Thatcham is a town in the historic county of Berkshire, England centred 3 miles (5 km) east of Newbury and 15 miles (24 km) west of Reading. Its housing and consequently population grew rapidly in the second half of the 20th century from 5,000 in 1951 and 7,500 in 1961 to 22,824 in 2001. It straddles the River Kennet, the Kennet and Avon Canal, the A4 and the course of a Roman road. It is served by Thatcham railway station on the line between the larger nearby towns mentioned. Local employment is chiefly in light industrial premises, sales and distribution, retail and public sectors, see also West Berkshire, its district.
The area has evidence of occupation dating from prehistoric times and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the strongest claimant to being the oldest continuously inhabited place in Britain. The well-preserved remains of a Mesolithic settlements dating from 7,700 BC have been found in its vicinity. There is also evidence of Bronze and Iron Age settlements and of a Roman town. The name may have been derived from that of a Saxon chief called Tace (or perhaps Tac or Tec), who established a village in around 500. The settlement was known as Taceham – ham meaning village in Saxon. It is also possible that the name may have come from the Saxon thaec (thatch). Wherever it came from, the name Taceham persisted until after the Norman Conquest in 1066 before going through several minor changes until the current one was adopted in the 16th century.
The town had a period of great prosperity around 1304 when the Chapel of St. Thomas the Martyr on the A4, now called the Old Bluecoat School, was constructed. At this time the population was larger than Newbury’s but declined as a result of the Black Death which decimated the area in 1348. There is a Norman parish church of St. Mary which was largely reconstructed in 1857. This is believed to be built on the same site as an earlier Saxon church. It was also previously known as St. Luke’s. A local attraction is the Nature Discovery Centre situated at Thatcham Lake, a flooded gravel quarry.
In 1121 King Henry I founded the great Abbey of Reading and endowed it with many gifts of land, including the Manor of Thatcham. At the same time Thatcham Hundred ceased to exist, the western party being transferred to Faircross Hundred, and the remainder to the Hundred of Reading. In 1141 Thatcham Church, previously the property of the Diocese of Salisbury, was granted to Reading Abbey by the Empress Mathilda, who at the same time confirmed her father’s gift of the manor to the Abbey.