Blog from March meeting

The speaker for the March meeting of SASHA was Penny Stokes who produced, in 2017, an illustrated hardback for Greenham Trust The Common Good: the Story of Greenham Common. Her previous books include Craven County(1996) and her work in progress is Georgian Newbury.
Below are a few items gleaned from the interesting talk.
Greenham Common is approximately 600 acres and the adjoining Crookham Common covers approximately 300 acres, they are all that remains of a much more extensive range of commons to the south of Newbury. The 1761 map shows the high open land of the common surrounded by the gullies where the settlement occurred.
The open land attracted military manoeuvres over the centuries. Prince Rupert launched a failed ambush of the parliamentary army after the 1st Battle of Newbury and after the 2nd battle Sir John Boys, the man who held Donnington Castle, attacked Greenham Manor to settle a private quarrel. In 1688 William of Orange camped at Greenham Common with 16,000 troops on his way to London.
In the 1800’s the constant wars meant the common was used extensively for military exercises. Occasionally they put on military displays of horse and music to be enjoyed by the inhabitants of Newbury, while the great and the good dined with the officers at The Globe inn. The Common was also used for crowd entertainment like bare knuckle fighting and strange challenges like backward hurdling. Steeple chasing was popular, the 9 rider of the Sydmonton to Greenham steeple chase were joined for the last mile by the local young gentlemen who fancied their equine skills, before “Deception” was declared the winner.
The was never much housing on the common but from at least 1849 onwards there was a beerhouse called the Ark in the centre of the common and a public house called the Carpenters which became the Rifle Volunteer in 1866 these two businesses attracted enough custom to last many years. Commons did not belong to the common people but were held by the Lord of the Manor and to this day certain people have “rights” with regards to the common.
Golf has been a feature of the commons since Albert Tull started the first inland golf club in 1873, its headquarters was at the Travellers Friend and then moved to the Volunteer. The Newbury golf club was opened at the Greenham Common end and the two clubs merged after WW2.
In 1930 the Newbury Corporation bought both commons and they soon came into public owner ship. However the needs of the MOD meant the creation of a grade A airfield in 1940 for the RAF Bomber Command. After the USA joined the war effort the airfield was taken over by the American forces. They were very popular with many of the locals especially the children who they able to supply with treats like chewing gum and the young women who enjoyed the organised dances. The King and Crown Prince of Norway lived at Bowdown House for quite some time during the war and important wartime individuals like Churchill and Eisenhower visited Greenham Common .
After the end of WW2, the commons reverted to Newbury Corporation but that ended as the Cold War began and the runway was strengthen and lengthened to cope with the increasingly large and noisy planes like the B47 that used the airfield. The USA troops left in 1964 but the land was still held by the Government. The exiled Ugandan Asian stayed in the old barracks in 1972 for a few weeks before they moved to their new homes around the country. The airfield was the site of a bi annual International Air Tattoo from 1973 to 1981 which grew immensely in size from small beginnings.
We skipped over the events of the Peace Women and the Cruise Missiles a huge subject in itself and moved onto the setting up the Greenham Common Trust by Sir Peter Michael in 1997. The Trust bought the all the Common land except for the missile silos and then sold 700 of the 800 acres to the Newbury Corporation for £1 along with a grant of £250,000 to help restore the land. The remaining 100 acres became Greenham Business Park and the income from this has benefited local charities to the tune of £40million since its inception.
The Common is now run by BBONT under an Act of Parliament which ensured the removal of contaminated and alien soils along with the cement runways with the aim of returning the common to the native wildlife and the local people. The very popular 5km Park Run attracts, on average, more than 300 people a week. Although normally large crowds are not now encouraged on the Common, the exception was the 20 years of War and Peace event in 2017 produced mostly by volunteers. It was for this event that Penny Stokes was asked at short notice to produce a “coffee table” book and this resulted in the talk given to SASHA the last Monday in March.
The Common Good: the Story of Greenham Common can be purchased from West Berks Museum. It gives much more information on Greenham and Crookham Commons and contains many interesting photographs and maps.