Wantage is an ideal place for a visit, combining the town and it’s museum, with walking on the Ridgeway. Its charm attracts many visitors who enjoy easy access to the countryside and the freedom of the Ridgway National Trail, just 2 miles south of the town. Wantage is home to a wide variety of shops to cater for everyday needs. Alongside well-known chain stores, there are several independent and specialist shops within the town. There are numerous restaurants, cafés and public houses to suit all tastes.
Wantage and the surrounding area has many friendly local clubs, groups and societies to suit all interests and abilities. Whether you want to improve your gardening skills, learn photography in the Camera Club or just grab a coffee and meet friendly like-minded people, there are plenty of options for you to choose from in and around the town.
Those seeking a little more activity within the town and surrounding area have a wide range to choose from, whether that’s a stroll along Letcombe Brook, join the local Morris dancers, or visit Betjeman Millennium Park. Here you will find winding footpaths through trees and wildflowers, connecting a poetry trail of stones each inscribed with lines from Sir John Betjeman’s work.
Wantage is the birthplace of King Alfred the Great. Under his leadership warring tribes were united and so began the formation of the English nation. Anyone with an interest in English history cannot miss Wantage. Close by you’ll find the Iron Age forts of Segsbury and Uffington Castle, the burial mound Waylands Smithy and the Uffington White Horse.
The first people came to this area in prehistoric times along the Ridgeway, one of Europe’s oldest roads, following a route along the chalk downs above Wantage. It was not until Roman times when an outpost was established, where two roads crossed, close to the Letcombe Brook chalk spring, that Wantage arrived on the map.
In 848, Alfred was born in Wantage at a Royal Palace. He is the only English monarch to have the title “The Great”; in recognition of his wisdom, civilising influence and military success. Alfred defeated the Danish Vikings in battle and established the Kingdom of Wessex which became the cradle of the English nation. He introduced education and is credited with founding the Royal Navy.
The importance of Wantage as a trading centre was recognised by King Henry III in 1216 when he granted weekly trading rights to Wantage and in 1285, King Edward I issued a decree confirming the rights.
The town grew slowly throughout the mediaeval period, and during the 17th century, it became famous for its leather making, boasting, the biggest tanning yard in the country. As a result of growth, the town centre is now full of attractive Georgian and and Victorian buildings, close to the historic parish church of St Peter and St Paul.
In 1877, Lord Wantage commissioned a statue of King Alfred the Great to be erected in the Market Square. Lord Wantage is also known for his involvement in founding the British Red Cross Society.
Wantage Parish Church is the oldest surviving building in the town with parts dating back to the 13th century. Built of Bath stone in a cruciform design, most of the church dates from the 14th and 15th century. William Butterfield refurbished and renovated it in Victorian times and further renovation took place in the 1990s. As well as holding services throughout the week, the church often provides an atmospheric setting for concerts by Wantage Orchestra, the church choir and Wantage Silver Band.
Wantage Marketplace continues to act as the heart of the town with King Alfred’s statue standing in the centre. King Henry’s market rights are still upheld each Wednesday and Saturday with general markets, Farmers’ Markets and occasional French and Italian markets. There are many small shops in the square and the surrounding streets, which provide a large choice of goods and services. Welcome to Wantage!