A Brief History of Newbury

Jack of Newbury Plaque

Newbury was founded as a new borough in the 11th Century, although there are records of settlements in the vicinity before this time. The town’s economic roots are historically in the cloth trade, with perhaps the most famous of all Newburians being one of the richest cloth merchants of the 16th Century, Jack O’Newbury. An influential patron of the town, the site of his house can still be found on Northbrook Street today and there are many references to him throughout Newbury’s history.

Newbury was the site of two battles in the 17th Century during the English Civil War, in 1643 and 1644. Much of the second battle took place in Speen, on the land which is now occupied by Donnington Grove Country Club, and led to the ruin of Donnington Castle.

The disturbance caused by the war left Newbury’s economy in pieces for some time afterwards, however trade picked up in the 18th Century when Bath became a popular tourist resort for well-off Londoners who would stop over in Newbury as part of their two day journey. Coaching inns sprung up all across the town, theatres and other forms of entertainment flourished, and the wealthy started building country homes in the surrounding area. In the early 19th Century the River Kennet was turned into a canal, and the Great Western Railway was introduced in 1847 providing fast access to London. Despite this, the local economy was still largely reliant on agriculture and horse-racing.

In the early 1900s Newbury Town Centre was an unclean and undesirable place to be, but new infrastructure was introduced and the town once again became a popular venue, this time for wealthy Victorians, particularly on race day. During the Second World War, Greenham Common (just outside of Newbury) became home to a Royal Air Force base, and was also used by the US Air Force. Throughout the Cold War RAF Greenham Common remained active, and in the 70s the government announced that the Americans would be storing nuclear weapons at the base, a hugely controversial subject which culminated in a peace camp being established around the perimeter fence in protest. The camp lasted an astonishing 19 years and finally disbanded in 2000 when the area was returned to the heathland it once was.

In recent decades Newbury has become a hub for technology and research firms. Mobile network operator Vodafone was established here in the 70s and it continues to be their UK headquarters today. Software company Micro Focus are also headquartered in Newbury. Today the local economy is thriving, and with such good transportation links the future looks very prosperous indeed for this once quiet agricultural town.

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