A Brief History

Brightwell and Sotwell were originally two separate villages, rural settlements whose inhabitants worked the land.

If you walk around the narrow village streets, you will find many houses still standing which date back to Tudor times, or even before. The oldest is probably Woodleys (Old Nursery Lane). Other examples are Dobson's (Sotwell Street), The Old Priory (Little Lane), Middle Farm and Abbots House (both in Great Lane - now Church Lane) and Smalls (Mackney). The churches of St Agatha and St James would have been at the very centre of village affairs, surrounded by many thatched cottages with cob, or wattle and daub, walls.
(Pictured: Smalls, Mackney, in the 1920s)

But the history of the parish stretches much further back in time than the Tudors. For many thousands of years before the birth of Christ, the hunter-gatherers of the Thames Valley would undoubtedly have passed this way, stalking wild animals and gathering from the trees that grew on the greensand in this area. This good soil, and the abundant water supply, may have encouraged Iron Age farmers (B C 1500 - AD 50) to settle in this area. The ramparts on Wittenham Clumps provide enduring evidence of Iron Age settlement hereabouts.

Then came the Romans, and there seems little doubt that the road from Dorchester to Silchester passed along what is now the Mere and Mackney Lane.

The first written evidence of a village here comes from the various Saxon charters describing ownership of land in Beorhtanville, Suttanwille and Maccanie. Subsequently, William the Conqueror's agents recorded in the Domesday Book 70 families and two mills in Brightwell and Sotwell. But where were these mills and how were they powered?

Within 50 years of Domesday we read of the castle of Brightwell being involved in the dispute between King Stephen and his cousin Matilda. The exact site of this castle is unknown, but it probably lay within the moated areas of what later contained St Agatha's/Brightwell Manor House in Brightwell or Stonor Hayes Manor House in Sotwell.

For the next 800 years Brightwell and Sotwell parishes only occasionally appear in recorded history. For example:

  • 1500 (approx) Prince Arthur (eldest son of Henry V11) stayed at Sotwell House.
  • 1507 Clerk in Holy Orders murdered in St Agatha's.
  • 1649 Edward Hyde DD ejected from his living for being a Royalist.
  • 1666 Church collection for victims of the Great Fire of London.
  • 1726 Mrs Frances Riggins leaves a legacy "for bread and ye schooling for ye poor of Slade End".
  • 1774-1849 Reverend Thomas Wintle. "About 4 o'clock with my neighbours at ye Red Lion where they dined at the expense of ye parish and myself and then set again to mark the boundaries"
  • 1781 King George III rode through the village returning from a stag hunt.
  • 1785 A Sunday school set up by the Reverend Wintle.
  • 1811 Act of Inclosure (sic) for Brightwell.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the Victorian era, the village was blessed with some marvellous philanthropists who worked hard for the good of the villagers.

Reverend Marmaduke Thompson - building of the Brightwell National School in the village.

Reverend John Haldane Stewart - building of the new village school, which is now the village hall. Forming a night school for adult parishioners.

Farmer Edward Fairthorne - Reading Room and recreation ground for the villagers. Scholarships for promising boys to go to Wallingford Grammar School.

Miss Augusta Fairthorne - endowment of the Free Church.

Our War Memorial testifies to the tragedy of villagers
who gave their lives in two world wars. There is no record
of the suffering of the widows and fatherless children left behind.

In the second half of the 20th century, there was significant expansion of the villages. In 1948 the villages of Brightwell and Sotwell were brought together as one unit and in 1949 the Greenmere estate was built. Later, estates were built at Kings Orchard, Monks Mead and Datchet Green.

The parish population currently stands at around 1,550.

Note : These notes have been adapted from Brightwell-cum-Sotwell : Some Aspects of its History, by Fred Heyworth. Click on the Village History Group link to read the full text of this booklet, which is currently out of print. The History Group has several other booklets for sale, which can be found in the Village Stores.