- A BRIEF
Nettlebed Past and Present - (follow link)
a photographic history of Nettlebed prepared for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012
Go to VICTORIA COUNTY HISTORY for more history of Nettlebed
origin of the name Nettlebed is unknown. There are various theories. One is that
Roman soldiers in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD rubbed nettles on their limbs to
keep warm on marches. Another well known fact is that nettles yield a
thread which can be made into a linen cloth. Many homes at the end of the 18th
century had sheets and table cloths made from nettles which grow in abundance
around the area.
Nettlebed is not mentioned in the Domesday Book unlike Nuffield and Bix nearby.
Nettlebed has been an inhabited area for centuries and many middle Stone age implements found in earthworks in a Highmoor trench are now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. At Digberry farm there are little-known remains of a Roman encampment with squared ramparts reaching as high as fifteen feet in places. Grimm's Ditch, which passes by Nettlebed, was probably a tribal boundary. In the 17th century a Palaeolithic floor was found on Nettlebed Common.
Nettlebed was of some importance in ancient times because of its position on the point where the Henley - Oxford road intersects the Chiltern Ridgeway. Later it became a noted staging post. Legend has it that many Kings and Queens stayed at the former Red Lion in the High Street.
Karl Philipp Moritz, a German pastor travelled though England mainly on foot in 1782. On his journey from London to Oxford and further north he had intended to stop in Henley but decided it was too fine for him. He was obliged to walk on and reached Nettlebed in the dark. Many foot travellers were not always well received in those days but he was made so welcome in the village he stayed for another day and night and resolved to return to his "favourite" place. His account of his time in Nettlebed runs into several pages in his book "Travels in England in 1782 " which is available online in English and in German and well worth reading.
was fortunate in having a rich supply of the clay suitable for brick making that
ran in a vein through the Chilterns.
The clay has been in use for 800 years by potters and brick makers for making pots, pans, clay-ware and many household utensils. Bricks were made until the 1930's. . The remaining 18th century kiln was adapted for burning lime. This is a scheduled building and thanks to hard work and financial help has been restored and is now the responsibility of the Oxfordshire County Council Archives Department..
The earliest kilns were built by John Soundess and a Mr. Godwin at the place now known as Soundess. Michael the Flemyng was one of the earliest brick makers at this kiln. From the book "Stonor" (Thomas Stonor was the Lord of the Manor at Nettlebed) :- "almost immediately after his marriage (1415) Thomas began adding to the buildings at Stonor. It so happened at that particular time there was a settlement of Flemish brick makers just across the valley at Crocker End near Nettlebed, engaged in making what were said to be the first bricks to have been made in England south of the Humber, since the departure of the Romans. And so in 1416 - 17 we find Thomas purchasing 200,000 "brakes" ( the first recorded use of the word) and employing the Flemings [Flemish people] to build the present clock tower beside the chapel at Stonor" Also recorded in 1677 - " about Nettlebed, they make a sort of brick so very strong that whereas at most places they are unloaded by hand, I have seen them shot out of carts and yet none of them broken."
England's world renown for table glass developed only after 1674 when George Ravenscroft evolved a new formula and with this was able to make "the finest and noblest glass", then called flint glass, and now known as lead crystal. This glass was made at Henley after certain sand sent from Nettlebed enabled Ravenscroft to change his formulas and produce the beautiful examples of glass still in existence.
In more recent times inhabitants of Nettlebed worked in the village, there being many forms of employment. The big house - Joyce Grove - gave work to many people; gardeners, grooms, house servants etc and the kilns and potteries needed many men to keep them producing bricks.
Fleming family's involvement with Nettlebed began in 1903 when Robert Fleming
(1845-1933) bought Joyce Grove with 2000 acres, kilns and clayworks
and many of the cottages. Joyce Grove subsequently became a convalescent home
for St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington and is nowadays a
palliative care home.
The Nettlebed and District Commons (Preservation) Act 1906 arranged by Robert Fleming, took the original village cricket pitch to consolidate the land round the entrance to Joyce Grove. The replacement cricket pitch and three acres of land drained to form a recreation ground, is in use today.
In 1909 Robert Fleming established the merchant bank, Fleming and Company. Many of the Fleming family are laid to rest in Nettlebed churchyard. Col. Peter Fleming, the well known traveller and writer and his wife Dame Celia Johnson are amongst them.
The current members of the Fleming family live locally, run the Estate and take an active part in village life.
