Visit Wantage and Grove

BEAR HOTEL

Well established by the early 17th Century, the hotel retains the coachway through the facadeto the yard behind. A carved bear used to stand on the hotel forecourt, but this has long since disappeared.

BETJEMAN MILLENNIUM PARK

The park was created by the Letcombe Brook Charitable Trust as a memorial to Sir John who lived in Wantage for many years. You can reach the park either from The Lamb Inn in Mill Street, or by walking down the small lane (Betjeman Lane) at the West end of the Parish Church.

The park has a poetry trail of stones inscribed with lines from some of his work by the sculptor Alec Peever and information boards, each set adjacent to a seating area.

See also our page on the Betjeman Millennium Park

Betjeman Park

CONVENT OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN

The convent was built from 1854 onwards under the drive and direction of Reverend Butler. The community aslo set up several other institutes connected with education and missionary work in Wantage and other parts of the country – even in Johannesburg and Poona in India. Not open.

KING ALFREDS SCHOOL

The old school buildings were built from 1849 to commemorate the millenium of King Alfred’s birth, using Cirecencester stone, which was transported to Wantage by the Wilts and Berks Canal.

KING ALFRED STATUE

The statue of King Alfred was unveiled in 1877 to celebrate Wantage as the birthday place of King Alfred the Great. It was ommissioned by Lord Wantage, and designed and carved in 1877 by Count Gleichen, (a cousin of Queen Victoria) it stands the town centre.

Statue of King Alfred in the Market Square

This is written on the base of the statue:

Alfred found learning dead and he restored it
Education neglected and he revived it
The laws powerless and he gave them force
The church debased and he raised it
The land ravaged by a fearful enemy from which he delivered it
Alfred’s name will live as long as mankind shall respect the past

LETCOMBE BROOK

“Letcombe Brook is a chalk stream and these are globally rare. It is fed from groundwater held in the chalk in the hills above Letcombe Regis and Letcombe Bassett.”

“The character of the brook has been shaped and changed by centuries of human endeavour as it was used for water collection, farming and industry.”

“The discover trail starts at the Vale and Downland Museum and finishes in Willow Walk Nature Reserve. From here you retrace your steps back to the museum.”

Extracts from leaflets (the leaflets can be downloaded by clicking on the photos below, or picked up from the Vale and Downland Museum.

See also our page on the Letcombe Brook Project

Click photo to download

Click photo to download

OLD TOWN HALL

Built in 1878 under the patronage of Lord Wantage, it replaced the previous town hall in the Market Place which was demolished to make way for King Alfred’s statue. The building is now used by a high street bank.

PARISH CHURCH

The present building is huge, indicating the town’s great importance as the market centre of the Vale of the White Horse. The nave and base of the tower in the present structure date from the early 13th century, but the rest has been much altered over the next two hundred years.

It is cruciform in plan, with a solid central tower. The interior seems very light and modern, yet houses some ancient treasures. Try not to miss the remnants of medieval glass near the entrance in the south transept: saints, including Stephen with his martyrial stones.

Wantage Parish Church

The nave, to the left , has wall monuments to the Stampes (note the horses with their stamping feet ), a 15th century hammer-beam roof on its lively corbel faces and a magnificent dominating organ built in 1997.

Going forward, the central crossing acts as a kind of meeting space between nave, quire and small chapels off the transepts. Here, we find, on the vast pillars, a number of tiny crusader crosses, carved by soldiers going to the Middle East to fight in the Crusades.

ST MARY’S SCHOOL

Formerly accommodation for the nuns, the school was established in 1874 for daughters of gentlemen and clergy. The centrail part of the school was originally a Georgian wool merchants house. The chapel and refectory are by Butterfield who also designed Keble College, Oxford.

The school was closed in 2007.

THE MEAD

This tranquil farmhouse with Victorian additions was the home of John Betjeman (former Poet Laureate) for many years. He ensured that the surrounding fields cannot be built on even though it is very close to the centre of town. It is still a private house. Not open.

VALE AND DOWNLAND MUSEUM

The Vale and Downland Museum in Church Street has been nationally acclaimed as an outstanding example of community partnership. The range of services is broad, ranging from galleries interpreting the cultural heritage of the Vale of White Horse region, to a cafe with a delightful terrace and garden.

The site was originally part of the medieval manor of Priorshold. The plot of land and the house were leased to Wantage tradesmen after the dissolution of the priory in 1538. Lawrence Hazell, a clothmaker, was responsible for the major rebuilding of the house in 1780, commemorated by the date stone bearing his initials over the central first storey window. In the mid-19th century the house became the doctor’s surgery and remained so until 1974 – hence its present name, the Old Surgery.

Vale and Downland Museum

In the mid 1970s, the newly-formed Vale of White Horse District Council bought the site and leased it to the museum trust to provide a new home for the museum. The Vale & Downland Museum opened in 1983 and major improvements to the main gallery were completed in 1999.

See also our page on the Vale and Downland Museum

VICTORIA CROSS GALLERY

Lord Wantage bought the former Corn Exchange in 1900 to display a collection of pictures despicting Victoria Cross heroes, which included himself at Inkerman during the Crimean War. He later gave the collection and the gallery to the Town Council who it as a dance hall. It has now been converted into a shopping arcade.

WANTAGE ALMSHOUSES

There are three sets of almshouses in Wantage.

Robert Stiles Almshouses, built in Stiles Court, just off Newbury Street. There are sheep’s knuckles embedded into the pathway. These almshouses still provide a home for elderly folk. They are the result of a legacy from the will of Robert Stiles who was born in the town but made his fortune in the Netherlands. He died in 1680.

Mill Street Almshouses, built 1868-1871.

Eagles Close Almshouses, built in 1867. There is a water pump in the terrace gardens. Thomas Eagle left the land “…out of repect to the memory of his beloved and affectionate wife, a native of Wantage, as an asylum for decayed housekeepers”. The interesting ecclestaistical features reflect the church’s involvements with housing. Today the almshouses provide attractive housing for retired people in the town. Not open.

WESSEX FLOUR MILL

Wessex Flour Mill (on Mill Street in Wantage) is a working mill which produces wheat from locally-grown wheat. The original water-powered mill is located over Letcombe Brook and is now used as flats. The working mill is the building next door, and is powered by electricity.

Wessex Flour Mill

WILLIAMS F1

Williams F1 is located in Grove amid 40 acres of landscaped grounds. Originally the team’s base for its Le Mans project, the building was converted in 2002 and today stands as the Williams F1 Conference Centre, offering a modern and creative environment in which to meet, train, network and entertain.