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Tilehurst / CalcotThere is no doubt that Tilehurst and Calcot have benefited from the road links and their close proximity to Reading but Theale’s location is responsible for much of the village’s prosperity through the centuries. Long before the advent of trains, Theale was the first staging post from London along the old Bath Road. Many of the original pubs can still be found on the High Street as well as the former brewery that served them. The coaching inns and pubs were so prolific that Theale took its name from ‘The Ale’ and grew up around the important location.
Dick Turpin, the famous highwayman, is also said to have hidden out many times in a secret room in the Old Lambe Inn. More recently, the village was featured in the films, The Borrowers and The Lazarus Child. John Martyn also wrote and recorded the 1977 album, One World, in Theale. T
oday, Theale is still reaping the rewards of location as it has become a distribution hub for many businesses. Wolseley, one of the largest building equipment distributors in the world, headquarters in the village along with many other companies. A significant growth in new home builds has followed as well. Theale has also had brushes with royalty as Elizabeth I visited the Englefield estate on two occasions. The current house built in Tudor times with substantial additions in the 18th and 19th centuries, boasts 14,000 acres (5600 ha) of forest, farmland and commercial property. It features many gardens and a vegetable market that are available to visitors. A large proportion of the estate is also free to public access. The Pamber forest, Benyon’s Inclosure and Ufton Woods, that comprise 1800 acres (728 ha), along with 1km of public footpaths are all open year round. Englefield has been the site for many films and television shows including: Charlotte Gray, starring Cate Blanchett; MacGyver: Lost Treasure of Atlantis; Woman of Substance; Jeeves and Wooster; The Haunting of Helen Walker a.k.a. The Turn of the Screw and Inspector Morse in 1992.
Another manor house steeped in history and enjoying current success is Calcot Park. The most recent house was built by John Blagrave in 1755 and is a red bricked, seven bay, two-storey house that sits in the centre of what is now Calcot Golf Course. The 18-hole course, designed by Harry Colt in 1930, is known for its daunting signature hole, lake and beautiful woodlands and downs. Private residents also enjoy the views now that accommodations have been built around the park.
Like Calcot, the neighboring Tilehurst has grown substantially in the last century and its boundaries have become virtually seamless as they have both become engulfed by Reading. First noted as ‘Tigelhurst’ in 1167, its original name connotes both the location and the abundance of clay at ‘tigel’ means clay and ‘hurst’ means wooded hill. Indeed, the village was largely supported from tile and brick-making as there were many clay pits, kilns, potteries and woods. At one point, S & E Colliers was the largest brick maker in the area. They specialised in the terracotta ‘Reading Red’ bricks and ‘Silchester Ware’ that emulated Roman, Greek and Medieval pots until it closed in 1966. Due to its location, there were also a number of armed conflicts around the area.
King Alfred fought the Danes in what was once known as Deadman’s Lane, now Dark Lane, after he had slain many enemy soldiers on that spot. St. Michael’s Church, as it is known today was founded in 1189 in Tilehurst but the first church building was probably made of wood and no trace remains. The oldest part of the present church is the south aisle, now called the Lady Chapel that was built circa 1300 and contains the oldest brasses in Berkshire. The nave stands today as it was restored in 1855. G.E. Street, the famous architect, was responsible for the restoration. Street was linked with several Pre-Raphaelites such as the Rosetti family and Ford Maddox-Brown. William Morris was also his pupil.
Tilehurst has also won an ‘excellent’ rating from Ofsted in 2005 for its Little Heath School. The secondary school specialises in science and mathematics with 1700 students. The two communities are also closely tied together by Prospect park. It was originally constructed around Dirle’s Farm in the mid-18th century by Benjamin Child, one time Lord of the Manor at Calcot House. Theale, Calcot and Tilehurst are all growing rapidly but have managed to successfully marry their historic pasts with the needs of current residents and visitors. Filled with restaurants, shops, leisure facilities, pubs, lakes, rivers and quality schools, all three communities make foe excellent places to live as well as visit.