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All tours & tastings now sold out for this year

Enborne Folklore - nothing to do with vineyards!

I know vineyard newsletters are meant to be about vines, growing, wines etc but there’s not a great deal to talk about in the vineyard right now so I thought I’d bring you some trivia this month instead and tell you a bit about Enborne and the area where All Angels grapes are grown.  Normal service will be resumed in April, don’t worry.


Did you know Enborne appears in the Domesday book (1086), long before Newbury came into being?  The area has some wonderful history and if you want to read up thoroughly, try to get hold of Penelope Stokes’s book Enborne & Wash Common – an illustrated history.  Sadly, I think it is out of print now but it is a great read. 

As with all ancient places there are various legends, folklores and ghost stories associated with Enborne (actually surprisingly few ghosts and most not seen before C20th – draw your own conclusions…) Here are two that I find totally bizarre and the third is a bit of historical truth that I find QI. 

The first is an almost Pythonesque story of The Witch of Enborne – in fact the Story of The Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail could almost have been based on this encounter.  In 1643, as they were advancing on Newbury, the Parliamentarian forces came across a woman walking on the river “treading the water with as much ease and firmnesse as if one should walk or trample on the earth”.  Quite clearly, she must be a … Witch…  On closer inspection though it was revealed she was actually walking on a plank submerged in the river.  That didn’t overturn Cromwell’s men’s view – they had found a witch after all and she must be practising black magic.  The poor woman was captured, questioned but refused to answer to the soldier’s satisfaction so they decided to kill her.  It took four attempts.  The first bullet she caught in her hand (honest…), the second bounced off her and almost killed the shooter and running her through with a sword didn’t work either.  Now, at this point, it would have been good if she’d said “Tis but a scratch” but we don’t have a record of that.  Instead she was eventually despatched – laughing and prophesysing a Parliamentarian victory – with a pistol shot to the head.   


If you think that shows pure ignorance, wait for the next one.


Enborne widows – at least as late as C17th – risked losing their right to inherit their late husband’s tenancy by “unchaste conduct” after being widowed.  As you might guess, no such risk for a widower… To get their tenancy restored, local custom required the poor widows to ride backwards on a black ram into court, reciting a particularly (to my mind) peculiar and unitelligible verse.  It was a bit of a rare occurrence even then but here are some of the events of a single day’s proceedings in Enborne’s court baron sometime around 1680.

First up was widow Frontly, appearing for the second year running, who found the ram so comfortable she bought it off the steward (future use maybe?).  Another was excused from performing the act because the steward knew “that the good squire himself had qualified her for the ram”.  One widow was allowed to swap a black ox for the ram given her size (did they just have a black ox on hand in case of such a need??) and the steward fell so in love with the last widow that he married her within a month of his own wife’s death.


The next story is true (by all accounts).  In 1261 William of Enborne and his gang of three men and two women (it was a time of equal opportunities…) were outlawed for failing to appear in court at Reading and William became known as “William Robehood of Enborne” which some historians have suggested indicates Robin Hood was a term given to outlaws generally at that time and not just to Errol Flynn err, sorry, Robin of Sherwood.  William of Enborne had his property illegally seized by the Prior of Sandleford (one of the owners of the four manors of Enborne) which could have landed the Prior in some trouble but he was exempted by a royal pardon.  The Prior’s mid 15th Century successor wasn’t so lucky and, for unstated misconduct was removed and Sandleford Priory’s ownership of its Enborne manor was transferred to St. George’s Chapel, Windsor.    


The parish church of St. Michael and All Angels is known to be of the period from 1066 – 1190 although the earliest written evidence of its existence is in a papal grant of 1191 when one tenth of ecclesiastical benefices were allocated to Richard the Lionheart for a crusade (the crusader swords on our All Angels shield are taken from those carved in the church fabric).  The annual value of St. Michael’s at that time was assessed at £6 13s 4d: the Abbess of Romford received £2 15s a year and the Prior of Sandleford £1 15s.  The church really is well worth a visit and has a lot to see: a carved Norman or possibly Saxon stone tub font, a well preserved C14th mural depicting the Annunciation (there were more but they were whitewashed over probably during Cromwell’s time) and reputedly the oldest or second oldest bell in the country.


Church Farm itself (aka in its time Enbo(u)rne Farm, Enborne Church Farm and Manor Farm) was until recently the largest farm in the parish, listed in the 1660s as having 9 hearths (I can only count 5 now) and generally paying the largest share of the poor rate.  It was seized from Lord Craven during the Interregnum after the Civil War and held by Colonel Joyce, only to be returned to Lord Craven after the Restoration.  Its land (which in 1822 comprised 158 acres of arable, 97 acres of upland meadow and pasture and 67 acres of water meadow) was described by the surveyor for the Board of Agrculture at that time as being “springy gravel and clay” on which fallow / wheat, barley, clover and turnip were grown in rotation – nope, no mention of grapes anywhere there.  In 1881 Church Farm employed 15 labourers, 2 live-in farm servants and 2 live-in domestic servants.


How times have changed, so much for the better – though I wouldn’t mind some of those 19 Church Farm workers from 1881 now and again…

No more history – next month vines and probably frost discussions and a general update on what is happening at All Angels.