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About Radley

Radley Church Radley Vicarage Radley Primary School Lower Radley Radley College Bowyer Arms

The parish of Radley is situated halfway between Oxford and Abingdon. For centuries it was part of the county of Berkshire, but, by virtue of county boundary alterations brought about by the Local Government Act 1972, the parish and others in North Berkshire became part of Oxfordshire on 1 April 1974. The modern parish covers an area of about 3,700 acres. Local government services are provided by Oxfordshire County Council, Vale of White Horse District Council and Radley Parish Council.

Radley has a primary school, a flourishing community shop, a well-used village hall and a popular pub, but sadly no longer a post office.

The river Thames forms the parish boundary on the east side, and can be reached through Lower Radley and thence by public footpaths. Lower Radley is the old part of the village and houses from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, some thatched, still remain. The Oxford–Didcot railway line running north and south divides Lower Radley from the main village, much of which was built in the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s, with smaller developments in the 1980s and 1990s. In addition to the regular houses there are also four mobile home parks in the parish, three at the northern end and the other just over the railway bridge in Lower Radley. The Club’s book, Roads in and around Radley, contains colour photographs of all the roads in the parish today.

To find out what was happening in Abingdon through the Ages, see the Millennium timeline created by Abingdon Area Archeological & Historical Society.

Spinney's Cottage, Lower Radley
Spinney's Cottage, Lower Radley

Radley today – photographs and more information

Radley postcards

Brief history of Radley
The name Radley comes from two Old English words, read and leah. Leah means a clearing in a wood; read could mean either red or – more likely – reedy. Excavations, notably at Barrow Hills, have revealed that there has been human use or occupation of the Radley area successively by Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, and Saxon people, since before 3000BC. Abingdon Abbey was founded in Saxon times and, by the time of the Domesday Book, Radley – along with Bayworth, Sunningwell, Kennington, North and South Hinksey, Dry Sandford, Shippon and the township of Abingdon – had become part of the manor of Barton, owned by the Abbey.

Radley Church stands on the site of an earlier Norman, or possibly Saxon, building, which is said to have burnt down in about 1280. The current church was consecrated in about 1290, and the nave and tower were added in the fifteenth century. The Church was originally a chapel of St Helen's Church in Abingdon. Radley Vicarage dates from the fourteenth century. There is a story that it was used by the Abbey as a hunting lodge, but more likely it has always been the home of the Church’s incumbent, making it probably the oldest building in the country to have been continually in such use.

It is possible that the main Radley settlement was originally near the Church, but in the Middle Ages, the Abbey created a park for timber and game and this may have resulted in some clearance of houses. From later medieval times until the early twentieth century, the main settlement was in Lower Radley. Houses were built there by the husbandmen and yeomen who worked the land, which was still in open fields. Several still survive, the earliest dating to 1513 and 1522, both of cruck construction. Following enclosure of the fields, complete by about 1750, these houses were later split into smaller dwellings for agricultural labourers before being more recently restored and enlarged.

Radley Manor and the other possessions of Abingdon Abbey were surrendered to the Crown on 9 February 1538 upon the dissolution of the monasteries and the manor was granted to Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley. When he was executed for treason in 1549, Edward VI gave the manor to his sister Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth who sold it in 1560 to George Stonhouse, a Clerk of the Green Cloth. He built his family residence in the park and was succeeded by his son William, who was created a baronet in 1628 and died in 1631. Sir William's magnificent marble and alabaster monument, sculpted by Nicholas Stone, is on the south side of the chancel in Radley Church.

The Stonhouses were ardent Royalists and it is likely that Royalist soldiers were billeted in Radley Church during the early part of the Civil War when the King, based in Oxford, also held Abingdon. The parish registers record the burial of several officers and troopers in July 1643 and the panelled altar tomb in the churchyard is said to be of this date. It is widely believed that, in 1643, Radley Church was attacked by Parliamentarians in a skirmish that led to the destruction of its north aisle and transept. However, research for the Club's book, St James the Great, Radley: The Story of a Village Church, failed to find compelling evidence in favour of this legend.

