Friends Study Day – Wallingford

Saturday 7th October 2023.

  • Meet in Wallingford Museum from 09:30am
  • 10.00am – 10.45am:  Coffee and an illustrated introductory talk
  • 10.45am – 12.15pm:  Guided walk round Saxon town (including other points of interest)
  • 12.15 – 2.00pm:  Free time for lunch– lots of places to eat available in the town (and the Museum will be open all day 10.30am-5.00pm)
  • 2.00pm – 2.45pm: Guided visit to Castle site
  • 2.45pm – 5.00pm: free to visit Museum/town

£25 Friends members, £35 non-members (+booking fee).
FREE for University of Leicester students.

Wallingford stands alongside the river Thames in south Oxfordshire (formerly north Berks. until 1974), one of a number of prominent former Roman, Saxon, and medieval centres along a significant north-south stretch of the river, including Oxford, Dorchester, Abingdon, and Reading. Lacking any consistent Roman presence, Wallingford was founded as a late ninth-century Alfredian Wessex burh of major dimensions, from the outset designed to be the new shire centre. It later developed as a royal castle town under the Normans, put on the map for being the point where William the Conqueror and his army crossed the Thames en route to London. The town and its castle played a significant role in the mid twelfth-century Anarchy period, withstanding numerous sieges. The Crown used and enhanced the castle during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries especially, but the town itself suffered early economic decline. The loss of various parish churches signifies some reduction (and likely relocation) of population even before the Black Death. The castle was less used in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, but elements at least of its then still highly visible defences were pressed into service in the mid seventeenth-century Civil War – again with Wallingford displaying extended resilience. Subsequent slighting removed substantial parts of the castle’s numerous walls, and Victorian landscaping has also altered its site. 

Agatha Christie

A life-sized bronze statue of crime novelist Agatha Christie is to be unveiled in the town where she lived. The writer spent more than 40 years residing on the outskirts of Wallingford, Oxfordshire, but kept a low profile during her life there. Dame Agatha Christie’s figure will be seated on a bench overlooking the Kine Croft, as if drawing inspiration for her next novel. The statue was revealed on Saturday 09 September 2023.

Wallingford Town

Wallingford is a market town and centre of local commerce. In the middle of the town is a market square with the war memorial and Wallingford Town Hall to the south, the Corn Exchange theatre to the east and numerous shops around the edges. Off the square there are alleyways and streets with more shops and a number of historic inns. Although it was a small town, Wallingford once had 14 churches; now, there are three ancient churches within the Parish of St Mary-le-More and St Leonard, a modern Roman Catholic church, a Quaker Meeting House dating from 1724 and Baptist, Methodist and community churches.

Wallingford Museum

Wallingford Museum is a museum with collections of local interest, housed in a Tudor house in High Street, Wallingford, Oxfordshire. The museum has an extensive collection relating to the town’s history. Displays include archaeology, Wallingford Castle, and the town in medieval and Victorian times.

Wallingford Castle

Wallingford Castle was an important royal fortress on the banks of the River Thames built around 1067 by a Robert D’Oilly, on the orders of William the Conqueror. Wallingford, along with Oxford and Windsor, was part of a series of royal strongholds designed to control the Thames Valley. D’Oilly was granted estates that included the Saxon fortified town of Wallingford, and he solidified his rule by marrying the daughter of the former Saxon landholder.

The castle followed the traditional Norman motte and bailey design, with a high conical mound topped by a timber keep, set within a bailey, or enclosure, which housed secondary buildings protected by a perimeter palisade. The new castle incorporated parts of the Saxon town walls.

D’Oilly also founded a college of priests, dedicated to St Nicholas, within the castle walls. Today the remains of St Nicholas’ College is the best-preserved part of the castle.

Over the centuries the original Norman fortifications were rebuilt in stone, with ranges of buildings to serve as barracks and royal residences. The motte and bailey design was altered to create a shell keep within high curtain walls, and a system of impressive earthworks added to strengthen the stone defences.

Throughout the 12th and 13th centuries, Wallingford grew to become one of the most important royal fortresses in England. Empress Matilda held the castle during the Civil War with King Stephen, and though the castle was besieged on several occasions it was never captured. When Matilda escaped from Oxford Castle in 1141 she fled to refuge at Wallingford Castle.

In 1153 King Stephen and his army faced a force of men under Henry, son of Empress Matilda, outside Wallingford Castle. The conflict was a stalemate, and produced The Treaty of Wallingford, a truce that eventually led to the end of the Civil War.

King John seized Wallingford Castle during his revolt against the rule of Richard I in 1191, and though he was forced to surrender the castle, he seized it once again when he came to the throne in 1199. John strengthened the castle defences and it was a major base in his conflict with the barons that led to the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215.

The castle was owned for a time by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, and was later captured by Simon de Montfort in the Second Barons War. De Montfort imprisoned Henry III and his family at Wallingford after the Battle of Lewes, but the castle was essentially a luxurious royal residence throughout the late medieval period. Edward II gave the castle to his favourite, Piers Gaveston, and it was here that Gaveston arranged the largest medieval jousting competition ever held.

Queen Isabella, the wife of Edward II, used Wallingford as the base for her invasion of England and overthrow of her husband, but as time went on the castle was used more as a prison than a residence.

It fell into decay in the 15th century and building materials were taken to be used at Windsor Castle. King Charles I refortified the castle during the Civil War. Parliament tried unsuccessfully to capture the castle in 1645, and returned in 1646 for a 16-week siege that eventually forced the garrison to surrender.

Parliament ordered the castle slighted so that it could not be used again. The defences were pulled down, though a prison was maintained into the 18th century. In 1837 a mansion house was built within the castle grounds, but this, in turn, was pulled down in 1972.

The castle must have been an extraordinary sight in its heyday, with layers of defensive earthworks surrounding three vast bailey enclosures, with ranges of buildings inside the enclosures and a striking motte surmounted by a central keep. 

View ‘The Wallingford Burgh to Borough Research Project‘ by Oliver Creighton, Neil Christie, Deirdre O’Sullivan and Helena Hamerow

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: