A Short History of Hampstead
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 Norreys.
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 Sifrewast.
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
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
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 figure.
Succeeding 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
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
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 open spaces.