There have been many historic buildings in Thatcham, some are still there while others have been demolished, some have been listed (nationally or locally), some are scheduled monuments, but what does it all mean and what do we have in Thatcham?
What does listed building mean?
Before we get to what a listed building is, a bit of background to the system is useful.
The Town and Country Planning Acts of 1944 and 1947 are the foundations of the system. These led to the ‘Salvage Lists’ and identified if a building of the time should be protected from demolition if it was damaged by a bomb. A grading system was introduced and 25 years later there were around 120,000 structures recorded. Most of the structures were built before 1750, medieval churches or country houses. The surveys concentrated a number of historic cities and a few rapidly developing towns.
In 1970 the “Greenbacks” appeared, these were the lists published in bound volumes with green covers. Nothing much changed though in that time and it may not have changed much at all if not for events over the August Bank Holiday in 1980. The weekend saw the demolition of the Art Deco Firestone Factory in Brentford, London. This got the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine, to have the whole country resurveyed.
The official entries were made publicly available online in 2011. The present list, consisting of 400,000 entries can be viewed at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/.
Before we get to the grading system lets update what constitutes a listed building. Historic England define a listed building as:
Listing marks and celebrates a building’s special architectural and historic interest, and also brings it under the consideration of the planning system, so that it can be protected for future generations.Historic England, October 2022
Structures recorded under this definition are spit into one of three grades:
- Grade I are buildings are of exceptional interest. This accounts for 2.5% of listed buildings, approximatly 10,000 structures nationally.
- Grade II* are particularly important buildings of more than special interest. This accounts for 5.8% of listed buildings, approximatly 23,200 structures nationally.
- Grade II are buildings are of special interest. This covers the remaining 91.7% of all listed buildings covering around 366,800 structures nationally.
Within Thatcham there is one grade I building, one grade II* and 51 grade II. I will cover a few below and more in future posts.
The Old Bluecoat School
This is the only grade I building in Thatcham and was a chapel first used for services in 1304. Thatcham did have a church, the Church in the country manor but outside of the borough boundary. Thus this chapel was the Chapel of the Borough and it is believed it was dedicated to St Thomas. It is thought the chapel remained in use until around 1540, after which it appears to have been abandoned. At the start of the 1700 it is described as decayed but exact what the state was is not known. Lady Frances Winchcombe, in a trust deed 1707, gave instruction for conversion to a school for 30 poor boys of Thatcham, Bucklebury and Little Shefford.
The school becomes known as “Lady Frances Winchcombe’s Charity School.” There were a number of issues at the start and it wasn’t until the end of the 1700’s when John Blay took the reigns did it get up and running properly. It was around this time it became known as a Bluecoat School. However it has never officially been known as the Bluecoat School. The children wore blue uniforms schools such as these were often referred to as bluecoat schools, and there are many just like this all over the county. The school stopped teaching in 1914 when the school master went to war. It never reopened as an independent school but was used as a classroom by other local schools and later became an antiques shop. More recently a charity has taken ownership and are running the building as an events venue.
St Mary’s Church
This is the only grade II* building in Thatcham. St. Mary’s Church is believed to have originated from c.675 although there is nothing of the original left. After the Norman Conquest, probably around 1141, the church was rebuilt in stone and would have been a rectangular building, essentially the nave, measuring 66 feet by 21 feet. The chancel was built in about 1220 by Abbot Simon of Reading, the church having been presented to Reading Abbey in 1123.
The lower part of the tower was built in the 14th century with the upper added around 1500. The North Isle was built in 1480 and a Tudor chancel added c.1530. The church then remained until the 1850s when the Victorian remodelled the building, walls lined with flint , structures straightened out and much more. Essentially what we see today is a Victorian facade.
This is a grade II building located in Turners Drive. It has been altered, although from the outside with some exceptions (UPVC windows) it could be hard to tell. The land here was once owned by Mr Mount of Wasing and even had an animal pound on the site. It had also been a Gypsy encampment. In 1866 the Rev Hezekiah Martin came to Thatcham, initially staying at the Vicarage in Church Gate. He commissioned the building of a new house and the family appear to have moved in c.1869, and certainly by 1871. I am still researching the family but I know that Hezekiah had at least one child with his first wife, Catherine, and at least 10 with his second wife, Isabel.
The building has a 60 ft tall tower, the exact function of which is still debated with some claiming it is a type of folly. There were over 30 rooms and the building was surrounded by gardens, including a kitchen garden/orchard and a sunken rose garden, extensive lawns on its southern side. The perimeter of the property was well screened by the trees that were planted around the house and there was a grand driveway and on the northern side was a turning-circle for coaches.
When built there was a large drawing room, a dining room, entrance hall, several bedrooms. The drawing room led off into a conservatory where hot and humid conditions were maintained by the gardener. This allowed a range of plants to be grown including a variety of ferns, lilies and fuchsias. At the eastern end of the house were the servants’ quarters.
The building passed to John Hart Player, then Richard Samuel Chattock and then in 1902 to Major Charles Turner. The Turner family deserve a post of their own, two of the sons received the Victoria Cross for their actions in the World wars. In 1951 the house was “Modernised” and converted to three self contained flats. Doorways were bricked up, passages blocked, etc. Detached houses soon appeared on the land across the lawns on the south side and the original driveway was blocked up. The fruit trees in the kitchen garden were replaced by a block of flats named “Orchard Court” and on the western side the bushes in the sunken rose garden gave way to another block of flats named “Rosen Court”. The condition of flats deteriorated and all residents were moved out. It was determined that it was not economical to repair for residential use so the space was converted to office us and in 1988 the building had 25 offices.
I hope this has introduced you to what listed buildings are with a few local examples. The three examples are buildings that remain standing. However that is not the case for all, buildings can be delisted and can be demolished. The next post will look at some examples of these.
1Historic England: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/