Aldermaston is a rural village, civil parish and electoral ward in Berkshire, South-East England. In the 2001 United Kingdom Census, the parish had a population of 927. The village is on the southern edge of the River Kennet flood plain, near the Hampshire county boundary. It is roughly equidistant from Newbury, Basingstoke and Reading and west of London.
Aldermaston may have been inhabited as early as 1690 BC; a number of postholes and remains of cereal grains have been found in the area. Written history of the village is traced back at least as far as the 9th century AD. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles show that the Ealdorman of Berkshire had his country estate in the village. The manor of Aldermaston was established by the early 11th century, when the village was given to the Achard family by Henry I; the manor is documented in the Domesday survey. The village church was established in the 13th century, and some of the original Norman architecture remains in the building's structure. The last resident Lord of the Manor, Charles Keyser, died in 1929. The manor estate has been subsequently occupied by Associated Electrical Industries, the XIX Tactical Air Command, the Women's Land Army, Collier Macmillan Schools, and Blue Circle Industries. The manor house is now run as a private corporate venue by the Compass Group.
The name "Aldermaston" is well known in connection with the UK's nuclear weapons programme, as well as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), which develops, maintains, and disposes of the UK's nuclear weaponry is in the parish. Built on the site of the former RAF Aldermaston, the plant has been the destination of numerous Aldermaston Marches. Until 2006, the village was home to the Aldermaston Pottery, which was established by Alan Caiger-Smith and Geoffrey Eastop in 1955.
Evidence suggests that Aldermaston was inhabited in the 12th century BC, possibly extending back to 1690 BC. Radiocarbon dating on postholes and pits in the area show activity from 1690 to 1390, 1319 to 1214, and 977 to 899 BC. Wheat and barley grains have been found in these excavations. Tests show that most of the barley was dehulled, but that absence of such debris may mean that the cereal was brought in from other areas.
Before the 1066 Norman conquest of England, the land and properties of Aldermaston formed part of the estates of Harold Godwinson, the Earl of Wessex, who later became King Harold II of England. Harold's assessment of Aldermaston valued the village's 15 hides at £20 a year. As with much of the land seized by William the Conqueror after his arrival in England in 1066, Aldermaston was held in demesne. His Domesday Survey of 1086 identified the existence of a mill, worth twenty shillings, and two fisheries, worth five shillings. During the rest of William's reign, and that of his son William Rufus, Aldermaston was owned by the Crown.
The history of the Lords of the Manor of Aldermaston Court can be traced to Achard D'Aldermaston, who was born in 1036. Six families have had lordship of the Aldermaston estate. In the 11th century, Henry I gave Aldermaston to Robert Achard (or Hachard) of Sparsholt. In the mid-12th century, the Achard family founded the church of St Mary the Virgin. In 1292, Edward I granted the right for the lord of the manor to hold a market in the village. Another charter was granted by Henry IV, with evidence that the market existed until approximately 1900. The Achards also established an annual fair to observe the feast of St. Thomas the Martyr on 7 July.
Aldermaston was held by the Achard family until the 14th century, when it passed through marriage to Thomas De La Mare of Nunney Castle, Somerset. The De La Mare family governed Aldermaston for approximately 120 years, until Elizabeth de la Mare—whose male relatives predeceased her—married into the Forster family. In about 1636, the Forsters built a large manor house to the east of the church. The house incorporated parts of an earlier (15th century) house, including the chimney stacks. The Forsters' house was fronted by two porches, separated by a central section with seven bays. The porches had ornate Solomonic columns, similar to those at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford. The interior of the house featured a number of mythical statues, as well as artwork by Gaspard Dughet, portraits of William Congreve and Godfrey Kneller, and Tintoretto's Esther Before Ahasuerus. The house's Jacobean garden featured patterns of groves and avenues of oak, yew, Spanish chestnut and lime trees. In the early 18th century the Forsters oversaw the building of almshouses in Church Road. Built by R Dixon in 1706, the houses became known as "Dixon's Cottages". The manor passed through the Forster family until 1752, when the Forster lineage ended and the estate was inherited by Ralph Congreve, the husband of the last Forster's grand-niece.
On Ralph's death a second-cousin of dramatist William Congreve inherited the manor. The Congreve Family owned the estate at the time of the 1830 Swing Riots. The rioters marched across Aldermaston, wrecking twenty-three agricultural machines. Workers were so frightened by the riots that they left their machinery in the open in an attempt to limit additional damage. Around the same time, the River Kennet (along the north side of the estate) was made navigable between Reading and Newbury.
In 1843, the manor house was destroyed by fire, news of which was carried in The Illustrated London News. The estate passed into the Court of Chancery and was purchased by Daniel Higford Davall Burr. In 1848, Burr commissioned the building of a neoclassical mansion to the south west of the original building. Burr saved the 17th-century manor's wooden staircase, though all that remains of the building is a staircase to the cellar (which is now home to a colony of bats). By 1851 the new building was complete, costing £20,000 and having a Tudor-like appearance. Burr held the estate until his death 50 years later, when was inherited by his son, who sold it in 1893.
The buyer was wealthy stockbroker Charles Edward Keyser, who was preoccupied with the idea of keeping the village unchanged—or, as he described it, "unspoilt". He forbade advertisements, opposed all modernisation and refused to allow any expansion by the building of houses. He did, however, commission the building of a parish hall in 1897 and provided the village with a water supply, and the water fountain on the small village green was installed to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Keyser oversaw the restoration of the village almshouses in 1906 and 1924, and defrayed the cost of a memorial oak tablet in memory of those killed in World War I. Of the 100 men from the village who served in the war, 22 were killed (the highest percentage of town population in the country). The tablet bears the name of each man lost in action.
Post-World War II
During the 1940s RAF Aldermaston was created on the parkland at the southern end of the parish, with XIX Tactical Air Command stationed at the manor house. After World War II, the manor was returned to AEI who built the MERLIN reactor on part of the land. The reactor was opened on 6 November 1959 by The Duke of Edinburgh. With the opening of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) in 1950, Aldermaston became synonymous with a number of CND marches.
In 1953, Pole stepped down as Lord of the Manor and was succeeded by AEI's senior representative, Thomas Allibone. Allibone held the position for 32 years, until Blue Circle Industries acquired the estate in 1985. Allibone was succeeded by Tony Jackson. Blue Circle could not gain planning permission in the grounds of the court, so the MERLIN reactor was demolished to make way for Portland House. With a full redevelopment of Aldermaston Manor, the £14 million office development became Blue Circle's international headquarters and the complex was opened by Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
The village of Aldermaston derives its name from Ældremanestone, Eldremanestune or Hedlremanestone, the Old English for "Ealdorman's Homestead". The Ealdorman—or Alderman—was a person of extreme importance, equating to the modern-day Lord-Lieutenant of the County. Although his country estate was in Aldermaston, he would have spent most of the time in the original county town of Wallingford. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that the first known Ealdorman of Berkshire, Aethelwulf, fought the Danes with Ethelred of Wessex at the nearby Battle of Englefield in 871.
Other documented names include Aldermaston ad Pontem (11th century), Aldremanneston (12th century), Aldremaneston (13th century), Aldermanston and Aldermanneston Achard (14th century), and Aldmerston (19th century).