Newbury is the principal town in the west of Berkshire, England and has its own civil parish (led by a town council) as well as the administrative headquarters of West Berkshire. It spans both sides of the River Kennet and the Kennet and Avon Canal, and has a town centre containing many 17th century buildings. Newbury has a racecourse and the headquarters of Vodafone UK and of Entprise Software company Micro Focus International. The town is approximately south-central in West Berkshire and has several of its hotels. To Newbury’s north and west is the eastern stretch, the Berkshire Downs, of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the part-ruined Donnington Castle and racehorse training (centred on Lambourn). To the south is the narrower range of hills including Walbury Hill and a few private landscape gardens and mansions such as Highclere Castle. The local economy is inter-related to that of the eastern M4 corridor which has most of its industrial, logistical and research businesses close to Newbury, Reading and Slough.
There was a Mesolithic settlement at Newbury. Artefacts were recovered from the Greenham Dairy Farm in 1963, and the Faraday Road site in 2002.Additional material was found in excavations along the route of the Newbury Bypass. Newbury was founded late in the 11th century following the Norman conquest as a new borough, hence its name. Although there are references to the borough that predate the Domesday Survey it is not mentioned by name in the survey. However, its existence within the manor of Ulvritone is evident from the massive rise in value of that manor at a time when most manors were worth less than in Saxon times. In 1086 the Domesday Book assesses the borough as having land for 12 ploughs, 2 mills, woodland for 25 pigs, 11 villeins (resident farmhands, unfree peasant who owed his lord labour services), 11 bordars (unfree peasants with less land than villans/villeins), and 51 enclosures (private parks) rendering 70s 7d.
Doubt has been cast over the existence of ‘Newbury Castle’, but the town did have Royal connections and was visited a number of times by King John and Henry III while hunting in the area.
Historically, the town’s economic foundation was the cloth trade. This is reflected in the person of the 16th century cloth magnate, Jack of Newbury, the proprietor of what may well have been the first factory in England, and the later tale of the Newbury Coat. The latter was the outcome of a bet as to whether a gentleman’s suit could be produced by the end of the day from wool taken from a sheep’s back at the beginning. The local legend was later immortalized in a humorous novel by Elizabethan writer Thomas Deloney. Newbury was the site of two battles during the English Civil War, the First Battle of Newbury (at Wash Common) in 1643, and the Second Battle of Newbury (at Speen) in 1644. The nearby Donnington Castle was reduced to a ruin in the aftermath of the second battle.
The disruption of trade during the civil war, compounded by a collapse of the local cloth trade in the late 16th century, left Newbury impoverished. The local economy was boosted in the 18th century by the rise of Bath as a popular destination for the wealthy escaping London’s summer heat and associated stench. Newbury was roughly half way between London and Bath and an obvious stopping point in the two-day journey. Soon Newbury, and the Speenhamland area in particular, was filled with coaching inns of ever increasing grandeur and size. One inn, the George & Pelican, was reputed to have stabling for 300 horses. A theatre was built to provide the travellers with entertainment featuring the major stars of the age. In 1795 local magistrates, meeting at the George and Pelican Inn in Speenhamland, introduced the Speenhamland System which tied parish poor relief (welfare payments) to the cost of bread.
The opening of the Great Western Railway to the north of Newbury effectively killed the coaching trade. Having been approximately midway on the Bath Road from London, Newbury became something of a backwater market town, with an economy based largely on agriculture and horse-racing. In the 1980s, British electronics firm Racal decided to locate their newly formed telecommunications company Racal Vodafone (later Vodafone UK) in the town. In the subsequent decades Newbury became something of a regional centre for the high-tech industries, and the town has since enjoyed a return to general economic prosperity.
A large Royal Air Force station was established during the Second World War at Greenham Common on the edge of the town. In the 1950s, it became home to US Air Force bombers and tankers, for which it was equipped with the longest military runway in the United Kingdom. In the 1980s, it became one of only two USAF bases in the UK equipped with ground-launched nuclear-armed cruise missiles, causing it to become the site of protests by up to 40,000 protesters and the establishment of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. With the end of the Cold War, the base was closed, the runway was broken up for use as fill material in building the Newbury bypass, and much of the area was restored to heathland.
The Civil Parish of Newbury consists of the town and the suburbs of Wash Common, the City, West Fields, East Fields and Speenhamland. The modern conurbation of Newbury, however, with close bus and road links and almost contiguous development, may be taken to include the surrounding villages of Speen, Donnington, Shaw and Greenham. Elevations vary from a minimum of 72m above mean sea level to 122m at Wash Common. Elevations reach 150-200m in the directly adjoining hills.
The River Kennet and the Kennet and Avon Canal flow east through the centre of the town to reach the Thames at Reading, while the River Lambourn (beside which is the country’s largest horse-training paddocks in the Valley of the Lambourn Downs) partly forms its northern boundary, ending in the town. A tributary that is smaller still, the River Enborne, forms the southern boundary (and also the county boundary with Hampshire). Adjoining the town’s south-eastern border is Greenham Common and the famous Newbury Racecourse. Newbury is surrounded on three sides (north, west and south) by the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The downland to the south rises steeply out of the river valley providing scenic views, including Watership Down (made famous by the novel of the same name), Beacon Hill, the southeast’s highest point Walbury Hill, and Combe Gibbet.
This area forms the major commercial and retail centre of West Berkshire. The local economy is inter-related to that of the eastern M4 corridor which has most of its industrial, logistical and research businesses close to Newbury, Reading and Slough, with lesser but important further industrial estates in the county at Bracknell and Maidenhead. Newbury has the UK headquarters of the mobile network operator Vodafone, which is the town’s largest employer with over 6,000 people. Before moving to their £129 million headquarters in the outskirts of the town in 2002, Vodafone used 64 buildings spread across the town centre.
Newbury is home to one of England’s major racecourses Newbury Racecourse, which celebrated its centenary in 2005. The most prestigious race in the calendar is the Hennessy Gold Cup which normally takes place in late November. Newbury has one of the last remaining lidos in the UK. It was originally built in the 1890s, although the structure we see today was erected in the 1930s. The pool is still in use today and is capable of receiving more than 1000 visitors a day during peak times. It is owned and subsidised by West Berkshire District Council but managed by an external contractor Parkwood Leisure.
Newbury was home to A.F.C. Newbury, which was sponsored by locally-based Vodafone. In May 2006 Vodafone ended its sponsorship of the club, following which the club collapsed. A local pub team from the Old London Apprentice took over the ground temporarily and now compete in the Reading League as Newbury F.C. Their future at the ground is uncertain as the owner (West Berkshire District Council) plans to turn it into a car park. The Corn Exchange providing a venue for both professional and amateur live performances. Other theatres near the town are the Watermill Theatre, and New Greenham Arts on the former Greenham Common air force base.
Annually the Newbury Spring Festival of classical music brings internationally renowned soloists and ensembles to a variety of venues in and around the town. The Newbury Comedy Festival which started in 2004 has become a feature in the town’s cultural calendar. Newbury is also home to Donnington Grove, where a golf course was opened in 1993. Donnington Grove is also a historic landmark for Newbury as its mansion was built between 1763 and 1772.