Fleming’s grandson was the renowned travel writer Peter Fleming, whose younger brother was the celebrated spy novelist Ian Fleming, who wrote the James Bond books.
Peter Fleming married in 1935, the actress Celia Johnson, who starred in the classic British film “Brief Encounter” of 1945.
Village Hall was until recent times known as the Working Men's Club. The
building has changed little since 1913 when it was officially opened. It
was commissioned in 1912 by Robert Fleming and designed by C.E.Mallows
a prominent architect of the day. It is also considered one of the best "Arts
and Crafts" designs in Oxfordshire. The building contained a wide range of
village activities including a rifle range, skittle alley, billiard room,
cinema, dance floor and a bar. The latter was only allowed to be used by women
on Christmas Eve !!
Today the club has a lively member's bar and the two halls are used for a range of village activities (see activities page).
Link to a Full History of the Village Hall
was also very well provided for in times gone by. It was not necessary to leave
the village for goods and services. The White Hart Hotel is now the only
remaining hostelry. In the past there were also the Nags Head,
Red Lion, Cross Keys, Bull, Sun Inn and Carpenters Arms. Shops included cobbler, two bakers, butcher, cycle, petrol and repair garage, grocer/haberdasher, hardware, pharmacy, cafe/post office, blacksmith and farrier as well as men's, women's and children's clothing and shoes.
Nowadays there is a very good village shop and post office, a petrol station and a car repair workshop.
Water arrived in 1927, electricity in 1935 and main drainage in 1961 for most homes. The latter provided by a treatment works built by US Army engineers during WW2 and later linked to the village.
has been a church in Nettlebed for a thousand years; a
Romanesque font was found in
St. Bartholomews the present one, replaced the second church. The base of the tower (up to the bell - ringing chamber) with its early English arch and window dating from the 12th century is all that remains of the previous church. The existing building was completed in 1846 following a major re-build which was carried out by James Hazel the incumbent at that time. A ring of six new bells were cast by Mears of Whitechapel all dated 1846. In the year 2000 these bells were refurbished at Whitechapel and hung in a new steel frame. Nearly £30,000 was raised locally for this project and the bells were installed under supervision by local volunteers. In recent years stained glass windows by John Piper have been added in memory of Colonel Peter Fleming and Doctor Robin Williamson, both of whom contributed so much to the welfare of the people of Nettlebed and were concerned with the continuing development of village life. They drew on the traditions and history that have made Nettlebed a welcoming place to newcomers and longer term residents alike. The entrance gate to the church is the village war memorial.
For many years there has been a school in Nettlebed. In the early days a Dame School in the High Street
A completely new school was built in 2005/6 to replace the existing buildings further back on the same site. It includes a community hall and facilities and an all weather pitch. Eleven new houses including three social housing units are being built on the site of the demolished 1928 buildings.
Links to the Nettlebed School
and to the Friends of Nettlebed School (FONS) websites can be found in the left hand panel.
A lady from Whitley Bay sent us the following snippet about the school in the 19th Century :
I wondered if you would be interested to know that one of the early schoolteachers at that school was my 3x Great Grandmother, Mary Ide, who later married William Green in Nettlebed Parish Church (October1859).
Their daughter, Mary Ellen Green wrote a letter many years later to her grand daughter, and this is what she had to say about her mother the schoolteacher at Nettlebed school, I would assume that she must have been there circa 1858 to 1860:
"she had a School at Nettlebed, Oxfordshire, & kept it a short time after my birth - found she could not manage a home & school both - she had been in lodgings before being married, turned 25 years of age. ....... she was a very little woman - four feet six inches - but a very large head, some of the boys were bigger than her - & one of the Farmers called to complain some of the boys had broken down a part of the hedge & must be punished - ( they did not mind as they said the "misses" did not lay it on very hard - now there was one boy - who had never had the cane - & he felt it a terrible disgrace, so another boy - who was a troublesome one - offered to take the caning if he would give him a penny - which he was please to do - As the boys came up one after the other "Joe" with them. Mother ask why he was there, as he had really been good - he answered Aicken has never punished - & I don't mind - & besides I offered to take it if, he gave me a penny - you many be sure Aicken, & Joe, went Six."
Although our research into the family is incomplete, it appears that William Green died between the 1861 and 1871 census and we know of no other children of the marriage. Mary Green (nee Ide) returned to her birthplace in Sussex
with her daughter who subsequently married and had many children.
This is of course only a taste of the rich and interesting past of our village. If you would like to know more about any aspect touched on here please contact the Parish Council clerk who will be pleased to help.