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Moulsford History

Local History

Thousand of historic Oxfordshire photos available to view on the county council's online Heritage Search - includes 25 pictures of Moulsford between 1870 and 1895!!  Go to then select Heritage Search and enjoy!

Thanks to Peter Ackers for the content here so far!  Read down to find out about:

  • Moulsford Through the Ages
  • Roman Roads
  • Moulsford Torc
  • Brunel's Railway

Moulsford Through the Ages

There is little doubt that this part of the country has been in use as a  dwelling place, as a trade route, for agriculture for some considerable time.

There is evidence from the Bronze Age with the finding, not far from Halfpenny Lane, of the Moulsford Gold Torc; there are Roman remains on the Downs just outside the parish boundary and a Roman road went through the village itself;  did William the Conqueror come through Moulsford on the way with his army to Wallingford where they would have forded the river before turning east to London?

Halfpenny Lane probably gets its name from the time when sheep were being driven from the west towards London and it was either a toll road or a place where the animals could get grazing and water during a day’s rest before crossing the river via the ford or ferry at Ferry Lane. 

Photographs of the river side at the Beetle and Wedge in the early 1900’s show the wharf there in use for transporting large timbers, over 60cms (2 ft) in diameter presumably  felled in the village, taken by horse and cart to the river, and loaded onto barges going perhaps to London for building work.

Moulsford itself had no separate history until the early 1100’s however, as before then it was part of Cholsey, so although Cholsey is mentioned in the Domesday Book Moulsford is not. Prior to that it had been part of the personal estate of the sovereign. Henry I gave Moulsford to one of his barons, Gerald FitzWalter, and this family were ‘lords of the manor’ for several centuries.

The village itself has changed immensely over the years. It may well have been a village in Saxon times - there was definitely a Saxon settlement a few miles away where the Wallingford Bypass bridges the Thames - and there is a map from 1761 which shows that the village was well developed by that time.

There was evidence in the Recreation Ground during the long drought of 2003 of boundaries that were probably the rear gardens behind cottages that lined both sides of the road in the eighteenth century, and some of those old properties are still there. 

Mead Corner for example was originally three cottages which were condemned in 1935, but came back into use after reconditioning and combining into one residence.

It was the Turnpike Act of 1763 which led the improvement of the road through the village and this could well give the age of an old drainage culvert, with brick walls and stone slab roof, that was exposed when cable laying took place recently in the village.

There was much change in the mid 19th century when Moulsford House, now the basis of Cranford House School , was built, as was the old school, now Clock House, which was opened on 1 January, 1851, with 35 pupils.

The old post office that existed until the 1960’s was opened in 1854 at the front of the bakehouse, behind which there was a smithy. More recently these premises became a restaurant.

The post-war period has seen great changes, with the development of Underhill, Glebe Close and Meadow Close and many houses being refurbished and enlarged and with considerable infilling. 

Also the old vicarage became The Old Vicarage retirement home, which was in turn demolished and then rebuilt. The two private schools have seen great expansion and new buildings, but sadly the original church school closed when pupil numbers dipped around 1970.

Most of the parish has remained as agricultural land, and although it remains an ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’, it has also changed significantly in the post war period, with the ploughing up of ancient pasture land and removal of hedges  to make larger fields suitable for grain, such as barley, but nowadays with a share of rape to change the landscape in spring. 

Roman Roads

Moulsford is on the route that would have been taken by travellers in Roman times going from Calleva Atrebatum (now Silchester) to the major town at Dorchester-on- Thames. The name Streatley almost certainly derives from ‘street’ referring to the Roman Road and probably, too, the name of the A329 in our village, The Street, has carried forward for approaching two thousand years.

The actual Roman road construction has not been identified by archaeologists as yet within the village, but it is known that its route went close to The Forte in Cholsey and through the hamlet of Mackney and between Brightwell and Sotwell, before heading towards higher ground to the east of Sinodun Hill, then dropping down to where there was presumably a ford to cross the river to Dorchester.

The location near Sinodun Hill is shown on the one-inch ordnance survey maps, and recent archaeological excavations, reported in a ‘Time Team’ TV programme, have shown there was Roman, or Romano-British, occupation in this general area.

It is worth pointing out that although the major Roman roads were straight for long distances, the lesser ones would have had straight sections between rising ground, from which the surveyors could sight their next objective. Also, whilst the general route might be used over many centuries, there would be local diversions, for example to get past fallen trees or to avoid seriously muddy or rutted areas. So existing roads on the Roman route will be expected to vary in detailed alignment.

When the railway was being built around 1840 there was controversy with the farmers in Cholsey over the deep cutting which would prevent them using the ancient track south from Honey Lane to gain access to  fields to the south, and finally what is now called Silly Bridge was provided for them to cross the cutting. That is the unused road bridge midway between Cholsey Station and the A329 bridge.

