10 things you didn’t know about Kingsclere

Kingsclere by Lucy Atkinson

Kingsclere by Lucy Atkinson - Credit: Lucy Atkinson

From a Royal noble steed to a right Royal pain in the...bed bug. This historical north Hampshire village has seen murders and mix-ups aplenty

A Bit About Kingsclere

High on the Hampshire/Berkshire border on the A339 between Basingstoke and Newbury, this village has enough history to fill several books. The word ‘clere’ means ‘bright’ or ‘clearing’ you won’t be surprised to hear and the ‘Kings’ bit is easy to understand when you discover just how many monarchs were associated with the place. From King Alfred, who mentioned it in his will (he left it to his second daughter, Ethelgiva), to King John (more of whom later), to Anne of Cleves, who was granted rights over the rectory and, finally, our own Queen Elizabeth (her racehorse trainer lives here), Kingsclere has always punched way above its weight.

Food and Drink

British, seasonal and fresh – that’s the promise from Bel and the Dragon in Swans Street. Part of the upmarket gastro-inn chain, the restaurant offers a sumptuous selection. Take your pick from delights such as wild garlic and white onion soup or ‘five Hour’ lamb shoulder with thyme and maple. Meanwhile, at the Crown Inn in Newbury Road you’ll find a classic pub menu, featuring all the traditional favourites, plus a good-sized pizza menu.

What’s Going On

Kingsclere Cricket Club was founded in 1774 making it one of the oldest in the country – the legendary Dr W G Grace played for the club in the past. Now there’s a Saturday league side, a Sunday friendly team and three lots of youth teams. Meanwhile, in George Street, Kingsclere Village Club also provides a lot of interesting things to do from art to yoga to Pilates, Tai Chi and a regular film club. The village also has a community library in the same building.

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Horses for Courses

With links going back 300 years, Kingsclere is synonymous with the Sport of Kings. Its Park House Stables, which have employed up to 70 staff caring for 200 horses, have produced some of the greatest runners ever seen, including the legendary Mill Reef. The TV presenter and former jockey, Clare Balding, may be the most recognisable of the family who now run it. But it’s Clare’s brother, Andrew, who is the toast of racing, especially by the owner known as Queen Elizabeth II. He trained her horse, Tactical, which won the Windsor Castle Stakes at this summer’s Royal Ascot!

The Royal Bed Bug

Some say it is a tortoise. Others claim it as a dragon. But one thing’s for sure, the weathervane atop St Mary’s Church at Kingsclere isn’t your normal ecclesiastical adornment. With six crosses for legs and one for its tail, the object is said to be a bed-bug placed there on the orders of King John himself. Legend has it that during the early 13th century a fog forced the King, who was hunting in the area, to spend the night at the local inn. Whilst there, it’s alleged he fell victim to bed bugs and was so annoyed by the experience that he commanded that a bed bug weathervane be made for the church. Yes, it is an unlikely story.

The Kingsclere Massacre

On a dark night in October 1944 the landlady of The Crown Inn at Kingsclere, Amelia Rose Napper, suffered a fatal bullet wound, as did two military policemen. They were believed to be victims of ten GI’s who were said to have returned to the area after being ordered back to camp and returned with guns which they fired into the pub. The incident is mired in mystery – the GIs received no public trial, just a court martial. Neither their full defence, or any real explanation for what happened appears to have ever been made public. Nine of the men received life sentences which were ordered to be served in the US and very little has been revealed about what happened to them after that. Two things are known. Firstly, the incident prompted an apology to the village from General Dwight Eisenhower, later the US President, and a general hushing-up of what was called ‘The Kingsclere Massacre’ in case it soured relations between the allies. Secondly, stories still persist of ghostly rifle-fire being heard and sightings of ghosts in the immediate area during the following years.

Money for Old Rope

It was around 1855 that John Cribb decided to start his rope, twine and sack making business in Kingsclere’s George Street. At right angles to the company’s store room were two rope walks which can still be seen on old maps but have since been replaced by housing. The products were mainly used in the agricultural industry whose appetite for plough reins, leading reins and other splendidly-formed equipment sadly weren’t enough to keep Cribb afloat and, according to the Kingsclere Heritage Association, the business was sold on.

Oil Well Mystery

During World War II Kingsclere saw little enemy activity. Until the night when bombs rained down just outside the village. Shocked residents travelled to inspect the hole that had appeared in a local road and wondered why they had become a target. The mystery was solved by a German pilot who reportedly inquired of his captors as to whether ‘the oil wells’ had been hit. The village had been the subject of a prospective drill for oil in the late 1930s after tests revealed the presence of oil. But the test drill found far less black gold than was expected and it was assumed that German spies had passed the wrong information back to their paymasters!

Murder He Wrote?

The murder of the playwright Christopher Marlowe is infamous in English literature. Marlowe was slain by three men in a pub in Deptford on May 30 1593, one of them being Ingram Frizer who was born in Kingsclere in 1561. Frizer became a businessman but there are also allegations he was working for Queen Elizabeth I’s feared Secretary of State, Francis Walsingham. He was dining with Marlowe and two others on the fateful night when they are said to have rowed about the bill and in the ensuing melee, Frizer, apparantly, delivered the fatal wound. Others claim Frizer actually helped Marlowe to fake his own death to escape charges of subversion so he could flee abroad and then write many of the plays now attributed to his literary rival, William Shakespeare.

Kingsclere’s Pope

Ever wondered why there is a Popes Hill in Kingsclere? It just may be because of the village’s tenuous connection to its very own pontiff, Pope Clement VI who was head of the Catholic Church from May 1342 until his death in 1352. Okay, so Pierre Roger, to give him his real name, wasn’t born in Kingsclere. And he never lived there, either. There is no record of him ever visiting. But, in 1329, the village did belong to the Bishop of Rouen in France, who happened to be one Pierre Roger. As Pope he spent a lot of time forgiving any sins of victims of the Black Death, defended Jews from unfair blame for the disease and declared himself ‘a sinner living amongst sinners’.

Fancy getting to know more Hampshire villages? Sway has a fascinating past

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