Early History of Caversham
Written by: Cav Lad
An early history
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 parish 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 her statue was plated in silver. In 1439 Countess Isabel of Warwick gave ‘to Our Lady of Caversham, a crown of gold made from my chain and other gold in my cabinet to the weight of twenty pounds’. It was one of the richest crowns of Our Lady in Europe at that time and was regularly visited by the great and the good. Catherine of Aragon is recorded as visiting on 17 July 1532. The shrine was destroyed by Thomas Cromwell on 14 September 1538 under the orders of Henry VIII but the statute was well fastened into a box and sent by barge to the King. Only the well survives, at the top of St Anne’s Road where it meets Priest Hill, 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.
In the Middle Ages Caversham Manor was one of the demesnes of William Marshal (1146 or 47 – 1219), Earl of Pembroke and regent during King Henry III’s minority. It was the place of his death.
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. It is thought 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, in more recent times became occupied by BBC Monitoring, the BBC Written Archives Centre and BBC Radio Berkshire.
Refs. Wikipedia and Shrines of Our Lady by Peter Mullen