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Wallingford in 1843

WALLINGFORD, a parliamentary borough on the right or west bank of the Thames, in Moreton hundred in the county of Berks, 49 miles from the General Post-Office, London, by coach-road through Brentford, Colnbrook, Maidenhead, Henley, and Nettlebed ; or about 53 by the Great Western Railway, which passes within about two miles of the town.

There is reason to think that Wallingford existed in the time of the Romans, coins having been dug up here, and the form of the ramparts (not of the castle, which is of later origin) indicating that they had been traced by the Romans. The first historical notice of Wallingford is in A.D. 1006, when it was taken by the Danes. The name of the place is variously spelled in ancient writers. In ‘Domesday’ it is called Walingeford, and is described as a borough which Edward the Confessor held, with 276 houses, paying gable-tax to the crown ; the tenants were bound to render personal service to the king.

There was a castle here at the time of the Conquest, belonging to Wigod, a Saxon noble, who invited William the Conqueror, after the battle of Hastings, to come to Wallingford, where William received the homage of Archbishop Stigand and the principal nobles before marching to London. About a year after, (A.D. 1067) Robert D'Oyley, a Norman baron, who had married Wigod's only daughter, built a strong castle at Wallingford, but whether on the site of Wigod's castle or not is not clear. In the civil war of Stephen this castle was held for the Empress Maud by Brien Fitzcount, to whom it then belonged. Stephen besieged it without success several times, and here the Empress found refuge after her escape from Oxford. In 1153, Henry, son of Maud, besieged a fort which Stephen had erected at Crowmarsh, on the opposite side of the Thames ; and Stephen coming to its relief, a peace was concluded between the rival parties, which gave some rest to the long distracted kingdom. During the imprisonment of Richard I, Wallingford Castle was occupied by his brother John, but was taken from him by the kings party. In the troubles of Johns reign one or two meetings of the king and barons were held at Wallingford ; and in those of Henry III (A.D. 1264) Prince Edward, the king's son (afterwards Edward I), Prince Henry his nephew, and Richard, King of the Romans, his brother, were confined for a time in the castle. The castle was twice besieged in the troubles of the reign of Edward II. In Leland's time it had gone a good deal to decay : both he and Camden describe it as having a double wall, and Camden speaks of the ‘citadel,’ or keep, as standing on a high mound. In the civil war of Charles I it was repaired and garrisoned for the king, and was regarded as a post of importance : it was not besieged till near the close of the war, when it surrendered to Fairfax, and was afterwards demolished so effectually, that, except part of the wall toward the river, scarcely any part of the buildings remains : the mound on which the keep stood is overgrown with trees.

Within the castle was a college, consisting of a dean and prebendaries. The buildings of this college, comprehending the chapel, and the dean's, priests', and clerks' lodgings, were purchased by the dean and canons of Christ Church College, at Oxford, and used by them as a place of retreat ‘in times of sickness and visitation.' The clerks' lodging and the priests' lodging still remain, and are occupied as private dwellings. The dean's lodging and chapel have been demolished.

There was a Benedictine priory at Wallingford, founded in the reign of William the Conqueror, and suppressed among the smaller monasteries in 1535. There was a mint in the town in the reign of Henry III.

The borough of Wallingford comprehends the four following parishes:




Area in acres















St. Leonard







St. Mary-le-More  






St. Peter







Wallingford Castle precinct, extra parochial















The returns are from the census of 1831 : about one-seventh of the population was agricultural, and only four men were employed in manufactures. The population of the borough in 1821 was 2,093, so that the increase in ten years was 470, or nearly 24 per cent., a considerable rate of increase for a town in a purely agricultural district. The precinct of the castle is incorrectly given in the census as within the borough. The population of Crowmarsh Street, which is on the opposite side of the Thames, in the parishes of Crowmarsh and Newnham Murren in Oxfordshire, and which may be regarded as a suburb of Wallingford, was, in 1831, about 300 (occupying sixty houses) ; and the hamlet of Winterbrook, which is in the parish of Cholsey in Berkshire, south of the town, and which may be regarded as another suburb, was about 100 (occupying nineteen houses), thus raising the population of the town and suburbs to about 3,000.

The town stands in the eastern part of the area included in the boundaries of the borough, on the right bank of the Thames, over which is a stone bridge. The bridge was erected in the room of a very old bridge of nineteen arches, taken down in 1809, and connects the town with Crowmarsh Street. Wallingford consists of several streets, and has a remarkably neat and respectable appear ance. The principal streets are paved, and were at the time of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissioners' Report lighted with portable gas, supplied front London. Some of the houses are of superior character. It has been asserted that Wallingford once contained fourteen churches ; ten have been clearly made out, if not eleven : at present there are three, St. Mary's, St. Leonard's, and St. Peter's. All-Saints or All-Hallows was pulled down in 1643, having been disused for half a century : the rectory is now a sine cure. St. Mary's is the principal church. St. Leonard’s was rebuilt in great degree after the siege in 1646, is which it had sustained great injury : it retains some portions of Norman architecture. St. Peter's was also ruined in the siege, and remained in ruins more than a century : it has a spire of very singular form, erected at the expense of Sir William Blackstone, the author of the ‘Commentaries,' when the church was restored from its ruined condition. Sir W. Blackstone is buried in the church. There are meeting-houses for Independents, Baptists, Methodists, and Quakers. The chief trade of the place is in corn, flour, malt, and coal ; malting is not so extensively carried on as formerly.

Wallingford is a borough by prescription, and has sent representatives to parliament since the time of Edward I ; they were returned by the inhabitants paying scot and lot. The number of members was reduced by the Reform Act from two to one. The boundaries of the borough were enlarged by the Boundary Act, by the addition of the parishes of Brightwell, Sotwell, North Moreton, South Moreton, Bensington, Crowmarsh, and Newnham Murren ; the liberty of Clapcot, and the extra-parochial precinct of the Castle ; and part of the parishes of Cholsey, Aston-Tirrel, and Aston-Upthorpe. By these additions the number of houses and the population of the borough were nearly doubled. The number of voters in 1835-6 was 354 ; in 1839-40, 368. By the Municipal Reform Act the borough has 4 aldermen and 12 councillors, but no commission of the peace, except on petition and grant. The municipal boundary was not altered by that act ; but a more extended boundary, comprehending the Castle precinct, Crowmarsh Street, and Winterbrook, has been recommended by the Municipal Boundary Commissioners.

The living of St. Leonard is a rectory, united with the rectory of St. Mary and the chapelry of Sotwell, of the joint clear yearly value of £290, in the gift of the lord chancellor ; that of St. Peter is a rectory, of the clear yearly value of £100, with a glebe-house. All are in the rural deanery of Wallingford, in the archdeaconry of Berks, and in the diocese of Oxford.

There were in the borough, in 1833, thirteen day-schools (including boarding-schools), with 123 boys, 83 girls, and 155 children of sex not stated ; giving 361 children, or about one in seven of the population, under daily instruction. There were three Sunday-schools, with 150 boys and 190 girls.


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