Prince George, Bucklebury and England
The young Prince George spent the first weeks of his life in Bucklebury with his parents, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, at her family home. I wondered what this small village in years to come would say to Prince George about England.
Narrow country roads, so lovely and challenging to drive, of course!
Bucklebury lies in West Berkshire, 18 miles southeast of Wantage, where Alfred the Great was born, and not far from Newbury, where the present Queen stables some of her horses.
The place-name Bucklebury appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Borgeldeberie, which means Burghild's fortified place or borough (Burghild is a woman's name). That strikes me as another telling link to English history, where women have played an indispensable role.
Bucklebury's mile-long avenue of oaks. If legend is anything to go by, it was planted to honour two queens.
In our book (see sidebar) we mention that the oak is the national tree of England and America; the ink used to write Magna Carta in 1215 was made from oak galls; and the structure of the oak bears some resemblance to the constitutions of both countries. Oak built Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and the ships of the Royal Navy, which protected British commerce, ended the slave trade, and helped to keep 19th century seas free of pirates.
The River Pang at Bradfield, four miles from Bucklebury
A chalk stream, the River Pang runs through Bucklebury carrying swans, wild brown trout and graylings. It's thought to have inspired Kenneth Grahame when he wrote The Wind in the Willows.
Henry I granted Bucklebury to the Cluniac abbey in Reading, where he was later buried. Bucklebury lands supported the church. I like the connection to Henry I because he was forced to give England the Charter of Liberties, and swore that not even a monarch was above the law. (See our book for this little remembered but electric filament of English history.)
A few decades later, Bucklebury's St Mary's Church was built. The Norman entrance survives with stone carvings of chevrons, rosettes, flowers, and a bearded mask crowned with an orb and a cross.
Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries has always seemed to me a crass and illegal move, which enriched his cronies. A friend pointed out that this move probably stimulated the economy, so may have benefitted more than a few, though throwing poor kids and their parents who depended on monastic schooling and food into dire straits.
The private, commercial enterprises which grew in Bucklebury in the centuries after the Dissolution include the Blade Bone, a butcher's, Old Boot Inn, where the Prince and the Duchess like to have a meal, and the business owned and run by the Duchess of Cambridge's family.
The Duchess began her life in a house costing less than £200,000. Her family worked hard and succeeded in building a business. It might be boring to say, but an entrepreneurial spirit helped to build Britain–-roads, sewers, cities, libraries, schools, nature preserves, London, etc.
Directly south of Bucklebury village, and on higher ground, lies Bucklebury Common--"826 acres of open grazing on managed heather and woodland, open to all, but now privately owned" (Wiki). The creation of the commons was a brilliant English invention. Unfortunately there were corrupt people who robbed the common people of their commons–-their land for grazing, their forests for hunting, their streams for watering animals–-and claimed them for their own. But the idea of the commons survived, and today includes public roads, airwaves and the internet.
There are two vivid connections with history on the common.
The first is that Edward Montagu, the Earl of Manchester, camped with his parliamentary army of 20,000 men on the common on 25 October 1644, just before the Second Battle of Newbury. Montagu bravely and capably led Parliament's forces against the king until he decided the carnage had become too great, and he started ignoring orders. This naturally infuriated Oliver Cromwell.
Montagu resigned his commission, tried to negotiate a peace, failed, managed to bring about the Restoration, and urged mercy for the men who had executed Charles I. He was a member of the invisible college–-the Royal Society–-so he had a scientific bent.
The second connection is that during the Second World War, most of the common was cleared for the stationing of troops. Some of the concrete paths that were laid down are now used as bridleways.
Bucklebury has been home to an actress, librarian, wood turner, biscuit manufacturer, and composer, and also to an intriguing politician, Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke. Despite his deficiencies and weathervane political tendencies, Bolingbroke inspired Revoutionary Americans to think about a parliamentary opposition which could defend the spirit of liberty.
We doubt Prince George will attend Bucklebury's grammar school, but we think he will walk and play on Bucklebury's common.
Is it far-fetched to think he will have some idea of the glimmers of history all around him in Bucklebury?