (fn. 67) who was later knighted, and her descendants held the manor of Aldermaston till the 18th century. Elizabeth died in 1526, (fn. 68) her heir being her son Sir Humphrey Forster, who died in 1556, (fn. 69) and was succeeded by his son William (died 1574–5), (fn. 70) whom Queen Elizabeth visited here in 1558. (fn. 71) While Humphrey son of the last-named William was lord of the manor Queen Elizabeth again visited Aldermaston in 1592, where a meeting of the Privy Council was held on 17 August. (fn. 72) She knighted him in the same year. (fn. 73) Another William son of Humphrey inherited the manor, and on his death in 1617–18 (fn. 74) it passed to his son Humphrey, who was created a baronet in 1620. (fn. 75) At the outbreak of the Civil War Sir Humphrey supported the king, and his estates, which were in the 'King's quarters,' were sequestered. (fn. 76) He had mortgaged his estates for £14,000, and this was one of the reasons for the sequestration, the Committee for Compounding taking the view that he had raised the whole of this sum of money to help the king, and that it was therefore a very serious case of delinquency. (fn. 77) Sir Humphrey, however, protested, and it seems probable that he had raised part of the money for his own purposes, since in 1636 he had rebuilt Aldermaston Court. He further urged that his son had served the Parliament, and offered to pay for his discharge. (fn. 78) The proceedings dragged on for several years, and when the discharge was at length granted in 1653 it was cancelled the following year. (fn. 79) He recovered possession of Aldermaston, however, and lived to see the restoration of Charles II. He died in 1663, (fn. 80) and was succeeded in his baronetcy and estates by his grandson Humphrey, (fn. 81) who lived till 1711, but left no male heir. (fn. 82) Aldermaston passed to his sister Elizabeth, the wife of William Pert, and afterwards to her daughter Elizabeth, who married as her second husband the third Lord Stawel of Somerton. (fn. 83) The latter held the manor of Aldermaston in her right in 1733. (fn. 84) She died in 1748, and the manor appears to have passed to her daughter and heir Charlotte Stawel, (fn. 85) who held it jointly with her husband, James Mack Carley, in 1742. (fn. 86) Charlotte married as her third husband Ralph Congreve of Congreve, co. Staff., but she died in 1762 leaving no children, and the manor passed for the first time from the descendants of Robert Achard, the original grantee of the manor. (fn. 87) Ralph Congreve owned Aldermaston till his death in 1775; having no children he settled it on an unmarried sister, with reversion to the elder branch of his own family. (fn. 88) In 1798 (fn. 89) it was in the possession of William Congreve, on whose death in 1843 his estates came into the Court of Chancery, and were ordered to be sold for the payment of his creditors. (fn. 90) It was bought in 1847 or 1848 by Daniel Higford Burr, who pulled down and rebuilt Aldermaston Court, which had been partially burnt in 1843. (fn. 91) He was succeeded by his son, who took the additional name of Higford, and the latter sold it in the year 1893 to Mr. C. E. Keyser, the present lord of the manor, who resides at Aldermaston Court.
Aldermaston Park occupies a considerable portion of the parish of Aldermaston and comprises 1,000 acres. In 1292 (fn. 92) Edward I granted Robert Achard free warren, and the park is first mentioned in 1299 (fn. 93) shortly after Robert's death. In 1304 Edward I (fn. 94) confirmed the grant of free warren to the succeeding lord of the manor, and Thomas Delamare also obtained a grant of free warren after inheriting the lands of the Achards. (fn. 95) The park is mentioned in 1618 after the death of Sir William Forster, (fn. 96) and in 1666 the Warden and Fellows of Queen's College, Oxford, received a present of a whole buck from Lady Forster of Aldermaston, presumably from the park. (fn. 97)
A mill which was worth 20s. a year (fn. 100) is mentioned in the Domesday Survey. A water-mill is mentioned in extents of the manor in the 13th and 14th centuries. (fn. 101) In various settlements of the manor of the 17th and 18th centuries four water-mills are mentioned, (fn. 102) but probably they were not all within the bounds of the parish. At the present day there is one water-mill on the Kennet, to the north-west of the village.
