A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1923.
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The parish of Sulhamstead Bannister is divided into two distinct portions, called the Upper End and the Lower End. The former contains 576½ acres, the latter 555½ acres. There are 251 acres of arable land, 300 acres of permanent grass and 135 acres of woods and plantations. (fn. 1)
The Upper End is a long and narrow strip of land lying between two portions of Sulhamstead Abbots parish. In the north the land lies at an altitude of a little over 150 ft. above the ordnance datum, rising to 300 ft. at the southern end. The Kennet and Avon Canal and some tributaries of the Kennet flow across the parish. The Reading to Newbury road passes through the north of the Upper End, 'Mile House' standing near it. The Great Western railway runs between the canal and the road, the nearest station being at Theale, 2 miles south-east. The church of St. Michael or Meales, with the school, and Meales Farm, once the manor-house, stand near together.
The Brazenhead Cottages, so called from the brass knocker which still remains, are two cottages formed from one house which was probably built late in the 16th century. It has a double-gabled front and is covered with plaster, apparently upon half-timber walling. The roofs are tiled and the chimneys are picturesquely set diagonally and square. The house was sold by William Wilder to William Parr, who in 1639 sold it to the Kendrick charity, Reading. Restoration of the house was carried on in 1913.
The Lower End of the parish is bounded on the east by Shinfield parish, but the western boundary is irregular, cutting across Wokefield Park and taking in Goddard's Green and Oakfield. On the north-west Burghfield Brook forms the boundary for some distance. The land lies at an altitude of between 150 ft. and 200 ft. above the ordnance datum. For a very short distance the Basingstoke branch of the Great Western railway passes through the parish, the nearest station being 3 miles distant at Mortimer. The soil is London Clay in the whole of the Lower End and the southern part of the Upper End; there is alluvium in the bed of the Kennet and by the Reading Road Woolwich and Reading Beds are found. Fragments of Roman pottery were dug up at Oakfield Park, and it is suggested that it may have been the site of a pottery for common ware. (fn. 2) In the north of the Upper End, between the railway and the Kennet, there are ditches which are supposed to mark the site of a camp. (fn. 3)
Nephull and Phillips Inholmes are place-names found in this parish. (fn. 6)
The manor of SULHAMSTEAD BANNISTER is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey, but it afterwards passed to Robert Achard, who obtained a grant of the royal manor of Aldermaston from King Henry I. Sulhamstead is not mentioned in this charter, (fn. 7) but Robert Achard seems to have held it in that reign. (fn. 8) The manor was held under the Achards, who were lords of the manor of Aldermaston (q.v.), until the 14th century. Their successors the Delamares held the manor by knight service of the king in chief. (fn. 9)
The history of the underlords of Sulhamstead Bannister Manor is very obscure, but it is probable that the family of Bannister, who gave their name to the parish and held the advowson of the church, held a manor from an early date. At all events, they were important free tenants holding considerable property in the parish. In the reign of Henry I Robert Achard enfeoffed three knights named Alard de Banactune, John de Banactune and Hugh Brutinolle with part of his demesne. (fn. 10) It is possible that Banactune is a corrupt form of Bannister. William son of John Bannister made various grants of land to Reading Abbey at the beginning of the 13th century. (fn. 11) Later in the century John Bannister was in seisin of one knight's fee in Sulhamstead. (fn. 12) He is probably not to be identified with the John Bannister who died in 1242. (fn. 13) Philip de Covele, a tenant of John Bannister, granted certain of his lands in Sulhamstead to Reading Abbey (fn. 14) about this date, and the latter, in the time of Abbot Richard, (fn. 15) remitted the rent from this land paid by the abbey. From this time the Bannister family continued to hold land in the parish for more than two centuries, (fn. 16) but this holding does not seem ever to be called a manor.