The probability is that this ancient track was indeed the original Roman road, and in a note written by John Souster he states that he identified the typical Roman construction of a low bank with a ditch on either side where the route to Moulsford was cut through during the laying of a large gas main in the 1970’s.

Assuming this to have indeed been the Roman route, as one travels north through the village it would have gone straight ahead where the A329 curves to the right by the Offlands Farm properties, crossing Halfpenny Lane some 50m from the garage.

This track between Moulsford and Cholsey was clearly shown in a map dated 1695, but became useless at the time of enclosures in mid 19th century, which ended any right of way across the railway via what was then clearly a ‘Silly Bridge’ to nowhere! Incidentally, this bridge is a good example of the extra width needed by Brunel’s broad gauge; one of the arches is wider than the other; see also J and S Dewey, Change at Cholsey, Pie Powder Press.

Moulsford Torc

One of Moulsford’s claims to fame is a gold torc, a heavy necklace, that was found in one of the farm fields in April 1960. This torc (see below) was made from four twisted gold bars, linked at their ends by decorated gold sheet terminals, and curved to form a crescent.   It dates from the Middle Bronze Age ~1200BC.

This torc was not declared as treasure trove and was subsequently acquired by Reading Museum ( where it is today. 


Moulsford Torc Moulsford Torc

A second torc was discovered almost 40 years later close to the site of the original find. The later find is different in that it is made from a heavy single bar of oval cross section, tapering towards plain flat ends. There are only five examples of this type from Britain. This torc was declared to be ‘treasure trove’, and was purchased for the Museum of Reading, where it has now joined its partner on display.

Gold torcs of this date are rare, significant of wealth and status. However, the new find has ancient chisel marks on it which raise the question of whether it was about to broken down and made into some other gold items.

If you are wondering why the original torc went to Reading Museum rather than one in Oxfordshire it is because in 1960 Moulsford was in Berkshire!

Brunel's Railway

The main line from Paddington to Bristol and the West Country forms the northern boundary of  the Parish of Moulsford.  It is of interest because it includes one of Brunel’s fine bridges across the Thames and was the site of Moulsford Station, and also Moulsford Station Hotel built at the time the railway was being laid out.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railway from London to Bristol was authorised by an act of parliament in 1835 and the 20 mile (40km) section from Reading to Steventon was opened on 1st June, 1840. The contracts were let in 1838 and by the end of 1839 all the earth works and the bridge over the Thames were completed - within two years! 

An early passenger was Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV who joined a train for Slough at Moulsford, and so became the first member of the royal family to travel by train!

The river bridge has four arches of 62ft (19m) span, made of red brick with Bath stone facings, and, with the new section of the Thames Path north of the village now being open, may be inspected from this side of the river at close quarters. The way in which the brick arches were built with the strong angle of skew is worth looking at. It remains a handsome structure, now carrying a huge volume of traffic at such high speeds that Brunel could hardly have dreamt of.

There were just three stations on the original railway between Reading and Steventon when the line was opened: Moulsford, Goring and Pangbourne and there were two tracks at Brunel’s preferred broad gauge of  7ft (2.15m).

However,  Moulsford Station adjacent to the A329 was soon renamed Wallingford Road,  no doubt to draw attention to the fact that it provided the connection by road to Wallingford, with a hotel to provide refreshment and overnight accommodation for travellers, the name reverting to Moulsford Station again in the 1870’s.

The original hotel building is still there, with its steep gables and stone finishing, which may well have derived from sketch plans prepared by Brunel, being characteristic of the Gothic Revival.

With the extension of the railway system, including the branch from Didcot to Birmingham, Parliament decided that flexibility in the transport system required all new tracks to be built to Stevenson’s preferred gauge of  about 4ft 8ins (1.42m), which was much more common, and so the broad gauge track was converted in 1856 for dual running by adding a third rail between the original ones. These three rail tracks are well illustrated, with the station and hotel,  in the book by J and S Dewey, Change at Cholsey, Pie Powder Press, which is an excellent source of local history.

The broad gauge was dispensed with in 1892, when the railway was increased to four tracks between Didcot and London to accommodate the great growth in traffic, and at that time Moulsford Station was closed and replaced by a new one in Cholsey at the junction with the branch line to Wallingford. This doubling up of the track meant, of course, that Brunel’s bridge over the river had to be twinned, the newer one being a little less grand, lacking some of the stone facings of the original.

For many years, the station at Cholsey was called ‘Cholsey and Moulsford’ but this is no longer so, and as we are midway between Cholsey and Goring stations, we now have to take a bus - or get the car out - to pick up  a train on Brunel’s magnificent route.

Based on a note on the subject prepared by John Souster, for some years head gardener at the Old Vicarage, Moulsford