The church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN consists of a chancel about 35 ft. 10 in. by 21 ft. 10 in. with a south-east vestry, a nave 50 ft. 2 in. long, which varies in width from 20 ft. 3 in. at the east to 25 ft. 2 in. at the west end, a south chapel about 14 ft. 11 in. by 18 ft. 4 in., and a west tower about 10 ft. 5 in. by 10 ft. 1 in. with a small spire. These measurements are all internal.
The earliest part of the present building is the nave, which was originally both nave and chancel of an early 12th-century church. About 1210 the chancel was extended eastward, the old chancel being at the same time thrown into the nave, and a transept built on the south side of the original chancel. In the 14th century the tower was added, and early in the 17th century a vestry was built on the south side of the chancel with a vault beneath for members of the Forster family.
The church was thoroughly restored in 1896 under the guidance of Mr. E. Doran Webb, F.S.A., and the supervision of Mr. Charles E. Keyser, M.A., F.S.A., at whose expense the whole work was carried out. The chief works were the removal of various accumulations, the repaving of the chancel and nave, the rebuilding of the east gable and of the arch between the nave and chapel, removing the west gallery and substituting a new ringers' gallery, providing new roofs for the chancel, chapel, and east part of the nave, substituting oak seats and choir stalls for the then existing deal ones and improving the heating apparatus. At the restoration it was found that the wall of the church had been lined on the inside with a wooden framing covered with plaster to the thickness of several inches. This was taken down and the walls behind made good and decorated with some large tempera paintings.
The east window is of three lancets with wide mullions and splayed inner jambs. The window is original, though the south mullion has been restored; internally the opening is spanned by wooden lintels.
The easternmost window in the north wall is a single lancet with a two-centred segmental rear arch. In the still traces of a water drain were found in 1896, and on this authority a modern piscina has been inserted. Externally the sill has a groove which is stopped under the middle of the window on a square block. The second window is similar, but in the rear arch are a number of Roman bricks. To the west of this is a single 15th-century cinquefoiled light with a restored sill, and an internal head formed by oak lintels. Above this is a small round-headed opening with sunk spandrels, probably inserted in the 15th century to light the rood-loft. In the east end of the south wall is a semicircular brick arch opening into the vestry and immediately to the west of the vestry is a blocked round-headed doorway of the early 17th century, its arch springing from moulded abaci and having a slightly projecting keystone. To the west of this is a segmental-headed 14th-century window of two ogee trefoiled lights with a drop rear arch; the jambs only are original. In the west end of this wall is a low-side round-headed window with a wooden frame, the jambs of which are probably of similar date, and in the wall above is a small square-headed opening with a wooden frame, which probably lighted the rood-loft from the south. At the eastern angles of the chancel are two-stage diagonal buttresses of the 14th century, while between the two northern lancets a large modern buttress supports the wall, which at this point is considerably bulged.
The vestry is lighted on the east by an uncusped pointed window below which is a pointed doorway, on the south by a window of two similar lights, and on the west by another single uncusped light. All have moulded brick labels. The base of the wall is built of flint, and the upper part of brick which has been pargeted over and incised at the angles in imitation of stone quoins.
