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Swallowfield Local History Society

Swallowfield - Farley Hill - Riseley

History of Swallowfield


Little is known of the prehistory of Swallowfield but there certainly were many settlements within the area that now forms the Parish. Through the generations many tales have been handed down from tribal skirmishes to repulsions of the Saxons and Normans. Swallowfield, known as Sonesfelt at the time of the Norman Conquest, is mentioned in the Domesday Book - "Saxi held it from King Edward" (the Confessor) "in freehold. Land for 7 ploughs. In lordship 2 ploughs. 2 slaves; a mill at 50d; 5 fisheries at 40d; meadow, 12 acres; woodland at 20 pigs. Value before 1066 and later £7 now £8.6d." How times have changed, though farming traditions have survived.


There have been many royal associations with Swallowfield. King John visited us the year 1205 King Henry III left his children here between 1255-8 whilst his wife was locked up at Winchester. In 1355 King Edward III granted Swallowfield to his daughter, Princess Isabel, with 18 acres. At this time it was mentioned that Swallowfield Park was used for breeding the King's horses. During Henry VIII's reign the manor of Swallowfield was endowed to Queen Katherine of Aragon as part of her dowry. In more recent times, during World War 2, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands stayed in Swallowfield.


The oldest surviving property in Swallowfield is Sheepbridge Court, though it is probably unrecognisable compared with its appearance in medieval times. Its associated mill was the one referred to in the Domesday survey - burnt to the ground as recently as 1961.


The Earl of Clarendon build a new house in the Park in 1689 and sold it 38 years later to Thomas Pitt, who paid for it from funds received from the sale of a gigantic diamond, smuggled into the country for him by a third party - (hence "The Black Boy Inn" at Shinfield?) It was he who build the arched bridge which today leads to Swallowfield Park. The Park, from 1820 until recent times, was to be the seat of the Russell family, who did much to foster good relations between the local country gentry and the ordinary working man of the village. The Russells were eminent in many fields; amongst them mineralogy, politics, The Railway and the formation of an event which has survived to this day - the Swallowfield Show.


At one time Swallowfield had four churches, the oldest by far being All Saints. Papal sanction for the building of which was granted to the bishop of Salisbury in the year 1230. (Parts of Swallowfield were, in those days, an "island" part of the County of Wiltshire. Hence Part Lane?)


Farming was the main reason for the population growth during the 19th and early 20th century. This led to the development (but more recent demise) of local businesses. At one time there were a: many as eleven public houses, three post offices, three butchers' shops, at least one laundry and three coal merchants. Journeys to Reading to go shopping were quite rare for the majority of inhabitants, though to walk what was considered to be that short distance was reasonably normal. The farmer, taking his livestock to Reading market did not use "public transport".


The author Mary Russell Mitford moved to Swallowfield into a cottage at the junction of three roads in 1851. She was the writer of "Our Village", Sketches of Rural Character and Scenery. She lived there untill her death in 1855. She is buried in All Saints Churhyard under a simple Cross.


The Parish as we know it today was formed by Act of Parliament in 1894. The villages of Farley Hill, Riseley and Swallowfield have since been united. There is a wealth of history on record for those who wish to learn more. There is also much available which has not been written, some of it more interesting than credible. For those who wish to develop their knowledge the Swallowfield Historical Society extends a warm welcome.


K. Hussey


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