A short history of Hampstead Norreys
There has been a settlement for
more than 2,000 years in the wooded valley on the upper reaches of the river Pang that is now known as Hampstead
The village and outlying hamlets
were recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086, when it was known as Hanstede, meaning farm settlement in early
English. As the village grew it prospered and flourished and in the Middle Ages was renamed Hampstead
Pre-Norman records document the existence of numerous mills along the banks of the
River Pang and these would have been very important to the prosperity and sustainability of the
Hampstead Norreys nestles on the banks of the river, which is a Bourn or chalk steam, which rises in the Berkshire
Downs above the village. The fast running water, together with the local woodlands and good grazing, have attracted
people for thousands of years. There are Bronze Age burial mounds in Park Wood, an Iron Age Hill fort close to the
village, as well as sites of Roman villas and settlements on the slopes above the river.
St Mary’s Church is situated in the very centre of the village and has, over the centuries, played a central and
pivotal role in village life. The church has stood on the same site since the 12th century and has witnessed many
changes during its long 900 year history. The building is substantially 12th century but additions and alterations
were made in the 15th and 19th centuries.
In 1450 there was yet another change of name, this time
to Hampstead Norreys, (with variable spellings (e.g. Norris) when The Manor and the village lands were bought
by the Norreys family from Bray. The parish lands were open fields and strip-farmed by local villagers, most
of whom were farm labourers and lived in houses built and owned by the Lord of The Manor. Traces of the field
system can still be found in the surrounding valley, as can the remnants of boundaries of The Manor deer
park, in the woods, and old fish ponds above the house.
This all changed in 1770, around the same time that the
"new" Manor house was built. The introduction of the Enclosures Act radically altered farming methods and
produced the landscape we see today. The enclosed pastures, for livestock and the larger arable fields
brought hardship as well as visual change. However, the village survived and until the early 19th century
nearly 1,000 people lived and worked the land in the extended parish.
After the Napoleonic wars, agricultural prices slumped
and the industrial revolution saw rural people moving to the cities for employment in workshops and
factories. The parish population fell to around 700 by 1900. and to this day has remained around this
generations have seen Hampstead Norreys go through many significant changes. The village was a sleepy
backwater, situated on an unpaved chalk road.
At this time the parish was, by and large, self-sufficient with a good range of
shops, trades-people and a horse-drawn carrier that took produce and people to Newbury market.
However with the comming of the railway in 1881, which ran from Southampton to Didcot, a major
change to village life took place. It was the railway that became central to the daily life of the village and those
living there. People, produce and all types of materials and goods, for farms, houses as well as the race
horses for Wyld Court Stud, came by rail to the station in the centre of the village.
With the exception of major involvement and a heavy
price paid in lives lost in the 1914/18 war, the village inhabitants carried on working the farmlands, much as
usual, throughout the early part of the 20th century.
There were, however, significant changes during the Second Word War with the commissioning of the Hampstead Norreys
Airfield on the hill above the village. This brought many new people into the parish as well as a more exciting
social life and of course the benefits of additional work. Many sorties were flown, into occupied France, from this
airfield as well as pilots being trained to fly Wellington Bombers, Lysanders and Gliders. . For the parish this
proved a brief but important episode. Sadly, the airfield was closed in 1945.
It was during this period, that the railway was expanded, becoming twin track to carry war munitions to support the
war effort. It looked as if its future was secure, however the line became a casualty of Dr. Beeching’s cuts and
the station was eventually closed in 1964.
And so to 21st century; now most of the 745 residents, of Hampstead Norreys, rely
on their cars to transport them to their employment and for shopping, and other activities. The farms that once
were the source of employment for the parish continue to do well but now provide work for less than a score of
people. However the IT age, and the opportunities for skilled people to work from their home, has seen a number of
specialist businesses set up and it is good to see them prospering and this trend is likely to grow.
Another major factor for change for Hampstead Norreys has been the increase in size
and all round excellence of the village primary school. Another remarkable change came to the village in 2011
with the opening of the village ‘Community Shop’. This has had a truly amazing impact on village and has
proved to be an invaluable asset to villagers and visitors alike. The shop is now the central hub for meeting
and greeting as well as the opportunity to catch up on local gossip whilst choosing some tasty and unusual
items from its well stocked shelves.
One aspect of the parish that has not changed is the beautiful countryside that
surrounds it. Hampstead Norreys residents have inherited access to what were once deer parks, drove roads and
ancient woodlands. Evidence of earlier residents can still be found in the fields and woods above the river if you
search carefully and the parishioners value and makes great use of their woods and footpaths, play areas, river and