There is no structural division between the chancel and the nave, but a small break in the north and south walls marks the point of junction between the original 12th-century chancel and the 13th century extension. At the east end of the 12th-century portion of the north wall of the nave is a 14th-century window of two trefoiled ogee lights with a quatrefoil under a pointed head, a moulded external label, and an oak internal lintel. To the west of this is a 12th-century round-headed doorway with much restored chamfered jambs and a segmental rear arch over which is carved the head of a bearded man. The doorway is filled with thin walling, in which is inserted a small oval light. Between this doorway and the break in the wall which marks the length of the original nave is a small four-centred recess. To the west of the break is a small cinquefoiled light like that in the chancel portion of the north wall. The remaining window on this side is a 14th-century insertion of two cinquefoiled ogee lights, each light having an independent external hood mould, while the cusping of the heads is in two orders. Opening into the south chapel is a pointed arch of a single chamfered order which springs from responds of the same section having moulded abaci and chamfered bases. The eastern abacus is entirely modern, and the western is almost completely worn away. On the west side of the opening is a small four-centred recess similar to and opposite the one in the north wall. In the west end of the south wall of the nave is a 14th-century window of two trefoiled ogee lights with tracery under a square head, a moulded external label and wooden lintels in lieu of a rear arch.
The south chapel has a trefoiled lancet in the east wall the jambs of which are now carried down to the ground to form the jambs of a modern pointed doorway inserted below it. South of this window is a small trefoiled recess with a restored sill. In the south wall is a slightly restored 14th-century window of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil under a pointed head; a moulded external label and a two-centre segmental rear arch; to the east is a trefoiled piscina, the projecting basin of which is broken off. In the west wall is a trefoiled lancet like that in the opposite wall. Outside in the angle made by the chapel with the chancel is a buttress-like projection which probably contains the 15th-century rood stair.
The tower, although in one external stage—with two-stage diagonal buttresses, which stop below the level of the bell-chamber, at the western angles—contains three floors, and has a north-east stair-turret. The tower arch, which is pointed and of two chamfered orders, is the full width of the tower and springs from the side walls. Reset in the west wall of the ground stage is an early 12th-century doorway with a semicircular head in two orders, the inner plain, the outer cable-moulded. In the jambs are detached shafts with cheveron ornament, having capitals, carved on the two exposed faces with birds, and quirked and hollow-chamfered abaci. Immediately above the doorway, lighting the ringing chamber, is a late 14th-century window of two cinquefoiled lights with a quatrefoil under a pointed head, having a moulded label with head-stops. Above the ringing stage the tower appears to be of 17th-century date, and is of half-timber and brick construction, with wooden louvres high up in each wall of the bell-chamber. The tower roof is low-pitched and has projecting rafters, from which rises an octagonal shingle spire. All the walls are pargeted externally with 17th-century plaster with masoned angles.
The chancel and east part of the nave have a modern five-sided panelled ceiling, divided into five bays by original king-post trusses with moulded tie-beams, while over the west part of the nave is a 14th-century roof carried in three bays by curved rafters, and having moulded tie-beams and carved bosses at the intersection of the principals with the ridge. The roof of the south chapel is divided into two bays by an original tie-beam.
There is a fine seven-sided Jacobean pulpit, in two tiers of carved panels, with a richly ornamented sounding-board. The font is modern. In the chancel are three chairs of the same date as the pulpit; two have their original upholstery, but the third is an armchair with a wooden seat. Round the walls of the nave is a dado of 17th-century panelling that is said to have been taken from Ufton Court. Over the blocked doorway in the north wall were found, at the restoration, three sets of Commandments, painted over each other, and between the low-side window and the window adjoining a record twice depicted of a legacy left to the parish in 1721 by Messrs. Blackman & Holliman.
