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Dipping into the Wells
The story of the two Chiltern villages of Stoke Row and Highmoor seen through the memories of their inhabitants
by Angela Spencer-Harper
THE VILLAGE BACKGROUND Wednesday, July 30, 2014 

Today Stoke Row is a village of approximately 650 inhabitants and is situated 175 metres above sea level at the southern end of the Chiltern Hills. Its flint and clay soil, laid over chalk, enabled its early history of pottery making. However, there was no natural water source and it is likely that only hunter gatherers would have visited this wooded area until the Saxons came.

At that time it became know as Stoches (meaning a fenced place) Ruh (meaning a rough, outlying place). Later this long narrow village, straggling along the ridge, became Stoke Rewe (the latter from the Norman French Rue, meaning street). Administratively, the village was in the parish of Ipsden until 1952, when it formed its own Parish Council.

Indeed, until the sinking of the Maharajah’s Well in 1864, there being so little water, it was just ‘a collection of poor hovels’, but thereafter a number of brick semi-detached dwellings were erected and people began to settle in greater numbers.

The Well was sunk as a result of the friendship between the Maharajah of Benares and Mr Edward Anderdon Reade of Ipsden who became Governor of the Northwest Provinces. The Indian style cupola was designed by Mr Reade and stands over the 364 foot deep well. The equivalent height of two Nelson’s columns, it was dug by two men in one year – a tremendous feat of Victorian skill. This generous benefactor also provided a small cottage for the Wellkeeper and a cherry orchard from which he derived a small living.

Victorian times also saw the growth of a fair-sized brick works and the making of tent pegs, largely for the army. About 3 million were made here during the Second World War. The turning of chair legs and stretchers, all made from locally grown beech, was another regular occupation. Yet another was the picking of cherries and, in the spring, the entertaining of coachloads of people from Reading and other towns, who came to see the pretty blossom. At the same time, until well after the war, the village was almost self-contained, having its own blacksmith, builder, baker, general store with Post Office and five public houses.

The Independent Chapel, which thrives to this day, was erected in 1815 and the pretty Church in 1846. Today this friendly village boasts a lively Primary School, a garage, a village store with Post Office and two pubs with restaurants, one with overnight accommodation.

Angela Spencer-Harper
March 2004

 


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