Caversham is today a suburb in the unitary authority of Reading, in the royal county of Berkshire, England. It lies on the north bank of the River Thames on the opposite bank from the rest of Reading. Caversham Bridge, Reading Bridge and Caversham Lock (pedestrian only) provide crossing points, with Sonning Bridge a few miles east of Caversham.
Caversham is mostly residential, and extends from the River Thames floodplain up to just south of the Chilterns. There are a number of distinct neighbourhoods: Caversham Heights, Lower Caversham, Caversham Park Village and Emmer Green. With the exception of the centre of Caversham and Emmer Green, which were traditional villages, most of the development occurred during the twentieth century.
The first written description of Caversham appeared in the Domesday Book. This entry indicates that a sizable community had developed with a considerable amount of land under cultivation.
Some time before 1106 a Shrine of Our Lady was established in Caversham. Its precise location is unknown, but it may have been near the present St Peter's Church. It became a popular place of pilgrimage, along with the chapel of St. Anne on the bridge and her well, whose waters were believed to have healing properties. By the 15th century the statue was plated in silver; Catherine of Aragon is recorded as visiting on 17 July 1532. The shrine was destroyed on 14 September 1538 under the orders of Henry VIII. Only the well survives, now dry and surrounded by a protective wall, topped with a domed iron grill. A modern shrine to Our Lady has been re-established at the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady and St. Anne.
The medieval community was clustered on the north side of Caversham Bridge east of St. Peter's Church, which was built in the 12th century. The third Earl of Buckingham donated the land for the church and neighbouring rectory, together with a considerable amount of land around it, to the Augustinian Abbey of Notley near Long Crendon in Buckinghamshire. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, these lands were given to Christchurch College, Oxford. The rectory stood in what is now Caversham Court public park.
In the Civil War there was fierce fighting around Caversham Bridge for a short time in April 1643. Reading had been held by Royalists and was besieged by a Parliamentary force under the Earl of Essex. Royalists marched south from Oxford to try to relieve the town's defenders but were heavily defeated, and the town fell to the Parliamentarians a few days later.
The fortified manor house was replaced by Caversham Park in the 16th century. Several houses have stood on the site, notably the home of William Cadogan, 1st Earl Cadogan. The present Caversham Park House, built in 1850, is occupied by BBC Monitoring, which is a section of the BBC World Service that analyses news, information and comment gathered from mass media around the world. It is also the premises of the BBC Written Archives Centre and BBC Radio Berkshire.
Online Historical References
Nineteenth Century Local Administration
English Jurisdictions is a webpage provided by FamilySearch which analyses every ecclesiastical parish in England at the year 1851. It provides, with the aid of outline maps, the date at which parish records and bishops transcripts begin, non-conformist denominations with a chapel within the parish, the names of the jurisdictions in charge: county, civil registration district, probate court, diocese, rural deanery, poor law union, hundred, church province; and links to FamilySearch historical records, FamilySearch Catalog and the FamilySearch Wiki. Two limitations: only England, and at the year 1851.
During the 19th century two bodies, the Poor Law Union and the Sanitary District, had responsibility for governmental functions at a level immediately above that covered by the civil parish. In 1894 these were replace by Rural and Urban Districts. These were elected bodies, responsible for setting local property assessments and taxes as well as for carrying out their specified duties. Thses districts continued in operation until 1974. Urban districts for larger municipalities were called "Municipal Boroughs" and had additional powers and obligations.
Poor Law Unions, established nationally in 1834, combined parishes together for the purpose of providing relief for the needy who had no family support. This led to the building of '"union poorhouses" or "workhouses" funded by all the parishes in the union. The geographical boundaries established for the individual Poor Law Unions were employed again when Registration Districts were formed three years later. In 1875 Sanitary Districts were formed to provide services such as clean water supply, sewage systems, street cleaning, and the clearance of slum housing. These also tended to follow the same geographical boundaries, although there were local alterations caused by changes in population distribution.