Among the old glass still remaining is a small late 13th-century circular panel in the north-east window of the chancel, representing the Annunciation. It is richly coloured and in good preservation. In the hands of the archangel Gabriel is a scroll on which is written in Lombardic capitals 'Ave Maria G[ratia],' the end of the scroll being shown rolled over. The features and hands of both figures are in white glass and the background is of a rich blue colour. In the next window is a panel of the same date representing the coronation of the Virgin; this also has a blue background, but the flesh of both figures is coloured. In the east window of the north wall of the nave are eight shields of heraldic glass, evidently of 16th-century date. They were, together with the glass already mentioned, taken from the east window some few years ago, when the present glass was inserted. The shields are arranged one above another, four in each light, and are surrounded by laurel wreaths, with lion's-face clasps. The following are the shields from top to bottom in the west light: (1) Forster quartering Delamare, Achard and Popham; (2) Forster quartering Delamare, Popham, St. Martin, Achard and Zouch and impaling Sandys of the Vyne with Bray in pretence, for Sir Humphrey Forster, kt., and Elizabeth Sandys his wife; (3) Forster quartering Delamare, Harpsden and Achard and impaling Popham quartering St. Martin, Zouch and Milborne, for Sir Humphrey Forster, kt., of Harpsden, d. 1500, and Alice Popham his wife; (4) Delamare impaling Roches quartering Brocas. The shields in the east light are: (1) Forster impaling Popham quartering Zouch; (2) Forster quartering Popham and Zouch impaling Sandys with Bray in pretence; (3) Forster, Popham and Zouch impaling Delamare quartering Achard; (4) Forster quartering Delamare, Achard and Popham. In the quatrefoil in the head of the window are some fragments of 14th-century glass; in the middle is a roundel on which is painted a mitred abbot's head against a background of black and white leaves inclosed within a yellow border, and on either side are circles similarly enriched. Ranged about these circles are seven lions passant argent on a sable field, two above, one on either side and three below; the space in the bottom of the lights between the tiers is filled in with pieces of ruby-red glass. There is a small piece of 17th-century painted glass in the west window of the south chapel with the shield of Forster impaling a blank, while over the shield is a helm with elaborate mantling and below the date 1637. This came from the old Court, and shows the effects of the fire. In the south window of the vestry is also a quartered shield of old glass, (1) blank, (2) Achard, (3) Roches, (4) Kingsmill, and in the head of the window on a blue background is a blazing sun, on which is written the name of Jehovah in Hebrew characters.
The church contains some good mediaeval wall-paintings, which were brought to light in the restoration of 1896, as well as some painted inscriptions of the 18th century. The most interesting of the mediaeval paintings are in the chapel, and appear to be of three distinct dates. All the walls, with the exception of the space occupied by the figure of St. Christopher, are decorated with double masonry lines in red ochre, with flower stalks in each compartment of the same colour. The lower part of the jambs of the south window have quoin stones represented in Indian red. On the east side of the south window, visible from the low-side window in the north wall of the nave, is a large figure of St. Christopher carrying the Child Christ. Over the figure is a gabled cinquefoiled canopy, and in the foot of the picture are some fish and a small mermaid. The figures are outlined in red, the Infant has dark hair, and is giving the benediction with His right hand, while in His left He carries an orb. The Saint is clad in a loose cloak and tunic, and is bare below the knee. This work is probably contemporaneous with the masonry lines already mentioned, and may have been executed late in the 14th century. On the opposite side of the south window and south side of the east window are 15th-century wall-paintings. The former is the earlier of the two and represents an angel restoring the mitre to St. Nicholas. Unfortunately much of the lower part of the picture is destroyed. The saint appears to be kneeling and wears a cap on which is a scroll, once lettered with black lettering now defaced, and above him is the angel bringing his mitre. Behind the figures is an arcade, over which are two lattice windows, while over the room in which the scene is taking place is a richly traceried and crocketed canopy with pinnacles at the sides, and pendants on the soffit. The picture is painted in red, yellow and dark brown. The subject of the painting on the east wall is a matter of conjecture, but it has been thought with great probability to refer to St. Nicholas. It is in three stages, though the parts are very indistinct. In the top panel are two figures in armour and perhaps an altar, in the middle panel two mitred bishops or abbots lying on a couch, while in the bottom panel are two ships on a choppy sea. It may be a little later than the painting on the south wall and is stencilled over with a number of small red flowers. There are some traces of the 13th-century masonry work painted on the north wall of the nave, but these have been painted over in the 18th century with texts.
