Yateley: fables, facts and farce

Yateley Hall

Yateley Hall - Credit: Archant

From gunpowder plots and highway men to giant carp and a raving loony party - these are the little known details behind Hart’s idyllic Yateley, writes Claire Pitcher

Traditional charm

Yateley has managed to retain a substantial proportion of its former rural character with its surviving greens now designated as Conservation Areas. Many of Yateley’s historic buildings are still standing and Yateley Hall, with its Georgian Canal converted from a medieval moat, which was probably constructed between 1200 and 1350, now proudly presents itself to Hall Lane in a new way, following a comprehensive and successful renovation in 1991.

Conspiracy theories

In the early 17th century, Monteagle Farm was one of the minor properties of the ‘discoverer’ of the Gunpowder Plot, Lord Monteagle. A tradition has grown up that some of the first plans for the plot were put together there, but this is highly unlikely. The first reference of the connection was in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1794. Despite exhaustive research by local historian Sir Thomas Sturmy Cave, as well as the present owners, there appears to be no truth in the legend. However, roads surrounding Monteagle Lane have been named after some of the conspirators in memory of the connection.

Crazed antics

The Dog and Partridge public house in Yateley used to be the certified headquarters of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party which was established in 1983 by musician and politician, the late David Sutch (who was better known as ‘Screaming Lord Sutch’). Its one-time feline leader, ‘Catmandu’, was reported to be have killed by a road vehicle on Reading Road.

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Park life

You can’t visit Yateley without a trip to its Common Country Park, where you should hope to spot a roe deer. It also has heathlands, woodlands and ponds which you can discover on foot, bicycle or even on horseback. The Common is rich in wildlife, which you can easily spot if you take the Three Ponds Walk taking in The Gravel Pit Pond, Wyndham’s Pool and Stroud Pond.

Literary link

English novelist Flora Thompson, famed for Lark Rise to Candleford, was known to have worked at various post offices across the south, including Yateley. Others included Fringford near Bicester and Grayshott but she is recorded to have been Yateley’s telegraph operator in the 1901 census. She worked for the Bettesworth family when the Post office was in the building now called Discoveries. The telegraph machine may have been in a building now called Chaddesbrooke, since that is where she lived with the Bettesworths.

Angling for help

The area around Yateley is renowned for its angling, particularly those near the gravel pit owned by CEMEX. There are 11 lakes at the site that includes part of the River Blackwater and is stocked with a variety of fish including carp, bream rudd, pike and perch. Around 5,000 anglers a year visit the complex, which was also home to the 50 year old ‘Heather the Leather’ carp, described as Britain’s most famous fish. The scaleless monster comes in at a hefty 52 pounds making her a real catch for any fishing enthusiast. Recently Cemex announced that it plans to sell the fishing lakes in June. There is now a huge effort, being led by local businessman Ross McGill to find a way to protect this unique site by raising £2.5m in less than a month in order to make a successful and funded bid to buy the Yateley Lake Complex and its fishing business. To support the cause and find out more visit yateleylakes.co.uk.

Haven sent

Between 1945 and 1970 there were almost 1800 babies born in Yateley at its home for unmarried mothers, The Haven. Since then, many have contacted The Yateley Society for information about their birthplace and the site is now occupied by a housing estate called Greenhaven, off Old Monteagle Lane.

Your money or your life

Yateley was a coaching-hub between London and Reading and one myth surrounds curate Parson Darby being a highwayman who used the Reading Road as his main stomping ground. Darby Green, where he was hanged, is named after him, plus the ‘beast’ of Yateley Morris Men is a wooden horse wearing a highwayman’s disguise, in memory of Parson Darby.

Despite new research revealing that although there was a Reverend Joseph who was curate at Frimley in 1810, he was not hanged for being a highwayman; he died of natural causes aged 58, the myth is still rife today.

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