In 1727 the Stonhouse residence was replaced by the imposing Georgian building now known as 'The Mansion' of Radley College. In 1733 Anne Stonhouse was married in Radley Church to Sir William Bowyer, Bart., of Denham Court, Bucks. In 1792 the Revd Sir James Stonhouse died unmarried and the Radley estate devolved to his niece, Penelope, Lady Rivers, and then to a nephew, Rear-Admiral George Bowyer of Denham. In 1794 he had lost a leg at the naval battle of Ushant, and in recognition of his bravery, he was made a Vice-Admiral and created 1st Baronet of Radley to go with his Denham baronetcy.

Sir George Bowyer died in 1800 and was succeeded by his son George, who ran into financial difficulties as a result of vain efforts to find coal on his land at Bayworth. In 1815 there was a sale of the contents of Radley Hall and Sir George took his family to live in Italy. He died in 1860 in Dresden in Germany, but his body was brought back to Radley and interred in the family vault in the churchyard in the dead of night.

Meanwhile Radley Hall was let in 1819 to Benjamin Kent, who started a nonconformist school there which lasted until 1844. In 1847 the lease was acquired by the founders of the College of St Peter, now Radley College.

In 1860 a third Sir George Bowyer inherited the Radley Hall estate. He was a Roman Catholic and founded St Edmund's Church in Abingdon. He died in 1883 and the Radley estate of some 1,277 acres was sold by auction in July 1889, the main purchaser being Mrs Josephine Dockar-Drysdale of Wick Hall. By prior arrangement, she sold the freehold of Radley Hall and Park to Radley College.

Wick Hall had been built as Wick Farm in the 1720s or 1730s by the Tomkins family, who were maltsters and builders and were responsible for several fine houses in Abingdon, notably Stratton House (1722), the Clock House (1728) and Twickenham House (1756). The property was bought by William Dockar in 1850 and his daughter, the same Josephine Dockar-Drysdale, who had been widowed some years earlier, moved there after his death in 1882. She expanded the house considerably and renamed it Wick Hall.

From about 1600 Radley was in practice a separate parish in its own right with its own vicar, independent of St Helen's Church, Abingdon (although the formal link remained until the nineteenth century). The vicar was appointed by the lord of the Manor, who held the right of ‘advowson’ and acted as patron of the church. In the late nineteenth century this right was purchased by Radley College, which initially appointed its own wardens (headmasters) to the role. There was a dispute with the Bishop of Oxford about the extent of this right, which was finally settled in 1893 when Charles Gore was instituted by him as vicar.

In 1801 there were 298 people living in Radley, in 34 different houses, with 63 heads of families. Ten years later there were 337 people, living in 42 houses, with 66 heads of families. By 1891 Radley and Kennington combined had 698 people and in the 1901 Census the Radley count was 592. This excluded the masters and pupils of Radley College, and ten years later the figure, including the College, was 927. The 1981 Census recorded 3,562 persons, which was reduced to 2,290 in 1991 largely due to alterations to the Abingdon boundary to take in new housing estates at Peachcroft. The population was recorded at 2,835 in the 2011 Census.

The main line of the Great Western Railway was built through Radley in 1844. A branch line to Abingdon was opened in 1856 from a junction near Black Bridge. Wooden platforms were built for passengers, with a simple timber shed for protection but there was no access by road. In 1873 the branch line was extended to Radley village and a new station built there. The Abingdon branch line was closed to passenger traffic on 8 September 1963 and Radley station buildings were demolished soon afterwards. The station is now unmanned but its use is flourishing and growing very fast, with some resulting problems in parking.

The village Church of England Primary School adjoins the churchyard. The red brick section was built in 1872 after the passing of the 1870 Education Act. The adjoining ‘school house’, where the head teacher lived until 1974, predated the school but its precise age is uncertain. It is now a private dwelling.

The Bowyer Arms public house alongside the railway was probably built in the mid-1850s and formed part of the Bowyer estate until Morland, the Abingdon brewers, bought the freehold in 1889. It is now owned by Greene King.

At the end of the nineteenth century there were at least 11 farms in Radley, some of them quite large. Today there are only two, Peach Croft and Lower Farm. However, the farmhouses and barns of the earlier farms, some very fine, remain.

A large area of Lower Radley has been given over for gravel extraction and some of the pits were then filled in with fly ash pumped underground from Didcot Power Station. The area is now being restored for nature conservation and quiet recreation.


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