Under the arch into the south chapel is the beautiful alabaster tomb of Sir George Forster and Elizabeth his wife, no doubt made during the lifetime of the knight. At the angles of the base are small twisted shafts supporting the slab on which lie the recumbent effigies of the knight and his lady. The knight is on the north side of the monument and is in plate armour, his feet on the back of a buck, with the horns broken off, and his head resting on his helm, which is surmounted by his crest, a hind's head collared with a crown and lined. Round his neck is a collar of SS, and from his belt hung his sword, while by his left side are his gauntlets, which, like the sword, are broken. The lady wears a gabled head-dress, a gown with puffed sleeves over which is a long cloak; her head rests on a pillow supported by two angels (the face of the one on her right is broken), while at her feet is a little collared dog tugging at her cloak. Round her neck is suspended a delicate chain necklace, on the end of which is a small heart. Round the moulded slab on which the figures lie is carved the following inscription: 'Here lieth Sir george forster knyght son and heyre of humfray forster esquier coson and one of the heares of Syr stephyn popham knyght and elizabeth wif of the Same sir george daugtur and heire of John dalamare esquier son and heire of thomas dalamare knyght wiche elizabeth dyed the vii day of december in the yere of our lord god M°CCCCC°XXVI and wiche syr george dye in the yere of our lord god . . . .' The lettering is beautifully cut up to the first 'C' in the date of the year of the death of the lady, the rest of the lettering being done by one far less skilled in the use of the chisel. Both sides of the base are divided by little crocketed and canopied buttresses into eight small recesses with small double crocketed and canopied heads. In each recess on the south side was a small female figure, but the fifth one from the east end is now missing, while the hands of the first, third and seventh are broken off. These figures are similar in dress to that of the Lady Elizabeth. In the recesses on the north side are eight figures of men in armour; the first, third, fifth and sixth wear caps, while the end one holds his helm in his hand; all carry shields, and the first and seventh have their swords drawn. Most of the feet are broken. On the east end are three recesses; the centre one is larger than the side ones and empty, but in each of the side ones is a small knight in armour, wearing a cap and carrying a shield, but the arms of both are broken. In the west panel are the kneeling figures of a knight and his lady supporting a shield surmounted by a helm with the crest of a hind's head. Above the shield is a scroll on which is an inscription, of which only the word 'Monsyr' is legible. There is also a scroll below the shield with an indecipherable inscription, and on either side is a helm, crest and mantling similar to but smaller than the one in the head of the panel. The kneeling figures possibly represent Sir Humphrey the son and heir and his wife. Possibly the small figures in the niches on the sides and opposite end of the tomb are not merely 'weepers,' but are intended for the other children of Sir George and Lady Elizabeth.
In the floor of the south chapel are several sepulchral slabs to the Forster family. In the earliest is a brass to William Forster, lord of Aldermaston, esquire, who died 10 January 1574–5, son and heir of Sir Humphrey Forster, kt., and Jane his wife, daughter of Sir Anthony Hungerford of Down Ampney, kt. The space for the date of death of the wife has not been filled in. Above the inscription are the matrices for the figures of the man and his wife, while below are those for the figures of his children. In the corners of the slab were originally set four shields, of which that in the bottom dexter corner is missing. The shield in the top dexter corner has the arms of Forster quartering Popham, Zouch, Delamare and Achard, while the bottom sinister shield is charged with Hungerford and eight quarterings. The top sinister shield bears Forster's six quarters impaling Hungerford's nine.
