Despite so much history being written much is still male dominated, even in local history. However women have played a vital role in the development of Thatcham. Below are just a few of those women described briefly. I will go into more detail at a later date.
Lady Francis Winchcombe
Many in Thatcham will know the Old Bluecoat School, built in c.1304 as a wayside chapel, St Thomas’ Chapel, it was in 1707 that it became established as a school. Lady Frances Winchcombe, in a trust deed from 1707, gave instruction for conversion to a school for 30 poor boys of Thatcham, Bucklebury and Little Shefford. The school was known as “Winchcombe’s Charity School” but like so many other charity schools where the children wore blue uniforms eventually became known as the Bluecoat School.
In the early years the school was mismanaged by the trustees, indeed it was barely opened until after 1713 and then only until 1730 when it closed. Despite efforts being made in 1752, the school did not re-open until 1794 under schoolmaster John Blay. It is alleged that it is this period the school becomes known as the Bluecoat School.
It is thanks to Lady Winchcombe that generations of Thatcham Children gained an education. It also make you wonder, the building was described as decayed in 1707 so it is most likely that by opening the building up as a school she also saved the building from eventually being demolished.
Anna was born in Glasgow on 4 October 1881 to Margaret Ann MacVean, and Evan MacDonald Munro. Her father was a school master. In 1906 joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and founded a branch in Dunfermline. She was not one for staying still or keeping quiet she took part in a walk from Scotland to London and was later arrested and imprisoned several times inc.
There are differing accounts of exactly how but she eventually met local man Sydney Ashman and in 1913 they married. Anna she spent part of their honeymoon in jail! Anna took the surname Munro-Ashman but used her maiden name in all her work.
The couple lived for a time at Park Farm in Thatcham and then moved to Padworth. Many other women, including Sydney’s sister, took up the cause to fight for women’s rights, no doubt inspired by Anna. She continued to fight for womens’ rights until her death in 1962.
The manor of Crookham, in c.1327, was given by the King, Edward III, to Sir William de Montacute (Earl of Salisbury) as thanks for arresting Roger Mortimer, who allegedly murdered King Edward II. During a jousting tournament at Windsor in 1344 William received a fatal injury and died. In memory of her husband, Kathryne, had a tower erected on the parish church. It is believed this was the lower half of the present tower and if you look at Thatcham Church, St. Mary’s, today you will see the two different types of stone used. The Black Death hit the area c.1348 and this raises questions. Many say that the tower was never completed due to the Black Death but is that true or was the tower only ever going to be that hight (half the height of the present tower)?
The earliest of the charitable donations, of which is known, dates from 1413. Alice Bye, widow of Richard Bye, granted to the churchwardens, John Bye and Thomas Bela, a messuage called a burgage tenement in Thatcham. A burgage was essentially a borough rental property, owned by a King or Lord. The property was a house on a long and narrow plot of land, with a narrow street frontage. The income from this property was used to support charitable donations to help the poor.
Annette Louise Henry
Annette was one of seven children of John Henry who owned Colthrop Mill. One daughter, Evelyn, set-up and ran a Sunday school at Colthrop. Within the village itself there was a growing need for a community hall and thus the idea of a village hall was instigated in 1903 by Miss Annette Louise Henry. Plans were made to erect a venue to accommodate 200 people at concerts and other entertainment events. Within a few years £350 had been raised. The Parish Hall was built by Mr. W. Child of Thatcham and was opened on 10th April 1907 by Mrs Benyon, wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire. Annette became the first female member of parish council having been co-opted in October 1912. She also served the British Red Cross as a cook during 1917 to 1919. As if this was not enough Annette was also a manager of council school, now called Francis Baily School. She was a liberal who decorated her fathers house in bold and bright colours when Harold Stranger came to hold meeting. Her father though had other ideas and overnight changed all decorations to conservative colours. In 1935 Annette was awarded a MBE for her work in public service.
Ann Tomlin, nee Jenkins, came from Waterside Farm where her father, affectionately called Dr Jenkins, was hailed as one of the best farriers in the area. She married a Stephen Tomlin and moved to Midgham Hall Court Farm. After Stephen died in 1869 Ann moved back to Thatcham living at a property in Station Road. She purchased Sydney Lodge in 1890 for £755, but appears to have not lived there initially and rented it out. In 1891 Dr Francis Lyon was still living there.
In 1911 a proposal to mark the Coronation of King George V at parish meeting was put forward. The proposal was to install a drinking fountain in the Broadway, or Broad street as it was then known. The majority of those at the council meeting though thought it was too ambitious. That is until Ann offered to pay for it, which was accepted. Ann, like many others was actively involved in the local community. Many locals remarked that Ann could often seen riding around in her 4 wheeled chase.
There are plenty more women of note that I will discuss in a future post. Some of these women include Sarah Barfield, Lady Anne Danvers, Charlotte Maria “Lady” Fromont, Miss Brown, Gertrude Bacon, Miss Lilly Hugh-Jones, Mabel Sowerby and Miss Mary Peers.