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The History of Newbury
The history of Newbury – a tale of corn, wool, horses and phones.
British, Celts, Romans and Saxons had all farmed the Kennet Valley before a Norman knight hit on the idea of starting a town at Newbury.
It would doubtless have happened sooner or later. The busy river crossing was a day’s ride from the ancient cities of Oxford, Winchester, Salisbury and Wallingford – a perfect stopover.
Back then, crossing the valley was a treacherous affair for most of the year. The meandering riverbed was thick with reeds, and the woods were almost impenetrable from Thatcham to Marlborough.
Fortunately, the Romans had built a road – now the B4000 – to improve trade with London, and conquer the Welsh. Roadside settlements sprang up, and a military outpost was set up at Speen – though it crossed the Kennet at Thatcham.
No sooner had the Roman empire started to disintegrate than foreign mercenaries were called in by native chiefs. As the economy collapsed, the Saxons were offered land instead of money. Whether massacred, subjugated, or intermarried, the Celts were soon dispossessed, and Berkshire became part of Wessex – and run by Germans.
The Kennet Valley remained a backwater, but still had to see off raiding Danes in the 10th century, before the Norman warriors – their army stuffed with German mercenaries – landed at Hastings, smashed the English army, and took his army marauding through Newbury to Wallingford. Ten weeks after landing, he was made king.
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