Another brass, set in a dark marble slab, is inscribed 'Dedicated to the precious memorie of foure virtuous | Sisters daughters of Sr Humphrey Forster Btt, and of | Anna, his wife, viz.: Anna, who died May the 16 | 1638 aged 18 yeares 5 monthes, Mary, dyed Septem = | ber the 9th 1638 aged 14 yeares and ten monthes | Bridgett dyed May the 29th 1637 aged 10 years and one month and Margarett, who dyed Feb = | ruary the 19th 1623 aged one yeare six moneths.' A verse inscription follows. Above this brass is the matrix for another of about the same size, on which were three figures. There is also a slab in the floor of the chapel which originally had a brass inscription, and in the four corners small brass shields charged with the quartered arms of Achard and Delamare, but of these the shield in the top sinister corner of the slab is missing, while of the inscription only the matrix remains. Four polished marble slabs in the floor commemorate Ann, daughter of William Forster, who died in infancy in 1664; Rebekah, daughter of Sir Humphrey Forster and his wife Judith, who died aged twelve years in 1676; John Forster, who died in 1674, and Lady Anne Forster, wife of Sir Humphrey Forster, who died in 1673.
On the south wall of the chancel are two stone slabs set one above the other, which were originally over the entrance to the vault under the vestry. The lower is to William Forster, who died in 1677, aged twenty-five, John Forster, who died at the same age in 1683, both sons of William Forster; Humphrey Forster, eldest son of Sir Humphrey Forster, who died in 1682, aged nine, and William Forster, his second son, who died in 1683, aged seven. Above this slab is a tablet commemorating Mary, the daughter of Sir Mark Stewart, who was married to Sir William Forster in 1594 and died in 1661; Sir Humphrey Forster, who married Ann daughter of Sir William Kingsmill, and died in 1663, aged sixty-eight; William Forster, son of Sir Humphrey Forster, who married Elizabeth daughter of John Tirrell and died in 1660, leaving issue, and Stewart Forster, son of Sir Humphrey Forster, who died in 1683.
In the chapel are two pieces of a 15th-century rood beam. On a bracket fixed to the tie-beam of the central truss of the chapel roof is a 16th-century funeral helm with the Forster crest. It is in a fine state of preservation; the crest is of wood and preserves its original colour.
There is a ring of eight bells: the treble and tenor are by Warner, 1900; the second by Warner, 1895; the third and fifth by Mears, 1860; the fourth and sixth are both inscribed 'Henricus Knight Fecit 1681'; while the seventh is by W. & T. Mears, 1786.
The plate consists of a silver cup and cover paten with date letter 1576, both are enriched with a band of arabesque ornament; a silver gilt cup inscribed 'The gift of Sr Humphrey Forster and ye Lady Anna his wife,' with a cover paten to match, they have no date letter, but the mark of a silversmith who was in practice in the year 1634. There are also two silver gilt flagons of the year 1718 and a silver paten of the same date inscribed 'The Gift of Dame Judith Forster to Aldermaston Church. Anno Dom 1718,' and a set consisting of a paten, chalice and almsdish, presented by William Congreve in 1809 and stamped with the date letter for that year.
The registers previous to 1812 are as follows: (i) mixed entries 1558 to 1671; (ii) baptisms and burials 1673 to 1812, marriages 1673 to 1753; (iii) marriages 1754 to 1783 (printed); (iv) marriages 1783 to 1812.
The church of Aldermaston is mentioned in the Domesday Survey, (fn. 103) and was granted by Henry I with the manor to Robert Achard, (fn. 104) whose grandson William is said to have granted it to the priory of Sherborne in Hampshire, a cell to the Norman abbey of St. Vigor of Cerisy. (fn. 105) The Prior of Sherborne was the rector in 1291, (fn. 106) but he appears to have granted out the church of Aldermaston to be held at farm on more than one occasion. (fn. 107) During the Hundred Years' War the priory was several times taken into the hands of the king, who presented to the living, (fn. 108) and it was finally dissolved with the other alien priories by Henry V. (fn. 109) Edward IV granted the lands and possessions of Sherborne to the hospital of St. Julian at Southampton. (fn. 110) The wardenship of this hospital had already been granted by Edward III to Queen's College, Oxford, (fn. 111) so that at the Dissolution the church of Aldermaston passed into the possession of the college. In 1567 William Forster obtained a lease of the rectory for 500 years at a small quit-rent, together with the right of presentation. (fn. 112) When the manor came into the possession of the Congreves the reversionary rights were purchased from the college, (fn. 113) and from that time the rectory has been in the hands of the lords of the manor.