In 1292 Robert Achard, lord of Aldermaston, obtained a grant of free warren in his demesne lands of Sulhamstead Bannister. (fn. 17) From the Achards the manor of Aldermaston passed to the Delamares. (fn. 18) Sulhamstead Bannister is not mentioned, however, among the manors held by Sir Thomas Delamare on his death about 1404. (fn. 19)
The descent of the manor is obscure at this date. Sir Thomas Delamare's descendant Thomas Delamare died in 1493, his lands passing eventually to his sister Elizabeth, who is usually said to have brought the manor of Sulhamstead Bannister to her husband Sir George Forster. (fn. 20) No proof of the descent of any manor in the Forster family, however, is forthcoming (though it is clear that they owned land in the parish) (fn. 21) until 1607, when the manor of Sulhamstead Bannister was in the hands of Sir George Forster's great-great-grandson Sir William Forster. (fn. 22) On the other hand, property described as the manor of Sulhamstead Bannister was in the hands of Sir John Langford on his death in 1509, when it passed to his daughter and heiress Anne. (fn. 23) She brought it by marriage to William Stafford, and he settled it in 1534 on his son Thomas Stafford, who died in 1584. (fn. 24) Sir Reade Stafford, his son, held it at his death in 1605, and it descended to his nephew Sir Edward. (fn. 25) The Forster manor was held by Humphrey Forster, the son of Sir William, in 1618, when he sold it to William Wilder. (fn. 26) The latter held it for ten years, selling it in 1628 to William Brackeston, (fn. 27) whose descendants held it for many years. (fn. 28) In 1714 Edward Brackeston sold Sulhamstead Bannister Manor to John Ball, (fn. 29) who died in 1742. (fn. 30) Before 1746 it had come into the hands of John Jennings, whose mother Elizabeth was daughter and heiress of John Ball. (fn. 31) It was sold in 1750 to Joel Stephens, (fn. 32) whose nephew Joel Stephens, a minor, had succeeded to it before 1759. (fn. 33) The latter sold it in 1774 to William Thoyts (fn. 34); the estate was sold after the death of Major W. R. M. Thoyts in 1910 to the present lord of the manor, Sir William G. Watson, bart. (fn. 35)
Court Rolls of Aldermaston, of which Sulhamstead Bannister was a tithing, for the 15th century are preserved in the Record Office. (fn. 36) View of frankpledge, the right of free warren and free fishery are mentioned as appurtenant to the manor in 1618. (fn. 37)
Although the name of MIGHEALS or MEALES, derived from the church of St. Michael, has been found as a local name for the whole parish of Sulhamstead Bannister, it was applied generally to the farm or manor of Meales, near the church. It was held under the Achards and Delamares and their successors, Sir William Forster being overlord in the 17th century. In 1484 John son of Robert Kentwood held Meales under the name of Sulhamstead Manor, (fn. 38) and it followed the descent of Kentwood Manor in Tilehurst parish (fn. 39) (q.v.). It was called the manor of Meales in 1542, and passed to the family of Fettiplace, and thence by the marriage of Anne daughter of Nicholas Fettiplace to Edmund Dunch. (fn. 40) His son Sir William Dunch died seised in 1610 of a messuage, lands and tenements called Meales. (fn. 41) His heir was his son Edmund, a minor, (fn. 42) and Meales appears to have been acquired soon after by the lords of the main manor, since in 1617–18 Sir William Forster died seised of Meales Farm. (fn. 43) It was bought in 1775 by William Thoyts, and from that time it has descended with Sulhamstead Bannister. (fn. 44)
An estate known as the manor of PAYNTERS was held by Edward Barret of Belhus in Aveley (co. Essex) in the 16th century, being sold by him to Richard Hannington in 1565. (fn. 45)
The walls are of plastered brick and the east end is divided into a chancel 19 ft. by 15 ft. with a north chancel aisle divided from it by a wooden colonnade. All the windows have wood frames, and are mostly of lancet shape with the exception of the two east windows, which are 'traceried,' and the side windows of the chancel and aisle are square-headed and of two lights each. The ceilings of this portion of the building are of pointed barrel shape, but that of the nave is flat. The entrance is in the middle of the west wall and has a porch. The walls are coated with cement externally and are strengthened by buttresses between the windows. At the west end is a gallery, supported on iron pillars, with a painted deal front. Over the west end of the nave roof is a plain wood bell-turret, with pointed lights to the bell-chamber, and a pyramidal lead roof. The font is a curiously rude round one of plastered brick. The communion rails are of the 17th century. Over the chancel arch are hung the royal arms of William and Mary.
The earliest gravestone is one to James Fayrer, Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford, and rector of this parish, who died in 1687. Another stone is to the Rev. A. Atkinson, rector, who died in 1748, and there are 19th-century mural monuments to members of the Thoyts family.
There are two bells, the first bearing the date only, 1637; on the second is a shield with a bell, between the initials IC—those of Joseph Carter of Reading— and the date 1587. The inscription on it is 'Prayse ye the lorde.'
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms 1654 to 1700, marriages 1654 to 1699, burials 1654 to 1701; (ii) baptisms 1660 to 1812, marriages 1660 to 1753, burials 1661 to 1812; (iii) marriages 1754 to 1804; (iv) marriages 1804 to 1811.
The advowson of the church was held by the Bannister family, and granted as the daughter church of Aldermaston by John Bannister to the alien priory of Monk Sherborne, a cell of the abbey of St. Vigor at Cerisy in Normandy. (fn. 46) The grant of Aldermaston Church to the abbey is said to have been made by William Achard, living in 1166. (fn. 47) The sub-lords of Sulhamstead Bannister afterwards claimed the right of presentation, and in 1202 William Bannister brought a lawsuit against the Prior of Sherborne. (fn. 48) He finally quitclaimed all his right in the advowson, of which the priory was in seisin in 1291. (fn. 49) The king presented to the benefice several times during the 14th century, when the alien priory was in his hands during the Hundred Years' War, (fn. 50) but the priory was not finally dissolved till the 15th century. (fn. 51) Edward IV granted its possessions to the hospital of St. Julian at Southampton in 1462. (fn. 52) The custody of the hospital had been granted by Edward III in 1343 to Queen's College, Oxford, and at the Dissolution all the possessions of the hospital passed to the college. (fn. 53) At this time the benefice appears to have been held with the rectory of Sulhamstead Abbots, (fn. 54) but the advowson of the latter church did not come into the possession of Queen's College till the 17th century. (fn. 55) The two rectories appear to have been held by the same incumbent in the 17th century, (fn. 56) and were consolidated into one benefice at the expense of Myles Cooper, rector in 1782. (fn. 57) At the present day the advowson belongs to the Provost and Fellows of Queen's College, Oxford. No vicarage was ordained, but the Prior of Sherborne drew a pension from the rectory of Sulhamstead Bannister, no tithes being payable from the pension. (fn. 58)