VI Royal Village
At the start of the 16th century, the Abbey of Abingdon still held the largest portion of the land in Hurst parish, but in 1538, an event took place which was to change the ownership of large tracts of the land here and elsewhere. When he decided to dissolve the monasteries, Henry VIII brought an end to the domination the Abbey at Abingdon had enjoyed over the district since the year 968 when King Edgar had given to Abbot Wulfstan the manor of Whistley. Nearly 600 years later, King Henry gave the manor, now usually called the manor of Hurst, to an officer in the royal household, Richard Ward.
Richard Ward was sub-treasurer to the King, and no doubt earned the gift of Hurst manor through being a valuable and loyal servant. Because he held such a high position, his life is well documented. When the Heralds visited Berkshire in 1566 to register pedigrees and coats of arms, they recorded that his father was Thomas Warde of Winkfield. But the family was by no means of local origins: his descent was traced to 'Sir Chrystofer Ward of Poswick in the countie of Yorke'.
Having a new lord of the manor may not have had a great effect on the parishioners of Hurst. Nevertheless, Mr. Ward must have caused some excitement as well as employment, because he had a new house built. Unlike the previous lord of the manor of Hurst, Richard Ward came to live in the village. When the Heralds visited the area, they recorded that he was then living here with his wife Colubra, and entitled to bear the coat of arms which is now displayed on his tomb in the church.
Presumably he could have lived in the old manor house at Whistley, but it may have been too small and rundown for a person of such rank. It is generally accepted that he built a new manor house, Hurst House. If the hearth tax which was assessed the following century is anything of a guide, Hurst House was then of considerable size. It was assessed as having a total of 24 hearths, while the old house by the river at Whistley had only nine.
Some say that Richard Ward lived in the Post House on the corner of Hogmore Lane and Ward's Cross, possibly while his new house was being built. The Post House was much larger than it is now, a greater part of it being destroyed by fire. Certainly it was the Ward family which gave its name to that part of the village.
Wards Cross, 2001
Until the dissolution of the monasteries, the need for a true manor house at Whistley did not exist. The lord of the manor previously being the Abbot of Abingdon, who lived many miles away from the foresters, fishermen and farm workers who were his tenants. But when the manors belonging to the religious houses were redistributed, the new lord often needed a house so that he could live in style and comfort on the spot. As the area was divided into several manors, several such houses were built, thus providing us with an unusual number of large 16th century houses.
Richard Ward was not only the lord of the manor of Hurst because, as time went on, he acquired other estates in the parish. The manor of Broad Hinton was in 1513 in the possession of Sir George Neville of Billingbear. From him it passed to Sir Thomas Englefield, then to his son Francis. He was, however, found guilty of high treason and had to forfeit the manor along with other estates to the Crown. Shortly afterwards it was in the possession of Richard Ward.
In 1552 Sir John Williams conveyed to Richard Ward lands called Woodes Grove in the parish of Hurst, co. Wilts. The manor at Lea Heath was purchased by him in 1557, together with a lease on Sandford Mill. His son was holding a manor called Berrey in 1579. All this dealing meant the Ward family became lords over much of the district.
Contemporary with the Wards were the Windebanks of Haines Hill. Their house was situated on land between Hinton Hatch and Ashridge Wood, and was formerly in the Wiltshire part of the parish. The Heralds made no record of the Windebank family when they visited the area in 1566. A family of that name was recorded at the visitation to Middlesex in 1633. It shows that Sir Thomas Windebank died on the 24th of October, 1607, and was buried at St. Martin's in the Fields, Charing Cross. His wife was called Frances, and amongst their children was Francis, aged 24 in 1607. In 1633 he was described as a knight and Secretary of State to King Charles. In November 1645 he was created a baronet,
From this we can see that the Windebanks were a powerful family and had property in other parts of the country. But they did see fit to spend time at Haines Hill which they may have regarded as a hunting lodge, or just a country retreat. They also obtained more property here, for when he died in 1607, Thomas Windebank owned the manors of Warres, Odes, Moudells, Stanlake Park, and the house called Banisters.
Just to the north of Stanlake Park, in the corner of Botany Bay Copse, is a moat which must have surrounded a medieval manor house. This old house may have become redundant when the present house at Stanlake was built. The moat is just outside the parish, as is part of Stanlake Park, which is divided between the parishes of Ruscombe and Hurst. The parish boundary actually passed through the house as it followed the route of the extinct Wiltshire border. In 1610, the Windebanks sold Stanlake Park to Richard Aldworth, a citizen and grocer of London.
The Hides had a strong royal connection and were a prolific family in Berkshire throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. When William Hide died in 1624 he was in possession of a house at Hinton Hatch. Situated there is the 16th century house, Hinton House. When workmen were re-pointing the house in the last century they discovered the initials 'W. H.' in the brickwork of one of the chimneys.
Hinton House, 2001. The present house at Hinton Hatch
Chitting and Philpot, acting on behalf of the College of Arms visited the county in 1623. They recorded that Thomas Hide of Hurst was the second son of William Hide of Dechworth. Thomas married Elizabeth, the daughter of John Barker of Wokingham. He was the father of William Barker of Sonning and John Barker of Hurst, two wealthy and powerful families. John Barker was born in 1540, married Frances Manfield of Taplow and lived at Hurst Lodge. He served as Gentleman Usher to Queen Elizabeth for 34 years.
Memorial to Henry Barker in Hurst church (died 1651)
The 16th and the early part of the 17th century saw Hurst become almost totally royalist a village. Most of the families who lived in the large houses were devoted to serving the Crown in some way. If many of the villagers were opposed to housing development then, as they are now, they would have been dismayed at the amount of building which was being carried out at that time. Not only were most of the large houses we see today erected then, but also many of the cottages dotted along the lanes. There must have been a tremendous upsurge in prosperity. The grand houses would have required numerous house servants, butlers, grooms, cooks and gardeners. People of all kinds of professions to work in the houses and on the land.
John Norden was commissioned by James I to make a map of the forest of Windsor in 1607. It showed that the circumference had been reduced to 77 miles. Year by year some grant or secret encroachments reduced the area further. When the final Enclosure Act came about in 1813, the circumference was only 56 miles. Over the centuries there were always disputes as to who owned the land. John Norden wrote on his map: 'There is contention between every neighbour keeper for usurhapation and intrusion for not one of them trulie knoweth his own boundaries.'