It seems probable that no vicarage was ever ordained at Aldermaston, though mention is made of a vicarage in the 14th and 15th centuries and again at the Dissolution. (fn. 114) The Prior of Sherborne leased the church with its appurtenances, (fn. 115) but it was probably served by a priest from the priory, and the lord of the manor was bound to find him a lodging and take in his palfrey. (fn. 116) Thus when the church came into the hands of Queen's College there was no division in the revenues of the church, and all the tithes, both great and small, were leased together with the rectory to the Forsters. (fn. 117) Hence there seems to have been no definite provision for the minister of the church. At the beginning of the 19th century William Congreve, having to appoint a new incumbent, inquired into the position of the church, and the following account, written by the Rev. John Bird, gives the result of the investigations: 'The great and small Tithes of this parish and patronage of the church have been enjoyed by the lord of the manor since the reign of Queen Eliz', on paying a small quit-rent to Queen's College, Oxford. The clergyman during that time has been nominated by the Lord of the Manor without any regular appointment, institution, or induction from the Bishop. There has never been any fixed salary, therefore the living has been considered a donative and out of the jurisdiction of the Bishop. But on the appointment of my predecessor Mr. Churton (who held the living but a short time) Mr. Congreve wishing that it should be perfectly regular, had some communication with the Bishop of Sarum, and after making every possible enquiry, it was the Bishop's opinion that the living was strictly speaking a vicarage, but there was no income or emolument attached whatever; for this reason probably it never has (at least for a great number of years) been presented to as a Vicarage and Mr. Congreve continues to appoint the clergyman (who has been generally styled the Minister) without any particular form, but the Bishop has desired that he should be licensed by him.' (fn. 118) At the present day the living is an unendowed vicarage, the presentation belonging to the lord of the manor. (fn. 119)
From the Chantry Certificates it appears that a lamp was maintained perpetually in the church of Aldermaston, the endowment being given as four sheep, the yearly value at the time of the dissolution of the chantries being 8d. (fn. 120) An account of the method of letting the 'Church Acre' at Aldermaston will be found in Notes and Queries. (fn. 121)
A fixed payment of 18s. a year is made by the churchwardens out of the funds in their hands, presumably in respect of two sums of £4 each given by John and William Blackman, mentioned in the table of benefactions, and a further sum of £10 left in 1732 by will of Richard Hullyman alias Holyman. This sum is distributed among the poor by the church officers.
Dixon's almshouses, erected by the Rev. Robert Dixon, a former vicar, consist of two separate pairs of two-storied cottages for four poor widows, and are endowed with a sum of £128 16s. 11d. consols with the official trustees, arising from the investment in 1869 of £100 arrears of tithe rent-charge agreed to be given to the vicar as a repair fund, and from accumulations of income.
Fuel or Fir Plantation.
—A yearly sum of £30 12s. is distributed among all the householders of the parish who desire it in coal. This arises from an award dated 12 April 1815 (fn. 122) for the inclosure of land in Aldermaston and other parishes, being 1s. an acre of the inclosed lands in pursuance of articles of agreement dated 21 and 22 July 1808 respectively.
The Poor's Allotment now consists of 48a. 3r. 38p. acquired under the same award. It is let at a yearly rent of £40, which is expended by the trustees in coal and is distributed among poor householders of three years' residence.
—By the same award a plot in the Church Mead containing 2a. 1r. 33 p. was allotted to the churchwardens in lieu of certain lands. The land is let periodically by 'candle auction.' The yearly rent of £4 5s. is applied to church purposes.