Most local history resources will tell you modern Thatcham stems from the Saxon period, and rightly so. We know from the written record Thatcham, the name at least, is Saxon in origin. Many also believe that any remains of the Saxon settlement lay underneath the modern town centre, namely the Broadway and High Street, but is this the case?
A side note, the Saxon period is no longer referred to as the Dark Ages but should be the Anglo-Saxon or Early Medieval. I will simply refer to it as the Saxon period and is from 410AD to 1066AD. Also when I say Medieval I am referring to after 1066AD.
There has been extensive development in the town centre especially during the 20th century where there has been ample opportunity for archaeological finds, the demolition of Wyatts Butchers for example. There was also a prime spot in the 1980s when the Coop car park area was being developed and indeed it was excavated but no finds from the Saxon period were found. Likewise excavations in Church Lane including the Priory have failed to find any evidence from the Saxon period. When you look at photographs of the town centre, or village as it was around 1900 and early maps there is a clearly defined Medieval layout. This layout could be stamped on top of an earlier settlement or it could be that this was a new layout to replace and existing and nearby settlement.
Is the Saxon settlement beneath the modern town centre?
Whilst there are archaeological finds throughout the modern town centre there is a lack of physical evidence from the Saxon period. However absence of evidence doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Saxon materials may not be there for a number of reasons, it might be the materials have been destroyed or reused or we just have not looked in the right place. Or it could indeed be because there is nothing to find.
Where else could Saxon Thatcham be?
So if the Saxons were not in the town centre where else might they have been? Grenville Astil in his book “Historic Towns in Berkshire: an archaeological appraisal” suggested a number of possibilities. Recent excavations[5, 6] have found Medieval (11th to 15th century) evidence in Church Gate. Within the same area there have also been a few pieces of Saxon pottery found including Ipswich Ware which is typically related to high status locations. In another excavation evidence of a stream of other watery area, possibly a source of thatching material which may date to the same period. This would imply, to me at least, that there was Saxon activity if not settlement in the Church Gate area which continued into and beyond the Medieval period.
I have yet to mention the St. Mary’s Church. The present church, the core at least, dates to c.1141. There have been various additions and alterations over the years. However the Domesday book records a church in Thatcham and with more resources than would be expected. This has led to the suggestion that it was a Minster Church established sometime during the Saxon period. Many local sources say it was erected in the 7th Century but there is at present no way to date when there was first a church other than before Domesday. It is generally thought that the 1141 Church replaced the Saxon structure demolishing the previous structure or incorporated it.
There is not enough evidence to say Saxon Thatcham was located at ‘X’. The written record doesn’t give any indication of location of the Saxon settlement and the physical evidence is sparse. Most evidence would seem to support my working theory that the Saxon settlement could have been in Church Gate, migrating after 1066, possibly with the founding of the new stone church, to the present location, the Town Centre. It is worth noting that there are also finds from before and after the Saxon period (i.e. Roman and Medieval periods) in the Church Gate area. However this is just an educated guess, hopefully some future discovery will help to unravel and confirm the location.
1Thames Valley Archaeological Services, 7-8 Broadway, Thatcham, West Berkshire – An Archaeological Evaluation, Thames Valley Archaeological Services. 2009
2Horton, M, Archaeological Trial Survey and Excavations, 21-23 Broadway, Thatcham, Berkshire, Cambridge Univ Archaeol Soc report, 1979
3John Moore Heritage Services, The Priory, Church Lane, Thatcham, Berkshire – An Archaeological Watching Brief. John Moore Heritage Services, 2016
4Astill, G G., Historic Towns in Berkshire: an archaeological appraisal, 1978
5John Moore Heritage Services, An archaeological evaluation at Church Gate House, Church Gate, Thatcham, Berkshire, John Moore Heritage Services, 2009
6John Moore Heritage Services, An archaeological evaluation at 17 Church Gate, Thatcham, Berkshire, John Moore Heritage Services, 2013
7Weale, A., Church Gate House, Church Gate, Thatcham, West Berkshire, Thames Valley Archaeology Services, 2011
8Kemp, B. The Mother Church of Thatcham, Berkshire Archaeological Journal, Vol 63